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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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[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:

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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.

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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.

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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:

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[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.”

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

Kelly Weil:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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 RPG.net 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.

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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:

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“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.

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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

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

  1. Does “support of Donald Trump or his administration” cover: immigation? free trade? tax cuts? law-n-order? Supreme Court nominees? If Trump is compared to Hitler and his administration to Nazis, are you allowed to say that’s overwrought? (oh how times have changed!). As a somewhat follow-up to yesterday’s thought regarding 50% of the population is below average, right now I see 42% of the US approves of Trump. That’s not a majority – but it’s big chunk of the country, not a few outliers and tail effects.

    While they say they won’t permit witch-hunts, it’s not clear to me how they can resolve the tension between a narrow rule which only catches people not glib enough to use the proper code-words, and a wide rule that is basically thought-policing.

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