Start Up No.908: Zuckerberg in profile, the crypto gap, how BA was hacked, why we use big phones, and more


Photo by Ryo FUKAsawa on Flickr

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A selection of 10 links for you. Anything on today? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Can Mark Zuckerberg fix Facebook before it breaks democracy? • New Yorker

Evan Osnos in a long profile of Zuckerberg’s Facebook:

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Facebook was loath to ban [Infowars’s Alex] Jones. When people complained that his rants violated rules against harassment and fake news, Facebook experimented with punishments. At first, it “reduced” him, tweaking the algorithm so that his messages would be shown to fewer people, while feeding his fans articles that fact-checked his assertions.
Then, in late July, Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah Pozner, a child killed at Sandy Hook, published an open letter addressed “Dear Mr Zuckerberg,” in which they described “living in hiding” because of death threats from conspiracy theorists, after “an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections.” In their view, Zuckerberg had “deemed that the attacks on us are immaterial, that providing assistance in removing threats is too cumbersome, and that our lives are less important than providing a safe haven for hate.”
Facebook relented, somewhat. On July 27th, it took down four of Jones’s videos and suspended him for a month. But public pressure did not let up. On August 5th, the dam broke after Apple, saying that the company “does not tolerate hate speech,” stopped distributing five podcasts associated with Jones. Facebook shut down four of Jones’s pages for “repeatedly” violating rules against hate speech and bullying. I asked Zuckerberg why Facebook had wavered in its handling of the situation. He was prickly about the suggestion: “I don’t believe that it is the right thing to ban a person for saying something that is factually incorrect.”
Jones seemed a lot more than factually incorrect, I said.
“O.K., but I think the facts here are pretty clear,” he said, homing in. “The initial questions were around misinformation.” He added, “We don’t take it down and ban people unless it’s directly inciting violence.” He told me that, after Jones was reduced, more complaints about him flooded in, alerting Facebook to older posts, and that the company was debating what to do when Apple announced its ban. Zuckerberg said, “When they moved, it was, like, O.K., we shouldn’t just be sitting on this content and these enforcement decisions. We should move on what we know violates the policy. We need to make a decision now.”
It will hardly be the last quandary of this sort.

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Long, but well worth your time; especially for Bill Gates’s Greek chorus-style interjections, and observations such as “Facebook has more adherents than Christianity”.
link to this extract


IMF advises against crypto as legal tender in Marshall Islands report • Coinbase

Wolfie Zhao:

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has advised against the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ plan to introduce a digital currency as a second legal tender alongside the U.S. dollar.
The Marshall Islands – a remote chain of islands in the central Pacific – passed a law on the issue in February, aiming for the planned “Sovereign” cryptocurrency to boost the local economy and counter the increasing risks of the nation becoming disconnected from the global financial system.
However, following a period of consultation with officials from the islands, the IMF published a paper on Monday advising against the move. According to the paper, the Marshall Islands economy is now “highly dependent” on external aid, as the country faces constant climate change and natural disasters.
The only domestic commercial bank in the country is now “at risk of losing its last US dollar correspondent banking relationship (CBR) with a US-based bank,” due to tightened due diligence across financial institutions in the US.
The IMF argued that the introduction of a cryptocurrency as legal tender may backfire, if a lack of comprehensive anti-money laundering measures eventually leads to the US bank cutting ties with the country.

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link to this extract


Google’s location privacy practices are under investigation in Arizona • Washington Post

Tony Romm:

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Google’s alleged practice of recording location data about Android device owners even when they believe they have opted out of such tracking has sparked an investigation in Arizona, where the state’s attorney general could potentially levy a hefty fine against the search giant.
The probe, initiated by Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and confirmed by a person familiar with his thinking but not authorized to speak on the record, could put pressure on other states and the federal government to follow suit, consumer advocates say — although Google previously insisted it did not deceive consumers about the way it collects and taps data on their whereabouts.
The attorney general signaled his interest in the matter in a public filing that indicated the office had retained an outside law firm to assist in an investigation. The document, dated Aug. 21, said the hired lawyers would help probe an unnamed tech company and its “storage of consumer location data, tracking of consumer location, and other consumer tracking through . . . smartphone operating systems, even when consumers turn off ‘location services’ and take other steps to stop such tracking,” according to the heavily redacted public notice.

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Ooh, a fine. That’ll so hurt.
link to this extract


Benchmarking crypto valuations • Medium

Sameer Singh tries three different valuations of crypto, to see how realistic they are (NVM relies on Metcalfe’s Law, for networks):

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Facebook and Snap’s pre-IPO NVM was set between 3.5 x 10^-7 and 19.8 x 10^-7. Based on these benchmarks, token adoption would need to increase by a factor of 3000x to justify today’s prices. Again, the fact that social media is well ahead of crypto in the technology adoption curve can justify a higher valuation multiple, but not by an order of magnitude when discussing assets valued at billions.
Even after applying appropriate handicaps, token adoption and usage would need to increase between 100x to 1000x to justify today’s market cap. This provides a striking contrast with the following comment from Ethereum co-founder, Vitalik Buterin:
”The blockchain space is getting to the point where there’s a ceiling in sight. If you talk to the average educated person at this point, they probably have heard of blockchain at least once. There isn’t an opportunity for yet another 1,000-times growth in anything in the space anymore.”
Given the gap between current valuations and the level of utilitarian adoption, I politely disagree.

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Singh was a very reliable predictor in the smartphone space. So I’d lean on him being right here.
link to this extract


410 gone • Medium

Ian Betteridge on why, after being on Twitter for 11 of its 12 years, he has deactivated his account:

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The excuse that Twitter holds up a mirror to wider society is hogwash: it has consistently and with an outstanding level of ill-judgement given a platform to and cultivated people with utterly reprehensible views.
If you’re an out and out vile individual, like Alex Jones, Twitter gives you a free pass. If you’re a conspiracy theorist who wants to get traction for your lies, Twitter is your friend. If you’re a racist, Twitter will defend your “free speech rights”.
But if you’re a woman getting vile, violent and consistent abuse, Twitter will do precisely nothing to stop it.
Without Twitter, the insanity that is QAnon couldn’t have gained the traction it has. Confined to 4chan, it would have been yet another crackpot piece of tomfoolery. Amplified unchallenged by Twitter, it becomes a series of signs held up at Trump’s rallies, and a truck parked across a highway. It won’t be too long before it becomes a death.
In the end, I decided that Twitter doesn’t deserve my attention. I couldn’t, in good faith, support a service which cares so little about the culture around it, that does nothing to be a positive influence on society, which which sees the rights of little lost boys to abuse women as more important than the rights of women not to be abused.

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”410″ is web code for “not here” (but also not “moved”). I’ll miss him: he first pointed me to Horace Dediu’s work, among others.
link to this extract


How Apple Watch saved my life • ZDNet

Jason Perlow:

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Like many other Apple Watch users, I got an email from the company asking if I would be willing to participate in the Apple Heart Study, a large data-gathering exercise they and Stanford University were partnered in.
Sounded right up my alley. I installed the iPhone app and then promptly forgot about it.
Then, a few days later, this happened. [The app said he had abnormal heart rhythms.]
Needless to say, I felt rather alarmed by this.
I followed the app’s instructions. When I clicked on “Call a Doctor” I was immediately patched through, via FaceTime video call, to one of Stanford’s cardiologists. We discussed the results.
While they could not be absolutely certain, there were indications I might have Atrial Fibrillation or “Afib”, which is a common form of heart arrhythmia that affects tens of millions of people.
It often goes undiagnosed, because in many cases, it is paroxysmal in nature — it comes and goes, often set off by “triggers” such as by the use of stimulants, alcohol and other substances. But sometimes it just plain happens.
It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in an EKG unless it is actually happening when the test is occurring. I’ve had EKGs a number of times, and there was never any indication anything was wrong.

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Unsurprisingly, he’s now wedded to it: the warning was correct. He lost 160lb (72kg). For most people, to lose that much weight would mean there wasn’t anything left. American diets, eh.
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The Apple Watch is getting a new feature that can monitor heart health — here’s why that matters • CNBC

Christina Farr:

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That’s according to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who issued a research note seen by CNBC on Monday. The note said that the ECG “will attract more users.” Kuo is known for having a particularly strong track record for predicting updates for Apple products.
Assuming Kuo is correct, Apple releasing an ECG is a big deal for people with certain diseases. But it’s also complicated because the company would need to figure out how to communicate sensitive medical information to consumers without freaking them out. The last thing Apple would want to do with its device is send tens of thousands of anxious users into the emergency room thinking they’re having a life-threatening medical problem when they’re not.
So after talking to a series of health experts, including cardiologists and technologists, here are some questions we’re asking on the eve of the event:
1) Will Apple need approval from federal regulators?
It depends. If Apple shows the ECG reading to a consumer, then yes. That would make the Apple Watch a regulated medical device. But Vic Gundotra, CEO of AliveCor, a start-up making big waves in the space, sees another path. He suggests that the company could use the ECG to get more accurate heart rate data, which wouldn’t necessarily require an approval process. That’s because Apple might not want to take on the risk of providing erroneous information back to a user.
”Is Apple ready to take on that kind of liability? I doubt it,” he said.
If Apple decides to go down the regulatory route, the company faces another decision. It might need to the green light for its ECG sensor as well as the algorithms that sit on top of it that provide feedback to users (“abnormal” or “normal”, for instance). AliveCor did that, so we know it’s possible. As Gundotra recalls, the FDA approved both the algorithms and the hardware at the same time.

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Gundotra, of course, is the ex-Microsoft, ex-Google guy (famous for tweeting about Windows Phone tying up with Nokia that “two turkeys don’t make an eagle”).
Farr seems awfully confident about the ECG facility.
link to this extract


IOS 12: plenty of potential for mobile journalists, but it may take time • BBC Academy

Marc Settle reviews the upcoming software, with specific application to people using iOS as a mobile workhorse:

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The best users of Shortcuts could end up doing more with their phones without being on their phones as much – leaving them with more time for the actual reporting.
One very handy Workflow I’ve been using extracts the audio from a YouTube video as an MP3 and saves it to Dropbox, which would normally be quite a cumbersome and time-consuming procedure.
All I needed to do was save it to my Workflow app (as I don’t have access to Shortcuts yet), open a YouTube video in Safari and tap to run the Workflow extension. Within seconds, the audio was sitting in my Dropbox folder ready for me to use.
And with the help of Nick Garnett, the éminence grise of mojo at the BBC, we adapted this flow so the final destination of the audio was as an M4A into the BBC’s own PNG app. Always being aware of the copyright aspects of extracting the audio from someone else’s video on YouTube, this could be fantastically useful for any mobile journalist.
You can even make your own flow of actions using the drag and drop interface but that may well be the domain of the adventurous. Some of my colleagues in the mobile journalism world are already doing this, which means that the more collaborative among us will soon be sharing our own Shortcuts to help everyone work more efficiently.
Apple’s integration of Workflow into iOS opens up possibilities which would previously have been off-limits even to the most experienced user of the app. This is because iOS can gain access to system-level processes, such as Find My iPhone, Apple Pay or Low Power Mode. With the last one, for example, there can be an action to toggle on and off.
So expect to see your apps going big on Shortcuts by offering suggestions to get the best out of the app as well as an “Add to Siri” option. It’s likely too that before long there’ll be individual apps that collect the best Shortcuts more generally.

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He’s also keen on the changes to Voice Memos, because of their applicability to journalism and recording.
link to this extract


British Airways: suspect code that hacked fliers ‘found’ • BBC News

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A RiskIQ researcher analysed code from BA’s website and app around the time when the breach began, in late August.
He claimed to have discovered evidence of a “skimming” script designed to steal financial data from online payment forms.
BA said it was unable to comment.
A very similar attack, by a group dubbed Magecart, affected the Ticketmaster website recently, which RiskIQ said it also analysed in depth.
The company said the code found on the BA site was very similar, but appeared to have been modified to suit the way the airline’s site had been designed.
”This particular skimmer is very much attuned to how British Airway’s payment page is set up, which tells us that the attackers carefully considered how to target this site instead of blindly injecting the regular Magecart skimmer,” the researcher wrote in a report on the findings.
”The infrastructure used in this attack was set up with British Airways in mind and purposely targeted scripts that would blend in with normal payment processing to avoid detection.”
Hacks like this make use of an increasingly common phenomenon, in which large websites embed multiple pieces of code from other sources or third-party suppliers.

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The RiskIQ report (linked above) is well worth reading, and quite scary: this is a professional group dubbed “Magecart” that has been operating for the past three years and pulling off increasingly subtle hacks. This one injected Javascript code into BA’s system. RiskIQ says it sees similar attacks every day; just not as big.
link to this extract


Apple banks on bigger screens to drive iPhone growth • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

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At a time when people are buying fewer new phones, bigger size brings two advantages. It helps Apple buoy prices and profit margins because it can sell larger phones at a greater markup than it pays suppliers for the larger screens. And it encourages people to use their phones more, helping momentum of Apple’s services business, which includes app-store sales and subscriptions to video services like Netflix and HBO.
Users with smartphone screens 6 in or larger, like Apple plans to launch this year, typically use twice as many apps as those with 5.5in screens, such as those on the largest versions of the iPhone 6 or 7, said Kantar Worldpanel, a market research firm. Users of the larger devices also are 62% more likely to play games, and twice as likely to watch video daily as people with smaller screens.
“The bigger the device, the more people are getting out of it, and the more opportunity there is for Apple to generate money from them,” said Jennifer Chan, analyst with Kantar Worldpanel. She added that the larger phones typically carry faster processors, more memory and better graphics than smaller devices, which also contribute to usage…
…Some 6.5in OLED devices also will be able to use two SIMs, a microchip that allows smartphone users to connect to a wireless network, allowing travelers to access overseas wireless networks more easily. The feature will allow Apple to keep pace with competitors in China, where dual-SIM phones are popular.

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The dual-SIM element is in many ways the most interesting: how will it be implemented? Physically or virtually? Also, the 6.5in screen will have more area than the Galaxy Note 9. Quite a bragging point.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.


4 thoughts on “Start Up No.908: Zuckerberg in profile, the crypto gap, how BA was hacked, why we use big phones, and more

  1. My workflow for extracting audio from Youtube videos to gDrive:
    1- save them to my “to extract” Youtube playlist
    2- run my Windows audio extractor app (4K video downloader; it’s preset with “get from that playlist” and “save to that gDrive folder”, “to MP3″). It can do videos, too.
    I’m not sure that rates as a ” cumbersome and time-consuming procedure.”

    Also, isn’t there an iOS version of If This Then That ? It’s been doing this stuff for years !

    Re. screen size: with the new elongated formats, I find screen diagonal, even screen size, is not a very good indicator of usability and comfort: most of the stuff we look at is text which works better on wider not longer screens, or content that works better on a squarer screen such as maps, games, Office stuff… I still miss my 16:10 Huawei Mediapad X1, and the slightly narrower screen has a big part in my decision to not update my Mi Max 1 to a 3 (also, the 1 still works delightfully). Longer screens are only useful to look better, and maybe for messaging -if that ?

    That’s not a specific dig at Apple, they’re only following that useless trend. The iPhone X was very cute, but very small, so a larger option is welcome. As it is, the 6.5″ iPhone’s screen is the same width as the 5.5″ iP 8+ (assuming same screen format as the iPX, only bigger). At least they don’t have Samsung’s silly rounded sides that effectively narrow the screen even further.

  2. The idea of Twitter as a “mirror to wider society” is wrong because that phrasing leads one to think of reflections which maintain proportions of the original (aside from the cliche of “funhouse” mirrors, which I’ve never seen in reality – I think they’re artifacts of a bygone era). Twitter is more like some weird distorting lens, full of low-pass filtering and extreme loss of fine detail. And then we have people proposing to layer on afterwards all sorts of complicated algorithmic processing, to compensate for its intrinsically flawed structural properties.

    However, due to network effects, any chattering-class member needs Twitter far more than Twitter needs that person. This is one reason why I’ve been so against the idea of looking to data-mining type businesses as civic models (but, perhaps self-fulfillingly, essentially spitting in the ocean).

    • I still see “biggening” mirrors is some bathrooms and women’s purses.

      Twitter is like open Instant Messaging, or length-limited public email. Not good for analysis/insights, just for urgent news, venting, self-publicizing, and the occasional joke. If I hadn’t corralled my family onto Skype for over a decade, we’d probably be using twitter to exchange photos and tidbits. As it is, I use it pretty much like intra-company IM, but with people outside.

      My biggest fear is that RSS may fade away. Everyone wants to replace it with their proprietary IA-infused newsfeed, Twitter is just one instance of it, and is not *only* an RSS feed, it adds that social/communications aspect.

      I’m wondering when things got so confused: there’s news, there’s private persistent comms, there’s public public comms, and there’s live/transient comms. I understand there’s a need for some back and forth between those, but not why they need to be melded into one ecosystem. At least not why for the users, for the advertisers and providers it does make sense, but there’s precious little activism about why this is probably bad.

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