Start Up No.961: China goes CRISPR?, wearables for good and bad, Brexit and the Prisoners’ Dilemma, another Android app fraud, and more


In many places, it’s quicker to stick on 4G rather than join this. CC-licensed photo by Jorge Cortell on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Fishing rights not included. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Supreme Court could allow suit over Apple iPhone apps’ sales • The New York Times

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The issue before the high court at this early stage of the suit is whether the case can proceed at all. Justice Stephen Breyer, who used to teach antitrust law at Harvard Law School, said the consumers’ case seemed straightforward and in line with a century of antitrust law.

Apple argues it’s merely a pipeline between app developers and consumers, and that iPhone users have no claims against Apple under federal laws that prohibit unfair control of a market.

Tens of thousands of software developers set the prices and agree to pay Apple a 30% commission on whatever they sell, the lawyer representing Apple said in the courtroom. If anyone should be able to sue Apple, it’s a developer, Daniel Wall said. “There have been plenty of disputes, but none has ever gone to litigation,” he said.

Chief Justice John Roberts was alone among the nine justices who seemed prepared to agree with Apple.

Among the justices who appeared to be on the other side, Justice Elena Kagan said consumers appear to have a direct relationship with Apple. “I pick up my iPhone. I go to Apple’s App Store. I pay Apple directly with credit card information that I’ve supplied to Apple. From my perspective, I’ve just engaged in a one-step transaction with Apple,” Kagan said.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said if consumers are paying more than they should, then perhaps they should be able to sue. The relevant federal antitrust law says “any person injured” can sue, Kavanaugh said.

His comments could align him with justices who would allow the suit to proceed. In other cases, the court has ruled there must be a direct relationship between the seller and a party complaining about unfair, anti-competitive pricing.

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Decision expected by late spring. In general, how difficult the judges’ questions are has an inverse or zero relationship to how the decision falls. But journalists love to think they’ve glimpsed a tell.
link to this extract


EXCLUSIVE: Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:

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When Chinese researchers first edited the genes of a human embryo in a lab dish in 2015, it sparked global outcry and pleas from scientists not to make a baby using the technology, at least for the present.

It was the invention of a powerful gene-editing tool, CRISPR, which is cheap and easy to deploy, that made the birth of humans genetically modified in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) center a theoretical possibility.

Now, it appears it may already be happening.

According to Chinese medical documents posted online this month (here and here), a team at the Southern University of Science and Technology, in Shenzhen, has been recruiting couples in an effort to create the first gene-edited babies. They planned to eliminate a gene called CCR5 in hopes of rendering the offspring resistant to HIV, smallpox, and cholera.

The clinical trial documents describe a study in which CRISPR is employed to modify human embryos before they are transferred into women’s uteruses.

The scientist behind the effort, He Jiankui, did not reply to a list of questions about whether the undertaking had produced a live birth. Reached by telephone, he declined to comment. 

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The Wikipedia page for CCR5 notes that it’s of recent origin and seems to have had positive selection pressure. Sure, deleting it might prevent HIV incursion.. for now. But what is it allowing?

Later reports in the day have suggested there have been live births from this experiment.
link to this extract


Not so big in Japan: Apple cuts price of iPhone XR to boost sales • WSJ

Takashi Mochizuki:

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Apple has used marketing dollars before to discount certain iPhone models and drive sales, viewing it as a lever to manage inventory, according to people familiar with its sales and production tactics. During the iPhone 6s cycle, Apple cut production on one model then offered carrier and retailer discounts to help reduce excess inventory, one of these people said.

When extending discounts, Apple has typically chosen to do so on phones made for specific markets because the cost is less than having to reconfigure the device for resale in another market, this person said.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Apple has slowed production plans for all the three models released in recent months, with some drastic chops made on least-expensive XR models.

Though it has been done in the past, officials at Japanese carriers say it is rare for Apple to cut the price in their market on a recently launched handset.

“A price cut within a month of the release is rare not just for Apple but for smartphone makers in general,” said a senior official at a wireless operator, who monitors sales.

Analysts say weaker-than-expected demand for the iPhone XR may mirror what happened with the iPhone 5c in 2013, where sales picked up the following year. Apple’s higher-priced XS and XS Max models, released in September, appeal more to tech’s early adopters who typically fuel initial sales of new iPhones.

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Price cuts might be rare in Japan, but they’re not rare among smartphone companies – look at Samsung, which has been doing exactly that for years. The fact that Apple has so few smartphone models and clearly set prices makes any cross-subsidisation or change in pricing easier to sniff out.
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Paul Massey and John Kinsella shot ‘in gangland assassination’ • BBC News

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Massey was shot dead on 26 July 2015 outside his home in Clifton, Salford, by a gunman firing an Uzi sub-machine gun. Then at about 06:45 BST on 5 May this year, Kinsella was shot dead near his home in Rainhill, St Helens, by a man on a bike, the jury heard.

The prosecutor said a man, allegedly Mr Fellows, had cycled up behind Kinsella and shot him twice in the back with a handgun and then twice to the back of the head.

Mr Greaney said there were “clear parallels” which suggested the same people carried out both killings.
Police investigating Kinsella’s murder seized a GPS watch belonging to Mr Fellows, the court heard.

When detectives analysed this it showed a few months before the 2015 murder of Massey, the wearer had travelled to where the victim was killed. The prosecution claim this showed Mr Fellows on a “reconnaissance run” for the planned gangland hit. Mr Boyle had acted as a “spotter” for both killings, the court was told.

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Wearables are such tattle-tales.
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What made me go to the doctor? • vowe dot net

Volker Weber:

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I keep getting asked the same question: how could you possibly tolerate the pain for so long? This is a hard question to answer. It’s a combination of many factors and I am not going to try answering it. The more interesting question is why I decided to no longer tolerate it. The answer is easy: I could see that my body was failing.

Look at the two graphs above, both taken from Apple Health. The data originates from the heart rate sensor of my Apple Watch. I have been wearing it for years, 23 hours a day. That means I have a lot of data to compare against.

The left graph shows how my resting heart rate went from 62 to 85 over the course of only a few weeks. There is no good explanation. Your resting heart rate goes down over time as you exercise and your heart becomes stronger. Mine isn’t particularly strong. I walk a lot but I have little cardio fitness. 62 is pretty good for my fitness level and my age, but it should not suddenly go up, especially not continously. My heart was not allowed to rest, not even during sleep.

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So wearables can be good for your health too.
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Mobile internet is faster than WiFi in 33 countries • Engadget

Jon Fingas:

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It’s tempting to assume that a good WiFi hotspot will outpace modern cellular data, but that’s not necessarily true — in some countries, WiFi might be more of a pain. OpenSignal has conducted a study showing that mobile data is faster on average than WiFi hotspots in 33 countries, including multiple African, European, Latin American and Middle Eastern nations. And the differences are sometime gigantic. You’ll typically have an advantage of 10Mbps or more in places like Australia, Oman and the Czech Republic, while multi-megabit advantages are common in places like Austria, Iran and South Africa.

There are many countries where cellular and WiFi links are roughly competitive. And not surprisingly, WiFi has a clear advantage countries where home broadband is relatively fast, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and the US. However, LTE provides a consistent edge for download speeds in some areas — in Lebanon, your downstream speeds tend to be 25Mbps faster than on WiFi.

The findings led OpenSignal to suggest that users and device makers alike need to rethink the assumption that WiFi is usually best. While that might have been true when smartphones were young, it’s not so true any more in the LTE era — and WiFi has its own problems, such as overcrowded networks.

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Related: XKCD from.. not long ago. For which the mouseover text – sometimes the best part of an XKCD cartoon (and the part you struggle to get on mobile without “view source”) – says: “According to the cable company reps who keep calling me, it’s because I haven’t upgraded to the XTREME GIGABAND PANAMAX FLAVOR-BLASTED PRO PACKAGE WITH HBO, which is only $5 more per month for the first 6 months and five billion dollars per month after that.”

But it is important for phones to look for the faster network, not the “strongest” one. Especially in my house where the Wi-Fi is noticeably slower than the 4G, except that’s weaker.
link to this extract


Will Theresa May’s Brexit deal survive? Game theory has an answer • The Conversation

Nicos Georgiou is a lecturer in maths, probability and statistics:

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The prisoner’s dilemma can be used to model many social and political situations. With the Brexit strategy, the role of the prisoners is played by the two Tory factions, the Remainers and Brexiteers. Each group has the option of voting for or against the deal – cooperating or not. The cost of each decision is a political one.

If both factions vote against the deal, there will be some political cost since the deal probably won’t pass. But it is completely unclear what will happen afterwards. This might trigger a leadership election, a general election, a new referendum or crashing out with no deal. All MPs like at least one of these options – so if everybody thinks there is a good chance they will get what they actually want (which is impossible), the political cost will be perceived as low.

If both factions vote in favour of this deal, it will have a high probability of passing (there are always willing Labour MPs to vote against their party line). Each of the Tory groups can blame the other for the “bad deal” that they were “forced” to sign, but it could arguably be a higher cost strategy as everybody fundamentally dislikes something about it. So it may seem the best bet would be for the two factions to cooperate to vote against it.

But the PM could place her MPs in a prisoner’s dilemma situation to make sure they don’t cooperate with each other to scupper her deal. She could do this by convincing both factions that voting in favour of her deal is good for them but bad for the others. To do that, she would need to rig the value of the perceived cost so that it will be higher if they vote against it than if they vote in favour – independent of what the political opponents in the other group choose to do.

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This, indeed, feels like the tactics that Theresa May is pursuing: scare both sides by the potential outcome, even though the outcomes the two sides are scared of is the one that the other side likes. Herd them through the middle.
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Q3 2018: Mobile Market Monitor • Counterpoint Research

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• Global smartphone shipments declined 5% annually reaching 380 million units in Q3 2018. Emerging markets growth could not offset the decline in developed markets.

• All the regions declined amidst the global slowdown. Latin America declined most at 7% YoY.

• India’s smartphone shipments surpassed those of the USA and reached an all-time high in 2018 Q3, while China’s smartphone market continued to decline for the fifth consecutive quarter.

• Top 10 OEMs contribute almost 79% of the global smartphone market, thereby leaving 600+ brands competing for the remaining 21% of the market.

• Samsung led the smartphone market by volume while HMD grew fastest at 73% YoY. Samsung recorded its highest ever shipment in India, even though its shipments declined for the fourth consecutive quarter.

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And Huawei ahead of Apple, in 2nd position (14% market v 12%). Xiaomi coming up strongly at 9%. Though this is about sales, not installed base, of course.
link to this extract


Android apps with more than 2bn total downloads are committing ad fraud • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

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Eight apps with a total of more than 2 billion downloads in the Google Play store have been exploiting user permissions as part of an ad fraud scheme that could have stolen millions of dollars, according to research from Kochava, an app analytics and attribution company that detected the scheme and shared its findings with BuzzFeed News.

Seven of the apps Kochava found engaging in this behavior are owned by Cheetah Mobile, a Chinese company listed on the New York Stock Exchange that last year was accused of fraudulent business practices by a short-seller investment firm — a charge that Cheetah vigorously denied. The other app is owned by Kika Tech, a Chinese company now headquartered in Silicon Valley that received a significant investment from Cheetah in 2016. The companies claim more than 700 million active users per month for their mobile apps.

The allegations are the latest shock to a vast digital ad tech industry that remains dogged by a multibillion-dollar fraud problem and a mobile ecosystem rife with malicious ads and fraudulent practices. BuzzFeed News reported last month on an ad fraud scheme that tracked user behavior in dozens of Android apps to generate fake traffic and steal advertisers’ money. Google estimated close to $10m was stolen from it and its partners, and subsequently removed many of the apps from its Play store.

While the most immediate victims are brands who lose ad dollars to bots and other schemes, ad fraud also diverts revenue away from legitimate publishers and developers. In the case of mobile apps, it can cause frustration for users who may see their phone battery drained and data usage spike as a result of illegitimate ad transactions taking place without their knowledge.

This particular scheme exploits the fact that many app developers pay a fee, or bounty, that typically ranges from 50 cents to $3 to partners that help drive new installations of their apps. Kochava found that the Cheetah and Kika apps tracked when users downloaded new apps and used this data to inappropriately claim credit for having caused the download.

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$10m sounds like a low estimate. The accused apps: Clean Master, CM File Manager, CM Launcher 3D, Security Master, Battery Doctor, CM Locker, and Cheetah Keyboard. I think Mary Branscombe’s comment on this is apposite.
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5 thoughts on “Start Up No.961: China goes CRISPR?, wearables for good and bad, Brexit and the Prisoners’ Dilemma, another Android app fraud, and more

  1. I’m unclear why sales tallies keep listing “Huawei” for the Huawei and Honor brands (and Lenovo, Motorola), but not BBK for the Oppo, Vivo, Oneplus and Realme brands. From everything I could find, those 4 brands are fully controlled by BBK, full stop.

    If I’m correct, the rankings are
    1st ex-aequo Samsung and BBK, 19%
    3rd Huawei, 14%
    4th Apple, 12%
    5th Xiaomi, 9%
    And it means the top 5 control 73% of the market. Assuming the next 5 are around 2% (that’d be Lenovo, LG, HMD/Nokia/Palm/Blackberry, probably ZTE and Sony ?), the top ten are at 83%.

  2. re iPhone XR woes, I think pricing is only part of the issue. Changing – and worse ! – ergonomics are a non-trivial issue, not limited to iOS. The techerati have no issues with hidden UIs. Many regular people around me, probably not quite the majority, but certainly more than a third, really appreciate seeing buttons they can touch when they want to do stuff. Moving those buttons to on-screen was already an iffy move (they tend to auto-hide at the wrong times), removing them entirely is worse.
    Plus the sensible kind of case, the one with a fat lip that protects the screen when the phone falls on that side, interferes with wipes.
    And some apps override or misunderstand swipes that are meant for the OS.

    I’m a nerd, I’ve switched one on my phones to gestures-only, and I’m OK with it, but not in love. Plus that specific phone does have a small bezel, hardware buttons there would really make a ton of sense. Penny-pinching disguised as fashion.

    So swipes ? Look cute, work for average and advanced users, but not so much for basic users.

    And I think this “new UI” isue is compounded by one of the great misunderstanding about Apple: the vast, silent, majority of their customers are not sophisticated nor high-end at all, but basic blokes who went for the iPhone because they didn’t have many models to puzzle over (now they do) and iPhones barely ever changed (they just did). “And it has buttons !” has become my 3rd most effective selling point when proselytizing for Android. (First one is “Doesn’t it look cute ? And look at these pics too !”, 2nd one is “and it only costs 150€ !”)

  3. I’m not saying it’ll succeed nor endorsing it in any way, but Asus is doing something interesting in mobile phone gaming and releasing not only a handset but a flurry of accessories. Sorry, link in French: https://www.lesnumeriques.com/telephone-portable/labo-que-valent-accessoires-smartphone-gamer-asus-rog-phone-n81013.html

    That’s innovative and interesting. Might create margin, lock-in… I’m not seeing devs release specially tweaked games though, they really didn’t for nVidia, so for Asus… Users will have to make do with playing the usual games with a fancy getup. My 12yo nephew would love that.

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