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.)
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


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.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

  1. Re Google and China: what happened between 2010 and now is that others *cough* Apple *cough* showed no qualms about kowtowing to China’s demands, so other companies competing for the same business and returns also have to.
    What’s striking is that Googlers are having qualms and debates about it. Applers didn’t.
    Also, now the kommentariat is finding issue with Google’s greedy looks at China. It never found issue with Apple’s.

    • That’s classic whataboutism: “stop asking about Google, what about Apple?”. Apple has never changed its position on China: it sells its devices there, it provides services there, it complies with local laws even if it doesn’t like them.
      Google by contrast very publicly withdrew in 2010. So, as the person asks, what has changed? Has China changed? I don’t think so. So what has changed?

      • As I said, the competitive landscape has changed.

        Google’s growth is slowing elsewhere, and since similar companies have no qualms doing business in China, Google has to follow suit or suffer a severe handicap with users and investors.
        It is indeed whataboutism, but I’m sure Google wouldn’t be going off the high road if others were on it too, and I find taking flack for considering doing something dubious that others have been doing forever unfair.

      • So we’re clear on the financial ‘why’ – good. But then Google needs to admit that it is now bend to its financial reasons rather than its ethics. Sergey Brin was furious in 2010; he had never wanted to go into China, and I’d love to know what he thinks of this. It is not “oh, everyone else is doing it, so that’s fine”. It’s “we said this was bad, but now we’re saying it’s not bad, **even though nothing about that thing has changed**.” Google needs to level with its critics on this. Apple has plenty of critics about China, and it addresses them. Now it’s Google’s turn, if indeed it is going to do this. I wonder if Brin might still swing it.

      • Actions speak louder than words, and executive rarely say what they think, but what is good for their shares; I’m not terribly interested in PR skits. And I’d love if reporters weren’t either.

        I don’t have the means to measure China coverage for Apple and Google. Goggling those pair of terms yield 3m results for Google (which doesn’t operate in China) vs 1m for Apple (with most of the first page Apple’s own sites). Might be a starting point to qualify that “plenty” of yours, at least relatively to each other.

        Where did Apple comment on China ? The single direct piece I have is when its lawyers said they didn’t *give* (not *show*, not *lend*) source code to China. Was there any discussion besides “we comply with the laws of the countries we operate in” ? Where ?

      • There has been a ton of coverage about Apple’s presence in China, a great deal of it to do with conditions in factories. And about its removal of certain apps from the App Store when the Chinese government demands it. And about iCloud backups being moved to China for Chinese citizens, and the question of accessibility. And about hacking of iOS devices through ghosted dev accounts (I forget the detail).

        The point is that Apple has never said “we’re withdrawing from China. We simply can’t do business with this country.” As with Microsoft and Yahoo and many other western tech businesses, it sees a big opportunity in China, and it has consistently pursued it. It hasn’t compromised its devices there (the “iOS source code” story is a canard: I pursued it in 2015 and found it had emerged from a small Chinese activist group, where one person had tried to read between the lines of a statement and decided that because it didn’t specifically rule everything out, it must have ruled everything in. When I spoke to the group, they said that person had left the group.) It follows the same rulebook there as it does for other countries: obey local laws, as far as is consistent with what it can do. (Can’t unlock a locked device, etc; can give access to iCloud backups with a valid warrant.)

        The difference with Google – and it gets boring to have to keep pointing this out – is that it offered a service in China, and then decided the Chinese government was unpalatable. That’s fine. People have different values, and Google 2010 decided it knew what its were. But the Chinese government hasn’t changed. Yet Google 2018 seems to think China is now palatable. SO WHAT CHANGED, GOOGLE?

        Citing “search hits” is the bluntest of blunt instruments, and never a good way to prove anything. That’s been the case for at least 20 years. Apart from anything: how do you know the number of cumulative views those stories have have? What about the ones that mention “AOSP, made by Google, is used in China…”? What about the ones that say “While China was good for Apple, Japan turned out to be…”
        “Search hits” is a desperate last resort, and one really not worth using.

      • Hey, you might be familiar with The Guardian ^^ site search:
        google china = 107,000 results
        apple china = 18,600 results
        That’s very basic. But very contrasted. There might be something, there ?

      • And to illustrate the tone and subjects of the articles, 1st article on Google is “if Google goes to China, will it tell the truth bout Tiananmen”; for Apple ot is “Xiaomi is China’s Apple”.

        I personally think there might be a pattern, in both intensity and direction of coverage ? Not definitive, but can’t be dismissed out-of-hand as you seem eager to do.

      • So you don’t think there’s a bias in intensity and tone of coverage about China for Apple and Google ?

        I’m sorry for using the bluntest instrument, not as my last but as my first resort, and last too indeed since this is not my job. Also, I’m blunt myself.

        I think the topic here isn’t working conditions (they’re the same for everyone, it’s just Apple try to look holier than thou), nor piracy (main hack was local mirrors of virused devtools IIRC), but collaboration with censorship.

        Hence, a question: What does Apple news in China, say about Tiananmen ? It seems fair, since The Guardian rises the question for Google, to check what they did for Apple: very blunt site search doesn’t find anything… actually it surfaces the Google sorry before anything with “Apple”… Weird, dat.

      • Apple News isn’t available in China. It’s only in the US, UK and Australia at present. https://www.apple.com/ios/feature-availability/
        The Guardian’s search is run by Google – it’s custom site search.
        A “bias in intensity and tone of coverage”? Apple and Google do different things. One principally makes phones. Its mission statement, roughly (since it doesn’t have an official one – it’s too old for that stuff) is “make premium products people will love”. Google’s, explicitly, is “organise the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible”. (https://www.google.co.uk/about/) That “universally… accessible” part is where it dislikes China, which is fine; there were tensions in 2010 over going there completely. (Brin was completely against; Schmidt was completely for, because of the commercial potential; Page eventually sided with Schmidt, but then that changed with the hacking.)
        Apple is not about “making information universally accessible”. It’s about products. There’s no obvious tension there in making products (especially with end-to-end encryption services) available to countries which operate censorship, because Apple isn’t in the information business. It provides a platform for those in the information business such as Google and Facebook. Ditto Microsoft: is anyone criticising it for selling Windows in China? Of course not. Windows is the platform.

        You need to face up to the reality that if Google goes back into China, it must have compromised some of its ethical stance from 2010. Internally, some employees are already indicating their unrest at that. They aren’t saying “well, Apple sells iPhones there – so that’s fine!” One needs to recognise when one is indulging in whataboutery, and stop doing it.

      • And just on working conditions and “it’s just Apple trying to look holier than thou” – no. This is wrong. Show me where the working conditions report is for Huawei. For Dell. For HP. For any of a zillion western or Chinese companies which (contract) manufacture at scale in China. (That includes Microsoft for the Xbox.) You’ll find it on Apple’s site but you’ll have a hell of a task finding it on anyone else’s. (Samsung makes an effort, though it’s damn hard to track down.) It’s not appearances; people at Apple truly do believe in this stuff. You may dislike what they do, but in my very long experience they are never, ever cynical about what they do.

  2. Ren SD card failure : I’ve had 2 from about 20 cards oven 10 years. HD-like. Enough to know they cannot be trusted, gPhotos is set to backup asap over 4G, the rest is media copies off my NAS.
    I also had the internal flash on my Galaxy Note v1 fail last year, so after 8 years.

  3. To expand a bit on why I’m not terribly interested in Google telling why they’re looking at China: it’d be PR and I think it’s fairly obvious.
    1- they’ve got the bandwidth. Search and Android are on rails, Social is dead, the rest is small/new bets.
    2- they want revenue. New stuff is great, but I’m sure there’s a part of Google looking at getting more revenue from old stuff. China is relatively low-hanging for that.
    3- there’s a strategic risk in not being there, first because some are, second because it gives an unassailable home base for Phone OEMs to nibble at or plain avoid Android and Google services. Google is a conduit, not an endpoint like Apple. When few control the endpoints (the top 5 OEMs are probably around 90% share in China, 75% wwide), Google is vulnerable to endpoint providers deciding to switch pipes.
    4- Ditto for search, AI, VR, cars… Google not selling that in China means others have a nice home base to become competitive and viable in, and they won’t stop at its borders later.

    And China is the biggest most visible problem country, but there are plenty. I don’t think businesses can avoid doing business with every single one (Saudi Arabia, Iran, … what are the criteria… Israel ? frankly I see the US as a problem country these days) so they might as well do business with all. Companies and technology are distinct from politics, though enmeshed.

  4. That commenting system is showing its limits, I’ll start new OPs.

    I’m not at all denying Google has compromised its ethics. I’m saying it’s not material: everyone else has, and Google’s were fake to start with – they have shown dubious ethics in plenty of other situations already.

    Apple doesn’t get a free pass for “selling devices” because it’s not true. The devices are intimately linked with apps (censored by Apple at the behest of the host country) and services (based in China now). If Apple were really “selling devices”, they wouldn’t have to kowtow to the host country. That they do have to proves they aren’t.

    Again, I acknowledge this is whataboutism. Also called context. I think it is relevant.

  5. There are plenty of instances of Apple being repeatedly, very cynical about what they do:
    – they passed their security staff as police when they lost a prototype
    – they instructed their staff to neither acknowledge nor deny malware that was bricking devices
    – they “designed for you hands” phones, until they could make a big phone too
    – they’re loudly green, except when it impacts looks, feel, sales, thinness…
    – they re-activated position tracking piggybacking on OS updates.
    – frankly, suppliers audits could be better, full coverage for all suppliers and all the time not spot. They’ve got the money to fund that.
    -…

    (I realize this list is weak, it’s off the top of my head I’m on the road)

    I understand they’re good at mesmerizing influencers. But that “never, ever” is ridiculous.

    • You find it cynical. But to be cynical is to intentionally provide a bad solution and pretend that it’s the only one that can be done.
      • The “security staff as police” – 2010? Long time ago. No idea what the detail is there.
      • Malware bricking devices – have you considered that it might be a combination of uncertainty and wariness about legal liability (which matters in the US)? What if it wasn’t malware but it was something else? The lessons of large businesses are that you don’t say until you’re certain, because changing your story looks very, very bad.
      • hand-sized phones – that’s marketing: focus on what’s best about your device at the moment. Otherwise should they still be using the same marketing lines as in 2007?
      • don’t know what you mean about “impacts sales look thinness”. They aren’t a charity, and they have an impact on the world, but they’re trying to source more green energy and recycle more – there’s an in-store recycling system for old devices. Sure, you don’t get much for it, but you know it gets recycled. Do other companies try to reduce their energy and other footprints in the same way?
      • position tracking – don’t know what you mean. Every single one of my location-tracking settings is exactly the same after the update to iOS 12. Where on earth do you read this stuff? It sounds like the rantings of random people on Reddit who can’t do fact-checking.
      • “supplier audits could be better”. Come on. At least they exist. Point me to Lenovo’s. To Huawei’s. To HTC’s. To Dell’s. To HP’s. “They’ve got the money” is such a terrible reason. The challenge isn’t money, it’s time and staffing and the sheer logistics plus the opportunity cost of interviewing and observing loads of people whose job is to make things, not be observed.
      A better logic is that if every other company was demanding and doing better supplier audits (or any audits at all) then the standard would rise for everyone, which would make it easier to do really detailed auditing. In that sense, the onus is on everyone else to bring their supplier audits (and visibility of same) up to Apple’s standard. Ditto on the green thing: once there’s a ton of companies which are also able to say they’re generating as much green energy as they’re using non-green energy (which is what Apple means by “100% renewable”; it’s almost impossible to be truly 100% renewable with no carbon sourcing), then you set a new bar that Apple has to exceed and that you can compare it against.

      • Nope, to be cynical is to be “concerned only with one’s own interests”, what you’re describing is to be duplicitous. I do think almost all companies are that too (how many haven’t been condemned for something or other, non-accidental something), too, but today’s topic is “cynical”. Cynical doesn’t need to involve actual lying. Well lying by omission maybe when you’re advertising being green while making non-maintainable devices, like everyone else, but everyone else isn’t advertising being green: that’s were the cynical part comes in.They get a combo for advertising courage when getting rid of a port, courage that is sorely lacking when it comes to adding 1mm thickness and using screws instead of glue. Again, everyone is doing the same, but only Apple has the cynicism to claim courage.

        I do understand, as you say they get a pass because they’re a commercial company and need to both make sexy products and have a sexy discourse, so it would be overly harsh to study the cynical contradictions between the two. That bothers me a bit, but OK. What’s beyond the pale is not showing the same clemency towards other companies.

        We end up with it being OK for Apple to censor apps, the NYT, searches.. in China, hosting servers there vulnerable to public and secret warrants, and on a gov.-owned platform for extra technical shenanigans; but it being an issue when Google considers doing the same. Now how wish that commenting system supported the “whatev’s” emoji too ;-p

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