Start Up No.905: Twitter bans Alex Jones (why not Trump?), America’s mass transit woes, design better web forms!, track Twitter hoaxes, and more

Apple’s wearables strategy: the key to its future? Photo by Howard Lawrence B on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. So it goes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why is American mass transit so bad? It’s a long story • CityLab

Jonathan English:


One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the US plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown.

This has not happened in much of the rest of the world. While a decline in transit use in the face of fierce competition from the private automobile throughout the 20th century was inevitable, near-total collapse was not. At the turn of the 20th century, when transit companies’ only competition were the legs of a person or a horse, they worked reasonably well, even if they faced challenges. Once cars arrived, nearly every US transit agency slashed service to cut costs, instead of improving service to stay competitive. This drove even more riders away, producing a vicious cycle that led to the point where today, few Americans with a viable alternative ride buses or trains.

Now, when the federal government steps in to provide funding, it is limited to big capital projects. (Under the Trump administration, even those funds are in question.) Operations—the actual running of buses and trains frequently enough to appeal to people with an alternative—are perpetually starved for cash. Even transit advocates have internalized the idea that transit cannot be successful outside the highest-density urban centers.

And it very rarely is.


Fascinating in-depth look at the topic, and one of an upcoming series. The core problem is that cars were favoured as the suburbs sprawled, and the US has plenty of space; it also doesn’t have old cities as Europe does.
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Twitter permanently bans Alex Jones and Infowars • Daily Beast

Kelly Weill and Maxwell Tani:


Twitter banned Infowars and its founder, the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, following months of public pressure to do so.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, the company said it had “permanently suspended” accounts associated with Jones and Infowars after numerous complaints that they violated its terms of service prohibiting repeated abusive behavior. A Twitter spokesperson told The Daily Beast specifically that an Infowars video posted on Twitter of Alex Jones berating CNN reporter Oliver Darcy on Wednesday was the final violation of the company’s terms.

“Those are the eyes of a rat,” Jones told Darcy to his face in a live video, where he accused Darcy and CNN of trying police internet content.

“Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope,” Twitter said in the first of a series of Thursday tweets. “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ previous violations,” the company tweeted, linking to its policies on abusive behavior.”“As we continue to increase transparency around our Rules and enforcement actions, we wanted to be open about this action given the broad interest in this case. We do not typically comment on enforcement actions we take against individual accounts, for their privacy,” Twitter continued.

Twitter said it will “take action” if Jones or Infowars seeks to circumvent their ban.


The writers everywhere must have had some forewarning about this. The (lengthy, detailed) stories were up at the same time as the tweets, already written. So Twitter is getting its PR act properly together.

So Jones and Infowars are now banned from Twitter and Facebook, and YouTube, and Apple. We will see what effect this has on reach.
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Twitter says Trump not immune from getting kicked off • POLITICO

Nancy Scola and Ashley Gold:


Twitter said Tuesday that not even President Donald Trump is immune from being kicked off the platform if his tweets cross a line with abusive behavior.

The social media company’s rules against vitriolic tweets offer leeway for world leaders whose statements are newsworthy, but that “is not a blanket exception for the president or anyone else,” Twitter legal and policy chief Vijaya Gadde told POLITICO in an interview alongside CEO Jack Dorsey.

Trump regularly uses Twitter to heap abuse on his perceived enemies and at times raise the specter of violence, such as when he tweeted last year that if North Korean leaders continued with their rhetoric at the time, “they won’t be around much longer!” Critics say the tweets violate Twitter’s terms of service and warrant punitive action…

…”We have to balance it with the context that it’s in,” [Dorsey] said. “So my role is to ask questions and make sure we’re being impartial, and we’re upholding consistently our terms of service, including public interest.”

Trump’s Twitter threats and taunts have repeatedly prompted calls for his removal from the platform, such as when he tweeted about Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in July, “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” In August, Trump, in tweets, called former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman “wacky,” “deranged” and a “dog.“


So what exactly would he have to do to get kicked off? He doesn’t specify. (This story appeared before Jones was hoiked.)
link to this extract

Justice Department to consider allegations of censorship on Facebook, Twitter • The Washington Post

Brian Fung, Craig Timberg and Devlin Barrett:


Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to meet with state attorneys general later this month to discuss whether tech companies may be “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas,” the Justice Department said Wednesday in a statement.

The announcement comes a week after the White House said it would explore regulating Google — and minutes after senior executives from Facebook and Twitter finished testifying before a Senate panel on the companies’ efforts to stem the tide of misinformation on their platforms.

Agency spokesman Devin O’Malley said the meeting also will consider whether tech platforms “may have harmed competition” with their actions, a hint that the Justice Department may be weighing antitrust action against the firms.

The meeting, which had been in the works since before Wednesday’s hearing, is expected to take place in Washington on Sept. 25 — and at least three state attorneys general have agreed to participate, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak on the record. The person declined to say which states were involved. But the group does not include New York, whose attorney general, Barbara Underwood, will not be attending, according to her spokeswoman, Amy Spitalnick.


This is bizarre. What leverage do they think they have over these sites? They aren’t regulated by law – they can’t be because of the First Amendment (about making no law regulating the press, and these networks definitely count as “the press” under any rational interpretation). This is virtue signalling, and stupid whichever arm of politics is doing it.
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Google AMP can go to hell • Polemic Digital


If publishers had a choice, they’d ignore AMP entirely. It already takes a lot of resources to keep a news site running smoothly and performing well. AMP adds the extra burden of creating separate AMP versions of articles, and keeping these articles compliant with the ever-evolving standard.

So AMP is being kept alive artificially. AMP survives not because of its merits as a project, but because Google forces websites to either adopt AMP or forego large amounts of potential traffic.

And Google is not satisfied with that. No, Google wants more from AMP. A lot more.

Yesterday some of my publishing clients received messages from Google Search Console [pictured in original]… These are the issues that Google sees with the AMP versions of these websites:

“The AMP page is missing all navigational features present in the canonical page, such as a table of contents and/or hamburger menu.”
“The canonical page allows users to view and add comments, but the AMP article does not. This is often considered missing content by users.”
“The canonical URL allows users to share content directly to diverse social media platforms. This feature is missing on the AMP page.”
“The canonical page contains a media carousel that is missing or broken in the AMP version of the page.”

Basically, any difference between the AMP version and the regular version of a page is seen as a problem that needs to be fixed. Google wants the AMP version to be 100% identical to the canonical version of the page…

The underlying message is clear: Google wants full equivalency between AMP and canonical URL. Every element that is present on a website’s regular version should also be present on its AMP version: every navigation item, every social media sharing button, every comment box, every image gallery.

Google wants publishers’ AMP version to look, feel, and behave exactly like the regular version of the website. What is the easiest, most cost-efficient, least problematic method of doing this? Yes, you guessed it – just build your entire site in AMP. Rather than create two separate versions of your site, why not just build the whole site in AMP and so drastically reduce the cost of keeping your site up and running?

Google doesn’t quite come out and say this explicitly, but they’ve been hinting at it for quite a while.


First the URL, now the web page. Can’t accuse Google of lacking ambition.
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Canny Brits are nuking the phone bundle • The Register

Andrew Orlowski:


Consumers are now more aware that they can buy the phone and the network access separately, and are increasingly doing so.

“Many were totally unaware of the true value of the plan, and this marks a real change,” CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann told us. CCS Insight calls the unbundling “cracking the code”.

Only 36% of UK SIM-only customers expect to take a traditional bundle-plus-phone deal when their current plan ends, CCS found [in a survey of 2,000 people in the UK and France]. Mann noted that this figure is considerably higher than the number of SIM-only customers today, who will upgrade to another SIM-only deal – indicating strong growth for the SIM-only bit of the market. One in 12 phones in use is a second-hand phone.

And there are a variety of fascinating knock-on effects.

Phone fatigue … 46% of punters say the latest and greatest phones don’t wow them

For example, almost 10% of UK punters now buy direct through Amazon. Operators, who have traditionally acted as credit companies, will have to make their bundles more flexible and attractive. High-margin manufacturers may have to make more use of the refurbished channel, or make older models available for longer. In fact, all OEMs have to look at refurb and online.

Mann told us all of these trends are happening already.

“The Amazon figure is surprising and significant. And Amazon plays a large part in the overall ‘buying journey’. We found customers who may not have bought the phone through Amazon, but who accessed Amazon in making their buying decision.”

The refurbished market is small, at 4% of new purchases, but growing, according to CCS Insight. “We will see more growth,” Mann predicted, as buyers look to Argos and eBay.


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In Apple’s third act, the iPhone plays supporting role • WSJ

Christopher Mims:


In 2017, “services” was already a $30bn business at Apple, and in the company’s most recent quarter, it accounted for nearly $10bn. Because Apple’s services include subscriptions and sales from iCloud, the App Store, Apple Pay and Apple Music, this slice of revenue doesn’t fluctuate as dramatically as hardware sales.

All of Apple’s wearables are not only compatible with Apple’s services, but also seem designed to enhance those revenue streams. Consider the fact that a cellular-connected Apple Watch Series 3 can stream only Apple Music, or that Siri is the only smart assistant you can summon directly from Apple’s AirPods.

“When you get right down to it, is it about Apple’s hardware? Yes, but I’d argue it’s really about having the [Apple] experience on any device you choose to carry, wear or put on,” says Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.

Anytime there is a change to how we use computers, there’s potential for an upset to existing hierarchies. As the first U.S.-listed trillion-dollar company, Apple might seem to be well positioned to dominate the era of wearables. But if wearable computing becomes more about access to the cloud, there’s another trillion-dollar company that’s had more success in cloud computing, as well as in selling those now nearly ubiquitous talking speakers. (Yes, I’m talking about Inc. )

Here’s how Apple maintains its edge and becomes the dominant wearables company: It makes the most capable and one of the most popular smartwatches in the world, but ensures that it’s not as useful without other Apple gadgets and services. Next, it repeats that logic for every class of wearable it eventually makes, be it headphones, glasses, health monitors or others.


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Dear Anonymous Trump official, there is no redemption in your cowardly op-ed • The Intercept

Mehdi Hasan:


You cannot publish a 965-word piece excoriating Donald Trump’s “worst inclinations” while omitting any and all references to his racism, bigotry, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and white nationalism.

You did find space, however, to heap praise on yourself and your fellow officials. “Unsung heroes.” “Adults in the room.” “Quiet resistance.” “Steady state.”

Are you kidding me? Where were your “unsung heroes” when this administration was snatching kids from their parents and locking them in cages? Drugging them and denying them drinking water?

Where were your “adults in the room” when this administration left 3,000 Americans in Puerto Rico to die because, apparently, it is an island “surrounded by water, big water, ocean water”? Where were they when the president was denying that Hurricane Maria was a “real catastrophe” and lobbing paper towels at the survivors?

Where was your “quiet resistance” when the president was extolling far-right racists as “very fine people” and blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “both sides”? How “quiet” were you when he later disowned his half-hearted and belated denunciation of the “KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups” as “the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made”?

Where was your “steady state” when the president fired the director of the FBI because, he told NBC News, “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story”? Or when he sacked Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Sally Yates, the acting attorney general? Or when he tweeted, earlier this week, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions shouldn’t have indicted two Republican allies of his over alleged financial crimes?


He isn’t wrong. Doublethink like the author of that piece engages in is destructive in every way. And it confirms Trump in his thinking that there’s a “Deep State” undermining him. There is, but it’s coming from the Republicans. And it isn’t opposition; it’s enabling.
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Vine and transformed the music industry – then they disappeared. Will history repeat itself? • Music Business Worldwide

Cherie Hu:

» [was] a selfie lip-syncing video app headquartered in Shanghai, China that had counted over 100 million monthly active users as of last month.

What was most compelling about to label execs and investors alike was its ability to capture one of the most valuable yet volatile age demographics: young teens. According to Apptopia, around 43% of’s users in the U.S. as of June were 18 years or younger.

As with Vine, major labels and agencies pounced on the opportunity to tap into this young, captive audience, inking record and touring deals with personalities like Jacob Sartorius, Baby Ariel and Loren Gray. In November 2017, Chinese tech company Bytedance acquired in a deal reportedly worth between $800m and $1bn, in an effort to expand the video app’s highly-engaged communities into key markets in Asia and other continents.

Yet, as recently as March 2018, execs were still admitting that they were hard-pressed to find an effective monetization model for their app. Meanwhile, industry execs were beginning to doubt’s long-term impact on culture.

In June, Bobby Simms, strategic advisor to the Midem conference, said that would not be considered in social-media calculations for the upcoming Midem Music Awards in 2019. “If we had held these awards two years ago, would have probably been included as a relevant platform,” said Simms. “But now, not so much.”

Finally, last month, Bytedance announced that it would be folding into TikTok, another owned-and-operated video platform focused on live-streaming.


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Hoaxy beta • Indiana University


What is the difference between Hoaxy search and Twitter search?
There are two search modes. Hoaxy search finds claims and related fact checking in a limited corpus of articles from low-credibility and fact-checking sources, dating back to 2016. This mode leverages the Hoaxy API to retrieve relevant articles, accounts, and tweets. Twitter search lets users track articles from any sources posted on Twitter, but only within the last 7 days. Twitter mode uses the Twitter Search API to retrieve relevant, popular, or mixedtweets matching your search query. It is compatible with all advanced search operators. At most, Hoaxy is capable of visualizing the top 1000 accounts and in the case of a Twitter search, this will be the most recently active 1000 accounts if sorted by Recent.

How does Hoaxy search work?
The Hoaxy corpus tracks the social sharing of links to stories published by two types of websites: (1) Low-credibility sources that often publish inaccurate, unverified, or satirical claims according to lists compiled and published by reputable news and fact-checking organizations. (2) Independent fact-checking organizations, such as,, and, that routinely fact check unverified claims.


A little unwieldy, but folks interested in tracking unreliable discussions on Twitter might find it useful.
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Design better forms • UX Collective

Andrew Coyle has a ton of dos and don’ts for form-filling online (which, let’s face it, we find ourselves doing with weary frequency):


Whether it is a signup flow, a multi-view stepper, or a monotonous data entry interface, forms are one of the most important components of digital product design. This article focuses on the common dos and don’ts of form design. Keep in mind that these are general guideline and there are exceptions to every rule.


I was particularly taken by this example:

This comes with the comment that “There is a bigger philosophical debate regarding whether a secondary option should even be included.” Well, yes: what’s the logic of offering someone a cancellation as they’re about to sign up? They can just edit the fields, or simply not press the button. But because so many computer dialogs have “Cancel” as a default, this has been carried over by many designers on the basis that “any computer dialog must have ‘Cancel’ as an option.” Not so.
link to this extract Chrome extension caught stealing passwords, cryptocurrency private keys • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


The official Chrome extension for the file sharing service has been compromised with malicious code that steals usernames and passwords, but also private keys for cryptocurrency accounts, ZDNet has learned.

The malicious behavior was found in the source code of the Chrome extension version 3.39.4, released as an update earlier today.

Google engineers have already intervened and removed the extension from the official Chrome Web Store, and also disabled the extension for existing users.

According to an analysis of the extension’s source, the malicious code triggered on sites such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, GitHub, the MyEtherWallet and MyMonero web wallet services, and the IDEX cryptocurrency trading platform.

The malicious code would record usernames, passwords, and other session data that attackers would need to log in and impersonate users. If the website managed cryptocurrency, the attacker would also extract the private keys needed to access users’ funds.

The extension would send all collected data to a server located at megaopac[.]host, hosted in Ukraine.


The folks blamed Google for not allowing publisher signatures on uploaded files. The attackers clearly figured the demographic out – stealing passwords for Amazon, Live, Google, but not Mega itself. Because who cares about Mega?

The wider point though is that there’s a whole infrastructure of browser extensions which can be taken over by force or a nice bribe or a buyout of the developer; then those things can acquire scary amounts of access to everything you do. Browser extensions sound nice, but before Google kills the URL, maybe it should kill the browser extension.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.905: Twitter bans Alex Jones (why not Trump?), America’s mass transit woes, design better web forms!, track Twitter hoaxes, and more

  1. re. Mass transit, I think the baseline is that public services (education, health, policing…) in the US are rather bad. I’m not sure mass transit is independently bad / specifically worse than the rest.

    Maybe one should discuss the general issues of the weird repartition of taxes, and the weird allocation of disbursement (lots of public to private to politicians; lots of subsidies to the rich and the big…) rather than endlessly got lost in very specific minutiae.

    I’m repeatedly surprised at the absence of a discussion of “classism”. It’s very intertwined with racism, but a separate issue, about the poor being pushed down instead of helped up, fiscally, judicially…

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