Start Up No.907: YouTubers’ burnout, local papers’ web curse, Mac and iOS apps caught data-siphoning, the real Goldfinger, and more


Online poker: a cause of myopia? Photo by John Barber on Flickr

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A selection of 9 links for you. Travelling hopefully, hopefully. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why Google Fiber is high-speed internet’s most successful failure • Harvard Business Review

Blair Levin and Larry Downes:

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In 2010, Google rocked the $60bn broadband industry by announcing plans to deploy fiber-based home internet service, offering connections up to a gigabit per second — 100 times faster than average speeds at the time. Google Fiber, as the effort was named, entered the access market intending to prove the business case for ultra-high-speed internet. After deploying to six metro areas in six years, however, company management announced in late 2016 that it was “pausing” future deployments.

In the Big Bang Disruption model, where innovations take off suddenly when markets are ready for them, Google Fiber could be seen as a failed early market experiment in gigabit internet access. But what if the company’s goal was never to unleash the disrupter itself so much as to encourage incumbent broadband providers to do so, helping Google’s expansion in adjacent markets such as video and emerging markets including smart homes?

Seen through that lens, Google Fiber succeeded wildly. It stimulated the incumbents to accelerate their own infrastructure investments by several years. New applications and new industries emerged, including virtual reality and the Internet of Things, proving the viability of an “if you build it, they will come” strategy for gigabit services. And in the process, local governments were mobilized to rethink restrictive and inefficient approaches to overseeing network installations.

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This seems like somewhat post-hoc reasoning, doesn’t it? Although one can see Page and Brin seeing this as a one-way bet. If GFiber takes off and is wildly successful, they have a potentially profitable business which is All Google. If it doesn’t? N’importe – it has shocked the local monopolies into trying to compete.

The only flaw is if the local monopolies waited for Google to give up, and went back to what they previously did. And that’s pretty much what happened.
link to this extract


Macron push to drop CIA code quickens as Trump calls EU foe

Helen Fouquet, Marie Mawad and Ania Nussbaum:

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Just weeks after Emmanuel Macron took office last year, his team went over the French state’s most sensitive activities. What it found provided a wake-up call.

The team learned that the country’s intelligence agency — which, among other things, tracks French citizens for homegrown terrorism or anarchist activities — uses software from a CIA-backed startup. Its code is provided by Palantir Technologies Inc., a data-mining company that started out working for the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The use of U.S. technology deep inside the French state isn’t unusual, but for the tech-savvy team of the 40-year-old president, it was a sign that the country needs to make technological independence a top priority — a sentiment that’s become even more urgent after President Donald Trump called the European Union a “foe.”

“No French company was able to provide the work,” Laurent Nunez, the new chief of France’s domestic intelligence agency, told Bloomberg News in July on the sidelines of a conference to present a new anti-terrorism system. “Now we are working to foster a French or European offering. We’re looking toward an objective of launching a tool for all intelligence agencies. And many companies have stepped in.”

The push to find local solutions for mission-critical or sensitive operations is yet another departure from the assumption that the US and its technology would remain a constant ally to Europe.

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In a roundabout and painful way, Trump might actually be a help for European technology companies.
link to this extract


The YouTube stars heading for burnout: ‘the most fun job imaginable became deeply bleak’ • The Guardian

Simon Parkin:

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For years, YouTubers have believed that they are loved most by their audience when they project a chirpy, grateful image. But what happens when the mask slips? This year there has been a wave of videos by prominent YouTubers talking about their burnout, chronic fatigue and depression. “This is all I ever wanted,” said Elle Mills, a 20-year-old Filipino-Canadian YouTuber in a (monetised) video entitled Burnt Out At 19, posted in May. “And why the fuck am I so unfucking unhappy? It doesn’t make any sense. You know what I mean? Because, like, this is literally my fucking dream. And I’m fucking so un-fucking-happy.”

Mills had gained a lot of attention (and 3.6m views) for a slick and cleverly edited five-minute video she posted last November in which she came out as bisexual to her friends, family and followers (many of whom had been asking about her sexuality in the comments). She went on to be featured on the cover of Diva magazine, and won a Shorty award for “breakout YouTuber”. But six months later she posted the Burnt Out video, explaining how her schoolgirl ambition of becoming a YouTuber had led her to bigger and bigger audiences, but that “it’s not what I expected. I’m always stressed. My anxiety and depression keep getting worse. I’m waiting to hit my breaking point.”

The same month Rubén “El Rubius” Gundersen, a 28-year-old Spaniard who is currently the world’s third most popular YouTuber, with more than 30 million subscribers, talked about how he felt as if he was heading for a breakdown, and had, as a result, decided to take a break. They are the latest in a string of high-profile YouTubers, including Erik Phillips (better known as M3RKMUS1C, with 4 million subscribers) and Benjamin Vestergaard (Crainer, with 2.8 million), to have announced hiatuses from the channel, or described their struggles with exhaustion.

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If your schtick is posting something upbeat every day, you’re going to need a support network to keep that going – something which the “YouTube replaces TV!” idea easily misses. It’s a grind, and needs multiple people, as TV shows do.
link to this extract


Why local newspaper websites are so terrible • CityLab

Andrew Zaleski:

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When Emily Goligoski’s parents want to read their local newspaper, the two Ohioans load up the PDF version of the print newspaper on their iPad and scroll through, “turning” digitally pixelated pages instead of reading the stories from the paper’s website.

“My parents refuse to access the website because it’s just so painful to look at,” says Goligoski, a veteran of Mozilla and former user experience research lead for The New York Times.

These are criticisms Goligoski has heard before. As research director of the Membership Puzzle Project—a Knight Foundation-funded collaboration between New York University and Dutch newspaper De Correspondent that’s currently investigating the efficacy of membership models to sustain online news—she has heard time and again from news readers about how they’re increasingly turned off by the presentation they’re offered by local newspapers’ websites.

The torments of these sites are well known: clunky navigation, slow page-loading times, browser-freezing autoplaying videos, a siege of annoying pop-up ads, and especially those grids of bottom-of-the-page “related content” ads hawking belly fat cures and fake headlines (what’s known as Internet chum).

Put another way: Why must newspaper websites suck so damn much?

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Because they’re desperate for ad money? But the precise mechanics of how and why are worth reading. Related: the link below.
link to this extract


Dozens of popular iPhone apps caught sending user location data to monetization firms • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

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A group of security researchers say dozens of popular iPhone apps are quietly sharing the location data of “tens of millions of mobile devices” with third-party data monetization firms.

Almost all require access to a user’s location data to work properly, like weather and fitness apps, but share that data often as a way to generate revenue for free-to-download apps.

In many cases, the apps send precise locations and other sensitive, identifiable data “at all times, constantly,” and often with “little to no mention” that location data will be shared with third-parties, say security researchers at the GuardianApp project.

“I believe people should be able to use any app they wish on their phone without fear that granting access to sensitive data may mean that this data will be quietly sent off to some entity who they do not know and do not have any desire to do business with,” said Will Strafach, one of the researchers.

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Named: ASKfm, C25 5K Trainer, Gas Buddy, Homes.com, Moco, MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar, PayByPhone Parking, Photobucket, and plenty more. The assumption that your data doesn’t really belong to you is so commonplace among these companies; the GDPR makes more and more sense.
link to this extract


Apple supplier shares slide after Trump tells tech giant to make products in US • Reuters

Loh Liang-sa, Yimou Lee and Anne Marie Roantree:

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Shares of Apple suppliers fell across Asia on Monday after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the tech giant should make products in the United States if it wanted to avoid tariffs on Chinese imports.

Trump’s comment came after Apple told U.S. trade officials on Friday that proposed tariffs by Washington in an escalating trade war with China would affect prices for a “wide range” of Apple items, including the Apple Watch. It did not mention the iPhone…

…Chien Bor-yi, an analyst at Taipei-based Cathay Futures Consultant, said Apple’s component supply chain in Taiwan would take a major hit if the United States increased tariffs on Chinese imported products.

“People have concerns about the stock market. It’s not a seller’s market, but it’s also not a buyer’s market. No one knows how deep the well is,” he said.

The technology sector is one of the biggest potential losers in the $200bn tariff list proposed by Washington on Chinese imports because the tariffs would make imported computer parts more expensive.

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I’ve heard Tim Cook explain in person that Apple simply can’t make its products in the US: there isn’t the capacity and the closely-tied ecosystem of suppliers, workers and factories at the scale Apple needs. These tariffs are going to put up prices, and Apple’s going to be the loser – and then the US economy, and then the US citizenry. China isn’t going anywhere.
link to this extract


Tencent shuts poker platform amid widening gaming crackdown • Reuters

Pei Li and Adam Jourdan:

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Tencent Holdings will shut a popular Texas Hold’Em poker video game, the Chinese tech giant said to its users on Monday, in a further step to comply with intensifying government scrutiny hitting the country’s gaming industry.

Tencent said it would formally begin to shutter “Everyday Texas Hold’Em” from Monday and would closer the game’s server from Sept 25. Tencent would compensate users in accordance with regulations of Ministry of Culture.

The Shenzhen-based company, which draws a huge amount of its profit from gaming, is facing mounting challenges this year from stringent regulation and government censorship. It has had to pull one blockbuster game and seen others censured.

The company’s market value slumped by around $20 billion in one day last month over concerns that China would limit gaming after a crackdown on online games citing rising levels of myopia.

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Myopia? Seriously? I don’t mind crackdowns on poker – I think the online games are evil, in that they are pure roach motels for peoples’ money, and can’t imagine they take sufficient care over preventing addicts from spending too much time and money on them – but “rising levels of myopia” must count as one of the most inventive official excuses ever for a crackdown on anything.
link to this extract


The real Goldfinger: the London banker who broke the world • The Guardian

Oliver Bullough:

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when Britain and France attempted to regain control of the Suez canal in 1956, a disapproving Washington froze their access to dollars and doomed the venture. These were not the actions of a neutral arbiter. Britain at the time was staggering from one crisis to another. In 1957, it raised interest rates and stopped banks using sterling to finance trade in an attempt to keep the pound strong (this was the “currency crisis and the high bank rate” that Smithers told Bond about).

City banks, which could no longer use sterling in the way they were accustomed, began to use dollars instead, and they obtained those dollars from the Soviet Union, which was keeping them in London and Paris so as to avoid becoming vulnerable to American pressure. This turned out to be a profitable thing to do. In the US, there were limits on how much interest banks could charge on dollar loans – but not so in London.

This market – the bankers called the dollars “eurodollars” – gave a bit of life to the City of London in the late 1950s, but not much. The big bond issues were still taking place in New York, a fact which annoyed many bankers in London. After all, many of the companies borrowing the money were European, yet it was American banks that were earning the fat commissions.

One banker in particular was not prepared to tolerate this: Siegmund Warburg. Warburg was an outsider in the cosy world of the City. For one thing, he was German. For another, he hadn’t given up on the idea that a City banker’s job was to hustle for business. In 1962, Warburg learned from a friend at the World Bank that some $3bn was circulating outside the US – sloshing around and ready to be put to use. Warburg had been a banker in Germany in the 1920s and remembered arranging bond deals in foreign currencies. Why couldn’t his bankers do something similar again?

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An absorbing long read about how we’ve got into this fine mess.
link to this extract


Many major airports are near sea level. A disaster in Japan shows what can go wrong • The New York Times

Hiroko Tabuchi:

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Kansai airport, which serves the bustling cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe and handled almost 28 million travelers last year, faces an additional predicament. A feat of modern engineering, Kansai sits on an island three miles offshore that was built over the course of a decade from two mountains’ worth of gravel and sand. The airport, which opened in 1994, was built in Osaka Bay partly to minimize noise problems but also to avoid the violent protests over land rights that are the legacy of older airports in Japan, like Narita, which serves Tokyo.

Signs of trouble came early. Engineers had expected the island to sink, on average, less than a foot a year over 50 years after the start of construction as the seabed settled under the airport’s weight. But the island sank more than 30 feet in its first seven years and has continued to descend, now losing 43 feet in elevation at the last measurement.

At that rate, at least one of the airport’s two runways will slip under the waves completely by 2058, according to dire predictions made in a 2015 paper by Gholamreza Mesri, a civil engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and J.R. Funk, a geotechnical engineer. And with sea levels rising because of climate change, Professor Mesri added, the airport could be underwater even sooner. “You won’t have an airport, you’ll have a lake,” he said.

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The pictures of the inundated Kansai airport – with sea walls built to withstand record storm surges, which were then overwhelmed by a new record surge – is stunning. Climate change fights back.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

One thought on “Start Up No.907: YouTubers’ burnout, local papers’ web curse, Mac and iOS apps caught data-siphoning, the real Goldfinger, and more

  1. Lots to unpack today.

    1- Google Fiber. It’s kind of weird how in the US, not only there isn’t much competition, but local/state/federal pols actually work *against* a free market, if by free you mean, as you should, lowering barriers to entry or at least not erecting them. EU and US broadband feel like 2 different planets.

    2- the US paranoia about Chinese spying via tech gadgets and software mostly confirm that the US has been doing it for a while:https://www.infoworld.com/article/2608141/internet-privacy/snowden–the-nsa-planted-backdoors-in-cisco-products.html . That state-sponsored espionage used to be tolerable when the US was a reliable ally (even though part of it was business, not security or political); now it isn’t.

    3- Young people always have problem adjusting to work life – I know I did. A lonely job with no support structure makes it worse. And the pressure to monetize can be harsh. Not a youngster, but Chris from Techtablets.com (excellent and ethical site) describes it a little in his latest video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJo_yghtwns : “OEMs won’t give me stuff because I list “cons” in my recaps, so I have to buy my review units and don’t get early access”. Here’s to not-launch-day reviews !

    As a side note, I think that explains a lot of the pro-Apple bias in a) the press/web: Apple cuts off critical reviewers ( https://www.cultofmac.com/255618/how-apples-blacklist-manipulates-the-press/ ) which terribly hurts pageviews and revenue; and b) Apple also cuts off analysts and pundits: play nice and you get to boast you met Apple execs in small focused meetings, don’t and you’re not even invited to the launch events. Given Apple’s importance, most kowtow.

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