Start Up No.1,013: FTC fines Musical.ly/TikTok, Coinhive buzzes off, did China fund the Crispr babies?, taxing robots, and more


Smart speakers mean you should write your songs like this, apparently. CC-licensed photo by Nesster on Flickr.

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

FTC ruling sees Musical.ly (TikTok) fined $5.7m for violating children’s privacy law, app updated with age gate • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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A significant FTC ruling issued today will see video app TikTok fined $5.7m for violating US children’s privacy laws, and will impact how the app works for kids under the age of 13. In an app update being released today, all users will need to verify their age, and the under 13-year-olds will then be directed to a separate, more restricted in-app experience that protects their personal information and prevents them from publishing videos to TikTok .

In a bit of bad timing for the popular video app, the ruling comes on the same day that TikTok began promoting its new safety series designed to help keep its community informed of its privacy and safety tools.

The Federal Trade Commission had begun looking into TikTok back when it was known as Musical.ly, and the ruling itself is a settlement with Musical.ly.

The industry self-regulatory group Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) had last spring referred Musical.ly to the FTC for violating U.S. children’s privacy law by collecting personal information for users under the age of 13 without parental consent. (The complaint, filed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Commission, is here.)

Musical.ly, technically, no longer exists. It was acquired by Chinese firm ByteDance in 2017. The app was then shut down mid-2018 while its user base was merged into TikTok.

But its regulatory issues followed it to its new home.

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link to this extract


Coinhive cryptojacking service to shut down in March 2019 • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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Coinhive, an in-browser Monero cryptocurrency miner famous for being abused by malware gangs, announced this week its intention to shut down all operations next month, on March 8, 2019.

The service cited multiple reasons for its decision in a blog post published yesterday.

“The drop in hash rate (over 50%) after the last Monero hard fork hit us hard,” the company said. “So did the ‘crash’ of the crypto currency market with the value of XMR depreciating over 85% within a year.”

“This and the announced hard fork and algorithm update of the Monero network on March 9 has lead us to the conclusion that we need to discontinue Coinhive,” the company said.

Coinhive said all in-browser Monero mining will stop working after March 8, and registered users will have until April 30 to withdraw funds from their accounts.

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Until someone malicious buys the domain and reactivates the code, which will still be sitting dormant on thousands of sites. Of note: “according to an academic paper, the company was making in an estimated $250,000 per month up until last summer.”
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Chinese government may have funded ‘CRISPR babies’ project • STAT

Jane Qiu:

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Three government institutions in China, including the nation’s science ministry, may have funded the “CRISPR babies” study that led to the birth last November of two genetically modified twin girls, according to documents reviewed by STAT.

These findings appear to support what many researchers inside and outside China have suspected since scientist He Jiankui revealed the births in late November, sparking international condemnation for violating scientific guidelines against the use of gene-edited human embryos to start pregnancies. “I don’t think He Jiankui could have done it without the government encouragement to press ahead” with research they thought would merit a Nobel Prize, said Jing-Bao Nie, a bioethicist at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

If the documents are correct, they would suggest China is supporting research that the US and other countries consider unethical, and raise doubts about the preliminary conclusion of a government investigation that He acted mostly on his own…

…The documents examined by STAT — a slide presentation prepared by He’s team, Chinese-language patient consent forms, and China’s clinical trial registry — list three funding sources for the study that led to the twins’ birth: the Ministry of Science and Technology; Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, part of the municipal government; and Southern University of Science and Technology, where He worked.

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It always seemed a little surprising that anyone could do such work on private funding in China, of all places.
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GCHQ chief warns on Huawei security threat • Financial Times

David Bond:

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Jeremy Fleming said on Monday that the UK needed greater understanding of the implications of Beijing’s technological ambitions.

“We have to understand the opportunities and threats from China’s technological offer,” he told an event organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore.

“Understand the global nature of supply chains and service provision irrespective of the flag of the supplier. Take a clear view on the implications of China’s technological acquisition strategy in the west. And help our governments decide which parts of this expansion can be embraced, which need risk management and which will always need a sovereign or allied solution.”

Mr Fleming reiterated that GCHQ and the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre would not compromise on the standards they expect from Huawei.

A report by an oversight board set up to test Huawei equipment and software used by UK telecoms suppliers is due to be published soon and is expected to be severely critical of the company’s cyber security standards.

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You realise that if you were a minister whose portfolio intersected in any way with the security services that this is how they’d lobby you: not with hard evidence but with a steady drip-drip-drip of teeth-sucking, controlled wincing, and eyebrow-raising. Imagine it day after day, week after week: “minister, if I could just have a word…”
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Don’t fight the robots. Tax them • The New York Times

Eduardo Porter:

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properly constructed, a tax on automation may not be as destructive as it sounds. South Korea, the most robotized country in the world, instituted a robot tax of sorts in 2018 when it reduced the tax deduction on business investments in automation.

There are two sound arguments for taxing robots. The easiest is this: Governments need the money. In the United States, income taxes account for half of the $3 trillion collected every year by the Internal Revenue Service; payroll taxes account for another third.

Imagine that the fears about robots taking over jobs actually come true. Two years ago, the McKinsey Global Institute found that the job functions that are “most susceptible to automation” in the United States account for 51% of the activities in the economy and $2.7 trillion worth of wages. The institute estimates “half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055.” If that happens, hundreds of billions of tax dollars would be lost every year.

And at the same time that the rise of robots shrinks government tax revenue, the fallout from automation will place more demands on government services. The United States will probably need more money to retrain workers bumped from their jobs by automation, to give them a shot at a new one. Welfare rolls could grow, as millions of workers are displaced to the bottom end of the service economy, where wages are low and robots are scarce.

To afford any kind of government services in the robot era, governments will have to find something else to tax. Why not the robots themselves?

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A few Mate X musings after finally getting to touch it • Android Authority

Kris Carlon:

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Seeing the Mate X up close was enough to satisfy any concerns I might have had about its overall build quality (it’s surprisingly good), but it also confirmed my other concern about the screen. A bumpy kind of dimpling is noticeable where the flexible part happens, and I can only imagine that will only become more pronounced over time. Like anything you fold and refold repeatedly, it’s going to degrade.

It’s the exact same issue Samsung will face with the Fold. Unlike Huawei, Samsung wouldn’t let anyone touch the Galaxy Fold at MWC 2019. It’s very clear that neither of these products are fully ready yet, but the impulse to be first is real. Perhaps Samsung knew that by keeping the Fold behind glass it wouldn’t get articles like this written about it, even if it probably is in a similar state to the Mate X.

Huawei assures me that by the time the Mate X goes on sale the display will be in much better shape. While of course Huawei would say that, it’s also hard to lambast “what might be” given Huawei’s generally good attention to detail. The same goes for Samsung. Maybe the various wrinkles are ironed out in the months to come, maybe they’re not, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Samsung expects Galaxy Fold supply to be limited, hints at luxury launch • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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“We’ll have less supply than we would of the S10 at launch, and also how it goes to market is really important to us,” explains [Samsung UK director of product, services and commercial strategy Kate] Beaumont. “This is a super premium device, and we want to make sure it has a concierge-like service and experience, so it’s not going to be on display in all stores. You’re not going to see it on the stands, we want to make sure it’s a very personal experience. There will be quite intensive aftercare that goes with it as well.”

That means you won’t be walking into your local store to try out the Galaxy Fold, and then sign a contract and walk off. It sounds like Samsung is taking a similar approach to how Apple launched its $10,000 Apple Watch Edition, with supplies restricted to select retailers.

…“We considered a lot of options [for the fold direction – innie v outie],” says Beaumont. “There’s things like if you want to put a case on it, usability, durability, and we feel that having the screen on the inside is the best way to protect that screen. We have the technology to do a fold that is very very tiny, as of course if you have the fold on the outside it doesn’t take quite the same amount of research and development to get that device to fold as it does something that is folding with a much lower angle degree on it.”

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Neat bit of shade on Huawei there. (In passing: Apple’s Watch Edition was discontinued after v1.)
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Five reasons foldable phones are a bad idea • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

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Smartphones used to come in all shapes and sizes — there were phones with keyboards, phones with rotating cameras, and phones with 3D screens. Smartphone design has standardized around the flat, glass slab in recent years, but things are starting to get weird again. Multiple smartphone makers seem to think 2019 is the time to make science-fictional folding phones a reality.

Devices like the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X look cool in demos, but foldable phones are probably a long, long way from being any good. Here are five reasons the current crop of devices is going to be bad.

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Briefly: plastic is plastic (“You encounter a lot of things throughout the day that are harder than plastic, but few that are harder than Gorilla Glass. While your flat smartphone can ride around in your pocket or bag with keys, pens, and coins, a foldable phone might come out looking likes a scuffed mess. Oh, your phone folds inward like the Galaxy Fold? Good luck never getting dust trapped in there when you close it.”); they will break; the designs are still clunky; they’re too pricey; app support will never arrive.

Of the five, the last one – app support – is what’s probably going to make these “meh” on Android. As Whitwam says, “Android apps didn’t work well on tablets, and there’s no reason to think it’ll be any better with foldables.”

If Apple does a foldable, on the other hand, you know developers will be falling over themselves to support it in surprising ways. There’s potential for racing games where the fold is the horizon, for example.
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Universal Music CEO to artists: fine-tune your lyrics for smart speakers • CNet

Lucian Grainge:

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The popularity of voice-activated smart speakers has rocketed since Amazon first introduced the Echo at the end of 2014. But when it comes to finding new music, or playing a song you wished you’d noted the name of when you heard it on the radio the other day, they’re not necessarily set up to help you find what you’re looking for. You really need to know precisely what you want to listen to before you activate the device.

For music makers, these device present both an opportunity and a risk, said CEO and Chairman of Universal Music Group Lucian Grainge, speaking at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday. “The amount of traffic there is with them is incredibly compelling,” he said. But, he added, it can be a challenge for people to find what they’re looking for. “Our experience is people can’t ask for a song when they don’t know what title is.”

But Grainge, who has attracted many of the world’s most popular artists into his fold, has a little tip for songwriters and musicians who want people to stream their music through smart speakers. He uses the example of the timeless hit, perennially popular among the global toddler population, “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” to explain that the title of a song must be front and center in a song’s lyrics.

“If you’ve got something that is a brand, is a soundtrack, is a song where the title is in the chorus and the melodies, we’re seeing really explosive data and activity,” he said. “That helps us in the creative process because it enables us, with the data and with consumption, to use the technology to say to the talent, you need to have something as basic as the song title […] in the chorus.”

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If Leonard Cohen were to hear this, he’d turn in his grave. (Well, OK, his best-known hit did follow this advice.) Along with “don’t waste time with an intro, just start singing” it feels like music is being algorithmed to creative death.
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Forget USB 3.0 & USB 3.1: USB 3.2 moving forward

Zhiye Lu:

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Both USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 are to be considered generations of the USB 3.2 specification. USB 3.1 Gen 1 (formerly known as USB 3.0), which offers speeds up to 5 Gbps, will be rebranded into USB 3.2 Gen 1 while USB 3.1 Gen 2, which supports communication rates up to 10 Gbps, will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2 moving forward. Since USB 3.2 has double the throughput (20 Gbps) of USB 3.1 Gen 2, the updated standard has been designated as USB 3.2 Gen 2×2.

Specification Previous Term Technical Term Marketing Term
USB 3.2 N/A USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 SuperSpeed USB 20Gbps
USB 3.1 USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB 3.2 Gen 2 SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps
USB 3.0 USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB 3.2 Gen 1 SuperSpeed USB

In order to achieve a data transfer rate of 20 Gbps, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 employs up to two high-speed 10 Gbps channels. Last year, Synopsys gave us a small taste of the level of performance that we can expect from the USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 standard. As noted by the USB-IF, conventional USB hosts and devices were designed as single-lane solutions. USB Type-C cables, on the other hand, support multi-lane operations that open the doors for scalable performance. As a result, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 is only possible over the USB Type-C connection.

It’s of utter importance that manufacturers and vendors communicate each USB 3.2 standard to the consumer in a clear way. To avoid overwhelming the consumer with technicalities, USB-IF suggested a separate marketing nomenclature for each standard.

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I can’t understand the doublethink necessary to believe that it makes any kind of sense simply to rename something that has been around for years to something which hasn’t and is barely meaningful.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Just on this point about “U.S” v “US” v “us”: as Jock Stein points out, a screen reader would not distinguish between ‘US’ and ‘us’. Even so I’m removing the points and I’ll trust readers to figure it out.

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,013: FTC fines Musical.ly/TikTok, Coinhive buzzes off, did China fund the Crispr babies?, taxing robots, and more

  1. Re. USB naming: it’s marketing, and it’s naming by committee. One of the first USB-C + 3.1 computer launched some some MacBook. Of course it was 3.1g1 so 3.0, but that a would have been a bad look.

    And there’s worse that the confusion about speed, because pretty much all other features (power delivery, display, analog audio, that SCSI-like storage mode whose names escapes me right now , and 10+ others…) are all optional, not color-codee, not written above the port..

  2. Re. Robot tax: again, we need to tax people and companies alike, otherwise there’ll always be shenanigans because the rich can pick one or the other, and companies can pick place of taxation.
    Once you tax the robot seller, maintainer, and operator just like a worker, you’ve leveled the playing as much as you can. It might still be cheaper hence generate less tax, but that’s another issue.

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