Start Up No.909: making heavy weather, game apps under fire, the everlasting iPhone?, Outlining the problem, and more

Larry Page in 2006. His public appearances are increasingly rare. So what’s he doing? Photo by Herkko Hietanen on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New iPhones, new Galaxies: who’s the bigger copycat? • Yahoo News

David Pogue is a brave, brave man:


First, I made up a list of every major feature that’s standard on smartphones today. Pinch-to-zoom. Auto-rotating screen. Slow-mo video. Word suggestions above the keyboard. A quick settings panel. Voice assistant. Voice calling. Private browsing. And on and on.

Second, I hunted down the first appearance of every feature by poring through old user manuals, Wikipedia, tech reviews, and how-to books. With help from my assistant Jan Carpenter, we eventually filled in a spreadsheet, which you can see here.

I turned the data over to David Foster, infographics lead for Oath Studios, who designed the timelines you see below. Each one shows clearly not just which company wins each horse race, but how long it took its rivals to copy each feature. The timeline bars also provide a fascinating look at how smartphones have evolved since the iPhone’s debut in 2007.

Now, a few notes on this project’s limitations:

• I’ve restricted the game to three players: Apple, Samsung, and Google. Some features may have appeared first in phones by smaller companies, but most of the “you stole that!” accusations involve the Big Three. Especially when it comes to software features (Apple’s iOS vs. Google’s Android) and hardware features (Apple’s iPhone vs. Samsung’s Galaxy S series).
• Not all features get stolen. Nobody ever copied Apple’s Force Touch screen idea (detects how hard you’re pressing) or its Emergency SOS siren (to use when you’re being mugged). Similarly, to this day, only Android offers desktop widgets and multiple user accounts on the phone. And Samsung, through the years, has introduced dozens of features that nobody chose to imitate (built-in heart-rate sensor, auto-scrolling based on your head tilt). This story is about features that have become universal, so those features don’t appear here.
• Also not included: Features that existed before the smartphone era, like downloadable ringtones. They weren’t Apple’s, Samsung’s, or Google’s ideas in the first place.
Even with all of this research and documentation, I’m sure there will be much to argue about. Does Samsung’s easily fooled face recognition get credit for being first, when Apple’s later implementation, which uses depth cameras that can’t be fooled by a photo, is far better? Should a company get credit for being the leader, when the feature it introduced seems obvious and inevitable (say, an on-screen keyboard)? Should a feature be listed if two companies introduced it more or less simultaneously?

In all three cases, I’ve answered “yes” as I built this study.


RIP your mentions, dude.
link to this extract

How The Weather Channel made that insane storm animation • Wired

Brian Barrett:


If you haven’t seen the graphic yet, take a moment to watch the segment below. It starts normally enough, with a top-side view of the Eastern seaboard, showing the “reasonable worst-case scenario” of water levels. (The data comes from the National Hurricane Center.) But about 45 seconds in, a shift occurs. Meteorologist Erika Navarro stands not in a studio, but on a neighborhood street corner. And then the waters around her start to rise.

On one level, yes, the visualization literally just shows what three, six, and nine feet of water looks like. But it’s showing that in a context most people have never experienced. It fills in the gaps of your imagination, and hopefully underscores for anyone in a flood zone all the reasons they should not be.

A year ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. In fact, this specific demonstration wouldn’t have been possible a month ago. The Weather Channel only finished the new “green screen immersive studio” at its Atlanta headquarters this week. With peak hurricane season coming, it wanted to be prepared. “It was all hands on deck,” says Michael Potts, TWC’s vice president of design.

Fortunately, they’ve already had some practice with this sort of thing. About 18 months ago, Potts says, the broadcast industry at large started getting serious about the quality of graphics it could offer, thanks in part to the rising popularity of esports. Seeing potential for weather coverage, TWC invested in the use of Unreal Engine, the same suite of tools that powers countless video games (yes, including Fortnite.


The video is indeed amazing. This is “augmented reality” being used to its best capacity.
link to this extract

Amazon is stuffing its search results pages with ads • Recode

Rani Molla:


Sponsored ads allow vendors to bid auction-style to have their products show up when consumers type in a related search term. If you’re Duracell, for example, you can pay to have your product show up above or among search results when someone types in “batteries” — or “Energizer.”

When searching for a specific product — “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes,” for example — ads for Kellogg’s own Frosted Flakes and competitor Nature’s Path Corn Flakes both show up as sponsored results first.

And in an unscientific Recode test, these types of ads showed up for every search term, from the vague to the hyperspecific:

“Nobody is scrolling beyond the first page when they do a search,” Jason Goldberg, SVP of commerce at SapientRazorfish, a digital marketing agency, told Recode. “If you want to be discoverable, you have to find a way to show up in search results.”

To get that prime visibility, brands are responding with more cash. Spending on sponsored products in Amazon’s search increased 165% in the second quarter of 2018 compared with a year earlier, according to data from marketing agency Merkle.

The competition for brands to bid on their own or others’ keywords is fierce, and is leading toward what Goldberg called a “perfectly escalating arms race where all the trends are to spend more money to buy more ads to have better visibility on Amazon.”


I’ve noticed this; Amazon isn’t bound, as far as I can tell, by the requirements on other search engines to label ads “prominently”. The only positive thing is that if you’re actually determined to buy product A, then an ad for product B probably won’t do it. The annoyance comes when you accidentally click on the ad product thinking it’s part of the organic listings. Which can happen on Google too, of course.
link to this extract

“Where’s Larry?” • Bloomberg BusinessWeek



For several months he maintained a weekly meeting with leaders at Google Fiber, a project to develop ultrahigh-speed internet access, to brainstorm technical solutions for implementing the service, such as newfangled ways to drill fiber-optic cables into sidewalks, says a former manager there.

Another skunkworks project that consumed Page, started in 2015 and previously unreported, was a Disney-esque idea to reimagine transportation, code-named Heliox. According to three people familiar with the effort, a team operating out of a former NASA hangar in the Bay Area built a tube of plastic the width of a subway car, snaked around a circular track, designed to propel bicyclists at rapid speeds through a swirl of oxygen and helium pumped into the tunnel at their backs. Heliox was pure Page, a space-age concept both preposterously imaginative and mechanically marvelous: The vision was to stretch this tube system, arced hundreds of feet in the air, from a ground-level entry point on Google’s Mountain View campus to an exit 35 miles north, in San Francisco, so Google’s rainbow-colored beach cruisers might one day be seen flying over U.S. Highway 101. Yes, it sounds like a Hyperloop for bikes.

Many of these projects, including Heliox, have since fizzled or died. As Alphabet’s CEO, Page had to placate investors anxious about his investments beyond Google’s core business. Now almost all of Alphabet’s spending goes to Google. Several people familiar with the dynamic say Page’s involvement with Alphabet’s subsidiaries has become more sporadic in recent years as the L Team has shrunk to a smaller coterie known as “AlphaFun,” and it’s difficult to pinpoint a fresh project inside the company with his clear imprint. One former manager who worked at X says the rare office check-in from Page is akin to a royal visit, replete with assistants, hangers-on, and advance fretting. Doctoroff, the Sidewalk Labs CEO, disputes this characterization and says Page is “intensely involved,” citing their weekly video chats and a surprise Page visit to Sidewalk’s Toronto project in July. Although Page hasn’t visited Sidewalk’s New York headquarters in months, Doctoroff says he’s constantly discussing ideas as varied as “dynamic pavement” and “cross-laminated timber.”

These days, there’s a sense within Google that futurism has taken a back seat to more pressing concerns.


This is such a contrast with the Zuckerberg profile from the New Yorker. Fascinating detail: Page is younger than Google’s Sundar Pichai.
link to this extract

How game apps that captivate kids have been collecting their data • NY Times

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Aaron Krolik and Michael Keller:


Before Kim Slingerland downloaded the Fun Kid Racing app for her then-5-year-old son, Shane, she checked to make sure it was in the family section of the Google Play store and rated as age-appropriate. The game, which lets children race cartoon cars with animal drivers, has been downloaded millions of times.

Until last month, the app also shared users’ data, sometimes including the precise location of devices, with more than a half-dozen advertising and online tracking companies. On Tuesday evening, New Mexico’s attorney general filed a lawsuit claiming that the maker of Fun Kid Racing had violated a federal children’s privacy law through dozens of Android apps that shared children’s data.

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Ms. Slingerland, a mother of three in Alberta, Canada. “I don’t think that’s any of their business, location or anything like that.”

The suit accuses the app maker, Tiny Lab Productions, along with online ad businesses run by Google, Twitter and three other companies, of flouting a law intended to prevent the personal data of children under 13 from falling into the hands of predators, hackers and manipulative marketers. The suit also contends that Google misled consumers by including the apps in the family section of its store.

An analysis by The New York Times found that children’s apps by other developers were also collecting data. The review of 20 children’s apps — 10 each on Google Android and Apple iOS — found examples on both platforms that sent data to tracking companies, potentially violating children’s privacy law; the iOS apps sent less data over all.

These findings are consistent with those published this spring by academic researchers who analyzed nearly 6,000 free children’s Android apps. They reported that more than half of the apps, including those by Tiny Lab, shared details with outside companies in ways that may have violated the law.


link to this extract

Youtube Kids adds a whitelisting parental control feature, plus a new experience for tweens • Techcrunch

Sarah Perez:


YouTube is adding another feature that will give parents the ability to explicitly whitelist every channel or video they want to be available to their children through the app.

Additionally, YouTube Kids is launching an updated experience to serve the needs of a slightly older demographic: tween viewers ages 8 through 12. This mode adds new content, like popular music and gaming videos.

The company had promised in April these changes were in the works, but didn’t note when they’d be going live.

With the manual whitelisting feature, parents can visit the app’s Settings, go to their child’s profile, and toggle on an “Approved Content Only” option. They can then handpick the videos they want their kids to have access to watch through the YouTube Kids app.

Parents can opt to add any video, channel, or collection of channels they like by tapping the “ ” button, or they can search for a specific creator or video through this interface.

Once this mode is enabled, kids will no longer be able to search for content on their own.

While this is a lot of manual labor on parents’ part, it does serve the needs of those with very young children who aren’t comfortable with YouTube Kids’ newer “human-reviewed channels” filtering option, as mistakes could still slip through.


Yup, that’s a lot of effort. Bet that few parents go to the trouble. Allows Google to say it has tried and that it offers what people have demanded. Except what people want is for Google to do the filtering.
link to this extract

The iPhone franchise • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:


probably the biggest surprise from these announcements (well, other than the name “XS Max”) is just how good of a smartphone the XR is.

• The XR has Apple’s industry-leading A12 chip, which is so far ahead of the industry that it will still be competitive with the best Android smartphones in two years, and massively more powerful than lower-end phones.
• The XR has the same wide-angle camera as the XS, and the same iteration of Face ID. Both, again, are industry-leading and will be more than competitive two years from now.
• The biggest differences from the XS are the aforementioned case materials, an LCD screen, and the lack of 3D Touch. Again, though, aluminum is still a premium material, Apple’s LCD screens are — and yes there is a theme here — the best in the industry, and 3D Touch is a feature that is so fiddly and undiscoverable that one could make the case XR owners are actually better off.

There really is no other way to put it: the XR is a fantastic phone, one that would be more than sufficient to maintain Apple’s position atop the industry were it the flagship. And yet, in the context of Apple’s strategy, it is best thought of as being quite literally ahead of its time.


Reading this – in which he points out that smartphone strategies are worked out years in advance – I began to suspect that Apple’s long-term strategy for India and other countries which have big markets but where it has negligible share is to let the XR age, and keep offering it more and more cheaply in those markets. The SE tried, but simply wasn’t big enough; those markets demand big screens.
link to this extract

Lasts longer • Asymco

Horace Dediu:


What is the logic of this durability focus as a business model? It may be good for the environment but is it good for the bottom line?

Of course, there would be not much business without an environment and we should all strive for sustainability.  But this is an existential observation, and it’s defensive. The important call to make is that Apple is making a bet that sustainability is a growth business.

Fundamentally, Apple is betting on having customers, not selling them products.

The purpose of Apple as a firm is to create and preserve customers and to create and preserve products. This is fundamental and not fully recognized.

To understand how this works, if you look at the pricing graph below, you can read it as a story of increasing prices for a decreasing market share. But if you understand that each advance in products increases absorbable[1] utility then the cost per use remains steady or declines.

An iPhone at $1200 may be less expensive than an iPhone at $600 if the $1200 version lasts twice as long as is used twice as much each day. The $1200 phone delivers 4x the utility at twice the price, making it half the price. By making more durable products, both in terms of hardware and software, the customer base is satisfied and preserved.

Practically, the initial buyer may resell the iPhone and that 2nd hand devices may be sold yet again. This means an iPhone could have three users over its life and thus it could end up expanding the audience for Apple by a factor of 2 or even 3.

The expanded audience is offered accessories, additional products such as wearables and, of course, services. These residual business models are certainly profitable, perhaps even more so than the iPhone.


Dediu always has a different way of looking at things.
link to this extract

The Outline and the curse of media venture capital • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:


When The Outline launched, it had about 10 full-time staff, including veteran writers and editors like Aaron Edwards from BuzzFeed, Adrianne Jeffries from Vice Media’s Motherboard site, and Amanda Hale from Talking Points Memo. The site soon had a four-person video team, and added a number of high-profile writers who worked out of its office on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Its website, which often looked and functioned more like a mobile app, got largely positive reviews, and there were high hopes for its customized approach to advertising.

A source close to the company say the board encouraged Topolsky to spend more and expand quickly, assuring him there would be no problem in finding more financing. By late last year, however, the media environment had soured. Vice Media and BuzzFeed were said to have missed their revenue targets for the year by as much as 20 percent, and Mashable—a former digital media superstar—was forced to sell itself for a fraction of its previous valuation, to Ziff Davis, which immediately laid off 50 people. A tight advertising market and the increasing dominance of Facebook, as well as the lackluster performance of video, meant sharply lower traffic and revenue numbers for just about everyone in the business.

At first, The Outline seemed to have figured out a way to make it work. In April, Topolsky said his ad strategy was working so well that clickthrough rates were 25 times the industry average. Then he announced a new round of funding in May, another $5 million from existing investors and several new funds. In a Wall Street Journal interview, Topolsky said the site (which then had more than 30 staff and 3 million unique visitors a month, according to internal analytics), had kept its funding round small because it didn’t want to suffer from inflated expectations.

According to several sources, however, this wasn’t entirely true. The site very badly wanted to raise more than $5 million—and in fact needed to do so to keep up with its burn rate—but had failed to find enough investors willing to sign up. Also, the announcement didn’t mention that most of the funding had come in months earlier, and had already been spent.


I can’t see The Outline lasting much longer as an independent organisation. Apart from anything, what’s it for? What’s its niche? The internet rewards niches. It penalises generalism unless you’re gigantic.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.908: Watch that iPhone!, glasses for tea pickers, the Russian health tweeters, celeb mag secrets, Fortnite’s Android quest, and more

Apple’s AirPower: is this all we’ll get? Photo by The Trendy Startups on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 12 links for you. Close enough. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple Watch Series 4 debuts with larger screens and new 64-bit S4 chip • Venturebeat

Jeremy Horwitz:


Heavily rumored since shortly after the release of its predecessor, and accidentally revealed in pre-event leaks of images and basic specs, the Apple Watch Series 4 finally became official today. The company’s next-generation smartwatch features the first major redesign since 2015’s original (“Series 0”) model, including larger bodies, over 30% bigger screens, and new internals.

Introducing the new model, Apple COO Jeff Williams described the Apple Watch as an “intelligent guardian for your health,” and said that it was adding new dynamic watch faces that show off the larger display, including fire, vapor, water, and breathe effects. Despite a 35% larger screen on the smaller version and 32% larger screen on the larger model, it’s thinner than the Series 3, with less total physical volume.

As a result of the new screens, the new Apple Watches have higher resolutions than their predecessors. Extra pixels enable each model to fit more on the screen than before, such that the Watch can now display a watch face with eight simultaneous “complications” — separately tappable icon or text information displays.

Apple has made a number of tweaks to the Series 4’s body. The microphone hole now sits between the side button and Digital Crown, enabling clearer voice sensing, while the speaker has been improved for greater volume. At the same time, the Digital Crown has been modestly redesigned to turn the LTE model’s solid red circle into a thin red circular line and to include haptic feedback with each motion. The side button no longer protrudes as much as it did from the Watch’s body.

The new S4 chip inside is a dual-core 64-bit processor with a new GPU, delivering up to twice the performance of its predecessor. Updated accelerometer and gyroscope functionality enable all-day activity tracking, twice the dynamic range of sensing, and up to 32g of force. New types of workouts are also tracked with the new model. It can also detect falls, and give you an easy route to access the Emergency SOS feature.


I like the eight-complication screen, and the way it represents “heat” with colour ranges. Altogether, it looks like the Watch is really hitting its stride, becoming all the things it can. It’s at about the point the iPhone was with the iPhone 4 in 2010: ready to really take off.
link to this extract

IPhone XS and XS Max: hands-on with Apple’s giant new phone • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


The iPhone XS Max is bigger, yes, but as you can see in the photos, it is almost hard to distinguish the two when you’re looking at photos. It feels much better than any “Plus” iPhone ever has. I always found the Plus-sized iPhones to be ungainly, but the Max seems to be a little more ergonomic in subtle ways. If you’ve wanted a Plus before but were put off by the size, I’d at least try to hold the new Max size before making your decision.

Both phones have identical specs aside from their screens. They use Apple’s new A12 Bionic processor, which is supposed to be 15% faster than the A11, have improved water resistance that’s supposed to let them stay submerged in two meters of water for up to 30 minutes, and have support for two SIMs and gigabit LTE. The rear cameras have each seen improvements to make them faster (larger pixels on the wide-angle lens, a wider aperture on the telephoto lens), and the selfie camera is supposed to be faster as well (though not for any immediate spec-related reason).

More than anything else, the most impressive tech demo this year is the new portrait mode feature, which allows you to adjust the bokeh after the shoot. It’s just fun to slide the dial left and right to get the exact right amount of blur.

The real difference comes down to both phones’ displays, though that’s just in terms of size and resolution. The XS has the same 5.8-inch size, OLED tech, and 2436 x 1125 resolution as the iPhone X, though it’s also supposed to have 60% greater dynamic range for more vibrant images. The XS Max takes the OLED screen and dynamic range gains and brings them to a 6.5-inch size, with a 2688 x 1242 resolution. Both have the same 458 ppi pixel density, so you don’t lose out on sharpness by going larger.


Note how the processor speed improvement isn’t as large. We’re hitting a wall there (see later link). However, analysts are expecting the LCD-screened iPhone XR (naming 😱) to be the best-seller around the world.
link to this extract

Nearly 600 Russia-linked accounts tweeted about the US’s health law • WSJ

Paul Overberg:


On the March 23 anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, Democrats attacked Republicans for trying to sabotage the health law and praised the embattled legislation.

So did Russian trolls.

“8 years ago today, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Millions of Americans have gained access to health care. Thank you, Mr. President!” said a tweet linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company engaged in an online influence campaign that typically seeks to pit one side against the other on controversial issues.

A newly identified group of nearly 10,000 tweets shows that while Russian trolls often focus on such hot-button issues as Hillary Clinton’s email or athletes kneeling during the national anthem, they also target substantive and divisive policy areas like health care.

Nearly 600 IRA-linked accounts posted to Twitter about the ACA and health policy from 2014 through this past May, with the most prolific ones tweeting hundreds of times, the new data show. One account, called TEN_GOP, rocketed from fewer than 1,000 followers to more than 138,000 in two years, sending 60 tweets that potentially reached followers more than four million times.

Researchers at Clemson University provided The Wall Street Journal with the set of about 9,800 tweets involving health policy and the ACA that the IRA posted over that period. An analysis by the Journal found that 80% of the tweets had conservative-leaning political messages, often disparaging the health law.

The accounts have been shut down by Twitter as congressional investigators unearthed their origin, but intelligence experts say the assault is continuing through similar accounts and channels.


link to this extract

The secrets you learn working at celebrity gossip magazines • Vice

Jessica Evans:


Being on the sausage-making side of the ever-grinding fame machine, you see a different side to the world of celebrity and the glimmer of being famous: the constant hustle, the fake friendships and the even faker smiles, the fact that you have to post one Instagram selfie a day (one a day! Think how many good pictures you have ever taken of you in your lifetime. One a day!): plus, you’re constantly drinking lukewarm prosecco next to a showbiz editor at a Wednesday night sponsored party, deciding what pound of flesh you’re willing to cut out of your life and sell to the highest bidder.

If you fancy being famous: hey, go for it, I’m sure your Soundcloud page will take off any day now. But consider this behind-the-scenes peek at the world of gossip mags to be a warning: as soon as you get an Instagram blue tick, it’s fair game to say pretty much anything about you. And once it starts, you get into a weird place where you never want it to stop, to the point you start making up shit about yourself just to extend your 15 minutes of fame up to 16, 17, maybe 18 minutes. Think about it like this: do you want to be Antony Costa? Because you’re probably going to end up being Antony Costa.

And here’s how showbiz journalists like (formerly) myself are going to make that happen.


I don’t know who Antony Costa is, but anyway, you’re probably going to click through to read the full article, and if you don’t, you’ve really missed out. Essential knowledge.
link to this extract

What the GlobalFoundries’ retreat really means: Moore’s Law is dead • IEEE Spectrum

Steve Blank:


Each shrinkage of chip line widths requires more complexity. Features have to be precisely placed at exact locations with each lithographic printing step. At 7 nanometers, this requires up to 80 such steps.

The other limitation to packing more transistors onto to a chip is called Dennard scaling: As transistors get smaller, their power density stays constant, so that the power use stays in proportion with area. But basic physics has stopped Dennard scaling, creating a “Power Wall”—a barrier to clock speed—that has limited microprocessor frequency to around 4 gigahertz since 2005.  It’s also why memory density is not going to increase at the rate we saw a decade ago.

The problem of continuing to shrink transistors in a post-Dennard era is so hard that even Intel, the leader in microprocessors and for decades the gold standard in leading fab technology, has stumbled. Industry observers have suggested that Intel has hit several speed bumps on the way to its next generation push to 10- and 7-nanometer designs, and now is trailing TSMC and Samsung.

The combination of spiraling fab cost, technology barriers, power density limits, and diminishing returns is the reason GlobalFoundries threw in the towel. It also means the future direction of innovation on silicon is no longer predictable.

The end of putting more transistors on a single chip doesn’t mean the end of innovation in computers or mobile devices. (To be clear, the bleeding edge will advance, but almost imperceptibly year-to-year; and GlobalFoundaries isn’t shutting down, they’re just no longer going to be the ones pushing the edge.)

But what it does mean is that we’re at the end of guaranteed year-to-year growth in computing power. The result is the end of the type of innovation we’ve been used to for the last 60 years. Instead of just faster versions of what we’ve been used to seeing, device designers now need to get more creative with the 10 billion transistors they already have to work with.


link to this extract

How spectacles transform the lives of tea-pickers • FT

Amy Kazmin:


In India’s tea-growing Assam state, a recent randomised control trial highlighted the dramatic economic benefits of reading glasses for ageing tea-pickers suffering from presbyopia — the decline in near-vision that comes with age.

The research took place last year at the peak of the harvest season, when tea-leaves are abundant. The only constraint is how fast the workers can pluck. Before the trial, not one of the 751 enlisted tea-pickers, all over the age of 40, had glasses. For the study, half got simple reading glasses — like those sold over-the-counter in many western countries — and half did not.

Professor Nathan Congdon, of Queen’s University Belfast, says the results — published recently in the Lancet — were unequivocal, if unsurprising. Workers with glasses plucked around 5kg more tea each day than those without — a 21% increase in productivity. Tea-pickers over the age of 50 recorded even bigger gains, at 31%.

“For picking tea, that ability to see things up close is very important — to determine whether a bud of tea is ready to be picked or not,” Prof Congdon told me.

Presbyopia is the most common global cause of sight impairment, and people living in rural areas are no less susceptible to it than city dwellers. For tea-pickers, who are paid by how much they pluck — and pruned from the labour force if they cannot meet minimum targets — correcting the problem is a major boost.


On a day when we’ve been hearing about amazing technological efforts, it’s good to remember that sometimes, the big wins are in simple technology.
link to this extract

Fortnite on Android launch • Epic Games technical blog


In the first 21 days since the Fortnite’s launch on Android, interest has been extremely high, with over 23 million players entering our Android beta and over 15 million players installing our APK.  While we are in an invite-only phase for Android, our conversion from players being invited to playing is similar to that of the iOS beta.

Shipping the same game across all platforms while supporting cross-play presented a unique challenge. Usually, when trying to scale a game down for mobile devices, you simplify the content and even design, in order to fit within the performance constraints of the platform. For instance, you might cull objects closer to the camera to reduce draw calls. In Fortnite, Android players can be in the same match with their friends on PC and console, so we must render everything that affects gameplay.

Since January 2018 we have been hard at work with a significant team on the Android version of FNBR. While much of our work to make this possible was spent on rendering performance, stability and memory, the sheer number and variety of Android hardware, OS versions, and driver versions was the major hurdle we had to overcome.

Working with partners has been crucial to bringing Fortnite to Android. Without their knowledge, expertise, and hard work it would not have been possible…

…When we first shipped Fortnite on Android, our internal testing indicated that we were fitting within the memory constraints of our target devices. We ran tests where we turned on navigation in Google maps, streamed music, and made sure we could play Fortnite without any problems. Yet once we launched we found that many players were either crashing or experiencing poor performance due to running out of memory.

When an Android phone is running low on memory, it will try to free up resources by closing applications not in use. However, it turns out that there are a number of poor behaving background applications and services out there that simply restart when the OS closes them. This actually makes the situation worse! Android closed the application to regain memory but it restarts and begins consuming just as much memory as before. Even worse, starting and stopping applications consumes CPU time so not only have we not freed up any memory, we are using a lot of unnecessary CPU resources.


And that’s one of tons of problems. Fragmentation really bites when you’re trying to build a game that millions of people want to play, but the hardware for the platform is hugely variable – as is the case on Android.
link to this extract

Apple tries to wipe AirPower from history • ZDNet

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes:


A year ago during the iPhone X unveiling Apple announced AirPower – an all-in-one wireless charger for the iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods. The product never shipped, and today it seems that Apple has scrubbed almost all traces of it off its website.

At the time of writing this is the only reference to AirPower I can find on Apple’s website:

So what happened to AirPower?

Well, while only Apple really knows (and at the time of writing Apple hasn’t responded to a request for information), it seems like the product was vaporware and that the promise of an all-in-one charger has died.

I can’t think off the top of my head of another product that Apple has announced at a major event and then failed to deliver, which suggests that some things are beyond the reach of even a company as powerful as Apple.

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken to a number of sources in the accessories and charging business, and they all claim that not only was AirPower too ambitious, Apple had made the job of developing an all-in-one charger all the more difficult by using differing wireless charging protocols for the iPhone and the Apple Watch.


Many people asked Apple about AirPower on Wednesday, and all were rebuffed with “nothing to say at this time”, formally, and nothing off the record.

Three options:
– it’s too difficult (different wireless charging methods between phone, Watch and AirPods);
– it’s too dangerous: lithium batteries are prone to do odd things, and wireless charging heats them up a lot;
– it’s too energy-inefficient, and Apple was burnishing its green credentials on Wednesday with talk about its renewable energy and so on.

There’s a faint chance it will appear in October, but I’m increasingly convinced that something Really Bad about risk turned up in testing.
link to this extract

‘Crypto tourists’ flee as bitcoin slump drags on • WSJ

Paul Vigna:


Many “crypto tourists” who bought bitcoin and other tokens in 2017 when prices were soaring lost faith in the transformative potential of digital currency, said Dan McArdle, co-founder of cryptocurrency research firm Messari.

“We’re just in one of those periods where the hype has died down,” he said.

Take ether, the in-house currency for the Ethereum network. The project took bitcoin’s core concepts and adapted them to a platform built to support apps, similar to Alphabet Inc.’s Android operating system.

The value of ether soared from $8 in January 2017 to $1,400 by January 2018 as investors sought to profit on Ethereum’s potential. Yet there is still little commercial activity two years after its launch.

There are about 900 live “dapps” – or, decentralized apps – on the Ethereum network with several hundred more in development, according to data from the website State of the Dapps. But there are only 9,000 daily active users.


All this noise about NINE THOUSAND people? I’d love to know what the figure is for bitcoin – as in, how many daily (or monthly) active users it has.
link to this extract

New 2018 iphones support background NFC tag reading, no app required • 9to5 Mac

Juli Clover:


Background tag reading is designed to work only when a user’s iPhone is in use in order to avoid unintentional tag reading. It also will not work if a device has not been unlocked, a core NFC reader is in session, Apple Pay Wallet is in use, the camera is in use, or Airplane mode is enabled.

The new background tagging function will allow an iPhone user to scan any NFC tag at a museum, store, or other location without first having to open up an app. Scanning an NFC tag will present a notification on the display, which can be tapped to launch an app.

Launching an app using this method requires a tap from the user, so it will not allow NFC-based methods to automatically launch apps sans user permission.

According to Apple, background NFC tag reading is a feature that’s limited to the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. It is not supported on iPhone X and earlier models.


Not sure how immediately useful this is – does it get you into hotel rooms that have NFC keys? – but any extra with NFC is good.
link to this extract

A trail of ‘bread crumbs,’ leading conspiracy theorists into the wilderness • New York Times

Mattathias Schwartz:


For months now, one such anonymous source — an internet user called “Q Clearance Patriot” or “Q,” posting on anarchic, underbelly-of-the-internet message boards like 4chan and 8chan — has been spreading its “crumbs” across the web, offering up a running commentary on the state of the nation in a gnomic and paranoid style. To call the result a mere “conspiracy theory” doesn’t quite do it justice, shortchanging both its utterly absurd wrongness and its vast pseudo-explanatory power. Q’s prophecies are something closer to a grand unifying conspiracy theory, one that incorporates older absurd theories (stretching back to the Kennedy administration) and continuously spins off new tendrils, glomming itself onto news events as they unfold. Good and evil, it claims, have mustered two warring teams; the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. The heroes are the military (especially the Marines) and President Trump, who is secretly cooperating with Robert Mueller to, some disciples imagine, uncover a global ring of sex-trafficking pedophiles. And even this risks making it sound more realistic than it is…

…“Your President needs your help,” writes Q in one “Q drop” — that’s what Q’s followers, or “bakers,” call each bread crumb. Q engages the bakers as collaborators who “research” lines of inquiry and offer possible answers to Q’s hypnotic flurries of leading questions. (“Las Vegas. What hotel did the ‘reported’ gunfire occur from? What floors specifically? Who owns the top floors?”) But Q balances fear-mongering with notes of reassurance: The bakers are, by poring over each nonsensical hint, supposedly aiding their fellow “patriots” on the inside. Bad news is merely a “distraction.” The president’s behavior is merely a ruse. The good guys are secretly in control, and they are going to win.


I do like “utterly absurd wrongness”. It must be nice, if you’re a conspiracy theory sort of person, to have one where the Good Guys (and Gals) are going to win. So much happier than conspiracies about 9/11 and banks.
link to this extract

Say goodbye to Inbox by Gmail • Techcrunch

Frederic Lardinois:


I would have loved to see Google continue to experiment with Inbox instead. That, after all, was one of the reasons the company started the Inbox project to begin with. It’s hard to try radical experiments with a service that has a billion users, after all. Today, however, Google now seems to be willing to try new things right in Gmail, too. Smart Compose, for example, made its debut in the new Gmail (and many pundits correctly read that as a sign that Inbox was on the chopping block).

While the new Gmail now has most of Inbox’s features, one that is sorely missing is trip bundles. This useful feature, which automatically groups all of your flight, hotel, event and car reservations into a single bundle, is one of Inbox’s best features. Our understanding is that Google plans to bring this to Gmail early next year — hopefully well before Inbox shuts down.


Google bought Inbox in May 2015, when it bought Timeful. This news came out just while the tech press was busy talking about Apple’s new Watch and iPhone. Accident? Doubtful.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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:


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.


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:


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.


link to this extract

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

Tony Romm:


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.


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):


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.


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:


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.


”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:


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.


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.
link to this extract

The Apple Watch is getting a new feature that can monitor heart health — here’s why that matters • CNBC

Christina Farr:


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.


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:


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.


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


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.


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:


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.


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.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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?


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:


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.


Named: ASKfm, C25 5K Trainer, Gas Buddy,, 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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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?


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:


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.


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.

Start Up No.906: “iPhone XC” and “XS Plus”?, Facebook’s fake problem, are we post-PC?, ride-hailing grows… traffic, and more

Tesla’s touchscreen: distraction never looked so appealing, or potentially dangerous. Photo by harry_nl on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Because it’s Monday, or soon will be. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Opinion: why Facebook will never be free of fakes • The New York Times

Siva Vaidhyanathan:


“As of this morning, the Facebook community is now officially two billion people!” Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, wrote on his Facebook page in July 2017. “We’re making progress connecting the world, and now let’s bring the world closer together.”

It was a monumental achievement. But on Wednesday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, revealed a number that was almost as startling. She told the Senate Intelligence Committee that from October to last March, Facebook deleted 1.3 billion fake accounts. In other words, an alarming portion of those more than two billion users — more than the company had publicly acknowledged — were fake.

That number should prompt tough questions from Facebook users and advertisers. How many fake accounts were there before Facebook instituted this aggressive defense in 2017? What sort of sites are these — political propaganda or attempted advertising fraud? What countries do these accounts come from? How can anyone — advertisers, investors or Facebook users concerned about its role in our culture and democracy — trust the integrity of the Facebook experience?

Facebook’s latest “transparency report” states that fake pages account for only 3% to 4% of monthly active users at any given time. How can 1.3 billion accounts account for only 3% to 4% of 2.2 billion users? The answer is that such pages are going up faster than Facebook can swat them down.


Vaidhyanathan is a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.” His general point: no matter how small the percentage seems, Facebook is always going to have a lot of fakes at any time.
link to this extract

Tesla touchscreens to offer minimalist ‘fade mode’ • Engadget

Nick Summers:


Screens can be distracting and, therefore, dangerous if you’re driving an expensive car down the freeway. If you own a Tesla, though, fear not: the company is adding a software feature that will make its giant touchscreens less intrusive. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, replying to a tweet by EV owner Andrew Gold, confirmed that a “fade mode” will soon be added that hides all but “essential info.” It sounds like a neat option, and heck — if the display isn’t working so hard, maybe it will save some battery life too?

Fade Mode will form part of version 9, a highly anticipated firmware update for Tesla’s electric fleet. The update will change the UI in the Model S and crossover Model X to be closer to the Model 3. It should also include some “significant advancements in autonomy,” Musk hinted on a conference call in August. The company’s autopilot software could be patched with a long-anticipated “on-ramp to off-ramp solution” that will move into faster lanes on the freeway, identify your exit, move into the correct lane for the exit and then hand back control at a suitable time.


Can’t think that having a stonking big tablet just by the steering wheel is anything but a massive distraction. Physical controls on the dashboard might be old-fashioned but they have terrific affordance: you know what the controls can do just by feeling them, in general.
link to this extract

The ‘post-PC era’ never really happened…and likely won’t • Tech.pinions

Mark Lowenstein:


the growing number of portable PCs that feature touch screens and other tablet-like capabilities are eating a bit into tablet sales, particularly among the student set. The other personification of some aspect of the ‘post-PC’ area, I suppose, is the successful Chromebook line, which is more a reflection of the Cloud and near-pervasiveness of broadband connectivity.

It even appears that Apple doesn’t believe in the ‘post-PC’ mantra in the same way, given the steadily narrowing delta between the largest iPhone and the smallest iPad. Mainly, this is an effort to convince more users to have both an iPhone and an iPad, since I doubt that most users who have both would have a big phone and a small tablet.

So, the question is, what will change in 3 to 5 years? There will be tons of innovation of course, but I’m not expecting the average consumer or business professional to be carrying with them a dramatically different mix of device types or # of devices in the medium term. Even with pens that recognize and convert handwriting better and continual improvements in voice input, there’s still nothing that really beats the good ‘ol keyboard for productivity. And we’re still very locked into the Big Three of word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software. The main difference has been the move to the cloud, improved collaboration, and competitive products from Google.


This is slightly disingenuous. Since 2013, iPads have outsold Macs by an average of nearly 3x every quarter. Sure, the replacement rate for Macs is probably lower than for iPads. However, we are in the post-PC world. Ask yourself when the last world-roiling program was launched first on a PC. The answer: 2010. (Dropbox and Spotify.) Since then, every important innovation has been on mobile.

We’re in the post-music hall age, but not quite the post-radio age, or the post-TV age. But they’ve all being superseded in turn by more modern methods.
link to this extract

A new study says ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are causing urban traffic woes • Axios

Steve LeVine and Henrietta Reily:


Bruce Schaller, a former New York deputy commissioner of transportation and author of the report, tells Axios that when people use a ride-hailing company, they are opting to do so rather than take public transportation, walk or bike. They generally are not choosing between hailing and driving themselves.

U.S. ridership is surging, he said — up 37% last year, to 2.6bn passengers, from 2016. And hailing added 5.7bn miles of driving a year to the nine cities in the study compared with six years ago — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

Uber and other ride-hailing services may not have exacerbated traffic initially. “But now they are clearly a source of congestion, and to deal with congestion you have to deal with them,” he said. Schaller’s report aligns with an October study released by UC Davis. It found that, in U.S. cities, 49% to 61% of ride-hailing trips would have not been made at all — or by walking, biking, or public transit.

Regina Clewlow, a transportation research scientist and an author of the UC Davis study, told Axios that no one expected such consumer demand for the rides.

“Cities were blindsided by the dramatic growth of ride-sharing companies,” she said. Clewlow urged continued investment in public transportation. “There’s no way that ride hailing could move people around as efficiently as mass transit.”

This outcome also repeats history.


That history is: providing more traffic methods increases traffic.
link to this extract

Verizon’s internet boss Tim Armstrong in talks to leave • WSJ

Sarah Krouse:


Mr. Armstrong, who came to Verizon in 2015 when it acquired AOL and helped steer its purchase of Yahoo two years later, had tried to combine the two internet companies to challenge Google and Facebook Inc. in digital advertising. But those efforts so far have failed to generate much growth or make the unit, called Oath, more than a side note in the wireless giant’s earnings.

There were recent discussions about whether to spin off the Oath business, the people said, but Verizon has decided instead to integrate some of its operations more closely with the rest of the company. Mr. Armstrong, 47 years old, is in discussions to depart as soon as next month, they said, as are other members of his leadership team.

Verizon and Oath executives have disagreed over what some employees within the digital ad unit see as an overly conservative approach to using wireless subscriber data to boost Oath’s advertising revenue, people familiar with those discussions say.

Senior executives within Verizon are wary of potentially alienating lucrative wireless customers in the name of adding incremental advertising revenue, these people said. Oath contributed less than $4bn in revenue during the first half of the year, compared with the wireless business’s $44bn.


Just in case you’d forgotten, this is the rump of Yahoo. Sic transit gloria mundi.
link to this extract

Alleged China Mobile leak names ‘iPhone XC’ and ‘iPhone XS Plus’ in Apple’s 2018 iPhone lineup • Mac Rumors

Tim Hardwick:


First spotted by Japanese tech blog MacOtakara, the China Mobile slide refers to the larger 6.5-inch OLED iPhone as “iPhone XS Plus”, casting doubt on earlier claims that the larger OLED iPhone will take the moniker “iPhone XS Max”. Meanwhile, the lower-spec 6.1-inch LCD iPhone is referred to as “iPhone XC”.

The last time Apple used “C” nomenclature in its smartphones was for 2013’s iPhone 5c, which was priced below the flagship iPhone 5 series and featured a plastic rear case available in blue, green, yellow, white, and pink colors.

Respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo expects the 6.1-inch iPhone to be available in red, blue, orange, gray, and white, while the 5.8 and 6.5-inch iPhone models will be available in just three colors – presumably silver, space gray, and gold.

As for the slide’s pricing, which includes 17% Chinese sales tax, the “iPhone XS” is 7388 yuan ($1079), the “iPhone XS Plus” is 8388 yuan ($1225), and the lower-spec “iPhone XC” is 5888 yuan ($860). Minus tax, the “iPhone XS”, “iPhone XS Plus”, and “iPhone XC” prices approximately convert to $900, $1015, and $700, respectively.


I think that the celebrated discovery last week by 9to5Mac of marketing visuals for the new OLED iPhones and the new Watch design came from a carrier, not Apple. This close to the launch, they need to have the materials in place so that they can do a coordinated launch with Apple. They need to brief their staff – as demonstrated here.

The naming is starting to go all over the place. Like others, I’d expected iPhone 9 for the LCD phone. Assuming it’s right, where does the naming go next year? iPhone Y? iPhone 😀
link to this extract

For second time in three years, mobile spyware maker mSpy leaks millions of sensitive records • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


mSpy, the makers of a software-as-a-service product that claims to help more than a million paying customers spy on the mobile devices of their kids and partners, has leaked millions of sensitive records online, including passwords, call logs, text messages, contacts, notes and location data secretly collected from phones running the stealthy spyware.

Less than a week ago, security researcher Nitish Shah directed KrebsOnSecurity to an open database on the Web that allowed anyone to query up-to-the-minute mSpy records for both customer transactions at mSpy’s site and for mobile phone data collected by mSpy’s software. The database required no authentication.

A list of data points that can be slurped from a mobile device that is secretly running mSpy’s software.
Before it was taken offline sometime in the past 12 hours, the database contained millions of records, including the username, password and private encryption key of each mSpy customer who logged in to the mSpy site or purchased an mSpy license over the past six months. The private key would allow anyone to track and view details of a mobile device running the software, Shah said.


It’s like rain on your wedding day, isn’t it.
link to this extract

Things you probably don’t want to do on your [airline] website’s payment pages • KristoferA’s blog


What’s the problem?
TL/DR: Some airline websites make excessive use of third party scripts/CSS/html hosted on third party sites/hosts not controlled by the website owner, which in turn make them exposed to potential vulnerabilities at those third party sites. In other words: they expose a larger than necessary attack surface. When this is done on payment pages, it increases the chance that they may leak their customers’ credit card details to unauthorized third parties.

I’m responsible for an airline website that does this – what is the worst that could happen?
Someone: either an authorized rogue user at a third party organization, or an unauthorized person who have found a weakness or backdoor that can be used to make modifications to one of the third party hosted scripts (or CSS files) can modify one of the scripts in order to make it capture credit card data and funnel it elsewhere. When discovered, the credit card companies will invite you to pay stiff penalties for the breach if you want to continue processing credit card payments, and depending on where in the world you are located/based you may also be legally required to issue a breach notification. This will inevitably lead to negative publicity for your organization.

Has this ever caused a problem in the real world?
Yes, it has. Not too long ago, Delta had customer credit card data exposed by a third party script loaded on their site as part of a chat help tool:


It feels increasingly likely to me that this is how the British Airways hack happened.
link to this extract

The servers are burning • Logic Mag

Dale Markowitz was working as a developer at OKCupid, and made a few changes that… knocked it offline. He thinks that’s OK:


For most businesses, however, a software crash is not a death knell. If you’re not building self-driving cars, storing sensitive information, or supporting the data backbone of the internet, it may not matter if an error interrupts your service. It’s okay, for example, if a free online dating site goes down for an hour or half a day. In fact, it might even be better for business to trade off bugginess for forward momentum—the ethos behind Facebook’s old mantra “move fast and break things.”

When you allow yourself to build imperfect systems, you start to work differently—faster, more ambitiously. You know that sometimes your system will go down and you’ll have to repair it, but that’s okay. “The fact that it’s easy to fix things means you end up with this methodology where you think, ‘Let’s get a broken thing out there as fast as possible that does sort of what we want, and then we’ll just fix it up,’” says David. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since preventing errors is inherently difficult. “Even if you spend a whole bunch of time trying to make something that’s perfect, you won’t necessarily succeed,” he explains.

OkCupid was a complex site. Had we tried to make it perfect, it might not have come to exist in the first place.


His CEO at the time used to say “We can’t sacrifice forward momentum for technical debt” – that is, just build it, don’t mind about the problems building up.

I can see how this attitude comes to become dominant. But it also seems wrong, in the grand sense: debt has to be repaid. You can try to fix things. So did the people who sold collateralised debt obligations. (Via ex-Facebook dev Alec Muffett.)
link to this extract

A top-tier app in Apple’s Mac App Store stole your browser history • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


Thanks in part to a video posted last month on YouTube and with help from security firm Malwarebytes, it’s now clear what the app [Adware Doctor] is up to.

Security researcher Patrick Wardle, a former NSA hacker and now chief research officer at cybersecurity startup Digita Security, dug in and shared his findings with TechCrunch.

Wardle found that the downloaded app jumped through hoops to bypass Apple’s Mac sandboxing features, which prevents apps from grabbing data on the hard drive, and upload a user’s browser history on Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers.

Wardle found that the app, thanks to Apple’s own flawed vetting, could request access to the user’s home directory and its files. That isn’t out of the ordinary, Wardle says, because tools that market themselves as anti-malware or anti-adware expect access to the user’s files to scan for problems. When a user allows that access, the app can detect and clean adware — but if found to be malicious, it can “collect and exfiltrate any user file,” said Wardle.

Once the data is collected, it’s zipped into an archive file and sent to a domain based in China.

Wardle said that for some reason in the last few days the China-based domain went offline. At the time of writing, TechCrunch confirmed that the domain wouldn’t resolve — in other words, it was still down.

“Let’s face it, your browsing history provides a glimpse into almost every aspect of your life,” said Wardle’s post. “And people have even been convicted based largely on their internet searches!”

He said that the app’s access to such data “is clearly based on deceiving the user.”


I’d suggest that anything which claims to be helping you with adware is going to be a scam, unless it comes from a recognised cybersecurity company. The solution to adware is not running vulnerable products such as Flash and Java, and to be wary about what you download. At least Apple makes it hard to run apps from outside the Mac App Store.

This won’t, of course, help anyone’s trust in Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies with their own high-profile problems. And there are strong suggestions that the app maker got a lot of fake reviews on the Mac App Store.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

You can sign up to receive future Start Up posts by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.904: blocking the monopolies, users shun Facebook, VR market swoons, what AI?, and more

People didn’t miss having a home button on the iPhone X – so say farewell. Photo by Mark Mathosian on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. That’s what they are. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration • The New York Times

A “senior official” in the Trump admin – whose identity has been verified, but not published, by the NYT – writes about what’s going on:


It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but Americans should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what’s right even when Donald Trump won’t.

The result is a two-track presidency.

Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations.

Astute observers have noted, though, that the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where countries like Russia are called out for meddling and punished accordingly, and where allies around the world are engaged as peers rather than ridiculed as rivals.

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.


Seems like the Woodward book has triggered something. (There are 1,212 people this could be.)
link to this extract

The monopoly-busting case against Google, Amazon, Uber, and Facebook • The Verge

Russell Brandom:


Antitrust crusaders have built up serious momentum in Washington, but so far, it’s all been theory and talk. Groups like Open Markets have made a strong case that big companies (especially big tech companies) are distorting the market to drive out competitors. We need a new standard for monopolies, they argue, one that focuses less on consumer harm and more on the skewed incentives produced by a company the size of Facebook or Google.

Someday soon, those ideas will be put to the test, probably against one of a handful of companies. For anti-monopolists, it’s a chance to reshape tech into something more democratic and less destructive. It’s just a question of which company makes the best target.

To that end, here’s the case against four of the movement’s biggest targets, and what they might look like if they came out on the losing end.


A good read. Blocking acquisitions is quite a big part of it.
link to this extract

What current iPhone X users tell us about the opportunity for the new models • Tech.pinions

Carolina Milanesi:


When looking at the features individually, 79% of the sample was very satisfied with the Swipe-based gesture UI and 65% was very satisfied with Face ID. The ambivalence on Siri comes across clearly when looking at how the sample was distributed: 33% was somewhat satisfied, 27% was neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and another 21% was somewhat dissatisfied. While this is not great for Apple it is not all bad news either. Users clearly don’t see Siri as a purchase driver or positive differentiator, but they also do not see it as detrimental to their overall experience.

Satisfaction is a very good indicator, but we really wanted to get to how users felt about some of the changes implemented on the iPhone X, so we asked if they agreed or disagreed with some very specific statements.

70% of the panel strongly disagrees that they “miss the home button from previous iPhone models”. Another 14% said they somewhat disagree.

Because some people think differently about the Home Button and Touch ID we wanted to make sure we asked about both. Some users think of Touch ID as an enabler for Apple Pay and authentication across the board, while they think of the Home Button as the “control center” to navigate the iPhone. We asked whether they agreed or disagree with the statement “ I miss having Touch ID on my iPhone”. Here while the overall sentiment remains positive it was a little more muted with 50% saying they strongly disagreed and 21% saying they somewhat disagree.


People didn’t mind the lack of a home button, and got used to the gesture-based interface quickly. Same for me: after a few days, you don’t notice it, and going back to a button-based phone seems weird and retrograde.
link to this extract

Inside the world of Eddy Cue, Apple’s services chief • The Information

Aaron Tilley:


In 2012, Mr. Cue took on even more responsibility when Mr. Cook fired Scott Forstall, then a senior vice president of the iOS software powering iPhones. Mr. Forstall had overseen the launch of Apple Maps, which was panned due to misplaced landmarks, distorted satellite images and other problems. With Mr. Forstall gone, Mr. Cue took over Apple Maps and Siri, the intelligent assistant that launched as a major feature of the iPhone 4S the prior year.

From the moment he gained responsibility for Siri, Mr. Cue seemed to lack much interest in it, according to people who worked on the project. When Siri team members presented Mr. Cue with technical data around the performance of the assistant—an area of frequent criticism of the technology—Mr. Cue appeared bored and seemed to fall asleep in at least two meetings, said a former Apple employee who was present…

…One obstacle for Mr. Cue, in his meetings with television executives, was that he didn’t encounter the kind of desperation that made it possible for Apple to sign all the major record labels, then being ravaged by piracy, to iTunes. Cord-cutting—people dumping their cable and satellite subscriptions—had not yet emerged as a problem. “Apple kept wanting to use the same playbook, and it’s not going to work in the video world,” said a former Apple executive who worked on video.

Around four years ago, Mr. Cue oversaw development of a version of Apple TV that could integrate with cable services, with the goal of replacing set-top boxes distributed by the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, said a former Apple employee. The Apple TV box—with a coaxial cable port for plugging into cable networks and software to handle the combination of live and on-demand video—never launched due to disagreements with the potential cable partners. Apple engineers involved in the product were dispirited, said a former employee.


There’s a huge amount of fluff in this piece (at least, if you know anything about Apple; these two items are about the only new elements in it.
link to this extract

Many US Facebook users have changed privacy settings or taken a break • Pew Research Center


Just over half of Facebook users ages 18 and older (54%) say they have adjusted their privacy settings in the past 12 months, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Around four-in-ten (42%) say they have taken a break from checking the platform for a period of several weeks or more, while around a quarter (26%) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their cellphone. All told, some 74% of Facebook users say they have taken at least one of these three actions in the past year.

The findings come from a survey of U.S. adults conducted May 29-June 11, following revelations that the former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had collected data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge.


Personally, I haven’t used Facebook for more than a couple of minutes a month during this year. Twitter, I’m on all the time. I guess it depends what you’re looking to get out of a platform.
link to this extract

Goldman drops bitcoin trading plans for now: Business Insider • Reuters


Goldman Sachs Group is ditching plans to open a desk for trading cryptocurrencies as the regulatory framework for crypto remains unclear, Business Insider reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

In recent weeks, Goldman executives have concluded that many steps still need to be taken, most of them outside the bank’s control, before a regulated bank would be allowed to trade cryptocurrencies, the financial news website reported.

“At this point, we have not reached a conclusion on the scope of our digital asset offering,” Goldman Sachs spokesperson Michael DuVally told Reuters.

Major cryptocurrencies plunged on the news. Bitcoin fell nearly 5% to touch a five-day low at $6,985 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange. Ethereum slid 9%, Litecoin 7.1% and Ripple 7.7%.


“For now”. I couldn’t find the original BI article, so I guess we’ll have to take this on faith.
link to this extract

Germany still aims for ‘fair taxation’ of internet companies, says German Finance Ministry • Reuters

Michael Nienaber and Tom Körkemeier:


Germany has long been cool on proposals from the European Commission which would make firms with significant digital revenues in Europe pay a 3% tax on their turnover on various online services in the European Union. That would bring in an estimated 5bn euros ($5.78bn).

The Bild report said finance ministry officials recommended that profits should continue to be taxed only where a company’s headquarters are based. All other options would bring disadvantages to Germany’s export-oriented industry, it said.

The finance ministry spokesman said the newspaper had “very selectively” cited from an internal document in which officials had simply summarized various models and proposals.

“Such reports are common practice to inform the head of the ministry,” the spokesman said, adding that Scholz was still weighing his options.

Scholz remains convinced that large digital companies must make a “fair contribution” to the financing of public goods, in particular by preventing them from avoiding taxation by shifting profits and through tax optimization, the spokesman said.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called on Scholz and other European counterparts to make a decision soon.

“We need to have decided on this matter by January 2019,” Le Maire told television broadcaster LCI, adding politicians would be judged on their actions in next May’s European elections.


Probably not many votes in not levying taxes on them, so you can imagine it’s just a question of figuring out how.
link to this extract

Despite a sharp decline in VR headset shipments in Q2 2018, market outlook remains positive • IDC


Worldwide shipments of virtual reality (VR) headsets were down 33.7% year over year in the second quarter of 2018 (2Q18), according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Tracker. IDC expects this to be a temporary setback as the VR market finds its legs. The arrival of new products, such as the Oculus Go and HTC Vive Pro, and new brands, combined with the need for greater headset fidelity all point to a positive outlook for the quarters ahead.

Screenless viewers brought a lot of attention to VR in the early days as the entire market was artificially propped up by brands like Samsung, Alcatel, and Google that bundled the headsets with smartphones. However, since then, the screenless viewer category has declined substantially, shrinking from 1 million headsets in 2Q17 to 409,000 in 2Q18. This category was the largest contributor to the decline in shipments for the overall VR headset market.

Tethered VR headsets declined 37.3% in 2Q18 largely because major brands like Oculus and Sony were unable to maintain the momentum established during a period of price reductions in 2Q17. As a result, the two brands managed to ship 102,000 and 93,000 headsets respectively in 2Q18. The category leader, HTC, shipped close to 111,000 headsets (excluding the standalone Vive Focus) thanks to the growing popularity of the Viveport subscription service as well as the launch of the Pro headset.


I would not have guessed HTC would be the category leader in VR headset sales.
link to this extract

I’ve seen the future of consumer AI, and it doesn’t have one • The Register

Andrew Orlowski went to IFA, the poor lad:


If ever there was a solution looking for a problem, it’s ramming AI into gadgets to show of a company’s machine learning prowess. For the consumer it adds unreliability, cost and complexity, and the annoyance of being prompted.

How is this so? There are clearly some use cases where, empirically, the statistical predictions made by neural networks has improved the output – speech recognition is a clear example. There are 44 English phonemes: overlapping nets help add valuable context that produce more accurate guesses (and remember, this is all about guessing). And then… there are some use cases that aren’t improved. These turn out to be quite numerous.

In Berlin, I saw two desperate armies converging on the battlefield of consumer AI: white-goods manufacturers looking to add value and margin, and technology companies looking to get into new areas of consumer electronics. LG and Samsung are both, with decades of white goods and tech behind them. As you might expect, both are smitten by AI, LG even more so than its bigger rival, and their vast floor space touted this loudly.

For LG it’s a fairly indiscriminate application of AI – with everything rebranded “ThinQ” and fairly limited in what it can do.

LG, Google and Innit trumpeted a smart kitchen. How is it smart? Well, there’s “voice control, step-by-step guided cooking, and automated expert cook programs”. We learn that “consumers may have had to open up six or seven apps to get the help they need cooking, including nutrition information, recipes, shopping lists, how-to videos, and remote control apps for various devices”, but now they can “enjoy a single elegant journey”.

How is it smart, though?

For example, LG says, if a fridge “knows” there’s a chicken in it, you select a recipe and the oven comes on to start roasting. Most of my very limited number of chicken recipes were learned years ago, however, and when I’m browsing for new ideas, I don’t necessarily want to start cooking right away. And perhaps like me you need to clear the oven of ancient metalware and possibly flammable material before it’s safe to turn on. I wondered how many fires AI will start?

I suppose a connected oven will tell you, and hopefully the fire brigade, that your house is on fire. The AI at the smart insurer can then hike your premiums.


He isn’t wrong.
link to this extract

Google wants to kill the URL • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:


Porter Felt and her colleague Justin Schuh, Chrome’s principal engineer, say that even the Chrome team itself is still divided on the best solution to propose. And the group won’t offer any examples at this point of the types of schemes they are considering.

The focus right now, they say, is on identifying all the ways people use URLs to try to find an alternative that will enhance security and identity integrity on the web while also adding convenience for everyday tasks like sharing links on mobile devices.

“I don’t know what this will look like, because it’s an active discussion in the team right now,” says Parisa Tabriz, director of engineering at Chrome. “But I do know that whatever we propose is going to be controversial. That’s one of the challenges with a really old and open and sprawling platform. Change will be controversial whatever form it takes. But it’s important we do something, because everyone is unsatisfied by URLs. They kind of suck.”

The Chrome team has been thinking about URL security for a long time. In 2014, it tried out a formatting feature called the “origin chip” that only showed the main domain name of sites to help ensure that users knew which domain they were actually browsing on. If you wanted to see the full URL, you could click the chip and the rest of the URL bar was just a Google search box. The experiment garnered praise from some for making web identity more straightforward, but it also generated criticism. Within a few weeks of showing up in a Chrome pre-release, Google paused the origin chip rollout.

“The origin chip was Chrome’s first foray into the space,” Porter Felt says. “We discovered a lot about how people think about and use URLs. [But] frankly, the problem space proved harder than we expected. We’re using the feedback that we received back in 2014 to inform our new work.”


Bear this in mind as a marker in the sand. How do you improve URLs? All the attempts that have been made (have more domains, add “https” in front of them, make them longer, make them shorter) have come back to the place they used to be.
link to this extract

Blood-testing firm Theranos to dissolve • WSJ

John Carreyrou:


In the wake of a high-profile scandal, the company will formally dissolve, according to an email to shareholders. Theranos will seek to pay unsecured creditors its remaining cash in coming months, the email said.

The move comes after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes and the blood-testing company’s former No. 2 executive, alleging that they defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars and defrauded doctors and patients.

The executives have denied the charges and face a coming criminal trial.

The dissolution process was precipitated by the fact that Theranos breached a covenant governing a $65 million loan it received from Fortress Investment Group last year. Under the loan terms, Fortress was entitled to foreclose upon the company’s assets if its cash fell beneath a certain threshold.

In the email to shareholders, sent Tuesday, Theranos General Counsel and Chief Executive Officer David Taylor said the company is trying to negotiate a settlement with Fortress that would give the New York private-equity firm ownership of the company’s patents but leave its remaining cash—estimated at about $5 million—for distribution to other unsecured creditors.


The letter to stockholders begins “I write with difficult news about the future of the Company.” It’s not difficult news – it’s bad news. Taylor also says that the company owes “at least” $60m to unsecured creditors, meaning they’ll get about 8c per dollar.

Appropriate of course that it’s Carreyrou writing this article, as it was his painstaking reporting which set the whole implosion off. I expect he’ll be there when the office furniture is auctioned off and the doors finally close. Ahab was never so happy.
link to this extract

Evernote lost its CTO, CFO, CPO and HR head in the last month as it eyes another fundraise • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:


This is the second major revamp of the startup’s leadership team in a little over two years. In March 2016, the company lost its founding CTO and made a number of other appointments amid a wave of departures and other big changes.

Chris O’Neill, who joined as CEO after long-time leader Phil Libin stepped away from the role, had already shuttered a number of unprofitable operations that Evernote had launched in an attempt to grow the company, including the closure of its accessories business, and several other app efforts such as some versions of Skitch and its Food app. (Today, it has three smartphone apps, its flagship Evernote app, Skitch and Scannable for digitising business cards, receipts and other paper-based items; plus handwriting recognition app Penultimate for tablets.)

In the years since then, Evernote has been somewhat quiet, but there have been other significant changes and divestments. In June, Evernote announced that it would spin out its Chinese operations and become a minority shareholder. Yinxiang Biji, as it’s called, accounted for 10% of Evernote’s revenues. And some of the company’s movement has been problematic: a controversial change in the company’s privacy policy, which would have made it possible for employees in the company to read a user’s notes in the app, got quickly reassessed and altered as people publicly slammed the company.


Sounds like a company in trouble. Formerly valued in unicorn territory, having received $290m in funding, it’s now proving that not everything goes up relentlessly.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.903: Amazon hits a trillion, ‘busybody’ journalism?, Twitter v Dorsey, seeing around corners, and more

Huawei is caught up in another benchmarking row. Photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Smaller than a trillion. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A retail revolution turns 10 • The New York Times

Gary Rivlin:


Ten years ago this week, made its Internet premiere when Mr. Bezos opened a Web site he audaciously called “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.” Amazon sold only a half-million dollars’ worth of books in the first six months, but was soon posting the kind of gaudy growth rates that impress Wall Street: sales hit $15.7m in 1996 and $147.8m in 1997.

Yet the more familiar story of Amazon in the second half of the 1990’s was the rate at which it burned through cash. In 1999, for example, its revenue hit $1.6m, but it still lost $719m.

To stay aloft, Amazon, based in Seattle, borrowed more than $2bn from banks, but according to regulatory filings, at one point in 2000 it had barely $350m of cash on hand. “After raising billions of dollars,” Mr. Anderson said, “that’s pretty close to hitting the ground.”

Then Mr. Bezos, like the movie hero who saves the day with only moments to spare, turned things around. He shut some distribution centers and laid off one-seventh of his work force. In 2003 – its ninth year of operations, and seven years after going public – Amazon finally turned a profit.

“You have to give Jeff credit,” [Mark] Anderson [published of The Strategic News Service] said. “His goal was to turn Amazon into the Wal-Mart of the online world and, eureka, he’s done it.”

But, he added, it’s time for Mr. Bezos to do as the founders of so many other technology companies have done before him: find a professionally trained chief executive with a deep background in operations to take the reins.


Yes, it’s old. From July 2005. And where’s the Strategic News Service, now that Amazon has passed $1 trillion in market cap? Still going. Not worth a trillion, though.
link to this extract

Institutions challenged by vloggers and busybody journalism • NY Mag

Max Read:


what vloggers like [Tim] Pool and [Laura] Southern offer over Cops is something that resembles a social relationship. YouTube’s star system has been built on a particularly intimate parasociality: Viewers maintain often intense, but almost entirely one-sided, relationships with the vloggers who record and publish their lives. Tim Pool may not be your actual friend, but he can feel like a friend, and watching his videos can feel like spending time with a friend. “The media,” meanwhile — didn’t they fail to predict Trump? Who are you going to trust, when it comes to shaping your worldview?

Given this, it’s not surprising to find Ngo’s column among the op-eds, always the most parasocial of the newspaper sections. (What is a regular beloved newspaper columnist if not a YouTube star without a channel?) The first person of [Andy] Ngo’s piece [in which he wanders around London as a tourist claiming it shows “failed multiculturalism”] attempts — like a YouTuber’s “Hey guys!” — to establish the kind of trustworthiness that his readers might have difficulty finding in the more institutional writing of the Journal’s reported news. The flip side of this sociability is that outside of the descriptions of his day-to-day activity in London, there are not many facts — certainly very few of the kind that might provide a broader perspective on the question of multiculturalism’s success or failure. What is more important is what Ngo saw, and what is most important is how he felt.

It’s in this focus on the individual reporter’s feelings, I think, that the new busybody journalism distinguishes itself. The experiential journalism that precedes it may be formally similar, but it was almost always rendered in the context of larger institutions — magazines like McClure’s, or later Rolling Stone or Mother Jones or even Vice — that could provide editorial support. Busybody journalism of the kind performed by Pool and Southern positions itself entirely against journalistic institutions, which it regards as hopelessly corrupt, and in giving up on those institutions gives up on their backstops and strictures — processes, like, for example, fact-checking.


Ah, that last clause. Zinggg!
link to this extract

Inside Twitter’s long, slow struggle to police bad actors • WSJ

Georgia Wells and Kirsten Grind:


in policing content on the site and punishing bad actors, Twitter relies primarily on its users to report abuses and has a consistent set of policies so that decisions aren’t made by just one person, its executives say.

Yet, in some cases, Mr. Dorsey has weighed in on content decisions at the last minute or after they were made, sometimes resulting in changes and frustrating other executives and employees, according to people familiar with the matter.

Understanding Mr. Dorsey’s role in making content decisions is crucial, as Twitter tries to become more transparent to its 335 million users, as well as lawmakers about how it polices toxic content on its site…

… in November 2016, when the firm’s trust and safety team kicked alt-right provocateur Richard Spencer off the platform, saying he was operating too many accounts. Mr. Dorsey, who wasn’t involved in the initial discussions, told his team that Mr. Spencer should be allowed to keep one account and stay on the site, according to a person directly involved in the discussions.

Twitter says Mr. Dorsey doesn’t overrule staffers on content issues. The company declined to make Mr. Dorsey available.

“Any suggestion that Jack made or overruled any of these decisions is completely and totally false,” Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, said in a statement. “Our service can only operate fairly if it’s run through consistent application of our rules, rather than the personal views of any executive, including our CEO.”

In the coming weeks, the company plans to start showing users a picture of a tombstone in the place of a tweet that has been taken down as a way to signal that a user has violated a company policy, rather than a notice saying the tweet is unavailable.


This doesn’t get that far inside Twitter’s long, slow struggle, to be honest, but I think folk inside Twitter are circling the wagons very tightly right now, so it’s an achievement to get anything out. There isn’t quite a smoking gun on Dorsey in this story, and it’s unclear even which way the gun might be pointing.
link to this extract

Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency • The Washington Post

Philip Rucker and Robert Costa:


A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”


Just on the Korea thing, I highly recommend a book called “The 2020 Commission“, which is a future history about a world where a series of errors, helped by the fifth-grader, leads to North Korea firing off nuclear weapons. Very readable, quite scary, by Jeffrey Lewis, a former US Department of Defense staffer. He knows his stuff.
link to this extract

Cressida Dick calls for fast legal access to social media accounts • The Guardian

Ben Quinn:


The head of Scotland Yard has called for police to be able to quickly access material from social media companies after the suspect in the murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh was jailed for withholding his Facebook password.

The Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, was speaking after Stephen Nicholson pleaded guilty last week to a charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and was sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment.

Asked if Hampshire police should have been denied the data they had requested, Dick said it was not the first time a police service had approached a social media firm looking for evidence “and had to go through either a very protracted procedure, or has found that it’s impossible to do so”.

She said, during an interview on LBC Radio: “I absolutely think that in certain instances – and it sounds like this is one – law enforcement in the UK ought to have vital evidence which might bring someone to justice. There are complex and practical things for them, and legal things, which I do respect. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds, but I think that’s where we should be.”

Nicholson twice refused to give detectives his Facebook password while being questioned on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child. Police were facing difficulties in trying to obtain the messages from Facebook, Southampton crown court was told by prosecutors.


The UK law will change and make it easier for the police to get this sort of detail next year. It’s not quite part of the end-to-end encryption row, but you can see the waters getting higher, ever so subtly.
link to this extract

Huawei & Honor’s recent benchmarking behaviour: a cheating headache • Anandtech

Andrei Frumusanu and Ian Cutress:


As part of our phone comparison analysis, we often employ additional power and performance testing on our benchmarks. While testing out the new phones, the Honor Play had some odd results. Compared to the Huawei P20 devices tested earlier in the year, which have the same SoC, the results were also quite a bit worse and equally weird.

Within our P20 review, we had noted that the P20’s performance had regressed compared to the Mate 10. Since we had encountered similar issues on the Mate 10 which were resolved with a firmware update pushed to me, we didn’t dwell too much on the topic and concentrated on other parts of the review.

Looking back at it now after some re-testing, it seems quite blatant as to what Huawei and seemingly Honor had been doing: the newer devices come with a benchmark detection mechanism that enables a much higher power limit for the SoC with far more generous thermal headroom. Ultimately, on certain whitelisted applications, the device performs super high compared to what a user might expect from other similar non-whitelisted titles. This consumes power, pushes the efficiency of the unit down, and reduces battery life.

This has knock-on effects, such as trust, in how the device works. The end result is a single performance number is higher, which is good for marketing, but is unrealistic to any user with the device. The efficiency of the SoC also decreases (depending on the chip), as the chip is pushed well outside its standard operating window. It makes the SoC, one of the differentiating points of the device, look worse, all for the sake of a high benchmark score…

…Huawei stated that they have been working with industry partners for over a year to find the best tests closest to the user experience. They like the fact that for items like call quality, there are standardized real-world tests that measure these features that are recognized throughout the industry, and every company works towards a better objective result. But in the same breath, Dr. Wang also expresses that in relation to gaming benchmarking that ‘others do the same testing, get high scores, and Huawei cannot stay silent’.

He states that it is much better than it used to be, and that Huawei ‘wants to come together with others in China to find the best verification benchmark for user experience’. He also states that ‘in the Android ecosystem, other manufacturers also mislead with their numbers’, citing one specific popular smartphone manufacturer in China as the biggest culprit, and that it is becoming ‘common practice in China’.


Ah yes, the Yossarian argument. “What if everyone did that?” “Then I’d be a fool not to!”
link to this extract

iPhone won’t embed Touch ID in the display anytime soon, says Kuo • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:


Fingerprint recognition still has benefits over Face ID in certain situations, however, so should we expect Touch ID to be part of future iPhone screens? Reliable supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo doesn’t think so.

In a new research note shared today, Kuo argues that Fingerprint On Display, or FOD, technology will grow 500% in 2019 as Android phones continue to adopt the technology, but Kuo says Apple won’t be embedding Touch ID in new iPhones next fall.

In-screen Touch ID hasn’t been rumored for the iPhone XS this year, and rumors that Apple was working on the technology last summer have been denied.

Kuo argues that Apple’s facial recognition technology as a biometric security solution is serving the iPhone line well. Android phones instead will serve as the testbed for steadily improving Fingerprint On Display technology.

Kuo says that limiting factors so far have included support for high-end OLED screens and not mid-range LCD screens, but that is changing and fueling adoption.


Samsung might put FOD into the Galaxy S10 next year, Kuo reckons. Interested to see to what extent the next version of Face ID improves over last year’s.
link to this extract

The new science of seeing around corners • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:


While vacationing on the coast of Spain in 2012, the computer vision scientist Antonio Torralba noticed stray shadows on the wall of his hotel room that didn’t seem to have been cast by anything. Torralba eventually realized that the discolored patches of wall weren’t shadows at all, but rather a faint, upside-down image of the patio outside his window. The window was acting as a pinhole camera — the simplest kind of camera, in which light rays pass through a small opening and form an inverted image on the other side. The resulting image was barely perceptible on the light-drenched wall. But it struck Torralba that the world is suffused with visual information that our eyes fail to see.

“These images are hidden to us,” he said, “but they are all around us, all the time.”

The experience alerted him and his colleague, Bill Freeman, both professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the ubiquity of “accidental cameras,” as they call them: windows, corners, houseplants and other common objects that create subtle images of their surroundings. These images, as much as 1,000 times dimmer than everything else, are typically invisible to the naked eye. “We figured out ways to pull out those images and make them visible,” Freeman explained.

The pair discovered just how much visual information is hiding in plain sight. In their first paper, Freeman and Torralba showed that the changing light on the wall of a room, filmed with nothing fancier than an iPhone, can be processed to reveal the scene outside the window. Last fall, they and their collaborators reported that they can spot someone moving on the other side of a corner by filming the ground near the corner. This summer, they demonstrated that they can film a houseplant and then reconstruct a three-dimensional image of the rest of the room from the disparate shadows cast by the plant’s leaves. Or they can turn the leaves into a “visual microphone,” magnifying their vibrations to listen to what’s being said.


Quanta is an impressive site if you’re into science at all.
link to this extract

Samsung unveiling a foldable smartphone this year • CNBC

Arjun Kharpal:


Samsung will unveil details of a foldable smartphone later this year, the CEO of its mobile division told CNBC, amid rumors that such a device was in the works.

DJ Koh said that “it’s time to deliver” on a foldable device after consumer surveys carried out by Samsung showed that there is a market for that kind of handset.

Speaking to CNBC, Koh was tight-lipped on how the folding screen could work but ran through the design thinking of the upcoming smartphone, particularly how Samsung is trying to differentiate the experience from a tablet once it is unfolded.

“You can use most of the uses … on foldable status. But when you need to browse or see something, then you may need to unfold it. But even unfolded, what kind of benefit does that give compared to the tablet? If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would they (consumers) buy it?,” Koh said at the IFA electronics show in Berlin last week.

“So every device, every feature, every innovation should have a meaningful message to our end customer. So when the end customer uses it, (they think) ‘wow, this is the reason Samsung made it’.”

The device may sound similar to a traditional flip phone which relied on a hinge to connect the two parts of the handset. But Samsung is likely to focus on creating an actual screen that bends. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that an upcoming foldable smartphone would use a single screen.


He’s going to reveal details of the phone later this year? Not the phone? Wow, it’s almost as if Samsung is trying to distract from the launch of another phone. The Galaxy Note?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.902: fear of a blank algorithm, Five Eyes v encryption, TSMC nabs alleged secrets thief, Google is 20!, and more

Overused – and probably useless. Photo by nchenga on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code • The Guardian

Andrew Smith takes a deep dive:


some HFT firms were allowing the algos to learn – “just letting the black box try different things, with small amounts of money, and if it works, reinforce those rules. We know that’s been done. Then you actually have rules where nobody knows what the rules are: the algorithms create their own rules – you let them evolve the same way nature evolves organisms.” Non-finance industry observers began to postulate a catastrophic global “splash crash”, while the fastest-growing area of the market became (and remains) instruments that profit from volatility. In his 2011 novel The Fear Index, Robert Harris imagines the emergence of AGI – of the Singularity, no less – from precisely this digital ooze. To my surprise, no scientist I spoke to would categorically rule out such a possibility.

All of which could be dismissed as high finance arcana, were it not for a simple fact. Wisdom used to hold that technology was adopted first by the porn industry, then by everyone else. But the 21st century’s porn is finance, so when I thought I saw signs of HFT-like algorithms causing problems elsewhere, I called Neil Johnson [a physicists specialising in complexity who studied stock market volatility] again.

“You’re right on point,” he told me: a new form of algorithm is moving into the world, which has “the capability to rewrite bits of its own code”, at which point it becomes like “a genetic algorithm”. He thinks he saw evidence of them on fact-finding forays into Facebook (“I’ve had my accounts attacked four times,” he adds). If so, algorithms are jousting there, and adapting, as on the stock market. “After all, Facebook is just one big algorithm,” Johnson says.

“And I think that’s exactly the issue Facebook has. They can have simple algorithms to recognize my face in a photo on someone else’s page, take the data from my profile and link us together. That’s a very simple concrete algorithm. But the question is what is the effect of billions of such algorithms working together at the macro level? You can’t predict the learned behavior at the level of the population from microscopic rules. So Facebook would claim that they know exactly what’s going on at the micro level, and they’d probably be right. But what happens at the level of the population? That’s the issue.”


link to this extract

Statement of Principles on Access to Evidence and Encryption • Australian Government Department of Home Affairs


The Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are committed to personal rights and privacy, and support the role of encryption in protecting those rights. Encryption is vital to the digital economy and a secure cyberspace, and to the protection of personal, commercial and government information.

However, the increasing use and sophistication of certain encryption designs present challenges for nations in combatting serious crimes and threats to national and global security. Many of the same means of encryption that are being used to protect personal, commercial and government information are also being used by criminals, including child sex offenders, terrorists and organized crime groups to frustrate investigations and avoid detection and prosecution.

Privacy laws must prevent arbitrary or unlawful interference, but privacy is not absolute. It is an established principle that appropriate government authorities should be able to seek access to otherwise private information when a court or independent authority has authorized such access based on established legal standards. The same principles have long permitted government authorities to search homes, vehicles, and personal effects with valid legal authority.

The increasing gap between the ability of law enforcement to lawfully access data and their ability to acquire and use the content of that data is a pressing international concern that requires urgent, sustained attention and informed discussion on the complexity of the issues and interests at stake. Otherwise, court decisions about legitimate access to data are increasingly rendered meaningless, threatening to undermine the systems of justice established in our democratic nations.


The five governments at the top are the “Five Eyes” – which share intelligence intensively to solve cross-border espionage, terror and other malicious plots. One can see them here wishing to return the world to the late 1990s period when the US wouldn’t allow the export of “military encryption” – anything more than 40-bit, roughly speaking. The leaking of Phil Zimmermann’s Pretty Good Privacy source code across national borders ended that. And code is speech, so it can’t be held back at the US border.

Unfortunately for the Five Eyes, this isn’t about privacy. It’s courts against mathematics, and maths always wins. It is possible to build end-to-end encrypted apps. Nothing can stop that. If you ban them on iOS (easy-ish), they’ll be created, published and used on Android. This toothpaste is out of the tube.
link to this extract

Deep Angel and the Aesthetics of Absence • Deep Angel

Deep Angel is an MIT project which uses AI to subtract objects from pictures, rather than adding fakes:


If the future of media is manipulation, then the antidote to this future is a Zen kind of emptiness. Not “nothingness” nor a “void,” but rather the non-limitation and nondefinition of the infinite. With Deep Angel’s artificial intelligence, you become an active participant in the chaos of media creation. You can erase objects from photographs. Like Joseph Stalin, you can treat history as a malleable fiction, disappear unwanted artifacts, and develop a new world order. But, be careful. Once you know how to erase history, your view on history might change. The reassuring illusion of photography as fact will vanish. Seemingly paradoxically, a truth emerges from the revelations of falsehoods…

…Deep Angel is powered by a neural network architecture that builds upon Mask R-CNN and Deep Fill to create an end-to-end targeted object removal pipeline.


link to this extract

Why the world is full of buttons that don’t work • CNN Style

Jacopo Prisco:


In London, which has 6,000 traffic signals, pressing the pedestrian button results in a reassuring “Wait” light. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the “green man” — or “pedestrian stage,” in traffic signal design terminology — will appear any sooner.

“We do have some crossings where the green light comes on automatically, but we still ask people to press the button because that enables accessible features,” said Glynn Barton, director of network management at Transport for London, in a phone interview.

These features, such as tactile paving and audible traffic signals, help people with visual impairments cross the road and are only activated when the button is pressed. As for the lights, a growing number of them are now integrated into an electronic system that detects traffic and adjusts intervals accordingly (giving priority to buses if they’re running late, for example), which means that pressing the button has no effect.

Others, meanwhile, only respond to the button at certain times of day.

“But, in the majority of cases, pressing the button will call the pedestrian stage,” said Barton.
Close the door?

So what about the most jabbed button of them all: the “close door” in elevators? If you live in the US, it almost certainly doesn’t work.

“To put it simply, the riding public will not be able to make the doors close any faster using that button,” said Kevin Brinkman of the National Elevator Industry in an email.

But there’s a very good reason for this: the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “This legislation required that an elevator’s doors remain open long enough for anyone with disability or mobility issues, such as using crutches or a wheelchair, to get on board the cab safely,” said Brinkman.

So, unless the allotted boarding time has been reached, pressing the button will do nothing. It’s only there for firefighters, emergency personnel and maintenance workers, who can override the delay with a key or a code.


They’re called “placebo buttons”, of course.
link to this extract

TSMC ex-employee charged with trade secrets theft • Digitimes

Jessie Shen:


A Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) employee has been charged with stealing secrets from the pure-play foundry.

Surnamed Chou, the former TSMC deputy manager of technology stands accused of copying confidential documents regarding the foundry’s 16nm and 10nm node processes and related facilities, and trying to take the data with him to a new job in China, according to Taiwan’s Hsinchu District Prosecutors’ Office.

Chou had resigned from TSMC, ready to join Shanghai Huali Microelectronics (HLMC) when he was arrested, the office said. Chou has now been indicted for breach of trust.


link to this extract

The baroness, the ICO fiasco, and enter Steve Wozniak • FT Alphaville

Jemima Kelly on an $80m ICO [initial coin offering] scheme kicked off by Conservative peer Michelle Mone and businessman boyfriend Doug Barrowman, who with their four board members apparently have “a track record of over 300 [not a typo] years in business”; it didn’t go quite as planned:


We spoke to several of EQUI’s bounty-hunters [online boosters who write encouraging social media messages and push ICOs, for money] and were shown Telegram messages. When they complained about the amount there were getting paid or the way they were being treated, EQUI threatened them with lawyers if they “bad-mouthed” the company. One Telegram message sent to a group of bounty hunters said “police can track you down if you threaten & track and bad mouth our brand name”; another sent the same day said “you are all so stupid”.

EQUI declined to comment on the messages. That a peer of the realm’s business appears to have threatened criminal consequences for people encouraged to take part in its unregulated investment scheme is, if nothing else, a bad look.

One bounty-hunter, Maksim Koselev, a 29-year-old Russian warehouse worker, told us he had spent about 10 to 15 minutes per day, seven days a week, promoting EQUI online for the months during which the ICO was running, which included writing two promotional articles about the company in Russian. He’s worked as a bounty-hunter for more than 100 ICOs, he said, and apart from the exit scams — where those raising money disappear with the funds they have raised — this is the worst experience he’s ever had. He, and others, said bounty-hunters should have been paid 2% of the $7m Equi raised, particularly given that EQUI is still planning to raise money from investors. He told us: “We’ve been thrown out of the window with this… This is not the way you talk, even to bounty-hunters. They treat people like nothing.”

Our experience of interacting with EQUI has also been a bit… strange. When we contacted the company via its website we were replied to by Baroness Mone’s press officer, who offered us a “deal on an exclusive”. When we asked some questions about the bounty-hunters’ complaints, we were told that “anything that is written that is defamatory to EQUI or our founders we will take severe action”.


One has to congratulate Kelly on picking her way through the thickets of this story while avoiding defamation. Well, one hopes so on the latter.
link to this extract

Whose name should be on the laws of physics for an expanding universe? • Ars Technica

Krzysztof Bolejko:


The expansion of the universe was one of the most mind-blowing discoveries of the 20th century.

Expansion here means that the distance between galaxies in general increases with time, and it increases uniformly. It does not matter where you are and in which direction you look at, you still see a universe that is expanding.

When you really try to imagine all of this, you may end up with a headspin or even worse. The rate at which the universe is currently expanding is described by the Hubble Law, named after Edwin Hubble, whose 1929 article reported that astronomical data signify the expansion of the universe.

But Hubble was not the first. In 1927, Georges Lemaître had already published an article on the expansion of the universe. His article was written in French and published in a Belgian journal.

Lemaître presented a theoretical foundation for the expansion of the universe and used the astronomical data (the very same data that Hubble used in his 1929 article) to infer the rate at which the universe is expanding.

In 1928, the American mathematician and physicist Howard Robertson also published an article in Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, where he derived the formula for the expansion of the universe and inferred the rate of expansion from the same data that were used by Lemaître (a year before) and Hubble (a year after).

Robertson did not know about Lemaître’s work.


“Hubble-Lemaître’s Constant” doesn’t quite trip off the tongue. Bet it gets called the HLC if this passes.
link to this extract

From Android to iPhone: Some things were good, but I’ll never switch • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:


With this experiment, I wanted to take away the safety net. I wanted to dive into the Apple ecosystem head-first and see if it’s as clunky and bad as I thought it was.

Here are the rules I placed on myself:

• I used an iPhone 8 Plus (Rose Gold, if it matters) on the latest version of iOS (11.4.1) from Sunday morning to the following Sunday morning — a full seven days.
• During that time, I could not even touch my Android daily driver: a OnePlus 5. I had to touch some other Android phones here and there because I work for Android Authority, so it’d be hard not to.
• Anything I could do on the iPhone I did on the iPhone. That means texting, messaging, phone calls, music, internet searches, and more.
• I relied on Apple apps as much as possible and only used the default settings and setup whenever I could.

Over the course of the week, I installed third-party apps like Facebook, Starbucks, Amazon, Slack, and so on. I tried my best to use every basic feature of the phone at least once, including things like Apple Pay, the Apple App Store, Apple Maps, and Apple News.

Be forewarned: both Apple and Android criticism is coming your way.


It’s a fair and interesting comparison. But his principal complaint – his real showstopper complaint – is about notification grouping (which is what Android users have disliked about iOS for years). Strange to test iOS less than two weeks before Apple will release a version which will change notification grouping. Sure, who’d expect him to know that? Except he mentions it.
link to this extract

Google at 20: how a search engine became a literal extension of our mind • The Conversation

Benjamin Curtis is a lecturer in philosophy and ethics:


Make no mistake about it, this is a seismic shift in human psychology, probably the biggest we have ever had to cope with, and one that is occurring with breathtaking rapidity – Google, after all, is just 20 years old, this month. But although this shift has some good consequences, there are some deeply troubling issues we urgently need to address.

Much of my research spans issues to do with personal identity, mind, neuroscience, and ethics. And in my view, as we gobble up Google’s AI driven “personalised” features, we cede ever more of our personal cognitive space to Google, and so both mental privacy and the ability to think freely are eroded. What’s more, evidence is starting to emerge that there may be a link between technology use and mental health problems. In other words, it is not clear that our minds can take the strain of the virtual stretch. Perhaps we are even close to the snapping point.

“Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?”

This was the question posed in 1998 (coincidentally the same year Google was launched) by two philosophers and cognitive scientists, Andy Clark and David Chalmers, in a now famous journal article, The Extended Mind. Before their work, the standard answer among scientists was to say that the mind stopped at the boundaries of skin and skull (roughly, the boundaries of the brain and nervous system).

But Clark and Chalmers proposed a more radical answer. They argued that when we integrate things from the external environment into our thinking processes, those external things play the same cognitive role as our brains do. As a result, they are just as much a part of our minds as neurons and synapses. Clark and Chalmers’ argument produced debate, but many other experts on the mind have since agreed.


Is anyone doing a “I went a week without a search engine” story to celebrate Google’s 20versary? Seems like an obvious story to demonstrate this effect. I think anyone would find it difficult (search engines are all around us) and painful (we don’t realise how heavily we rely on search).
link to this extract

Fortnite on PlayStation doesn’t have cross-platform play with other consoles because they are worse, explains Sony boss • The Independent

Andrew Griffin:


Sony has been embroiled in controversy since earlier this year when the game was released for Nintendo Switch and it said that PlayStation players would not be able to play with them. What’s more, players found that once they had logged in on their PlayStation, they could not log in to the same account on other platforms, despite both options being available for Xbox and PC players.

Gamers have continued to protest that the restrictions are unfair. But Sony has been clear that it will not change the policy.

Speaking at the IFA technology show in Berlin, Sony chief executive Kenichiro Yoshida said he felt playing on the PlayStation 4 was the best experience for gamers and therefore should not be compromised.

“On cross-platform, our way of thinking is always that PlayStation is the best place to play. Fortnite, I believe, partnered with PlayStation 4 is the best experience for users, that’s our belief,” he said, according to Press Association.

“But actually, we already opened some games as cross-platform with PC and some others, so we decide based on what is the best user experience. That is our way of thinking for cross-platform.”

Fortnite has amassed more than 125 million players since the launch of its battle royale mode last year, with many choosing to play on mobile devices such as their phone or tablet.


PlayStation players are second-class citizens in this, and that rankles with them. Sony can bluster, but this is dangerous: if Fortnite survives at the top for a year or even two, that could have a significant effect on its perception with the upcoming generation.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.901: Google hits tech scammers, Firefox to block trackers, do AI cameras work?, and more

Transporting bauxite (here as a slurry) in a ship can be really dangerous. Photo by Norsk Hydro ASA on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. Well, some of us are labouring. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mystery of the cargo ships that sink when their cargo suddenly liquefies • The Conversation


Think of a dangerous cargo and toxic waste or explosives might come to mind. But granular cargoes such as crushed ore and mineral sands are responsible for the loss of numerous ships every year. On average, ten “solid bulk cargo” carriers have been lost at sea each year for the last decade.

Solid bulk cargoes – defined as granular materials loaded directly into a ship’s hold – can suddenly turn from a solid state into a liquid state, a process known as liquefaction. And this can be disastrous for any ship carrying them – and their crew.

In 2015, the 56,000-tonne bulk carrier Bulk Jupiter rapidly sunk around 300km south-west of Vietnam, with only one of its 19 crew surviving. This prompted warnings from the International Maritime Organisation about the possible liquefaction of the relatively new solid bulk cargo bauxite (an aluminium ore).

A lot is known about the physics of the liquefaction of granular materials from geotechnical and earthquake engineering. The vigorous shaking of the earth causes pressure in the ground water to increase to such a level that the soil “liquefies”. Yet despite our understanding of this phenomenon, and the guidelines in place to prevent it occurring, it is still causing ships to sink and taking their crew with them.

Solid bulk cargoes are typically “two-phase” materials as they contain water between the solid particles. When the particles can touch, the friction between them makes the material act like a solid (even though there is liquid present). But when the water pressure rises, these inter-particle forces reduce and the strength of the material decreases. When the friction is reduced to zero, the material acts like a liquid (even though the solid particles are still present).

A solid bulk cargo that is apparently stable on the quayside can liquefy because pressures in the water between the particles build up as it is loaded onto the ship.


There’s a terrific part of the book The Martian which involves a similar calamity. The science of this is pretty scary: you wouldn’t want to be on a ship with something thixotropic like this.
link to this extract

The Top 10: Mnemonics • The Independent

John Rentoul:


This list started with “X is a cross”, by which Tom Chivers remembers which is the X-axis and which is the Y on a graph. “My son’s been told ‘Y to the sky’ which seems to work as well,” said Funkadelic Horse. Thanks to Stephen Tall and Xlibris1 for drawing this to my attention.

1. How I wish I could calculate pi. The number of letters gives the first seven digits of pi: 3.141592… Thanks to Andrew Ruddle, who said piphilology is the word for the invention and study of mnemonics for pi. 


And nine more excellent ones, none of which is Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain, or Norwich. The periodic table elements (first 18) is especially clever.
link to this extract

Tech-support scams prompt Google to act • WSJ

Samarth Bansal and Rob Barry:


The move comes after a Wall Street Journal investigation found fraudsters were exploiting Google’s advertising system by purchasing search ads and masquerading as authorized service agents for companies such as Apple.

For instance, the first result in a recent Google search for the phrase “Apple tech support” showed a link to and a toll-free number, with the suggestion: “Get instant help from our experts.” The Journal found that the phone number didn’t belong to Apple and instead led to a call center that engages in tech-support scams.

Responding to questions about the ads earlier this week, a Google spokeswoman told the Journal the company was committed to removing bad ads, and last year removed more than 100 such ads per second for violating company policies.

On Friday, Google announced a more stringent crackdown on tech-support ads. “We’ve seen a rise in misleading ad experiences stemming from third-party technical support providers and have decided to begin restricting ads in this category globally,” Google’s global product policy director David Graffsaid on the company’s blog.

Google plans to roll out a verification program “to ensure that only legitimate providers of third-party tech support can use our platform to reach consumers,” Mr. Graff wrote…

…A 2018 study found 72% of sponsored ads on major search engines related to technical support queries led to scam websites.

These scams are on the rise: Microsoft Corp. , which receives around 12,000 complaints about tech support scams every month, reported a 24% increase in such complaints through 2017. The Federal Trade Commission registered 45,000 complaints about online tech support fraud in 2016, which the agency estimates is only a fraction of the true total.


I first wrote about these scammers back in 2010, and they’d been going for a while even then. Also, how exactly is Google going to “verify” that a company is legit, and that it won’t just sell its database to a scam group?
link to this extract

Changing our approach to anti-tracking • Firefox Future Releases

Nick Nguyen:


Anyone who isn’t an expert on the internet would be hard-pressed to explain how tracking on the internet actually works. Some of the negative effects of unchecked tracking are easy to notice, namely eerily-specific targeted advertising and a loss of performance on the web. However, many of the harms of unchecked data collection are completely opaque to users and experts alike, only to be revealed piecemeal by major data breaches. In the near future, Firefox will — by default — protect users by blocking tracking while also offering a clear set of controls to give our users more choice over what information they share with sites.

Over the next few months, we plan to release a series of features that will put this new approach into practice through three key initiatives…


This will look similar to Safari’s tracker blocking and cookie blocking. If that gives them an advantage in page load speeds, then Google is either going to have to find some magic way to speed up Chrome. Assuming, that is, that the speed difference is brought to peoples’ attention, and that Chrome doesn’t have other elements that people find preferable. Would anti-tracking plus speed be enough to make people change?

link to this extract

Can Beethoven send takedown requests? A first-hand account of one German professor’s experience with overly broad upload filters • Wikimedia Foundation

Ulrich Kaiser:


The first video I uploaded to YouTube promoted the website where my digitized copies of public domain recordings are available to download. In this video, I explained my project, while examples of the music played in the background. Less than three minutes after uploading, I received a notification that there was a ContentID claim against my video. ContentID is a system, developed by YouTube, which checks user uploaded videos against databases of copyrighted content in order to curb copyright infringement. This system took millions of dollars to develop and is often pointed to as a working example of upload filters by rights holders and lawmakers who wish to make such technology mandatory for every website which hosts user content online. However, these claims ignore the widespread reports of its often flawed execution.

In fact, when I replied to the claim on my introductory video stating that the claimant’s own website said that the date of the recording’s first publication was in 1962, and thus it was in the public domain, the claim was withdrawn with no further ado. This interaction sparked a curiosity in me: were other users uploading public domain music to YouTube receiving similar requests?

I decided to open a different YouTube account “Labeltest” to share additional excerpts of copyright-free music. I quickly received ContentID notifications for copyright-free music by Bartok, Schubert, Puccini and Wagner. Again and again, YouTube told me that I was violating the copyright of these long-dead composers, despite all of my uploads existing in the public domain.


That’s both the composition and the performance in the public domain. ContentID isn’t perfect, but you can see how it might fail to distinguish a performance from 1964 and 1962. That’s pretty granular.
link to this extract

Electric vehicles in California: their day will come, and might come suddenly • Bloomberg

Nathaniel Bullard:


In the first half of the year, vehicles with a battery were more than 10% of new vehicle sales in California. The model mix includes hybrids like the Toyota Prius that have no electric charging plugs, as well as plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars with no combustion engine at all.

The data reveal three trends. The first is the steady erosion of hybrid market share, which is down from seven% of new sales in 2013 to four% in the first half of 2018. That’s noteworthy, and so is the fact that battery electric vehicles are now more popular than plug-in hybrids.

In 2017, the plug-in electric car market is now more than six% of new car sales in California. It’s not a big number — but it will get bigger, and it’s worth asking, “how much bigger?”

My colleague Colin McKerracher suggested we look at Norway for guidance on how much bigger California’s electric car market could be. 

It took Norway about a decade to reach six% electric vehicle sales but then only five years to go from 6% to 47%. Norway is a special case, given that the country has generous incentives that aren’t replicated elsewhere. It does show, though, that inflection points occur, and when they do, markets can change quickly.


Isn’t that why we call them inflection points?
link to this extract

AI camera shootout: LG V30S vs Huawei P20 Pro vs Google Pixel 2 • Android Authority

Robert Triggs tries out the “AI” photo tweaks for colour profiles and post-processing (and has lots of photos to prove it):


it’s a mixed bag across all of the devices we tested. LG and Huawei’s tweaks ranged from subtle to overbearing. Most of the time, it’s preferable to leave the AI setting off. Many of the changes could be imitated at leisure afterwards if you really want them. Google’s HDR+ implementation is very different and clearly helps to compensate for the rare occasions when the camera’s exposure is a little off. It also offers improved dynamic range over other cameras, but this sometimes comes at the cost of drab colors. Overall, it’s the most subtle and consistent of the technologies.

LG definitely offers the most basic AI camera technology of the three. It does little more than color profile and filter switching. Google’s HDR+ is much more useful for general image enhancements. Huawei’s P20 Pro appears to do a bit of both.

Getting an AI camera to even detect the desired scene can be tricky, as there is only a limited range of options to pick from. LG’s software spits out plenty of words for what it’s looking at, but often this won’t result in a change of settings. Huawei’s is similarly finicky, struggling to tell the difference between Flowers and Greenery settings, and constantly switching in and out of the Blue Sky option. Google’s tech is better in this regard because it’s always available should you need it, but often subtle enough not to be missed if it doesn’t trigger.


To me, the AI photos look worse in pretty much every case.
link to this extract

India’s biometric database is creating a perfect surveillance state — and US tech companies are on board • Huffington Post

Paul Blumenthal and Gopal Sathe:


Microsoft, which uses Aadhaar in a new version of Skype to verify users, declined to talk about its work integrating products with the Aadhaar database. But Bill Gates, Microsoft’s founder, has publicly endorsed Aadhaar and his foundation is funding a World Bank program to bring Aadhaar-like ID programs to other countries. Gates has also argued that ID verification schemes like Aadhaar in itself don’t pose privacy issues. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has repeatedly praised Aadhaar in both his recent book and a tour across India.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment, but according to a BuzzFeed report, the company told Indian customers not uploading a copy of Aadhaar “might result in a delay in the resolution or no resolution” of cases where packages were missing.

Facebook, too, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment, though the platform’s prompts for users to log in with the same name as their Aadhaar card prompted suspicions from users that it wanted everyone to use their Aadhaar-verified names and spellings so they could later build in Aadhaar functionality with minimal problems.

A spokesman for Google, which has its own payments platform in India called Tez, told HuffPost that the company has not integrated any of its products with Aadhaar. But there was outrage earlier in August when the Aadhaar helpline was added to Android phones without informing users. Google claimed in a statement to the Economic Times this happened “inadvertently” 

But the same features that are set to make tech companies millions are are also the ones that threaten the privacy and security of millions of Indians.

“As long as [the data] is being shared with so many people and services and companies, without knowing who has what data, it will always be an issue,” said Srinivas Kodali, an independent security researcher. “They can’t protect it until they encrypt it and stop sharing data.”


You thought that democracies didn’t do surveillance databases?
link to this extract

The broken promise of Android Treble • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:


Google surprised everyone when they announced the Android Pie (then just Android P) beta would be on more than just Google’s own phones this year. The full list was:

• Sony Xperia XZ2
• Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S
• Nokia 7 Plus
• Oppo R15 Pro
• Vivo X21
• OnePlus 6
• Essential PH‑1
Not a bad list! I mean it would be nice for Samsung, Motorola, LG, or HTC to be on the list, as these are all very niche phones in the US, but it’s certainly progress.

So here were are a month after Android Pie was released, so let’s look at how many of these beta phones have been updated to Pie. After all, they were running the beta all summer, so they should be ready to go, right?

Phone Status
Sony Xperia XZ2: Coming in November 2018
Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S: Unknown, but alpha build leaked online
Nokia 7 Plus: Coming in September 2018
Oppo R15 Pro: Unknown, no announcements
Vivo X21: ”Q4 2018” so likely close to the end of the year
OnePlus 6: Q4 2018, so likely also by December
Essential PH‑1: Released same day as Pixel devices

I have 2 things to say about this:

One, this is a sad showing by these companies who were involved in the official Android Pie beta. They’ve had Pie in beta since May and they were not able to have it ready when Google released Pie to the world. A month after launch and we’re still looking at October through “someday” on most of these phones.


Android OS updating is still like hunting the snark.
link to this extract

Why California’s privacy law won’t hurt Facebook or Google • WIRED

Ex-Facebook ads person Antonio Garcia Martinez:


To understand why the CCPA won’t impact Facebook in any meaningful way requires understanding (at a high level, not to worry) how Facebook’s ads ecosystem treats data and outside partners. Unlike much of the ad-tech world, Facebook lives in a walled garden where no data leaves and very little enters. When an advertiser wants to retarget you, it exchanges your contact information with Facebook, both sides agreeing to a pseudonym for you, before placing you in one or more targeting buckets (“shoe shoppers,” for example). For Facebook’s most powerful and invasive micro-targeting, almost no data is shared between advertiser and publisher, and data middlemen are largely absent. Which is why, if you download your data from Facebook, the juiciest information is in the least remarkable section: “Advertisers Who Uploaded a Contact List With Your Information.” Users and journalists fixate on the supposed creepiness of Facebook having a call log for you, for example, but the real targeters are buried in that list of companies sharing contact information. The CCPA won’t change this.

So who is impacted by the CCPA?


Essentially, companies you’ve never heard of but which inveigle themselves into your browser and all your activities all the time.
link to this extract

Chinese smartphone makers are winning in India — the fastest growing market • VentureBeat

Manish Singh:


India’s smartphone market is currently a key battleground for a number of phone makers from China, Taiwan, and South Korea. As the smartphone shipments slow in many parts of the globe, India’s handset market continues to grow. July saw 42 different smartphone models launched in the nation, up from 25 models during the same period last year, research firm Counterpoint told VentureBeat.

Most of the new handsets are from Chinese smartphone makers, many of whom see India as their most important market.

Leading the charge is Xiaomi, which last year ended Samsung’s five-year-streak as the top phone vendor in the nation. The period between April and June of this year was the fourth consecutive quarter for Xiaomi as the top vendor in India, according to IDC. Xiaomi (29.7% market share as of Q2) has aggressively undercut the offerings of its rivals by selling inexpensive but high-quality smartphones in India. A spokesperson for the company said that India is currently its most important market.

In the second quarter of this year, four of the top five smartphone makers were Chinese, according to IDC. In addition to Xiaomi, that number includes Oppo (7.6% market share), Vivo (12.6%), and Transsion (5%). Together with other Chinese phone makers such as Lenovo, the group held two-thirds of the local smartphone market in the second quarter, IDC said in a report published last month. Less than three years ago, the aggregate market share of these companies was under 15% in India.


Apple is pretty much invisible there, with about 1% of the market. Possible clue: India is really, really price-conscious, and per-capita GDP is $1,940.
link to this extract

Tesla, software and disruption • Benedict Evans

Evans considers what parts of Tesla’s IP might give it disruptive power: batteries, motors, software, “experience”, or autonomous driving:


Tesla’s first bet is that it will solve the vision-only problem before the [rivals’] other sensors get small and cheap, and that it will solve all the rest of the [self-driving] autonomy problems by then as well. This is strongly counter-consensus. It hopes to do it the harder way before anyone else does it the easier way. That is, it’s entirely possible that [Google’s] Waymo, or someone else, gets autonomy to work in 202x with a $1000 or $2000 LIDAR and vision sensor suite and Tesla still doesn’t have it working with vision alone. 

The second bet is that Tesla will be able to get autonomy working with enough of a lead to benefit from a strong winner takes all effect – ‘more cars means more data means better autonomy means more cars’. After all, even if Tesla did get the vision-only approach working, it doesn’t necessarily follow that no-one else would. Hence, the bet is that autonomous capability will not be a commodity. 

This takes us back to the data. Tesla clearly has an asset in the data it can collect from the 200k+ Autopilot 2 cars it’s already sold. On the other hand, Waymo’s cars have driven 8m miles, doubling in the last year or so. Tesla’s have driven more (without LIDAR, but set that aside), but how much do you need? 

This is really a question about all machine learning projects: at what point are there diminishing returns as you add more data, and how many people can get that amount of data? It does seem as though there should be a ceiling for autonomy – if a car can drive in Naples for a year without ever getting confused, how much more is there to improve? At some point you’re effectively finished. So, how many cars do you need before your autonomy is as good as the best on the market? How many companies might be able to reach that? Is this 100 or a thousand cars driving for a year, or 1 million cars? And meanwhile, machine learning itself is changing quickly – one cannot rule out the possibility that the amount of data you need might shrink dramatically. 

So: it’s possible that Tesla gets SLAM working with vision, and gets the rest of autonomy working as well, and its data and its fleet makes it hard for anyone else to catch up for years. But it’s also possible that Waymo gets this working and decides to sell it to everyone.


This article is quite hard to extract from, but that’s pretty much the nut. Evans says he started out writing it as a comparison of Tesla and Netflix, but Tesla is too particular in so many ways.
link to this extract

Global smartwatch shipments grew 37%yoy in q2 2018, apple watch series 1 the most popular model.


Looking at the different smartwatch platforms, Research Analyst, Flora Tang, added, “Proprietary platforms continue to dominate the smartwatch market. The smartwatch engine is mostly powered by Apple’s watchOS or Fitbit OS or Samsung’s lone adoption of Tizen OS and different flavors of RTOS implementations and all are closed platforms. Hybrid watches which are mostly non-touch smartwatches based on proprietary platforms and sensors, mostly from Swiss watchmakers declined 22% YoY.

The shift to Androidwear OS still hasn’t happened like we have seen in Android for smartphones. This is partly due to lesser focus, less intuitive UI and selective smartwatch OEM partnerships by Google over the last few years for Androidwear OS. Google hopes to change this with the upcoming launch of wear OS 2.0 based watches but will need a complete overhaul of the UI, powerful integration of key Android experiences and by striking key partnerships.”


But look at Android’s share. That’s tiny. Of course its problem is, and remains, that most Android phone OEMs have tried and given up on watches because they lack the scale and expertise to make them profitably, while traditional high-end watch makers are a bit wary.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: a word was missing from Friday’s post. If you didn’t miss it, don’t worry, If you did, it was quite obvious, wasn’t it?