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.

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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.
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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.


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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.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

  1. re Smartwatch: the sensible choice these days is probably something from Mobvoi (started by ex-Googlers IIRC). They just launched their “C2 classic” which is ditching their proprietary OS for Android Wear, and have a full line-up that I’ll probably draw some xmas gifts from (those original LG G watches are getting very long in the tooth).

    Win some lose some, Huawei launched proprietary stuff last week.
    Xiaomi is seeling a lot of lower-end stuff too.

    • The C2 has an ancient processor, according to The Verge’s Dieter Bohn, who strongly recommends against buying it. The principal problem that Android smartwatches face is that Qualcomm hasn’t kept up with Apple in improving the power-per-watt performance.

      • “ancient” as in 2 years old. Granted, it was not a race horse at launch, based on Cortex A7 cores. Benchmarks of the Moto X which used the same cores at a lower frequency put it in the same ballpark as an iPhone 5/5C . That’s far from state-of-the-art, but it should be enough to run a 360×360 smartwatch today.

        I’ll wait for reviews, but still, a supercomputer on one’s wrist is probably overkill. People mostly want to get their notifications and answer them, if there was an e-ink product I’d get that.

        Qualcomm’s newer 3100 has the exact same cores at the same frequency. . They’ve worked on everything but the cores ^^

      • Also, I couldn’t find where The Verge “strongly recommends against buying it”. Worst I could find is “seems like a missed opportunity seeing as Qualcomm is releasing its new Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip later this year”. Not using an unavailable SoC in order to make the xmas deadline is a compromise. Doesn’t make it a bad product and *nowhere* does he say so.

  2. Today’s collective (erm, let’s stay PG)… irrational exuberance about 5G reminds me of last year’s VR and years-ago 3D hysteria.
    5G has nothing to do with real-time eye color changes, nor even plot changes. And I’ll personally settle for 4G even 3G everywhere I go, which is far from a reality.

  3. re tablets: What also hapenned is that OEMs tried to combat flagging sales by rising prices. I used to be able to get a higher-midrange 10″ Yoga Tab from Lenovo for 260€ (with A72 cores, 1920×1200 screen, 4GB+32GB+SD, that funky foot, good sound…). Now at that price I must roll the dice on a 3rd-tier Chinese OEM to get A7x cores (Teclast = crap, Chuwi = OK); 1st-tier OEMs only offer A5x cores locally; and Xiaomi is $100 extra.

    I’d recommend the low-end iPad right now, if ancillary costs&headaches and lock-in weren’t so high. So, Amazon’s Fire HD 10 at the 200€ (you’ve got to hack the PlayStore into it, and 16:9 sucks), or Xiaomi Mi Pad 4 at $300-400.

    I’m wondering if a detachable Chromebook wouldn’t be make sense, around $600 for 12-14″.

    • That’s because the OEMs were trying to make a profit, rather than a loss. Lenovo’s tablet business lost money for ages so it had to raise prices, or give up. (
      As usual, It Depends What You Want To Do. If your only aim is to watch video, the Amazon tablet is fine. If you actually would like to get some work done too, the iPad makes a lot of sense.

      • That’s unfair and unwarranted oversimplification.

        Most home tablet users around me (aside from kids) don’t “only want to watch video”, actually they barely watch video at all. I’m the one with a couple 200+GB tablets with HDMI for rainy day emergencies.

        Androids are perfectly fine for browsing (with full addons, which is a huge advantage over iPads), email&messaging&chatting, social, dumb games (and retrogaming w/ vintage gamepads !), news, banking, light Office work, e/a-books… 80+% of users don’t need more. Most tablets (iPads included) don’t ever leave the home.

  4. re Bloomberg and Asus.

    Funny how the 2 stories are right next to each other. So Asus has custom stuff modifying the OS install, eh ? The Supermicro management tools are very hackable. Couldn’t the supposed chip just hold a bit of hack code, to push it after a while, in case the seller or buyer check BIOS checksums etc ? Couldn’t the code just be dormant in an existing chip (that’s a different case, but same effects). It doesn’t have to be fully out-of-band, just delayed-install.

    Still, if nobody ever found any chip nor that code… Maybe just a good’ol hack à la CIA. .

  5. re. Apple and privacy: I agree with The Verge : would sound less fake is Apple was clearer about the compromises they’re accepting in China.

    And the backlash about FB and Google wanting to operate there vs the utter apathy at Apple’s already operating there is puzzling.

    Loudly denouncing one behaviour on the one hand while doing quite possibly much worse with the other hand. Blurgh again.

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