Start Up No.919: tech v democracy, Snapchat snapping?, solve your office Wi-Fi, iOS 12 + XS = fast ML, and more


Give your phone number to Facebook for two-factor authentication, and it will let advertisers target you through it. Photo by Angelos Konstantinidis on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Don’t judge me, I’ll get emotional. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The war between technology & democracy • Medium

Jamie Bartlett:

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We rightly celebrate how the internet gives us a platform, allows new movements to form, and helps us access new information. These are good things, but don’t be blinded by to the other problems the same technology is creating. Our democracy relies on lots of boring stuff to make it actually work as a system of collective self-government that people believe in and support: a sovereign authority that functions effectively, a healthy political culture, a strong civil society, elections that people trust, active citizens who can make important moral judgements, a relatively strong middle class, and so on. We have built these institutions up over several decades — decades of analogue technology.

Now however we have a new set of technologies — digital technology — which is slowly eroding all of them. It’s not to blame one side or the other — simple to state there’s an incompatibility problem.

This structural problem is far more important than billionaires in Silicon Valley or troll farms in St Petersburg. And if we don’t find a new settlement between tech and democracy, more and more people will simply conclude that democracy no longer really works, and look for something else. This being a lecture series about dictatorship, you won’t be surprised to learn that some new form of dictatorship — a sort of gentle, benevolent data dictatorship — is the most likely candidate for replacing it. Something a little like my father’s efficient but depressing Schedule.

I’ll take three examples of how recently reported problems and explain how they are symptoms of this tech / democracy tension. Let’s start with Cambridge Analytica, one of the biggest stories of 2018, and also one of the most misunderstood.

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Bartlett is always insightful.
link to this extract


At Snapchat, insiders question the leadership of Evan Spiegel • Wired

Katia Moskvitch:

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Some insiders describe the atmosphere at Snap as toxic and cut-throat. It’s like “swimming in a shark tank”, says one person familiar with the company’s corporate culture. Overworked staff are being told to do jobs that they’re not skilled for, and then fired left, right and centre because they’re “incompetent”, even though in reality they lack training and are constantly stressed about whether this day could be their last.

For all its scale and notoriety, Snap is still a company that revolves around chief executive and co-founder, 28-year-old Stanford dropout Evan Spiegel, and his system of grace and favours. Are you one of the in-crowd who are invited to Spiegel’s parties? Insiders claim only a few will qualify. They say it’s an incredibly selective environment, which teaches staff to get close to their young boss and earn his appreciation. A spokesperson disputes this, saying that every employee is invited to all the major company parties.

Insiders talk of people who tried to caution Spiegel about the failed app redesign, warning it was unlikely to be popular with consumers. But still, it got rolled out. Of course, sometimes Spiegel’s intuition was right – like the idea for Snapchat’s famous vanishing messages. Lots of people cautioned him against it, but it worked. Maybe it’s this experience that has made Spiegel tend towards an instinctive mistrust of advice, whether good or bad.

The rot seems to go deep. Over the past few months, Snap has been plagued by a long list of executive defections. In January, vice president of product Tom Conrad cleaned up his desk. The company’s chief of engineering, Stuart Bowers, left in May to join Tesla. Chief financial officer Drew Vollero bolted the same month and was replaced by former Amazon executive Tim Stone. Chief strategy officer Imran Khan is the latest to go, announcing he will soon leave after three years at the company. Similar claims about Snap’s corporate culture have also been published by The Information and Bloomberg.

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It’s even got a name: “founder’s syndrome”. A bit like music’s “Lead Singer’s Disease”. (Lead as in dogs, not the metal.)
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Facebook is giving advertisers access to your shadow contact information • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:

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Last week, I ran an ad on Facebook that was targeted at a computer science professor named Alan Mislove. Mislove studies how privacy works on social networks and had a theory that Facebook is letting advertisers reach users with contact information collected in surprising ways. I was helping him test the theory by targeting him in a way Facebook had previously told me wouldn’t work. I directed the ad to display to a Facebook account connected to the landline number for Alan Mislove’s office, a number Mislove has never provided to Facebook. He saw the ad within hours.


What Facebook told Alan Mislove about the ad I targeted at his office landline number
Screenshot: Facebook (Alan Mislove)

One of the many ways that ads get in front of your eyeballs on Facebook and Instagram is that the social networking giant lets an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file; it will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information… Facebook calls this a “custom audience.”

…Giridhari Venkatadri, Piotr Sapiezynski, and Alan Mislove of Northeastern University, along with Elena Lucherini of Princeton University, did a series of tests that involved handing contact information over to Facebook for a group of test accounts in different ways and then seeing whether that information could be used by an advertiser. They came up with a novel way to detect whether that information became available to advertisers by looking at the stats provided by Facebook about the size of an audience after contact information is uploaded. They go into this in greater length and technical detail in their paper.

They found that when a user gives Facebook a phone number for two-factor authentication or in order to receive alerts about new log-ins to a user’s account, that phone number became targetable by an advertiser within a couple of weeks.

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That two-factor authentication detail is truly shocking.
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Ex-Google employee urges lawmakers to take on company • The New York Times

Kate Conger:

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In a harshly worded letter sent this week, the former employee, Jack Poulson, criticized Google’s handling of a project to build a version of its search engine that would be acceptable to the government of China. He said the project was a “catastrophic failure of the internal privacy review process.”

He said lawmakers should increase transparency and oversight of the company and technology industry, saying that there is a “broad pattern of unaccountable decision making.”

Dr. Poulson left the company after news articles revealed the existence of the project last month. It was first reported on by the Intercept news site.
Google’s chief privacy officer, Keith Enright, testified on Wednesday before a congressional committee about the company’s approach to data protection. Executives from Apple, AT&T, Amazon, Twitter and Charter Communications also appeared at the hearing.

Dr. Poulson said the Chinese project, called Dragonfly, had several “disturbing components.” A prototype, he said, would allow a partner company in China to view a person’s search history based on his or her phone number. He said the project also censored an extensive list of subjects that included information about air quality and China’s president, Xi Jinping…

Google left China in 2010, denouncing government censorship. That year the company also said it had discovered that Chinese hackers had attacked the company’s corporate infrastructure.

“It should be pretty obvious that they should be asked what changed between 2010 and today,” said Cynthia Wong, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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That last one is a zinger, it must be said.
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How Triplebyte solved its office Wi-Fi problems • Triplebyte Blog

Mike Robbins:

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Our team just moved to a larger office in downtown San Francisco. On moving day, I was shocked to discover a bundle of rough-cut unterminated ethernet cables on one end, ripped-out punch-down jacks on the other, no uplink, and no Wi-Fi!

There’s no IT team at startups, and as software engineers, we might be called on to step up in a pinch. Here’s a smorgasbord of suggestions — some well-known and others obscure — that helped me get a reliable network running fast.

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These are all fascinating discoveries – especially about how to get the same Wi-Fi network to appear to be all over the office.
link to this extract


Bizarre particles keep flying out of Antarctica’s ice, and they might shatter modern physics • Live Science

Rafi Letzer:

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Physicists don’t know what it is exactly. But they do know it’s some sort of cosmic ray — a high-energy particle that’s blasted its way through space, into the Earth, and back out again. But the particles physicists know about — the collection of particles that make up what scientists call the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics — shouldn’t be able to do that. Sure, there are low-energy neutrinos that can pierce through miles upon miles of rock unaffected. But high-energy neutrinos, as well as other high-energy particles, have “large cross-sections.” That means that they’ll almost always crash into something soon after zipping into the Earth and never make it out the other side.

And yet, since March 2016, researchers have been puzzling over two events in Antarctica where cosmic rays did burst out from the Earth, and were detected by NASA’s Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) — a balloon-borne antenna drifting over the southern continent.

ANITA is designed to hunt cosmic rays from outer space, so the high-energy neutrino community was buzzing with excitement when the instrument detected particles that seemed to be blasting up from Earth instead of zooming down from space. Because cosmic rays shouldn’t do that, scientists began to wonder whether these mysterious beams are made of particles never seen before.

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As long as it’s only particles, I’m OK with it.
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Crypto mining giant Bitmain reveals heady growth as it files for IPO • TechCrunch

Jon Russell:

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After months of speculation, Bitmain — the world’s largest provider of crypto miners — has opened the inner details of its business after it submitted its IPO prospectus with the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. And some of the growth numbers are insane.

The document doesn’t specify how much five-year-old Bitmain is aiming to raise from its listing — that’ll come later — but it does lift the lid on the incredible business growth that the company saw as the crypto market grew massively in 2017. Although that also comes with a question: can that growth continue in this current bear market?

The company grossed more than $2.5bn in revenue last year, a near-10X leap on the $278m it claims for 2016. Already, it said revenue for the first six months of this year surpassed $2.8bn.

Bitmain is best known for its ‘Antminer’ devices — which allow the owner to mine for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — and that accounts for most of its revenue: 77% in 2016, 90% in 2017, and 94% in the first half of 2018.

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Great that bitcoin has finally got rid of all that nasty centralisation.
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iOS 12 Core ML benchmarks • Heartbeat

Jameson Toole:

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At Fritz, we collect performance data every time a model is run on a user’s device to make sure that experiences are consistent. I went and looked at real world data from our open-source Heartbeat app to see how each Apple device stacked up.


Core ML performance by device. Higher is better. Note the y-axis is logarithmic. Data from Fritz.

This Core ML model runs over 10X faster on the A12 processor in the iPhone XS Max compared with the iPhone X. The model above performs object detection, and results vary from model to model. The smallest speed-up I saw was around 5x. I also found it interesting that the A10X Fusion processor in the 2018 iPad beat out the iPhone X. In other benchmarks, the processors appear fairly similar, but perhaps there are differences in memory.

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That’s incredible: a 10-fold increase in a generation. From iOS 11 to iOS 12, there’s a 38% increase in speed for these models. Toole concludes:

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We’re just at the beginning of an incredible wave of mobile experiences powered by on-device machine learning. Processors like the A12 are going to make it happen.

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link to this extract


Lessons from losing a week of photos to memory card failure • QT Luong’s Blog

Mr Luong:

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Landscape expeditions can be taxing in the long days of summer, even more so if you are also doing night photography. After flying to Seattle, I arrived at the coast of Olympic National Park around 11 PM – many view Treasured Lands as a culmination of my work in the national parks, but I am far from being done with them! Seeking stars, I woke up before 2 AM for the short window between moonset and astronomical twilight. However, the marine layer had rolled in while I was hiking to the beach, and I shivered until past sunrise time without even seeing a sliver of sky. The next day, since I had to drive from Heart of the Hills Campground and hike 45 minutes to Hurricane Hill, I rose before 1 AM.

[He captured a beautiful shot. Click through the headline to see it.]

On the last day, temperatures in the inland plains of Hanford Reach rose above 100F. When I came home from the week-long trip, I went straight to bed. The next morning, I reached for my cameras, took the memory card out, and inserted into the card reader. This resulted in the dreaded…

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Uh-oh. Though his experience was very unusual.
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Fancy Bear, the Russian election hackers, have a nasty new weapon • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:

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The malware, uncovered by the European security company ESET, works by rewriting the code flashed into a computer’s UEFI chip, a small slab of silicon on the motherboard that controls the boot and reboot process. Its apparent purpose is to maintain access to a high-value target in the event the operating system gets reinstalled or the hard drive replaced—changes that would normally kick out an intruder.  

It’s proof that the hackers known as Fancy Bear “may be even more dangerous than previously thought,” company researchers wrote in a blog post. They’re set to present a paper on the malware at the Blue Hat security conference Thursday…

…The first public whiff of Russia’s new malware emerged last March, when Arbor Networks’ ASERT team reported finding malware designed to look like a component of the theft-recovery app Absolute LoJack.

Absolute LoJack works much like Apple’s Find My iPhone app, allowing laptop owners to attempt to geo-locate a computer after a theft, or to remotely wipe their sensitive files from the missing machine. The hackers copied one piece of the app, a background process that maintains contact with Absolute Software’s server, and changed it to report to Fancy Bear’s command-and-control servers instead.

ESET researchers call the malware LoJax. They suspected they were seeing just one piece of a larger puzzle, and started looking for additional LoJax components in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, where LoJax was popping up on hacked machines alongside better-known Fancy Bear implants like Seduploader, X-Agent, and X-Tunnel.

They found a new component of LoJax designed to access technical details of a computer’s UEFI chip, and surmised that Fancy Bear was moving to the motherboard. Eventually they found the proof in another component called “ReWriter_binary” that actually rewrote vulnerable UEFI chips, replacing the vendor code with Fancy Bear’s code.

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link to this extract


Marzipan • Benjamin Mayo

The aforementioned Mayo on the layer that gets iOS apps to be rewritten for MacOS:

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Marzipan apps are ugly ducklings. As soon as you use them, you can just know these are not at one with the system. You detect that there’s a translation layer of some kind at work here, just like when you use Slack on the Mac you instinctively feel that it’s a web app in a thin wrapper. The underlying implementation is exposed to the user with a bevy of performance sluggishness, UI quirks and non-standard behaviours. That’s bad.

I launch News. I see a window with a reasonable lineup of platform-standard toolbar controls, although I notice that the title of the window is ‘News’. This is a little odd as modern Mac design generally means that the application name is not repeated in the window itself. The title represents the active visible content inside the window, or they simply might not have a visible title at all. Not a universal rule, but certainly not the norm.

Then, only a few pixels down the screen, is the words Apple News repeated again, this time in all-caps. ‘News’ in the menubar, ‘News’ in the titlebar, ‘Apple News’ in the sidebar. Is the word News redundantly displayed in these three different places because that’s what makes sense for the Mac UI? I’d wager it is not a design choice. I think it’s pretty clear that Apple News is in the sidebar because the sidebar is a wholesale port of the iPad interface. iOS on the iPad doesn’t have a menubar or a titlebar, so it isn’t uncommon for apps to put their branding in the app itself. Why is News in the titlebar? In this case, I suspect the Marzipan system houses apps in a window with a titlebar, and it automatically populates the window with the display name of the bundle. Home is the only app of the new set that bucks this pattern, instead using a segmented control as the centred toolbar item.

This first point is arguably a nitpicky detail, but it’s emblematic of the problem I have with these apps.

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Being nitpicky is not just for mobile OS users. When something just looks wrong, it bugs people.
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Tariffs start to drag on US economy as trade deficit widens • Bloomberg

Sho Chandra:

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Economists at Amherst Pierpont Securities and Capital Economics trimmed their estimates for gross domestic product growth this quarter. Before Thursday’s data, the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was for 3% expansion.

While analysts said the trade deficit partly reflected an expected drop in soybean exports following a second-quarter surge ahead of Chinese-imposed tariffs, and economic growth is projected to remain solid, the numbers illustrate how the trade war is spurring volatility in the data. In addition, the widening deficit runs contrary to Trump’s aim of a narrower gap and underscores the challenges of achieving that goal amid strong domestic demand — which tends to boost imports — and retaliatory tariffs from abroad.

“The data are grim,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd., said in a note, referring to the August goods trade gap. “The administration’s narrative, that the second-quarter drop in the deficit was a result of their trade policies, has now fallen apart, as it was always likely to do.”

…While economists say it may be too early to detect the exact impact from trade disputes, the data bear watching as the headwind and uncertainty look unlikely to dissipate. Thursday’s reports come after the US and China imposed tariffs on each other in late August, which followed others implemented in early July. The US added tariffs on another $200bn of Chinese imports this week – the largest escalation of the trade war so far.

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This is only the effects of the very earliest tariffs, from July and a little from August. The bigger impact is yet to come. Though economists will be delighted to have a laboratory where they can demonstrate what tariffs do to an economy.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.918: WhatsApp co-founder vents, FB Messenger chief vents back, the good-bad Apple News news, is Shazam an AR trojan horse?, and more


This iconic potato peeler came from a radical realisation about users. Photo by Andy Melton on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. J’accuse! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple News is giving the media everything it wants—except money • Slate

Will Oremus:

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Sources at several news outlets say they’ve seen their audience on Apple News multiply in 2018 alone. Some now say it has become one of their top traffic sources, alongside Facebook and Google. At Slate, which disclosed its data for this story, page views on Apple News have roughly tripled since September 2017, and the app recently surpassed Facebook as a driver of readership.

Conversations with social media consultants and people who work in audience development at major publications, along with recent reports by other outlets, suggest Slate is not an outlier—which is why many news organizations are now making Apple News an important part of their strategy to reach as large an audience as possible.

There is, of course, a catch. Whereas Facebook sent hordes of readers from its news feed to publishers’ websites, Apple tends to keep them inside its app. And so far, publishers have found that’s not a lucrative place to be. Although Apple allows publishers to sell ads within their stories—and partnered two years ago with NBCUniversal to sell “backfill” ads in slots that the publishers don’t fill themselves—several sources at media outlets told me that they’re seeing little to no revenue from Apple News.

The problem, publishers say, is that the NBCUniversal partnership isn’t yielding much money, and Apple doesn’t make it particularly easy for publishers to fill their own unsold inventory. Apple News doesn’t support some of the common ad systems that dominate ad sales on the web, and not all media companies find it worthwhile to develop and sell ads specifically for Apple News. (Those that do can keep all the revenue or they can let Apple sell them, in which case Apple takes a 30% cut.) As Matt Karolian, the Boston Globe’s director of new initiatives, told me, “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze.”

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Oremus calculates that “Slate makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month.”
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Watch out, algorithms: Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson unveil The Markup, their plan for investigating tech’s societal impacts • Nieman Journalism Lab

Christine Schmidt interviewed Julia Angwin, who left ProPublica to set up the new site:

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ANGWIN: …We have an idea about how journalism should be. It’s much more tech-focused than any newsroom, even though ProPublica is the most tech-infused newsroom out there. We want to take it to another level.

SCHMIDT: What is that next level? What are the nuts and bolts of how this organization will operate differently?

ANGWIN: We describe ourselves as doing journalism that is based on the scientific method. The idea is that objectivity has been a false god for journalism for a long time. It started out as a decent idea, but it’s led to a lot of what people call false equivalents. I think journalism needs a new guiding light, a new philosophical approach, and I think that approach should be the scientific method. What that really means is we develop a hypothesis. Maybe the hypothesis is: ‘Brett Kavanaugh. Did he actually harass a woman or not?’ Then you collect evidence — how much evidence is there for and against this. Then you describe the limitations of your evidence: ‘So far the evidence is only one/two people.’
It doesn’t have to be ‘he said, she said.’ It’s more about: this is the amount of evidence to support this hypothesis, and then here are the limitations of this. There are always limitations to our findings. Even though climate change is well accepted scientifically, there are limitations for those findings as well. That’s our goal, to try to frame our journalism around that.

What that means in practice is having people with technical and statistical skills involved in an investigation from the outset. So much of what happens in traditional newsrooms, in every newsroom I’ve ever worked in, is that there’s a data desk. A reporter goes over to the desk and basically orders data like it’s a hamburger. Usually by then, the reporter has already done the reporting and has a hypothesis based on the anecdotes. Then, if the data doesn’t support it, there’s a fight between them and the data desk. Or, more often, there’s not even data available.

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This sounds fantastic. (Not for everyone, of course.) Data journalism – where the story comes from the data – is enormously satisfying when it comes right. Some of my best stories have come from interpreting public documents: the story’s in there, you just have to listen to what the numbers are saying.
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A history of the OXO Good Grips peeler • Fast Company

Mark Wilson heard the story of how the thick-handled swivel peeler was designed, told by Davin Stowell, talking about the designer Sam Farber:

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[Farber] and his wife Betsey spent a month cooking and enjoying the French countryside. One night I’m in my office, it’s 7:30 p.m., and I get a call from Sam. He’s in France, where its 1:30. in the morning, and he’s incredibly excited.

He was cooking with Betsey, she had arthritis, and she was complaining about the peeler, complaining that it was hurting her hands. As I remember, it was an apple tart, though Betsey claims it wasn’t an apple tart. But that’s what Sam claimed to me.

She was frustrated. The old-style metal peeler wasn’t good. Her background was in architecture and design. I think she initiated the idea of, “Sam, can you do something about this? Make a better handle.” She grabbed some clay and started on her own. She recognized: “This is something that could be made better, and my husband used to be a housewares executive, and he should do something about it.” She was very involved in looking at things, trying things, and giving her input along the way.

It instantly dawned on him, here’s an opportunity to make a product. Nothing had really been done in a serious way with kitchen gadgets. They were either cheap items that didn’t work very well, or if they were more expensive, they might be designed with a steel instead of plastic handle, but they didn’t actually work any better than the cheap stuff.

Here’s something he could do to help people, he thought. So he wanted me to get started on it immediately. He knew he had to do a full line of tools. It couldn’t be just a peeler, it had to be 15 to 20 different tools so it could occupy enough wall space at retail to get attention.

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Large-handled grips seems so obvious in retrospect, but you need designers who are working with people who have arthritis for it to be obvious when it’s not there.
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Exclusive: WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton gives the inside story on #DeleteFacebook and why he left $850m behind • Forbes

Parmy Olson, with a hell of a scoop – and what timing:

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“At the end of the day, I sold my company,” Acton says. “I sold my users’ privacy to a larger benefit. I made a choice and a compromise. And I live with that every day.”

Despite a transfer of several billion dollars, Acton says he never developed a rapport with Zuckerberg. “I couldn’t tell you much about the guy,” he says. In one of their dozen or so meetings, Zuck told Acton unromantically that WhatsApp, which had a stipulated degree of autonomy within the Facebook universe and continued to operate for a while out of its original offices, was “a product group to him, like Instagram.”

So Acton didn’t know what to expect when Zuck beckoned him to his office last September, around the time Acton told Facebook brass that he planned to leave. Acton and Koum had a clause in their contract that allowed them to get all their stock, which was being doled out over four years, if Facebook began “implementing monetization initiatives” without their consent.

To Acton, invoking this clause seemed simple. The Facebook-WhatsApp pairing had been a head-scratcher from the start. Facebook has one of the world’s biggest advertising networks; Koum and Acton hated ads. Facebook’s added value for advertisers is how much it knows about its users; WhatsApp’s founders were pro-privacy zealots who felt their vaunted encryption had been integral to their nearly unprecedented global growth.

This dissonance frustrated Zuckerberg. Facebook, Acton says, had decided to pursue two ways of making money from WhatsApp. First, by showing targeted ads in WhatsApp’s new Status feature, which Acton felt broke a social compact with its users. “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy,” he says. His motto at WhatsApp had been “No ads, no games, no gimmicks”—a direct contrast with a parent company that derived 98% of its revenue from advertising. Another motto had been “Take the time to get it right,” a stark contrast to “Move fast and break things.”

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The lawyer who was there with Zuck disagreed about the clause. So Acton left, with $850m of shares unvested. He had preferred a “metered” system for monetising WhatsApp – you’d pay per message past a certain number. Sheryl Sandberg said “it won’t scale”. (To be honest, I agree with her.)

There’s lots more fascinating detail in this piece. Very instructive about how Facebook has changed.
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The other side of the [WhatsApp] story • David Marcus on Facebook

Marcus, former head of Facebook Messenger, introduced this Facebook posting with a tweet saying “I just couldn’t take it any more, so here’s the other side of the story Brian Acton has been telling”:

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WhatsApp founders requested a completely different office layout when their team moved on campus. Much larger desks and personal space, a policy of not speaking out loud in the space, and conference rooms made unavailable to fellow Facebookers nearby. This irritated people at Facebook, but Mark personally supported and defended it.

Second — on encryption. The global roll-out of end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp happened after the acquisition, and with Mark’s full support. Yes, Jan Koum played a key role in convincing Mark of the importance of encryption, but from that point on, it was never questioned. I witnessed Mark defending it a number of internal meetings where there was pushback — never for advertising or data collection reasons but for concerns about safety — and even in Board Meetings. Mark’s view was that WhatsApp was a private messaging app, and encryption helped ensure that people’s messages were truly private.

Third — on the business model. I was present in a lot of these meetings. Again, Mark protected WhatsApp for a very long period of time. And you have to put this in the context of a large organization with businesses knocking on our door to have the ability to engage and communicate with their customers on WhatsApp the same way they were doing it on Messenger. During this time, it became pretty clear that while advocating for business messaging, and being given the opportunity to build and deliver on that promise, Brian actively slow-played the execution, and never truly went for it. In my view, if you’re passionate about a certain path — in this case, letting businesses message people and charging for it — and if you have internal questions about it, then work hard to prove that your approach has legs and demonstrate the value. Don’t be passive-aggressive about it. And by the way the paid messaging that WhatsApp is rolling out now sounds pretty similar to metered messaging from my point of view…

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He also calls Acton “low-class” for attacking Facebook, “the company and people that made you a billionaire”.

Also well worth reading: ex-purchased-by-Facebook-startup-person-who-exited Antonio Garcia Martinez weighs in with a Twitter thread about the differences between Acton and Marcus.
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Facebook’s recent ‘bear hug’ of Instagram frustrated its independent founders • Recode

Kurt Wagner:

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Over the past year, both Systrom and Krieger have grown increasingly frustrated and agitated with Zuckerberg and Facebook’s increased influence over the app, according to multiple sources. One characterized it as “bizarre meddling” that hurt morale within the unit.

Specifically, there were worries that Facebook’s moves were hurting the app’s growth — perhaps even intentionally — through some of the company’s product updates and marketing changes, these sources said.

That included a throttling back of Instagram’s promotion inside the Facebook app, apparently ordered by Zuckerberg, that dropped weekly referrals significantly by hundreds of thousands of users.

Systrom was also frustrated with a recent Facebook change to how posts are shared between the two apps. Previously, photos shared to Facebook via Instagram included a label identifying the photo as an Instagram photo, presumably to encourage people to visit or download Instagram. That label was recently removed, which made it appear as though people were posting those photos directly to Facebook and not to Facebook via Instagram.

It was a small tweak, but it was a big deal inside of Instagram, according to multiple sources. Systrom — who has historically been hands-on with all the aspects of the app — disagreed with the decision, and even posted as much on the internal company Facebook page. The feeling of some was that Facebook wasn’t promoting Instagram, and even taking credit for engagement that Instagram was driving.

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This take makes a lot of sense. Systrom might have taken a lot, but feeling that his (joint) creation was being ignored, having done the hard work of seeing off Snapchat, must surely have rankled.

And he left just before the next big problem…
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Instagram has a drug problem. Its algorithms make it worse • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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Recent searches on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, for hashtags of the names of drugs — such as #oxy, #percocet, #painkillers, #painpills, #oxycontin, #adderall and #painrelief — revealed thousands of posts by a mash-up of people grappling with addiction, those bragging about their party going lifestyle and enticements from drug dealers.

Following the dealer accounts, or even liking one of the dealer posts, prompted Instagram’s algorithms to work as designed — in this case, by filling up a person’s feed with posts for drugs, suggesting other sellers to follow and introducing new hashtags, such as #xansforsale. Ads from some of the country’s largest brands, including Target, Chase and Procter & Gamble, as well as Facebook’s own video streaming service, appeared next to posts illegally selling pills.

Even as top executives from Facebook and Twitter, which has also long struggled with posts offering drugs illegally, promised earlier this month in a congressional hearing that they were cracking down on sales of opioids and other drugs, their services appeared to be open marketplaces for advertising such content. Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said her company was “firmly against” such activity. Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he was “looking deeply” at how drug-selling spreads on the site.

But activists and other groups have warned tech companies about illegal drug sales on their platforms for years. In recent months, lawmakers, the Food and Drug Administration and some advertisers have stepped into the fray. In April, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb charged Internet companies with not “taking practical steps to find and remove opioid listings.” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) called social media companies “reckless,” saying, “It is past time they put human life above profit and finally institute measures that crack down on these harmful practices, preventing the sale of illegal narcotics on or through their platforms.”

«

link to this extract


Why did Apple spend $400M to acquire Shazam? • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

in 2016, Shazam’s new foray into marketing was compelling enough to raise $30m in new funding from investors, giving the company a unicorn valuation of $1bn. The fact that Apple subsequently paid “only” $400m for it makes the deal sound like a bargain.

Last year, Shazam made an additional step, embracing Augmented Reality. Now, rather that just taking users to a standard website, it could use its Shazam Codes (or visual recognition of products or posters) to launch an engaging experience right in the camera, layering what the camera sees with “augmented” graphics synced to the movement of the user’s device.

Now users could identify a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin and see it animate botanicals in front of them, while also suggesting cocktail recipes.

Another Shazam campaign in Australia, for Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” delivered a Spotify playlist “mixtape” along with presenting the movie trailer and an opportunity to buy tickets. A campaign in Spain let users animate Fanta billboards in AR using their phones. And a Hornitos tequila app used a mini-game, rendered in ARKit, to award discounts on purchases.

Given Apple’s interest in building traction for ARKit, which launched last fall as the world’s largest AR platform, it seems pretty clear that Apple bought Shazam, not really for any particular technology as Apple has already developed its own core visual recognition engine for iOS, but because Shazam has developed significant relationships with global brands to make use of AR as a way to engage with audiences.

«

Hmm. The valuation for Shazam was always a bit dubious, though as he points out the $400m is (by Apple’s standards) a lot of money. If Apple really wants Shazam for its AR (and let’s face it, the purchase price wouldn’t make sense if it’s just on music recognition) then things got interesting.
link to this extract


Compal to begin production of Apple Watch Series 4 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Adam Hwang:

»

With Quanta Computer’s capacity for the Apple Watch Series 4 at its factory in Changshu, eastern China fully loaded, the wearable’s second supplier Compal Electronics reportedly will begin mass production of the smartwatch in November 2018, according to industry sources.

Quanta and Compal both declined to comment on its clients or orders.

Some market watchers noted that Apple sold around 4.2 million Apple Watches worldwide in the second quarter of 2018 and the device’s global shipments are estimated to arrive at 18.0-19.5m units in 2018. Currently, the Apple Watch has a share of 35% in worldwide smartwatch shipments.

«

I’d ignore the numbers in there (the “share” depends on who you ask, as does the total) and focus on the fact: Apple’s got one factory now making Watches at its full capacity, and it’s getting a second online. That means it expects to sell a very great many more in the coming months – which, given the larger screen and faster processor and better waterproofing, wouldn’t be a surprise. Remember how you didn’t see anyone wearing AirPods, and now you do? Going to be the same with the Watch.
link to this extract


Google promises Chrome changes after privacy complaints • CNET

Stephen Shankland:

»

“We’ve heard — and appreciate — your feedback from the last few days, and we’ll be making some product changes,” tweeted Parisa Tabriz, a security team leader at Google.

Google added in a blog post Tuesday evening that it will add new options and explanations for its interface and reverse one Chrome cookie-hoarding policy that undermined people’s attempts to clear those cookies.

The situation shows the difficulties Google faces offering both the most widely used browser and one of the most powerful online advertising empires. Chrome is a powerful tool that lets websites gather the kind of personal information that makes it possible for advertisers to target ads for a particular audience. But Google operates some of the biggest online sites out there, and Chrome itself, if unfettered, has a view into our most private online activity.

«

It also – in the current version – doesn’t delete Google signin cookies even if you try to clear the cookies in Chrome. Which means Google can keep tracking you. (This was the subject of the Safari cookie lawsuit in the UK, and the US, where Google hacked Safari so that a Google signin would also be a DoubleClick advertising signin.)
link to this extract


Why were lettuce supply chains in the New York Times? • Bloomberg Gadfly

Matt Levine on that IBM-Walmart story from Tuesday:

»

the more complicated challenge is that Walmart wants to track lettuce not only when it is in Walmart’s hands but also at every step of the supply chain: “By this time next year, more than 100 farms that supply Walmart with leafy green vegetables will be required to input detailed information” into the database. This is not a big technological problem—it’s just some more inputs to the database—but it is a logistical and contractual problem. Walmart has to get its suppliers to agree (and to get their suppliers to agree, etc.) to make inputs into the database, and teach them how to use it, and give them passwords, and check that they are inputting information correctly. Database design is an element of the solution here—you want to make the database easy to use and hard to mess up, and you want to give the suppliers access rights only to input data about their lettuce, while only Walmart (and IBM) has the complete view of the whole supply chain—but it is not necessarily the hardest part; the hard part is the social and commercial work of getting the farmers to agree to do a new annoying thing. If you are Walmart, though, I guess that part’s not so hard either: The farmers really want to sell to you, so they’ll jump through some hoops.

Anyway it is all pretty interesting, as a case study in supply-chain management and database design, but I have to say that you don’t generally read a lot of stories about supply-chain management and database design in the New York Times. I can’t quite figure out why they were interested in this one. Can you?

«

That’s right, it’s because it used the chainblock. Have I got the jargon right?
link to this extract


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Start Up No.917: Google searches for the future, Walmart goes blockchain-y, teens on Kavanaugh, AirPower lives?, Instagram’s real CEO, and more


Wisconsin attempts to “get out the vote” worked in a way they might not have expected. Photo by AIGA Wisconsin on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Laugh all you like. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google search revamp: Expect to see ton of new features on your phone • ZDNet

Liam Tung:

»

Google has renamed its news feed on the mobile app ‘Discover’ and is bringing the feature to its homepage on all mobile browsers.

The revamped mobile experience is being rolled out as part of Google’s 20th anniversary, and builds on the feed introduced to its mobile app last year.

The feed contains a list of suggested news items beneath the search box in the app. But until now people who primarily use Google search through a browser didn’t see Google’s suggestions.

Bringing the Discover feed to all mobile browsers will mark a significant change in how iPhone and Android users engage with the site, which Google wants people to use not just for search but as a general discovery tool.

The new mobile site is rolling out in the next few weeks, according to Google.

«

There’s a (typically?) slightly strange blogpost from Google about hitting 20 years, where the faintly worrying part is that it says it’s going to have a “fundamental” shift in search which have “the shift from answers to journeys”. (The entire focus is on mobile; the desktop is forgotten.) It’s written by the head of search, rather than Sundar Pichai or those McCavitys, Brin and Page.
link to this extract


How Russia helped swing the election for Trump • The New Yorker

Jane Mayer:

»

Politicians may be too timid to explore the subject, but a new book from, of all places, Oxford University Press promises to be incendiary. “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know,” by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, dares to ask—and even attempts to answer—whether Russian meddling had a decisive impact in 2016. Jamieson offers a forensic analysis of the available evidence and concludes that Russia very likely delivered Trump’s victory.

The book, which is coming out less than two months before the midterm elections, at a moment when polls suggest that some sixty% of voters disapprove of Trump, may well reignite the question of Trump’s electoral legitimacy. The President’s supporters will likely characterize the study as an act of partisan warfare. But in person Jamieson, who wears her gray hair in a pixie cut and favors silk scarves and matronly tweeds, looks more likely to suspend a troublemaker than to be one. She is seventy-one, and has spent forty years studying political speeches, ads, and debates. Since 1993, she has directed the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at Penn, and in 2003 she co-founded FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan watchdog group. She is widely respected by political experts in both parties, though her predominantly male peers have occasionally mocked her scholarly intensity, calling her the Drill Sergeant. As Steven Livingston, a professor of political communication at George Washington University, puts it, “She is the epitome of a humorless, no-nonsense social scientist driven by the numbers. She doesn’t bullshit. She calls it straight.”

Indeed, when I met recently with Jamieson, in a book-lined conference room at the Annenberg Center, in Philadelphia, and asked her point-blank if she thought that Trump would be President without the aid of Russians, she didn’t equivocate. “No,” she said, her face unsmiling. Clearly cognizant of the gravity of her statement, she clarified, “If everything else is a constant? No, I do not.”

«

It is quite a claim, indeed. But so few votes – 80,000 in three states – made the difference in the 2016 election that the only question is how little effect Russia’s messing about would have needed to make the crucial difference.
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Walmart is betting on the blockchain to improve food safety • TechCrunch

Ron Miller:

»

Most supply chains are bogged down in manual processes. This makes it difficult and time consuming to track down an issue should one like the E. coli romaine lettuce problem from last spring rear its head. By placing a supply chain on the blockchain, it makes the process more traceable, transparent and fully digital. Each node on the blockchain could represent an entity that has handled the food on the way to the store, making it much easier and faster to see if one of the affected farms sold infected supply to a particular location with much greater precision.

Walmart has been working with IBM for over a year on using the blockchain to digitize the food supply chain process. In fact, supply chain is one of the premiere business use cases for blockchain (beyond digital currency). Walmart is using the IBM Food Trust Solution, specifically developed for this use case…

…Before moving the process to the blockchain, it typically took approximately 7 days to trace the source of food. With the blockchain, it’s been reduced to 2.2 seconds. That substantially reduces the likelihood that infected food will reach the consumer…

…Suppliers don’t have to be blockchain experts by any means. They simply have to know how to upload data to the blockchain application.

“IBM will offer an onboarding system that orients users with the service easily. Think about when you get a new iPhone – the instructions are easy to understand and you’re quickly up and running. That’s the aim here. Essentially, suppliers will need a smart device and internet to participate,” [IBM’s sr VP for Global Industries, Platforms and Blockchain Bridget van Kralingen] said.

«

IBM’s involvement gets my spidey-sense tingling: it’s after anything that sounds big and futuristic. Even if this could be done with some RFID tags, a SIM card and a database. (A blockchain is just a database, in fact, but with a traceable update record.) Let’s check back in a year or so.
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Creating new policies together • Twitter

Vijaya Gadde is Legal, Policy and Trust & Safety Lead at Twitter, and Del Harvey is its VP of Trust & Safety:

»

In the past, we’ve created our rules with a rigorous policy development process; it involves in-depth research and partnership with the members of our Trust and Safety Council and other experts to ensure these policies best serve every person on the service. Now, we’re trying something new by asking everyone for feedback on a policy before it’s part of the Twitter Rules.

For the last three months, we have been developing a new policy to address dehumanizing language on Twitter. Language that makes someone less than human can have repercussions off the service, including normalizing serious violence.

«

There’s a very quick survey for you to take; open until October 9. Wonder if Trump calling people “dogs” applies, since it’s certainly dehumanising.
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The Kavanaugh accusations: what teens think • The Atlantic

Joe Pinsker:

»

Stephen L. Miller, a writer for Fox News’s website, tweeted that the allegations didn’t amount to sexual assault, but rather “drunk teenagers playing seven minutes of heaven.” The radio-show host and columnist Dennis Prager advised his readers not to be shocked if a future Republican nominee “is accused of sexual misconduct … from when he was in elementary school.” Going back to an even earlier developmental stage to make her point, the Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wondered, “What’s next, his potty training?” On Instagram, Donald Trump Jr. engaged in his own infantilizing of Ford’s accusations, likening the scene she described to the result of a schoolyard crush.

These statements were intended to diminish the seriousness of what Ford alleged happened, but, intentionally or not, they also diminish a whole category of humans: teenagers. And many teenagers, as they themselves are proud to report, have a sophisticated, nuanced understanding of sex and consent—one that invalidates the low expectations that so many adults appear to have of them.

As they’ve watched the week’s news unfold, some of them have gotten frustrated. “They just keep saying ‘He was in high school—boys will be boys,’” says Maurielle, a 17-year-old from Houston. “But I’m in high school—I don’t want that to happen to me.” She went on, “It feels alienating reading what’s happening, because they’re blaming so much on the fact that they were in high school and they were young.” Julianna, a 17-year-old from outside of Pittsburgh, said she also rejected what she called “the whole ‘But maybe they didn’t know better at that age’ argument.” (I am referring to Maurielle, Julianna, and the other teenagers interviewed for this article only by their first name, to protect their identities.)

«

What these teenagers think of Kavanaugh will colour what they think of the people who (one expects, with some confidence) will confirm him. If you ever wondered how politicians lose the trust of those they are meant to work for, it’s by actions like this.
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Inside the private Justice Department meeting that could lead to new investigations of Facebook, Google and other tech giants • The Washington Post

Brian Fung and Tony Romm:

»

A meeting of the country’s top federal and state law enforcement officials on Tuesday could presage sweeping new investigations of Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google and their tech industry peers, stemming from lingering frustrations that these companies are too big, fail to safeguard users’ private data and don’t cooperate with legal demands.

The gathering at the Justice Department had been designed to focus on social media platforms and the ways in which they moderate content online, following complaints from President Trump and other top Republicans that Silicon Valley companies deliberately seek to silence conservative users and views online.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened the meeting by raising questions of possible ideological bias among the tech companies and sought to bring the conversation back to that topic at least twice more, according to D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine.

But the discussion proved far more wide-ranging, as attorneys general from eight states and the District — and officials from five others — steered the conversation toward the privacy practices of Silicon Valley. Those in the meeting did not zero in on specific business tactics, but they did cover such issues as how companies collect user data and what they do with it once the information is in their hands.

“We were unanimous. Our focus is going to be on antitrust and privacy. That’s where our laws are,” Jim Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general, said in an interview.

«

So basically they told Sessions to recall the US’s First Amendment, and moved on to topics not covered by that legal topic. I do like the idea of Sessions discovering his, er, session being hijacked and made to talk about serious issues.
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AirPower referenced in iPhone XS packaging, iOS 12.1 code shows continuing development • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

Looking into iOS 12.1, we noticed that the component of iOS responsible for managing the charging interface that appears when using AirPower has been updated, which means that Apple is still actively working on the project.

Furthermore, a picture of the “getting started guide” that comes packaged with the iPhone XS clearly mentions AirPower. “Place iPhone with screen facing up on AirPower or a Qi-certified wireless charger,” it reads. The image was shared on Twitter by Gavin Stephens.

If Apple was planning on cancelling the project altogether, then it would definitely not be mentioning it in the packaging of the brand new devices.

«

I dunno, the lead time for printing the packaging for a few million phones is probably longer than a week or two. But the change in the 12.1 charging interface? That’s definitely a sign of life. I wonder if this has become a sort of death march for the team working on it now, where they are determined to make it work no matter what – a sort of Charge Over The River Kwai.
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Instagram’s CEO • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

»

Technically speaking, Instagram was a company. In practice, though, Instagram was a product, and its business model was venture capital funding. To be sure, this wouldn’t be the case forever, but on April 9, 2012, the road from popular product to viable company was a long and arduous one. Instagram would not only need to continue growing its user base, it would also have to scale its infrastructure, figure out a business model (ok fine, advertising), build up tools to support that business model (first a sales team, then a self-serve model, plus tracking and targeting capabilities), all while fighting off larger and more established companies — particularly Facebook — that were waking up to the threat Instagram posed to their hold on user attention.

Or Systrom and Instagram could offload all of those responsibilities to Facebook and continue being “extraordinary product leaders”, and pocket $1bn to boot (and, to be fair to Systrom and team, that understates their gains; that $1bn included $700m in Facebook stock, which today is worth nearly $4bn). It is a defensible choice (for Instagram anyways; not for the regulators that approved the deal), but the implication is that, title notwithstanding, Systrom was never the CEO of Instagram; to be a CEO is to have a company that can stand on its own.

«

I spoke on the BBC’s World At One news programme about this on Tuesday, and in researching ahead of time noticed that Systrom had been giving interviews in August and even in September (here’s one with the WSJ magazine) where he didn’t give any hint of wanting to leave. Such as this quote in the WSJ piece:

»

“…The whole idea of joining Facebook was that we could scale way more quickly than we would independently. So if that is your goal, I think we’ve fulfilled that, and then some. If your goal, on the other hand, is not to have a billion dollars but two, or three, or four or whatever, well, good luck spending it. That’s not what makes you happy in life…I think what I’ve learned over the years is to spend time valuing the things that you have. And it’s not the trappings that people typically associate with success. It’s the things around family, around time alone, around intellectual curiosity.”

«

I can also confirm: when you’re the journalist who did the last interview with X before they did Y, and you don’t find out Y, you feel really crap. Seth Stevenson, you have my sympathies.
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Qualcomm accuses Apple of giving its intellectual property to Intel • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

»

Under terms of their previous partnership, Qualcomm said it agreed to provide Apple with techniques, methods and software to evaluate the performance of its modems in iPhones. Those agreements gave a limited number of Apple engineers access to sensitive information, and Qualcomm said it has evidence showing Apple provided some of that information to Intel around 2016—a time when it says the iPhone maker was seeking leverage in modem-chip negotiations.

“Apple has engaged in a yearslong campaign of false promises, stealth, and subterfuge designed to steal Qualcomm’s confidential information,” Qualcomm said in its filing.

The allegations are an amendment to a breach of contract suit Qualcomm filed last November. In it, Qualcomm accused Apple of violating an agreement that allows the chip supplier to audit the iPhone maker’s use of its software. Qualcomm also said Apple engineers had shared some information about its technology with other Apple engineers working on competitors’ chips.

In August, Apple challenged Qualcomm’s suit in a filing, saying that after nine months of discovery the chip maker had failed to disclose evidence supporting those allegations. It asked the court to compel Qualcomm to disclose evidence.

Qualcomm’s filing Tuesday expands on the chip supplier’s prior claims by directly accusing Apple of using Qualcomm software to improve Intel’s chip performance. It also says Intel engineers complained to Apple they weren’t able to open Qualcomm files provided by the iPhone maker.

«

This is going to be the new Apple-Samsung, isn’t it.
link to this extract


macOS 10.14 Mojave: The Ars Technica review • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham goes in depth – like, diving-equipment deep – into Apple’s new desktop OS, which now includes “hey iOS developers you will be able to easily port your app to the desktop!” aka Marzipan. Apple has written a few to show what they look like:

»

When you launch a Marzipan app, you’re actually launching a handful of processes. UIKitHostApp.xpc essentially serves as a launcher for the actual UIKit app and is responsible for actually displaying the app window—open the Activity Monitor and you’ll actually see two processes for every Marzipan app you launch, one for the app itself and one for the host app. The UIKitSystem.app links against both macOS and iOS frameworks to bridge the gap between the two (for a more thorough look at everything that’s going on, Peter Steinberger’s instructions for hacking together third-party Marzipan apps and Adam Demasi’s examination of the under-the-hood technologies are both good reads).

Even though they’re iOS apps at heart, Marzipan adds support for expected macOS elements like scroll bars, Full Screen support, the menu bar, the Touch Bar, and right-clicking. The iOS apps support copy and paste and drag-and-drop with native Mac apps, and they can generate notifications and layer their windows just like typical AppKit apps, helping them blend in a bit better with the “real” Mac apps.

The end result is apps that exist somewhere in between actual Mac apps and iOS apps running on an iPad in landscape mode; compare the Mac versions and iOS versions side by side and you’ll see that they’re all near-identical, right down to the first-run splash screens. You do get a handful of controls up in the title bar, some menu items up in the menu bar (and, sometimes, in a right-click context menu), and always-visible search bars with Mac-style focus rings.

«

Marzipan is necessary to stop MacOS dying on its feet through lack of developer interest, because all the action – and most of the money – is on mobile. Sure, you get people running Photoshop and GPU-intensive programs on desktops, and they can command high prices (though, ehh, about the same as a phone now). But this is Apple being pragmatic about keeping developers interested in a platform that only survived because of the web, but is now at risk of becoming sterile because of mobile.
link to this extract


Fog Creek is now Glitch! • Medium

Anil Dash is CEO of Fog Creek – that is, Glitch:

»

From inventing Trello to co-creating Stack Overflow to pioneering bug tracking with FogBugz and launching other successful and influential products like Manuscript and Kiln and Copilot and CityDesk and many other experiments. Fog Creek has been a bastion of innovation for nearly two decades.
And today, we’re turning the page on that chapter for something new.

When we started working on the project that would become Glitch, it was originally just part of our regular “Creek Week” process — the internal hackathons where members on our team come up with new ideas and try to inspire each other with cool projects. It became obvious pretty quickly that Glitch was something special.

Then earlier this year, when Glitch came out of beta, we saw an incredible groundswell. As a creative community, Glitch inspired people to create over a million apps in record time — including cutting-edge work in VR, machine learning, distributed apps, bots, and more. And Glitch has won the hearts of developers around the world who now feel that coding with other tools feels a lot more lonely and less productive. Just as importantly, Glitch has reminded an entire community that a healthy, independent, open web generates enormous value for everyone on the Internet, earning the attention and respect of many of the biggest players on the web.

One of the guiding principles for Glitch is that we should communicate with clarity, and that our purpose and goals should be self-evident in all we do. And that’s led us to recognize it’s time for us to become Glitch. It’s not just what we’re building, it’s who we are as a company. While the core values of Fog Creek still persist, we’ve also learned a lot and evolved a lot over the last two decades, and now our name and identity are evolving, too.

«

Dash took over a couple of years ago; it’s not coincidental that he’s the author of The Web We Lost, a 2012 lament for the way that big companies and monolithic software had taken over the web. Glitch has a feeling like something from that pre-2012 era; go there and look at the fabulous apps people have created for fun or work using it. (I rather like this space travel one that was playing when I visited. Put it on a really big screen!)
link to this extract


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Start Up No.916: Apple completes Shazam, Sirius buys Pandora, Chrome row rumbles on, YouTube channel maker arrested, and more


Being an Uber driver doesn’t pay as well as it used to. Photo by Melies The Bunny 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. You’ve got that ring of confidence. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uber drivers and other gig economy workers are earning half what they did five years ago • Recode

Rani Molla:

»

The gig isn’t as good as it used to be for people working through online transportation apps in the US.

On average, drivers who transport people (Uber or Lyft) or things (Uber Eats or Postmates) through an app made 53% less in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to a new study by the JPMorgan Chase Institute that looks at online gig economy payments into Chase checking accounts.

The average monthly payments to those who worked for a transportation app in a given month declined to $783 from $1,469. Meanwhile, people working for leasing apps — Airbnb, Turo, Parklee and other apps that let you rent assets like your home, car or parking space — saw their incomes from those platforms rise 69% to $1,736 on average.

Screenshot 2018 09 24 21 51 06

This is happening as online gig work has become more popular, thanks in large part to the growth in the number transportation jobs.

The share of the working population that has participated in the online gig economy at any point in a year rose from less than 2% in 2013 to nearly 5% in 2018. That’s about the same share of people employed in the public administration sector.

«

That seems like a lot of people. (In the UK, the proportion in the whole public sector, which includes local and central government, is a little under 20%. Not sure what the US definition of “public administration” includes or excludes.)
link to this extract


Sirius XM to acquire Pandora: what you need to know • Motley Fool

Daniel Sparks:

»

To own the remaining shares of Pandora, Sirius has agreed to offer a fixed exchange ratio of 1.44 newly issued Sirius shares for each outstanding Pandora share.

“Based on the 30-day volume-weighted average price of $7.04 per share of SiriusXM common stock, the implied price of Pandora common stock is $10.14 per share,” Sirius explained in a press release about the deal, “representing a premium of 13.8% over a 30-day volume-weighted average price.”

The transaction values Pandora at $3.5bn.

Importantly, the merger agreement gives Pandora a “go-shop” period in which the company can actively consider deals with other parties. This means that if other companies are interested in acquiring Pandora, they still have a chance to enter into negotiations and make a better offer.

The deal will create a number of synergies, Sirius and Pandora management believe.

First off, the combined company would create the world’s largest audio entertainment company. Sirius boasts over 36 million subscribers in North America and more than 23 million users on an annual trial. Meanwhile, Pandora has over 70 million monthly active users and about 6 million paid subscribers.

«

Pandora has lost money hand over fist for eight years, and wasn’t slowing down. Sirius is going to have to do some pretty amazing things with advertising and subscribers (the latter has, to be fair, been a space where Pandora has been growing – but the subscription business is a small one trying to escape a big, loss-making one). Since January 2016, Pandora’s operating loss is a billion dollars; in the first half of 2018, $200m.
link to this extract


Apple completes Shazam acquisition, removes ads from Shazam app • Macworld

Jason Cross:

»

It’s not yet clear what Apple plans to do with the Shazam app or its underlying technology. Apple has only said, “The app will soon offer its experience ad-free for all users so everyone can enjoy the best of Shazam without interruption.”

That’s good news for the short term. In the long term, it’s hard to know what this buyout means. Will the Shazam app go away? Will the Android version disappear? Will it going to continue to offer Spotify integration?

The best that Shazam app fans could hope for is for Apple to leave the app alone, with Android support and Spotify integration intact, while building its technology into Apple’s own products. One can easily imagine a “listen” icon in Apple Music to identify a song and take you directly to the Apple Music page for it.

Shazam is already integrated into Siri: try asking Siri to “name that tune” or “what song is currently playing” and it will listen and provide a Shazam-powered response with a link to Apple Music. Perhaps iOS 13 will feature an always-listening song ID feature like that on the Pixel 2. There’s probably more Apple could do with Shazam and HomePod, too. At the very least, we can hope that the Shazam app quickly gets an update to add support for Siri Shortcuts and the Siri watch face on watchOS 5.

«

This is a classic one for Stratechery’s Ben Thompson to go into (and I expect he will, while you’re reading this). Apple, a vertical (hardware) company buying Shazam, a horizontal (services) company. Shazam is best served by being on the most devices, in the hands of the most people. Can Apple, which usually want to benefit from exclusivity, really use that?

In the case of Shazam, I think so: Shazam (as a music-recognition app) has the pulse of what people are interested in hearing. That’s a huge bonus for a company with a paid music service which wants to know which artists to feature. So I think Shazam on Android will continue; removing the ads is neither here or there. It’s more valuable on multiple platforms.
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Disable Google Chrome sign in and sync • No Absolute Truths @ IdeaSynthesis

Femi Omojola:

»

As you might have heard, Chrome 69 automatically logs you into the browser when you log into any Google property. As much as I might like Chrome (and Google), I was quite displeased by this particular change: I assume it was in the release notes (that probably a vanishingly small number of Chrome users read), but the rationale that’s been given for the change doesn’t really make sense, and in any case I really prefer not to have anything synced anywhere. It definitely (for me at least) violated the principle of least astonishment: I can’t speak for anyone else but I personally don’t expect a routine software upgrade to suddenly start uploading passwords somewhere, or copying my passwords onto any random computer I happen to log into.

As noted in the first article above, the Sync enabled/disabled UI was singularly confusing to me as to what the state of things are, and a careful search (well, about 1 minute) through the Chrome settings pages didn’t really shed much more light on exactly how I could guarantee no data gets inadvertently synced. I set out to figure out how I could keep using Chrome but still feel relatively comfortable that Chrome Sync wasn’t helpfully distributing my data. After a couple of hours running around I finally got it together thanks to https://www.chromium.org/administrators/policy-list-3.

«

It’s a couple of commands in the Terminal window, or two lines in Windows Registry.
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The creator of one of YouTube’s top tween channels was arrested for molesting a minor. YouTube is keeping the channel up • Buzzfeed News

Charlie Warzel:

»

According to an arrest warrant obtained by BuzzFeed News, detectives were called to Rylett’s Orange County hotel room on the morning of Aug. 16, after Rylett allegedly verbally abused the girl, demanding she undress in front of him against her will and “practice wrapping her breasts down, to make them appear smaller for the video shoot.” According to the report, the girl, who is under 16, claims Rylett touched her breasts and fondled her while repeatedly making her undress, eventually attempting to forcefully remove her underwear. The arrest report also alleges that Rylett “threatened to use the contract to fine her if she did not comply with his demand.” Rylett pleaded not guilty to the charges at an arraignment last month. He has surrendered his passport and will stand trial later this year. Rylett’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Rylett’s channel remains live on YouTube; the streaming video company learned of his arrest in mid-August.

Rylett, a 55-year-old who resides in the United Kingdom, is one of the founders of the SevenAwesomeKids brand. Established in 2008, the franchise boasts a collective 17 million subscribers over seven channels, including SevenPerfectAngels, SevenFabulousTeens, and SevenTwinklingTweens. The largest channel — SevenSuperGirls — currently has roughly 9 million subscribers and 5 billion views. Each features daily videos from a rotating stable of more than 20 young girls, ranging from 8 to 18 years old. Rylett pays them a monthly salary in exchange for filming videos he directs.

Rylett’s arrest is the latest in a series of unsettling revelations involving YouTube content aimed at teens and young children. In 2017, after public outcry, YouTube began cracking down on the child exploitation videos it was hosting, many depicting young kids in disturbing and abusive situations, all with millions of views…

…A number of young women who previously starred in Rylett’s videos told BuzzFeed News they were frustrated by the platform’s lack of oversight. “I was telling my mom two years ago that, if this was a real entertainment business — you know, with rules — I’d report him in an instant,” one said. “But I can’t because there’s nobody here to help me.”

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link to this extract


Microsoft does away with more passwords • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

As the company today announced at its Ignite conference, it’ll now support password-less logins via its Microsoft Authenticator app for hundreds of thousands of Azure Active Directory-connected apps. “No company lets enterprises eliminate more passwords than Microsoft,” the company proudly writes in its announcement today.

The company has written about this in the past and with Windows Hello, it’s already offering a version of this for Windows 10 users. For Azure Active Directory, the Windows Authenticator app essentially replicates the functionality of Windows Hello and it lets users use their fingerprint, face or PIN to log in to their enterprise applications. The overall idea here is that you are still providing two factors of authentication: something you own (your phone) and something you have (your fingerprint or face).

Here is what that looks like for personal accounts. The process for enterprise accounts is quite similar.

«

“Fingerprint, face or PIN”. The latter doesn’t feel that far away from a password, to be honest, though I suppose if you’re having to put it through your pre-authorised Windows Authenticator app then it adds a faint sheen of extra security.
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Tesla Solar Roof tiles: where are they? • CNBC

Kate Brigham and Lora Kolodny put a note in their diaries back in October 2016 – “check in two years” – and it’s come due:

»

As of May, only 12 Tesla tiled roofs were connected to the grid, all in Northern California, according to Reuters. Tesla declined to give an updated figure, but Musk later clarified that his “several hundred homes” comment refers to roofs that are scheduled for installation or are partially installed.

Tesla has been accepting $1,000 deposits for the roof tiles since May 2017. But at that point, the company wasn’t even close to mass producing them.

It established a factory in Buffalo, New York to make the tiles, but it’s not running at full capacity yet. At the company’s most recent annual shareholder meeting, Musk blamed ongoing delays on a need for more testing.

“There’s only so much accelerated life testing that you do on a roof. So before we can deploy it to a large number of houses we need to make sure that it’s that all elements of the roof are going to last for at least three decades,” Musk said at the shareholder meeting last June…

…One of the customers with the tiles already installed is San Jose resident and Tesla Model 3 owner Tri Huynh. He preordered them as soon as possible, and the roof was installed earlier this year.

“I was actually extremely surprised I got the call, just because you never know what this stuff, right. I thought there’d be extreme delays, I just didn’t know how long it was going to take,” said Huynh. While traditional solar panels can be installed in a day, it took a team of 10 to 15 workers two weeks to install this roof… Tesla’s customers are paying a premium for the tile’s sleek look. Huynh’s roof cost him about $100,000, though he did need to replace his roof anyway.

“I don’t think this will ever pay for itself honestly,” he said.

«

link to this extract


Facebook-made smart display will reportedly be announced this week • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Facebook has been working on something akin to an Echo Show or smart display for a while now. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook decided to put the plans on hold. Now it appears the device could launch as soon as this coming week.

The device has a codename of ‘Portal,’ and reportedly will use facial recognition to detect who the user is. Video calling will be the primary feature, and leaks have shown it will be tightly integrated with Facebook Messenger. A new report from Cheddar claims there will be two screen sizes – one priced around $400, and the other $300.

After the company’s privacy scandals, Facebook reportedly made some last-minute changes to Portal, including adding a privacy shutter to the front camera. Cheddar also reports the device will have Alexa, and that Facebook has shown Portal to major retailers.

«

This only has to go wrong in some tiny way for Facebook to sustain another PR calamity. Equally, it might just not sell. I can’t see a huge upside – though maybe there’s a (mature) generation that’s eager to have a “Facebook videophone” in their kitchen. I don’t think it would be kids, though.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.915: Labour’s Twitter nexus, Amazon’s driver catch, goodbye Chrome!, bowdlerising Apple?, watchOS 5 reviewed, and more


Fibre installation: we could have had this in the 1980s but for Thatcher, an ex-BT exec says. Photo by BT’s BDUK partnerships fibre rollout photography 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. Fight another day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Meet the woman leading Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter army • Buzzfeed News

Mark di Stefano gets the scoop: the interview with the woman behind a ranty pro-Corbyn Twitter account:

»

All of @Rachael_Swindon’s tweets come from a small, white iPhone in a pink, plastic wallet case, which sits connected to a charger in the Cousins’ lounge.

At 6am each morning, Cousins wakes up, looks through the news (“The Independent is good, the Canary, Skwawkbox, those blogs, some Facebook pages”) and she’ll compose a series of tweets that she intends to send throughout the day. She’s currently posting about 40 a day — a grab bag of news, memes, and insults directed at Tories or Corbyn-sceptic Labour MPs that she will have saved to her drafts.

“I tweet about 7am, then I walk the dog,” she said. “I’ll have a coffee, look at Twitter again, tweet a bit more, do something else.

“I do go shopping. I take my children out. I do take Jon to doctor’s appointments.”

Cousins said her husband [Jon] is living with fibromyalgia, a painful long-term condition causing extreme pain and fatigue. She has osteoarthritis in her legs. Neither are working at the moment, and while they now live on unemployment benefits, documents back up their claim that they’re currently locked in a battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over his disability payments.

She said her personal life experience — being in and out of council housing, ongoing disputes with the DWP — is what drew her to tweeting angrily about the Tories.

“I thought, I’ve got to do something, I’ve got to shout about it,” she said.

Her political awakening coincided with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn: “He supports people like me, because I am just a pauper.”

It’s not entirely a pro-Corbyn household. Jon repeatedly wanted to explain why the Labour leader was “not my cup of tea”, calling himself at different times “more centre-right” than his wife, “a Blairite”, and “not crazy about all the nationalisations”.

«

Does knowing the precise identity of the person behind the tweets affect how you think of them? I think it does.
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Amazon lays creative traps to catch drivers that steal packages • BGR

Andy Meek:

»

To clamp down on drivers running off with packages, the company will frequently insert dummy packages (which might be empty and which might also have a random object inside to provide some weight) into the slew of orders a driver needs to load up with. Since the packages are fake (because they’re a trap to deter stealing), the real-looking label on them will present an error message when it’s scanned.

“If you bring the package back, you are innocent. If you don’t, you’re a thug,” Sid Shah, a former manager for DeliverOL, a courier company that delivers packages for Amazon, told Business Insider.

Another source told BI that directives for this practice came straight from Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. “It’s meant to be a trap,” this unnamed person said, “to check the integrity of the driver.”

Per BI, here’s how the practice works, according to the sources:

“During deliveries, drivers scan the labels of every package they deliver. When they scan a fake label on a dummy package, an error message will pop up. When this happens, drivers might call their supervisors to address the problem, or keep the package in their truck and return it to an Amazon warehouse at the end of their shift.”

Since the package shows an error message when it’s scanned, the thinking is that a potential thief might decide to take it, because the error message means the package technically doesn’t exist in Amazon’s sprawling network.

«

Wonder if the Post Office does anything like this?
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Why I’m done with Chrome • A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering

Matthew Green:

»

A few weeks ago Google shipped an update to Chrome that fundamentally changes the sign-in experience. From now on, every time you log into a Google property (for example, Gmail), Chrome will automatically sign the browser into your Google account for you. It’ll do this without asking, or even explicitly notifying you. (However, and this is important: Google developers claim this will not actually start synchronizing your data to Google — yet. See further below.)…

…The change hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed: it received some vigorous discussion on sites like Hacker News. But the mainstream tech press seems to have ignored it completely. This is unfortunate — and I hope it changes — because this update has huge implications for Google and the future of Chrome.

In the rest of this post, I’m going to talk about why this matters. From my perspective, this comes down to basically four points:

1. Nobody on the Chrome development team can provide a clear rationale for why this change was necessary, and the explanations they’ve given don’t make any sense.
2. This change has enormous implications for user privacy and trust, and Google seems unable to grapple with this.
3. The change makes a hash out of Google’s own privacy policies for Chrome.
4. Google needs to stop treating customer trust like it’s a renewable resource, because they’re screwing up badly.

«

I don’t use Chrome because it’s a gigantic CPU suck, but whatever.
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Will phones soon finish off the camera market? • ExtremeTech

David Cardinal likes his Nikon DSLR. But…:

»

Given the massive investment being poured into phones, it is only a matter of time before they replace every segment of the camera market of which they are physically capable. They’re not the right solution for drones, robots, or even cars, for example, and in many cases, action cameras don’t benefit from a display enough to justify a phone form factor. Of course, there will still be a need and a market for larger cameras, just like there is today for film, but increasingly it will only be out of preference and not necessity.

For several years, I’ve participated in a panel at the Electronic Imaging technical conference on what it will take for the phone to be the only camera needed. My presentation was simply a set of photos I couldn’t have taken without my standalone, high-end camera. Each year there are fewer slides in the talk.

In my case, I find the ergonomics of my Nikon DSLRs to make me much more productive than shooting with a phone. Even if my phone produced the same images, it’s more work to control for an extended shooting session. Given the form factor, there is only so much phone makers can do to address that issue. Of course, my phone is always in my pocket, so I’m finding myself using it more and more as it improves each year. And for people for whom the phone was their first camera, it will be more intuitive to use than learning the controls on a traditional camera.

«

The latter is a good point – there’s a whole generation that has never thought that a camera is a separate object.
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watchOS 5: The BirchTree Review • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

»

The Apple Watch journey has been all about figuring out what people like to do on their smart watches and optimizing watchOS to match. Those categories seem to have settled on activity tracking, listening to audio, handling notifications, communicating with others, and getting general information quickly. watchOS 5 addresses all of those categories and almost all changes are for the better. The worst thing I can say is that a good number of these updates require third party app developers to update their apps to use them. Given how much better this makes the watch experience, I’d expect to see updates very soon that include these changes.

There are a lot of changes to activity tracking and workouts, including things that FitBit users used to be able to lord over the Apple Watch. Automatic workout detection is only the tip of the iceberg here, there’s much more. The Siri watch face, my favorite new feature from last year, got the best update it possibly could: third party app integrations. This means that all your favorite apps, not just Apple’s, will be shown on your watch face. Podcast and audiobook apps can now make honest-to-goodness amazing apps on the watch, and they can even download content and play in the background. And if you don’t want to use a third party app, Apple’s brand new Podcasts app for the Apple Watch is quite nice.

«

He picks up on a lot of subtle little points; this captures them all neatly. The easier access to “Now Playing” (so you can change the volume or change the track with a tap from the home screen) is huge; so is being able to edit the Control Centre – which, as he says, you’ll do once and never again, but of course it’ll be perfect (for you) after that once.
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iPhone XS has an upgrade Apple didn’t mention • iFixit

Kay Kay Clapp:

»

While the XS Max inherits the dual-cell battery design of the X, the XS has evolved a single-celled L-shaped battery. For a phone about the size of the X, you’d expect a gapless battery to pack more punch, not less, but the XS drops to 10.13 Wh from 10.35 Wh (the XS Max, meanwhile, packs 12.08 Wh in its two cells). We dug into it, and there’s an interesting story of innovation behind the capacity drop.

This isn’t Apple’s first foray into weirdly-shaped batteries. In 2015, they debuted a terraced battery design in the MacBook that utilizes every bit of space in the chassis. But that wouldn’t work for the iPhone form factor—Apple needed a more creative battery geometry.

The new design approach for non-rectangular batteries removes material from one or more of the layers before they can be stacked. Apple has been filing patents in this direction since 2011. The challenge with any lithium-polymer battery cell is that each corner needs to be sealed to prevent undue stress from thermal expansion—and since the battery of the XS has six sides vs. the traditional four, those extra corners can be tricky. To reduce the stress on the corners, Apple notched the internal corner of the battery (as described in this 2016 patent). This dramatic shift opens up a lot of design possibilities, but the large notch is responsible for the decrease in capacity relative to the X. Only time will tell how this new cell performs with age—both of these batteries are still limited to 500 charge cycles.

«

I’d love to know the logic behind this strange shaping, rather than the Lego-block-style approach used on the iPhone X.
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Google is testing manual bokeh and Color Pop effects in Google Photos • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

Some Photos users have gotten new editing tools—they appear in the Photos app when modifying a picture. We’ve seen this in teardowns, as well. There’s Color Pop (a filter), which keeps the focus of the photo in color and desaturates the rest of the shot. The manual bokeh (under edits) lets you do something similar, except the background is blurred instead of desaturated. You can tap to change the focus and adjust the strength of the blur effect.

Google is probably testing these features together because the underlying processing is similar; Photos needs to know the difference between the subject and background. Importantly, this works with regular photos, not those taken with depth effects enabled. However, from the screenshots we’ve seen, the feature still looks buggy. That Color Pop seems particularly rough. There may be a lot more work to do before these features roll out widely, but it’ll happen… one day.

«

Software eats everything. So you can’t differentiate based only on software effects.
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No sex please, we’re Apple: iPhone giant seeks TV success on its own terms • WSJ

Tripp Mickle and Joe Flint:

»

Apple’s entertainment team must walk a line few in Hollywood would consider. Since Mr. Cook spiked “Vital Signs,” [about Dr Dre’s early life] Apple has made clear, say producers and agents, that it wants high-quality shows with stars and broad appeal, but it doesn’t want gratuitous sex, profanity or violence.

The result is an approach out of step with the triumphs of the video-streaming era. Other platforms, such as HBO and Amazon.com Inc., have made their mark in original content with edgier programming that often wins critical acclaim. Netflix Inc., which helped birth the streaming revolution, built its original-content business on “House of Cards,” a drama about an ethically bankrupt politician, and “Orange Is the New Black,” a comedic drama about a women’s prison. Both feature rough language and plenty of sex.

As a consumer-product company, Apple is especially exposed if content strikes a sour note, said Preston Beckman, a former NBC and Fox programming executive. For Netflix, the only risk is that people don’t subscribe, he said. “With Apple, you can say, ‘I’m going to punish them by not buying their phone or computer.’ “

Apple has twice postponed the launch of its first slate of shows, moving it to March from late this year, agents and producers said. One leading producer with projects at Apple expects the date to be pushed back yet further…

…Entertainment is “irrational and unpredictable,” said Peter Sealey, a consultant who led marketing for Coke’s Hollywood business. Apple excels at devices and Coke at soft drinks, he said, but “movies and TV are none of that. They’re emotional.”

«

On this basis, the distance between Silicon Valley and Hollywood isn’t just a plane flight; they’re on different planets. Hollywood knows that sex and violence sells, and other companies getting into this space recognise that: Amazon’s remake of Jack Ryan is brutal at times, but pretty gentle for the rest of it. Would Apple have made it? Apple’s TV schedule is going to be more saccharin than pre-Pixar Disney at this rate; and pre-Pixar Disney was coasting downhill on its past successes.
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PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying Infowars ‘promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance’ • The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

»

PayPal is terminating its relationship with Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, the online payment service said Friday.

After an extensive review of Infowars and its related sites, PayPal said in a statement, the company “found instances that promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance against certain communities and religions, which run counter to our core value of inclusion.”

PayPal notified Infowars of the decision Thursday, prompting the site to accuse PayPal in a blog post of a “political ploy designed to financially sabotage an influential media outlet.” Infowars said PayPal had given it 10 days to find a new payment platform, after which PayPal’s services would no longer function.

PayPal declined to cite specific examples of Infowars’s problematic behavior. But Infowars has gained increasing attention — and criticism — for its role in spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation online. PayPal’s decision Friday makes it the latest tech company to ban Jones and his content from its platform, following in the footsteps of Apple, Facebook and Google, among others.

«

Well done, PayPal. Also: what took you so long?
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Eric Schmidt, ex-Google CEO, predicts internet bifurcation with China • CNBC

Lora Kolodny:

»

At the [private Village Global VC] event, economist Tyler Cowen asked about the possibility of the internet fragmenting into different sub-internets with different regulations and limited access between them in coming years. “What’s the chance, say, 10 to 15 years, we have just three to four separate internets?”

Schmidt said:

»

“I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.

If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal. Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number.

If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.

Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.”

«

«

Seems possible. It’s hard to say whether Schmidt tends towards Pollyanna-ish optimism (my first thoughts about his track record) or dystopic downside (my second thoughts, such as his “over the creepy line” and “get a new name at 18” comments). So while I find this scenario very possible, I don’t know if it’s plausible beyond Asian countries.
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How Thatcher killed the UK’s superfast broadband before it even existed • Tech Radar

Jay McGregor:

»

Dr [Peter] Cochrane [BT’s chief technology officer] knew that Britain’s tired copper network was insufficient: “In 1974 it was patently obvious that copper wire was unsuitable for digital communication in any form, and it could not afford the capacity we needed for the future.”

He was asked to do a report on the UK’s future of digital communication and what was needed to move forward.

“In 1979 I presented my results,” he tells us, “and the conclusion was to forget about copper and get into fibre. So BT started a massive effort – that spanned six years – involving thousands of people to both digitise the network and to put fibre everywhere. The country had more fibre per capita than any other nation.

“In 1986, I managed to get fibre to the home cheaper than copper and we started a programme where we built factories for manufacturing the system. By 1990, we had two factories, one in Ipswich and one in Birmingham, where were manufacturing components for systems to roll out to the local loop”.

At that time, the UK, Japan and the United States were leading the way in fibre optic technology and roll-out. Indeed, the first wide area fibre optic network was set up in Hastings, UK. But, in 1990, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided that BT’s rapid and extensive rollout of fibre optic broadband was anti-competitive and held a monopoly on a technology and service that no other telecom company could do.

“Unfortunately, the Thatcher government decided that it wanted the American cable companies providing the same service to increase competition. So the decision was made to close down the local loop roll out and in 1991 that roll out was stopped. The two factories that BT had built to build fibre related components were sold to Fujitsu and HP, the assets were stripped and the expertise was shipped out to South East Asia.

“Our colleagues in Korea and Japan, who were working with quite closely at the time, stood back and looked at what happened to us in amazement. What was pivotal was that they carried on with their respective fibre rollouts. And, well, the rest is history as they say.”

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The American cable companies all went bust because they were digging the roads up and each laying their own fibre. What Thatcher should have brought in was obligatory cable-sharing: make BT open up to rivals. (I don’t think Cochrane would have liked it, or BT’s management.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.914: “Alexa, microwave!”, the threat to Sonos, PC market to grow?, Huawei gets AirPoddy, get rich on bugs, and more


What’s filling your RAM? Probably a to-do list and a notepad app. Why, though? Photo by osde8info 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 12 links for you. Because it’s Friday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon’s Alexa-enabled microwave hands-on: it cooks but does not speak • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

The way the Alexa integration works is pretty clever: when you set it up, it will get paired to your Alexa system as “the microwave,” and then you can command Alexa to, you know, cook stuff. There are very few buttons on the microwave because all the presets for various food types have been stored in Amazon’s cloud instead.

There is an Alexa button on the microwave, and it does two things: it turns on the microphone on one of your Echo speakers so you don’t have to use the “Alexa” wake word, and, more importantly, it sends a signal so that whatever you’re about to say will be in the context of controlling the microwave. For example, you can hit the button and just say “stop,” and it’ll stop the microwave. (How this is more efficient than just hitting the stop button is unclear.)

The fun feature is the popcorn, though. When you set it up for the first time, you’ll have an option to sign up for a subscription to buy microwave popcorn from Amazon. Then, as you pop it, Alexa will keep track of how many times you have said, “Alexa, make popcorn,” and it’ll reorder automatically when you’re running low. There’s also a popcorn button on the device.

Is all this worth $59.99? Sure, it’s a pretty dead-ahead 700W microwave after all. It’s black and boxy and simple. I don’t have a lot more to tell you about the hardware. It has a rotating tray on the inside. There are vents and a metal enclosure. It ships on November 14th.

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Bohn meets the ultimate gadget that is beyond the capabilities of tech reviewing. Whether it’s secure… one has to hope so.
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Amazon Echo subwoofer and Alexa-capable smart plug may be on the way • Ars Technica

Valentina Palladino:

»

Amazon seems to have given us a glimpse into some of its new, unreleased products. Listings on Amazon UK show a new Echo Sub, a subwoofer designed to work with Echo speakers, and a new Amazon Smart Plug, a socket adapter with Alexa capabilities, both with an availability date of October 11. Amazon has since removed the listings, but reports from Pocket-lint show images and details of the two new devices.

The Echo Sub looks like a fatter version of Amazon’s Echo speaker, almost like a clone of Apple’s HomePod. The wireless subwoofer includes a 6-inch down-firing woofer and 100W of bass, tech that would certainly improve the quality of existing Echo speakers. Some complained after Amazon released the updated version of the original Echo last year, claiming its sound quality was subpar.

Listed within the device’s description is stereo pairing, a feature that hasn’t been available to Echo speakers yet. Currently, users can only group multiple speakers together to fill a room with sound, but they won’t get that rich, complex left/right stereo sound. It appears that will be possible with the Echo Sub connected to two compatible Echo devices.

«

Stereo pairing and subwoofers are all becoming standard very rapidly: Sonos might have something to worry about. After years in which its combination of sound quality, streaming capability and variety set it apart, it’s being caught up at the top and bottom by Apple and Amazon. Is there room for it in the middle?

link to this extract


Global PC market to halt decline in 2019 as APAC leads with 1% growth • Canalys

»

The worldwide PC market will enjoy a slight recovery in 2019, with shipments of desktops, notebooks and two-in-ones set for 0.3% growth after seven years of decline. APAC will be a key driver as the industry turns to the region in the face of falling demand in Europe and China. PC shipments to Asia Pacific will overtake those to Western Europe by 2021.

“Windows 10 refresh will continue to be the main driver of commercial demand for PCs in 2019,” said Canalys Chief Analyst Alastair Edwards. “This will be buoyed by strong economic performance and business spend in the United States, the largest PC market in the world, as well as a continued global push to upgrade on the back of heightened IT security concerns. Furthermore, 2019 is likely to bring about an easing of component supply constraints that have recently plagued the industry. Intel and its partners have admitted that tight supply of 14 nanometer processors will delay PC shipments this year, while DRAM shortages will start to ease toward the end of 2018, with the effects to be felt next year. Pent-up demand from this year will boost growth in 2019 as these issues are resolved.”

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One% growth! Hang out more flags!
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E.U. justice commissioner quits Facebook, describing her experience as ‘channel of dirt’ • The Washington Post

Hamza Shaban:

»

The European Commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality shut down her Facebook account, describing her experience on the social network as a “channel of dirt.”

At a news conference Thursday in Brussels, Vera Jourova said that she received an “influx of hatred” on the popular platform and decided to cancel her account as a result.

“I don’t want to avoid communication with people, even with critical people,” she said, noting her decision to leave Facebook was not to avoid public criticism. Her mailbox is filled with critical comments, she said, and she responds to those people who don’t use vulgar language. “This is my nature, I speak to everybody who wants normal, honest, descent communication.” Euractiv earlier reported on Jourova’s remarks.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

«

…but she’s staying on Twitter.
link to this extract


Android and Google Play Security Rewards Programs surpass $3M in payouts • Google Online Security Blog

Jason Woloz and Mayank Jain are on the Android Security & Privacy team:

»

In the ASR program’s third year, we received over 470 qualifying vulnerability reports from researchers and the average pay per researcher jumped by 23%. To date, the ASR program has rewarded researchers with over $3M, paying out roughly $1M per year.

Here are some of the highlights from the Android Security Rewards program’s third year:
• There were no payouts for our highest possible reward: a complete remote exploit chain leading to TrustZone or Verified Boot compromise.
• 99 individuals contributed one or more fixes.
• The ASR program’s reward averages were $2,600 per reward and $12,500 per researcher.
• Guang Gong received our highest reward amount to date: $105,000 for his submission of a remote exploit chain.

«

That’s quite a healthy average payout; some way short of earning a living, but if you were to do this across multiple platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Apple, Microsoft all have bug bounty programs, as do others) then you could.

The question is, is the value of these exploits as paid by Google greater than their market value?
link to this extract


Apple’s new strategy: sell pricier iPhones first • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Yoko Kubota and Takashi Mochizuki:

»

This year, according to people familiar with Apple’s production plans, the company prioritized production of its two pricier OLED models, the iPhone XS and XS Max, whose prices start at about $1,000. Both will hit stores Friday, followed five weeks later by the least expensive new model, the XR, which has an LCD screen and a starting price of $749.

The staggered release gives Apple a month to sell the higher-end models without cheaper competition from itself. It also simplifies logistics and retail demands and could strengthen Apple’s ability to forecast sales and production of all three models through the Christmas holidays, analysts and supply chain experts said.

“It’s sort of a Dutch auction,” said Josh Lowitz, co-founder of research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, referring to the practice of starting with a high asking price, then lowering it until a buyer accepts. “The people who are most committed will pay to get early access. Then you get to the people who are making a choice and may settle for the $750 phone. This could become the new normal.”

«

It does seem pretty obvious that you’d offer the priciest phone first, so you can mop up all the eager buyers. But you can’t just write a story speculating that for the WSJ; you need to actually ask the people who know. Which is what they did. After the iPhone 8 last year, and the iPhone 5C v 5S in 2013, Apple seems to have figured out what it’s doing. Though it seems odd if it really took that much figuring out.
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That Apple wireless AirPod charging case is delayed, so Huawei is making one instead • BGR

Chris Mills:

»

Roland Quandt, a mobile device leaker with a strong track record, shared images of two upcoming Huawei products on Twitter earlier today.

In more images, he shows off the Freebuds 2 Pro, which look like a nearly perfect AirPods knockoff. According to Quandt, the Freebuds have three hours of listening, extended to 20 hours with charges from the case, just like the AirPods.

Unlike the AirPods, however, it seems that the Freebuds 2 Pro case has Qi wireless charging built in, as demonstrated in the image. More…usefully, the case can also be charged wirelessly from the Huawei Mate 20 Pro smartphone, if you desperately need more juice while on the go. The case can also charge via USB-C if you prefer.

«

That is such a shameful ripoff. Could Huawei really not think of any other design? Seriously? After two years?
link to this extract


Apple gives you a TRUST rating – and it’s based on your phone call and email habits • The Sun

Sean Keach:

»

Apple builds a score based on the number calls and emails you send and receive – to help spot fraudulent transactions made using your device.

“To help identify and prevent fraud, information about how you use your device, including the approximate number of phone calls or emails you send and receive, will be used to compute a device trust score when you attempt a purchase,” Apple explained. “The submissions are designed so Apple cannot learn the real values on your device. The scores are stored for a fixed time on our servers.”

So how does it actually work? Apple has a bunch of different anti-fraud systems in place to work out whether payments you make are legitimate.

One of these, added in the new iOS 12 update, is a numeric trust score that’s associated with your device. This score is sent directly to Apple when you make a purchase.

The data used to create the score – including the number of phone calls you’ve made – is only ever stored on your device.

Importantly, when Apple sees the score, it doesn’t see the contents of your communications. It’s not reading your emails, for instance. These scores are also encrypted in transit, which means anyone who managed to intercept them would only see gibberish. Apple says it holds onto the scores for a limited period of time, although it’s not clear how long that is.

«

Clever. It all goes into a single number.
link to this extract


Software disenchantment • tonsky.me

Nikita Tonsky is in software development:

»

Look around: our portable computers are thousands of times more powerful than the ones that brought man to the moon. Yet every other webpage struggles to maintain a smooth 60fps scroll on the latest top-of-the-line MacBook Pro. I can comfortably play games, watch 4K videos but not scroll web pages? How is it ok?

Google Inbox, a web app written by Google, running in Chrome browser also by Google, takes 13 seconds to open moderately-sized emails.

It also animates empty white boxes instead of showing their content because it’s the only way anything can be animated on a webpage with decent performance. No, decent doesn’t mean 60fps, it’s rather “as fast as this web page could possibly go”. I’m dying to see web community answer when 120Hz displays become mainstream. Shit barely hits 60Hz already.

Windows 10 takes 30 minutes to update. What could it possibly be doing for that long? That much time is enough to fully format my SSD drive, download a fresh build and install it like 5 times in a row.

Modern text editors have higher latency than 42-year-old Emacs. Text editors! What can be simpler? On each keystroke, all you have to do is update tiny rectangular region and modern text editors can’t do that in 16ms. It’s a lot of time. A LOT. A 3D game can fill the whole screen with hundreds of thousands (!!!) of polygons in the same 16ms and also process input, recalculate the world and dynamically load/unload resources. How come?

«

link to this extract


Are New York’s free LinkNYC internet kiosks tracking your movements? • The Intercept

Ava Kofman:

»

Plans to replace the city’s payphone booth network with Wi-Fi-enabled kiosks were first announced by de Blasio in 2014. Less than a year later, the city awarded a contract to a chameleon-like consortium of private companies known as CityBridge. It was an attractive deal: LinkNYC kiosks, at no cost to the city, would provide free internet coverage to anyone walking by. CityBridge, in turn, would be responsible for the installation, ownership, and construction of the devices, with plans to earn back its expenses through advertising. The twin 55in displays will eventually carry targeted ads derived from the information collected about kiosk users.

These terms raised alarms among internet researchers and privacy experts, who were quick to point out that nothing in life is truly free. “As we know,” Benjamin Dean, a technology policy analyst, told attendees at a New York hacking conference in 2016, “When you’re not paying, you’re not the customer — you’re the product.”

The key player in CityBridge is known as Intersection, and one of Intersection’s largest investors is Sidewalk Labs, with whom it also shares the same offices and staff. Sidewalk Labs CEO Daniel Doctoroff is the chair of Intersection’s board. Sidewalk Labs is owned by Google’s holding company, Alphabet Inc. In other words, the plan to blanket New York City with 7,500 camera-equipped obelisks has been largely underwritten by the company formerly known as Google — a corporation whose business model depends on selling your personal information to advertisers.

«

link to this extract


Whatever happened to the Semantic Web? • Two Bit History

Sinclair Target:

»

the Semantic Web we were promised has yet to be delivered. In 2018, we have “agents” like Siri that can do certain tasks for us. But Siri can only do what it can because engineers at Apple have manually hooked it up to a medley of web services each capable of answering only a narrow category of questions. An important consequence is that, without being large and important enough for Apple to care, you cannot advertise your services directly to Siri from your own website. Unlike the physical therapists that Berners-Lee and his co-authors imagined would be able to hang out their shingles on the web, today we are stuck with giant, centralized repositories of information. Today’s physical therapists must enter information about their practice into Google or Yelp, because those are the only services that the smartphone agents know how to use and the only ones human beings will bother to check. The key difference between our current reality and the promised Semantic future is best captured by this throwaway aside in the excerpt above: “…appointment times (supplied by the agents of individual providers through their Web sites)…”

In fact, over the last decade, the web has not only failed to become the Semantic Web but also threatened to recede as an idea altogether. We now hardly ever talk about “the web” and instead talk about “the internet,” which as of 2016 has become such a common term that newspapers no longer capitalize it. (To be fair, they stopped capitalizing “web” too.) Some might still protest that the web and the internet are two different things, but the distinction gets less clear all the time. The web we have today is slowly becoming a glorified app store, just the easiest way among many to download software that communicates with distant servers using closed protocols and schemas, making it functionally identical to the software ecosystem that existed before the web. How did we get here?

«

link to this extract


Meituan IPO fact-checks Mobike’s fanciful numbers • Bloomberg

Tim Culpan:

»

Compare the details in the prospectus with statements made in press releases and the divergence is striking. 

Consider user numbers.

In a December press release, Mobike claimed 200 million users worldwide. That figure has been repeated often, with the most recent example I could find coming in July.

Meituan’s prospectus says otherwise:

»

With 48.1 million Active Bike Users, 7.1 million Active Bikes and over 1.0 billion rides completed in the four months ended April 30, 2018, Mobike is a leading player in bike-sharing.

«

Let’s skip past the fact that Mobike was claiming nine million bikes, not the actual 7.1 million, and look at that last data point: 1 billion rides.

In October, Bloomberg cited Mobike’s statement that it was “the clear leader in the global bikesharing industry,  supporting 30 million rides in 180 cities around the world every single day” (emphasis added). Just a month earlier it was telling the world it “supports over 20 million rides every day” (emphasis added). 

With 119 days during the period cited in Meituan’s prospectus, Mobike was actually averaging 8.4 million trips daily — 70% fewer than it had been claiming.

«

I get the feeling that Culpan is tired of being lied to by these companies. So the fact that their prospectus has to be truthful is amusing.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.913: the crypto wild west, the Circle’s catfish game, Magecart strikes again, Nest looks to health, Google’s new tablet?, and more


Is note-taking app Evernote in a “death spiral”? Photo by Leif Harboe on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Get that ring of confidence. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Time to regulate bitcoin, says Treasury committee report • The Guardian

Angela Monaghan:

»

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are “wild west” assets that expose investors to a litany of risks and are in urgent need of regulation, MPs on the Treasury select committee have said.

The committee said in a report that consumers were left unprotected from an unregulated industry that aided money laundering, while the government and regulators “bumble along” and fail to take action.

The Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, the chair of the committee, said the current situation was unsustainable.

“Bitcoin and other crypto-assets exist in the wild west industry of crypto-assets. This unregulated industry leaves investors facing numerous risks,” Morgan said. “Given the high price volatility, the hacking vulnerability of exchanges and the potential role in money laundering, the Treasury committee strongly believes that regulation should be introduced.”

«

The report is on the Parliament site, and doesn’t pull its punches. How do you regulate? Introduce anti-money laundering measures – basically, get people to explain where large amounts of arriving (fiat) money come from.
link to this extract


Nest’s digital health ambitions revealed in records from secretive purchase of Seattle startup Senosis • GeekWire

Nat Levy and Todd Bishop:

»

Nest’s ambitions are revealed in internal communications and financial documents released by the University of Washington in response to a public records request related to the sale of Senosis Health, a UW spinout focused on smartphone-based health monitoring systems. GeekWire made the records request last year, shortly after breaking news of Google’s acquisition of Senosis, but received the documents only recently, after the university worked with Google officials and others to determine what could be released.

The documents show that Nest acquired Senosis to bolster its digital health capabilities, shedding new light on a deal that to this day hasn’t been acknowledged publicly. If it follows through on the plans, Nest would join a growing number of major tech brands moving into health technology.

RELATED: Google buys Seattle health monitoring startup Senosis, bolstering digital health push
The majority of the communication is between UW, Senosis and Google officials, and the search giant appears on many of the documents related to the acquisition. Financial information such as the purchase price and other sensitive details were redacted. However, the documents clearly show that Nest — which Google acquired in 2014 for $3.2 billion — was in fact the buyer of Senosis, which went by the legal name Bilicam LLC.

Nest has gone to great lengths to keep its involvement secret, records show, telling personnel not to utter the company’s name and barring UW from immediately publicizing the sale.

«

Oops! Also: the health space is starting to get crowded. Notable: Senosis is a smartphone-based product. Does that mean Nest rolling into Android? Or what?
link to this extract


John Hancock will include fitness tracking in all life insurance policies • VentureBeat

»

John Hancock, one of the oldest and largest North American life insurers, will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones, the company said on Wednesday.

The move by the 156-year-old insurer, owned by Canada’s Manulife Financial, marks a major shift for the company, which unveiled its first interactive life insurance policy in 2015. It is now applying the model across all of its life coverage.

Interactive life insurance, pioneered by John Hancock’s partner the Vitality Group, is already well-established in South Africa and Britain and is becoming more widespread in the United States.

Policyholders score premium discounts for hitting exercise targets tracked on wearable devices such as a Fitbit or Apple Watch and get gift cards for retail stores and other perks by logging their workouts and healthy food purchases in an app.

«

Ever so faintly creepy.
link to this extract


Equifax IT staff had to rerun hackers’ database queries to work out what was nicked – audit • The Register

John Dunn:

»

Equifax was so unsure how much data had been stolen during its 2017 mega-hack that its IT staff spent weeks rerunning the hackers’ database queries on a test system to find out.

That’s just one intriguing info-nugget from the US Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report, Actions Taken by Equifax and Federal Agencies in Response to the 2017 Breach, dated August but publicly released this month.

During that attack, hackers broke into the credit check agency’s systems, getting sight of highly personal information on roughly 150 million people in America plus 15 million Brits, and others.

Computer security breaches are rarely examined in this much detail, however, several departments of the US government are Equifax customers, which meant the Feds wanted the GAO to convince them it’s not going to happen again.

The cyber-break-in happened on May 13 when criminals started exploiting a vulnerability in the Apache Struts 2 framework running on Equifax’s online portal. The company didn’t clock it until July 29. However, the report confirmed that failing to patch this flaw earlier was not the only screw-up.

«

And yet they still had the chutzpah to offer people “one year’s free protection” on their accounts, chargeable after that. A great way to drum up business. (That bit wasn’t a screw-up. It was intentional greed.)
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Pictures leak of the “Google Home Hub,” Google’s version of a smart display • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

Google’s big hardware event is coming October 9, and we’re getting a clearer picture of what to expect from the show as the days go by. The event is promoted as the “Pixel 3 launch event,” but the company’s previous two hardware events featured five or more product announcements. Besides the Pixel 3, a Pixelbook 2 is a good option, and with the launch of Google’s Smart Display software on third-party hardware earlier this year, it seems inevitable that we’ll soon see a first-party Google Smart Display.

As luck would have it, today MySmartPrice has scored pictures of the “Google Home Hub,” a product that is clearly Google’s flagship hardware for its Smart Display software. The device has a 7-inch touchscreen and basically looks like a 16:9 tablet mounted to Google Home Max. Some of the pictures, which look like a leaked store listing, show a few more specs: 802.11ac Wi-Fi at 2.4 and 5GHz, Bluetooth, an “Ambient light and color sensor,” a “full-range speaker for crystal clear sound,” and “far-field voice recognition.” The listing shows the display available in two colors (“chalk” and “charcoal”), with Google’s traditional mute switch on the back and what looks to be a video chat camera on the front.

«

How is a device like this any different from a mounted tablet with a good speaker?
link to this extract


Trump’s tariffs won’t bite Apple, illustrating Tim Cook’s political sway • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Damian Paletta:

»

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has been one of President Trump’s staunchest critics in Silicon Valley, opposing the White House on immigration, climate change and more.

But the 57-year-old tech leader has also become one of the technology industry’s savviest political operators — a behind-the-scenes Trump whisperer, able to shape some of the administration’s economic policies in ways that benefit Apple and some of its tech peers.

Those efforts seemed to pay off Monday, after Trump unveiled tariffs on roughly $200 billion in goods imported from China, the latest salvo in the trade war Washington is waging against Beijing. The initial list of imports the White House had threatened to penalize included some of Apple’s best-known products, the company said earlier this month, such as its recently updated Apple Watch smartwatch, HomePod home assistant and AirPods wireless headphones (but not the iPhone). On Monday evening, though, those products were spared. Thousands of other imports weren’t so lucky, and Americans could soon be paying more for such things as refrigerators and toys.

«

link to this extract


Magecart strikes again: Newegg in the crosshairs • Volexity

»

In another brazen attack against a major online retailer, the actors behind Magecart have struck the eCommerce operations of the popular computer hardware and electronics retailer Newegg. With this latest attack, newegg.com joins the ranks of high-profile eCommerce websites that have fallen victim to the financial theft group. Based on findings recently published by RiskIQ, Magecart was identified as being responsible for a recently publicized breach claiming upwards of 380,000 victims that had used the British Airways website or mobile application. As it turns out, a nearly identical data theft campaign was being carried out against Newegg at the same time. In fact, it appears the Newegg compromise may have started nearly a week earlier.

Volexity was able to verify the presence of malicious JavaScript code limited to a page on secure.newegg.com presented during the checkout process at Newegg. The malicious code specifically appeared once when moving to the Billing Information page while checking out.  This page, located at the URL https://secure.newegg.com/GlobalShopping/CheckoutStep2.aspx, would collect form data, siphoning it back to the attackers over SSL/TLS via the domain neweggstats.com.

«

I’m not sure I would call it “brazen” – it’s very subtle. “Neweggstats.com” was created on 13 August and the siphoning of data began three days later. These guys are very organised and very dangerous. The script was running on the site for a month; that’s a lot of lost data.

In brief: Javascript considered harmful.
link to this extract


The Circle says a lot more about the evils of reality TV than it does about social media • New Statesman

Mic Wright:

»

“What if phones, but too much.” Daniel Ortberg’s six-word description of Black Mirror ended up reflexively inspiring “Playtest”, an episode in the programme’s third season. That joke could also have been the entire pitch for Channel 4’s latest reality TV show dolled up in the clothes of a social experiment, The Circle, in which a collection of the usual reality TV stereotypes are placed in apartments and encouraged to catfish their fellow contestants in the hope of winning £50,000. The first episode, which went out last night, introduced us to the cast, which includes a digital marketer pretending to be an oncologist (“They didn’t even question it!” she crowed in delight) and a gay man pretending to be an odious straight lad, with a recently deceased dog (he also delighted when the others fell for this ruse).

The Circle’s hook is that unlike its reality TV antecedents, such as Big Brother, which is shivering its way to an overdue demise with a final series on Channel 5, face-to-face conflict isn’t on the menu. Instead, the participants are each sequestered in their own apartment and forced to communicate via a bespoke social network that comes off like the unholy love child of LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram with an unpalatable pinch of Tinder thrown in. The conclusion of episode one ended with a particularly uncomfortable date conducted via private message between a barman from Norwich and what he thought was a pretty young woman, but was in fact another young guy using his girlfriend’s pictures to aid him in the quest for the cash.

«

Circles within circles: this sounds like the basic outline for a Black Mirror episode. No wonder Charlie Brooker is finding new episodes increasingly challenging to write: we’ve gone beyond navel-gazing to ourobouros to some place of infinitely reflecting mirrors.

Although I liked this detail:

»

The pacing is deathly slow, as contestants dictate their messages to the Circle (which we’re led to believe is voice-activated but is patently the work of put-upon researchers hunched over keyboards) and read out replies. All this as the moral is tediously repeated: You never know who you’re talking to online.

«

link to this extract


The Mirai botnet architects are now fighting crime with the FBI • WIRED

Garrett Graff:

»

Josiah White, Paras Jha, and Dalton Norman, who were all between 18 and 20 years old when they built and launched Mirai, pleaded guilty last December to creating the malware. Mirai, which hijacked hundreds of thousands of internet-of-things devices and united them as a digital army, began as a way to attack rival Minecraft videogame hosts, but it evolved into an online tsunami of nefarious traffic that knocked entire web-hosting companies offline. At the time, the attacks raised fears amid a presidential election targeted online by Russia that an unknown adversary was preparing to lay waste to the internet…

…In a separate eight-page document, the government lays out how, over the 18 months since the FBI first made contact with the trio, they have worked extensively behind the scenes with the agency and the broader cybersecurity community to put their advanced computer skills to noncriminal uses. “Prior to even being charged, the defendants have engaged in extensive, exceptional cooperation with the United States Government,” prosecutors wrote, saying that their cooperation was “noteworthy in both its scale and its impact.”

As it turns out, the trio have contributed to a dozen or more different law enforcement and security research efforts around the country and, indeed, around the globe. In one instance, they helped private-sector researchers chase what they believed was an “advanced persistent threat” from a nation-state hacking group; in another, they worked with the FBI in advance of last year’s Christmas holiday to help mitigate an onslaught of DDoS attacks. Court documents also hint that the trio have been engaged in undercover work both online and offline, including traveling to “surreptitiously record the activities of known investigative subjects,” and at one point working with a foreign law enforcement agency to “ensur[e] a given target was actively utilizing a computer during the execution of a physical search.”

The government estimates that the trio have already collectively logged more than 1,000 hours of assistance, the equivalent of half a year of full-time employment.

«

So that’s positive, sort of. More details at the US Justice Department site.
link to this extract


Evernote just slashed 54 jobs, or 15% of its workforce • TechCrunch

Connie Loizos:

»

It’s no secret that Evernote, the productivity app that lets people take notes and organize other files from their working and non-work life, has been trying to regain its former footing as one of the most popular apps in the U.S., and that doing so has been an ongoing struggle.

Just two weeks ago, we reported that Evernote had lost several of its most senior executives, including its CTO Anirban Kundu, CFO Vincent Toolan, CPO Erik Wrobel and head of HR Michelle Wagner.

Now, Chris O’Neill — who took over as CEO of Evernote in 2015 after running the business operations at the Google X research unit — is sharing more demoralizing news with employees. To wit, he’s firing dozens of them. At an an all-hands meeting earlier today, he told gathered staffers that Evernote has no choice but to lay off 54 people —  roughly 15% of the company’s workforce — and to focus its efforts instead around specific functions, including product development and engineering.

…a person who tipped TechCrunch off to the executive departures two weeks ago characterized Evernote as “in a death spiral,” saying that user growth and active users have been flat for the last six years and that the company’s enterprise product offering hasn’t caught on.

«

Also facing a funding crunch. The CEO letter says it serves “over 225 million people around the world” who have more than 9bn notes (that’s an average of 40 each, though I bet there’s a lot of 1-note tryouts there). O’Neill has a rather vague blogpost subsequent to this rather more detailed story.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up No.912: the gamified date, Twitter goes chronological, AMP opens up, YouTube’s alternative paths, iPhone XS reviewed, and more


Is iOS 12 really faster than iOS 11 on old devices? Photo by Toshiyuki IMAI on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Because you’re worth it. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Alternative Influence • Data & Society

»

YouTube is a principal online news source for young people. Which is why it is concerning that YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, has become the single most important hub by which an extensive network of far-right influencers profit from broadcasting propaganda to young viewers.

“Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions,” writes Lewis, who outlines how YouTube incentivizes their behavior. Lewis illustrates common techniques that these far-right influencers use to make money as they cultivate alternative social identities and use production value to increase their appeal as countercultural social underdogs. The report offers a data visualization of this network to show how connected influencers act as a conduit for viewership.

«

Read it and worry. For all the right-wingers’ wailing about Google, the reality is that YouTube is their most effective recruiting sergeant – and they don’t pay a penny for it.
link to this extract


An open governance model for the AMP Project • Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

Malte Ubl is tech lead for the AMP project at Google:

»

One of our first tasks in working towards the new system is to complete the initial membership of AMP’s governance groups. If you are interested in being involved in any of these governance groups please let us know. This is real work, and we want to pay for it if it isn’t covered by your day job! If you need financial support, please let us know in the form. One area that we are particularly interested in is representation from folks with experience in consumer rights and protection. Meanwhile we’re excited to announce that we’ve talked to a few folks up front and they agreed to join the Advisory Committee including representatives from publishers (El País, Washington Post and Terra), e-commerce sites (AliExpress and eBay) and platforms (Cloudflare and Automattic) as well as advocates for an open web (Léonie Watson of The Paciello Group, Nicole Sullivan of Google/Chrome, and Terence Eden).

«

Seems like Google is loosening its grip on this. But I suspect the criticisms will go on, no matter what the general advisory committee looks like. The simple way to think about it is this: if AMP is so great, when is Facebook – which has an interest in serving lots of pages really fast all over the web – going to adopt it?
link to this extract


Behind your rising health-care bills: secret hospital deals that squelch competition • WSJ

Anna Wilde Mathews:

»

The Wall Street Journal has identified dozens of contracts with terms that limit how insurers design plans, involving operators such as Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, the 10-hospital OhioHealth system and Aurora Health Care, a major system in the Milwaukee market. National hospital operator HCA Healthcare Inc. also has restrictions in insurer contracts in certain markets.

The U.S. spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation and will soon spend close to 20% of its GDP on health. Americans aren’t buying more health care overall than other countries. What they are buying is increasingly expensive. Among the factors driving spending is the opaque way the price of health care is set, a problem exacerbated by the hidden details in agreements between insurers and health-care providers.

“No hospital system should be able to exercise market power to demand contract agreements that prevent more competitively priced networks,” said Cigna’s chief medical officer, Alan Muney, in a written statement provided by the company.

A health plan that excludes a costly system can be more than 10% less expensive for consumers and employers, according to insurance-industry officials. A plan that includes all providers but steers patients away from the costlier ones can save 3% to 7% or more, these people said.

Restrictive hospital-insurer contracts have helped prevent even big employers, including Walmart Inc. and Home Depot Inc., from moving forward with plans they were exploring to try to lower costs and improve quality for their workers.

«

The WSJ is quietly chipping away at the gigantic vested interests which are pushing US health costs into the skies, though it is ideologically unable to suggest that the best solution is to move to a monopsony – that is, a single buyer (the government) for all healthcare. The irony is that that solution would roughly halve health costs: the EU average is 10.1% of GDP (in 2013).

But the catch: healthcare costs are part of US GDP. Putting it into government (and reducing the cost) would make GDP seem to fall quite substantially. And of course you’d put a lot of people in insurance companies out of work. (This doesn’t seem like a justification for keeping them in work, though.)
link to this extract


Twitter will soon let you switch between chronological and ranked feeds • The Verge

Nick Statt:

»

Twitter has made a surprise change to how it shows tweets to its users, following a viral thread earlier today that discussed ways to reverse the platform’s algorithmic timeline. Now, when you uncheck the settings box reading “Show the best tweets first,” Twitter will completely revert your timeline to a non-algorithmic, reverse-chronological order, which is how Twitter was originally designed and operated for years until the company introduced a default algorithmic model in early 2016.

Prior to the change, unchecking the box would still result in the “in case you missed it” tweets, recommended tweets from people you didn’t follow, and tweets informing you when someone you do follow liked or interacted with someone else’s tweet. Twitter is now acknowledging that its users want more control over their timeline, and that the initial settings tool and how it functioned was not an adequate way to address this.

«

I was one of a number of people who, when a Twitter product manager asked a week or two ago about some proposed changes that would show if someone was actually “present” on Twitter – “you might say ‘who’s around’ at an airport” – suggested that it would be simpler just to let people have non-algorithmic (ie reverse chronological) feeds. So it was nice to see this tweet to that effect in my responses.
link to this extract


✨🎧 tenori-off • Glitch.me

»

A ✨Tenori-on✨ is a dope electronic music instrument sequencer thingie that Yamaha made for a hot minute. I love pixels and patterns and generating things out of pixels and patterns, which means I LOVE the Tenori-on. Since they’re rare and mad expensive, I’ve never seen one, so I made a JavaScript version of what I think it looks like.

You can change between drums or a synth sound (also using the D or S keys). The URL also holds the state, so you can send it to a pal to have them listen to your masterpiece. If you hit a bug, refreshing usually makes it go away.

«

This is good, if 8-bit, fun. Move the squares around to create different noises. Annoy everyone within earshot. Then say “it’s the machine learning. These things, oof.”
link to this extract


HBO documentary ‘Swiped’ argues that Silicon Valley must fix the dating mess it created • Marie Claire

Cady Drell:

»

when it comes to asking big questions about modern dating, this is not [Nancy Jo] Sales’s first rodeo. Her 2015 Vanity Fair article—“Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’”—went viral, and not always because people agreed with her. (Tinder famously sent out a 30-tweet response in which the app seemed to protest a bit too much about signaling the end of dating.)

But Sales, with whom I spoke a few days before the documentary premiered, says now that her thesis got lost in the furor. “Throughout this controversy, what struck me the most is that what people really seemed to want to talk about was the effect [dating apps have] on women,” she says. “And that was really the central issue for me, how this was leading to a lot of sexual harassment.”

Sales’s first outing as a director explores primarily heterosexual dating (though there is a part about Grindr and the pros and cons of dating apps when you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community), exploring a laundry list of its characteristics and ills. It moves from interviews with young people at parties about their swiping habits to how specific relationships formed via app dating to how dating app culture negatively impacts monogamy. But while I initially feared Swiped would be a referendum on sex in general disguised as a “just asking questions” documentary on dating apps, its most lasting message was sort of about corporate responsibility. As in: Do the corporations who get us onto dating apps have a responsibility to make them safe and conducive to healthy relationships? Sales argues that they do.

«

link to this extract


iOS 12 on the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Mini 2: It’s actually faster! • Ars Technica

Andrew Cunningham:

»

I’ve been testing iOS on old devices for six years, and I’ve never seen a release that has actually improved performance on old devices. At best, updates like iOS 6, iOS 9, and iOS 10 didn’t make things much worse; at worst, updates like iOS 7 and iOS 8 made old devices feel like old devices. Anyone using an older device can safely upgrade to iOS 12 without worrying about speed, and that’s a big deal. You’ll notice an improvement most of the time, even on newer devices (my iPad Air 2, which had started to feel its age running iOS 11, feels great with iOS 12).

Again, it’s not all rosy. We didn’t notice any improvements in keyboard display times. You may still run into trouble running newer games, since there’s no software update that can transform an old GPU into a new one. And the iPad Air and Mini 2, in particular, are going to continue feeling kind of slow in general—an iPhone-class processor and 1GB of RAM are just not enough power to keep a high-resolution tablet feeling snappy for five years. With devices as old as these, the condition of the battery can significantly affect performance, too. If you’ve never replaced your battery (or if it has been more than two or three years since you did it last), make an appointment with the Genius Bar before those $29 battery replacements go away at the end of 2018.

But if nothing else, iOS 12 is a convincing counterargument to the theory that Apple intentionally hobbles its old devices to force people to buy new ones. In addition to running more like iOS 10 did, it supports devices going all the way back to 2013, which sets a new record for iOS’ software support window.

«

I noticed that iOS 12 was faster literally from the first minute of using the first developer beta, installed on a 12in iPad Pro. Of course, having used it all summer, I’m now inured to the difference. But Cunningham found improvements of up to 26% in app launch times and restarts, and none where it was slower.
link to this extract


iPhone Xs and Xs Max benchmarked: world’s fastest phones (again) • Tom’s Guide

»

The world’s first 7-nanometer processor in a phone isn’t the breakthrough that the A11 Bionic was regarding raw performance, but it still runs circles around Android phones powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 chip in several world real-world tests and synthetic benchmarks.

The new hexa-core chip inside the iPhone XS and XS Max packs two performance cores that are designed to be 15% faster than its predecessor, along with four high-efficiency cores that use up to 50% less power, according to the company. On top of that is a four-core GPU that Apple says is up to 50% faster.

«

They come out faster in pretty much all the benchmarks, and show up as 11% faster than the iPhone X (which is probably the more relevant statistic).
link to this extract


Child abuse algorithms: from science fiction to cost-cutting reality • The Guardian

David Pegg and Niamh McIntyre:

»

Machine learning systems built to mine massive amounts of personal data have long been used to predict customer behaviour in the private sector.

Computer programs assess how likely we are to default on a loan, or how much risk we pose to an insurance provider.

Designers of a predictive model have to identify an “outcome variable”, which indicates the presence of the factor they are trying to predict.

For child safeguarding, that might be a child entering the care system.

They then attempt to identify characteristics commonly found in children who enter the care system. Once these have been identified, the model can be run against large datasets to find other individuals who share the same characteristics.

The Guardian obtained details of all predictive indicators considered for inclusion in Thurrock council’s child safeguarding system. They include history of domestic abuse, youth offending and truancy.

More surprising indicators such as rent arrears and health data were initially considered but excluded from the final model. In the case of both Thurrock, a council in Essex, and the London borough of Hackney, families can be flagged to social workers as potential candidates for the Troubled Families programme. Through this scheme councils receive grants from central government for helping households with long-term difficulties such as unemployment.

Such systems inevitably raise privacy concerns. Wajid Shafiq, the chief executive of Xantura, the company providing predictive analytics work to both Thurrock and Hackney, insists that there is a balance to be struck between privacy rights and the use of technology to deliver a public good.

“The thing for me is: can we get to a point where we’ve got a system that gets that balance right between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the rights of the many?” said Shafiq. “It must be possible to do that, because if we can’t we’re letting down people who are vulnerable.”

«

link to this extract


The iPhone Xs is the best iPhone since the last one • Buzzfeed News

John Paczkowski is a little nonplussed at what to say about the new devices:

»

I know the Xs Max is faster, but the X was so fast I struggle to appreciate its speed improvements. The display is beautiful, but is its true black a truer black than the one I see on the X? I am embarrassed that I am even asking the question. Also, I don’t care. The true black of my other dog has been great since his puppy pics.

The one feature that I truly appreciate in the Xs line is the size of the Max — largely because I am old and now prefer my phones graphing calculator size. If I decide to upgrade my phone this year, the Max and its size will be my only rationale. The display is vast — stunning, really. I can configure it to have as much memory as my laptop (512GB). For a plus-size smartphone it feels better in the hand, more ergonomic, though I have no idea why. Its battery lasts long enough that I’m not screwed if I forget to charge it overnight. Beyond that, I already know it’s a badass phone; its predecessor was badass too.

But when I tell my wife I might want to upgrade, she asks the price. Then she says, “Which do you like better, new phones or vacations?”

My daughter has an iPhone 7. The other day I handed her the Xs Max. She was puzzled in a “Why was this handed to me?” sort of way. I raised an eyebrow. “Oh,” she said. “This is the new iPhone. … It’s bigger.” Then, without a second thought, she handed it back to me, returning to whatever she was doing on her 7. Disappointedly, I said, “You’re not interested in the new iPhones? Not at all?”

“Not really,” she replied. “My phone works fine.”

Then my daughter suggested that, perhaps, the reason I care about new iPhones and she doesn’t is because once upon a time, way back a long time ago when the smartphone universe consisted of nothing more elaborate than…flip phones, I had to use one. Meanwhile, she has known only the iPhone — and other phones that look and behave like it.

«

Smartphone reviews stopped being useful a couple of years ago. Sure, the XS does a garbillion calculations per second rather than a groomtillion, but we are not in iPhone 4S v 4 territory here, nor iPhone 5S v Galaxy Note 3. The ecosystem war is over, and the trenches aren’t going to move substantially; nor is either side going to make a dramatic leap in performance. Although it is worth noting that those who can really perceive differences in camera quality from year to year (such as John Gruber and Matthew Panzarino at Techcrunch, who used to be a professional photographer) are mightily impressed with the XS’s camera capability, and especially its light-capturing abilities. Most folk wouldn’t notice the year-to-year difference, though they would over a two-year or three-year gap.
link to this extract


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.911: Frasier!, the open tightness of Brexit-Trump, CSS to crash WebKit, videogame gambling gets squeezed, and more


Can a satellite photo detect obesity? Photo by Brock Boland 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 12 links for you. Like clockwork. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

25 essential episodes of Frasier for its 25th anniversary • Sitcom Studies

Marlessa Stivala:

»

Today, September 16, 2018 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Frasier: one of the most successful spin-offs of all time, recipient of the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series (five times), and (in my experience) somehow still drastically underrated. I’ve found that I always encounter people who haven’t even seen a single episode. It’s happened so often that I can no longer say I’m surprised but, as Frasier himself would say, “I am wounded.”

Amongst the show’s core five characters, there’s not a single weak link: Frasier (Cheers’ snobbish yet lovable psychiatrist), Niles (his fussy younger brother), Martin (his brash yet humble retied-cop father, with whom he lives), Daphne (Martin’s “just a bit psychic” physical therapist), and Roz (quite simply one of the best, wittiest female characters on any series).

I’ll never discourage anyone from a rewatch of Seinfeld, The Office, or Friends, but if you’ve yet to watch any or much of Frasier’s eleven-year run, the series’ 25th anniversary is the perfect excuse. And if eleven years sounds a bit too daunting, consider the 25 classics below the perfect way to start.

«

Niles: “I thought you liked my [wife] Maris.”

Frasier: “I do. I like her from a distance. You know, the way you like the sun.”

A work of genius. Well, many geniuses in the writers’ room, and then the actors too. Kudos to Stivala, whose site looks like a great way to lose many, many hours.
link to this extract


Here’s the science behind the Brexit vote and Trump’s rise • The Guardian

Michele Gelfand:

»

Analysing hundreds of hunter-gatherer groups, as well as nation-states including the Aztecs and Incas, we found that cultures that experienced existential threats, such as famine and warfare, favoured strong norms and autocratic leaders. Our computer models show a similar effect: threat leads to the evolution of tightness.

This tight-loose logic also applies to regional differences within countries. We’ve shown that US states with histories punctuated by high threat, including more natural disasters, higher pathogen prevalence and food instability, are much tighter than those that enjoyed relative safety. Similarly, communities that face financial danger – hunger, poverty, bankruptcy – and higher occupational hazards, are substantially tighter. This helps explain why those on low incomes have consistently told us they desire strong rules and leaders. In fact, when we ask respondents to free-associate from the word “rules”, low-income subjects consistently write positive words such as “good”, “safe” and “structure”, while wealthier ones write down words such as “bad”, “frustrating”, and “constricting”. These preferences arise early: in our lab, three-year-olds from low-income families were more visibly upset than peers from wealthier homes when they saw puppets violate clear rules.

Is tight better, then, or loose? The answer is, neither are. Both confer different advantages and liabilities, depending on your vantage point. Tight groups have cornered the market in social order: they have lower crime and tend to be cleaner and more coordinated. They also exhibit higher self-control: they tend to have fewer problems with obesity and debt, and lower rates of alcoholism and drug abuse. Loose groups are comparatively more disorganised and experience a host of self-regulation failures; yet they excel at openness. They’re much more tolerant, creative and flexible. Tight groups, by contrast, are far less innovative, more ethnocentric, and more resistant to new ideas. This is what I call the tight-loose trade-off; advantages in one realm coexist with drawbacks in another.

Tight-loose differences can explain global patterns of conflict, revolution, terrorism and populism. They operate as a universal faultline, causing cultural cohesion to buckle and rifts to open up. As threats arrive, groups tighten. As they subside, groups loosen. Threats don’t even need to be real. Our experiments show that, as long as people perceive a threat, the perception can be as powerful as objective reality.

«

link to this extract


US wants prison sentence for Facebook user who pirated ‘Deadpool’ • TorrentFreak

“Ernesto”:

»

To be clear, [Trevon] Franklin [aged 22, from Fresno, California] wasn’t the person who originally made the copy available. [In early 2016] He simply downloaded it from the file-sharing site Putlocker.is and then proceeded to upload it to his Facebook account, using the screen name ‘Tre-Von M. King.’

This post went viral with more than six million viewers ‘tuning in.’ While many people dream of this kind of attention, in this case, it meant that copyright holder Twentieth Century Fox and the feds were alerted.

The FBI launched a full-fledged investigation which eventually led to an indictment and the arrest of Franklin last summer.

Earlier this year, Franklin signed a plea agreement with the Government where he admitted to sharing the pirated film on Facebook. In return, the authorities recommended a sentence reduction.

This week the Government submitted its sentencing recommendation. Franklin pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor which carries a maximum prison term of a year. While the Government doesn’t go that far, it believes a significant sentence is required.

“[T]he government recommends the high-end sentence of six months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a one-year term of supervised release, and a mandatory special assessment of $100,” the sentencing position reads.

«

Franklin was aged, what, 19 or 20 when he uploaded the film? I think the time when you might claim you didn’t know making pirated films available was illegal has long since passed. Six months comes across as pretty light compared to what hackers have suffered.
link to this extract


In killing Inbox, Google takes another swipe at its most passionate users • Computerworld

Mike Elgan:

»

For all its skill and dominance in artificial intelligence, Google can be surprisingly lacking in the natural kind.

In move after move, Google snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. And all because the company’s culture is blind to the value of passionate users.

I’m quite certain that Google watches user numbers and applies analytics to everything it can measure. A radically analytical approach is powerful, but it can blind you to the factors that cannot be measured. Factors such as user passion.

My favorite example is Google+. After an initial surge of usage in the first couple of years, the social network gradually fizzled — smothered by a reputation for low engagement.

That reputation was largely false. But over time it became a self-fulfilling prophecy as Google took repeated action to hide and suppress engagement.

It killed Circle sharing, the best way to discover high-quality active users. It added Communities, which reduced attention aimed at users. Its dumb algorithms flagged (and thereby hid from public view) high-quality comments, while simultaneously failing to flag obvious spam. (Eventually, Google’s algorithms got much better, but only after most users had already abandoned the platform.)

This is a great plan — if your objective is to minimize user engagement.

«

“To comment on this story, go to our Facebook page”, it says.
link to this extract


This AI predicts obesity prevalence—all the way from space • Singularity Hub

Marc Prosser:

»

A research team at the University of Washington has trained an artificial intelligence system to spot obesity—all the way from space. The system used a convolutional neural network (CNN) to analyze 150,000 satellite images and look for correlations between the physical makeup of a neighborhood and the prevalence of obesity.

The team’s results, presented in JAMA Network Open, showed that features of a given neighborhood could explain close to two-thirds (64.8 percent) of the variance in obesity. Researchers found that analyzing satellite data could help increase understanding of the link between peoples’ environment and obesity prevalence. The next step would be to make corresponding structural changes in the way neighborhoods are built to encourage physical activity and better health.

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are particularly adept at image analysis, object recognition, and identifying special hierarchies in large datasets.

Prior to analyzing 150,000 high-resolution satellite images of Bellevue, Seattle, Tacoma, Los Angeles, Memphis, and San Antonio, the researchers trained the CNN on 1.2 million images from the ImageNet database. The categorizations were correlated with obesity prevalence estimates for the six urban areas from census tracts gathered by the 500 Cities project.

«

Seriously? “Yo momma so big she can be seen from SPACE.”
link to this extract


Apple, Firefox tools aim to thwart Facebook, Google tracking

Anick Jesdanun:

»

Facebook and other companies routinely track your online surfing habits to better target ads at you. Two web browsers now want to help you fight back in what’s becoming an escalating privacy arms race.

New protections in Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers aim to prevent companies from turning “cookie” data files used to store sign-in details and preferences into broader trackers that take note of what you read, watch and research on other sites.

Lance Cottrell, creator of the privacy service Anonymizer, said Apple’s effort was particularly significant, as it takes aim at a technique developed by tracking companies to override users’ attempts to delete their cookies.

Safari makes these protections automatic in updates coming Tuesday to iPhones and iPads and a week later to Mac computers. Firefox has similar protections on Apple mobile devices and is rolling out them out to personal computers in the coming months.

To get the protections, you’ll have to break your habit of using Google’s Chrome browser, which by some estimates has more than half of the worldwide browser usage. Safari and Firefox have less than 20% combined.

Even then, Safari and Firefox can’t entirely stop tracking. For starters, they won’t block tracking when you’re using Facebook or Google itself. Nor can they help much when you use phone or tablet apps, unless the app happens to embed Safari, as Twitter’s iPhone app does.

But Will Strafach, a mobile security expert who is designing data security tools for phones, said imperfect protection is better than no protection. He notes that burglars can still break down a door, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother locking it.

«

By the way, iOS 12 was released on Monday evening.
link to this extract


Nasty piece of CSS code crashes and restarts iPhones • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

A security researcher has discovered a vulnerability in the WebKit rendering engine used by Safari that crashes and restarts the iOS operating system used by iPhones and iPads.

The vulnerability can be exploited by loading an HTML page that uses specially crafted CSS code. The CSS code isn’t very complex and tries to apply a CSS effect known as backdrop-filter to a series of nested page segments (DIVs).

Backdrop-filter is a relative new CSS property and works by blurring or color shifting to the area behind an element. This is a heavy processing task, and some software engineers and web developers have speculated that the rendering of this effect takes a toll on iOS’ graphics processing library, eventually leading to a crash of the mobile OS altogether.

Sabri Haddouche, a software engineer and security researcher at encrypted instant messaging app Wire, is the one who discovered the vulnerability, and published proof-of-concept code on Twitter earlier today.

This link will crash your iOS device, while this link will show the source code behind the vulnerability. Haddouche also tweeted a video of the vulnerability crashing his phone

«

Feels like this stuff comes around every few months or so. Plenty of people hammering on the iOS code to see what happens. This is about the nice graphic effect sucking up all your CPU.
link to this extract


Amazon investigates employees leaking data for bribes • WSJ

Jon Emont, Laura Stevens and Robert McMillan:

»

Employees of Amazon, primarily with the aid of intermediaries, are offering internal data and other confidential information that can give an edge to independent merchants selling their products on the site, according to sellers who have been offered and purchased the data, brokers who provide it and people familiar with internal investigations.

The practice, which violates company policy, is particularly pronounced in China, according to some of these people, because the number of sellers there is skyrocketing. As well, Amazon employees in China have relatively small salaries, which may embolden them to take risks.

In exchange for payments ranging from roughly $80 to more than $2,000, brokers for Amazon employees in Shenzhen are offering internal sales metrics and reviewers’ email addresses, as well as a service to delete negative reviews and restore banned Amazon accounts, the people said.

«

link to this extract


15 countries and one US state team up to fight gambling in video games • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

»

an international group of regulators from 15 European regulation bodies and Washington state in the US signed a declaration stating their increasing concern “with the risks being posed by the blurring of lines between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as video gaming.”

The declaration identifies four specific areas of concern:

• Skin betting—Third-party sites that allow users to wager money or in-game items for a chance at earning better items. Valve has already faced pushback from Washington State regulators for Steam’s role in “facilitating” such skin-gambling schemes.
• Loot boxes—In-game purchases that offer randomized rewards. Some loot boxes have already been ruled as illegal in the Netherlands and Belgium, and there have been some attempts to do the same from some US lawmakers.
• Social casino gambling—Apps like Big Fish Casino in which users can optionally spend money on virtual gambling chips if they don’t feel like waiting for the in-game currency to replenish. A US District court ruled Big Fish Casino constituted illegal gambling earlier this year, and there are multiple active lawsuits surrounding other such games.
• “The use of gambling themed content within video games available to children.”—In addition to the above, this would seemingly apply to games with poker or slot-machine-style minigames (or, uh, Casino Kid for the NES).

«

Overdue. Loot boxes in particular.
link to this extract


Altaba to settle lawsuits relating to Yahoo data breach for $47m • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

»

Altaba, the holding company of what Verizon left behind after its acquisition of Yahoo, said it has settled three ongoing legal cases relating to Yahoo’s previously disclosed data breaches.

In a Monday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the former web giant turned investment company said it has agreed to end litigation for $47m, which the company said will “mark a significant milestone” in cleaning up its remaining liabilities.

The deal is subject to court approval, which attorneys for both sides asked the court to approve the deal within 45 days, according to a filing submitted Friday.

In case you missed it, Yahoo had two data breaches — one in mid-2013, where data on all of the company’s three billion users was stolen, and another breach a year later of 500 million accounts, including email addresses and passwords. The company blamed the attack on state-sponsored hackers, without citing any evidence or pointing any fingers.

Muddying the waters, the breach was discovered during Verizon’s bid to acquire the web giant and its assets for $4.83bn. Verizon dropped its offer price by some $350m after the scope of the breach was fully realized, and created Oath. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is also owned by Oath.)

«

This is a desultory amount of money per user. Even on the smaller hack of 500 million, it’s just 9 cents per person. On the 3 billion, it’s 1.5 cents.
link to this extract


Amazon maintains smart speaker market share lead, Apple rises slightly to 4.5% • Voicebot

Bret Kinsella:

»

A national survey of 1,040 U.S. adults earlier this month commissioned by Voicebot, RAIN and PullString shows that Amazon is maintaining its lead in smart speaker installed base despite Apple and other device makers gaining some traction with users. Amazon Echo device share stands at 64.6% with Google Home products is used by 19.6% of smart speaker owners. Apple HomePod has been adopted by 4.5% of smart speaker owners, while 11.3% say they have access to a smart speaker that is not made by Amazon, Google or Apple. However, all of those “other” devices have either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant as the resident voice assistant so Amazon and Google’s influence extends well beyond their own smart speakers…

…The latest smart speaker market share data are beginning to depict a familiar pattern. Amazon maintains a leadership position in the U.S. based on its first-to-market advantage and the strength of its marketing channel and Prime membership base. Everyone else is growing at Amazon’s expense…

The real battle is about to shape up. New hardware is expected from Amazon, Google, Samsung and others. Those new products will be the real catalyst that determines smart speaker market share after the holiday shopping season.

Keep in mind when you read these reports what they are calculating. The data here represents the installed base. CIRP data from earlier this summer also measures installed base, but it does not account for devices that are not manufactured by Amazon, Apple or Google. So, each of their market share figures are likely to be higher because the are comparing market share relative to each other as opposed to the entire market. By contrast, Canalys data attempts to be comprehensive but reflects unit sales in a given time period and not installed base. There are a number of different ways to look at the market. Regardless of which lens you consider, they all point to growth.

«

link to this extract


What really happened to Apple’s AirPower (exclusive details) • Sonny Dickson

The aforementioned Dickson:

»

Here are some of the key issues causing the most significant hurdles, as verified by multiple internal sources:

• Heat management: currently the device produces far too much heat, which causes performance setbacks, and can affect the ability of the devices to charge if they become too warm in the process. It also affects the ability of Apple’s custom charging chip, which runs a stripped down version of iOS, to function as intended.

• Buggy inter-device communication, as well as charging activation and issues with charging speed, and overall accuracy of charge levels:Apple’s engineers have been experiencing both hardware and software issues with the communication between AirPower and devices placed on the mat, -especially- the communication of Apple Watch and AirPod charging data to the iPhone, which monitors the charge level of all devices placed on the mat.

• Mechanical and interference issues: the mechanism being used for multi-device charging, which we can confirm is comprised of between 21 and 24 power coils of various sizes to accommodate the three main products to be charged (AirPods equipped with a so-far-nonexistent wireless charging accessory case, iPhone, and Apple Watch), which are broken into three identical charging groups, is proving extremely difficult to build or refine, and has been resulting in a significant amount of interference up to this point, which reduces the efficiency of the charging mat, and contributes to the heat issues that engineers are facing.

What is thought to be a significant factor in the ongoing engineering struggle is that three different sizes of coils must overlap within each coil set, which, combined with the very compact size of the device, makes managing interference and heat an extremely daunting technical challenge.

Aside from heat and interference shielding, the complexity of the circuitry in the device is also posing a significant challenge, which likely cannot be overcome unless the device is redesigned to be slightly thicker and larger – decisions which Apple is specifically unwilling to make compromises on for their overall design.

«

This wouldn’t be the first time that Apple has wanted to design its way past the laws of physics; a similar impasse happened (briefly) in the design of the original iPhone, which didn’t have any antenna gaps in its lovely aluminium design.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.910: Twitter’s inequalities, Google’s China phone plan, Grindr’s over-local, Apple goes to the movies, and more


OnePlus is killing the headphone jack. Are its habitats being wiped out? Photo by Hernán Piñera 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 13 links for you. Luckily. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

There’s a simple fix, but Grindr is still exposing the location of its users • Buzzfeed

Nicole Nguyen:

»

In a post published Thursday, the website Queer Europe detailed how easy it is to find any Grindr user’s location using an app called Fuckr, which employs a technique called “trilateration” to find users. Fuckr, which can be downloaded for free and is not affiliated with Grindr, is built on top of unauthorized access to Grindr’s private API, or “application programming interface,” which provides Fuckr with information in Grindr’s database.

Grindr is not deliberately revealing the locations of its users. But the “incredibl[y] high level of precision” of the distance data Grindr collects and shares allows apps like Fuckr to pinpoint users’ whereabouts, according to security researcher Patrick Wardle.

GitHub, which has hosted the Fuckr repository since it was released in 2015, disabled public access to the app shortly after the Queer Europe post published, citing Fuckr’s unauthorized access to the Grindr API. However, dozens of “forks” (modified versions) of the app are still available on GitHub. Queer Europe also confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the Fuckr application remains operational and can still make requests for up to 600 Grindr users’ locations at a time. Neither Grindr nor Github responded to request for comment about Fuckr’s takedown.

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Leaky apps are so 2010.
link to this extract


Is Twitter more unequal than life, sex or happiness? • Tim Harford

Harford writes about our good friend Gini, who measures inequality:

»

the Gini coefficient can be applied to inequality in any set of numbers you like, from the number of storks in each country to the body weights of a family of hippos. For example: authoritative data on sexual activity in the UK are available from Natsal-3, the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Natsal-3 reports the number of opposite-sex partners we say we’ve had in our lives, and the number of times we say we’ve had heterosexual sex in the past four weeks. (It will surprise nobody to hear that men and women make rather different claims, so I’ve averaged their responses.)

Since I know you may be curious, I have made my own calculations, based on these data. For 35-44 year olds, the Gini coefficient of recent sexual activity is 58%. The Gini coefficient of lifetime opposite-sex partners is lower: 50%. Both are much higher than income inequality in the UK.

Nor are these figures driven by a few outliers with thousands of partners. When it comes to the bedroom, we don’t need to consider extremes to witness considerable inequality: many perfectly ordinary people have had only one sexual partner, or none, and many perfectly ordinary people have had at least 10. Bigger variations exist in income, but only at the extremes of distribution.

Of course, while one can measure income and sex using the same statistical method, that does not mean the moral or political implications are comparable. Most of us wouldn’t mind having more money, but it is far from obvious that we all want more lovers. Who has the time?

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Thoughts and observations on Apple’s iPhone XS/XR and Series 4 Apple Watch introductory event • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

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AIRPOWER: I wrote about AirPower’s absence earlier this week. What I’ve heard, third-hand but from multiple little birdies, is that AirPower really is well and truly fucked. Something about the multi-coil design getting too hot — way too hot. There are engineers who looked at AirPower’s design and said it could never work, thermally, and now those same engineers have that “told you so” smug look on their faces. Last year Apple was apparently swayed by arguments that they could figure out a way to make it not get hot. They were, clearly, wrong. I think they’ve either had to go completely back to the drawing board and start over with an entirely different design, or they’ve decided to give up and they just don’t want to say so.

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I’d love to see an analysis from someone who knows about Qi charging (which Apple uses) on why AirPower was overreaching, but I can completely believe that this has turned out to be too risky because of heat. In the meantime you could always get this wireless charging mouse mat ($39, one-week shipping) – which looks quite a lot like AirPower.
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OnePlus ignores its own user polling, removes headphone jack on OnePlus 6T • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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Seeing another company strip the headphone jack off its devices is definitely disappointing. For OnePlus, it’s another move that feels like a continuation of the OnePlus 6 strategy: removing the features that makes the phone unique. Compared to the OnePlus 5T—one of our favorite devices of last year—a lot has changed for this year’s edition. The company went from a metal device with slim bezels and a headphone jack to a fragile all-glass device, yet another notch design, and now no headphone jack.

What’s crazy is that the company knows exactly how much its customers do not want this. Before the OnePlus 6T, the company was one of the few still shipping a 3.5mm jack in its devices. And in the run up to the OnePlus 6’s launch, Pei ran a poll on Twitter asking his followers how much they valued a headphone jack. The results were overwhelming. An overwhelming 88% of the 19,000 participants said they wanted the headphone jack.

Of course, this was done to promote the OnePlus 6, which had a headphone jack, but at some point in the last six months OnePlus decided this feedback wasn’t important. The supposed tradeoff is more battery life, which is definitely something we’ll test when the OnePlus 6T comes out.

Now that using a pair of normal headphones is significantly more annoying (you’ll need to carry around a dongle), OnePlus probably hopes you’ll pick up a pair of its new Bluetooth headphones, or perhaps you’d be interested in the new wired USB-C headphones that are also on the way.

While the lack of a headphone jack is disappointing, at least the rest of the OnePlus 6T is looking interesting. OnePlus is a lessee of Oppo’s manufacturing line, and usually OnePlus devices are based on an existing Oppo design. Rumor has it the OnePlus 6T will be based on the Oppo R17, which has a unique teardrop-shaped camera cutout instead of the boring iPhone X-style notch that everyone else is using. When all you’re putting in the notch is a front-facing camera, it turns out it can be really small.

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Pei has run Twitter polls since 2016 on this, and they’ve all shown support for a headphone jack at or above 85% (receiving 8,047, 9,589 and most recently 19,374 votes total). Looks like you’re getting a pair of Bluetooth headphones, everybody. (Would you honestly trust USB-C headphones? Also, ugh, wires.)
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Google China prototype links searches to phone numbers • The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher:

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Google built A prototype of a censored search engine for China that links users’ searches to their personal phone numbers, thus making it easier for the Chinese government to monitor people’s queries, The Intercept can reveal.

The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

Previously undisclosed details about the plan, obtained by The Intercept on Friday, show that Google compiled a censorship blacklist that included terms such as “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin.

Leading human rights groups have criticized Dragonfly, saying that it could result in the company “directly contributing to, or [becoming] complicit in, human rights violations.” A central concern expressed by the groups is that, beyond the censorship, user data stored by Google on the Chinese mainland could be accessible to Chinese authorities, who routinely target political activists and journalists.

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Even Apple’s much-criticised (but locally necessary) storage of iCloud data from its Chinese users doesn’t include their search history.
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Tech’s new problem: North Korea • WSJ

Wenxin Fan, Tom Wright and Alastair Gale:

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“It never crossed my mind” that North Koreans operated an IT business online, said Donald Ward, an Australian entrepreneur, when shown that a programmer he hired to redesign a website, who he thought was Japanese, was actually part of a North Korean crew operating in northeastern China, near the city of Shenyang.

The Journal discovered the Shenyang business after reviewing computers and other devices belonging to a North Korean operative arrested in Malaysia for suspected involvement in last year’s murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother. A car that ferried the alleged killers away from the Kuala Lumpur airport was registered to the North Korean operative, according to Malaysian investigators. The operative, who denied wrongdoing, was deported.

The operative’s electronic devices showed he had communicated with the Shenyang group about money-making ventures for North Korea, using vocabulary found only in the north’s dialect of the Korean language.

For North Korea, finding new business ventures has been crucial since the United Nations last year tightened sanctions and banned the country’s coal exports in a bid to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons and missile programs. The U.S. Treasury Department warned in July that North Koreans working abroad were selling IT services and hiding behind front companies and the anonymity provided by freelancing websites. The report offered few specifics. The Treasury on Thursday sanctioned two Russian and Chinese technology firms as revenue-generating fronts for North Korea.

Interviews with clients, plus records on Freelancer.com, help detail at least tens of thousands of dollars earned by the Shenyang group. In total, North Korea may be pulling in millions from software development with numerous fake social-media profiles, say experts who track North Korean activity. The group took payment from clients and subcontracted the jobs to programmers world-wide who say they were cut out without compensation.

“It’s a big chunk of change” for North Korea, said Andrea Berger, a North Korea specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif.

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Given how miniscule North Korea’s economy is (smaller than Samsung Electronics’s quarterly revenues, according to some estimates), Berger’s not exaggerating at all.
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Chinese brands handset profit crossed US$2bn for the first time ever in Q2 2018 • Counterpoint Research

Karn Chauhan:

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According to the latest research from Counterpoint Market Monitor Q2 2018 (April-June), Global handset profits grew 4% annually in Q2 2018 mainly due to Chinese brands, which were aggressive with their flagship offerings. Their combined profits crossed US$2bn for the first time, contributing to almost a fifth of the total handset profits.

Chinese brands are planning on to entering new price tiers in the premium segment. Brands like OPPO, vivo and Huawei have tweaked their design language by adding new features, at a time when overall innovation within smartphones was already reaching its peak. Examples include the vivo Nex (Ultra Full View Display with in-display fingerprint), OPPO Find X (Ultra Full View Display) and Huawei’s P20 Pro (Triple camera).

We expect the average selling price of smartphones will further increase, driven by developed markets. However, smartphone volumes are likely to be flat as consumers are now keeping smartphones for longer. This will have implications for OEMs’ revenue as OEMs are looking to maximize their profits by increasing their average selling price and entering new price tiers. Only vertical integrated companies, in such a scenario, are well poised to capture the trends.

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I think that Apple, Samsung and Huawei all count as “vertically integrated” in that they all design their own chips. Counterpoint reckons 99% of profit was owned by five companies (Apple, Samsung, Huawei, OPPO+vivo [one company], Xiaomi). And then “the remaining 1% of total industry profit was distributed among more than 600+ handset brands.” Of course, quite a few of those made losses – Sony, HTC, LG…
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No, Apple didn’t delete that guy’s movies. Here’s what really happened • CNET

Sean Hollister commits journalism in order to track down what actually happened behind a viral tweet:

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“A customer bought these movies, they’re gone, and he’s only getting a couple rentals in return?”

Indeed, dig deeper into Apple’s Terms of Service, and you’ll see that it quietly warns that you may not be able to re-download content if it’s “no longer offered on our Services.” It’s not hard to see why headlines like “Apple can delete the movies you purchased without telling you” started spreading around the web. 

But take a closer look at da Silva’s tweet, and there’s something interesting going on. Apple Support thinks he’s in Canada, while da Silva’s Twitter profile and LinkedIn show he’s from Australia. That’s a rather large geographical difference.

When we reached out to da Silva, he clarified the disparity: he moved to Canada, roughly nine months ago, after purchasing the films in Australia. Not only is that two separate countries, it’s two separate iTunes Store regions. Perhaps Canada doesn’t offer those films anymore, and that left him unable to access them in his new location?

…But there’s another possibility: Perhaps da Silva still has access to the Australian versions of these movies, but not the Canadian ones?

That’s certainly what Apple seemed to be hinting when we asked the company about it this weekend. Apple said:

»

“Any movies you’ve already downloaded can be enjoyed at any time and will not be deleted unless you’ve chosen to do so. If you change your country setting, some movies may not be available to re-download from the movie store if the version you purchased isn’t also available in the new country. If needed, you can change your country setting back to your prior country to re-download those movies.”

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Sure, Apple’s statement doesn’t say exactly what happened to da Silva’s movies, or admit that Apple Support may have made a mistake when parsing the original response. But it clearly states that the company doesn’t delete movies without your permission – and that you should even be able to re-download movies from your “prior country” if they’re not available in the new one…

…Indeed, those movies may still be stored in da Silva’s Australian account — but he can’t easily switch back to the Australian region to download them again… The reason da Silva’s missing movies got so much attention: they seemingly revealed Apple wouldn’t stand by its customers if the studios tried to pull their films. We now know it’s premature to say anything like that.

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Remember how The Outline is struggling? That link is to an Outline story. They didn’t talk to Apple or da Silva, who now acknowledges he fell into a “licensing crack”.
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This startup CEO says that Apple is using ‘alternative facts’ to market the new Apple Watch • Business Insider

Kif Leswing:

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“We were watching [the announcement], and we were surprised,” Gundotra said. “It was amazing, it was like us being on stage, with the thing we’ve been doing for 7 years,” referring to AliveCor’s product for detecting atrial fibrillation (AFib), a tough-to-spot heart disorder that manifests as an irregular, often quick heart rate that can cause poor circulation.

“Although when they said they were first to go over-the-counter, we were surprised,” he continued. “Apple doesn’t like to admit they copy anyone, even in the smallest things. Their own version of alternative facts.”

The fact that a huge tech giant is entering their corner of health-tech validates AliveCor’s approach, Gundotra said. “I commend them, it’s the very mission we’ve been on,” he said, saying making ECG readings more accessible is “insanely important” and “will save lives.”

One key difference that will distinguish AliveCor from the Apple Watch is price, says Gundotra: AliveCor’s hardware starts at $99. The new Apple Watch Series 4 with ECG hardware — it won’t be enabled until later this year, through a new app, Apple said — costs $399. Many people who need at-home ECG are price sensitive, he says.

“Ours is $99, theirs is $399, our sales popped yesterday, big time,” he said.

Gundotra is also hopeful that his company’s expertise in machine learning and branching into other conditions will help it fend off trillion-dollar competitors. Earlier this week, AliveCor received “breakthrough status” at the FDA for its work detecting hyperkalemia, a potassium disorder.

“We love that Apple is validating AFib; just wait until you see what AliveCor is going to do next,” he said. “We were a great restaurant in a remote section of town, and someone just opened a giant restaurant right next to us, bringing a lot more attention.”

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An embedded tweet in the story by Christina Farr explains: though AliveCor is OTC, a doctor reviews the first ECG to “unlock” it (within 24 hours). Apple’s FDA clearance means it can be used right away.

Oh, and one of AliveCor’s two consumer products is… an Apple Watch band. Too expensive, eh?
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Drone startup AirWare crashes, will shut down after raising $118m • Techcrunch

Josh Constine:

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Airware makes a cloud sofware system that helps enterprise customers like construction companies, mining operations, and insurance companies reviewing equipment for damages to use drones to collect and analyze aerial data. That allowed companies to avoid using expensive helicopters or dangerous rigs with humans on harnesses to make inspections and gauge work progress.

One ex-employee asked “How do I get my options sent to me on paper so I can burn them all in a fire?”

Founded in 2011 by Jonathan Downey, the son of two pilots, Airware first built an autopilot system for programming drones to follow certain routes to collect data. It could help businesses check rooftops for damage, see how much of a raw material was coming out of a mine, or build constantly-updated maps of construction sites. Later it tried to build its own drones before pivoting to consult clients on how to most efficiently apply unmanned aerial vehicles.

While flying high, Airware launched its own Commercial Drone Fund for investing in the market in 2015, and acquired 38-person drone analytics startup Redbird in 2016. In this pre-crypto, pre-AI boom, Airware scored a ton of hype from us and others as tried to prove drones could be more than war machines. But over time, the software that shipped with commercial drone hardware from other manufacturers was good enough to make Airware irrelevant, and a downward spiral of layoffs began over the past two years, culminating in today’s shutdown. Demonstating how sudden the shut down is, Airware opened a Tokyo headquarters alongside an investment and partnership from Mitsubishi just four days ago.

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You’d think that focussing on the software would be enough, but clearly not.
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Bring back the shadows: the case against HDR • Dan Bailey Photos

Dan Bailey:

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Call this “ode to the shadow”, my attempt to rescue that wonderful, often elusive species, which has been pushed aside lately with such increasing and ruthless neglect by slider-happy photographers who banish it from existence in their images.

You know what I’m talking about. You see it every day. On Twitter, on Facebook, and especially on Instagram. Photos with such incredible, brilliant and dynamic colors that look like they’ve been cooked. Pictures with drippy, over saturated hues; like cotton candy that’s been slathered with an entire bottle of maple syrup. Google “Fantasy Art” and you’ll see the exact same tonal blueprint.

It took me awhile to figure out why I can’t stand that stuff. No, it’s not that weird alien-like edge glow that floats around the subject, or even cosmic tones that peg the gamut meter full tilt. It’s the fact that you can see everything. Nothing is hidden.

Yes, there’s some well executed HDR out there, but to me, most HDR photography, whether it’s done with a plug-in or by slamming the software sliders all the way to the right, is nothing more than sugar. Spoon fed sugar that’s shoveled right into your mouth.

It delivers calories with no work. A payoff with no effort. In every way, it’s just like that godawful, heavily compressed, crossover pop garbage that pours forth from the country stations. Noone really like that stuff, but the radio keeps playing it.

Whatever happened to subtlety? To innuendo? To suggestion?

Whatever happened to shadows…?

Whether it’s bad HDR or bad country music, if you give the viewer or listener EVERYTHING in the same level of volume, color, tone and brightness, you leave nothing to the imagination.

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Some lovely photos here. And he has a point.
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It only took 37 seconds for two bitcoin ‘celebs’ to start fighting on a cruise ship • Mashable

Jack Morse:

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The CoinsBank Blockchain Cruise, chartered to take cryptocurrency die-hards from Barcelona, to Monaco, to Ibiza, and then back, was in its fourth day, and a highly billed event had managed to drag a few likely hung over attendees out from their below-deck cabins. Jimmy Song, a venture partner at Blockchain Capital LLC, was to argue the relative merits of Bitcoin (BTC). Early Bitcoin adoptee and Bitcoin Cash evangelist, Rover Ver, was to speak on behalf of Bitcoin Cash (BCH). 

Bitcoin Cash was born following a 2017 Bitcoin hard fork, and despite BTC’s and BCH’s shared history, the two cryptocurrencies and their respective boosters have become the blockchain’s very own Montagues and Capulets — each disparaging the other at every conceivable opportunity, with both sides lobbing accusations of fraud and deception. 

It was perhaps to be expected that the debate wouldn’t go smoothly, but just how quickly it went off the rails surprised even those in attendance. 

Song, cowboy hat atop his head and microphone in hand, attempted to introduce the format of the event — a “Lincoln-Douglas style debate” — but was soon interrupted by Ver. 

Shouts of “no Roger” emanated from the crowd, as Ver told the audience to “calm down.”

It quickly spun out from there, with Song repeatedly telling Ver to “sit down” as Ver angled for the microphone. 

“Do you want to debate me or not,” Song demanded. “OK then sit down,” he repeated as he stood behind the podium.

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Also on the cruise was the writer Laurie Penney, who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know anything about bitcoin, but will have no doubt been mansplained to within an inch of her life. I’m very much looking forward to her writeup.
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Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in conversation with Professor Jay Rosen • Recode

Peter Kafka with the transcript, which has many notable elements; this is useful for seeing Dorsey’s viewpoint on how he sees Twitter being used:

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“we are being used more like what you would find in Washington Square Park. You walk into Washington Square Park and there’s a bunch of people who, when I walk in, there’s a bunch of people there who are not expecting me to walk in and aren’t expecting me to do the things that I intend to do and might see it out of the corner of their eye and might come over and listen or interact or whatnot. In that public square, there’s all these things that happen and some are amazing, and some are stupid, and some are silly, and some are really terrible. There’s a guy in the corner with a megaphone broadcasting his thoughts and then he recognizes you and he says, “Jay, get the hell over here. You’re a terrible person and I hate you,” and all these other things. And it’s completely directed at you.

“And at that point, people recognize it and they tell him to stop, or the park stewards or police come over and say, “Here’s a warning and if you keep attacking this one person who doesn’t want it and is not even paying attention to you, then you’re out.” So that action right there was not neutrality, it was being impartial to the conduct and with an eye towards more of the collective, with an eye towards like, “We need to make Washington Square Park something that people actually want to be at and recognize that there’s going to be people who choose unhealthy behaviors and we’re going to at least demonstrate what is not healthy and what could be healthier.”

“I do believe health is a value that we’ve chosen to make a singular objective, and we value health in public conversation, but in order to do it correctly, we need to do it with a principle of impartiality, which means that we’re not going to do on the basis of bias or prejudice or favoring one account over another for improper reasons. Where we have failed in that is to be transparent around how we write our rules and how we enforce them.”

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He then goes on to describe how they’re trying to measure that “health”. One can’t help but think that zapping tweets coming from Russian IP addresses would make a big contribution.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified