Start Up No.942: Spotify v labels, Apple’s messed-up Mac line, Google’s harassment hassle, Arizona’s solar swizz, and more

Apple’s new iPad Pro: USB-C – and video editing. Photo by tua ulamac on Flickr.

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A selection of 13 links for you. Fewer for the rest. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spotify may already be too big for the labels to stop it competing with them • MIDiA Research

Mark Mulligan:


At this stage we move on to a prisoners’ dilemma scenario for the majors:

• All of the majors help Spotify’s case by over prioritising Spotify as a promotional tool in light of its share of total listening compared to radio, YouTube, other streaming services etc
• WMG and SME probably couldn’t afford to remove their content from Spotify but would be watching UMG, the only one that probably feel confident enough to do so
• However, UMG would be thinking if it jumps first and removes its content, each of the other two majors would benefit from it not being there (and would probably be secretly hoping for that outcome)
• Each other major would be thinking the same, and regulatory restrictions prevent the majors from discussing strategy to formulate a combined response
• But even if UMG did pull its content, this would hurt Spotify but would not kill it (Amazon Prime Music launched without UMG and spent 15 months growing just fine until UMG came on board)
• Spotify could easily tweak its curation algorithms to minimise the perceived impact of the missing catalogue, making it ‘feel’ more like 10%
• So, the likely scenario would be each major paralysed by FOMO and so none of them act

Thus, maybe Spotify is already nearly big enough to do this, and could do so next year.


Does Apple Music offer enough of a counterbalance to this? That the labels could go there instead? Probably not, given Spotify’s size.
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MacBook Air 2018: hands-on with Apple’s new ultra-thin laptop • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


you’re here to learn about the screen, so I’ll just tell you that it’s great — at least compared to the old MacBook Air. It’s not True Tone, but it is a full Retina Display with the same resolution as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The smaller bezels make a big difference in making the computer more portable, but it doesn’t feel cramped like the smaller MacBook sometimes can. The bezels are black, and the whole thing is a glossy glass now, which might annoy some people, but that’s most laptops these days. Bottom line: it’s pretty much on par with the screens on the MacBook Pros from what I can see.

The keyboard is Apple’s “3rd generation,” which is another way of saying that it has super minimal key travel but is a little bit quieter and (hopefully) a little more dust-resistant than older MacBook Pros. It’s also been fine-tuned to try and fix some of the big issues that plagued the initial and follow-up runs of MacBook Pros over the last two years. It’s still pretty clacky sounding, though, but I’ll need to take it into a quiet room (no easy feat right now) to really see how it sounds. It’s still a polarizing design, even this many years in, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to upgrade.

Build quality is top notch, as you’d expect. The device, like the new Mac mini, is now made of 100% recycled aluminum, a first for Apple’s laptop line. The lid opens with a single finger to reveal the massive touchpad, which is Force Touch now. I’m glad there are two USB-C ports, both Thunderbolt-enabled, but I am just a little sad that MagSafe is truly dead now. Overall, the trade-off is worth it, I think, but you are probably going to need to buy some dongles. There’s a headphone jack, too, which is a thing that I have to mention simply because it’s not a given anymore.

I didn’t get a chance to test out Touch ID, but I’m pleased to see that Apple figured out that it was the best part of the Touch Bar MacBook Pros, and it bought just it and the T2 chip over. It’s a lot more button-like than what you’ll find on a MacBook Pro.


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Apple iPad Pro (2018) hands-on: even closer to a computer • Engadget

Chris Velazco:


Much as I like this new design, there is one thing that rubs me the wrong way, and it has a lot to do with the mixed messages Apple is sending. In its presentation, Apple made it clear that music professionals like DJs have been fans of the iPad for awhile and that the new power afforded to them by the A12X Bionic chipset would help them spice up their performances. That’s cool and all, but I wonder how those DJs feel about the iPad Pro lacking a headphone jack. Seems kind of important, no?

People who lean on iPad Pros to actually get stuff done should benefit from the A12X Bionic, a tweaked version of the chipset we first got to know in the iPhone XS. I haven’t been playing with these iPads for too long, and it’s difficult to tell exactly what kind of performance gains to expect based off these demos. That said, the handful of AR apps I tried out seemed smoother and more stable than ever, and a setup dedicated to visually lush DJ software looked appropriately rad. We’ll see how they do in real-world testing soon.

Speaking of important, how about that USB-C? The shift has been rumored for years, but it’s finally here, and it stands to change the way people think about how to use iPads. In the past, if you wanted to hook other devices up to your iPad, you’d have to rely on peripherals and connectors to bridge the gap between Lightning and whatever else your hardware required. Moving to a standard USB-C port makes the new Pro line feel more akin to a proper computer, and Apple has already pitched several ways that professionals have been able to work these iPads into their daily flows.


Pretty good accompanying video. The squared-off design reminds me of the iPad..4, was it? The USB-C won’t support an external hard drive, since you’re wondering.
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Apple’s laptop line is more of a mess than ever • Engadget

Daniel Cooper:


Imagine that you’ve got $1,300 and you’d like to buy a new Apple laptop. Which one do you choose? The $1,299 MacBook, the new $1,199 MacBook Air or the cheapest MacBook Pro, which also retails for $1,299. If you really want TouchID then you’ll opt for the Air, but if you’re looking for the “best” then the Pro is the only answer. Not that you’d understand that from the price list, thanks to Apple’s crushing inability to properly differentiate its products.

Apple’s cluttered product lineup is hardly a new problem, but the situation with its laptops is now getting a little bit silly. The company is selling three laptops at roughly the same price with little beyond potential battery life to differentiate them. For instance, of the trio, two are considered for the “thin and light” crowd, offering small size at the expense of power. But the smaller of the pair costs $100 more, despite having a slower CPU and weaker graphics.

The revived MacBook Air, meanwhile, makes the MacBook look like even more of a misstep than it was before. After all, unless you’re seriously hankering for a laptop that small, why not just buy its far-better sibling? If the 12-incher was sold for, say, $899, then it would be much easier to take it seriously. And that price isn’t an unreasonable proposition, either, since the 11-inch MacBook Air sold for that much before its axing.


Obviously I’m not linking to this just because it links to my article with 14 graphs about Apple’s financial performance. He has a point with the $1300 price; the ASP for Macs overall (laptops plus pricey desktops) was around $1450 in midyear. When the MacBook / Air / Pro can all be bought in some form at the same price, things are indeed messed up.
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Apple confirms iOS 12.1 shipping today with 32-person Group Facetime • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:


[Tim] Cook highlighted a few features shipping in 12.1, most notably a Group Facetime feature that will support a whopping 32 simultaneous participants.

As Apple’s announcement site clarifies:


FaceTime uses on-device intelligence to display the most prominent speakers on the call, automatically highlighting the current speaker by bringing them to the forefront. It automatically sizes each person’s image depending upon how active they are in the conversation, based on duration of speech, volume and even motion. Participants who are not active will appear at the bottom of the screen until they speak. A simple tap also brings a participant front and center.


Additionally, dual-SIM support via eSIM, which was announced as an upcoming feature in September, will finally be enabled for iPhone XS and XR models. And Cook said users can expect an additional 70 emoji throughout iOS, which are largely made up of this suite of characters announced earlier this year as part of the Unicode Emoji 11.0 set.


Cleverly, if you join one of these FaceTime love-ins after it has started, you don’t ring in. I’d like to think it’s going to be better than standard conference calls. A few years too late to win the enterprise market, though.
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The battle for solar energy in the country’s sunniest state • The New Yorker

Carolyn Kormann:


[The billionaire Tom] Steyer and his coalition say that the problem is simple: A.P.S. [Arizona Public Service, the largest utility in the state of Arizona] is an investor-owned company, motivated primarily by its responsibility to protect profits for its shareholders, many of whom reside out of state. In 2017, the company made $488m, an increase of $46m from the previous year. The Arizona Corporation Commission (A.C.C.), a five-member elected “fourth branch” of state government, is supposed to keep the utility’s monopoly in check—setting limits on capital investments and pricing, while guaranteeing a certain margin of profit.

But critics have long argued that the arrangement incentivizes utilities to “gold-plate,” or make inessential investments. (The phenomenon even has a name: the Averch-Johnson effect.) For A.P.S., a $200m gas-fuel plant would be more lucrative than a $20m solar array because the utility can charge higher rates to recoup its investment costs.

Kris Mayes, a former Republican A.C.C. commissioner, who helped write the language of Prop 127, told me the Averch-Johnson effect explains why, in 2017, A.P.S. called for more than 5,000 megawatts of new natural-gas additions, and almost no utility-scale renewables. “If they were truly acting in public interest,” Mayes said, “they would not be proposing 5,400 hundred megawatts of new natural-gas plants.”


Perverse incentives: they abound.
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Months before Pittsburgh shooting, Stripe and PayPal were warned about Gab • Daily Beast

Kelly Weil:


The Twitter user @DeplatformHate has been documenting the far right’s partnerships with Silicon Valley for nearly a year and repeatedly tweeted about Stripe’s ties to Gab in August. After Stripe’s general counsel reached out on August 17, Deplatform Hate sent him and Stripe’s CEO a long email on August 24, documenting the issue.

“Gab is a massive hive mind of neo-Nazis that have actively doxed journalists families that work on stories of neonazi violence,” Deplatform Hate wrote in an August 24 email shared with The Daily Beast, in which he cited white supremacists who used Gab to publish journalists’ personal information, including home addresses.

Deplatform Hate shared the messages on the condition of anonymity, citing harassment by neo-Nazis.

One targeted journalist “had his mother in the Bronx get a bomb threat. You can muddy the story of ‘oh but the first amendment’—you’re a lawyer. You know that doesn’t hold up in the US and that private companies can have moral systems if they’re not discriminating against protected classes. Last time I checked, Nazis weren’t a protected class.” Stripe declined to comment on the email.


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A new study finds potentially manipulative ads in apps for preschoolers • The Washington Post

Hamza Shaban:


Researchers from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital looked at more than 100 apps, mostly from the Google Play app store, and found that nearly all of them had at least one type of ad, often interwoven into the apps’ activities and games. The apps, according to the researchers, used a variety of methods to deliver ads to children, including commercial characters, pop-up ads, in-app purchases, and, in some cases, distracting ads, hidden ads or ads that were posed as gameplay items.

The authors suggest that the deceptive and persuasive nature of the ads leaves children susceptible to them, because of their lack of mental development in controlling their impulses and attention.

“Our findings show that the early childhood app market is a Wild West, with a lot of apps appearing more focused on making money than the child’s play experience,” Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral expert and an author of the study, said in a statement. “This has important implications for advertising regulation, the ethics of child app design, as well as how parents discern which children’s apps are worth downloading.”

Children use mobile devices one hour every day, on average, highlighting the importance of researching what they encounter and how it may affect their health, Radesky added.


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Introducing reCAPTCHA v3: the new way to stop bots • Google Online Security Blog

Wei Lu, Google product manager:


with reCAPTCHA v3, we are fundamentally changing how sites can test for human vs. bot activities by returning a score to tell you how suspicious an interaction is and eliminating the need to interrupt users with challenges at all. reCAPTCHA v3 runs adaptive risk analysis in the background to alert you of suspicious traffic while letting your human users enjoy a frictionless experience on your site.

In reCAPTCHA v3, we are introducing a new concept called “Action”—a tag that you can use to define the key steps of your user journey and enable reCAPTCHA to run its risk analysis in context. Since reCAPTCHA v3 doesn’t interrupt users, we recommend adding reCAPTCHA v3 to multiple pages. In this way, the reCAPTCHA adaptive risk analysis engine can identify the pattern of attackers more accurately by looking at the activities across different pages on your website. In the reCAPTCHA admin console, you can get a full overview of reCAPTCHA score distribution and a breakdown for the stats of the top 10 actions on your site, to help you identify which exact pages are being targeted by bots and how suspicious the traffic was on those pages.


If this means I don’t have to be the human doing the work spotting traffic signs for Google’s self-driving cars before I can visit a page, I’m all for it.
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Google sexual harassment allegations: Google X still employs an accused executive • Slate

April Glaser:


There is a history of interoffice romance at Google and X that goes all the way up to the C-suite. Brin, who hangs around X regularly, had a very public affair-turned-relationship with the former marketing manager of Google Glass, according to a 2014 Vanity Fair story. The Times also reported last week that former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once “retained a mistress to work as a company consultant.” And according to the Times, David Drummond, Alphabet’s chief legal officer, had an extramarital relationship with an employee in his department beginning in 2004, which they eventually disclosed to the company. That employee, who had a child with Drummond, was transferred to the sales division and later left Google, while his career at the company “flourished.”

“There’s an increasing sense that Larry and Sergey may be the problem,” said one source within X, who is not authorized to speak with the press and requested anonymity, speaking to a culture of impunity for men who initiate interoffice relationships with women working under them. “I don’t think they’re abusers, but they’ve sheltered them. They clearly think there’s some amount of value they’re getting out of these men that outweighs the women they’re preying on.” In response to the Times’ reporting, Alphabet told the paper it takes harassment seriously and that “We investigate and take action, including termination. In recent years, we’ve taken a particularly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority. We’re working hard to keep improving how we handle this type of behavior.”


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Google engineers are organizing a walkout to protest the company’s protection of an alleged sexual harasser • Buzzfeed News

Caroline O’Donovan and Ryan Mac:


The protest, which is expected to happen on Thursday, comes in light of a story by the New York Times last week into the alleged misbehavior of Android creator Andy Rubin and other executives at the company, some of whom still have positions of prominence at Google. Google gave Rubin a reported $90 million exit package in 2014, following an investigation into an allegation that he had coerced another employee to perform oral sex on him. That investigation reportedly found that allegation to be credible.

“Personally, I’m furious,” said one Google employee who requested anonymity. “I feel like there’s a pattern of powerful men getting away with awful behavior towards women at Google‚ or if they don’t get away with it, they get a slap on the wrist, or they get sent away with a golden parachute, like Andy Rubin. And it’s a leadership of mostly men making the decisions about what kind of consequences to give, or not give.”


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New ban: do not post in support of Trump or his administration • RPGnet

RPGnet is “the oldest and largest independent roleplaying site on the internet”, founded in 1996:


We are banning support of Donald Trump or his administration on the RPGnet forums. This is because his public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable. We can be welcoming to (for example) persons of every ethnicity who want to talk about games, or we can allow support for open white supremacy. Not both. Below will be an outline of the policy and a very incomplete set of citations.

We have a community here that we’ve built carefully over time, and support for elected hate groups aren’t welcome here. We can’t save the world, but we can protect and care for the small patch that is this board.

Policy outline:
1. We are banning support of the administration of President Trump. You can still post on even if you do in fact support the administration — you just can’t talk about it here.
2. We are absolutely not endorsing the Democrats nor are we banning all Republicans.
3. We are certainly not banning conservative politics, or anything on the spectrum of reasonable political viewpoints. We assert that hate groups and intolerance are categorically different from other types of political positions, and that confusing the two legitimizes bigotry and hatred.
4. We are not going to have a purge — we will not be banning people for past support. Though if your profile picture is yourself in a MAGA hat, this might be a good time to change it.
5. We will not permit witch-hunts, progressive loyalty-testing, or attempting to bait another into admitting support for President Trump in order to get them banned. The mod staff will deal harshly with attempts to weaponize this policy.
6. It is not open season on conservatives, and revenge fantasies against Trump and Trump supporters are still against the rules.


This punctuated evolution in discourse is fascinating – at least on the small organisations.
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On Instagram, 11,696 examples of how hate thrives on social media • NY Times

Sheera Frenkel, Mike Isaac and Kate Conger:


“Social media companies have created, allowed and enabled extremists to move their message from the margins to the mainstream,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, a nongovernmental organization that combats hate speech. “In the past, they couldn’t find audiences for their poison. Now, with a click or a post or a tweet, they can spread their ideas with a velocity we’ve never seen before.”

Facebook said it was investigating the anti-Semitic hashtags on Instagram after The New York Times flagged them. Sarah Pollack, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement that Instagram was seeing new posts related to the shooting on Saturday and that it was “actively reviewing hashtags and content related to these events and removing content that violates our policies.”

YouTube said it has strict policies prohibiting content that promotes hatred or incites violence and added that it takes down videos that violate those rules.

Social media companies have said that identifying and removing hate speech and disinformation — or even defining what constitutes such content — is difficult. Facebook said this year that only 38% of hate speech on its site was flagged by its internal systems. In contrast, its systems pinpointed and took down 96% of what it defined as adult nudity, and 99.5% of terrorist content.

YouTube said users reported nearly 10 million videos from April to June for potentially violating its community guidelines. Just under one million of those videos were found to have broken the rules and were removed, according to the company’s data. YouTube’s automated detection tools also took down an additional 6.8 million videos in that period.

A study by researchers from MIT that was published in March found that falsehoods on Twitter were 70% more likely to be retweeted than accurate news.


It’s like they built a road and they’re standing there watching cars crash into each other continually, and saying “wow, look at that” rather than seriously trying to just close the damn road.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.941: why beacons died, tech giants face new UK tax, how Night Sight works, XR portraits for everything!, comments go sour (again), and more

A dork’s obsession with Mirai Nikki led to a botnet name – and his downfall. Photo by Shelling Bisetsu on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Guaranteed free of previously eradicated diseases. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why Android Nearby, iBeacons, and Eddystone failed to gain traction • VentureBeat

Kyle Wiggers:


It’s tough to convince customers to download a service they’ve never used, even with the promise of discounts — especially considering up to 70% haven’t heard of beacons.

Power and range limitations pose an additional challenge. Only about 40% of users in North America report using Bluetooth (though it’s worth noting that on most newer devices, Bluetooth interacts passively with BLE beacons), and Bluetooth signals are more easily obstructed by physical objects than Wi-Fi. Though they last for years in some cases, beacons’ batteries also have a finite lifespan. Deployment takes a lot of planning and testing.

Beacons tend to be spammy, too. Google cited “a significant increase in locally irrelevant … notifications” as the reason it decided to discontinue Nearby Notifications, and not without good reason. One recent study showed a 313% decline in shopping app use by customers who received more than one beacon notification in a single location.

And then there’s the matter of privacy. Few in-store apps are explicitly clear about what sort of location and behavioral information they’re collecting, which can include metrics like visits, unique visitors, new visitors, popular paths, repeat visits, retention, and more. The same goes for APIs like Google’s Nearby, which came under fire from privacy advocates concerned about how the audio component of the beacons is recorded and stored.

None of that’s to suggest beacons are entirely dead. Big-name retailers like Walmart, Rite Aid, and Target continue to trial BLE beacon-powered in-store shopping experiences; Google’s providing beacons to retailers in the US and UK; and overall annual beacon shipments are expected to hit 565 million units by 2021.


I’m struggling with the concept of a 313% decline in shopping app use. Did people delete the app off friends’ phones as well as their own?

But it’s another example of how you can’t force technology on people if they think it’s for someone else’s benefit, not their own. (I suspect people probably understand the tradeoff they’re making with Google and Facebook, given their rejection of beacons.)
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Hammond targets US tech giants with ‘digital services tax’ • The Guardian

Rupert Neate:


Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts suggest the tax [on profitable companies which have revenues over £500m globally] could raise just £30m each from the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Google. The levy will be charged at a rate of 2% and only apply against revenue from search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces…

…Facebook paid £15.8m in UK tax last year despite collecting a record £1.3bn in British sales. Globally, Facebook made $20bn (£15.3bn) of profit on total sales of $40bn last year, meaning it converted half of its sales into profits. However, in the UK 5% of sales were converted into UK-taxable profits. The social media firm paid very little tax in the UK because its profits were reduced by a £444m charge for unexplained “administrative expenses”.

Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP and former chair of the public accounts committee, said it was “absolutely outrageous” how little tax US Facebook paid in the UK.

Hammond said he was “already looking forward to my call from the former leader of the Liberal Democrats”. Sir Nick Clegg, the former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister, last week started work as Facebook’s head of global policy and communications.

Clegg’s brief will include explaining to world leaders why Facebook pays so little tax outside of the US. When he was deputy prime minister Clegg spoke out against people and firms who game the international tax system, saying the public are “rightly angered” by a “wealthy elite” who paid “an army of accountants” to avoid tax.

Amazon paid £4.5m in UK tax last year, despite sales of £8.7bn. Google paid £49m on UK 2017 sales of £7.6bn. The auction site eBay paid £1.6m on sales of £1bn, but was later forced to pay an additional £6m after a review by HMRC.

Hammond made clear that the new tax would not be an online sales tax, which “would fall on consumers of those goods – that is not our intention”.

He also sought to reassure the UK’s thriving digital startup community that the tax is not designed to hinder their growth, saying it would be structured to ensure “established tech giants rather than our tech startups shoulder the burden”.


It doesn’t seem like a lot of money being raked in. Sure, tax is due on profits rather than revenues, but the profit-dodging really is excessive.

Side note: Neate is the “wealth correspondent”. Seems appropriate he is writing about this.
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How Google’s Night Sight works, and why it’s so good • ExtremeTech

David Cardinal:


Google, in essence, combined these uses of multi-image capture to create better low-light images. In doing so, it is building on a series of clever innovations in imaging. It is likely that Marc Levoy’s Android app SeeInTheDark and his 2015 paper on “Extreme imaging using cell phones” were the genesis of this effort. Levoy was a pioneer in computational imaging at Stanford and is now a Distinguished Engineer working on camera technology for Google. SeeInTheDark (a follow-on to his earlier SynthCam iOS app) used a standard phone to accumulate frames, warping each frame to match the accumulated image, and then performing a variety of noise reduction and image enhancement steps to produce a remarkable final low-light image. In 2017 a Google Engineer, Florian Kanz, built on some of those concepts to show how a phone could be used to create professional-quality images even in very low light…

…Given how long image stacking has been around, and how many camera and phone makers have employed some version of it, it’s fair to ask why Google’s Night Sight seems to be so much better than anything else out there. First, even the technology in Levoy’s original paper is very complex, so the years Google has had to continue to improve on it should give them a decent head start on anyone else. But Google has also said that Night Sight uses machine learning to decide the proper colors for a scene based on content.

That’s pretty cool sounding, but also fairly vague. It isn’t clear whether it is segmenting individual objects so that it knows they should be a consistent color, or coloring well-known objects appropriately, or globally recognizing a type of scene the way intelligent autoexposure algorithms do and deciding how scenes like that should generally look (green foliage, white snow, and blue skies for example). I’m sure once the final version rolls out and photographers get more experience with the capability, we’ll learn more about this use of machine learning.


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Let’s talk about comments on Android Police • Android Police

The team there have noticed a new trend in vitriol:


It’s called discussion hijacking (which is essentially just trolling), and we’re going to be deleting comments we feel hijack the discussion from here on out. What does it mean to hijack the discussion, exactly? One example is an angry remark that, while technically “on topic,” doesn’t actually add anything to the discussion but vitriol. Replying “fuck the notch!” in all caps on any article about a phone with a notch is not helpful. And yes, someone was actually doing that.

Another example hijacking we’ve frequently seen—likely because of growing political unrest in the United States (home to over 40% of our readers)—is shifting the discussion to completely unrelated political topics. To show you what we mean, the below comment was left on a post about a Pixel 3 bug:

This commenter clearly is attempting to start a fight, not engage in a discussion of the post topic. Comments like this are no longer going to be tolerated. Another example: this comment on a post about new Android license fees in the European Union, where someone randomly decided to complain about welfare in Sweden. It’s not as obvious in its baiting as either of the first two, but the intent is clear: to hijack a discussion of the post topic and turn it into a bad faith mud-slinging match about socialism.

Finally, in case you’re thinking it doesn’t get worse than this: it does! This comment was on an article about Verizon’s Pixel 3, which actually prompted us to write this post.

Bonus: This person threatened us when we banned him.

These comments don’t contribute to the discussion at all — they hijack the discussion and (oftentimes, purposefully) attract hateful responses from people with opposing views.


Gee, ya think? How soon before we all just give up on internet comments? It’s increasingly hard to argue that they’re in any way better than just getting people to write an email. Or, actually, write a letter.

And while we’re on the topic of repellent content…
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Gab forced offline over apparent tie to Pittsburgh synagogue shooter • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


Gab is two years old and claims around 800,000 users. As mainstream social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have cracked down on hate speech, Trump-supporting entrepreneur Andrew Torba set up Gab as a “free speech” alternative. Gab bans explicit advocacy of violence, but garden-variety hate speech is allowed on the platform. Gab’s permissive rules have attracted far-right figures like Richard Spencer and David Duke.

Gab has repeatedly clashed with major technology platforms over concerns about the extremist content on the site. Gab was forced to change domain providers in 2017 after its old provider threatened to cancel the site’s domain. Also last year, Google banned Gab’s app from the Play Store, citing the app’s lack of hate speech filtering. (Apple never allowed Gab to offer an iOS app in the first place.)

In August, Gab was nearly banned from Microsoft’s Azure platform over anti-Semitic Gab posts. Gab got a reprieve when the Gab user behind the posts agreed to take them down.

But in the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, Gab has faced a lot more pressure from mainstream service providers. PayPal banned Gab over the weekend, as did payment processor Stripe. Medium and Joyent also refused service to Gab. The final straw was GoDaddy, which gave Gab 24 hours to find a new domain provider.

It’s a bit surprising that Gab wound up on GoDaddy because GoDaddy was one of the first domain providers to ban the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer last year.


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Ahead of Apple’s earnings and new kit: 14 graphs to think about • The Overspill

Apple announces its earnings to the end of September on Thursday, and new hardware today, Tuesday. So I’ve looked at what its financials to the end of June tell us about what we might expect, with graphs like this:


We don’t know what the ASP for the Apple Watch or various doodads such as Beats headphones are, but these are the big-ticket items that Apple sells. The general story? Look at how the iPad ASP keeps getting beaten down. And look at how the iPhone ASP has looked perky in the past four quarters. Ditto for the Mac, though it’s only at the level it used to be after some years when it fell regularly. You can’t see any effect from $5,000 Mac Pros in there, can you?


The graph of iPad ASP v sales, and the geographical sales, tell quite the story.
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iPhone XR: a deep dive into depth • Halide

Ben Sandofsky:


Halide 1.11 will let you take Portrait mode photos of just about anything, not just people.

We do this by grabbing the focus pixel disparity map and running the image through our custom blur. When you open Halide on iPhone XR, simply tap ‘Depth’ to enable depth capture. Any photo you take will have a depth map, and if there’s sufficient data to determine a foreground and background, the image will get beautifully rendered bokeh, just like iPhone XS shots.

You’ll notice that enabling the Depth Capture mode does not allow you to preview Portrait blur effect or even automatically detect people. Unfortunately, the iPhone XR does not stream depth data in realtime, so we can’t do a portrait preview. You’ll have to review your portrait effects after having taken the photo, much like the Google Pixel.

Is it perfect? No — as we mentioned, the depth data is lower quality than dual-camera iPhones. But it’s good enough in many situations, and can be used to get some great shots:


Always assuming it passes app review. Apple’s into a strange cat-and-mouse with people finding clever stuff to do with the data it provides; it certainly makes the XR an even more attractive phone.
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Mirai co-author gets six months confinement, $8.6m in fines for Rutgers attacks • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Paras Jha, a 22-year-old computer whiz from Fanwood, N.J., was studying computer science at Rutgers when he developed Mirai along with two other convicted co-conspirators. According to sentencing memo submitted by government prosecutors, in his freshman and sophomore years at Rutgers Jha used a collection of hacked devices to launch at least four distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the university’s networks.

Jha told investigators he carried out the attacks not for profit but purely for personal, juvenile reasons: “He reveled in the uproar caused by the first attack, which he launched to delay upper-classmen registration for an advanced computer science class he wanted to take,” the government’s sentencing memo stated. “The second attack was launched to delay his calculus exam. The last two attacks were motivated in part by the publicity and outrage” his previous attacks had generated. Jha would later drop out of Rutgers after struggling academically.

In January 2017, almost a year before Jha’s arrest and guilty plea, KrebsOnSecurity identified Jha as the likely co-author of Mirai — which sprang to notoriety after a record-smashing Sept. 2016 attack that sidelined this Web site for nearly four days.

That story posited that Jha, operating under the pseudonyms “Ogmemes” and “OgRichardStallman,” gave interviews with a local paper in which he taunted Rutgers and encouraged the school to consider purchasing some kind of DDoS protection service to ward off future attacks. At the time, Jha was president and co-founder of ProTraf Solutions, a DDoS mitigation firm that provided just such a service.


The case of Mirai, and Jha, is part of a chapter in my book Cyber Wars; Krebs’s detective work in piecing together the tiny clues he left (accidentally) to his online identity was outstanding. That may not have been how the FBI tracked Jha down, but after Krebs’s work it became Jha’s task to deny it, because the evidence was so overwhelming.

Of note is that prosecutors didn’t push for jail time because Jha and two co-conspirators “helped investigators with multiple other ongoing cybercrime investigations”. Jha was thus already on five years’ probation. And that $8.6m is going to be hard to find, at least legally.
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Apple’s iconic stores struggle in China • The Information

Wayne Ma:


Apple had to navigate a maze of government bureaucracy to obtain everything from business and tax licenses to construction, fire and customs permits for imported building materials, former employees say. The regulatory framework in China is far more complicated than in the US, with many more layers of government, these former employee say, and it’s far more opaque. Employees frequently scrambled to chase down permits and local approvals to keep store openings on track, they said.

Two former employees said it was common for Apple to receive calls from low-level government bureaucrats asking for free iPhones and other products. Apple had a zero-tolerance policy toward bribery, they said.

In addition, Apple found itself in a tug-of-war between the Beijing and Shanghai local governments over taxes, forcing it to split its retail stores in China between two legal entities to appease city officials. In Shanghai, for example, the city government wouldn’t allow Apple to build a store until it created an additional legal entity in the city, which siphoned away some of Apple’s taxes that would have gone to Beijing, according to three former employees. “It eventually became a huge operational nightmare as every vendor had to have two contracts,” one former Apple employee said…

…Apple, too, had to contend with scalpers, known as “yellow cows” in colloquial Chinese. These scalpers swarmed its stores and elbowed out other customers during product launches and in-store promotions.

In 2016, for example, Apple offered Chinese students a pair of free Beats headphones with the purchase of a laptop as part of a back-to-school sale with the goal of hooking young customers on Apple products. Instead, scalpers hijacked the promotion by organizing busloads of hired students to buy the products, according to four former Apple employees familiar with the matter.

One morning, two charter buses pulled up to an Apple store in Beijing carrying about 80 students led by a man holding a flag like a tourist guide, according to a former employee who witnessed the event. One man lined them up outside the store and assigned each student a number. A second handed them a credit card once inside. A third waited outside to collect the laptops and headphones.


Amazed that Apple would leave itself open to such an obvious scam.
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IBM to acquire Red Hat for about $33bn • WSJ

Robert McMillan:


IBM rivals and Microsoft have jumped ahead of it in recent years in the business of providing computing power and software for rent. But Ms. Rometty said in an interview that the market is moving into a second chapter in which customers will want to work with multiple cloud providers. That should boost interest in so-called hybrid services in which companies run programs that use computing resources from their own servers and web services from IBM and others at the same time, she said.

“This is an inflection point,” Ms. Rometty said.

Red Hat will help IBM with that effort because it is a leading provider of open-source software and services that help companies bridge different platforms, she said.

The deal comes nearly seven years into Ms. Rometty’s struggle to revamp the 107-year-old company by shrinking older, slower-growth lines of business and focusing heavily on cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and cloud computing. That effort led to nearly six years of falling revenue, which IBM finally reversed in January with three straight quarters of growth.

But in the latest quarter IBM’s revenue dipped 2.1%, despite the booming corporate tech-buying market. IBM’s stock price is down 19% over the past year. For this year, analysts expect IBM to record $79.75bn in revenue and adjusted profits of $13.80 a share, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. In 2011, the year before Ms. Rometty became CEO, IBM posted $106.92bn in revenue and adjusted profits of $13.44 a share.

IBM plans to pay $190 a share for Red Hat in what IBM said would be its largest acquisition ever. IBM plans to use cash and debt to make the acquisition. At the end of the third quarter, it held $14.7bn in cash.


Putting the acquisition into debt won’t hurt too much (debt is cheap at present; as long as you make *some* profit you can service it). IBM’s hope seems to be that it can be a provider to the properly big cloud companies, or else persuade corporations it is their real friend.

I don’t think it will work. The IBM era is really dead; this is its last gasp, a final twitch. IBM got into open source early on, so the acquisition made sense there. But it doesn’t have the lock on enterprise it used to. Younger rivals (Google! Amazon! Microsoft, 75 years younger!) have disrupted it thoroughly, and it’s not coming back from that.

Ben Thompson has what I think is the same viewpoint over at Stratechery.
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Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media can’t escape responsibility • Washington Post

Max Boot:


This nonstop drumbeat of over-the-top invective and irrational conspiracy theories can drive otherwise sane conservatives to extremism — and it can drive those who were already unstable to violence. The New York Times reports that until 2016, Cesar Sayoc’s Facebook page was full of “decadent meals, gym workouts, scantily clad women and sports games. . . . But that year, Mr. Sayoc’s social media presence took on a darker and more partisan tone.” That’s when he began posting “stories from Infowars, World Net Daily, Breitbart and other right-wing websites,” which “showed a fascination with Islamist terrorism, illegal immigration and anti-Clinton conspiracy theories.”

Naturally, when Sayoc sent letter bombs to Trump’s critics, the right-wing media claimed it must be a “false flag” operation. Once the preserve of the paranoid radio host Alex Jones, this lunacy is now propagated by the likes of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Dinesh D’Souza, Frank Gaffney, Donald Trump Jr. and Michael Savage. D’Souza tweeted: “Fake sexual assault victims. Fake refugees. Now fake mail bombs. We are all learning how the media left are masters of distortion, deflection & deception.” Trump himself appeared to give winking support to this crackpot theory by referring to “this ‘Bomb’ stuff.” Even after Sayoc’s arrest, few “false flag” theorists recanted or apologized.

There is partisanship on both sides of the political spectrum, but no left-wing outlets propagate extremism as successfully or widely as conservative media do. A new study of “Network Propaganda” by three Harvard researchers notes that liberals, by and large, get their news from sources such as The Post, the Times, NPR and CNN that, regardless of any political bias, also engage in rigorous fact-checking. Conservatives, by contrast, are being brainwashed by right-wing media that are an “echo chamber” for “rumor and conspiracy theory.”


Boot is a former Republican who has grown sick and tired of the handwaving away of extremism by his ex-party.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.940: Pixel 3 v iPhone XS camera, how to make solar win, is China hijacking net traffic?, Gab faces mute, and more

Hard to think VR headsets haven’t caught on in a big way, isn’t it? Photo by Nan Palmero 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The dream of virtual reality is dying • The Outline

Joshua Topolsky:


Several prominent studios have shut down or ceased VR efforts, including Viacom and AltspaceVR, and Microsoft is a steadfast “no” when it comes to dipping its toes in the water via the Xbox. Sony has boasted about sales of the PSVR hitting 3 million in two years, but there are 82 million PS4 units in the hands of consumers (and keep in mind that Microsoft sold 35 million Kinects but still discontinued the product). With cumbersome hardware (which, let’s be honest, looks really stupid to most people), absurd PC requirements, and nearly no AAA titles to lure the curious into the world of VR, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that we’ll see a major shift to virtual reality any time soon.

Also worth noting: if you’re looking to Magic Leap for a kind of bridge to the future with its AR efforts, don’t get too wound up. Brian Merchant’s excellent and detailed feature story for Gizmodo on the company’s struggles to get around the same hardware, software, and consumer adoption issues that plague VR make it clear there is no easy answer in this space.


The top quote is from the CEO of CCP Games, responsible for Eve:Online, who says “We expected VR to be two to three times as big as it was, period… A lot of people bought headsets just to try it out. How many of those people are active? We found that in terms of our data, a lot of users weren’t”.

But would two or three times larger have really given it enough momentum? Anyway, off it goes through the Trapdoor of Doom (a little-known opening in the Hype Cycle).
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Stripe steps away from Gab network after synagogue shooting • Irish Times

Tim Bradshaw:


Stripe and PayPal, as well as hosting provider Joyent, all said they would stop Gab from using their services, citing violations of their terms of services, which do not allow hate speech.

Gab slammed the moves as “direct collusion between big tech giants” against it.

Stripe, the Silicon Valley-based online payments company established by Limerick brothers Patrick and John Collison, said over the weekend that it was suspending transfers “effective immediately”.

The company said Gab founder Andrew Torba had not “provided us sufficient evidence that Gab actually prevents violations of our policies”.

“If there’s more information you can provide on how exactly Gab will moderate its platform for adult content and other violations of our ToS [terms of service], we’re open to having a phone call this week to discuss,” the payments company said.

The moves are likely to reopen the debate about the limits of free speech online and the potential for social networks to radicalise users.

Gab was launched two years ago by tech entrepreneur Andrew Torba, who became frustrated with what he perceived as a bias against conservative views on California-based social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.


(Bradshaw being syndicated from the FT. This seems to be the edition where we find people being syndicated, as you’ll see.)
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Attacks on Jewish people rising on Instagram and Twitter, researchers say • NBC News

David Ingram:


Researchers who study social media say that they are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic posts from far-right users of Instagram and Twitter and that the services aren’t doing enough about it.

Separate researchers who were independently looking at the two social networks said attacks on Jewish people had spiked on both services ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 6, similar to a rise in harassment before the 2016 presidential election.

Many but not all of the posts mention billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, the researchers said. Soros is frequently the subject of unfounded conspiracy theories, and his home was among the targets in a series of attempted bombings this month.

Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia University in New York who directs a center on digital forensics, told NBC News that the amount of anti-Semitic material posted to Instagram and tied to Soros was possibly the worst sample of hate speech he had seen on the site.

The recommended top posts for the hashtag “#soros” on Instagram on Thursday included a photo of Soros with the caption “I am the devil” and a cartoon suggesting that Soros and other targets of the explosive devices were themselves behind the bombs, a “false flag” conspiracy theory that gained traction online before the arrest of a Florida man on Friday.


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China systematically hijacks internet traffic: researchers • iTnews

Juha Saarinen:


Researchers have mapped out a series of internet traffic hijacks and redirections that they say are part of large espionage and intellectual property theft effort by China.

The researchers, Chris Demchak of the United States Naval War College and Yuval Shavitt of the Tel Aviv University in Israel, say in their paper that state-owned China Telecom hijacked and diverted internet traffic going to or passing through the US and Canada to China on a regular basis.

Tel Aviv University researchers built a route tracing system that monitors BGP announcements  and which picks up on patterns suggesting accidental or deliberate hijacks and discovered multiple attacks by China Telecom over the past few years.

In 2016, China Telecom diverted traffic between Canada and Korean government networks to its PoP in Toronto. From there, traffic was forwarded to the China Telecom PoP on the US West Coast and sent to China, and finally delivered to Korea.

Normally, the traffic would take a shorter route, going between Canada, the US and directly to Korea. The traffic hijack lasted for six months, suggesting it was a deliberate attack, Demchak and Shavitt said.

Demchak and Shavitt detailed other traffic hijacks, including one that saw traffic from US locations to a large Anglo-American bank’s Milan headquarters being terminated in China, and never delivered to Italy, in 2016.


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The global tech backlash is just beginning • The Toronto Star

Christopher Mims:


The largest tech businesses reach more people than any other companies have in history, and by many metrics they have also grown at unprecedented speeds. The companies themselves argue tech is bringing great benefits to people and improving their lives, yet when they enter industries, they consolidate power and make competitors miserable in ways not seen since the Gilded Age.

As people around the world become more familiar with the internet, their views tend to change from enthusiasm to caution. A survey by the Centre for International Governance Innovation reveal that in Kenya, for example, people are singularly positive about the impact of tech, whereas in North America and Europe, people are more concerned about Big Tech’s overreach.

“Familiarity breeds contempt,” says Fen Hampson, director of global security and politics at CIGI, who conducted the survey.

As the backlash plays out, it has the potential to subdivide the internet, forcing the biggest players to create separate products and procedures for different regions. The results—following a costly, complicated and protracted transition—will be better for consumers in some cases, and significantly worse in others. Europe and the U.S. The global tech backlash starts in the West, where countries have been feeling the results of Big Tech’s growing power the longest.


(Syndicated from his home at the WSJ. Free to read!)
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Corporate tax and tech companies in the UK • Tax Watch UK

George Turner:


In this paper we seek to estimate the revenues made by five of the largest technology companies in the world – the Tech 5 – from their UK customers. The companies included in the study are: Apple, Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems and Microsoft. We then estimate the profits these companies are making from their UK sales based on the published profit margins of those companies. From there we can make an estimate of how much tax these companies would generate in the absence of profit shifting.

In total we estimate that in 2017 these five companies earned revenues of £23.4 bn from UK customers. We further estimate that profit attributable to these sales was £6.6bn, which at the prevailing rates would have given a tax liability of £1.26bn.

The profits declared in the accounts of the UK subsidiaries of these companies, and their tax liabilities, were far less. In total, the accounts of the main UK subsidiaries of the companies we looked at suggested a combined tax liability of £191m. This is more than £1bn less than we calculate would have been due if the accounts of the UK subsidiaries of the Tech 5 more accurately reflected the revenues and profits made from UK customers.

These findings bring into focus just how much money the UK government is losing to profit shifting by large multinationals every year, and how efforts to combat this practice have largely failed. To put this into context, HMRC estimates that corporation tax avoidance by all large companies costs the Treasury just £700m a year.


It’s budget day in the UK. But according to Turner, “We find that years of naming and shaming, tax investigations and efforts to change the tax system have largely failed.”
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The death of FilmStruck is a dark day in the history of movies • Slate

Joanna Scutts:


The strangled corporate newspeak of the memo announcing the closure, with its reference to the “learnings” to be gleaned from the FilmStruck experiment, engenders the same kind of helpless rage as the tortured syntax of Donald Trump’s tweets—it’s so painfully revealing of the kind of grandiose carelessness that is the hallmark of power right now.

As Warner gears up to face down Disney with its direct-to-consumer streaming service, launching next year, it’s clear that the company has no interest in catering to passionate fans of its back catalog, only in chasing the largest possible audience for its new releases. What’s not clear is why it has to be a zero-sum game, and why efforts at preservation and education have to be eliminated in order to chase the biggest possible audience and present them with a library far broader than it is deep. As the screenwriter John August recently pointed out, there are still hundreds of movies from the home-video era that are not available to stream, and the availability of older titles is even more of a patchwork. This is a slow erosion of cultural heritage under the guise of infinite availability. Titles that are not available to stream will be harder to assign in classes, will cease to bubble up into the cultural awareness, and will eventually cease to matter.


It seems possible – likely, even? – that Warner could just add the Filmstruck catalogue to whatever it launches next year? Yet this seems to be completely discounted as an idea. What would Warner lose by doing that?
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Let’s store solar and wind energy – by using compressed air • The Conversation

Seamus Garvey is professor of dynamics at the University of Nottingham:


The concept seems simple: you just suck in some air from the atmosphere, compress it using electrically-driven compressors and store the energy in the form of pressurised air. When you need that energy you just let the air out and pass it through a machine that takes the energy from the air and turns an electrical generator.

Compressed air energy storage (or CAES), to give it its full name, can involve storing air in steel tanks or in much less expensive containments deep underwater. In some cases, high pressure air can be stored in caverns deep underground, either excavated directly out of hard rock or formed in large salt deposits by so-called “solution mining”, where water is pumped in and salty water comes out. Such salt caverns are often used to store natural gas.

Compressed air could easily deliver the required scale of storage, but it remains grossly undervalued by policymakers, funding bodies and the energy industry itself. This has stunted the development of the technology and means it is likely that much more expensive and less effective solutions will instead be adopted. At present, three key problems stand in the way of compressed air…


One of them is that it’s too long-lived. Weirdly. Because money likes things that work quickly, not over the course of 50 or 100 years.
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The secret to making green tech like solar panels go mainstream • Daily Beast

Tarpley Hitt:


[MIT professor David] Rand and [Yale psychology grad student Gordon] Kraft-Todd used the data—conveniently split into two distinct groups of towns, towns where representatives installed solar panels and towns where representatives did not—to figure out what made customers adopt solar energy. They found that when people saw an ambassador who used solar panels, they were inclined to buy one for themselves. As part of each campaign, Solarize tapped several locals to serve as “solar ambassadors,” or people who would act as the primary representatives for the campaign in their town.

Rand and Kraft-Todd focused on these figures, wondering what made some ambassadors better than others.

They found that figures who were central to city operations–an alderperson, a well-known community volunteer, or other public servants–were often tapped for their name recognition, even if they didn’t have solar energy in their own homes.

As a result, only a small minority of the “solar ambassadors” actually used the energy they were talking so much about. In Rand and Kraft-Todd’s survey of 58 towns, only 32.7% of the ambassadors had actually installed solar panels through the Solarize program. They didn’t walk the talk, and solar panel adoption was weak in these towns.

But in towns where the ambassador had panels themselves, 62.8% more people adopted solar panels.


It’s very much about “I’ll do what you do, not what you say.”
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AIs trained to help with sepsis treatment, fracture diagnosis • Ars Technica

John Timmer:


The new research isn’t intended to create an AI that replaces these doctors; rather, it’s intended to help them out.

The team recruited 18 orthopedic surgeons to diagnose over 135,0000 images of potential wrist fractures, and then it used that data to train their algorithm, a deep-learning convolutional neural network. The algorithm was used to highlight areas of interest to doctors who don’t specialize in orthopedics. In essence, it was helping them focus on areas that are mostly likely to contain a break.

In the past, trials like this have resulted in over-diagnosis, where doctors would recommend further tests for something that’s harmless. But in this case, the accuracy went up as false positives went down. The sensitivity (or ability) to identify fractures went from 81% up to 92%, while the specificity (or ability to make the right diagnosis) rose from 88% to 94%. Combined, these results mean that ER docs would have seen their misdiagnosis rate drop by nearly half.

Neither of these involved using the software in a context that fully reflects medically relevant circumstances. Both ER doctors and those treating sepsis (who may be one and the same) will normally have a lot of additional concerns and distractions, so it may be a challenge to integrate AI use into their process.


That is the point, isn’t it: it’s great when you’re not trying to figure out which of 15 different possible wrong things is wrong with the patient.
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Pixel 3 vs. iPhone XS camera face-off: why Google wins • Tom’s Guide

Caitlin McGarry:


The iPhone XS takes more natural shots with colors that are more true to life. Its dual-lens shooter takes portraits that also are more DSLR-like than the Pixel’s. But the Pixel 3 edges out the iPhone XS thanks to the help of software that turns out bright, crisp and colorful photos, even in at night. We’re betting the Pixel 3’s low-light images will look even better when the promised Night Sight features debuts in a software update. With Night Sight, the Pixel will then combine several low-light frames to fill in details and make the final image look brighter.

Some photographers don’t want software doing all the work. In that case, the iPhone XS provides a more natural-looking shot you can take to the next level with your own editing (or an artfully applied Instagram filter). But the Pixel 3’s camera will only get smarter, and we’re looking forward to seeing what other features are in store.


The sort of comparison we’ve been looking for. The Pixel 3’s smart stacking of exposures to do Night Sight (but it’s more than that) and for street scenes is quite something.
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Apple: the second-best tech company in the world • The Outline

Joshua Topolsky:


Apple’s lack of data (and its inability or unwillingness to blend large swaths of data) actually seems to be one of the issues driving its slippage in software innovation. While Google is using its deep pool of user data to do astounding things like screen calls or make reservations for users with AI, map the world in more detail, identify objects and describe them in real-time, and yes — make its cameras smarter, faster, and better looking — Apple devices seem increasingly disconnected from the world they exist in (and sometimes even their own platforms).

As both Amazon and Google have proven in the digital assistant and voice computing space, the more things you know about your users, the better you can actually serve them. Apple, on the other hand, wants to keep you inside its tools, safe from the potential dangers of data misuse or abuse certainly, but also marooned on a narrow island, sanitized and distanced from the riches that data can provide when used appropriately.


I’m willing to be corrected, but I don’t think it’s deep pools of user data that Google’s using for Call Screening or Duplex. It’s AI systems which have been taught on quite different sets of data from email. (I don’t know what they have been taught on.) Certainly, user data makes maps better, and the data from Google Photos does – that’s probably a key input to the photo system on the Pixel 3.

But that data does exist, and whether Apple starts to use it more broadly is a key question for the future. It’s the collision of questions: can you improve the camera (and other systems) without embedded AI? At present the answer seems to be no. (Though might that be just because when everything’s getting AI, getting AI seems like the only answer.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Ahead of Apple’s earnings and new kit: 14 graphs to think about

On Tuesday Apple’s holding a big event in New York – 10am EST, 2pm GMT (which we’re now on in the UK). And then on Thursday it announces its financial results for the quarter to the end of September, which marks the end of its financial year.

(OK, Apple held its event. And Engadget wrote an item about it, and linked to this! Welcome, Engadget clickers-through, and clickers-through from sites which rip off Engadget’s content. This isn’t all there is to the site: You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post, a collection about 10 links on tech, science, and who knows what else, by email at about 0800 GMT. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam. Or just come back here each day after 0700 GMT. OK, on with the show.)

With many thanks to Dr Drang, I’ve been shuffling Python for the past, oh, a while, using Pythonista and its included matplotlib, plus of course Apple’s financials, to put together some graphs showing what the story so far – that is, ahead of its financials – are. When we have those, I’ve also got a Python script that will scrape the PDF (yes it will! Unless they’ve changed something and begun to break out Wearables revenue or Apple Watch sales, which would be both good and bad) and update the graphs. So we get two bites of this particular charticular cherry.

So here are the graphs, in an order that I think makes a vague kind of sense. Every one tells its own little story, I think.

Graph 1: ASPs for hardware. The little blobs are – if the legend isn’t clear enough – the data point for the year-before quarter, so when we’re looking at the end of the financial 3rd quarter (FQ3, as here) then it shows FQ3 for previous financial years. In all these graphs I’ve gone back 40 quarters – 10 years – unless there isn’t the data to support it. I figure 10 years is enough to get a view.

Of course we don’t know what the ASP for the Apple Watch or various doodads such as Beats headphones are, but these are the big-ticket items that Apple sells. The general story? Look at how the iPad ASP keeps getting beaten down. And look at how the iPhone ASP has looked perky in the past four quarters. Ditto for the Mac, though it’s only at the level it used to be after some years when it fell regularly. You can’t see any effect from $5,000 Mac Pros in there, can you?

This shows how the iPhone dominates everything, of course. But look too at Services – which began outstripping all other hardware back in FQ2 of 2016 (ie early in 2016) and apart from a brief attempt by the Mac around Christmas 2017, hasn’t looked back. More people subscribing to Apple Music, more people paying a little bit for iCloud; it adds up.

This is the same story, but showing you how little (if you like) services are. I think it also shows that bar graphs are bad at illustrating data, especially when you compare it to the one above and the one below. At the suggestion of Kevin Marks, I’ve redrawn it so that Services are on the bottom – which I think shows its rise and relative size well.

But how fast is it rising compared to hardware sales? Let’s see…

Note that this is a two-axis graph – hardware (iPhone, Mac, iPad, ‘Other’) on the left, Services on the right, figures in $m. They have different scales: Hardware is getting on for 5-10x the size of Services. But Services is growing faster – look how its slope is steeper than the moving average for hardware. (The moving average is for the past four quarters, also known as the “trailing twelve-month” average. This is good for ironing out blips like you see from the very seasonal hardware business.)

Another view of the main hardware lines that we know. It was a form of this graph by Dr Drang that got me interested in plotting all this stuff. Notice that big bump in the iPhone moving average in 2015, caused by the huge sales of the iPhone 6 (with the large screen) at the end of 2014. Ben Thompson makes the point that the introduction of the big screens pulled forward a ton of purchases, but since then it seems to have settled into a steady state, albeit yo-yoing hugely by a factor of nearly 2.

The iPad meanwhile had its day of glory but is now settling into a sort of respectable middle age. Unless, of course, Apple comes up with something dramatic on Tuesday. An iPad Pro that can appeal to would-be Mac buyers? Except it gets more money from Mac buyers. (See the ASP graph at the top.) Or are iPads better for Apple because they create more services revenue? Hmm. Macs, meanwhile, chug along, not varying much on this view.

Another twin-axis graph, where the aim is to show trends in overall profitability. You might expect that if there’s more Services business, Apple would make more money – that’s usually the trend in services – but the widening gap between the two lines (Revenue, in orange, is going up faster than Operating profit, in green) suggests otherwise. Maybe it really is better to sell stuff you can drop on your foot. Based on this, the best profitability was from late in 2011 to the end of 2013, when the Op Profit line is “above” (relatively) the revenue line. That’s the iPhone 4S/5/5S era.

Putting both sales and ASP onto a single graph reveals something: although average sales are steady, the ASP is going up, quite sharply. (Neil Cybart has also pointed to this recently, and thinks it’s due to aftermarket iPhone use – people sell their on, or give to a relative, and then go out and buy a shiny new expensive one.) Again, is this going to continue? There’s no obvious reason why it shouldn’t – though Apple might need to worry about people deciding not to upgrade at all.

As for the strange low iPhone ASP at the 2008 mark – Apple used to have a strange accounting method which depressed the figure. It’ll disappear with the next set of results.

Ah, the iPad – the reason (or part of it) we’re talking today. From those lofty ASPs at the start, it has all gone a bit downhill. Obvious reason: the iPad mini, introduced in October 2012. (The led to the left-hand of the three peak years there.) Since then the price has mostly stabilised, but the introduction earlier this year of a cheaper low-end full-size iPad (which is actually cheaper than the mini) seems to have depressed the ASP even more. One expects Apple will want to reverse this with pricier iPads on Tuesday. (Since you’re wondering: I think that the Smart Keyboard and other appendages for the iPad count as “Other” in revenue terms; the Pencil isn’t part of the iPad line directly.)

So now, the Mac. What’s Apple going to do about the MacBook Air? And the MacBook? The data here show contrasting stories: ASP is going up (yay!) but sales are trending down (boo!). What is the product that will get those people who have been sitting on their hands to come out and buy? Clearly, the iMac Pro hasn’t had a big effect on sales (though maybe it juiced the ASP). For the same reason, don’t expect the Mac Pro to make a big impact on this graph when it appears in a few quarters: laptops are more than 80% of Mac sales.

To me the answer seems to be: come up with an even more attractive MacBook Air. Price it about the same. Give it a retina screen. That’s about all you need. Oh, and a “professional” Mac mini of course. Who could forget that?

Starting to dig in to the weeds a little now. Inventory is “stuff you’ve got sitting in warehouses and haven’t sold to carriers or other middlemen”. You can see how it jumps each year, but it *really* jumped by the end of the first (calendar) quarter of 2018. In general, the more stuff (especially different items) you have to sell, the bigger the inventory figure. So let’s get a clearer idea of what’s going on: what if you look at inventory as a percentage of hardware revenue?

Hmm, so for years Apple was really good at handling this: inventory was less than 1 PER CENT of hardware revenue. Then in 2016 – Apple Watch/band time? – it bumped up. And though it keeps going down beneath that 1% number, the trend seems to be up. Tim Cook hates inventory: he likens it to milk, which can go off. There probably aren’t many MacBook Airs and old iPad Pros in that inventory number (we’ll have a clearer idea of how well it planned after Thursday’s financials).

So why is it so big? Well, one possibility is that some of this inventory isn’t stuff that will get sold any time soon. “Inventory” isn’t a block; you have “finished goods inventory”, “work-in-progress inventory” (ie it’s being put together) and “raw goods inventory” (just parts on the floor). I think Apple does break this out in at least some of its SEC filings, so might have a closer look separately. The balance of finished-v-WIP-v-raw can tell you a lot.

Research and development! It’s going up! This is probably not a surprise. Heading towards $4bn per quarter, which strikes me as a lot of money.

What if we try the same thing as with inventory, to look at how R&D has shifted with revenue? This obviously jumps around somewhat; the line to look at is the moving average, The dip in 2011-13 is interesting (and unexplained by anything I know about). And now? It’s zooming up – self-driving cars and augmented reality glasses, right?

Finally: by geographies. Again, look at the moving average more than the individual numbers. Apple only started breaking out geographies with retail included in 2012, which is why the graph starts there. (Before that it had retail as a separate “area”. It also used to give you operating income for each geography, which is a hell of a data point.)

What do we see here? The Americas (principally US and Canada) zooming off into the distance. But the really notable one to me is China, which is the line that if you start on the left is third down (Americas, Europe, China, AsiaPac, Japan.)

China zooms up in 2015 – there’s the iPhone 6 effect again – but then falls back quite dramatically, so that Europe has now overtaken it again for the past couple of years. It’s possible that all the expectations around China were misplaced. It’s big, but its growth is only as strong as Europe unless something dramatic happens next quarter. But even that would only be a quarter, not a trend.

The Americas, meanwhile, are zooming ahead. That’s where the strong growth seems to be.

But let’s check back in a few days!

One note about the graphs: you’ll notice (now I mention it) that I haven’t used any “percentage change” graphs. I tried a few experimentally, but it turns out they just look a mess. Using the TTM/4Q moving average (same thing) gives you a clearer idea of what’s happening, and picking out the corresponding quarter does the job of telling growth or shrinkage pretty well. Percent growth has its place, but I didn’t find it to be on any of these graphs.

Start Up No.939: how Google protected Rubin, AI art makes big bucks, British Airways hacked again, crypto ‘journalism’ for sale, and more

A Carver yacht, built in Wisconsin. How do you think price changes affect sales? Photo by Port of San Diego 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. Thank goodness you read this bit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AI art at Christie’s sells for $432,500 • The New York Times

Gabe Cohn:


Last Friday, a portrait produced by artificial intelligence was hanging at Christie’s New York opposite an Andy Warhol print and beside a bronze work by Roy Lichtenstein. On Thursday, it sold for well over double the price realized by both those pieces combined.

“Edmond de Belamy, from La Famille de Belamy” sold for $432,500 including fees, over 40 times Christie’s initial estimate of $7,000-$10,000. The buyer was an anonymous phone bidder.

The portrait, by the French art collective Obvious, was marketed by Christie’s as the first portrait generated by an algorithm to come up for auction. It was inspired by a sale earlier this year, in which the French collector Nicolas Laugero Lasserre bought a portrait directly from the collective for about 10,000 euros, or about $11,400.


GPU rig got surpassed by ASICS? Get it painting instead. (Though the picture that was auctioned did look a bit like this human-generated one to me.)
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How Google protected Andy Rubin, the ‘father of Android’ • The New York Times

Daisuke Wakabayashi and Katie Benner:


Mr. Rubin often berated subordinates as stupid or incompetent, they said. Google did little to curb that behavior. It took action only when security staff found bondage sex videos on Mr. Rubin’s work computer, said three former and current Google executives briefed on the incident. That year, the company docked his bonus, they said.

Mr. Singer, the spokesman for Mr. Rubin, said the executive “is known to be transparent and forthcoming with his feedback.” He said Mr. Rubin never called anyone incompetent.

Mr. Rubin, 55, who met his wife at Google, also dated other women at the company while married, said four people who worked with him. In 2011, he had a consensual relationship with a woman on the Android team who did not report to him, they said. They said Google’s human resources department was not informed, despite rules requiring disclosure when managers date someone who directly or indirectly reports to them.

In a civil suit filed this month by Mr. Rubin’s ex-wife, Rie Rubin, she claimed he had multiple “ownership relationships” with other women during their marriage, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to them. The couple were divorced in August.

The suit included a screenshot of an August 2015 email Mr. Rubin sent to one woman. “You will be happy being taken care of,” he wrote. “Being owned is kinda like you are my property, and I can loan you to other people.”


These two journalists have been researching this story for about a year, they say; others have also been trying to pull it together.

But also, it’s not only about Rubin. It’s other men who were in senior positions, had credible accusations made against them, and then were forgiven or given big payoffs. And it’s the latter point which is important. Sure, Google is a big company; it’s going to have some misbehaviour. What’s important is how it deals with it. This isn’t good.

In an email to staff, Sundar Pichai denied none of this, and said 48 people had been fired for sexual harassment since 2015 and that none had received payoffs.
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Half of the crypto news outlets we asked would take cash to post our content • Breaker Mag

Corin Faife:


The level of deception used was minimal: we created a fake email account, and claimed to be representing a PR company. There was no fake website or domain associated; it was simply a Gmail address with a profile picture found by image searching “Russian actor.” (I’m sorry to whoever he really is, but for our purposes this is Nikolay Kostarev, a Moscow-based PR agent.)

Next we compiled a list of blockchain media sites. This was by no means exhaustive, but to have a sense of the scale of the problem, we needed numbers. All in all, we reached out to 28 sites, and received a yes/no reply from 22 by the time of publication, with two inconclusive.

There were two main steps to the outreach process: first, using the ‘Contact’ or ‘Advertise’ links listed on the site, we sent an email to request price information:


I am representing a blockchain PR company from  Moscow, Russia,
and would like information on the rate for advertising on [WEBSITE].
Many thanks in advance,
Nikolay K.


In response, we usually received a price list, or in some cases, a brochure of media rates. Usually this included information on buying banner ads, press release publication, or partnerships to create sponsored content.

If the outlet replied offering any of the above, we sent a further email with a proposal:


Hello [NAME],
Thank you for the reply and information.
Many of my ICO clients want coverage written about them.
But some would like it to not be marked “Sponsored”.
Is this possible?


Of course, the simple response to this should be “no.” Indeed, many outlets did respond to tell us that all paid advertising had to be clearly labelled, or to suggest that we opt for another form of sponsored post instead.

Sadly, those that took this route were in the minority.

Of the 22 outlets who replied conclusively, 12 of them—more than half the total—were willing to publish paid content without disclosing it as such.


And yes, they also name and shame, with the prices demanded. Well done.
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Hackers steal personal data of up to 9.4 million Cathay Pacific passengers • Tripwire

Graham Cluley:


Read beyond the headline, however, and you’ll discover that the Hong Kong-based airline has admitted that hackers gained unauthorized access to its internal systems and accessed the passenger data of up to 9.4 million people.

With Hong Kong’s population being approximately 7.4 million people, it’s clear that this is a data breach that impacts travelers around the world.

The personal data accessed by the hackers includes passenger names, nationalities, dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, addresses, passport numbers, identity card numbers, frequent flier membership numbers, customer service remarks and historical travel information.

In addition, 403 expired credit card numbers were accessed by the hackers as well as 27 credit card numbers without CVV information.

It’s obviously good that more financial information wasn’t taken by the hackers, but in many ways, it’s a red herring. After all, it’s relatively simple to freeze a credit card and apply for a new one. It’s a lot more difficult and time-consuming to apply for a new passport or Hong Kong identity card.

In isolation, personal information such as that described above may not be enough for a criminal to commit – say – identity theft, but combined with other pieces of personal data, it can help a fraudster complete the jigsaw.

Although Cathay Pacific has only just announced that it has suffered a hack, that doesn’t mean that the company has only just discovered it has a problem.

The airline says that it first detected “suspicious activity” on its network in March and confirmed that there had been unauthorized access to personal information in early May.

Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg apologized for any concern raised by the “data security event”…


Why on earth has it taken Cathay so long to admit this?
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Second hack attack on BA website uncovered • BBC News


More than 185,000 people may have had payment card details stolen in a hack attack on the BA website.

The victims were caught out by a website compromise that had gone undetected for months.
BA only discovered the breach while investigating a breach of its website in September, which affected 380,000 transactions.

BA owner IAG said both attacks seemed to have been carried out by the same group or gang.
It added that it would contact the customers to let them know that their information had gone astray.


A new one – and this will be the Magecart group again. (He said, having made a BA booking after the first hack was discovered.)

Wonder if this will drive companies to actually strengthen their sites against pulling in hacked scripts? Problem is that if you’re pulling in scripts from your own site, how do you protect them against being changed? MD5 hashes for web pages?
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Tariffs on boats, cribs, bourbon, more rattle Wisconsin manufacturers • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Rick Barrett:


Rob Parmentier has weathered some rough times in the boat-building business, but the trade wars with China, Europe, Canada and Mexico have shaken him to the core.

“It’s been catastrophic,” said Parmentier, president and CEO of Marquis-Larson Boat Group, which builds Carver yachts in Pulaski, Wisconsin.

The first “hand grenade,” as Parmentier described it, was a 25% tariff the European Union placed this year on boats built in the US, along with scores of other products including Harley-Davidson motorcycles. 

Then there was a 10% tariff slapped on boats shipped to Canada, along with price increases up to 40% on boat building materials. 

It’s sent a shock wave through US boat manufacturers. “We’ve had a lot of order cancellations. Canada and Europe have essentially stopped buying boats,” Parmentier said.

About 450 people work at the company, a large employer in a town of 3,600 residents. If boat orders continue to slide because of the trade wars, Parmentier said, it will trigger layoffs that could last a long time. “We’ve been absorbing some of the additional costs … hoping the tariffs will go away. But we can only do that for so long,” he said.


Didn’t realise boat purchasing was so price-elastic. Next question is whether those who voted for Trump in that area will see it’s his fault, with tariffs that are a retaliation for the ones he imposed. Then again, Wisconsin was one of the states where he squeaked in by a few thousand votes; one of the three which gave him his perverse electoral college victory. It doesn’t have to affect many.
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Google’s Night Sight for Pixel phones will amaze you • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


Google’s Pixel phones have already changed and improved smartphone photography dramatically, but the latest addition to them might be the biggest leap forward yet. Night Sight is the next evolution of Google’s computational photography, combining machine learning, clever algorithms, and up to four seconds of exposure to generate shockingly good low-light images. I’ve tried it ahead of its upcoming release, courtesy of a camera app tweak released by XDA Developers user cstark27, and the results are nothing short of amazing. Even in its pre-official state before Google is officially happy enough to ship it, this new night mode makes any Pixel phone that uses it the best low-light camera.

Let’s take a look at a few examples, shall we? All of the shots below are taken with the Pixel 3 XL: first with the default settings and second with the night mode toggled on. Google claims Night Sight will save you from ever having to use the flash again, and so naturally, I didn’t use it with any of these images…

[of a comparison of fire extinguishers] This is easily my favorite comparison because the differences are so obvious that they scarcely need analysis. The default Pixel shot actually does an admirable job — most other phones would smudge the text to smithereens in such challenging conditions — but the night mode completely overhauls the photo. Google says that its machine learning detects what objects are in the frame, and the camera is smart enough to know what color they are supposed to have. That’s part of what makes these reds pop so beautifully.


These are utterly amazing differences. (It might be good to see them against, say, the XR, but there’s no doubt it’s better there.) Applying machine learning to low-light photography isn’t something one would ever expect to do, but it turns out to be a brilliant innovation. Savov is right: this is going to revolutionise mobile photography, all over again.

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The peer review industry: implausible and outrageous • TheTLS

Tim Crane on the bizarre structure created by the compounding of peer review and super-profitable publications:


Why do we – academics, universities, taxpayers – go along with this? This is a complex question, and many things will go into the answer. One part of the answer is that many journals have established their reputations over decades, and academic communities are reluctant to abandon these titles with their established infrastructure and back catalogues. Another part is the difficulty of initiating methods of research publication different from the journal system as it now is. In the TLS of October 27, 2017, Timothy Gowers, Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge – who has been a strong campaigner against the status quo in the world of academic journals – proposed a number of alternatives to the usual peer review structure. The trouble is that significant change requires a level of collective action and cooperation that seems to be beyond academics and universities, now so pitifully competing with one another for everything.


A reminder that the norks who gamed a number of publications with their (not really) nonsense social science articles recently were really gaming the peer review “industry” – one which has little incentive to get stuff right, since its interests aren’t in line with those of the publications.
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When Trump phones friends, the Chinese and the Russians listen and learn • The New York Times

Matthew Rosenberg and Maggie Haberman:


Mr. Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss classified intelligence and sensitive security arrangements. The officials said they were doing so not to undermine Mr. Trump, but out of frustration with what they considered the president’s casual approach to electronic security.

American spy agencies, the officials said, had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials…

…The current and former officials said they have also determined that China is seeking to use what it is learning from the calls — how Mr. Trump thinks, what arguments tend to sway him and to whom he is inclined to listen — to keep a trade war with the United States from escalating further. In what amounts to a marriage of lobbying and espionage, the Chinese have pieced together a list of the people with whom Mr. Trump regularly speaks in hopes of using them to influence the president, the officials said.

Among those on the list are Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group chief executive who has endowed a master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Steve Wynn, the former Las Vegas casino magnate who used to own a lucrative property in Macau…

…Officials said the president has two official iPhones that have been altered by the National Security Agency to limit their abilities — and vulnerabilities — and a third personal phone that is no different from hundreds of millions of iPhones in use around the world. Mr. Trump keeps the personal phone, White House officials said, because unlike his other two phones, he can store his contacts in it…the calls made from the phones are intercepted as they travel through the cell towers, cables and switches that make up national and international cellphone networks. Calls made from any cellphone — iPhone, Android, an old-school Samsung flip phone — are vulnerable.


So he basically doesn’t care. He doesn’t think it’s important to protect the US’s interests, or to weaken its position. Truly, historians will look back on this period with amazement.
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China dismisses claim it eavesdropped on Trump’s iPhone calls • The Guardian

Agence France-Presse:


When asked about the report at a regular news briefing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said: “Certain people in the US are sparing no efforts to win the best screenplay award at the Oscars.”

Hua offered three recommendations to the newspaper and the Trump administration. “First, the New York Times should know if they publish this type of report it provides another piece of evidence of the New York Times making fake news,” she said, using one of Trump’s favourite phrases to disparage unflattering articles.

“Second, if they are worried about Apple phones being listened in on, they should swap them with Huawei phones,” Hua said, referring to one of China’s largest telecommunications firms, which has been largely blocked from the US market over national security concerns.

Lastly, Hua said, “they should stop using any modern communication equipment and cut off contact with the outside” if they wanted to ensure absolute security.


Very sweet, but the hacking is of SS7, not the phone itself.
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Apple pulling high-grossing subscription apps with scammy offers off the App Store • Forbes

John Koetsier:


Apple is systematically combing through the App Store’s subscription apps looking for potentially confusing terms of service and pulling apps that look problematic, according to multiple mobile app developers.

The problem?

Scammy subscription apps charging users hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

I broke the story earlier this month and TechCrunch added more fuel to the fire this week.  Many subscription apps had a large “Free Trial” button with tiny print beneath it detailing the subscription terms, which often totaled hundreds of dollars a year in credit-card charges. Consumers who didn’t read the fine print got caught with sometimes-significant fees.

A developer contact who had a similar app received the following notification from Apple, indicating that his app was being pulled due to its subscription process.

“It seems they are automatically pulling any and every non-big-name app that has a high IAS [in-app subscription revenue],” Albert Renshaw posted on Facebook.

The trial button is the key.

“They’ve been pulling apps and rejecting apps that have a massive button that says ‘X days free” without the price inside that button,” another developer said. “People don’t read the fine print and that’s who they’re after. Before they were lenient but with the negative publicity they’re strict as hell now.”


Good. Scams deserve to get squashed.
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Here’s how this Singaporean streamer earns a five-digit monthly income by playing mobile games • Tech In Asia

Kesavan Loganathan:


Livestreaming games have also made waves in Asia, leading to the creation of new companies mainly for the Chinese and Korean markets. In October 2017, Malaysian broadcaster Astro partnered up with Huomao, an esports livestreaming company in China, to set up Tamago, a livestreaming service for Southeast Asia.

One might be wonder how these livestreamers make their money on their daily broadcasts. “Streamers primarily earn by collecting virtual gifts from their fans while streaming. Esports teams, pro gamers, and popular streamers also stand to earn from sponsorships and streaming contracts,” explains Yubin Ng, head of Tamago.

Recently revealed as a 19-year-old Singaporean gamer, Zxuan is one of the most well-known Mobile Legends gamers in the region, despite previously never showing his face or disclosing his identity to the public.

Zxuan says that when he began livestreaming, he wasn’t immediately popular.

“I’ve only been playing Mobile Legends out of my own interest for the game. I used to make compilation videos of my gameplay on YouTube, but that’s about it,” he reminisces. “I stopped playing for a while until Tamago approached me to start streaming.”

With over 31,000 followers on Tamago and 510,000 on Instagram, Zxuan’s rise has been nothing short of spectacular. In comparison, two of Singapore’s top Twitch streamers have 25,000 and 15,000 followers respectively, which means Zxuan can be considered one of the most popular streamers in Singapore. Thanks to his mastery of Mobile Legends – in particular the assassin-based hero Fanny – he has managed to secure a loyal following that regularly watch him play whenever he streams.

“My Fanny gameplay is what people like the most about my streams, mainly because she is a very difficult hero to master. To get good at Fanny, I used to train up to eight hours per day. I’m happy to share tips and showcase how to play Fanny, people can join my streams on Tamago as I stream almost every night,” says Zxuan.


The 2090 Olympics are going to be awesome, aren’t they. It’ll be like Wall-E. (Note: this article says it’s “branded content”, aka advertorial, but gives a good idea of what’s going on here.)
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Amazon tried to sell ICE its faulty facial recognition tech • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


while HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] and ERO [Enforcement and Removal Office] may be different divisions of DHS [US Department of Homeland Security], there’s a much more immediate, simple reason to oppose the deployment of these programs or their sale to law enforcement: They don’t work well. If you’re white, a program like Rekognition is up to 99% accurate. If you aren’t, accuracy craters. According to tests performed by the MIT Media Lab, facial recognition software solutions from IBM, Microsoft, and Face++ misidentified darker-skinned women as men 35% of the time. Men with darker skin tones were misgendered in 12% of cases, up to 7% with lighter-skinned women, and 1% of the time with lighter-skinned men. As I’ve written about before, human beings are far too likely to believe that computers are infallible to be handed software in which between 1 in 3 and 1 in 14 people are likely to be misidentified or tagged mistakenly.

While these tests didn’t include Rekognition, the ACLU tested Amazon’s solution in July by running the members of Congress through the Rekognition database. The test resulted in 28 false positives for crimes. People of color represent 20% of Congress but accounted for 40% of the false positives the Rekognition system kicked back.

It’s as crystal-clear a demonstration of how supposedly neutral algorithms can cause racist behavior as you’d imagine. Because facial recognition training data sets are overwhelmingly white and male (one popular set is more than 75% male and more than 80% white), the system only learns to read white, male faces. Because it can’t read faces that aren’t white and male, its error rates are vastly higher when applied to anyone else. Because that information isn’t disclosed or made apparent when law enforcement deploys these systems — and Rekognition is already being used by law enforcement across the country — you have a supposedly neutral algorithm making blatantly racist decisions by virtue of having been trained to recognize white faces well and black faces poorly.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s story about a Russian who is paid by Samsung to use its phones being the target of a lawsuit for using an iPhone in public (on TV) is disputed. We’ll wait to see if the lawsuit emerges. Or the contract continues.

Start Up No.938: Cook calls for US data privacy, Sidewalk adviser quits, will 5G change filmmaking?, millennials v tablets, and more

You can find these – RFID chips – inside thousands of Swedes. Human ones, that is. Photo by Dan Lane 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Thousands of Swedes are inserting microchips under their skin • NPR

Maddy Savage:


The chips are designed to speed up users’ daily routines and make their lives more convenient — accessing their homes, offices and gyms is as easy as swiping their hands against digital readers.

They also can be used to store emergency contact details, social media profiles or e-tickets for events and rail journeys within Sweden.

Proponents of the tiny chips say they’re safe and largely protected from hacking, but one scientist is raising privacy concerns around the kind of personal health data that might be stored on the devices.

Around the size of a grain of rice, the chips typically are inserted into the skin just above each user’s thumb, using a syringe similar to that used for giving vaccinations. The procedure costs about $180.

So many Swedes are lining up to get the microchips that the country’s main chipping company says it can’t keep up with the number of requests.

More than 4,000 Swedes have adopted the technology, with one company, Biohax International, dominating the market. The chipping firm was started five years ago by Jowan Osterlund, a former professional body piercer.


RFID chips (thus passive). Who’s going to be able to read it, though? Anyone? Where’s the privacy? Could you put RFID readers everywhere?
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I’m Mailchimp co-founder Ben Chestnut, and this is how I work • Lifehacker


Nick Douglas: What’s your best email hack?
In the early days of Mailchimp, I would bucket emails by categories (“design bugs,” “accounting issues”) and use the volume in each of those categories to determine who I needed to hire next. If I had a hundred emails related to design, I knew it was time to hire a design leader.

If I had a hundred emails related to design, I knew it was time to hire a design leader.

Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
I like the “throw your hat over the wall” tactic. It comes from a JFK speech at the dedication of the Aerospace Medical Health Center. The idea is that when you’re embarking on a big project or initiative, sometimes you just have to throw your hat over the wall. Then you’re committed to overcoming any challenges, climbing the wall, and getting to your hat. For me, that usually means you have to get your MVP out, and figure it out from there.

Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
My entire executive team. They have ownership over their areas, and I rely on them every day. When I’m on vacation or out of the office at an event, I don’t have to be glued to my phone or worry that I’m missing something important. I know that the team’s got this.

How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Sticky notes.


Sometimes it’s the old tech that’s the best.
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Apple just killed the ‘GrayKey’ iPhone passcode hack • Forbes

Thomas Brewster:


Apple has managed to prevent the hottest iPhone hacking company in the world from doing its thing.

Uncloaked by Forbes in March, Atlanta-based Grayshift promised governments its GrayKey tech could crack the passcodes of the latest iOS models, right up to the iPhone X. From then on, Apple continued to invest in security in earnest, continually putting up barriers for Grayshift to jump over. Grayshift continued to grow, however, securing contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.

Now, though, Apple has put up what may be an insurmountable wall. Multiple sources familiar with the GrayKey tech tell Forbes the device can no longer break the passcodes of any iPhone running iOS 12 or above. On those devices, GrayKey can only do what’s called a “partial extraction,” sources from the forensic community said. That means police using the tool can only draw out unencrypted files and some metadata, such as file sizes and folder structures.


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Ann Cavoukian, former Ontario privacy commissioner, resigns from Sidewalk Labs •

Sean O’Shea:


Ontario’s former privacy commissioner has resigned from her consulting role at a company that is preparing to build a high-tech community at Toronto’s waterfront, citing concerns that a privacy framework she developed is being overlooked.

Ann Cavoukian resigned from her role from Google sister company Sidewalk Labs on Friday to “make a strong statement” she told Global News.

“I felt I had no choice because I had been told by Sidewalk Labs that all of the data collected will be de-identified at source,” she said.

But last Thursday, at a meeting, she said she found out that wasn’t the case with the company, which invested $40m to develop technology for a downtown Toronto smart city project.

“Sidewalk said while they would commit to doing it, the other parties involved in these new entities they’ve created…they couldn’t make them do it,” she said.

Last October, Waterfront Toronto announced it had chosen Sidewalk Labs to present a plan to design a high-tech neighbourhood for the Quayside development, which is along Toronto’s eastern waterfront.

Since then, the proposed project has been mired in controversy.


Where are the Alphabet subsidiaries that haven’t been mired in controversy? DeepMind got into trouble over its use of UK health records, Waymo had a gigantic lawsuit. Verily, the life sciences company?
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Success of Apple Watch means more growth in sales of wearable technology • CCS Insight


The latest forecast published by CCS Insight indicates solid demand for smart wearable devices in 2018. The firm calculates that 117 million devices will be sold in 2018, doubling to 233 million in 2022 with a market value of over $27 billion.

Smartwatches continue to gain in popularity, primarily thanks to the success of market leader Apple, which extended its product range with the launch of its Series 4 Apple Watch in September. The company is also offering the Apple Watch at the broadest range of prices so far, making it even more accessible to iPhone owners.

CCS Insight is more positive than ever about the future of the smartwatch market. Supporting this view is its recent smartwatch user survey, which found that more than 90% of respondents use their smartwatch most days.

CCS Insight’s senior analyst for wearables, George Jijiashvili, notes, “The combination of Apple’s success with its Watch and the high engagement levels we’re seeing among smartwatch owners reflects the value people are now placing on these products. It’s a step change from a few years ago, when we consistently saw high levels of abandonment from early smartwatch users, who quickly became disenchanted with initial products”…

…CCS Insight analyst Jijiashvili adds, “The Apple Watch has done well because it’s bought by iPhone owners. People with Android smartphones represent a far bigger market and we believe that conditions are right for the next wave of smartwatch adoption thanks to an ever-improving selection of smartwatches from fashion and consumer electronics brands hit the market”.

CCS Insight’s forecast indicates 85m smartwatches will be sold in 2019, growing to 137m units in 2022.


That’s a lot, given that Android/Wear OS hasn’t made a big impression on the world.
link to this extract

iPhone gaffe that could cost Vladimir Putin’s ‘god-daughter’ £1.25m • Mirror Online

Kelly-Ann Mills:


Russian president Vladimir Putin’s ‘goddaughter’ may have lost an incredible £m after she was caught on camera using her iPhone.

Ksenia Sobchak, a journalist, politician and reality TV show host, is the face of rival smartphone manufacturer Samsung. But the 36-year-old was caught on camera using her iPhone X – despite trying to hide it under a sheet of paper – during a television interview.

Ms Sobchak is reportedly now being sued by Samsung for an incredible 108million rubles for the gaffe. She is required by contract to appear in public with her Samsung smartphone.

But Ms Sobchak has reportedly been seen on television, and at some of the hottest social events in the capital city of Moscow, using her iPhone.

Her representatives have yet to comment on the story which has sparked a lively debate on social media.


Well, that’s going to be an interesting standoff.
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Facebook hack affected three million in Europe – the first big test for GDPR • CNBC

Salvador Rodriguez:


Approximately three million Europeans were affected by a September Facebook security breach in which users’ personal information was stolen, the Irish Data Protection Commission told CNBC on Tuesday.

This security breach is expected to be the first major test of Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation, and the number of European users affected could help determine the severity of any penalties against the company.

Under GDPR, companies handling the personal data of Europeans must adhere to strict requirements for holding and securing that information, and must report breaches to authorities within 72 hours. Under the regulation, companies can face fines of up to 4% of their annual global revenue. For Facebook, which made more than $40.65bn in revenue in 2017, that fine could be as much as $1.63bn.


link to this extract

Apple’s Tim Cook blasts Silicon Valley over privacy issues • The Washington Post

Tony Romm:


the Apple leader expressed alarm about divisive political rhetoric that proliferates on social media platforms, and rogue actors and governments that seize on algorithms to “deepen divisions, incite violence, and even undermine our shared sense of what is true and what is false.”

He also lamented an emerging “data industrial complex” — a play on a 1960s-era criticism of defense contractors — that allows companies to “know you better than you may know yourself.” Cook didn’t mention Facebook, Google or any other company by name.

Cook stressed that privacy is a “fundamental human right.” He praised the European Union’s newly implemented tough data-protection rules, and he called on U.S. regulators to pass a comprehensive digital privacy law of their own. 

“Now, more than ever — as leaders of governments, as decision-makers in business, and as citizens — we must ask ourselves a fundamental question: What kind of world do we want to live in?” he said.

For Cook, the speech Wednesday in Brussels marked his highest-profile critique to date of his peers in Silicon Valley. Hours later, top executives from Facebook and Google similarly pledged to protect their users’ data and pursue new advancements, such as artificial intelligence, in a responsible way. “We want to make sound choices and build products that benefit society,” said Sundar Pichai, the chief executive officer of Google, in a video address to attendees.


Cook has been saying this for some years; all that’s changing is the stage on which he says it and the volume with which he says it.
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With 5G, you won’t just be watching video; it’ll be watching you, too • CNET

Joan Solsman:


Remember the last time you felt terrified during a horror movie? Take that moment, and all the suspense leading up to it, and imagine it individually calibrated for you. It’s a terror plot morphing in real time, adjusting the story to your level of attention to lull you into a comfort zone before unleashing a personally timed jumpscare.

Or maybe being scared witless isn’t your idea of fun. Think of a rom-com that stops from going off the rails when it sees you rolling your eyes. Or maybe it tweaks the eye color of that character finally finding true love so it’s closer to your own, a personalized subtlety to make the love-struck protagonist more relatable.

You can thank (or curse) 5G for that.

When most people think of 5G, they’re envisioning an ultra-fast, high-bandwidth connection that lets you download seasons of your favorite shows in minutes. But 5G’s possibilities go way beyond that, potentially reinventing how we watch video, and opening up a mess of privacy uncertainties.

“Right now you make a video much the same way you did for TV,” Dan Garraway, co-founder of interactive video company Wirewax, said in an interview this month. “The dramatic thing is when you turn video into a two-way conversation. Your audience is touching and interacting inside the experience and making things happen as a result.”

The personalized horror flick or tailored rom-com? They would hinge on interactive video layers that use emotional analysis based on your phone’s front-facing camera to adjust what you’re watching in real time. You may think it’s far-fetched, but one of key traits of 5G is an ultra-responsive connection with virtually no lag, meaning the network and systems would be fast enough to react to your physical responses.


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Tablet ownership is declining; millennials may be to blame • CivicScience


In a survey of more than 269,000 U.S. adults, CivicScience found that tablet ownership has grown steadily since 2015, but peaked at the start of 2017, with 56% of adults owning a tablet. Since then, ownership has declined to 54% of U.S. adults and appears to be on a downward trajectory.

This downturn coincides with recent industry numbers. Apple, who still leads the market, along with most other tablet manufacturers, such as Samsung and Amazon, have all reported drops in tablet sales. Some analysts cite cost as a prohibitive factor driving down tablet ownership.

In fact, the survey found that tablet ownership is correlated to income. Only 46% of those who make $50K or less per year owned a tablet, compared to 65% of those who make $100-150K per year…

…When considering all age groups, Gen Xers appear to have the highest rates of tablet ownership, followed by Baby Boomers, then Millennials, and finally, Gen Z. Looking at the same tablet ownership graph, but only for the Baby Boomer population (55+), it’s clear that Baby Boomer ownership has stayed static since 2017.

However, the same isn’t true for Millennials (18-34), whose ownership rate has slid significantly since 2017 and is today closer to what it was in 2015, at the start of the survey.


Did lots of people get given tablets and then dump them?
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Investigating implausible Bloomberg Supermicro stories • Serve The Home

Patrick Kennedy:


Today we are going to more thoroughly address the Bloomberg Businessweek article alleging that China targeted 30 companies by inserting chips in the manufacturing process of Supermicro servers. Despite denials from named companies and the technology press casting some reasonable doubt on the story, Bloomberg doubled down and posted a follow-up article claiming a different hack took place. In this piece, we are going to present a critical view of Bloomberg’s claims, as supported by anonymous sources, in order to allow our readers to decide for themselves the credibility of Bloomberg’s reporting in this case.

This is a long article. In the first section, we are going to discuss why there are some fairly astounding plausibility and feasibility gaps in Bloomberg’s description of how the hacks worked. The weakness in this section of the Bloomberg article makes it extremely difficult to navigate and it is light on details. We are going to evaluate some of the parts in isolation, and also discuss some of the logical outcomes. In our first investigative piece, Bloomberg Reports China Infiltrated the Supermicro Supply Chain We Investigate, we went into some detail about why a motherboard and hardware for a motherboard is a very difficult way to hack a BMC. If you have not read our Explaining the Baseboard Management Controller or BMC in Servers that should be a precursor to reading the next section. STH has a relatively technically minded audience, so we are going to assume our audience has at least the knowledge imparted in that article.


TL;DR he says it isn’t possible and didn’t happen. As it happens that’s what Tim Cook or Apple and Amazon Web Services and Supermicro say too. And no journalist has been able to follow the story up and get even an inkling that it’s correct.
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ASUS Z390 motherboards automatically push software into your Windows installation • TechPowerUp


During testing for our Intel Core i9-9900K review we found out that new ASUS Z390 motherboards automatically install software and drivers to your Windows 10 System, without the need for network access, and without any user knowledge or confirmation. This process happens in complete network-isolation (i.e. the machine has no Internet or LAN access). Our Windows 10 image is based on Windows 10 April 2018 Update and lacks in-built drivers for the integrated network controllers.

Upon first boot, with the machine having no LAN or Internet connectivity, we were greeted by an ASUS-specific window in the bottom right corner of our screen, asking whether we’d like to install the network drivers and download “Armoury Crate”. This got us curious and we scanned the system for any files that aren’t part of the standard MS Windows installation. We discovered three ASUS-signed files in our Windows 10 System32 folder, which, so it seems, magically appeared on our harddrive out of thin air. Upon further investigation we also found a new, already running, system service called “AsusUpdateCheck.”

These files could not have come from either our Windows image or the network, leaving the motherboard’s 16-megabyte UEFI BIOS as the only suspect.


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.937: Google v the ad fraudsters, Wikitribune fires its journos, Apple’s TV service coming, Oculus’s closing spiral, and more

The iPhone XR reviews are in: it’s good value. Photo by portalgda 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Portugal courts rule Google can’t remove Aptoide from users’ Android phones • Pocketnow

Jules Wang:


Portugese third-party Android app store Aptoide has claimed a major legal victory against the maker of said OS — this coming on top of Google’s recent compliance measures to the European Commission’s ruling against the bundling of its search and web clients with popular apps.

The verdict is said to ban Google’s Play Protect software, the security suite associated with the Play Store, from identifyting Aptoide as malware and removing it, occasionally without users’ consent. Aptoide must be downloaded from its site. Play Protect would show prompts urging the user to uninstall the app because it is unsafe and would prevent users from downloading any apps from the store.

Aptoide says the ruling is applicable to 82 countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and India. It hopes to recover some of the more than 2.2 million daily active users it has lost in the past 60 days. For reference, it boasts 250 million users with 6 billion total downloads.


OK, so Google can’t ban it, even if it thinks it’s malware. Got that? Now read on…
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Apps installed on millions of Android phones tracked user behavior to execute a multimillion dollar ad fraud scheme • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


Last April, Steven Schoen received an email from someone named Natalie Andrea who said she worked for a company called We Purchase Apps. She wanted to buy his Android app, Emoji Switcher. But right away, something seemed off.

“I did a little bit of digging because I was a little sketched out because I couldn’t really find even that the company existed,” Schoen told BuzzFeed News.

The We Purchase Apps website listed a location in New York, but the address appeared to be a residence. “And their phone number was British. It was just all over the place,” Schoen said…

…an investigation by BuzzFeed News reveals that these seemingly separate apps and companies are today part of a massive, sophisticated digital advertising fraud scheme involving more than 125 Android apps and websites connected to a network of front and shell companies in Cyprus, Malta, British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Bulgaria, and elsewhere. More than a dozen of the affected apps are targeted at kids or teens, and a person involved in the scheme estimates it has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars from brands whose ads were shown to bots instead of actual humans. (A full list of the apps, the websites, and their associated companies connected to the scheme can be found in this spreadsheet.)

One way the fraudsters find apps for their scheme is to acquire legitimate apps through We Purchase Apps and transfer them to shell companies. They then capture the behavior of the app’s human users and program a vast network of bots to mimic it, according to analysis from Protected Media, a cybersecurity and fraud detection firm that analyzed the apps and websites at BuzzFeed News’ request.

This means a significant portion of the millions of Android phone owners who downloaded these apps were secretly tracked as they scrolled and clicked inside the application. By copying actual user behavior in the apps, the fraudsters were able to generate fake traffic that bypassed major fraud detection systems.


Worth how much? Perhaps $750 million. Targeting Android because it’s a bigger user base and has less rigorous app review. Google has taken down a ton of apps as a result.
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Wikipedia chief’s news website axes all its journalists • The Times

Matthew Moore:


“The news is broken, but we have figured out how to fix it,” Mr Wales, 52, proclaimed in April last year, dismissing the scepticism of media academics who warned that the “wiki” model, whereby anyone can add or edit content, would not work for investigative journalism.

The site, which is based in London, has been live for 12 months but Mr Wales has now ditched the original strategy by laying off the site’s team of [17] reporters and editors. Last week Wikitribune’s online volunteers were told that they could start publishing articles on their own without them being checked by professionals.

Mr Wales said that the new approach would make the site more enjoyable to use and bring down barriers to participation. He claimed that the number of edits by members of the public had already increased as a result of the changes. “We are still working through the site and finding vestiges of the clearly wrong perception that the journalists are ‘above’ the community, supervising their work,” he wrote in a note to supporters on Sunday.

“This was never the intention and it is something we got wrong in the early design. Despite the best efforts of staff, the overall structure and design didn’t let the community genuinely flourish.” He said there had been “major personnel changes” but that the site was looking to hire a new team of journalists to work in community support roles. The site remains free to access and is funded by donations rather than advertisers.

Signs that the original approach was failing emerged in May when Mr Wales admitted that the site “didn’t get much work done”. He compared it to Nupedia, a Wikipedia predecessor he founded in 1999 but which closed in 2003, and which is seen to have failed because its rigorous quality standards discouraged public involvement.


This was predictable. Journalism isn’t brain surgery or law – it’s not a profession; it’s a trade like plumbing or carpentry. But you don’t want just anyone doing your plumbing or carpentry. And the question of how you get people to read that journalism is the problem that Wikitribune never grappled with. Wikipedia had the advantage of starting when the web wasn’t so monolithic. If it started now, how long would it last?
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Apple to launch TV subscription service globally • The Information

Jessica Toonkel:


Apple is working to launch its new TV service in the US in the first half of next year and will make the app available globally in the following months, the people said. It will include Apple’s original programs free to Apple device owners and also will enable users to sign up for TV network subscriptions owned by other companies, just as Amazon Prime Video subscribers can do through the Amazon Channels feature in the US, UK, Germany and Japan, the people said…

…The speed at which Apple is moving shows how it is trying to catch up to rivals that have been operating video streaming services for years. Amazon Prime Video is in 200 countries while Netflix is in more than 190 countries. The head start its rivals enjoy could make it tough for Apple’s new service to take off. Another issue is that the service will only be available to owners of its devices, including Apple TVs.

Apple lags rivals in many key categories: In the first quarter of this year, for instance, Apple TV had 28% of the US market for streaming devices, behind Roku with 37%, according to Parks Associates. In smartphones globally, Apple has about 15% of the market to Android’s 85%, according to IDC.

It makes sense for Apple to position its subscription service as a way to make television viewing easier for customers, rather than try to go head-to-head with Amazon and Netflix on original programming, said Tim Nollen, an analyst at Macquarie.

This is particularly true as the number of over-the-top services continues to grow globally. “Having the ability to make life easier for consumers in this fragmented, over-the-top marketplace makes sense,” he said.


Apple isn’t going to get much value from its investment if it’s only on Apple TV and gives it away. Though it does emphasise how it sees the value of its lock-in.

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No, AI won’t solve the fake news problem • The New York Times

Gary Marcus (a professor of psychology) and Ernest Davis (a professor of computer science):


To get a handle on what automated fake-news detection would require, consider an article posted in May on the far-right website WorldNetDaily, or WND. The article reported that a decision to admit girls, gays and lesbians to the Boy Scouts had led to a requirement that condoms be available at its “global gathering.” A key passage consists of the following four sentences:


The Boy Scouts have decided to accept people who identify as gay and lesbian among their ranks. And girls are welcome now, too, into the iconic organization, which has renamed itself Scouts BSA. So what’s next? A mandate that condoms be made available to ‘all participants’ of its global gathering.


Was this account true or false? Investigators at the fact-checking site Snopes determined that the report was “mostly false.” But determining how it went afoul is a subtle business beyond the dreams of even the best current A.I.

First of all, there is no telltale set of phrases. “Boy Scouts” and “gay and lesbian,” for example, have appeared together in many true reports before. Then there is the source: WND, though notorious for promoting conspiracy theories, publishes and aggregates legitimate news as well. Finally, sentence by sentence, there are a lot of true facts in the passage: Condoms have indeed been available at the global gathering that scouts attend, and the Boy Scouts organization has indeed come to accept girls as well as gays and lesbians into its ranks.

What makes the article “mostly false” is that it implies a causal connection that doesn’t exist. It strongly suggests that the inclusion of gays and lesbians and girls led to the condom policy (“So what’s next?”). But in truth, the condom policy originated in 1992 (or even earlier) and so had nothing to do with the inclusion of gays, lesbians or girls, which happened over just the past few years.


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Apple iPhone XR review: better than good enough • The Verge

Nilay Patel:


Here’s a question: how much do you care about the display on your phone? Take a moment and really consider it. If you were to put a dollar amount on it, how much would having a perfect display be worth to you?

Apple has an answer, and it’s $250.

That’s the price difference between the new iPhone XR and Apple’s top-of-the-line iPhone XS. It’s the price difference between the XR’s 6.1-inch “Liquid Retina” LCD screen and the 5.8-inch OLED screen on the XS. Apart from the display, the XR and XS are far more similar than not: they share the same A12 Bionic processors, main cameras with Smart HDR, iOS 12, gesture controls, wireless charging capabilities, and even the forthcoming dual-SIM support.

There are some other subtle differences as well: the XR has a single rear camera, while the XS has a second telephoto lens. The XR is offered in just one somewhat large size, while the XS comes in smaller and larger variants. And the XR is made of aluminum instead of stainless steel, which allows it to come in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white, black, blue, coral, yellow, and red.

Those differences are interesting and worth pulling apart, but really, the simplest way to think about the iPhone XR is that it offers virtually the same experience as the iPhone XS for $250 less, but you’ll be looking at a slightly worse display.


This is the nut (as they say) for pretty much every review I’ve seen of the XR. Same CPU, slightly less RAM (but that won’t make a difference with iOS), one less back camera. If you notice the difference in display quality, you’ll go for the XS/Max (or stick with the X).

Smart of Apple to release the XS/Max a month or so ahead of the XR – which looks likely, on price and specs, to sell in huge numbers.
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Your inner drone: the politics of the automated future • Long Reads

Nick Carr:


Many computer companies and software houses now say they’re working to make their products invisible. “I am super excited about technologies that disappear completely,” declares Jack Dorsey, a prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur. “We’re doing this with Twitter, and we’re doing this with [the online credit-card processor] Square.” Apple has promoted the iPad as a device that “gets out of the way.” Picking up on the theme, Google markets Glass as a means of “getting technology out of the way.”

The prospect of having a complicated technology fade into the background, so it can be employed with little effort or thought, can be as appealing to those who use it as to those who sell it. “When technology gets out of the way, we are liberated from it,” the New York Times columnist Nick Bilton has written. But it’s not that simple. You don’t just flip a switch to make a technology invisible. It disappears only after a slow process of cultural and personal acclimation. As we habituate ourselves to it, the technology comes to exert more power over us, not less. We may be oblivious to the constraints it imposes on our lives, but the constraints remain. As the French sociologist Bruno Latour points out, the invisibility of a familiar technology is “a kind of optical illusion.” It obscures the way we’ve refashioned ourselves to accommodate the technology.


Carr’s pieces flow like a river, but like a river you also have to let it carry you onwards.
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‘Tech tax’ necessary to avoid dystopia, says leading economist • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


A “tech tax” is necessary if the world is to avoid a dystopian future in which AI leads to a concentration of global wealth in the hands of a few thousand people, influential economist Dr Jeffrey Sachs has warned.

Speaking to the Guardian, Sachs backed calls for taxation aimed at the largest tech companies, arguing that new technologies were dramatically shifting the income distribution worldwide “from labour to intellectual property (IP) and other capital income.”

“So rather than cutting capital income taxation, as we’ve been doing in a race to the bottom, we ought to be finding ways to tax capital income and IP income,” Sachs added.

“Things like the proposed tech tax are actually a very good idea. The specific form of it is debatable, but the idea is that five companies are worth $3.5tn, basically because of network externalities and information monopolies, and therefore are absolutely right for efficient taxation.”

Sachs is in London to speak at an event organised by the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.


OK, so how is this tech tax going to work? Will companies be taxed on revenue? Capital value? IP value? One can imagine that there will be sneaky ways found around any method used to try to extract it. (Revenues will be dodged to offshore banks, as happens already. Companies will sell-and-lease-back property, asset-stripping themselves and turning capex into opex. IP will be undervalued.) I’m in favour of the principle; it’s the practice I wonder about.
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Even in Indiana, new renewables are cheaper than existing coal plants • Utility Dive


Last week, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) presented analysis for its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), finding it can save customers more than $4bn over 30 years by moving from 65% coal today to 15% coal in 2023 and eliminating the resource by 2028.

To replace retiring coal, NIPSCO found that a portfolio of solar, storage, wind and demand management is the most cost effective, along with a small amount of market purchases from the Midcontinent ISO. The utility will file its IRP on Oct. 31.

NIPSCO’s upcoming IRP is more evidence that coal generation is steadily declining in the U.S. despite efforts from the Trump administration to save it.

In Indiana, as elsewhere, the issue is economics. The youngest generating units at NIPSCO’s 1900 MW Schahfer plant were built in the mid 1980s, and the utility’s analysis found that keeping them on the system would be more expensive than replacing them with new wind, solar and batteries.


Yes, you’ve noticed that it’s actually cheaper to retire *all* the coal plants, but the utility thinks that carries “unacceptable risks” to reliability. Yet even when they tried to nudge the numbers to be as coal-friendly as possible (at the urging of a trade body), renewables still won.

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Oculus co-founder is leaving Facebook after cancellation of ‘Rift 2’ headset • TechCrunch

Lucas Matney:


Brendan Iribe, the co-founder and former CEO of Oculus, announced today that he is leaving Facebook, TechCrunch has learned.

Iribe is leaving Facebook following some internal shake-ups in the company’s virtual reality arm last week that saw the cancellation of the company’s next generation “Rift 2” PC-powered virtual reality headset, which he had been leading development of, a source close to the matter told TechCrunch.

Iribe and the Facebook executive team had “fundamentally different views on the future of Oculus that grew deeper over time,” and Iribe wasn’t interested in a “race to the bottom” in terms of performance, we are told.


A few ways to view this: 1) another Facebook purchase founder goes! 2) What’s happened to Oculus then? 3) What’s happening to VR then?

1) not that unusual. Stocks vest, people decide to move on. Or they don’t, if they’re enjoying things.
2) Facebook wants to do VR on the move, Oculus’s people wanted top-flight VR. Facebook won.
3) Nothing good.
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Oculus Rift VOD discontinued: VR movie store shutting down • Variety

Janko Roettgers:


Facebook’s VR subsidiary Oculus is shutting down its VOD efforts on is Oculus Rift headset this week, and is reimbursing anyone who has bought titles in the past. Oculus told Rift users in an email about the changes Monday, and confirmed the move in a comment sent to Variety.

“Over the years, we’ve seen how people use VR for everything from gaming to movies, and it’s become clear that while people love to stream immersive media on other devices, Rift is used primarily for gaming,” Oculus said in its email to customers.  “These insights inform how we support new and existing features and apps across the platform.”

The movie store on Rift is shutting down Monday. Consumers who have purchased or rented movies in the past will continue to have access to them until November 20. “After this date, you will no longer be able to access any purchased or rented movies through Oculus Video, but you can continue to watch video and streams from other sources, such as Facebook 360,” the company said in its email.


Seems like the window of broader opportunity is closing again for VR; it probably won’t open again for another 10 years or so. It’s going to be a niche gaming device. And that’s it.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.936: Brexit reality, Facebook’s falling influence, Intel ends 10nm?, Amazon fake review factories, and more

App developers know when you dump their work – and might trigger ads to get back. Photo by Maria Gustafsson 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 11 links for you. Just enough. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit provides early proof of deglobalization’s costs • WSJ

Greg Ip:


Never in the last 70 years has a major advanced economy left a free-trade area. Brexit is providing the first real-world evidence of the costs that come from undoing the intricate bonds of globalization.

It is of course an extreme case of deglobalization: The European Union’s single market for goods, services, capital and labor is much more integrated than other free trade zones. Yet many of the barriers that are bound to rise between Britain and its partners, such as on regulations, trade penalties and immigration, are similar to those cropping up in the wider world, such as between the US and its partners.

Measuring the effect of Brexit is complicated by the fact it hasn’t happened yet. British and European leaders met Wednesday in an effort to bridge differences on a post-Brexit deal. Without a deal, Britain could see tariff and nontariff barriers snap back to the maximum the World Trade Organization permits.

Yet without a single tariff going up, Brexit has clearly extracted a price. This can be seen by comparing Britain to a basket of peer economies whose performance closely tracked Britain’s until it voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Pierre Lafourcade, Arend Kapteyn and John Wraith of UBS construct such a synthetic Britain from a blend of other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Actual and synthetic Britain track each other closely from 1995 to mid-2016, then diverge: Actual British output is now 2.1% below this counterfactual. UBS attributes this divergence primarily to household consumption, which is now 1.7% below its counterfactual, and investment, which is 4% lower.


Completely as economic theory would predict – comparative advantage and so on.
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What happens when Facebook goes down? People read the news • Chartbeat Blog


What would the world look like without Facebook? Chartbeat had a glimpse into that on Aug. 3, 2018, when Facebook went down for 45 minutes and traffic patterns across the web changed in an instant. What did people do? According to our data, they went directly to publishers’ mobile apps and sites (as well as to search engines) to get their information fix.  This window into consumer behavior reflects broader changes we see taking hold this year around content discovery, particularly on mobile. This is good news for publishers.

Despite volatility driven by algorithm shifts and intense news cycles, user demand for content (represented by traffic across the web) is quite stable. But the sources of that traffic are anything but static. In fact, we’ve seen a major reversal in the specific sources driving traffic to publisher sites in the last year.

Key shifts:

• Mobile traffic has seen double-digit growth and surpassed desktop, which saw double-digit declines.

• On mobile, Facebook is down nearly 40% since January 2017, while Google Search has seen a 2x growth in that same time period. That means increases in Google Search referral traffic have more than offset any declines in Facebook referral traffic.

• Additionally — and of significant importance — mobile direct traffic to publishers is now greater than traffic sent by Facebook to publishers’ sites. This means consumers are now more likely to get their news by typing in a publisher URL or opening an app than by being referred through Facebook.


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Intel earnings: What the chip maker can say to turn assuage doubts • MarketWatch

Wallace Witkowski:


Intel has struggled mightily the past few months, but it may be able to retrieve some lost love by showing strong data-centre growth and progress on rolling chips using a long-overdue manufacturing process.

Intel is scheduled to report quarterly earnings after the close of markets on Thursday. On Monday, rumors circulated that Intel was killing off its 10nm manufacturing process following a string of delays on the year, but Intel was quick to deny the reports.

“10nm,” where “nm” means nanometers, refers to how small a chip maker can make the transistors that go on a computer chip, with the general rule being that smaller transistors are faster and more efficient in using power. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, has been chipping away at Intel’s dominance as its 7nm chip manufacturing process has been hailed as equal or even superior to Intel’s.

That is just the latest problem for Intel, which has had a trying year. The chip maker was hit late in 2017 by news of twin vulnerabilities baked into its chips, then dumped its chief executive — who has not been replaced on a permanent basis — while dealing with a shortage of chips thought to stem from manufacturing-process issues.


The reports of killing off the 10nm came from SemiAccurate, which called it “struggling”. Intel’s denial feels like one of those “in good time we’ll agree” denials.

If correct, then that really is the end of Moore’s Law for Intel.
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Gmail creator and YC partner Paul Buchheit on joining Google, how to become a great engineer and happiness • Triplebyte Blog


Q: If you’re thinking about joining a startup, how do you tell if the founders are like Larry and Sergey or if they’re an Elizabeth Holmes?

PB: Right, that’s the worst combination: smart and full of s**t. I think you have to interview them a little bit. Ask hard questions and see if they give direct, insightful answers, or if they’re evasive and dismissive. It also helps if there is a product you can try. I would avoid startups that have a ton of hype and no product.

Q: Generally, when you are interviewing with a startup, how should you decide if it is the right company for you?

PB: Looking back, one of the things that really impressed me about Google, which is probably good advice for anyone choosing a startup to work at, was that the interviewers all asked really smart questions. They asked things that only people who really knew their stuff could have answered well. Urs asked me, “Let’s say you have a server, and it’s running really slowly for some reason, how do you diagnose the cause?” To answer that question, you actually have to understand systems really well.

Their questions required being able to think at all these different levels: “Is there something going on in the kernel? Do you understand that hard drives are not these magical things which spit out information? Do you know why random access takes time?”

I only interviewed at one other company and they asked stupid questions like, “name the seven layers of the OSI Networking Stack,” or something that you’d pull out of a textbook, not things that were actually interesting.

Also, when I first went to work at Google, I had the opposite feeling I described having at Intel. I was excited. I woke up in the morning and was excited to go to work. There was this buzz of productivity in the office all the time. I think that’s one way to know if a startup is doing well: When you go into their office, you can just tell. Are people busy working, or are they sitting around on Twitter wasting time? Are people showing up because they have to, or are they eagerly working because they’re excited? Google was a really energizing place to be back then.


And plenty more. It’s fascinating.
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Now apps can track you even after you uninstall them • Bloomberg

Gerrit de Vynck:


Uninstall tracking exploits a core element of Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile operating systems: push notifications. Developers have always been able to use so-called silent push notifications to ping installed apps at regular intervals without alerting the user—to refresh an inbox or social media feed while the app is running in the background, for example. But if the app doesn’t ping the developer back, the app is logged as uninstalled, and the uninstall tracking tools add those changes to the file associated with the given mobile device’s unique advertising ID, details that make it easy to identify just who’s holding the phone and advertise the app to them wherever they go.

The tools violate Apple and Google policies against using silent push notifications to build advertising audiences, says Alex Austin, CEO of Branch Metrics Inc., which makes software for developers but chose not to create an uninstall tracker. “It’s just generally sketchy to track people around the internet after they’ve opted out of using your product,” he says, adding that he expects Apple and Google to crack down on the practice soon. Apple and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment.

At its best, uninstall tracking can be used to fix bugs or otherwise refine apps without having to bother users with surveys or more intrusive tools. But the ability to abuse the system beyond its original intent exemplifies the bind that accompanies the modern internet, says [EFF tech policy director Jeremy] Gillula.


How likely that Apple or Google tries to find some way to block this? Apple more likely than Google.
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Facebook fake review factories uncovered by Which? investigation • The Guardian

Patrick Collinson:


Undercover researchers for Which? set up dedicated Amazon and Facebook accounts and requested to join several of the “rewards for reviews” groups.

“They were instructed to order a specified item through Amazon, write a review and share a link to the review once it was published. Following the successful publication of the review, a refund for the cost of the item would then be paid via PayPal,” said Which?

But the Which? investigators turned the tables on the fake review factories by posting their honest opinion on the product.

In one example, the investigator gave the product – a smartwatch – a two-star review. “They were told by the seller to rewrite it because the product was free, so it “is the default to give five-star evaluation”, said Which?

In another, the investigator was told that a “refund will be done after a good five-star review with some photo” after receiving a pair of wireless headphones. But after posting a three-star review with photos they were told they would not be refunded unless they wrote a five-star review. The investigator refused, so did not get refunded for the purchase.

When the Guardian searched the Amazon UK Reviewers Facebook group – which has more than 25,000 members – it found postings appearing almost every couple of minutes from companies around the world offering to pay for positive reviews. For example, on Friday, one company was seeking “UK reviewers only” for a “4k action camera waits for review Refund via Paypal just send me your amazon profile”.


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Companies are on the hook if their hiring algorithms are biased • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:


Mark J. Girouard, an employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis, says one of his clients was vetting a company selling a resume screening tool, but didn’t want to make the decision until they knew what the algorithm was prioritizing in a person’s CV.

After an audit of the algorithm, the resume screening company found that the algorithm found two factors to be most indicative of job performance: their name was Jared, and whether they played high school lacrosse. Girouard’s client did not use the tool.

“It’s a really great representation of part of the problem with these systems, that your results are only as good as your training data,” Girouard said. “There was probably a hugely statistically significant correlation between those two data points and performance, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that those were actually important to performance.”

The community of researchers and technologists studying artificial intelligence have warned that this could be possible in any similar AI algorithm that learns about people using historical data.

In 2016, Pinboard creator Maciej Cegłowski called machine learning “money laundering for bias.”

“It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie,” Cegłowski said.


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Netflix is selling $2bn of junk bonds to fund new shows • Bloomberg

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Claire Boston:


The $2bn bond offering, which will be issued in dollars and euros, comes just a week after the company reported a bigger jump in subscribers than Wall Street analysts expected. The bonds would push the cash-burning company’s debt load above $10bn for the first time. Netflix’s market value has soared almost 70% this year to about $140bn.

The US portion of the 10.5-year bond may yield around 6.375%, while the euro notes could pay 4.625%, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Netflix paid less than 6% when it last tapped the market in April, in part because underlying Treasury yields were lower.

“To me it feels a bit like a win-win situation,” said John McClain, a high-yield money manager at Diamond Hill Capital, which oversees $22.6bn including Netflix debt. “You’re buying the highest-quality, high-yield business at yields that are fairly close to the overall market. It’s low-cost funding for them, especially relative to the cost of issuing new equity.”

Netflix said in a statement that it will use proceeds from the offering to continue to acquire and fund new content. The company said last week that it expects to burn about $3bn in cash this year as it continues to prioritize original series and movies.


That’s not even close to serious gearing. Netflix is going to get miles in front of everyone with this. And those are pretty attractive yields; I bet it will have no trouble at all selling it. Hardly “junk”.
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Blood money • TechCrunch

Jon Evans:


You can make a realpolitik case for continuing to engage with Saudi Arabia. Just like my coffee companion [a paid lobbyist for Russian interests] five years ago did for continuing to engage with Russia. See how well that turned out, how since then Russia has become so much more enlightened, so progressive, such a glorious contributor to the commonwealth of nations? …Oh. Saudi Arabia is different, yes, but in a worse way; it’s so sensitive to criticism, overreacts so wildly and violently, because it is fundamentally a fragile state. Nassim Taleb, who predicted the collapse of Syria and its civil war before it happened, has predicted a similar fate for Saudi Arabia.

I don’t think the Trump administration is going to continue its support for Saudi Arabia’s new and erratic leadership for fear of the human or economic consequences if they do otherwise. “Trump’s Razor:” the stupidest reason is most likely to be correct. Here, that means the administration doesn’t want to walk back their Saudi support because they think that will make them look weak. Similarly, who are we kidding, VCs who take money from Saudi LPs aren’t doing so in order to help prop up the Pax Americana; it’s purely because they want the money, and nobody else is prepared to throw around $45bn in cash.

Right now, though, and for the foreseeable future, sovereign Saudi money is tainted, poisoned, blood money.


“Trump’s Razor”. Nice. (Concept originated back in July 2016, by Josh Marshall, about Trump wanting to reverse his decision to have Mike Pence as his vice-presidential candidate; named by John Scalzi.)
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Another technological tragedy • bit-player

Brian Hayes, author of the book Infrastructure, on the explosions that blew up mains gas-connected buildings in Massachusetts in September, which was caused by a feedback loop that wasn’t actually a loop – so it pushed up pressure because its readings said the pressure was too low, measured in the wrong pipes:


when you open the valve to increase the inflow of gas, you expect the pressure to increase. (Or, in some circumstances, to decrease more slowly. In any event, the sign of the second derivative should be positive.) If that doesn’t happen, the control law would call for making an even stronger correction, opening the valve further and forcing still more gas into the pipeline. But you, in your wisdom, might pause to consider the possible causes of this anomaly. Perhaps pressure is falling because a backhoe just ruptured a gas main. Or, as in Lawrence last month, maybe the pressure isn’t actually falling at all; you’re looking at sensors plugged into the wrong pipes. Opening the valve further could make matters worse.

Could we build an automatic control system with this kind of situational awareness? Control theory offers many options beyond the simple feedback loop. We might add a supervisory loop that essentially controls the controller and sets the set point. And there is an extensive literature on predictive control, where the controller has a built-in mathematical model of the plant, and uses it to find the best trajectory from the current state to the desired state. But neither of these techniques is commonly used for the kind of last-ditch safety measures that might have saved those homes in the Merrimack Valley. More often, when events get too weird, the controller is designed to give up, bail out, and leave it to the humans. That’s what happened in Lawrence.


This is a fascinating little discussion (with a couple of other accidents, including the notorious Air France 447 from Rio de Janeiro) which leaves much to think about. It also reminded me of control theory, which I haven’t had to think of in decades. (Via Ben Thompson.)
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What does Stack Overflow want to be when it grows up? • Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow (used by gazillions of flummoxed coders, including me):


I am honored and humbled by the public utility that Stack Overflow has unlocked for a whole generation of programmers. But I didn’t do that.

You did, when you contributed a well researched question to Stack Overflow.
You did, when you contributed a succinct and clear answer to Stack Overflow.
You did, when you edited a question or answer on Stack Overflow to make it better.

All those “fun size” units of Q&A collectively contributed by working programmers from all around the world ended up building a Creative Commons resource that truly rivals Wikipedia within our field. That’s … incredible, actually.

But success stories are boring. The world is filled with people that basically got lucky, and subsequently can’t stop telling people how it was all of their hard work and moxie that made it happen. I find failure much more instructive, and when building a business and planning for the future, I take on the role of Abyss Domain Expert™ and begin a staring contest [quoting Nietzsche: “if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”). It’s just a little something I like to do, you know … for me.

Thus, what I’d like to do right now is peer into that glorious abyss for a bit and introspect about the challenges I see facing Stack Overflow for the next 10 years.


The fact that SO (as it gets called all over the place) is principally and was always intended to be a curated wiki and that it is so enormously useful, just like Wikipedia (even if one dislikes the sausage-making process in the latter), seems to me to indicate something important about curated wikis v pretty much every other form of unmediated content collection system.

Tightly curating knowledge is obviously a more bounded problem than lightly curating opinion (as in social media). But why does the latter break down so easily into abuse? Because of the light curating, or the nature of the content?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.935: whither Windows?, the App Store subscription scam, China’s Android schemes, the class news problem, and more

Will the new iPads have USB-C, like the MacBook series? Photo by Maurizio Pesce 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. In case you’re counting, No.1,000 comes some time in early 2019. What shall we do? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft’s problem isn’t how often it updates Windows—it’s how it develops it • Ars Technica

Peter Bright on Microsoft’s new way of looking at Windows:


The problem with Windows as a Service is quality. Previous issues with the feature and security updates have already shaken confidence in Microsoft’s updating policy for Windows 10. While data is notably lacking, there is at the very least a popular perception that the quality of the monthly security updates has taken a dive with Windows 10 and that installation of the twice-annual feature updates as soon as they’re available is madness. These complaints are long-standing, too. The unreliable updates have been a cause for concern since shortly after Windows 10’s release.

The latest problem has brought this to a head, with commentators saying that two feature updates a year is too many and Redmond should cut back to one, and that Microsoft needs to stop developing new features and just fix bugs. Some worry that the company is dangerously close to a serious loss of trust over updates, and for some Windows users, that trust may already have been broken.

These are not the first calls for Microsoft to slow down with its feature updates—there have been concerns that there’s too much churn for both IT and consumer audiences alike to handle—but with the obvious problems of the latest update, the calls take on a new urgency.

But saying Microsoft should only produce one update a year instead of two, or criticising the very idea of Windows as a Service, is missing the point. The problem here isn’t the release frequency. It’s Microsoft’s development process.

Why is it the process, and not the timeframe, that’s the issue? On the release schedule front, we can look at what other software does to get a feel for what’s possible.


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Sneaky subscriptions are plaguing the App Store • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:


Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6bn in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7bn by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly…

…How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.


There’s a scanner app which is raking in $14.3m annually by charging $4 per week, and uses a total scam to get you to sign up. Aren’t people noticing this stuff on their bills?
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For China, even a censored Google search engine would be better than Baidu • South China Morning Post

Bai Tongdong:


As a college professor, I find Baidu’s search results on scholarly matters deeply frustrating, because they don’t lead me to the webpages I wish to find. In contrast, Google’s search results are far more useful. Thanks to my part-time employment at New York University’s law school, I can use its virtual private networks (VPN) to access Google, a benefit that I consider more valuable than the extra pay.

And it is not just terrible search results, and the lack of access to useful tools such as Google Books. Baidu’s shameless commercialisation of its search engine has been the subject of controversy. For example, companies could – and maybe still can – bid for the top spots in Baidu’s search results, and users are not warned that these results are the outcome of commercial bidding and not sorted by relevance, as is the practice with Google.

In one case that sparked a public outcry, a young man used Baidu to search for treatments and clinics for the rare form of the cancer he suffered from. The man’s family spent over 200,000 yuan (US$29,000) on an experimental treatment at one of the for-profit hospitals that topped his Baidu search, but the treatment was unsuccessful and he died. The search results could have caused him to miss potentially life-saving treatment.

Therefore, what could be at stake here is not merely the convenience that search engines offer me as a scholar, but life itself. The reason that many Americans are against Google’s return to China is their opposition to the lack of democracy and free speech in China, with Google’s censored search engine seen to be pandering to these ills. But isn’t it ironic that these Americans fail to consider how Chinese people feel?


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How China rips off the iPhone and reinvents Android • The Verge

Sam Byford has a deep dive on the many big Chinese companies aiming to copy Apple as fast as possible, and also attract its users in China:


As for the camera apps, it’s really incredible how similar the vast majority are — both to each other and to Apple. Judging by the accuracy and specificity of the rip-offs, the camera app from iOS 7 has a serious claim to being one of the most influential software designs of the past decade. Just look at the picture below. Xiaomi wins an extremely low number of points for putting the modes in a lowercase blue font. But otherwise, only Huawei has succeeded in creating a genuinely new camera app design, which happens to be very good. I consider it penance for the company’s egregious and barely functional rip-off of the iOS share sheet.

“Vivo’s performance in the global market so far is the result of great effort to understand consumer behavior, and our camera UI is designed with consumers’ habits in mind,” the Vivo product manager told me. “The swipe across navigation feature allows for users to keep their current habits to access different photography mode. This is supported by our usability tests which indicated that this method has the highest efficiency and best user experience.”

This backs up the idea that attracting iPhone switchers is a serious objective for Chinese software designers. “I definitely see that there’s evidence of a number of different companies that could be seen as following Apple or trying to create a UI that’s very much iOS-like,” says Pete Lau, CEO of phone company OnePlus. “And maybe they’re doing it for reasons of thinking that it makes it easier for users to transition to their products from Apple, and find the experience to be similar.”


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If you’re poor in the UK you get less, worse news — especially online, new research suggests » Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:


News is more unevenly distributed in the UK than income is, according to new research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen found that poorer people consume less news than wealthier people and that the difference is particularly pronounced online, where poorer people are less likely to go directly to news sites for content.

“Whereas higher social grade individuals and lower social grade individuals use the same number of sources offline on average, lower social grade individuals use significantly fewer online sources on average,” the authors write.

This is in the United Kingdom, land of the great equalizer the BBC, which reaches a whopping 92% of UK adults. There is no media company in the US that comes close. Income inequality is also higher in the US than in the UK. In other words: this study focuses on the UK but the problem is likely the same or worse in the US.


You could wonder about correlation and causation. But which direction does it flow?
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The poison on Facebook and Twitter is still spreading • The New York Times

The NYT Editorial Board (“represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher, but not the newsroom or op-ed section”):


This week, a question from The New York Times prompted Facebook to take down a network of accounts linked to the Myanmar military. Although Facebook was already aware of the problem in general, the request for comment from The Times flagged specific instances of “seemingly independent entertainment, beauty and informational pages” that were tied to a military operation that sowed the internet with anti-Rohingya sentiment.

The week before, The Times found a number of suspicious pages spreading viral misinformation about Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of assault. After The Times showed Facebook some of those pages, the company said it had already been looking into the issue. Facebook took down the pages flagged by The Times, but similar pages that hadn’t yet been shown to the company stayed up.

It’s not just The Times, and it’s not just Facebook. Again and again, the act of reporting out a story gets reduced to outsourced content moderation.

“We all know that feeling,” says Charlie Warzel, a reporter at BuzzFeed who’s written about everything from viral misinformation on Twitter to exploitative child content on YouTube. “You flag a flagrant violation of terms of service and send out a request for comment. And you’re just sitting there refreshing, and then you see it come down — and afterward you get this boilerplate reply via email.”


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Saudis’ image makers: a troll army and a Twitter insider • The New York Times

Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Mike Isaac:


Mr. Khashoggi’s online attackers were part of a broad effort dictated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close advisers to silence critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad. Hundreds of people work at a so-called troll farm in Riyadh to smother the voices of dissidents like Mr. Khashoggi. The vigorous push also appears to include the grooming — not previously reported — of a Saudi employee at Twitter whom Western intelligence officials suspected of spying on user accounts to help the Saudi leadership.

The killing by Saudi agents of Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s intimidation campaign against influential voices raising questions about the darker side of the crown prince. The young royal has tightened his grip on the kingdom while presenting himself in Western capitals as the man to reform the hidebound Saudi state.

This portrait of the kingdom’s image management crusade is based on interviews with seven people involved in those efforts or briefed on them; activists and experts who have studied them; and American and Saudi officials, along with messages seen by The New York Times that described the inner workings of the troll farm.

Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations…

…Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.


He was fired that December. I got a small glimpse of the Saudi attack bots when I tweeted about Khashoggi’s disappearance early on; they’re pretty stupid, and easy to mute or block, but also plentiful and relentless.
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Revealed: Israel’s cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays • Israel News –

Hagar Shezaf and Jonathan Jacobson:


the Israeli espionage industry has become the spearhead of the global commerce in surveillance tools and communications interception. Today, every self-respecting governmental agency that has no respect for the privacy of its citizens, is equipped with spy capabilities created in Herzliya Pituah.

The reports about Pegasus prompted Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and human rights lawyer Itay Mack to go to court in 2016 with a request to suspend NSO’s export permit. At the state’s request, however, the deliberations were held in camera and a gag order was issued on the judgment. Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut summed up the matter by noting, “Our economy, as it happens, rests not a little on that export.”

The Defense Ministry benefits from the news blackout. Supervision takes place far from the public eye – not even the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is privy to basic details of the lion’s share of Israel’s defense exports. Contrary to the norms that exist in other democracies, the ministry refuses to disclose the list of countries to which military exports are prohibited, or the criteria and standards that underlie its decisions.

A comprehensive investigation carried out by Haaretz, based on about 100 sources in 15 countries, had as its aim lifting the veil of secrecy from commerce based on means of espionage. The findings show that Israeli industry have not hesitated to sell offensive capabilities to many countries that lack a strong democratic tradition, even when they have no way to ascertain whether the items sold were being used to violate the rights of civilians.


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Another iPad Pro rumor says USB-C will replace Lightning this year • BGR

Jacob Siegal:


As part of its coverage of the Global Source Mobile Electronics Trade Fair in Hong Kong this week, Japanese blog Macotakara reports that each and every accessory maker it spoke to claims that the next iPad Pro will feature a USB-C connector for charging and data transfer. This would mark the first time Apple has replaced the proprietary Lightning port on any of its mobile devices since the technology was introduced back in 2012.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors about Apple weaning itself off of Lightning, but the number of corroborating reports claiming the next iPad Pro will be the first Apple tablet to have a USB-C port continues to grow.

Just last week, sources told 9to5Mac that the 2018 iPad Pro will be able to output 4K HDR video to external display using its new USB-C port. There will be a new panel in the Settings app specifically for controlling what users share on other screens, including resolution, brightness, turning HDR on and off, and more.

9to5Mac’s report didn’t clarify whether or not the USB-C port would replace the Lightning port altogether, but back in September, reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a research note that Apple’s next iPad will ship with an 18W USB-C charger in the box, and that Apple is ready to start moving on to USB-C.


Bear in mind that iPads outsell Macs by about 3:1, so if new iPads start using USB-C that could begin to make an impact. Accessory makers take note of such things because for retailers, margins on accessories are better than on the devices themselves. Though of course iPhones outsell iPads by about 4:1, and they’re pretty resolutely Lightning devices.
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Pioneer of Central Washington cryptocurrency boom falls on hard times • The Seattle Times

Paul Roberts:


Last October, Giga Watt was on a scorching upward trajectory. With prices for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies soaring and international investors clamoring for a piece of the digital action, the East Wenatchee-based company had expanded to 62 employees and raised tens of millions of dollars for what it hoped would be a game-changing project: a sprawling campus of 24 prefabricated buildings where would-be crypto “miners” could run their own computers and solve the complicated mathematical algorithms that yield the digital gold.

As the pods arose from a muddy site near the Douglas County airport, local government officials talked excitedly about the emergence of a new, 21st-century industry based on the complex “blockchain” technologies that enable bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. Giga Watt and its founder, a former Seattle-area programmer named Dave Carlson, saw themselves on that revolution’s cutting edge.

Now it’s a starkly different picture. Last month, beset by millions of dollars in debt, ongoing legal problems and questions about its unconventional financing, Giga Watt laid off 80% of its staff and suspended all construction. Carlson himself stepped down in August.

The moves come as the volatile sector, which ignited a small gold rush in the mid-Columbia Basin, is struggling with softening cryptocurrency prices and uncertain costs for its prime “raw material,” cheap electricity. The market correction has wiped out many small players and forced even some larger players to rewrite their plans.


As usual, the people who reliably get rich in gold rushes are the ones selling spades – as long as they get paid for them. Contractors are owed around $5m.
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PUD Board acts to halt unauthorized bitcoin mining • Chelan Power and Utilities Department

The power department in Chelan, Washington state, a couple of hundred miles east of Seattle:


“…we’re incensed that individuals are putting people at risk,” said Commissioner Steve McKenna. “We’re not going to tolerate it. This is a strong message, and I want to make that very clear.”

His comments came after hearing of unauthorized cryptocurrency mining discovered last week in a Wenatchee apartment, a Malaga home and Chelan mini-storage units. Each operation was using enough power to create fire risks for neighbors and damage grid equipment not sized for the load. PUD crews disconnected power for the unauthorized services. (Discussion starts at 01:00 on the meeting audio.)

Board President Dennis Bolz said these actions will not be tolerated. “This has to end,” Bolz said.

Commissioner Garry Arseneault said heightened enforcement is aimed at, “scoundrels,” who are deliberating thwarting PUD regulations. “I want to take one step back and say that users of power that have legitimate requests, and have been properly sized for the use of that power, that’s not the kind of entity we’re discussing today.

“What we’re discussing is a person who is purposely trying to slip around the end and use power in a way that a facility was not designed for and doing so in a manner where there’s been no request for service to meet that kind of demand.” He added, “I see yet, once again, a reason to support the installation of automated meters to be able to confront these scoundrels before they do burn an apartment building down and perhaps kill a family or children in the process.”


Sounds a bit like shutting down cryptomining by, er, fiat.
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What happens when everyone in a room keeps giving dollars to random others? • Decision Science News

Annie Duke:


When we were giving a talk at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern we met Uri Wilensky, who shared with us a simulation he likes to assign.


Imagine a room full of 100 people with 100 dollars each. With every tick of the clock, every person with money gives a dollar to one randomly chosen other person. After some time progresses, how will the money be distributed?


If on quick reflection you thought “more or less equally”, you are not alone. I asked 5 super-smart PhDs this question and they all had the same initial intuition.

How does the distribution look? Play the movie above to see. [You’ll have to click through; the video doesn’t have an embed.] Here’s how it works.

The movie shows 5,000 clock ticks in less than a minute.

The Y axis shows the number of dollars each person has. It starts at 45 dollars each.

On the x-axis we have 45 people.

The red bars show the wealth of each person at each tick of the clock.

The blue bars are the same as red bars, but sorted to show how wealth is distributed. The rightmost blue bar is the height of the highest red bar, and so on down.

Don’t believe it? Play with R and tidyverse and gganimate code yourself.

Inequality can arise from seemingly innocuous policies — you need to keep an eye on it.


Ah, hello, Mr Pareto. The penthouse suite as usual? (From Decision Science News, a once-weekly signup newsletter.) There’s more discussion here.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.934: Facebook blames spammers for hack, how Saudi Arabia hacks dissidents, Brazil’s WhatsApp problem, iPad alert!, and more

Apple’s podcasting charts got gamed: now we know how. Photo by Nicolas Solop on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. See? Another week done. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

As Facebook shows off its “election war room,” a massive WhatsApp scandal hits Brazil • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick in Sao Paolo:


Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha, released a bombshell report on Thursday that local marketing firms have been buying bundles of phone numbers and using them to mass-WhatsApp voters anti-leftist propaganda. The report was released the same day that WhatsApp’s new CEO, Chris Daniels, published a piece in Folha, writing, “We have a responsibility to amplify the good and mitigate the bad.”

Thursday morning, also, appears to have been the time when Facebook allowed access stories from American journalists such as CNN covering Facebook’s new “election war room” to publish. The timing of the embargo — an agreement between news organizations to publish news provided by a source at the same time — the investigation by Folha, and Daniels’ op-ed throw into question exactly how Facebook intends to monitor fake news and hyperpartisan misinformation, especially in a WhatsApp-dominated country like Brazil.

“We know when it comes to an [election], every moment counts,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, head of civic engagement at Facebook, who oversees the war room, told the Verge during their tour of the facility. “So if there are late-breaking issues we see on the platform, we need to be able to detect and respond to them in real time, as quickly as possible.”

Misinformation on WhatsApp has been a huge concern for Brazilian journalists and fact-checkers. About 40% of the country’s 207 million people are using the app. Its messages are encrypted, which means it’s virtually impossible to monitor exactly how political actors are using the app.


The problem with WhatsApp is that it can spread information, and misinformation, virally, far faster than text messages could. It’s like weaponised Ebola when it comes to viral spread.
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Report: only 1% of exchange location data useful for offline attribution • MarTech Today


The debate about the relative accuracy and value of location data derived from the exchange bid-stream and that derived from first-party apps has been raging for about three years, with partisans on each side. First-party data is more accurate but less plentiful; third-party location data is much more available but often very polluted or inaccurate.

The latest missive in this debate comes from Placed, a location analytics company recently acquired by Snap. The company just issued a report (registration required) on location accuracy.

Exchange-derived location data usable for in-store attribution

Source: Placed (2017)

The often-technical report asserts that “the average accuracy of exchange-derived locations is over 4 New York City blocks.” It also finds that “only 1% of locations from bid requests are useful for in-store measurement (based on a location accuracy < 50 meters)." Bid-stream location data comes from multiple sources including GPS, cell towers, WiFi and IP addresses, but it rarely comes from the device itself. The report goes on to critique location data coming from exchanges on multiple fronts. Among the criticisms, which all go to the accuracy and utility of the bid-stream data, are the following:

• 80% of bid requests are made while people are between visits — and most of the rest are made at home (so of limited value for attribution).
• Bid stream data overindexes on location data from certain categories (e.g., Lodging, and Gyms & Fitness Centers), likely due to readily available WiFi combined with extended time spent at a given business.
• Key retail categories such as Fashion, Sporting Goods and Computers & Electronics are under-represented in bid data.


That’s for offline, but of course for online it’s going to be a lot bigger.
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Facebook finds hack was done by spammers, not foreign state • WSJ

Robert McMillan and Deepa Seetharaman:


Internal researchers now believe that the people behind the attack are a group of Facebook and Instagram spammers that present themselves as a digital marketing company, and whose activities were previously known to Facebook’s security team, said the people familiar with the investigation.

Facebook has previously said it was working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a criminal probe into the incident.

The incident immediately raised questions about the hackers’ motivation, in part because Russian and Iranian operatives have in the past used social media, including Facebook, to cause mischief in the U.S. Other countries, including North Korea and China, have in the past been accused of cyberattacks for various purposes.

The stolen tokens are digital keys that allowed the hackers to access any part of a user’s Facebook account, and would be of great use to state-sponsored attackers looking to conduct espionage, according to security researchers.

However, the Facebook internal probe suggests the goal of the hackers was financial, not ideological, the people said.

The hackers accessed only a limited subset of the data they could have taken, Facebook said last week. Instead of accessing personal messages, they accessed contact details—including phone numbers and email addresses—gender, relationship status, and search and check-in data belonging to 14 million users. For another 15 million users, only names and contacts were accessed; and the attackers didn’t obtain personal information from 1 million people affected by the breach.


Lot of effort to go to for some customer data.
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Supreme Court case could decide Facebook, Twitter power to regulate speech • CNBC

Tucker Higgins:


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds.

The case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, centers on whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which can be sued for First Amendment violations.

The case could have broader implications for social media and other media outlets. In particular, a broad ruling from the high court could open the country’s largest technology companies up to First Amendment lawsuits.

That could shape the ability of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google to control the content on their platforms as lawmakers clamor for more regulation and activists on the left and right spar over issues related to censorship and harassment.

The Supreme Court accepted the case on Friday. It is the first case taken by a reconstituted high court after Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month.

On its face, the case has nothing to do with social media at all. Rather, the facts of the case concern public access television, and two producers who claim they were punished for expressing their political views. The producers, DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez, say that Manhattan Neighborhood Network suspended them for expressing views that were critical of the network.

In making the argument to the justices that the case was worthy of review, attorneys for MNN said the court could use the case to resolve a lingering dispute over the power of social media companies to regulate the content on their platforms.

While the First Amendment is meant to protect citizens against government attempts to limit speech, there are certain situations in which private companies can be subject to First Amendment liability.


We’re betting on Kavanaugh ruling in favour of it being a “state actor”, yes?
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Apple launches special event page for October event with dynamic set of Apple logos • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


Apple today sent out invites for an upcoming October 30th event set to be held in Brooklyn. Apple did something special for its invites this time around, and each one features unique artwork with a different Apple logo.

Apple also designed a new event page for the event, and each time you reload the page, you can see a new Apple logo that Apple created.

It’s not clear how many different Apple logos Apple designed for the event, but it appears to be at least several dozen. You can see a selection of approximately 10 of them by refreshing the event page, but not all of the artwork that showed up on the invites appears to be on the page.

Apple’s event, which will focus on the iPad Pro and its Mac lineup, is set to take place on Tuesday, October 30 in New York City at the Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn. It is Apple’s first NYC event in several years.


Bound to be speculation about why New York rather than the custom-built place in California? I suspect it’s about time zones – 10am EDT is 3pm in the UK, 7am PST, so it’s a little easier to get the word around.

Very much looking forward to seeing the new iPad Pros. (That’s surely part of it, right?) AirPods? Mac minis? …AirPower…?
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Saudis tried to silence associate of Jamal Khashoggi, recordings show • The Washington Post

Loveday Morris and Zakaria Zakaria:


As he criticized the Saudi leadership as a contributing columnist to The Post, [Jamal] Khashoggi had encountered the pro-government Twitter accounts that Saudi activists refer to as “the flies.”

“Jamal was insulted so much by the Saudi bots,” [exiled Saudi, Omar] Abdulaziz said. “They were focusing on Jamal as he was the voice in the Western media.”

Abdulaziz said he suggested an online countermovement. He just needed some cash to get it off the ground. “We call them ‘the fly army,’ ” he said. “We call ourselves ‘the bee army.’ ”

The plan, he recounted, was to buy SIM cards with Canadian and American numbers that Saudis inside the kingdom could use. Twitter accounts must be verified with a phone number, and activists in Saudi Arabia are scared of linking their Saudi numbers to their Twitter accounts, fearful they could be traced and arrested for being critical of the government, he said. They’d already allocated 200 SIM cards to people.  

Khashoggi had also asked Abdulaziz to help on a short film showing how the Saudi leadership was dividing the country, he said. And Khashoggi had asked for help designing a logo for a new foundation he was forming — Democracy for Arab World Now. Abdulaziz was also helping him design a website to track human rights issues.

But Khashoggi was particularly apprehensive about the SIM card project. “He told me this project is too dangerous,” Abdulaziz said. “He told me to be careful. . . . Twitter is the only platform we have, we don’t have a parliament.” 

In a June 21 message, Khashoggi wrote to Abdulaziz: “I will try to get the money. . . . We should do something. You know sometimes I’m [affected] by their attacks.”

Two days later, Abdulaziz placed an order on Amazon. He clicked a link sent to his phone to track a parcel delivery. He suspects that the action infected his phone. 

The Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto project that investigates digital espionage against civil society, warned him in August that his phone may have been hacked. Two weeks ago, the group concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that his cellphone had been targeted. The group said it believed the operator is linked to “Saudi Arabia’s government and security services.”


As a reminder, Apple in September 2016 issued an urgent security update to address spyware that Saudi Arabia bought from an Israeli company for about $1m to infect the phone of another dissident, Ahmed Mansoor. Mohammad bin Salman, the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, didn’t take over until June 2017. So this isn’t new.
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What damage control looks like in Saudi Arabia • Bloomberg

Donna Abu-Nasr and Vivian Nereim:


“I’m shaking now, literally,” says a Saudi businessman vacillating between fear and disbelief that his country might have resorted to the methods of late dictators such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi. He spoke on condition of anonymity, a usual request nowadays in a country where the prince has been willing to detain even royals and billionaires to get his way.

Repression is key to damage control at home. A young Saudi who recently returned to the kingdom after studying abroad wrestled with how to react to the Khashoggi news before concluding he had to defend his country above all. Saudis have to side with the government no matter what, he says. As the prince consolidated power in the past two years, many in Riyadh became increasingly cautious about what they say in public. “Talking costs you dearly now,” one Saudi academic said in August after declining to meet with a Bloomberg News reporter. Those still willing to talk suggest rendezvous in secluded settings. They leave their phones behind or seal them in containers in other rooms, hoping to prevent the microphones from being used as listening devices. Sometimes they whisper in the privacy of their own homes.


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Chartbreakers: how spammers are gaming the podcast charts • Chartable

Dave Zohrob on how a podcast called “Bulletproof Real Estate” abruptly zoomed to the top of the iTunes charts:


I wanted to see how this cluster of podcasts [in the top of the Apple podcast charts] related to other top shows on the charts, like Serial and Joe Rogan. I grabbed them all for the top 50 podcasts and made another network graph:

Again, every box on the graph represents a podcast, and every arrow represents a recommendation. The chart easily breaks into four clusters, and we can draw some quick conclusions from them.

First, there’s one “main cluster” that includes most popular shows. You can see some natural sub-clusters—for example, one sub-cluster around Joe Rogan includes similar talk shows; another around Someone Knows Something includes true crime shows.

Clusters 1, 2, and 3 are completely disconnected from the main cluster. There are zero recommendations in common between them. Bulletproof Real Estate lives in Cluster 1. You can see by the density of connections that the isolated clusters also have many more connections between the shows than even the most popular sections of the main cluster.

The isolated clusters are highly interconnected, but with very different subject matter. For example, Breaking the Underdog Curse for Chiropractors is related via subscriptions to many podcasts from both Clusters 1 & 2, but has little in common with them in terms of subject matter. The same goes for shows like Winning with Shopify, an ecommerce podcast, and This is Hot Bowga, “home of THE greatest hunting podcast ever created,” in Cluster 3.

So, what can we conclude from this network graph? Here’s my take:

If the podcast charts are based on subscription velocity, it’s highly likely that some or all of the podcasts in the isolated clusters have artificial subscriptions.


Spammers, basically.
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Exclusive: Amazon has shut down Liquavista • The Digital Reader

Nate Hoffelder:


Launched in 2006 as a spin off from Philips, Liquavista had been developing a unique type of screen tech that was based on running an electric current through a liquid. This is called electrowetting technology, which is a fancy way of saying that each pixel in a Liquavista screen contained 3 liquids (red, green, blue), and that the color shown by a pixel depended on the amount of power fed into each liquid.

Here’s a demo of a Liquavista screen from 2013. Recorded shortly before the Amazon acquisition, this was the last time Liquavista showed off their screen tech.

The screens were originally being developed as a solution to the battery life issue. Mobile battery life was terrible back in the pre-iPad, pre-iPhone, and pre-netbook era, and people were willing to pay a premium for a screen which used less power than typical LCD screens.

That was why the company was launched, and why Samsung bought it in 2011, but by the time Amazon bought Liquavista in 2013, it was pretty clear that there was no broader market for this tech. The problem of mobile battery life had been solved and battery capacity was already improving year by year, and screens were getting more and more energy efficient.

Coincidentally, I was the first to report that Samsung bought Liquavista in 2011, and the first to report that it had been sold to Amazon in 2013, and now I am the first to officially report Liquavista’s demise.


So that’s that? Until someone finds a better use for electrowetting.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified