Start Up No.1,030: the content on Apple’s TV service, AirPods ahoy!, Brexit in perspective, bitcoin’s fake trading, big oil’s Facebook lobbying, and more

“Welcome to your room! Oh, ignore the camera, it’s not wired up. Unless they pay the fee.” CC-licensed photo by Mick Stanic 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. Not left yet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A data scientist designed a social media influencer account that’s 100% automated • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopoulos:


Buetti, a data scientist by trade, decided to use his actual skills and automate the hard work of influencing by writing a program that recruited an audience of 25,000 (by autofollowing their accounts in hopes of getting a follow back), and reposted photographers’ eye-catching photos of New York City for his growing entourage to engage with (“😍🤗🤗🤗great shot💕,” one person commented). Poof: @beautiful.newyorkcity was born — an active, popular, and 100% artificial Instagram account. For Buetti, it’s the perfect solution if you don’t want to actually dedicate time to curating an online following, but still want to score free spaghetti from restaurants seeking publicity. His program even finds restaurant accounts in New York, and sends them direct messages offering to promote them to followers in exchange for a comped meal — and no, it does not disclose that @beautiful.newyorkcity is run by a robot.

Behold the latest chapter in the dark art of social media influencing, which despite being widely plagued with bots and fake engagement, continues to attract real interest from marketers and businesses. Buetti’s account has (at least some) real followers, but the influencing itself is being handled by some code rather than an eager personality. It’s a lifestyle brand generated by something that’s not alive.


It’s essentially the logical end state of influencer accounts.
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Opinion : Britain is drowning itself in nostalgia • The New York Times

Sam Byers:


when the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited Britain last year, his verdict was damning, depicting not a nation “picking itself up when things get tough” and “quietly making history” but a society in which, as he put it, “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, meanspirited and often callous approach.” We are even, in point of fact, going off tea.

Our inability to state difficult truths without first offering some reassuring patriotism accounts, in some ways, for the failure of the Remain argument. In making a negative case against leaving the European Union — that it will cause irreparable harm to the economy, that vital flows of food and medicine may be disrupted, that we will consign ourselves to bit-part status on the global stage — Remainers’ concerns have been dismissed as traitorous fantasy, the manipulative catastrophizing of what Brexiteers call “Project Fear.”

And so, all too often, Remainers reach for the same dreamy jingoism as those who would have us violently depart the European Union with no terms in place. There is no patriotic argument for Remain because Brexit itself is a cautionary argument against blind national pride. It’s precisely this empty, hopeless paradox that in June 2016 led to Prime Minister David Cameron, in a last-ditch effort to persuade voters to side with the European Union, telling us, pathetically, that “Brits don’t quit.” It’s also, one assumes, why in January a group of German political leaders and prominent figures encouraging Britain to stay in the Union wrote an open letter not to make a case for Brussels but to appeal to our beverage-sipping sense of self, writing that if we left, they would miss “going to the pub after work hours to drink an ale” and “tea with milk and driving on the left-hand side of the road” — a gale of pure wind with all the meaninglessness of a British Airways ad.


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With the iPhone sputtering, Apple bets its future on TV and news • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:


The original series will be delivered in a new TV app that staff have been calling a Netflix killer. It will make it easier for people to subscribe with a single click to channels such as Starz, Showtime and HBO, with which Apple has been negotiating to offer their shows to users for $9.99 a month each, people familiar with the talks said.

Apple has been negotiating to bring its new TV app to multiple platforms, including Roku and smart TVs, according to people familiar with the talks—an unusual move for a company that has long preferred to limit its software and services to its own devices. Some of those distribution agreements are expected to be announced Monday.

At the same event, Apple plans to showcase a revamped News app that includes a premium tier with access to more than 200 magazines—including Bon Appétit, People and Glamour—as well as newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal. It plans to charge $9.99 for the service and believes the premium news content can lift engagement on its devices, people familiar with the plans said. The New York Times earlier reported on the Journal’s participation.

As part of the arrangement, much of the Journal’s content will be available through the service, although certain types of stories—particularly general news, politics and lifestyles news—will be showcased, while business and finance news won’t be displayed as prominently, according to people familiar with the situation. The deal will result in the Journal hiring more reporters focused on general news to help feed Apple’s product, one of the people said. The Journal sells its own subscriptions for $39 a month.


Tidy sum if people subscribe to news and TV. But will it be more compelling than Netflix?
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Why Netflix won’t be part of Apple TV • The New York Times

Edmund Lee:


From HBO’s perspective, allowing itself to become part of Apple’s streaming effort is not that different from selling its wares via Comcast or DirecTV. It’s just another sales outlet. Even HBO’s own streaming service, HBO Now, had a slow start until Amazon Prime started marketing it. With the push from Amazon, the number of HBO Now subscribers nearly doubled, to five million. (HBO currently has more than seven million online customers, with those who subscribed through Amazon counting for a smaller proportion.)

But that kind of indifference could cut against AT&T’s own plans to sell content directly to people. The wireless giant will have to weigh the value of the distribution muscle of Apple or Amazon or Hulu against its own needs. Why did AT&T buy Time Warner (which also included CNN, TNT and Warner Bros.) if not to jump-start its own streaming bundle?

It’s worth noting that Apple is hyping its new service at a time when sales of its most lucrative product, the iPhone, have started to lag. It stopped reporting how many devices it sold as of September. Now, it wants investors to look at another line item — its foray into the media business, which is stable and steadily growing. Apple hopes it will grow even faster with the help of Hollywood.

Interestingly, that line item (listed as “Services” on the Apple income statement) was once little more than a balance-sheet curiosity. Now, it’s a $40bn business. The forthcoming bundle could add more than $12bn to that, according to an estimate from Goldman Sachs.


Having HBO on board will be pretty enormous for Apple TV. For a lot of cord-cutters in the US, that’s going to be a reason enough on its own.
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Mike Lynch heads to London’s High Court in $5bn legal battle • Financial Times

Jane Croft and Aliya Ram:


seven years ago, the tech entrepreneur and investor became embroiled in one of the world’s longest-running accounting scandals, after he was accused by US tech giant Hewlett-Packard of participating in serious accounting irregularities before HP paid $11bn to buy his company, Autonomy.

Mr Lynch, who has long denied the allegations, is now gearing up to fight a blockbuster $5bn civil fraud trial in London’s High Court, which is set to begin on Monday.

The case may have wide-reaching implications for the UK tech sector, which has largely stood by Mr Lynch, despite hushed conversations about the future of his other businesses and concerns among his former business partners.

HP filed the lawsuit against Mr Lynch and former Autonomy chief financial officer Sushovan Hussain in 2015, alleging that the two men were behind the fraudulent manipulation of Autonomy’s accounting information on a massive scale, leading to HP paying an extra $5bn for the company.


Losing this would be calamitous for Lynch, obviously. But it’s hard to argue that HP did the due diligence.
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South Korea spycam: hundreds of motel guests secretly filmed and live-streamed online • CNN

Sophie Jeong and James Griffiths:


About 1,600 people have been secretly filmed in motel rooms in South Korea, with the footage live-streamed online for paying customers to watch, police said Wednesday.

Two men have been arrested and another pair investigated in connection with the scandal, which involved 42 rooms in 30 accommodations in 10 cities around the country. Police said there was no indication the businesses were complicit in the scheme.

In South Korea, small hotels of the type involved in this case are generally referred to as motels or inns.

Cameras were hidden inside digital TV boxes, wall sockets and hairdryer holders and the footage was streamed online, the Cyber Investigation Department at the National Police Agency said in a statement.

The site had more than 4,000 members, 97 of whom paid a $44.95 monthly fee to access extra features, such as the ability to replay certain live streams. Between November 2018 and this month, police said, the service brought in upward of $6,000.


I mean, in the context of video services that’s pretty pricey, isn’t it. Shouldn’t staying at the hotel have been free? That’s normally how these surveillance services work online?
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Why Apple AirPods came to be everywhere • GQ

Jon Wilde:


the one AirPods moment that provides my most consistent idiot-glee dopamine hit is the clicky magnetic case lid. I flick it open, closed, open, closed relentlessly in my coat pocket while I’m walking—a minor-key tactile addiction that’s reflexive at this point. Apple’s Jony Ive says a lot of man hours were spent to bring me this idiot-glee dopamine hit.

“When you are going to have objects that are inherently very mechanical, I think that it’s so important that you pay attention to all aspects of the design. There is color and form and the overall sort of architecture, but then those more difficult-to-define and concept behaviors, like the noise of a click and the force of a magnet that draws something closed,” says Ive. “I mean, for example, one of the things that we struggled with was the way that the case orients the AirPod as you put them in. I love those details, that you’ve had no idea how fabulously we got that wrong, for so long, as we were designing and developing it. When you get them right I think they don’t demand a lot from you but they contribute far more than people are necessarily aware for your sense of joy and using a product.

And this is, I think, the reason for the slow path to everywhereness that Apple’s AirPods have taken. They may be the best-selling product Apple makes right now, but they’re also the ones that most require word-of-mouth, or a leap of faith. With them, Apple fixed the annoying things about wireless headphones, which you didn’t realize could be fixed until you bought a pair. And Apple made the act of using those headphones tactile and satisfying and sometimes surprisingly delightful, but you wouldn’t know until you splurged on a pair.


Interviews with Ive tend towards the gnomic. I don’t think he’s trying to be obscure; it’s that he has feelings about what he wants to describe which he finds really hard to put into concise sentences.
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This spyware data leak is so bad we can’t even tell you about it • Motherboard

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:


This breach is just the latest in a seemingly endless series of exposures or leaks of incredibly sensitive data collected by companies that promise to provide services for parents to keep children safe, monitor employees, or spy on spouses. In the last two years, there have been 12 stalkerware companies that have either been breached or left data exposed online: Retina-X (twice), FlexiSpy, Mobistealth, Spy Master Pro, SpyHuman, Spyfone, TheTruthSpy, Family Orbit, mSpy, Copy9, and Xnore.

We can’t tell you the name of the company that’s the latest—but certainly not the last—to join that list. That’s because despite our repeated efforts to alert the company to the leak, it has yet to fix the problem or acknowledge our request for comment. Because the leaked data violates the privacy of hundreds if not thousands of people, and because that data is still very easy for anyone to find and access, even naming the company publicly could lead bad actors to expose it.

The exposed database was found by security researcher Cian Heasley, who contacted us when he found it earlier this year. The database is still online, and has been online for at least six weeks. Pictures and audio recordings are still being uploaded to it nearly every day. We won’t name the company to protect the victims who may be getting spied on without their consent or knowledge, and—on top of that—are having their pictures and calls uploaded to a server open to anyone with an internet connection.


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Huawei CFO had a penchant for rival Apple products, it seems • Bloomberg

Natalie Obiko Pearson:


When Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the US on a Dec. 1 stopover at Vancouver International Airport, they seized her iPhone 7 Plus, a MacBook Air and an iPad Pro, according to a court filing Friday.

Her defence lawyers filed an application seeking a copy of the data stored on the equipment, and for those devices to be subsequently sealed. The crown prosecution consented and the devices will be transferred “to the British Columbia Supreme Court Registry pending an assessment of solicitor-client privilege,” Canada’s justice department said in an email.

Huawei has been known to get touchy when lesser employees have used iPhones — it demoted and cut the pay of two employees held responsible after the company’s official New Year’s greetings went out “via Twitter for iPhone.” China’s biggest telecoms gear maker, which supplanted Apple as the world’s No. 2 smartphone brand in 2018, is gunning for the top spot.


So.. not a Huawei phone, tablet or computer? This is like Tim Cook being found using a Surface Go and a Windows Phone.
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Most bitcoin trading faked by unregulated exchanges, study finds • WSJ

Paul Vigna:


Nearly 95% of all reported trading in bitcoin is artificially created by unregulated exchanges, a new study concludes, raising fresh doubts about the nascent market following a steep decline in prices over the past year.

Fraudulent trading volume has dogged cryptocurrency trading for years, but the extent of the market manipulation has been difficult to determine. Bitwise Asset Management said its analysis of trading activity at 81 exchanges over four days in March indicates that the actual market for bitcoin is far smaller than previously thought.

The San Francisco-based company submitted its research to the US Securities and Exchange Commission with an application to launch a bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund. The study, made public Thursday, is an attempt to alleviate the agency’s longstanding concerns that a bitcoin ETF would leave investors exposed to fraud and market manipulation.


Bitwise’s cunning plan is that it will have a fund based in 10 regulated exchanges that can verify their trading data. Which means that of an apparent $6bn of reported daily volume is actually $273m of real money; the rest is shuffled about between liquidity enablers such as Tether, into bitcoin, back out. That still seems like a lot of money.
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About incompatible media in Final Cut Pro X • Apple



As part of the upcoming transition from 32-bit to 64-bit technology in macOS, you may see an alert in Final Cut Pro or Motion about legacy media files that won’t be compatible with future versions of macOS, released after macOS Mojave.
These incompatible media files were most likely created using formats or codecs that rely on QuickTime 7—an older version of QuickTime that is included in macOS Mojave for compatibility purposes. However, because versions of macOS after macOS Mojave will no longer include the QuickTime 7 framework, you’ll first need to detect and convert legacy media files to continue to use those files in Final Cut Pro.1
Before you upgrade to the next major version of macOS after macOS Mojave, make sure to convert all incompatible media files. After you upgrade, the option to convert the incompatible files will no longer be available.


It’s a long list of formats, such as 3ivx MP4, VP9 (which is Google’s?), DivX, Flash Video, JPEG 2000, RealVideo (ah, memories of RealPlayer), and Windows Media Video (WMV) 7, 8 and 9. This is probably going to bite quite a lot of people.
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How Twitter’s algorithm is amplifying extreme political rhetoric • CNN

Oliver Darcy:


Over the last several months, Twitter has begun inserting what it believes to be relevant and popular tweets into the feeds of people who do not subscribe to the accounts that posted them. In other words, Twitter has started showing users tweets from accounts that are followed by those they follow. This practice is different from the promoted content paid for by advertisers, as Twitter is putting these posts into the feeds of users without being paid and without consent from users.

Twitter said its goal with the practice is to expose users to new accounts and content that they might be interested in. In some situations, the practice is innocuous and perhaps even beneficial. For instance, if someone is watching the Super Bowl, but doesn’t follow Tom Brady, it might be useful for them to see his post-game tweet.
Relying on an algorithm to insert politically-oriented tweets into the feed of users, however, appears to come with unintended consequences. Some tweets contain extreme political rhetoric and/or advance conspiracy theories. And they are regularly posted by media or internet personalities who hold fringe views (many are also verified, giving them an added sense of credibility to people who may not be familiar with them), exposing users on the platform to radical content they may otherwise have not encountered.

In effect, the practice means Twitter may at times end up amplifying inflammatory political rhetoric, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and flat out lies to its users. This comes at a time when other platforms, like YouTube, are facing intense criticism for using algorithms to suggest content to users.


The god of “engagement” defeats the god of “is this really a good idea?” once again.
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Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:


In the run-up to the US midterm elections last year $2m was spent on targeted Facebook and Instagram ads by global oil giants and their industry bodies, promoting the benefits of increased fossil fuel production, according to the report published on Friday by InfluenceMap.

Separately, BP donated $13m to a campaign, also supported by Chevron, that successfully stopped a carbon tax in Washington state – $1m of which was spent on social media ads, the research shows.

Edward Collins, the report’s author, analysed corporate spending on lobbying, briefing and advertising, and assessed what proportion was dedicated to climate issues.

He said: “Oil majors’ climate branding sounds increasingly hollow and their credibility is on the line. They publicly support climate action while lobbying against binding policy. They advocate low-carbon solutions but such investments are dwarfed by spending on expanding their fossil fuel business.”

After the Paris climate agreement in 2015 the large integrated oil and gas companies said they supported a price on carbon and formed groups like the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative which promote voluntary measures.

But, the report states, there is a glaring gap between their words and their actions.

The five publicly listed oil majors – ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and Total – now spend about $195m a year on branding campaigns suggesting they support action against climate change.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: who knows, it’s possible that the “unique links” will actually work from email as well as the web, because they’re now absolute URLs. Try it and see!

Start Up No.1,029: Kushner’s WhatsApp use queried, Boeing charged for safety update, 8channer regrets, and more

Oh look, it’s Instagram’s algorithm in action. CC-licensed photo by Valerie Hinojosa 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. Collision avoidance systems on. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cummings demands docs on Kushner’s alleged use of WhatsApp for official business • POLITICO

Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney:


House Democrats are raising new concerns about what they say is recently revealed information from Jared Kushner’s attorney indicating that the senior White House aide has been relying on encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and his personal email account to conduct official business.

The revelation came in a Dec. 19 meeting — made public by the House Oversight and Reform Committee for the first time on Thursday — between Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Rep. Trey Gowdy, the former chairman of the oversight panel, and Kushner’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell.

Cummings, who now leads the Oversight Committee, says in a new letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that Lowell confirmed to the two lawmakers that Kushner “continues to use” WhatsApp to conduct White House business. Cummings also indicated that Lowell told them he was unsure whether Kushner had ever used WhatsApp to transmit classified information.

“That’s above my pay grade,” Lowell told the lawmakers, per Cummings’ letter.

Lowell added, according to Cummings, that Kushner is in compliance with recordkeeping law. Lowell told the lawmakers that Kushner takes screenshots of his messages and forwards them to his White House email in order to comply with records preservation laws, Cummings indicated.

Kushner, whom the president charged with overseeing the administration’s Middle East policies, reportedly has communicated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman via WhatsApp.


Hmm. Kushner’s an utterly talentless ballsack, but I can’t see using WhatsApp as bad – especially compared to using email. There’s no evidence it has ever been cracked. It’s as insecure as your phone login – and you can decide if that’s high or medium or low. Governments all over the place get things done via WhatsApp. I’d always recommend it over email, which offers far more targets to break into.
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It took ten seconds for Instagram to push me into an anti-vaxx rabbit hole • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:


On Wednesday, I created a fresh Instagram account, and followed ‘Beware the Needle’, a user with 34,000 followers which posts a steady stream of anti-vaccination content. I also followed the user’s “backup” account mentioned in its bio, the creator clearly aware that Instagram may soon ban them. Instagram’s “Suggested for You” feature then recommended I follow other accounts, including “Vaccines are Genocide” and “Vaccine Truth.” I followed the latter, and checked which accounts Instagram now thought would be a good fit for me: another 24 accounts that were either explicitly against vaccinations in their profile description, or that posted anti-vaccine content.

They included pseudo-scientists claiming that vaccines cause autism; accounts with tens of thousands of followers promising the “truth” around vaccinations through memes and images of misleading statistics, as well as individual mothers spouting the perceived, but false, dangers of vaccinating children against measles, polio, and other diseases.

“The sheep continue to line up for the massacre. No questions asked,” the caption on a post from “Vaccine Truth” reads.


Slaves to the algorithm.
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Instagram is full of conspiracy theories and extremism • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:


When Alex, now a high-school senior, saw an Instagram account he followed post about something called QAnon back in 2017, he’d never heard of the viral conspiracy theory before. But the post piqued his interest, and he wanted to know more. So he did what your average teenager would do: He followed several accounts related to it on Instagram, searched for information on YouTube, and read up on it on forums.

A year and a half later, Alex, who asked to use a pseudonym, runs his own Gen Z–focused QAnon Instagram account, through which he educates his generation about the secret plot by the “deep state” to take down Donald Trump. “I was just noticing a lack in younger people being interested in QAnon, so I figured I would put it out there that there was at least one young person in the movement,” he told me via Instagram direct message. He hopes to “expose the truth about everything corrupt governments and organizations have lied about.” Among those truths: that certain cosmetics and foods contain aborted fetal cells, that the recent Ethiopian Airlines crash was a hoax, and that the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings were staged.

Instagram is teeming with these conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes, all daisy-chained together via a network of accounts with incredible algorithmic reach and millions of collective followers—many of whom, like Alex, are very young.


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YouTubers are fighting algorithms as they try to make good content for kids • Motherboard

Caroline Haskins:


not all of kids YouTube is a hellscape. In fact, the ecosystem is also home to an entirely different kind of channel: human beings trying to become characters like Mister Rogers, the Wiggles, or a PBS kids show for a new generation. By and large, these YouTubers are striving to make genuinely good, enriching, educational content for children.

These channels are fighting to game YouTube’s algorithm to reach young audiences. According to interviews with several of theseYouTube channels, however, they’re at a structural disadvantage to compete with channels that make massive amounts of animated videos.

“It’s difficult for channels like mine to compete with them too, because they can do like two three videos a day, or at least a few a week,” Mike Moore, who runs Brain Candy TV—an animated learning channel with 186,000 subscribers—told Motherboard in a phone call. “It takes me a month or two to make a video. You don’t get as much watch time from that.”

…To many parents, YouTube is also the cheapest and sometimes only option to keep kids entertained. Millennials, some of whom are becoming new parents, by and large don’t have cable. According to the Pew Research Center, only 31% of people aged 18 to 29 have a cable or satellite subscription, and that number only rises to 52% for people aged 30 to 49.

For parents that need to keep their kids entertained, it seems obvious to lean on YouTube—a free service that doesn’t require cable. YouTube is also accessible on mobile devices, meaning that parents can use it when they travel with their kids.

But YouTube wasn’t constructed to prioritize the development and well-being of young children. It’s an ad-driven business, and it relies on a mystery recommendation algorithm designed to keep people on the site, and viewing ads, for as long as possible. The people competing on the platform to reach children are just pawns within YouTube’s business interests.


The detail in this piece – about the number of animators, the mindlessness of the content – is quite amazing. Is this how an older generation felt about their children growing up watching TV?
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Newspapers help to radicalise far right, says UK anti-terror chief • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


Britain’s counter-terrorism chief has said far-right terrorists are being radicalised by mainstream newspaper coverage, while also criticising the hypocrisy of outlets such as Mail Online, which uploaded the “manifesto” of the gunman in the Christchurch terror attack.

Neil Basu, one of Britain’s top police officers, said it was ironic that while newspapers have repeatedly criticised the likes of Facebook and Google for hosting extremist content, sites including the Sun and the Mirror rushed to upload clips of footage filmed by the gunman as he attacked two mosques in New Zealand.

“The same media companies who have lambasted social media platforms for not acting fast enough to remove extremist content are simultaneously publishing uncensored Daesh [Islamic State] propaganda on their websites, or make the rambling ‘manifestos’ of crazed killers available for download,” Basu said in an open letter to the media on how to report terrorism.

He appeared to be singling out Mail Online, which uploaded the New Zealand’s terrorist’s 74-page “manifesto” to its website and made the document, which included an explanation of his far-right ideology, available for users to download from one of the world’s biggest news outlets.


Always worth recalling that radicalisation and polarisation have existed since long before online social networks.
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Doomed Boeing jets lacked two safety features that company sold only as extras • The New York Times

Hiroko Tabuchi and David Gelles:


The jet’s software system takes readings from one of two vanelike devices called angle of attack sensors that determine how much the plane’s nose is pointing up or down relative to oncoming air. When MCAS detects that the plane is pointing up at a dangerous angle, it can automatically push down the nose of the plane in an effort to prevent the plane from stalling.

Debris from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which crashed on March 10. The angle of attack features could have alerted the pilots if a new software system was malfunctioning.

Boeing’s optional safety features, in part, could have helped the pilots detect any erroneous readings. One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the readings of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another.

Boeing will soon update the MCAS software, and will also make the disagree light standard on all new 737 Max planes, according to a person familiar with the changes, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they have not been made public. Boeing started moving on the software fix and the equipment change before the crash in the Ethiopia.

The angle of attack indicator will remain an option that airlines can buy. Neither feature was mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration. All 737 Max jets have been grounded.

“They’re critical, and cost almost nothing for the airlines to install,” said Bjorn Fehrm, an analyst at the aviation consultancy Leeham. “Boeing charges for them because it can. But they’re vital for safety.”


Now one has to think about all the other “optional” safety features that airlines aren’t deploying because of the cost. How do you find that out?
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After New Zealand shooting, founder of 8chan expresses regrets • WSJ

Robert McMillan:


[Fredrick] Brennan, a former Brooklynite who cut ties with the site in December, said he believed 8chan’s administrators were too slow to remove the post last week from Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter Brenton Tarrant and posts on the site’s message boards that incite violence. Their reluctance to do so, along with the proliferation of posts on 8chan praising Mr. Tarrant’s actions, have persuaded Mr. Brennan that the toxic, white-supremacist culture that lives on parts of the site could someday be linked to another mass shooting.

“It was very difficult in the days that followed to know that I had created that site,” he said in an interview from the Philippines, where he has lived since 2014. He added: “It wouldn’t surprise me if this happens again.”

Mr. Brennan for years tended to one of the internet’s darkest corners, moderating the site as criticism mounted for its persistently racist content and tolerance for user behavior that was long ago banned by mainstream platforms. The site has also been criticized for users posting child pornography and coordinating aggressive harassment campaigns against critics. Mr. Brennan was an administrator on the site until 2016 and worked for the owners of 8chan until December.

While 8chan is available on the open internet, it is often blocked by corporate firewalls and is no longer indexed by Google’s search engine.

Mr. Brennan, 25 years old, expressed regret that the site had consumed so much of his life. “I didn’t spend enough time making friends in real life,” he said. High-school events and classes in upstate New York didn’t matter to him at all. What mattered was the community of like-minded provocateurs, trolls, libertarians and conservative thinkers he discovered online as a boy and that formed his identity as a young man.

“I just feel like I wasted too much time on this stuff,” he said.


Famous. Last. Words.
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A robot leg learned to walk by itself without programming, in a scarily short time • Science Alert

Carly Cassella:


The team claims to have created the first AI-controlled robotic limb that can learn how to walk without being explicitly programmed to do so.

The algorithm they used is inspired by real-life biology. Just like animals that can walk soon after birth, this robot can figure out how to use its animal-like tendons after only five minutes of unstructured play.

“The ability for a species to learn and adapt their movements as their bodies and environments change has been a powerful driver of evolution from the start,” explains co-author Brian Cohn, a computer scientist at USC (University of Southern California).

“Our work constitutes a step towards empowering robots to learn and adapt from each experience, just as animals do.”

Today, most robots take months or years before they are ready to interact with the rest of the world. But with this new algorithm, the team has figured out how to make robots that can learn by simply doing. This is known in robotics as “motor babbling” because it closely mimics how babies learn to speak through trial and error.

“During the babbling phase, the system will send random commands to motors and sense the joint angles,” co-author Ali Marjaninejad an engineer at USC, told PC Mag.

“Then, it will train the three-layer neural network to guess what commands will produce a given movement. We then start performing the task and reinforce good behavior.”


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Cambridge spin-out starts producing graphene at commercial scale • University of Cambridge


Graphene’s remarkable properties – stronger than steel, more conductive than copper, highly flexible and transparent – make it ideal for a range of applications. However, its widespread commercial application in electronic devices has been held back by the difficulties associated with producing it at high quality and at high volume. The conventional way of making large-area graphene involves using copper as a catalyst which contaminates the graphene, making it unsuitable for electronic applications.

Professor Sir Colin Humphreys from the Centre for Gallium Nitride in Cambridge’s Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, along with his former postdoctoral researchers Dr Simon Thomas and Dr Ivor Guiney, developed a new way to make large-area graphene in 2015.

Using their method, the researchers were able form high-quality graphene wafers up to eight inches in diameter, beating not only other university research groups worldwide, but also companies like IBM, Intel and Samsung.

The three researchers spun out Paragraf in early 2018. Thomas is currently the company’s CEO and Guiney is its Chief Technology Officer, while Humphreys, who has recently moved to Queen Mary University of London, serves as Chair.

Paragraf has received £2.9m in funding to support the development of its first commercial products and moved into premises in February 2018.


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Your AirPods probably have terrible battery life • The Atlantic

Alana Semuels:


Of the 3.4m tons of electronic waste generated in America in 2012—an 80% increase from 2000—just 29% was recycled. “Imagine that every single thing in the world has the same life span as a battery, and wore out after 12 to 18 months,” [iFixit founder Kyle] Wiens told me. “It would be catastrophic for consumers and even worse for the planet.”

But, of course, companies design for performance and sales, not life span. They make money when they sell more units, and they’re not financially responsible for disposing of products when consumers are finished using them. Nadim Maluf, the founder of the battery consultancy Qnovo, told me that a decade ago, he went to big tech companies telling them he could help them double the longevity of their products, by extending the battery life of the lithium-ion batteries they were beginning to use. “No one really cared,” he told me. “Extending product life wasn’t consistent with growth on the financial side.”

Apple officials declined to speak on the record for this story. But in 2017, the company announced that it was working toward a closed-loop supply chain, in which 100% of its materials will be recycled or renewed. Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives, has said the company wants to keep products in use as long as possible. Apple also encourages consumers to trade in their devices to be recycled, for a small credit: Someone trading in an iPhone 5, for instance, could get $40 off the $999 price of an iPhone XS.


The “not financially responsible for disposing of products when consumers are finished using them” feels like an externality that should be addressed. But would that involve tracking every device?
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Time to bring Google Shopping case to a close

Ramon Tremosa i Balcells (ALDE, ES) is a member of the European parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs committee:


More than 18 months ago Google’s abuse of its power in online shopping resulted in a €2.42bn fine from the EU. By promoting its own shopping comparison service at the top of its own search results, Google had crossed the line between being dominant and breaking the law.

Commissioner Vestager told Google it had 90 days to change its ways or face further penalties. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” she told the world. “It has denied other companies the chance to compete on their merits and to innovate, and most importantly it has denied European consumers the benefits of competition, genuine choice and innovation.”

Over 500 days later it is hard to see that Google has done enough to avoid further action.

According to the few companies that have, so far, survived Google’s abuse of dominance, the market has further deteriorated. The “point of no return” is plainly visible for what is left of Europe’s once prosperous and vibrant shopping comparison industry…

…I’ve already gone on the record to say that technical solutions can stop Google’s abuse without disrupting online shoppers or merchants. A rotation mechanism on the shopping search results page itself could allow the appearance of Google and its competitors. Google would be unable to exploit its search algorithms while users would get greater choice and relevant results.

Indeed, this approach would suit today’s mobile devices, perhaps rebooting the consumer-focused innovation in shopping comparison that died away once Google began to dominate the sector.

If the Commission feels the need, then other more radical options are still on the table. There are, for example, voices calling for the “unbundling” of Google’s various services, breaking up a tech giant that has problems not just in shopping but also in areas such as Android and AdSense.


Interesting idea about the rotation mechanism, but who would choose who gets to be in it? I still prefer a system where you do well in organic search. It’s honest and nobody adjudicates.
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The new iPad Mini • Daring Fireball

John Gruber reviewing the new 7.9in device, which hadn’t been updated since 2015:


I’ll refer back to my review of the original iPad Mini from 2012:


Typing is interesting. In portrait, I actually find it easier to type on the Mini than a full-size iPad. All thumbs, with less distance to travel between keys, it feels more like typing on an iPhone. In landscape, though, typing is decidedly worse. The keyboard in landscape is only a tad wider than a full-size iPad keyboard in portrait. That’s too small to use all eight of my fingers, so I wind up using a four-finger hunt-and-peck style with my index and middle fingers.


This is even more pronounced now, at least between iPad Mini and iPad Pro (as opposed to iPad Mini and iPad Air) because iPad Pro — inexplicably, as I said — does not support split keyboards, even though they’re bigger devices. I honestly don’t know how anyone is supposed to type on an iPad Pro while holding it in their hands. It’s crazy.

Basically, the iPad Mini knows exactly what it is and the iPad Pros do not — the iPad Pros are lost between the iOS world of conceptual simplicity and the complex world of competing with desktop OSes.

The iPad Mini puts the “pad” in iPad. If you want a device that is bigger than a phone, but smaller and more holdable than a laptop-screen-sized thing for reading and just walking around with, the iPad Mini is it.


Definitely true you can’t type on a full-size iPad while standing up. (Dictate instead?) The iPad mini is a really beloved device for a lot of people: they find it just the right size, not too bulky, yet not undersized. The aspect ratio means you get a lot of screen.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida:1: Yes, “link to this extract” is back! This time with MD5 goodness of the URL to create a unique link, so it *should* work wherever you are. Please note: might be a flop and removed next week.

2: the author of “How AI is changing science” is Dan Falk; Rachel Suggs drew the illustration.

Start Up No.1,028: a US DNA database by stealth?, Uber’s Aussie spyware, AI to draw for you, Nunes v cow, and more

Meet the new instrument that can detect Parkinson’s Disease decades before symptoms appear. CC-licensed photo by Bradley Gordon 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 10 links for you. Flexible, extensible. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Consumer genetic testing is creating a de facto national DNA database • Slate

Natalie Ram:


Imagine the federal government enacted a law requiring all US residents to provide law enforcement with their DNA profile so police could solve more crimes. Would you be OK with such a system?

Imagine instead that the federal government established a database for which people could volunteer genetic profiles—but that the decision about whether to volunteer your DNA belonged not to you, but to your third cousin. Would you be OK with that?

Whether you like it or not, the United States has effectively already adopted this second system. Since April 2018, law enforcement investigations stemming from DNA searches in consumer genetics databases have led to nearly three dozen arrests. In every case, those ultimately arrested did not actually upload their own genetic profiles to any database. Rather, they were identified through partial matches between crime scene DNA samples and the genetic profiles of often-distant relatives shared on consumer platforms like GEDmatch or FamilyTreeDNA. By one estimate, more than 60% of Americans of European descent are already identifiable through the DNA of a third cousin or closer on one of these platforms, and nearly all such Americans may be findable soon. Meanwhile, Parabon Nanolabs, the leading private company selling genetic genealogy services to law enforcement, claims that it can identify criminal suspects out to ninth-degree relatives (e.g., fourth cousins)—widening the genetic web of indirect database inclusion still further.


It’s a DNA database by accident, rather as the tech companies created mass government surveillance by accident – their systems became so pervasive and comprehensive that they could then be exploited by the PRISM system, which ran on secret FISA court rulings.

Also, it’s really unlikely that it will go away. Law enforcement will lobby endlessly to get loopholes to use private data. (Thanks Nic for the link.)

Uber used secret spyware to try to crush Australian start-up GoCatch • ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Sean Nicholls, Peter Cronau and Mary Fallon:


GoCatch was a major competitor to Uber when the US company launched in Australia in 2012. At the time, both companies were offering a new way to book taxis and hire cars using a smartphone app.

Surfcam was developed in Uber Australia’s head office in Sydney in 2015.

A former senior Uber employee has told Four Corners that the idea behind the use of the Surfcam spyware was to starve GoCatch of drivers.

“Surfcam when used in Australia was able to put fledgling Australian competitors onto the ropes,” the former employee with direct knowledge of the program said on the condition of anonymity.

“Surfcam allowed Uber Australia to see in real time all of the competitor cars online and to scrape data such as the driver’s name, car registration, and so on”.

It allowed Uber to directly approach the GoCatch drivers and lure them to work for Uber.

“GoCatch would lose customers due to poaching of its drivers draining their supply. With fewer and fewer drivers, GoCatch would eventually fold,” the former Uber employee said.


Uber really had a particular charm in those days. Though the company insisted that it was a “rogue employee” and that when they found out, he was told to stop. Choose your own adventure on whether you believe them.

London schoolchildren to monitor air quality with backpacks • UKAuthority


Children from five London primary schools will carry monitors in their backpacks for a week as part of research into the city’s air quality.

The 1kg monitors, designed to fit into lightweight backpacks with room for school equipment, measure PM2.5 and PM10 particulates and nitrogen dioxide levels. 250 children from schools in Southwark, Richmond, Greenwich, Haringey and Hammersmith and Fulham will take part.

The sensors have been developed by manufacturer Dyson with King’s College London, whose scientists will analyse the results to see where and when children are most exposed to pollution and make recommendations on reducing this.

The project was launched by London mayor Sadiq Khan at Haimo primary school in Greenwich, one of the five schools involved, on 19 March. The school already provides pupils with walking route maps and the Royal Borough of Greenwich closes the road outside to traffic at the start and end of the day, leading to 35% fewer parents driving children to school.


The difference with these is that they’re monitoring the air the children are breathing – unlike monitors that sit on poles well above the ground.

A ‘super smeller’ sniffed Parkinson’s Disease before symptoms even appeared • Inverse

Sarah Sloat:


Joy Milne has an incredible sense of smell, which she credits to her synaesthesia. But in late 1986, her fantastic nose picked up on something less than lovely: An earthy, musky scent that suddenly radiated from her husband. When her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1994, Milne had an aha moment and approached researchers at the University of Manchester.

“Joy motivated us,” explains Perdita Barran, Ph.D., one of the researchers, to Inverse. “She came to my collaborator Tilo Kunath and directly asked him why he or anyone wasn’t working on the fact that people with Parkinson’s disease have a distinct smell.”

That useful conversation led to a study, in 2017, that confirmed the observation was worth pursuing. The latest study on the smell of Parkinson’s definitively ties scent to the neurodegenerative disorder. On Wednesday, Barran, a professor of mass spectrometry, and her team reported in ACS Central Science that they had identified the specific compounds that make up the odor of the disease.

They hope that, in the future, scent can be used as a diagnostic tool. While Parkinson’s disease is a widely studied condition that affects more than 10 million people worldwide, there are currently no reliable tests to diagnose it.


This is just the most amazing story you’ll read all week. The paper itself is open access. Could lead to earlier diagnosis, and because of that treatment, and because of that better lives.

Nvidia’s latest AI software turns rough doodles into realistic landscapes • The Verge

JAmes Vincent:


The software generates AI landscapes instantly, and it’s surprisingly intuitive. For example, when a user draws a tree and then a pool of water underneath it, the model adds the tree’s reflection to the pool.

Demos like this are very entertaining, but they don’t do a good job of highlighting the limitations of these systems. The underlying technology can’t just paint in any texture you can think of, and Nvidia has chosen to show off imagery it handles particularly well.

For example, generating fake grass and water is relatively easy for GANs [generative adversarial networks, a form of neural network] because the visual patterns involved are unstructured. Generating pictures of buildings and furniture, by comparison, is much trickier, and the results are much less realistic. That’s because these objects have a logic and structure to them that humans are sensitive to. GANs can overcome this sort of challenge, as we’ve seen with AI-generated faces, but it takes a lot of extra effort.

Nvidia didn’t say if it has any plans to turn the software into an actual product, but it suggests that tools like this could help “everyone from architects and urban planners to landscape designers and game developers” in the future.


Goats, cows and Devin Nunes’ mom: how a Republican’s Twitter lawsuit backfired • The Guardian

Vivian Ho, on Tuesday:


The US congressman Devin Nunes sent the Twitterverse spiraling into hilarity late on Monday with his lawsuit listing the purported crimes of Twitter users “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow”.

In the lawsuit against Twitter and a handful of users, the California Republican claims to be the victim of vicious internet trolls, as well as the victim of selective censorship by the social media company. He is alleging that by “shadow-banning” his account, Twitter allowed for the selective amplification of “defamers” such as “Devin Nunes’ Mom” and “Devin Nunes’ Cow”.

(Shadow-banning, a term used for when certain users are not visible in automatic search results, has repeatedly been debunked as an effort to silence conservatives. Twitter has changed the way it algorithmically ranks users, based on their behavior, but the company has maintained that it is content-neutral.)

But in filing the lawsuit, Nunes ultimately fell victim to the Streisand effect: when an attempt to censor something ends up bringing more attention to it.

In suing these Twitter users, Nunes listed some of their tweets, thus ensuring thousands, if not millions, more people saw what the lawsuit characterized as “defamation”. By the time Nunes filed the lawsuit, Twitter had already suspended Devin Nunes’ Mom. Devin Nunes’ Cow had more than 1,200 followers.


*hand to earpiece* and this just in: @devincow now has more Twitter followers than Nunes himself. A richly deserved pisstaking on an idiot who helped debase the Republicans during Trump’s first two years in office by acting as a bag-carrier of nonsense between White House, Congress and Fox News.

The US government is using the most vulnerable people to test facial recognition software • Slate

Os Keyes, Nikki Stevens, and Jacqueline Wernimont:


If you thought IBM using “quietly scraped” Flickr images to train facial recognition systems was bad, it gets worse. Our research, which will be reviewed for publication this summer, indicates that the U.S. government, researchers, and corporations have used images of immigrants, abused children, and dead people to test their facial recognition systems, all without consent. The very group the U.S. government has tasked with regulating the facial recognition industry is perhaps the worst offender when it comes to using images sourced without the knowledge of the people in the photographs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, maintains the Facial Recognition Verification Testing program, the gold standard test for facial recognition technology. This program helps software companies, researchers, and designers evaluate the accuracy of their facial recognition programs by running their software through a series of challenges against large groups of images (data sets) that contain faces from various angles and in various lighting conditions…

…Through a mix of publicly released documents and materials obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, we’ve found that the Facial Recognition Verification Testing program depends on images of children who have been exploited for child pornography; US visa applicants, especially those from Mexico; and people who have been arrested and are now deceased. Additional images are drawn from the Department of Homeland Security documentation of travellers boarding aircraft in the US and individuals booked on suspicion of criminal activity.


We’re discovering that these systems are built on the systems equivalent of native burial grounds.

Is there a limit to the number of devices I can link to my account? • Dropbox Help


Basic users have a three device limit as of March 2019. [Emphasis added – CA]

Plus and Professional users can link more than three devices.

Business users can link unlimited devices, but Advanced and Enterprise Dropbox Business admins can limit the number of devices that their teams can link.

If you’ve reached your device limit, you can change which three devices are linked to your account. To do so, unlink devices you don’t want on your account (down to less than three), and then link the devices that you do want. Learn how to link and unlink devices. 

If you’re a Basic user and you linked more than three devices prior to March 2019, all of your previously linked devices will remain linked, but you can’t link additional devices.

To get unlimited linked devices, upgrade your Dropbox account.


So now we find out how Dropbox is going to start nudging more people towards paying for it. As a business, it’s edging towards formal profitability, and added more than a million users (12.7m by end 2018, up from 11m at end 2017) in a year. Only takes a few to tip over into paying and it’s happy.

Guardian Mobile Fireweall aim to block the apps that grab your data • Fast Company

Glenn Fleishman:


A New York Times report in December focused on location data being shared with third-party organizations and tied to specific users; in February, a Wall Street Journal investigation reported that app makers were sharing events as intimate as ovulation cycles and weight with Facebook. But no matter how alarmed you are by such scenarios, there hasn’t been much you could do. Mobile operating systems don’t let you monitor your network connection and block specific bits of data from leaving your phone.

That led Strafach and his colleagues at Sudo Security Group aim to take practical action. “We are aware of almost every active tracker that is in the App Store,” he says. Building on years of research, Sudo is putting the finishing touches on an iPhone app called Guardian Mobile Firewall, a product that combines a virtual private network (VPN) connection with a sophisticated custom firewall managed by Sudo.

It looks like Guardian will be the first commercial entry into a fresh category of apps and services that look not only just for malicious behavior, but also what analysis shows could be data about you leaving your phone without your explicit permission. It will identify and variably block all kinds of leakage, based on Sudo’s unique analysis of App Store apps.

Sudo is taking preorders for the app in the Apple Store and plans a full launch no later than June. It will debut on iOS, and required some lengthy conversations with Apple’s app reviewers as Sudo laid out precisely what part of its filtering happens in the app (none of it) and what happens at its cloud-based firewall (everything). The price will be in the range of a high-end, unlimited VPN—about $8 or $9 a month. Sudo plans an expanded beta program in April, followed by a production release that will be automatically delivered to preorder customers.


You’d need to be pretty worried about data grabs to pay that amount, wouldn’t you? That’s nearly a music subscription. Is your data *that* valuable? Wouldn’t an adblocker be a lot cheaper?

Antitrust: Commission fines Google €1.49bn for abusive practices in online advertising • European Commission



Google is an intermediary, like an advertising broker, between advertisers and website owners that want to profit from the space around their search results pages. Therefore, AdSense for Search works as an online search advertising intermediation platform.

Google was by far the strongest player in online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA), with a market share above 70% from 2006 to 2016. In 2016 Google also held market shares generally above 90% in the national markets for general search and above 75% in most of the national markets for online search advertising, where it is present with its flagship product, the Google search engine, which provides search results to consumers.

It is not possible for competitors in online search advertising such as Microsoft and Yahoo to sell advertising space in Google’s own search engine results pages. Therefore, third-party websites represent an important entry point for these other suppliers of online search advertising intermediation services to grow their business and try to compete with Google.

Google’s provision of online search advertising intermediation services to the most commercially important publishers took place via agreements that were individually negotiated. The Commission has reviewed hundreds of such agreements in the course of its investigation and found that:

• Starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts. This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages. The decision concerns publishers whose agreements with Google required such exclusivity for all their websites.
• As of March 2009, Google gradually began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses. These required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts. As a result, Google’s competitorswere prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages.
• As of March 2009, Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed. This meant that Google could control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: perhaps you’ve noticed that the “link to this extract” links have gone? They created confusion, only worked in the blogpost, and I didn’t see them being used in that form. So I’ve removed them. Sorry, Richard.

Start Up No.1,027: AI’s influence on science, how b*tcoin screwed the new Nazis, Google aims for gamers, Vestager on the data companies, and more

“Hi there! Here for your jobs. Or not.” CC-licensed photo by Josh Beam on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Undelayed. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Are robots competing for your job? • The New Yorker

Jill Lepore is in caustic form, reviewing a number of books:


The old robots were blue-collar workers, burly and clunky, the machines that rusted the Rust Belt. But, according to the economist Richard Baldwin, in “The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics, and the Future of Work” (Oxford), the new ones are “white-collar robots,” knowledge workers and quinoa-and-oat-milk globalists, the machines that will bankrupt Brooklyn. Mainly, they’re algorithms. Except when they’re immigrants. Baldwin calls that kind “remote intelligence,” or R.I.: they’re not exactly robots but, somehow, they fall into the same category. They’re people from other countries who can steal your job without ever really crossing the border: they just hop over, by way of the Internet and apps like Upwork, undocumented, invisible, ethereal.

Between artificial intelligence and remote intelligence, Baldwin warns, “this international talent tidal wave is coming straight for the good, stable jobs that have been the foundation of middle-class prosperity in the US and Europe, and other high-wage economies.” Change your Wi-Fi password. Clear your browser history. Ask H.R. about early retirement. The globots are coming.

How can you know if you’re about to get replaced by an invading algorithm or an augmented immigrant? “If your job can be easily explained, it can be automated,” Anders Sandberg, of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, tells Oppenheimer. “If it can’t, it won’t.” (Rotten luck for people whose job description is “Predict the future.”) Baldwin offers three-part advice: (1) avoid competing with A.I. and R.I.; (2) build skills in things that only humans can do, in person; and (3) “realize that humanity is an edge not a handicap.” What all this means is hard to say, especially if you’ve never before considered being human to be a handicap.


It’s not a short piece, but it is very fine.
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How artificial intelligence is changing science • Quanta Magazine

Rachel Suggs Dan Falk:


In a paper published in December in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Schawinski and his ETH Zurich colleagues Dennis Turp and Ce Zhang used generative modeling to investigate the physical changes that galaxies undergo as they evolve. (The software they used treats the latent space somewhat differently from the way a generative adversarial network [GAN] treats it, so it is not technically a GAN, though similar.) Their model created artificial data sets as a way of testing hypotheses about physical processes. They asked, for instance, how the “quenching” of star formation — a sharp reduction in formation rates — is related to the increasing density of a galaxy’s environment.

For [Galaxy Zoo creator Kevin] Schawinski, the key question is how much information about stellar and galactic processes could be teased out of the data alone. “Let’s erase everything we know about astrophysics,” he said. “To what degree could we rediscover that knowledge, just using the data itself?”

First, the galaxy images were reduced to their latent space; then, Schawinski could tweak one element of that space in a way that corresponded to a particular change in the galaxy’s environment — the density of its surroundings, for example. Then he could re-generate the galaxy and see what differences turned up. “So now I have a hypothesis-generation machine,” he explained. “I can take a whole bunch of galaxies that are originally in a low-density environment and make them look like they’re in a high-density environment, by this process.”  Schawinski, Turp and Zhang saw that, as galaxies go from low- to high-density environments, they become redder in color, and their stars become more centrally concentrated. This matches existing observations about galaxies, Schawinski said. The question is why this is so.

The next step, Schawinski says, has not yet been automated: “I have to come in as a human, and say, ‘OK, what kind of physics could explain this effect?’”


If you’d forgotten Galaxy Zoo, it was a crowdsourcing method of cataloguing galaxies, launched 12 years ago. Now, the article says, you’d get it done by an AI system in an afternoon.
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Neo-Nazis bet big on bitcoin (and lost) • Foreign Policy

David Gerard:


Bitcoin is pseudonymous, not anonymous, and carries a public ledger of all transactions—so there are multiple sites that track payments to known bitcoin addresses for far-right and so-called alt-lite figures. The “Neonazi BTC Tracker” on Twitter (@neonaziwallets), run by John Bambenek of the computer security service ThreatSTOP, documents the flow of cryptocurrency funds within the white nationalist subculture. Bambenek has also worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center on monitoring these groups.

“Bitcoin provides these neo-Nazi terror groups—and they are terror groups—the ability to raise and spend money in a way that’s hard to disrupt,” Bambenek told Foreign Policy. “But it also provides an intelligence analyst like me unfettered ability to surveil them, because they surrender all their privacy rights by using it—because bitcoin’s ledger is public.”

Cashing out your bitcoins can be tricky. There are only a few cryptocurrency exchanges that one can get U.S. dollars out of with any trust or reliability, and banks are reluctant to touch money from cryptos. “Bitcoin only means something if you can turn it into actual money or stuff,” Bambenek said. “That can only happen in a few hundred places—and many of those places have been immensely helpful [to the anti-Nazi cause].”

…It helps Bambenek’s work that neo-Nazis lack the self-restraint not to publicly reveal themselves—for example, one recent transaction sent 0.001488 bitcoins (about $5.93 at the time) to the Daily Stormer. “1488” is a number that is used as a signal between neo-Nazis—“14” is for the white supremacist slogan known as “the fourteen words” (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”), and “88” is for “Heil Hitler.”

“These guys can’t help but identify themselves,” Bambenek said. “It surprises me they are such an odd combination of arrogance and incompetence.”


The arrogance comes with the territory; the incompetence they make themselves.
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MPs warn consumers not to use ticket resale site Viagogo • Financial Times

Nic Fildes:


British MPs have warned consumers not to buy or sell tickets to musical and sporting events through the resale site Viagogo, which they have accused of “flouting consumer law”.

The warning issued by the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, was issued as part of a wider report into the health of Britain’s live music sector. It raised concerns about the financial viability of smaller live music venues and discrimination against grime and hip-hop artists.

Viagogo, which is based in Switzerland, is one of a number of secondary ticketing platforms that allow consumers to buy tickets to sold-out shows from resellers. The UK Competition and Markets Authority conducted a lengthy investigation into the resale market after numerous concerns of consumer harm and that industrial scale touting online was artificially inflating the cost of tickets on resale platforms.

The CMA expressed “serious” concerns in January that Viagogo, unlike its rivals, had not complied with a court order to improve its behaviour. It said in March it would launch legal proceedings against the company.

MPs said that Viagogo had not proved to be a “trustworthy operator” and had caused distress to music fans.


Viagogo is a byword for disappointment among a certain class of gig goers. So many concerts now restrict tickets to the individual buyer, with ID; Viagogo likes to think that’s an irrelevance. People buy resold tickets from its site, turn up at the gig… and that’s an expensive not-night-out.
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Ride-hailing, fracking, capital hunger, and future profits • Crunchbase

Alex Wilhelm:


at some point in the future Lyft expects its “Adjusted EBITDA Margin” to reach 20%. That’s pretty slack, and the news gets even worse. Here’s more from [Bloomberg columnist Shira] Ovide:


I had to *really* squint to read the footnotes. “Adjusted” Ebitda excludes: depreciation and amortization, stock pay, charges to insurance reserves, acquisition related costs, income taxes and interest. Ok!


In short, Lyft will, at some point in the future yet to be determined, generate 20% profit margins on its revenue, provided that we exclude an incredible slurry of material, GAAP costs from the calculations. The only way I can read the chart’s figures and its explainer text is that Lyft expects to never make money, and it wants you to know it.

A 20% operating margin would be mildly ok. It’s certainly not software-like performance, but Lyft could be big, and thus the profit material. But if your fake profit metric that strips out real costs only gets you to a 20% clear at some point, you aren’t going to have much profit at all, measured using normal metrics.

And this company wants $2bn more? After it has already raised $4.9bn?

A huge industry that can raise untold billions, whose profits are always out in the future? Ride-hailing isn’t the only game around when it comes to those terms. There’s also fracking.


Fracking’s even worse, it turns out.
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Home Office uses debit cards to spy on asylum seekers • The Times

Marc Horne:


Individuals seeking asylum in Britain are issued with prepaid Aspen debit cards, allowing them to spend £35 a week on food, clothes and toiletries.

It has been discovered that the microchipped cards are being used to monitor people’s movements and are revoked if they leave their “authorised city”, the place where they are being given temporary housing. More than 27,000 cards have been issued but fewer than 200 people have been penalised for breaching the condition.

The Home Office confirmed that the cards were being used to track users and a spokesman said: “We are able to access and examine data from the cards on transaction value, point of sale location, date of transaction, retail outlet and ATM location.”

They confirmed that 186 people had their support stopped last year “as a result of a referral regarding the Aspen card usage”…

Stuart McDonald, the SNP [Scottish National Party] spokesman on asylum and immigration, said that the policy was a grossly invasive failure. “The limited information the Home Office has finally been prepared to make public shows that this mass surveillance has found a ‘breach in conditions’ in less than 1% of cases,” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have been monitored in a grossly invasive way to achieve virtually nothing.


It’s only “grossly invasive” if they watch precisely what people are doing all the time, yes? This seems to pick up exceptions. Unless there are people looking at the locations of the transactions. But that seems like overkill, especially given the tiny number of breaches.
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Google Stadia: company makes a play for gamers with new streaming service • The Guardian

Keza MacDonald:


Google announced its entry into the video game market with Google Stadia, a service that will allow players to stream video games to any screen – phone, tablet, TV or computer.

Google announced Stadia at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. The cloud-powered service will allow users to log in from any screen using the Chrome browser, a Chromecast device or a Google Pixel phone or tablet and play the same games across all of them, with all the computational heavy-lifting done by Google’s servers instead of a games console. It means that players won’t have to purchase a box that sits under the TV in order to play, theoretically liberating video games from hardware altogether.

Google did not announce pricing, but it is likely that the service will be subscription-based. The service is expected to launch later in 2019 in the US, Canada, the UK and “most of Europe”…

…Previous game streaming offerings such as 2010’s OnLive have failed because of latency problems and “lag” – it doesn’t matter much if a TV show or film streams on a slight delay, but video games demand instant responsiveness when you press a button, and even a small delay can make them unpleasant to play. Google’s immense server infrastructure will mitigate that, the company says, allowing for smooth gaming at the standard that players expect from a console, in 4k resolution and at 60 frames a second.


All about the timing.
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European commissioner for competition Margethe Vestager interviewed on Kara Swisher podcast • Recode

Vestager, answering Swisher about the effect of the big tech companies on society:


we have seen interference in national elections, referendas. We have seen a lot of data breaches. We have seen a lot of an economy that is shifting quite a lot into a use of data that is unprecedented. We are in the middle of a revolution, a technological industrial revolution. And I think as societies we have quite a lot of catching up to do to get in control.

Just as we had back in the days where we had sort of the Industrial Revolution of chemistry, when pesticides and all of that became, you know, the big guy in town, people thought that you could do amazing things. Just spraying everything, adding everything to products. It took some time before we realized that we have to get in control because otherwise it would be damaging for our ability to reproduce, for clean drinking water, all of that.

Now [we are] to the very last degree in control of that, and I think we want to do the same thing. In my own home country, we had a lot of discussions about chemicals in feeding bottles. Huge discussions. If you’d say, “I’ve never ever have my baby have a feeding bottle,” but you have no second thoughts of giving them an iPad.


Plenty to chew on in the full interview. Vestager will leave office in November; be interesting to see if her replacement has the same sort of feel for trustbusting, or will be relatively ineffectual on this as her predecessor, Joaquin Almunia, was.
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Facebook axes age, gender and other targeting for some sensitive ads • WSJ

Nat Ives:


Facebook is removing age, gender and ZIP Code targeting for housing, employment and credit-related ads as part of a settlement with advocacy groups and other plaintiffs.

The new actions—and just under $5m in payments—settle five discrimination lawsuits filed by the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Communications Workers of America and others, the company said.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that will be published on Tuesday afternoon, according to a spokesman.

Facebook has faced pressure on targeting around such ads for years, sparked by a 2016 report from investigative-news site ProPublica, which said it had been able to buy ads targeted to house hunters that excluded certain groups based on ethnicity. While Facebook didn’t allow targeting specifically by race, it lets advertisers seek consumers by criteria it calls “ethnic affinity.”

Soon after that report, Facebook said it would no longer let marketers target housing, employment and credit-related ads by ethnic affinity.


Sure, that harmful behaviour shouldn’t happen, through Facebook ads or other. But ProPublica pointed this out more than two years ago. It’s frustrating that everyone else has to point out to Facebook how it enables bad actors in so many ways.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up No.1,026: Apple’s Pencil puzzle, your teeth v your jaw, US recycling sputters, HTC’s high VR hopes, and more

MySpace lost 12 years of music in a “server migration project”. CC-licensed photo by egg (Hong, Yun Seon) on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple’s new iPads cling to old Apple Pencil • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


When a company, in this case, Apple, replaces one simply named product like the Apple Pencil with an identically titled successor, you’d usually be forgiven for assuming that the old product is about to be discontinued. Otherwise, advertising things like “Apple Pencil support” would become super confusing for people who are shopping for a new iPad. You’d think so, but Apple apparently has no such qualms. Today, it introduced an updated iPad mini and a new iPad Air. Both of them arrived six months after the launch of the second-generation Apple Pencil, and both offer compatibility only with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

The trouble with Apple’s Pencils is that they’re not cross-compatible. The first model works with one set of iPads, which has today been freshly expanded, while the second variant is only compatible with the latest iPad Pros. You can’t use the older stylus on the 2018 iPad Pros, and you can’t use the newer stylus on any other iPad. Let me say that again using Apple’s language: the iPads that launched today support Apple Pencil but not Apple Pencil.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but this strikes me as an example of product naming abridged beyond the point of usefulness.


What. What. What?!
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As costs skyrocket, more US cities stop recycling • NY Times

Michael Corkery:


Recycling, for decades an almost reflexive effort by American households and businesses to reduce waste and help the environment, is collapsing in many parts of the country.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

Those are just three of the hundreds of towns and cities across the country that have canceled recycling programs, limited the types of material they accepted or agreed to huge price increases.

“We are in a crisis moment in the recycling movement right now,” said Fiona Ma, the treasurer of California, where recycling costs have increased in some cities.

Prompting this nationwide reckoning is China, which until January 2018 had been a big buyer of recyclable material collected in the United States. That stopped when Chinese officials determined that too much trash was mixed in with recyclable materials like cardboard and certain plastics. After that, Thailand and India started to accept more imported scrap, but even they are imposing new restrictions.

The turmoil in the global scrap markets began affecting American communities last year, and the problems have only deepened.


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New Zealand video: after shooting, YouTube struggled to shut down humans who outsmarted its systems • The Washington Post



When the original video was uploaded Thursday evening, [YouTube chief product officer Neal] Mohan said the company’s breaking news shelf kicked in, as did the developing news cards, which ran as banners for all YouTube users to see. Basic searches directed viewers to authoritative sources, and the autocomplete feature was not suggesting inappropriate words, as it had during other incidents.

Engineers also immediately “hashed” the video, meaning that artificial intelligence software would be able to recognize uploads of carbon copies, along with some permutations of it, and could delete them automatically. Hashing techniques are widely used to prevent abuses of movie copyrights and to stop the re-uploading of identical videos of child pornography or those featuring terrorist recruitment.

But in this case, the hashing system was no match for the tens of thousands of permutations of video being uploaded about the shooting in real time, Mohan said. While hashing technology can recognize simple variations — such as if a video is sliced in half — it cannot anticipate animations or two- to three-second snippets of content, particularly if the video is altered in some way.

“Like any piece of machine learning software, our matching technology continues to get better, but frankly, it’s a work in progress,” Mohan said.

Moreover, many news organizations chose not to use the name of the alleged shooter, so people who uploaded videos about the shooting used different keywords and captions to describe their posts, presenting a challenge to the company’s detection systems and its ability to surface safe and trustworthy content.


Terrific article which depicts the real problem that YouTube’s teams have. But: that’s what you chose, folks. Allow uploads in haste, repent repeatedly at leisure.
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Hated and hunted: the ransomware cracker • BBC News

Joe Tidy:


[Fabian Losar’s] unassuming terraced house on the outskirts of London has no decorative furnishings at all. No pictures or paintings adorn the walls. No lamps or plants. The shelves are empty except for a collection of Nintendo games and some computer coding manuals.

He owns one board-game called Hacker: The Cyber Security Logic Game, which he admits he’s very good at – although he’s only ever played it alone. In short, his home isn’t very homely but this cheery, energetic young German doesn’t seem to mind. He even admits to spending “98%” of his time at home as he works from his office upstairs.

“I’m one of those people who if I don’t really have a reason to go outside, I won’t,” he says.

“I don’t really like to leave the house unless I have to. I do nearly all my shopping online and get everything delivered. I don’t really like too many things around as I spend nearly all of my time working.”

Strangely, Fabian has chosen the smallest room in his house to set up his office. This is where, with the curtains closed, he toils away for most of his waking life gaining grateful fans and hateful, dangerous enemies around the world.

He works remotely for a cyber security company, often sitting for hours at a time working with colleagues in different countries.

When he’s “in the zone”, the outside world becomes even less important and his entire existence focuses on the code on his screen. He once woke up with keyboard imprints all over his face after falling asleep during a 35-hour session.

All of this to create anti-ransomware programs that he and his company usually give away free. Victims simply download the tools he makes for each virus, follow the instructions and get their files back. You can see how he has built up such a vengeful group of angry cyber criminals.


Losar has moved to an “unknown location” since he spoke here. You can imagine there are some people who really wish very bad things for him.
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It’s not that your teeth are too big: your jaw is too small • Aeon Ideas

Professor Peter Ungar is a dental anthropologist at the University of Arkansas:


[The jaw’s] size depends both on genetics and environment; and it grows longer with heavy use, particularly during childhood, because of the way bone responds to stress. The evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman at Harvard University conducted an elegant study in 2004 on hyraxes fed soft, cooked foods and tough, raw foods. Higher chewing strains resulted in more growth in the bone that anchors the teeth. He showed that the ultimate length of a jaw depends on the stress put on it during chewing.

Selection for jaw length is based on the growth expected, given a hard or tough diet. In this way, diet determines how well jaw length matches tooth size. It is a fine balancing act, and our species has had 200,000 years to get it right. The problem for us is that, for most of that time, our ancestors didn’t feed their children the kind of mush we feed ours today. Our teeth don’t fit because they evolved instead to match the longer jaw that would develop in a more challenging strain environment. Ours are too short because we don’t give them the workout nature expects us to.

There’s plenty of evidence for this. The dental anthropologist Robert Corruccini at Southern Illinois University has seen the effects by comparing urban dwellers and rural peoples in and around the city of Chandigarh in north India – soft breads and mashed lentils on the one hand, coarse millet and tough vegetables on the other. He has also seen it from one generation to the next in the Pima peoples of Arizona, following the opening of a commercial food-processing facility on the reservation. Diet makes a huge difference. I remember asking my wife not to cut our daughters’ meat into such small pieces when they were young. ‘Let them chew,’ I begged. She replied that she’d rather pay for braces than have them choke. I lost that argument.


Good to know that even professors can lose arguments at home even in their specialist subject.
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Apple Watch detects irregular heart beat in large US study • Reuters

Manas Mishra:


Results of the largest AF screening and detection study, involving over 400,000 Apple Watch users who were invited to participate, were presented on Saturday at the American College of Cardiology meeting in New Orleans.

Of the 400,000 participants, 0.5%, or about 2,000 subjects, received notifications of an irregular pulse. Those people were sent an ECG (electrocardiography) patch to wear for subsequent detection of atrial fibrillation episodes.

A third of those whose watches detected an irregular pulse were confirmed to have atrial fibrillation using the ECG technology, researchers said.

Some 84% of the irregular pulse notifications were later confirmed to have been AF episodes, data showed.

“The physician can use the information from the study, combine it with their assessment … and then guide clinical decisions around what to do with an alert,” said Dr. Marco Perez, one of the study’s lead investigators from Stanford School of Medicine.


I don’t know enough to say whether that two-thirds false positive rate is bad, and of course we don’t know the false negative (people who weren’t alerted who did have a problem). But overall, it sounds like it’s useful.
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Myspace lost all the music its users uploaded between 2003 and 2015 • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:


It’s been a year since the music links on Myspace stopped working; at first the company insisted that they were working on it, but now they’ve admitted that all those files are lost: “As a result of a server migration project, any photos, videos, and audio files you uploaded more than three years ago may no longer be available on or from Myspace. We apologize for the inconvenience and suggest that you retain your back up copies. If you would like more information, please contact our Data Protection Officer, Dr. Jana Jentzsch at”

Yeah, apparently they don’t have a backup.

Someday, this will happen to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Don’t trust the platforms to archive your data. The Internet Archive will host anything freely distributable, for free, forever, and they have mirrors of their servers in California, Egypt and Amsterdam.


If you want a vision of the future, Smith, imagine a systems engineer facepalming – forever.
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Having a bad day? You can pay people to shower you with praise on WeChat • Abacus

Xinmei Shen:


Chat groups where people shower you with over-the-top compliments and cheesy but positive messages (for a price, of course) are gaining popularity in China. Kuakuaqun, meaning praising groups, are on WeChat and QQ.

But these aren’t just generic compliments. These groups are full of people who find extremely creative ways to find a silver lining in any dark cloud.

Here’s one of the most popular praises circulating on social media. A person fishing for compliments said: “I can’t focus on reading.” The gold-star response? “This means your knowledge level is higher than the book.” 

Another popular one starts with: “My roommate is a girl.” How can you possibly turn a plain statement like that into praise? Watch the professionals in action: “You can tell that your roommate is a girl? You have eyes for discovering treasures.” And “You now have what I dream about having.”

I wanted to hear some creative ways to compliment people – no, seriously, I didn’t need a mid-work compliment, honest – so I searched for “praising group” on Taobao. There were at least a dozen vendors, so I picked the most popular one and bought myself a praising session for five minutes, costing 50 yuan (US$7.45). 


In case the world isn’t weird enough for you just now.
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Sony Mobile revises downward fiscal 2018 smartphone shipment target • Digitimes

Max Wang and Steve Shen:


Sony Mobile Communications has revised downward its shipment target for smartphones for fiscal 2018 (April 2019-March 2019) to 6.5m units from 7m projected previously.

The revised figures will represent a decline of 51.9% from the 13.5m units shipped a year earlier.

The company cited fierce competition from Apple in Japan, Southeast Asia and Europe, as well as increasing competition from China-based brands such as Huawei and Oppo in markets outside China.

Sony Mobile also expects its handset business to generate revenues of JPY490bn (US$4.393bn) with an operating loss of JPY95bn (US$857m) for the fiscal year.

The company expects the introduction of its high-end flagship, the Xperia 1, mid-tier Xperia 10 and the entry-level Xperia L3 will bring a turnaround of its handset business in new fiscal year.


Ah, Sony, always expecting a turnaround in its mobile phone business. Of that huge loss, $153m is a writedown on “long-lived assets” – which might be factories, though who knows. Most of the rest of the business is at least static and profitable. Its smartphone division, though, is burning money.
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Galaxy S10 owners report issues with Android Auto • SamMobile

“Josh L”:


A number of Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ owners have taken to Samsung’s US Community Forum to vent their frustration that their handset won’t work with their vehicle’s Android Auto in-car infotainment system, throwing all sorts of strange error messages before crashing in most instances.

The bug doesn’t seem to follow a specific pattern — some users explained how Android Auto won’t recognise their handset, falling at the first hurdle; while others said it starts to function like normal, detecting their device, only to crash a couple of minutes later or when a command is issued.

There doesn’t appear to be a workaround for the bug, either. Reinstalling Android Auto on the handset has next to no effect, nor does a factory reset, according to users on the US Community Forum, hinting that Android Auto isn’t compatible with some builds of the device’s firmware.


Seems like Samsung rushed a bit. I’d love to see some numbers on how many cars have a) Android Auto b) Apple CarPlay c) both and how much they’re used in them. Bluetooth does an adequate job for most, I think.
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HTC to offer unlimited access to VR content at flat rate • FOCUS TAIWAN

Jiang Ming-yan and Frances Huang:


Taiwan-based smartphone brand HTC Corp., which intensified its efforts to penetrate the global VR market by launching its first VR headset – the Vive – in 2015, will provide unlimited access to VR content starting from April in an attempt to boost its revenue in the VR business.

From April 2, consumers will be able to take advantage of the Viveport Infinity program to enjoy unlimited access to VR content subscription services. Under the program, subscribers will have to pay US$12.99 per month, or US$99 per year, to get unlimited access to Viveport services.

Viveport is a Vive app store that provides users with a wider range of content for the VR headset.

According to HTC, popular games, including Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs, have timed their launch for subscription to coincide with their global release, which is expected to allow consumers choices and affordability when it comes to trialing new content in Viveport’s subscription service.


HTC really is circling the bowl, and I don’t see this helping, given that “VR content” that people will want to subscribe to is hard to come by. Having sold its smartphone team to Google for US$1bn last year, it reported a net profit of $388m – ie it burnt through more than half its windfall. I’m not sure there’s a second act in there.
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Britain’s porn watchers likely to be caught with their pants down by porn block • YouGov

Matthew Smith:


In April new government policy aimed at preventing children from accessing pornography will come into force and require adult websites to verify that visitors are at least 18 – and simply asking them won’t suffice.

Visitors will have to confirm their age using a driving licence, credit card, passport or mobile SMS. Britons will also be able to buy an age verification card in high street shops to do the same job. Only then will they be able to access the content within the website.

It’s a monumental change, and the first of its kind anywhere in the world. And despite being mere weeks from implementation, most Britons are unaware of it.

New YouGov research finds that three quarters of Britons (76%) don’t know that the so-called “porn block” is being introduced – only 24% said they knew it was on the way.

This unaware group includes half (53%) of Britain’s most frequent porn users – those who watch pornography online every day, or most days.

While Britons may have been unaware of the policy, there’s widespread backing for it once they know the details. Fully two thirds (67%) say they approve of the changes, although support declines with frequency of porn use.


“Frequency of porn use.” O tempora, o mores.
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Use and fair use: statement on shared images in facial recognition AI • Creative Commons

Ryan Merkley on questions about the legality of IBM’s use of a ton of Creative Commons-licensed photos to train facial recognition systems:


While we do not have all the facts regarding the IBM dataset, we are aware that fair use allows all types of content to be used freely, and that all types of content are collected and used every day to train and develop AI. CC licenses were designed to address a specific constraint, which they do very well: unlocking restrictive copyright. But copyright is not a good tool to protect individual privacy, to address research ethics in AI development, or to regulate the use of surveillance tools employed online. Those issues rightly belong in the public policy space, and good solutions will consider both the law and the community norms of CC licenses and content shared online in general.

I hope we will use this moment to build on the important principles and values of sharing, and engage in discussion with those using our content in objectionable ways, and to speak out on and help shape positive outcomes on the important issues of privacy, surveillance, and AI that impact the sharing of works on the web.


There’s also a new FAQ, which includes this: “If someone uses a CC-licensed work with any new or developing technology, and if copyright permission is required, then the CC license allows that use without the need to seek permission from the copyright owner so long as the license conditions are respected. This is one of the enduring qualities of our licenses — they have been carefully designed to work with all new technologies where copyright comes into play. No special or explicit permission regarding new technologies from a copyright perspective is required.”

In other words: you licensed it. You can’t unilaterally revoke the licence. (Perhaps there’ll be a new CC variant – “no AI”.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,025: Beto’s Dead Cow membership, Apple responds to Spotify, Facebook’s angry algorithm tweak, how the backstop deal broke, and more

The interface to the Flight Management System on a 737: part of the source of the problem that led to two crashes. CC-licensed photo by Frans Zwart 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. Not delayed yet. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Flawed analysis, failed oversight: how Boeing, FAA certified the suspect 737 MAX flight control system • The Seattle Times

Dominic Gates:


That flight control system, called MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), is now under scrutiny after two crashes of the jet in less than five months resulted in Wednesday’s FAA order to ground the plane.

Current and former engineers directly involved with the evaluations or familiar with the document shared details of Boeing’s “System Safety Analysis” of MCAS, which The Seattle Times confirmed.

The safety analysis:

• Understated the power of the new flight control system, which was designed to swivel the horizontal tail to push the nose of the plane down to avert a stall. When the planes later entered service, MCAS was capable of moving the tail more than four times farther than was stated in the initial safety analysis document.
• Failed to account for how the system could reset itself each time a pilot responded, thereby missing the potential impact of the system repeatedly pushing the airplane’s nose downward.
• Assessed a failure of the system as one level below “catastrophic.” But even that “hazardous” danger level should have precluded activation of the system based on input from a single sensor — and yet that’s how it was designed.

The people who spoke to The Seattle Times and shared details of the safety analysis all spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their jobs at the FAA and other aviation organizations.

Both Boeing and the FAA were informed of the specifics of this story and were asked for responses 11 days ago, before the second crash of a 737 MAX last Sunday.


Eleven days. If the FAA had acted more quickly, scores of peoples’ lives could have been saved. (Thanks David Smith for the link.)
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Ethiopian Airlines crash: American leadership on air safety under question across the globe • The Washington Post

Anthony Faiola:


“The Americans may feel, and not without justification, that they have the greatest insight into the Boeing aircraft,” said Sandy Morris, an aerospace analyst with the Jefferies financial group in London. “But this is a case when others in the world decided that they wanted to bring the risk of another accident down to zero. What you’ve seen here is a rebellion.”

Perhaps nowhere was US leadership on aviation safety being questioned more than in China, the first country to ground the 737 Max — an unprecedented move for a government that long followed cues from American authorities.

A top Chinese regulator said his agency made its decision because the [US] FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] and Boeing had not provided China with satisfactory answers about the airplane’s software and safety issues after the first 737 Max crash — of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia that killed all 189 passengers and crew.

Li Jian, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, suggested that the FAA was reluctant to take strong measures against the 737 Max.

“They have had difficulty making a decision, so we took the lead,” Li told reporters on Monday…

Chinese officials probably welcomed the opportunity to establish their leadership credentials at an inflection point in the country’s aviation history, analysts said. China’s civil aviation market is expected to eclipse that of the United States in three years, while its first homegrown passenger jet, the C919 narrow-body model that is designed to compete with the 737 Max, is also expected to take to the skies by the mid-2020s, at least in China.


Not mentioned in this story, but mentioned by John Gruber (who linked to it on Friday) is that the FAA has been without a commissioner for over a year. Trump nominated his personal private jet pilot. Congress laughed.
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Beto O’Rourke’s secret membership in America’s oldest hacking group • Reuters

Joseph Menn:


The hugely influential Cult of the Dead Cow, jokingly named after an abandoned Texas slaughterhouse, is notorious for releasing tools that allowed ordinary people to hack computers running Microsoft’s Windows. It’s also known for inventing the word “hacktivism” to describe human-rights-driven security work.

Members of the group have protected O’Rourke’s secret for decades, reluctant to compromise his political viability. Now, in a series of interviews, CDC members have acknowledged O’Rourke as one of their own. In all, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be named for the first time in a book about the hacking group by this reporter that is scheduled to be published in June by Public Affairs. O’Rourke was interviewed early in his run for the Senate.

There is no indication that O’Rourke ever engaged in the edgiest sorts of hacking activity, such as breaking into computers or writing code that enabled others to do so. But his membership in the group could explain his approach to politics better than anything on his resume. His background in hacking circles has repeatedly informed his strategy as he explored and subverted established procedures in technology, the media and government.

“There’s just this profound value in being able to be apart from the system and look at it critically and have fun while you’re doing it,” O’Rourke said. “I think of the Cult of the Dead Cow as a great example of that.”

An ex-hacker running for national office would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. But that was before two national elections sent people from other nontraditional backgrounds to the White House and Congress, many of them vowing to blow up the status quo.


In some ways it’s inevitable that a hacker would be a presidential candidate at some point. In the same way, a keen video game player will also be a candidate – and in time become president. It’s just numbers.
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Addressing Spotify’s claims • Apple


The only contribution that Apple requires is for digital goods and services that are purchased inside the app using our secure in-app purchase system. As Spotify points out, that revenue share is 30% for the first year of an annual subscription — but they left out that it drops to 15% in the years after.

That’s not the only information Spotify left out about how their business works:

• The majority of customers use their free, ad-supported product, which makes no contribution to the App Store.
• A significant portion of Spotify’s customers come through partnerships with mobile carriers. This generates no App Store contribution, but requires Spotify to pay a similar distribution fee to retailers and carriers.
• Even now, only a tiny fraction of their subscriptions fall under Apple’s revenue-sharing model. Spotify is asking for that number to be zero.

Let’s be clear about what that means. Apple connects Spotify to our users. We provide the platform by which users download and update their app. We share critical software development tools to support Spotify’s app building. And we built a secure payment system — no small undertaking — which allows users to have faith in in-app transactions. Spotify is asking to keep all those benefits while also retaining 100% of the revenue.


It would be quite a data point if we found out how many people signed up for Spotify through the iOS app. Especially given how much bigger Google Play is in user numbers.
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Norway joins list of countries canceling Elsevier contracts • The Scientist Magazine®

Catherine Offord:


Norway has become latest country to cancel its contracts with Elsevier following a dispute over access to research papers. In a statement published yesterday (March 12), the Norwegian Directorate for ICT and Joint Services in Higher Education and Research (UNIT), which represents a consortium of research institutions in the country, rejected Elsevier’s offer to lower some of its costs for Norwegian institutions because it didn’t go far enough to promote free access to published research.

“The offer from Elsevier is far from fulfilling the requirements of Norway for open access to research articles,” the agency says in a statement (translated by Google). “Nor is there any movement in the agreement [about] paying for publishing instead of paying for reading access. The agreement with Elsevier is therefore not renewed for 2019.”

Norwegian institutions had been arguing for a so-called “read-and-publish” arrangement. Currently, most institutions pay both to read articles on Elsevier, which hosts around academic 2,500 journals, and to provide open access to their own articles on the platform. A read-and-publish deal would combine those costs into one and make papers immediately available on publication.


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Margrethe Vestager to hit Google with another fine • Financial Times

Rochelle Toplensky:


The latest investigation has focused on Google’s AdSense business, which places its search box on third-party websites, such as news websites. The commission can fine up to an additional $13bn — which is 10% of the latest global turnover of Google’s parent company, Alphabet — but the penalty is expected to be significantly smaller than the maximum.

As outlined in their 2016 charge sheet, EU officials worried that Google “artificially reduced choice and stifled innovation in the market” by contractually restricting how third-party websites display search ads from rivals.

The EU case centres on Google demands, introduced in 2006, that required a number of popular third-party websites to use its ad service exclusively if they wanted to include the Google search box on their site. In 2009, the company relaxed the restrictions to allow the websites to show competing advertisers on their pages, but required they display a minimum number of Google ads in prime locations and give Google the right to authorise changes to competitors’ ads. The contract terms were ultimately phased out from 2016.

While next week’s fine will bring an end to the AdSense investigation, EU antitrust officials continue to scrutinise Google’s behaviour in other services — such as dedicated search for travel, jobs and local businesses — and could open fresh probes.


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Walmart readies low-priced rival to Apple iPad • Bloomberg

Matthew Boyle:


Look out Apple — Walmart Inc. is moving into iPad territory.

The world’s largest retailer plans to introduce an inexpensive, kid-friendly tablet computer under its ONN store brand, part of a broader redesign of its electronics department. The device will be made by a Chinese supplier and run on Google’s Android operating system, according to photos found on a database of wireless product applications filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Tara House, a Walmart spokeswoman, confirmed the product is in the works, though declined to comment further. The price of the device, or when it will debut, hasn’t been disclosed.

Walmart’s device could bring some life to the sluggish tablet market, which has been declining for several years. Tablet users don’t buy new ones at the same pace as they replace smartphones, which have also grown in size and capacity, reducing the need for a larger device. In 2018 tablet shipments fell 6.2%, according to data tracker Strategy Analytics.


“iPad rival”. Wow, is it 2012 again? Android Police’s take on this was “Crap store plans crap tablet“.
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Young entrepreneur series: Atta Elayyan • UC Centre for Entrepreneurship


Atta Elayyan is currently CEO of Christchurch-based app development company LWA Solutions. Atta co-founded the company with Mike Choeung in 2010 and has grown the company to a 12-strong team. The team has completed projects for both New Zealand and overseas customers such as Trade Me, Mediaworks, Microsoft and Aramex. The latter being the largest logistics and transport company in the Middle East. For Aramex, LWA Solutions facilitated an innovative and user-centered solution. In fact, Atta and his team spent a week in Jordan with Aramex courier drivers to observe their daily routine and gain insight into how the courier drivers could use technology to enhance their everyday work.

Replacing clunky and expensive devices, they implemented a bring-your-own-device system, turning smartphones into scanners. LWA Solutions crafted a solution with unique task management software applied to low-end smart phones specifically for Aramex. This enabled Aramex to completely streamline their business processes and enables scaling without huge hardware costs. Ultimately, a complete transformation of how Aramex do business. On reflection, it is amazing that such an incredible tech-driven international business can be run so successfully from Christchurch.


Sadly, he was one of the victims in the terrorist attack in Christchurch. New Zealand’s government is now looking to change its laws to prevent anyone getting hold of (or creating) semi-automatics. (Thanks Richard for the link.)
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One year in, Facebook’s big algorithm change has spurred an angry, Fox News-dominated – and very engaged! – News Feed • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:


A new report from social media tracking company NewsWhip shows that the turn toward “meaningful interactions” has:

• pushed up articles on divisive topics like abortion, religion, and guns;
• politics rules; and
• the “angry” reaction (😡) dominates many pages, with “Fox News driving the most angry reactions of anyone, with nearly double that of anyone else.”

Of course, all that isn’t only Facebook’s fault. The content that dominates the platform now might have risen even without an algorithmic boost. But what’s clear is that Mark Zuckerberg’s January 2018 exhortation that the time spent on Facebook be “time well spent” has not come to pass: Instead, it’s often an angry, reactive place where people go to get worked up and to get scared. Here are the two most-shared Facebook stories of 2019 so far:

Engagement — likes, comments, shares, reactions — has risen. For the first few months of this year, it was 50% higher than it was in 2018, and about 10% higher than it was in 2017 (which, remember, included Trump’s inauguration, large-scale protests, and the chaotic early days of his presidency).

“There is a possibility that Facebook’s friends and family focus, getting people to read what their networks are sharing rather than what pages are promoting, may have contributed to this increase as people shared articles they enjoyed on the network,” NewsWhip says.


So you’re saying it’s still a cesspit, and that your “tuning” has made it worse, Mr Zuckerberg?
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Cryptocurrency startup Prodeum pulls exit scam, leaves a dick behind • The Next Web

Dimitar Mihov:


It remains unclear precisely how much cash the startup has lifted from its investors, but its entry on ICO Watchlist indicates Prodeum completed 18% from its funding goal. For context, its white paper lists the soft and hard caps for the ICO at 2,100 and 5,400 ETH, respectively. The current price of Ethereum is $1,194, according to CoinMarketCap.

Prodeum is the latest cryptocurrency company to pull an exit scam.

Last year, a sketchy Bitcoin investment platform known as BitPetite suddenly went dark, leaving with all of its investors’ coins.

Only weeks later, another cryptocurrency company, called Confido, wiped its digital fingerprints and dashed off with its customers’ investments. The move came days after its founders said they’ve ran into legal obstacles.


I’d be trying to sell any of those junk “coins” – actually penny shares without the voting rights – if I’d bought any.
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Xiaomi/Apple: all about Mi • Financial Times

The “Lex” opinion column isn’t keen on Xiaomi’s prospects:


Xiaomi is number one in India in shipment terms, and one of the top five in Europe. The group has partnered with Foxconn to make phones in India where just a third of the population use smartphones. Apple has just over 1% of that market. 

Margins are higher within an internet-of-things and household electronics business. Margins are higher here, but unlikely to offset weakness in Chinese smartphone sales.

Xiaomi lacks Apple’s pricing muscle. In 2016, Xiaomi held top market share in China, which accounted for more than 70% of its revenue. ZTE, Huawei, Oppo and Vivo have since undercut Xiaomi on value and through easier access via physical stores. 

China’s move to 5G this year will bring significant demand for new smartphones over the next few years. But Xiaomi’s premium plan is fraught with risk. Raising prices in its home market may threaten its tenuous grip on its number five spot. Doubts about Xiaomi’s strategy when it came to market have proved well-founded. The shares have fallen 43% from their peak shortly afterwards, and may fall further.


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How Theresa May’s winning backstop deal was done… and why Geoffrey Cox blew it apart • RTE

Tony Connelly, for the Irish radio station:


The [UK]Attorney General [Geoffrey Cox, who provides legal advice to the UK government] was already on the defensive. The UK had had to drop the very public demands for a unilateral exit clause or expiry date. Cox therefore wanted independent arbitration to be the next best thing as a way out.

He first suggested the arbitration be outside the dispute mechanisms already enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement. That was immediately rejected by Barnier.

He [Cox] then made further arguments which baffled and irritated the EU side. 

First, he suggested that if the trade negotiations broke down then it would, by default, mean the backstop applying indefinitely. Since Article 50 was designed to be a temporary state, that meant the EU was breaking its own rules.

Cox then argued that Northern Ireland citizens would be subject to single market rules, yet not represented in the European Parliament or in ministerial meetings. The backstop was therefore in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Combine those arguments and the UK should be entitled to walk away from the backstop. EU officials were in disbelief. 

“There was a fundamental disagreement,” recalls one official, briefed on the dinner. “It wasn’t on the principle of arbitration. It was on what the arbitration can cover, and what comes next.”

The mood in Brussels darkened. Cox and Steve Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, returned to London. Sabine Weyand continued technical talks with Olly Robbins, her opposite number. 


Cox was both negotiating, and declaring what the negotiations meant – “marking his own homework”, as one MP put it. I suspect he thought his ECHR twist was very clever and would show those Brussels suits who was the smartest person in the room. Turns out, that didn’t really matter. The full story also shows how much high-level negotiation is now done via Twitter, which is quite weird.

American readers will probably find this impenetrable. You’re not alone, folks.
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Two-thirds of all Android antivirus apps are frauds • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


An organization specialized in testing antivirus products concluded in a report published this week that roughly two-thirds of all Android antivirus apps are a sham and don’t work as advertised.

The report, published by Austrian antivirus testing outfit AV-Comparatives, was the result of a grueling testing process that took place in January this year and during which the organization’s staff looked at 250 Android antivirus apps available on the official Google Play Store.

The report’s results are tragicomical – with antivirus apps detecting themselves as malware – and come to show the sorry state of Android antivirus industry, which appears to be filled with more snake-oilers than actual cyber-security vendors.


Only two-thirds? Though I think you can say that 100% of iOS “antivirus” apps won’t be able to detect if something bad is going on, because they wouldn’t be allowed out of their sandbox. I leave it to readers to decide how to describe that.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,024: Spotify ‘warns’ of price rises, Brexit beyond belief, quantum time truths, pricing Apple Video, VR feels the chill, and more

Guess what the cool new app teenagers are using for their social media communication? CC-licensed photo by Nedra 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. Idus Martiae, dies illa. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spotify boss warns of price rises in Apple antitrust dispute • Financial Times

Anna Nicolaou, Tobias Buck and Madhumita Murgia:


Spotify will raise prices if Apple continues to charge it a 30% fee for using its ubiquitous App Store, the music-streaming service’s chief executive has said.

The warning from Daniel Ek comes just days after Spotify filed an antitrust complaint with the EU accusing Apple of unlawfully abusing its App Store dominance to favour its own Apple Music service.

“You can see us having no other choice than to accept the 30% fee put in place, which essentially would mean we would have to raise our prices for consumers all over the world,” Mr Ek said in an interview.

“Apple [would get] an unfair benefit of being able to compete at much lower prices,” he added. “I obviously think our service is superior to theirs, but a 30% price difference is a lot.”

In its EU complaint, Spotify said that Apple had required all iPhone app makers exclusively to use the Apple payment system for the past eight years.

Apple has introduced a 30% fee, applied to Spotify and all other digital content providers in the first year after users download their app, for using the payment system. Other apps, such as Uber and Deliveroo, are not subject to the fee, which drops to 15% after a year.

Mr Ek’s comments are the latest in a long-running battle between the two companies, which the Spotify chief said became “untenable” a year ago.


Translated: Spotify wants to put prices up. Apple’s a good way to complain about that. Also, how many people does it have subscribed via the App Store, given that it stopped offering that some time last year? I hear Apple’s not very happy about the PR presentation on this, but it’s biding its time.
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Here’s what went down on perhaps the maddest night of Brexit carnage ever seen • Buzzfeed News

Alan White:


You may have some questions. Such as:

• Didn’t they already vote in favour of this [government motion for the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by everyone from Theresa May down with the EU, and not to leave without a “deal”] in January?

• How can you rule it out when that is the legal default if nothing else happens?

• Wasn’t the government telling us “‘no deal’ is better than a bad deal” for the last year?

And the answers to all these questions are:

• Yes, but this carries more constitutional weight.

• You can’t, but shut up.

• Yes, but this is actually a good deal, it’s just no one’s realised it yet, so shut up again and also stop talking Britain down.

There was also to be a second vote, on an idea called “the Malthouse Compromise”. This was a plan which would see May renegotiate the backstop — the insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Ireland — and replace it with an agreement that used technology to avoid customs checks.

Here are some MPs who support the Malthouse Compromise, posing for a photo that makes them look like a Britpop band who’ve recently re-formed 10 years after they split because the bassist got addicted to heroin.

There were only two small problems with this plan: 1) the technology doesn’t exist yet, and 2) the EU had already said it wouldn’t agree to it, even if May tried put it forward. But undeterred, our plucky parliamentarians were set to vote on it anyway.

Does all of this make us look ridiculous in the eyes of our neighbours? Possibly.


There are no similes or metaphors for what has happened to the Brexit process. The government only just managed – by a majority of 2 out of 630 votes – to hang on to its right to decide what business is done in Parliament.
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Brexit, meerkats and the never-ending, meaningless story • Sydney Morning Herald

Sean Kelly cocks a foreign eye at the goings-on :


the truly strange thing about the constant accumulation of information on Brexit is that it never amounts to knowledge. It doesn’t matter how many radio bulletins you absorb, how many long articles in however many newspapers you read, the shining light of finally understanding what is going on with Brexit only recedes further into the distance.

At first, I blamed myself for this failure to understand. But slowly, perhaps self-servingly, I decided the problem lay elsewhere. How can you hope to grasp the meaning of a debate when the language in which it is conducted has been emptied of meaning?

Theresa May’s proposed Brexit deal was defeated on Tuesday night. It wasn’t the worst parliamentary defeat in the democratic era – that happened in January. It was still huge. For the MPs in parliament, the vote will be read through the prism of political power: who’s hot and who’s not. But for the citizens of Britain, this is about much more: the world that they live in, even if their leaders don’t.

Two weeks ago, in mildly happier times, May was asked about (what else?) Brexit. She said her questioner “should vote for a deal — simples”. That extra “s” is no typo. “Simples”, as you might know, is a TV advertising slogan, usually uttered by a cartoon meerkat promoting a website that compares insurance deals.

Yes, this is another example of the rolling trivialisation of politics, the apparent desperation of our leaders to be heard above the thundering nonsense blah blah blah. But here’s the real kicker: soon after, it was reported that the only reason May used the phrase was because one Tory MP made a bet with another Tory MP that she could get the Prime Minister to say it. So May did her best meerkat, and the MP got tea at the Ritz.

None of this matters, really, except that it is the purest representation of the Brexit debate I can imagine. People with genuine power stand in the hallowed halls of Parliament and shout words that, it turns out, have meaning only for each other.


It’s now turned into a legalocratic legislature – arguing over the jots and tittles of gigantic legalese draft agreements – which suggests that it’s not up to the complexity of the task. And yet somehow we’re meant to exit the EU at some point. Nobody, as of Thursday night, knows when or how, and many disagree on why.
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No, scientists didn’t just “reverse time” with a quantum computer • MIT Technology Review

Konstantin Kakaes:


The headlines have been incredible. Newsweek (Scientists Have Reversed Time in a Quantum Computer), Discover (Scientists Used IBM’s Quantum Computer to Reverse Time, Possibly Breaking a Law of Physics) and the UK’s Independent newspaper (Scientists ‘Reverse Time’ With Quantum Computer in Breakthrough Study). Cosmopolitan magazine also chimed in: Scientists just turned back time and it’s like Back to the Future is coming true. There are many, many more.

The trigger for all of these was a Scientific Reports paper with the provocative title “Arrow of time and its reversal on the IBM quantum computer.” In it, the authors claimed to have performed an experiment that opens up lines of research, in their words, toward “investigating time reversal and the backward time flow.”

If you had difficulty understanding  how scientists accomplished such a counterintuitive feat, don’t worry. They didn’t.

…So if they didn’t invent time travel, what did these scientists actually do?

Think about pressing rewind on a video. That “reverses the flow of time,” in a way. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s kind of neat. It might let you see things—like steam flowing back into a tea kettle or Humpty Dumpty spontaneously assembling from a jumble of broken pieces—that appear to “reverse the arrow of time.” The paper in question describes a quantum-computing version of such a video running in reverse.

…As Scott Aaronson, director of the Quantum Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin, says, “If you’re simulating a time-reversible process on your computer, then you can ‘reverse the direction of time’ by simply reversing the direction of your simulation. From a quick look at the paper, I confess that I didn’t understand how this becomes more profound if the simulation is being done on IBM’s quantum computer.”


Just in case this comes up at lunch. You can be the person who scratches their ear and says “Well..”

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These hyper-secretive economists are transforming how Amazon does business • CNN

Lydia DePillis, CNN Business:


Estimating inflation is a tricky and complex task. In the United States, the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics sends testers to stores to record the price of everything from cheese to tires, and surveys consumers over the phone about what they spent on gas and funeral services.

Amazon thinks it could do it better.

With help from outside researchers, the company’s economists are working on a way to measure inflation using thousands of transactions across its own platform. Automatically analyzing product descriptions allows them to better assess the quality of a dress or a juicer or a bathmat, theoretically creating a more accurate, up-to-date index of how much things cost.

That’s just one way Amazon is using the squad of economists it has recruited in recent years. The company has turned so many businesses, from retailing to cloud computing, inside out. Now Amazon is upending the traditional role of economists within companies, as well as the field of economics.

Amazon is now a large draw from the relatively small talent pool of PhD economists, which in the United States grows by about only 1,000 new graduates every year.


That’s a really small pool. Though how many companies need a doctor of economics? Amazon, Google, maybe Apple, Uber.. Walmart, some of the health insurance companies?
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Android Q will kill clipboard manager apps in the name of privacy • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


Privacy is a primary focus of Android Q for Google, and that may spell trouble for some of your favorite apps. In Android Q, Google has restricted access to clipboard data as previously rumoured, which means most apps that currently aim to manage that data won’t work anymore.

Having an app that sits in the background and collects clipboard data can be a handy way to recall past snippets of data. However, that same mechanism could be used for malicious intent. Google’s playing it safe by restricting access to clipboard data to input method editors (you might know those as keyboards). Foreground apps that have focus will also be able to access the clipboard, but background apps won’t.


iOS and Android are on a very slow collision course to having the same approach to security.
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How much can Apple charge for video, news, and bundled services? • VentureBeat

Jeremy Horwitz:


Looking at iCloud and Apple Music, one might conclude that Apple hasn’t seen much success with subscriptions priced higher than $9.99 per month — but that probably won’t stop it from trying with videos or news. In fact, I’d be very surprised if Apple didn’t make yet another effort to offer a $19.99 or even higher price option, either for an individual service or some sort of bundle.

My best guess is that Apple will launch its News Magazines service at $9.99 per month, the same pricing the underlying Texture service used before (and after) Apple bought it last year. Alternatively, Apple could risk losing existing Texture customers by hiking their prices, and since the service wasn’t exactly a huge hit before, I’m not sure that new customers will be willing to pay more than that for monthly access to news.

But there’s always the possibility that Apple starts with an “all you can eat monthly magazines” tier, then adds a pricier “all you can eat monthly magazines plus daily paywalled news” tier. This could give newspapers a way to make more money from the service — a reported sticking point to participation from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post.

Apple’s video service pricing could similarly be complicated by incorporating certain standalone video services. On one hand, Apple plans to offer original content through the service, which it will want to monetize like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney — likely with a monthly fee in the same $6 to $13 range. Yet Apple is also hoping to resell video services including HBO, Showtime, and Starz, each of which sells separately for $9 to $15 per month.

That means Apple’s video service might need to appear in at least two tiers: basic and premium.


I think the best approach would be to bundle a basic service with Music for free (ie you subscribe to Music, you get Video – because you’re either listening to music or watching video), and then have a separate paid Premium service with more stuff. For News, $5 per month feels sensible, but of course it’ll be higher, and then hardly anyone will sign up.
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The hottest chat app for teens is… Google Docs • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:


Teens told me they use Google Docs to chat just about any time they need to put their phone away but know their friends will be on computers. Sometimes they’ll use the service’s live-chat function, which doesn’t open by default, and which many teachers don’t even know exists. Or they’ll take advantage of the fact that Google allows users to highlight certain phrases or words, then comment on them via a pop-up box on the right side: They’ll clone a teacher’s shared Google document, then chat in the comments, so it appears to the casual viewer that they’re just making notes on the lesson plan. If a teacher approaches to take a closer look, they can click the “Resolve” button, and the entire thread will disappear…

If the project isn’t a collaborative one, kids will just create a shared document where they’ll chat line by line in what looks like a paragraph of text. “People will just make a new page and talk in different fonts so you know who is who,” Skyler said. “I had one really good friend, and we were in different homerooms. So we’d email each other a doc and would just chat about whatever was going on.” At the end of class, they’ll just delete a doc or resolve all the comments. Rarely does anyone save them the way previous generations may have stored away paper notes from friends.

Chatting via Google Docs doesn’t just fool teachers; it also tricks parents. When everyone logs on to do homework at night, Google Docs chats come alive. Groups of kids will all collaborate on a document, while their parents believe they’re working on a school project. As a Reddit thread revealed in February, chatting via Google Docs is also a great way to circumvent a parental social-media ban.


Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
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Google’s Spotlight Stories VR studio is shutting down • Variety

Janko Roettgers:


Google is shutting down its Spotlight Stories immersive entertainment unit, according to an email sent out by Spotlight Stories executive producer Karen Dufilho Wednesday evening.

“Google Spotlight Stories is shutting its doors after over six years of making stories and putting them on phones, on screens, in VR, and anywhere else we could get away with it,” Dufilho said in her email sent to supporters of the studio.

A Google spokesperson acknowledged the shut-down in an email, sending Variety the following statement:

“Since its inception, Spotlight Stories strove to re-imagine VR storytelling. From ambitious shorts like ‘Son of Jaguar,’ ‘Sonaria’ and ‘Back to The Moon’ to critical acclaim for ‘Pearl’ (Emmy winner and first-ever VR film nominated for an Oscar) the Spotlight Stories team left a lasting impact on immersive storytelling. We are proud of the work the team has done over the years.”

Google’s spokesperson didn’t address questions about layoffs associated with the move, but a source with knowledge of the situation told Variety that staffers were given a chance to look for new positions within the company. Most artists who had been working on projects for Spotlight Stories were thought to be contractors on a by-project basis…

Google is said to have invested significant amounts of money into Spotlight Stories over the years, without giving the group a mandate to monetize their works. However, while Spotlight Stories films pushed the medium forward, the group didn’t necessarily improve the fortunes of Google’s VR efforts, with the company struggling to find an audience for its Daydream VR headset.


Imagine the scene at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark where the guy is putting the box into a slot in a gigantic warehouse. Well, that’s where VR is going for another decade or so.
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Valve is turning Steam Link streaming into a personal cloud service • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:


Right now, only Android, Raspberry Pi, and the discontinued Steam Link hardware work with Steam Link Anywhere, but it’s easy to imagine that Steam could add a similar feature for streaming from PC to PC like it already offers with the in-home Steam Link.

The timing of the announcement is also significant: Steam is planting a flag for game streaming just ahead of GDC 2019, where Google is widely expected to take the wraps off its new Project Stream-powered streaming gaming service at an event on March 19th. With Google expected to make a big push for game streaming — possibly even announcing its own gaming hardware for the first time — Steam’s announcement seems to be an indication that it’s not willing to cede the space without a fight.

Google isn’t the only competitor Steam has here, either: Microsoft just showed off new in-home game streaming from PC to Xbox consoles that looks a whole lot like the existing Steam Link functionality. And Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud game-streaming service looks poised to challenge both Steam and Google in the broader game-streaming space.


Everyone’s suddenly into streaming games. The requirement for “good” uplink speeds from the host computer is suitably vague, though; knowing gamers’ requirements for fast pings, only a few lucky souls will have the requisite speeds.
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Redditors say they’re seeing coordinated Chinese propaganda on the site • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko:


Last week, a Reddit user posed a question on the Canadian news subreddit /r/onguardforthee: “Ever Wonder Why Canadian Subreddits Are Becoming Littered With Chinese Propaganda?”

In their view, the reason is that Chinese government-sponsored users are engaging in a coordinated effort to spread propaganda and bury anti-China messages on Reddit. Many users agreed, saying they’ve seen threads about China downvoted or inundated with trolls posting comments they believe are in line with Chinese propaganda.

“Go check out any thread about Huawei or the extradition, it’s pretty insane,” wrote one person, citing the recent detention in Canada and ongoing extradition process of the CFO of Chinese technology giant Huawei.

But others mocked their fellow redditors for accusing anyone expressing even a moderately pro-China view of being a government troll. One user accused of being a paid government actor joked that they earn “$1,000 from glorious China Communist Party not only for each post, but for each time I even think something critical about Canada.”

That thread followed an earlier discussion on /r/geopolitics about why articles critical of China were suddenly being downvoted or inundated with pro-China “shills.”

These public threads reflect growing concerns among redditors about what they say is coordinated activity on the site by pro-China accounts, according to a moderator and users who spoke to BuzzFeed News, and reflect intense discussions taking place behind the scenes among those who help oversee subreddits.


Chinese boosting in comments or discussion spaces has been quite common for years. As Tim Culpan pointed out the other day, it shows the essential asymmetry: the west can’t go on Chinese sites and boost western viewpoints.
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Tumblr traffic dropped by nearly 100M views the month after it banned porn • The Next Web

Bryan Clark:


Tumblr’s ban on adult content is costing it dearly.

In December, we reported on news of Tumblr invoking the nuclear option and banning pornography and other adult content from the popular blogging platform. A month later, it had lost more than 100 million views — a 17% decline in just 30 days.

According to data from web analytics firm SimilarWeb, Tumblr’s problems started, predictably, with its adult content ban. In December, it was flying high, with approximately 521 million pageviews that month. 30 days later, that had dropped to just 437 million…

…We wrote about the ramifications of Tumblr’s decision not once, not twice, but thrice — pointing out that Tumblr’s users would flee to greener pastures, that its ban was breaking up safe spaces for women and other marginalized communities, and that the language in its ban was inherently sexist.

What’s a female-presenting nipple, anyway?

For Tumblr, the decision was a knee-jerk reaction to its temporary takedown from Apple’s App Store after engineers discovered child pornography on the website.

Initially Tumblr remained mum, commenting last year that it was “working to resolve the issue with the iOS app.” That was until approached the Yahoo-owned website with sources who claimed the app’s removal was due to child pornography. Tumblr then confirmed the story, worked with Apple to remove the offensive content, and then returned to the App Store before the end of 2018.


A sledgehammer, for sure, but child sexual exploitation imagery isn’t something to ignore.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,023: Spotify says Apple’s bad, the Tube’s missing Wi-Fi, FourSquare: still here, Cobol lives on, and more

A whitewood intruder among the blue pallets. It’s a hidden business struggle. CC-licensed photo by Michael Sauers 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 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Consumers and innovators win on a level playing field • Spotify

Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify:


Spotify has filed a complaint against Apple with the European Commission (EC), the regulatory body responsible for keeping competition fair and nondiscriminatory. In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience—essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition.

Apple operates a platform that, for over a billion people around the world, is the gateway to the internet. Apple is both the owner of the iOS platform and the App Store—and a competitor to services like Spotify. In theory, this is fine. But in Apple’s case, they continue to give themselves an unfair advantage at every turn.

To illustrate what I mean, let me share a few examples. Apple requires that Spotify and other digital services pay a 30% tax on purchases made through Apple’s payment system, including upgrading from our Free to our Premium service. If we pay this tax, it would force us to artificially inflate the price of our Premium membership well above the price of Apple Music. And to keep our price competitive for our customers, that isn’t something we can do.


Spotify needs to satisfy just two tests. Is Apple dominant, ie has 40% of the market? And is it using its power in one market to annexe another, or keep rivals out?

Afraid it doesn’t have a dominant position in the European market – it has 15-20%. (Higher in some countries, lower in others.) And it hasn’t kept Spotify off the App Store. The one thing it might get called on is preventing apps calling for people to subscribe on the web, rather than in-app. But without a dominant position, it’s moot.

Don’t think they’ll file this in the US: they’d need to show that Apple (which has a much stronger position – about 40% of smartphones) is doing something that raises prices for consumers. But the app store levy is like a cost of business, same as selling through a retailer. And there are options.
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Why does the London Underground still not have Wi-Fi in tunnels? • WIRED UK

Katia Moskvitch:


First is cost. “Technically, it is straightforward, although expensive, to deliver Wi-Fi in stations,” says Matthew Griffin, head of commercial telecoms at TfL. To install it, individual access points have to be placed within the station ceiling or hidden in voids, with flat antennas providing the signal.

While this sounds simple, it’s very expensive to lay cabling to reach all these access points. “This cabling needs to carry a significant amount of internet traffic to manage a reliable and consistent service, one terabyte per day on the Tube, and requires careful engineering to ensure it can be delivered without interfering with other station infrastructure,” says Griffin.

In tunnels, the process is much more difficult. Some sections of the Tube are more than 150 years old and its tunnels very narrow, which means there is little space to install any extra equipment. Wi-Fi uses radio waves, which work great when they can move in a straight line and have plenty of space (say, up to and down from a satellite, or through your living room). But they run into trouble when they hit solid matter.

London’s Tube tunnels twist and turn, so any Wi-Fi radio waves would not be able to penetrate walls or go around corners. To deliver mobile connectivity on, say, the Northern Line, TfL would have to install an enormous number of access points – which is both uneconomical because of the cost of equipment, and unreliable as it will be tricky to maintain all these access points in such a confined space, says Griffin.


On the plus side: 4G is coming. Though the carriages will have to have Wi-Fi backhauled to the 4G.
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Researchers make Q, a genderless voice for personal assistants like Alexa • CNBC

Sara Salinas:


I asked major tech companies — Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, if we’re naming names — for virtual assistants with traditionally male voices where they didn’t exist and for a more neutral default setting where they did. I thought I was asking for choice, but a joint venture by Vice’s creative agency Virtue and Copenhagen Pride has just shown me up and invented a third, undeniably compelling option.

The virtual assistant is called Q, and it’s designed to be genderless. It sounds neither male nor female — or seems to fluctuate between the two depending on how intensely you’re listening for a gendered bent.

Q is a composite of five voices, recorded and then altered to match a gender-neutral range of pitches, as defined by a linguist and researcher. It’s scientific and definably gender-neutral, and it establishes criteria by which other assistants could follow suit.


Salinas doesn’t like the fact that so many voice assistants are female-voiced, but the default Siri in the UK has been male since 2011. I prefer them to be one of the other.
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You may have forgotten Foursquare, but it didn’t forget you • WIRED

Paris Martineau:


Ask someone about Foursquare and they’ll probably think of the once-hyped social media company, known for gamifying mobile check-ins and giving recommendations. But the Foursquare of today is a location-data giant. During an interview with NBC in November, the company’s CEO, Jeff Glueck, said that only Facebook and Google rival Foursquare in terms of location-data precision.

You might think you don’t use Foursquare, but chances are you do. Foursquare’s technology powers the geofilters in Snapchat, tagged tweets on Twitter; it’s in Uber, Apple Maps, Airbnb, WeChat, and Samsung phones, to name a few. (Condé Nast Traveler, owned by the same parent company as WIRED, relies on Foursquare data.)

In 2014, Foursquare launched Pilgrim, a piece of code that passively tracks where your phone goes using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS, and GSM to identify the coffee shop or park or Thai restaurant you’re visiting, then feeds that data to its partner apps to send you, say, an offer for a 10% off coupon if you leave a review for the restaurant. Today, Pilgrim and the company’s Places API are an integral part of tens of thousands of apps, sites, and interfaces. As Foursquare’s website says, “If it tells you where, it’s probably built on Foursquare.”


Not only not gone away; it has big ambitions.
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Whitewood under siege • Cabinet Magazine

Jacob Hodes:


Blue pallets are an inch or so taller, often cleaner, and always more uniform than the pallets [made] of whitewood. Crucially, blues do not have any stringer boards along their sides; instead, their height is obtained by way of nine wooden blocks sandwiched between the top and bottom deck boards. This block design allows forklifts and other tools to enter the pallet with equal ease from four directions. (Most stringer pallets, by contrast, offer either “two-way entry” or “partial four-way entry.”) There are approximately 240m blue pallets in the world, circulating in over fifty countries. On the sides of each are the words, “Property of CHEP.”

CHEP, a subsidiary of Brambles Limited, an Australia-based multinational corporation, is the largest pallet business in the world. The company earned $3.5bn in pallet-related revenues during fiscal year 2013, and in many markets has achieved pallet monopoly… CHEP doesn’t sell pallets; it rents them. This means that, in contrast to the world of whitewood, where a pallet may change ownership many times, CHEP maintains control of its pallets throughout their lives.

…By 2002, there were ten million blue pallets floating around the US, unaccounted for, and a report by Credit Suisse warned investors that CHEP usa was experiencing “a loss of control of [its] pallet pool.”

Despite these lost pallets, CHEP continued to grow. In 2010, in a shock to the industry, Costco announced that it would only accept shipments on CHEP-style block pallets: they break less, they have tighter quality controls, and full four-way entry promises tiny but measurable efficiencies when loading and unloading trucks. Panic ensued in the world of whitewood.


You never knew you could be interested in wood pallets.. until this. Now you’re going to notice white and blue pallets everywhere you go for the next week.
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Eero is now officially part of Amazon, pledges to keep network data private • The Verge

Nilay Patel:


concerns that Amazon would somehow make expanded use of Eero network data have been growing ever since the deal was announced — obviously, your Wi-Fi router can see all your network traffic, and Eero’s system in particular relies on a cloud service for network optimization and other features. But Eero is committed to keeping that data private, said [Eero CEO Nick] Weaver, who also published a blog post this morning that explicitly promises Eero will never read any actual network traffic.

“If anything, we’re just going to strengthen our commitment to both privacy and security,” Weaver told us. “We’ve got some pretty clear privacy principles that we’ve used for developing all of our products, that are the really the underpinnings of everything. Those aren’t going to change.”

Those three principles, as laid out in the blog post, are that customers have a “right to privacy” that includes transparency around what data is being collected and control over that data; that network diagnostic information will only be collected to improve performance, security, and reliability; and that Eero will “actively minimize” the amount of data it can access, while treating the data it does collect with “the utmost security.”


Never is a long time; there was a time when Nest was never going to be integrated into Google. A more proximate worry for a smaller group of people is whether it’s going to keep advertising on podcasts.
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Technical debt is like Tetris • Medium

Eric Higgins:


The basic purpose of the code we studied was to go through every customer account, calculate their bill, and send it over to the invoicing API. It had clearly been written with care and good intentions — not so much messy as it was inflexible. It was a monolithic function. There were no tests. There were very few logs. There were barely any documentation. There was some unexplained randomization. It had been written over five years earlier by one of the co-founders. The only changes since then were from an early employee, who was no longer at the company.

Was it really a problem? Invoices were going out. The company was making money. There was no indication of an issue. All of this could have dissuaded us from a refactor, but we also knew that big changes were coming, this function wouldn’t scale to our needs, and we could move faster if this piece were simplified.

We refactored the function within a single sprint and added some much-needed logs. That’s when we discovered what we had actually fixed. Someone from our accounting team stopped by our desks to ask why the number of outbound invoices had unexpectedly increased. The old code had been silently timing out and some customers’ usage wasn’t being tallied for the invoice. That weird randomization? It hid any patterns that might have alerted us customers weren’t being billed. When we ran an estimate, the missing invoices totalled over $1m per year.


Why is it like Tetris? Because you can never beat it, only delay losing to it. (Technical debt is the problems you’ve left in your program with the intention of sorting out later.)
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It’s COBOL all the way down • Increment

Glenn Fleishman on the 60-year-old programming language:


Companies involved in keeping COBOL-based systems working say that 95% of ATM transactions pass through COBOL programs, 80% of in-person transactions rely on them, and over 40% of banks still use COBOL as the foundation of their systems. “Our COBOL business is bigger than it has ever been,” said Chris Livesey, senior vice president and general manager at Micro Focus, a company that offers modern COBOL coding and development frameworks.

The Bank of New York Mellon told Computerworld in 2012 that it had 112,500 COBOL programs representing 343m lines of code in active use. (And, yes, they’re still hiring COBOL coders in 2018.) The US Social Security Administration (SSA) noted in a 2014 report that it “currently has roughly 60m lines of COBOL in production that support the agency’s high transaction volume and enable the agency to meet its regulatory, benefit, and reporting requirements.” Starting in 2012, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia spent a reported US$750m and five years migrating its core software away from COBOL on a mainframe to a modern platform (it’s not clear how that effort ended).

The language never died, though its early practitioners have faded away, and the generation of programmers who built systems towards the end of the predominant mainframe era in the 1970s and ‘80s are largely near or past retirement age. Micro Focus estimates that about 2 million people worldwide actively work with COBOL, although how many directly write or modify code is likely a small proportion. That number is expected to decline rapidly over the next decade.


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How TikTok is rewriting the world • The New York Times

John Herrman:


TikTok is an app for making and sharing short videos. The videos are tall, not square, like on Snapchat or Instagram’s stories, but you navigate through videos by scrolling up and down, like a feed, not by tapping or swiping side to side.

Video creators have all sorts of tools at their disposal: filters as on Snapchat (and later, everyone else); the ability to search for sounds to score your video. Users are also strongly encouraged to engage with other users, through “response” videos or by means of “duets” — users can duplicate videos and add themselves alongside.

Hashtags play a surprisingly large role on TikTok. In more innocent times, Twitter hoped its users might congregate around hashtags in a never-ending series of productive pop-up mini-discourses. On TikTok, hashtags actually exist as a real, functional organizing principle: not for news, or even really anything trending anywhere else than TikTok, but for various “challenges,” or jokes, or repeating formats, or other discernible blobs of activity…

…the first thing you see isn’t a feed of your friends, but a page called “For You.” It’s an algorithmic feed based on videos you’ve interacted with, or even just watched. It never runs out of material. It is not, unless you train it to be, full of people you know, or things you’ve explicitly told it you want to see. It’s full of things that you seem to have demonstrated you want to watch, no matter what you actually say you want to watch.

It is constantly learning from you and, over time, builds a presumably complex but opaque model of what you tend to watch, and shows you more of that, or things like that, or things related to that, or, honestly, who knows, but it seems to work. TikTok starts making assumptions the second you’ve opened the app, before you’ve really given it anything to work with.


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Google tells dozens of employees on its laptop and tablet division to find new jobs at the company • Business Insider

Nick Bastone:


Google has moved dozens of employees out of its laptop and tablet division, scaling back the size of its in-house hardware group as it re-assesses product plans in the fiercely competitive computer market.

Dozens of Google employees working on the company’s “Create” team – an internal hardware division responsible for developing and manufacturing Google’s laptop and tablet products – have been told to find new projects within Google or its parent company Alphabet, amid what sources describe as “roadmap cutbacks.”

Among the affected employees who were given notice of the cutbacks in the last two weeks are hardware engineers, technical program managers, and those who support program managers. Sources say projects have been canceled within the laptop and tablet division, prompting the changes, but that team members have been instructed to find new roles temporarily within the Google or Alphabet organization.

By asking employees to seek temporary, rather than permanent, new roles, Google may be leaving itself flexibility to boost staffing on the Create hardware team in the future. Already, these “floating” employees have been seeking roles within the company’s smartphone division, Pixel, and other Alphabet companies, sources say.


Thin margins, high-priced hardware that probably doesn’t sell; it’s not surprising.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yesterday’s picture caption referred to the 787 – but as the story and the photo showed, that should have been 737. Eh, 7% error – within expected tolerance.

Start Up No.1,022: Huawei’s asymmetric PR push, watching the porn blockers, Vizio targets your smart TV, the facial files, and more

See the big engines? That’s what makes the 737 Max a problem to fly. CC-licensed photo by Caribb on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Want to vote on it? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ethiopian Air crash: where did Boeing go wrong with the 737 Max? • Slate

Jeff Wise:


To maintain its lead, Boeing had to counter Airbus’ move [of rolling out the A320neo in 2014]. It had two options: either clear off the drafting tables and start working on a clean-sheet design, or keep the legacy 737 and polish it. The former would cost a vast amount—its last brand-new design, the 787, cost $32bn to develop—and it would require airlines to retrain flight crews and maintenance personnel.

Instead, it took the second and more economical route and upgraded the previous iteration. Boeing swapped out the engines for new models, which, together with airframe tweaks, promised a 20% increase in fuel efficiency. In order to accommodate the engine’s larger diameter, Boeing engineers had to move the point where the plane attaches to the wing.

This, in turn, affected the way the plane handled. Most alarmingly, it left the plane with a tendency to pitch up, which could result in a dangerous aerodynamic stall. To prevent this, Boeing added a new autopilot system that would pitch the nose down if it looked like it was getting too high. According to a preliminary report, it was this system that apparently led to the Lion Air crash.

If Boeing had designed a new plane from scratch, it wouldn’t have had to resort to this kind of kludge. It could have designed the airframe for the engines so that the pitch-up tendency did not exist. As it was, its engineers used automation to paper over the aircraft’s flaws. Automated systems can go a long way toward preventing the sorts of accidents that arise from human fecklessness or inattention, but they inherently add to a system’s complexity. When they go wrong, they can act in ways that are surprising to an unprepared pilot. That can be dangerous, especially in high-stress, novel situations. Air France 447 was lost in 2009 after pilots overreacted to minor malfunctions and became confused about what to expect from the autopilot.


This seems to have been the cause of the Ethiopian Air crash. The UK has grounded all upgraded 787s. And the NYT was writing about the Lion Air crash – and the associated changes – at the start of February. The Ethiopian Air crash seems to have been avoidable, if the lessons had been learned quickly enough.
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Huawei shows where the real US-China imbalance lies • Bloomberg

Tim Culpan:


the Shenzhen-based telecom equipment maker has sought to recruit foreign journalists for its public-relations team, taken out advertisements in overseas media to press its case, and intensified its activity on Twitter to include criticism of the US legal system and “a call for truth and justice for the good of global citizens.”

The irony is that no foreign organization could dream of attempting the same in China. This imbalance has worked in Huawei’s favor.

A months-long PR and lobbying campaign overseas has softened the stance of foreign governments and regulators, helping combat the perception that the company is a conduit for espionage by Beijing. That’s moved it toward the company’s likely end goal: winning more business with telecom operators.

The dichotomy isn’t unique to Huawei. China’s government has also leveraged the openness of developed-nation democracies to push its message, while refusing the same opportunities at home.

China blocks its citizens from accessing Twitter, yet the country’s state-controlled media and government agencies have dozens of accounts with the US social media service that they use to spread Beijing’s agenda. One editor-in-chief even regularly criticizes foreign governments on his personal timeline, a practice that would probably land him in detention if it was directed at his own government.

Huawei and Meng may have credible arguments to make against US and Canadian authorities, but the real victory for them is in being able to make them at all.


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Triton is the world’s most murderous malware, and it’s spreading • MIT Technology Review

Martin Giles:


In a worst-case scenario, the rogue code could have led to the release of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas or caused explosions, putting lives at risk both at the facility and in the surrounding area.

[Julian] Gutmanis recalls that dealing with the malware at the petrochemical plant, which had been restarted after the second incident, was a nerve-racking experience. “We knew that we couldn’t rely on the integrity of the safety systems,” he says. “It was about as bad as it could get.”

In attacking the plant, the hackers crossed a terrifying Rubicon. This was the first time the cybersecurity world had seen code deliberately designed to put lives at risk. Safety instrumented systems aren’t just found in petrochemical plants; they’re also the last line of defence in everything from transportation systems to water treatment facilities to nuclear power stations.

Triton’s discovery raises questions about how the hackers were able to get into these critical systems. It also comes at a time when industrial facilities are embedding connectivity in all kinds of equipment—a phenomenon known as the industrial internet of things. This connectivity lets workers remotely monitor equipment and rapidly gather data so they can make operations more efficient, but it also gives hackers more potential targets.


First spotted late in 2017; origin still unknown.
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Peak California • Medium

Byrne Hobart:


When Airbnb was just starting out, the founders spent years being nearly broke. It’s hard to imagine someone living in the Bay Area spending a long time “nearly broke” today; they’d spend too much on rent and have to move back home or get a BigCo job. Y Combinator has implicitly acknowledged this. When the program started in 2005, they’d offer founders a maximum of $20,000 to spend the summer running a startup. Now it’s $120,000. That’s a 14% compounded growth rate in the minimum amount of cash on hand needed to start a company. YC has also grown, but it’s hard to count on one organization to hold back the tide here. As long as higher rents raise the cost of starting a pre-revenue company, fewer people will join them, so more people will join established companies, where they’ll earn market salaries and continue to push up rents.

And one of the things they’ll do there is optimize ad loads, which places another tax on startups. More dangerously, this is an incremental tax on growth rather than a fixed tax on headcount, so it puts pressure on out-year valuations, not just upfront cash flow.

According to Social Capital’s 2018 letter, almost 40% of VC money goes to advertising on the largest search, social, and e-commerce channels. Those channels have adapted to a world where they’re the best place to scale because they have the biggest audience, which means there’s more money for them in optimizing their revenue capture. Thus, ads get better-targeted, ad loads rise over time, more content moves into the walled garden, and it becomes progressively harder not to pay an economically efficient (read: very high) ad price.


Hobart reckons that California (particularly San Francisco) has reached the point where you just can’t start up there any more. But haven’t people felt that way for years?
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Porn block: how will the new UK laws work? • HuffPost UK

Sophie Gallagher:


As stipulated in the 2017 Digital Economy Act, from the beginning of April all porn websites are required to have verification of a user’s age before they can permit them to view the website.

Websites such as PornHub and RedTube will only be unlocked after individual users have been through a process of verification to prove they are over 18… 

…The NSPCC [National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children] claims two thirds of 15 to 16-year-olds have seen pornography, while Childline claims to have delivered more than 2,000 counselling sessions in the past three years about online porn.

The government has left it in the hands of the porn companies to ensure they comply with the compulsory checks, so the type of age-verification software will depend on which sites you visit.

One example of software being developed is by MindGeek – which owns Pornhub, YouPorn, RedTube and Brazzers – has been called AgeID. This will work by redirecting you to a non-pornographic page when you attempt to visit a porn site. On that separate page, you will have to put in your phone number, email address and credit card details. MindGeek say this will be a one-time verification, and they expect 20 to 25 million UK users will sign up to AgeID.


No way at all that this could possibly go wrong. No way at all. Not as if it’s going with three things that are quite widely available to hackers, an which will have risen in value overnight.
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Vizio wants next-generation smart TVs to target ads to households • Reuters

Sheila Dang:


Smart TV manufacturer Vizio has formed a partnership with nine media and advertising companies to develop an industry standard that will allow smart TVs to target advertisements to specific households, the companies said Tuesday.

The consortium includes major TV networks like Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal and CBS Corp, as well as advertising technology companies like AT&T Inc’s Xandr.

Addressable advertising, or targeting viewers on the household level based on their interests, has long been the goal of TV marketers. But TVs lack cookies that internet browsers use to allow ads to follow people around the web. And TV manufacturers have so far used different technology and standards to enable addressable advertising, hindering the industry’s growth, said Jodie McAfee, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Inscape, a subsidiary of Vizio.

“It creates a level of complication for (TV networks), and scale is critical,” he said in an interview.

Privacy advocates have voiced concerns that targeted advertising may invade privacy and the information gathered could be misused or hacked.


So the idea is that they could charge more for the ads? In return for knowing everything about what you’re watching and, perhaps, listening to you? If Vizio wants to destroy the smart TV concept, it’s going about it in just the right way.

Also proving there’s no activity that Americans can’t see as needing more advertising.
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Free will in an algorithmic world • Medium

Kartik Hosanagar:


Consider these facts: 80% of viewing hours streamed on Netflix originate from automated recommendations. By some estimates, nearly 35% of sales at Amazon originate from automated recommendations. And the vast majority of matches on dating apps such as Tinder and OkCupid are initiated by algorithms. Given these numbers, many of us clearly do not have quite the freedom of choice we believe we do.

One reason is that products are often designed in ways that make us act impulsively and against our better judgment. For example, suppose you have a big meeting at work tomorrow. Ideally, you want to spend some time preparing for it in the evening and then get a good night’s rest. But before you can do either, a notification pops up on your phone indicating that a friend tagged you on Facebook. “This will take a minute,” you tell yourself as you click on it. But after logging in, you discover a long feed of posts by friends. A few clicks later, you find yourself watching a YouTube video that one of them shared. As soon as the video ends, YouTube suggests other related and interesting videos. Before you know it, it’s 1:00 a.m., and it’s clear that you will need an all-nighter to get ready for the following morning’s meeting. This has happened to most of us.

The reason this behavior is so common, as some product designers have noted, is that popular design approaches—such as the use of notifications and gamification to increase user engagement—exploit and amplify human vulnerabilities, such as our need for social approval or our inability to resist immediate gratification even when we recognize that it comes with long-term costs. While we might feel as if we are making our own choices, we’re often nudged or even tricked into making them.


Worth looking around in your daily life and noticing how many of your “choices” are actually made by machines.
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Where Warren’s wrong • Stratechery

Ben Thompson has a huge writeup on presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to regulate tech firms:


I have called Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram The Greatest Regulatory Failure of the Past Decade, and called for an end to social networks being allowed to buy other social networks. I do have qualms about the idea of retroactively undoing deals, but I do think Senator Warren is directionally correct in this case.

More broadly, as I explained in The Value Chain Constraint, the price of being an Aggregator is tuning your company to the value chain within which you compete; it follows that all of these companies have will face significant challenges moving into new spaces with new value chains. To that end, what makes the most sense from a management perspective is leveraging the tremendous amounts of cash thrown off by their core businesses to acquire and invest in companies competing in different value chains.

On the flipside, to the extent regulators wish to constrain Aggregators, the single most effective lever is limiting acquisitions. There are significant problems with this, to be sure, particularly when it comes to the incentives for new company creation (most successful exits are acquisitions, not IPOs), but at least this is a remedy that is somewhat approaching the problem.


Worth settling in if you want to think about this topic.
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Facial recognition’s ‘dirty little secret’: millions of online photos scraped without consent • NBC News

Olivia Solon:


“This is the dirty little secret of AI training sets. Researchers often just grab whatever images are available in the wild,” said NYU School of Law professor Jason Schultz.

The latest company to enter this territory was IBM, which in January released a collection of nearly a million photos that were taken from the photo hosting site Flickr and coded to describe the subjects’ appearance. IBM promoted the collection to researchers as a progressive step toward reducing bias in facial recognition.

But some of the photographers whose images were included in IBM’s dataset were surprised and disconcerted when NBC News told them that their photographs had been annotated with details including facial geometry and skin tone and may be used to develop facial recognition algorithms. (NBC News obtained IBM’s dataset from a source after the company declined to share it, saying it could be used only by academic or corporate research groups.)

“None of the people I photographed had any idea their images were being used in this way,” said Greg Peverill-Conti, a Boston-based public relations executive who has more than 700 photos in IBM’s collection, known as a “training dataset.”

“It seems a little sketchy that IBM can use these pictures without saying anything to anybody,” he said.

John Smith, who oversees AI research at IBM, said that the company was committed to “protecting the privacy of individuals” and “will work with anyone who requests a URL to be removed from the dataset.”

Despite IBM’s assurances that Flickr users can opt out of the database, NBC News discovered that it’s almost impossible to get photos removed. IBM requires photographers to email links to photos they want removed, but the company has not publicly shared the list of Flickr users and photos included in the dataset, so there is no easy way of finding out whose photos are included. IBM did not respond to questions about this process.


Solon is one of the best technology journalists out there, with a consistent run of great stories.
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Why I put my dog’s photo on social media, but not my son’s • WSJ

Joanna Stern:


“We often see people overexposing their children—nude photos, bath-time photos, beach photos—and hashtagging them, which allows this to be searchable content and allows predators to find children,” says Carly Asher Yoost, chief executive of Child Rescue Coalition, an organization that works with law enforcement to locate people who download or distribute child pornography.

Even on Instagram, I came across a number of comment threads where people appeared to be trading links to child pornography. Instagram has since shut down those accounts.

“Keeping children and young people safe on Instagram is hugely important to us,” an Instagram spokeswoman said. “We do not allow content that endangers children, and we will not hesitate to take action when we find accounts that break these rules.” Instagram and Facebook provide written guides for parents. The company says it has automated systems to detect nudity in uploaded photos and is improving its capabilities all the time.

What to do: Many parents opt to keep photos of their children off social media until they are old enough to be part of the conversation; some who do share conceal their children’s faces—for instance with emojis. But other parents I spoke to didn’t realize how visible their public Instagram accounts were, especially when photos are hashtagged with things like #pottytraining or #bathtime.

If you are sharing photos of your children, make your posts and your account private. Unfriend or block any followers you don’t feel comfortable with. Remember that your Facebook cover photo—where parents often show off their children—is always public.


Trading links to child pornography. (I think we call it child sexual abuse, but anyway.) Et tu, Instagram.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up No.1,021: Captain Marvel crushes the trolls, is social media radicalising MPs?, Samsung’s face woes, smart speakers are in!, and more

Among the stars Apple has invited for the launch of its video service… CC-licensed photo by InSapphoWeTrust 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.

Apple sends out media invites for an ‘It’s Show Time’ event on March 25 • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


The Apple News service will add paid subscription options to Apple News, allowing Apple customers unlimited access to magazines and paywalled content from sites like The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and The New York Times for a $9.99 per month fee.

It’s not yet clear which news sites will be included, as Apple is said to be still negotiating financial terms with some news sites. Apple has asked for 50% of the revenue from the service. Magazines are on board with the fee, but news sites with independent revenue streams from their own subscribers are reluctant to jump on board.

As for the TV service, Apple is planning an announcement, but an actual launch is months off. Apple has more than two dozen original TV shows in the works, many of which have been cast, that will eventually debut through the streaming service.

Major stars that include Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Garner, and Steve Carell, all of whom have roles in Apple shows, have been invited to attend the event.

There are multiple hardware products that are rumored for a spring launch, but so far, rumors have indicated that these devices will not be announced at the event. Instead, we could see these new products unveiled via press release right around the time of the event.

The iPad mini 5, seventh-generation iPad, AirPower, updated AirPods, and a seventh-generation iPod touch are all in the works and will be coming soon, but none of these updates are major enough to warrant time on stage so it makes some sense for them to debut more quietly.


Besides those shows, Apple’s video will need to have a big catalog – pulled from the iTunes Store, perhaps, on much the same terms that Netflix and Amazon have for streaming?
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Google’s Page allegedly awarded $150m Rubin payout • Bloomberg

Joel Rosenblatt and Gerrit De Vynck:


Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Page didn’t get board approval when he awarded a $150m stock grant to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android mobile software, while the company helped to cover up his alleged misconduct, according to a lawsuit.

Page later got “rubber stamp” for the equity compensation package from a board leadership committee eight days after granting the payout to Rubin, who also got a $90m severance package, according to a revised investor complaint made public on Monday in California state court in San Jose. The suit was originally filed in January, but some claims were blocked from public view at the time.

The new allegations pull Page deeper into the controversy around how Google has handled sexual harassment complaints. The Alphabet co-founder has generally stayed behind the scenes, while Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been left to deal with criticism of the company’s culture.

Investors claim the board failed in its duties by allowing harassment to occur, approving big payouts and keeping the details private.


Not getting board approval is not a good look. As Shira Ovide commented on Twitter, the documents that will be revealed in the discovery phase of this suit are going to be dynamite.
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‘Captain Marvel’ shows how the culture war is making user reviews useless • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:


If I happened to check out the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes before deciding what movie I wanted to see at the theatre that night, I would have gotten the impression that Captain Marvel is a waste of time and money. If I spent a minute Googling it I would have discovered that these negative reviews were coming from people whose opinion on this subject could not matter less to me, but how would I know to do that?

The people who were leaving negative reviews were “review bombing,” a tactic that’s getting more and more common, and platforms still don’t know how to handle it. That’s a problem. User reviews are now just another battlefield in the greater culture war that is devouring the world. This makes them mostly useless when it comes to movies like Captain Marvel, or any product or service that gets caught up in the culture war.

In a statement published on its blog on February 25, Rotten Tomatoes said that it was making changes to its pre-release functionality, including no longer allowing users to comment or review movies prior to their release in theaters.

“However, we still invite users to vote if they ‘want to see’ a movie prior to its release, and that vote total is displayed on the site,” the statement read. “Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in non-constructive input, sometimes bordering on trolling, which we believe is a disservice to our general readership.”


Oh, and also: Captain Marvel took $455m worldwide on its first weekend, the sixth-biggest opening weekend ever and the biggest ever for a female-led film.
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Social media polarises and radicalises – and MPs aren’t immune to its effects • The Guardian

I wrote about something that occurred to me:


If you look at the literature around radicalisation, and then at our politics, it’s hard not to think that social media – in particular WhatsApp, the messaging service that lets you communicate with one or many people in closed “groups” – is not helping. WhatsApp groups mark Westminster’s tribal lines; the Labour and Tory MPs who left to form the Independent Group were apparently thrown out of their respective party-oriented WhatsApp groups in a move as ceremonial as the breaking of a cashiered soldier’s sword.

“Every faction has a [WhatsApp] group,” one MP, who is concerned about the effects, told me. “The key point I think is it makes people immediately react, and also pick up on every slight [insult], combined with tweets.”

…[Professor Cass] Sunstein pointed to experiments where a group was required to give a unanimous answer to whether a person with a secure, lifetime job should take a new job at a new company with an uncertain future. (You may be able to think of a political equivalent.) Almost every time, the group’s final advice was riskier than the advice the individuals themselves believed was best before the session. Crucially, after the decision, some of those who had previously been cautious became “radicalised” – picking the less safe decision when given the choice privately as an individual. Sunstein noted that “if a group decision is required, the group will tend toward an extreme point, given the original distribution of individual views”.

Try to read his paper and not hear echoes everywhere of what now happens. Who would want to be the MP in the [Tory splinter] ERG WhatsApp group saying maybe they can live with the backstop? Instead, the ERG has splintered from most Tories – and grown more extreme.


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Fast-growth chickens produce new industry woe: ‘spaghetti meat’ • WSJ

Jacob Bunge:


Chicken companies spent decades breeding birds to grow rapidly and develop large breast muscles. Now the industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to deal with the consequences ranging from squishy fillets known as “spaghetti meat,” because they pull apart easily, to leathery ones known as “woody breast.”

The abnormalities pose no food safety risk, researchers and industry officials say. They are suspected side effects of genetic selection that now allows meat companies to raise a 6.3-pound bird in 47 days, roughly twice as fast as 50 years ago, according to the National Chicken Council.

That efficiency drive has helped U.S. meat giants such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms produce a record 42 billion pounds of chicken nuggets, tenders and other products in 2018. Now, it’s adding an estimated $200m or more in annual industry expenses to identify and divert breast fillets that are too tough, too squishy or too striped with bands of white tissue to sell in restaurants or grocery stores, according to researchers at the University of Arkansas.


Eww. The US ambassador recently appeared on the UK’s premier morning radio programme – the one listened to by politicians and the chatterati – and insisted that not only was US food healthier (more people, proportionally, get food poisoning in the US than the UK) but also that EU farming practices made it a museum. People weren’t impressed.
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Android Q features: The top features we know so far • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Many of us are still waiting for Android Pie to hit our phones, but Google doesn’t wait for anybody. The Mountain View company is already hard at work on Android Q, the next iteration of its mobile platform. But what will Google be bringing to the table in terms of new Android Q features?


TL;DR: dark mode, permissions granted only when the app is active, “desktop mode”, more lockability, some support for facial recognition, native screen recording, perhaps no Back button, and a couple more. Not thrilling, unless you’re going to go big on desktop mode. (And “permissions only when the app is active” has been on iOS since, what, 2014? 2015?)

Mobile OSs have essentially reached the point where there’s little useful left to improve.
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Samsung Galaxy S10 face unlock can be fooled by a photo, video, or even your sister • Android Police

Ryne Hager:


Both The Verge and Lewis Hilsenteger (Unbox Therapy) were able to trick the S10’s face recognition tech with a video played back on another phone. In the case of the latter, this is explicitly on a device smudged with fingerprints and dust, etc., only a couple of inches away. There should have been plenty of indirect cues there — focus distance, sufficient resolution to see pixel-level details, overlaid static features — to indicate that something might be off, but the S10 paid such details no mind.

Italian tech outlet SmartWorld was able to fool it with a static image, as well.

You may not even need a photo or video to trick the S10’s facial recognition tech. Jane Wong, of great social app teardown fame, was able to fool her brother’s recently purchased Galaxy S10 with her own face; a mere family resemblance was reportedly enough to confuse it.


Come on. That is shamefully bad. It would be better not to ship something so woeful. Touch ID is more than five years old, Face ID is more than a year old, and Samsung offers this bag of insecurity?
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A new method of DNA testing could solve more shootings • The Trace

Ann Givens:


Shawn Monpetit of the SDPD [San Diego Police Department] began researching the subject [of extracting DNA from bullet casings] and came across a 2011 study in which Dutch scientists recovered DNA from about a quarter of the casings tested using a new method. This new technique required scientists to soak the casings for about half an hour in tubes filled with a cocktail of chemicals that break open cells and release DNA so it can then be isolated and tested. “Think of it like soaking your dishes,” said Kristin Beyers, one of the lab’s supervising criminalists.

In a rare move, the SDPD agreed to fund its own study in 2014. Ten cops and lab workers were enlisted to use ammunition the way a criminal might: They carried some around in their pockets and took some straight out of a package before loading it into a gun and firing. When the scientists ultimately tested the roughly 800 casings they collected, swabbing half using the traditional method and soaking the other half, the lab got “interpretable” DNA samples off about 34% of the soaked samples. They published their study in a peer-reviewed academic journal, Forensic Science International, and the SDPD began using it in 2014 — around the same time they tested the evidence in the Gregory Benton murder case.  

The scientists soaked the 19 casings from the Benton case. They retrieved testable DNA from two different people, which they matched with samples in local and state DNA databases. Days later, they brought the two men in for questioning and put them together in a holding cell, where they were recorded.

“Hey homie …  my DNA just came back on two of those shell casings,” said one of the men, Emanual Peavy, according to a legal decision in the case. The other man, Lamont Holman, cursed, declaring that they had “no doubt” messed up, the decision said. The two men were later convicted of their roles in the killing.


(Via Nathan Taylor.) The Trace is a non-profit site about gun violence in the US.
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Brussels in bleak mood in ‘crunch’ Brexit week • BBC News

Katya Adler is the BBC’s Europe editor, and as such has been a regular fixture on British TV news screens for the past nine months, explaining what no progress looks like from every angle:


“We hear many in the UK saying ‘oh, the EU always backs down last minute, and if they don’t do it now it’s because they want to punish the UK’,” one well-placed EU source said to me recently.

“These people cite the Greek debt crisis. But remember: at the time of the Greek debt crisis, our choice was clear. We moved to keep Greece in our club. We sent a message of unity to the world and we saved the euro (currency) from breaking apart. We protected the single market. We ‘blinked’ in our own interest. And (Greek Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras made the decisions for the whole country.

“Who does Theresa May represent these days? And anyway the UK’s goal is to leave us. We don’t see dramatic changes in opinion polls.”

The sense in the EU is that division and indecision will continue in parliament this week and into next. It’s thought here that Theresa May (now known in Brussels for a habit of: “when faced with a wall, delay, delay, delay if you can”) will soon begin to point ahead to the EU leaders’ Brexit summit next week. The time for her next “Battle for Britain”, as all backs are firmly lined up against the wall of the 29 March deadline.

After all, the argument could go, only the leaders of the 27 EU countries ultimately have the legal ability to decisively change or alter the Withdrawal Agreement and therefore the backstop. That power does not lie with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker or EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Of course anything is possible. If the UK parliament does not approve an extension of the negotiations and hard Brexit looms the other side of 29 March, then some EU diplomats think it possible that EU leaders could, reluctantly, agree to an expiry date (or appearance of an expiry date) to the backstop – as long as that date is far enough into the future that, it’s presumed, a trade deal or some alternative could be in place by then.


Tuesday is meant to be the date for the “meaningful vote” – and May is widely expected to be defeated. There’s no support for anything she has to offer.
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Smart speakers and bakeware added to UK inflation basket • The Guardian

Richard Partington and Larry Elliott:


Alexa, what is the rate of UK inflation? Smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home have been added to the items used to calculate the cost of living, as envelopes and three-piece suites go out of fashion.

In the latest annual shakeup of the UK shopping basket used for measuring inflation, the Office for National Statistics said it had reflected shifting consumer habits across the country by including the home technology devices.

The ONS said the popularity of TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off had perhaps accounted for increased consumer spending on bakeware – another new addition to the 2019 basket of goods and services.


Dig into the details, and you also discover that hi-fi systems have been removed from the basket in favour of Bluetooth speakers. O tempora, o mores.
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Intel CPU shortages to worsen in 2Q19, says Digitimes Research • Digitimes

Jim Hsiao:


Shortages of Intel’s CPUs are expected to worsen in the second quarter compared to the first as demand for Chromebooks, which are mostly equipped with Intel’s entry-level processors, enters the high period, according to Digitimes Research.

Digitimes Research expects Intel CPUs’ supply gap to shrink to 2-3% in the first quarter with Core i3 taking over Core i5 as the series hit hardest by shortages.

The shortages started in August 2018 with major brands including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Dell and Lenovo all experiencing supply gaps of over 5% at their worst moment.

Although most market watchers originally believed that the shortages would gradually ease after vendors completed their inventory preparations for the year-end holidays, the supply gap in the fourth quarter of 2018 still stayed at the same level as that in the third as HP launched a second wave of CPU inventory buildup during the last quarter of the year, prompting other vendors to follow suit.

Taiwan-based vendors were underprepared and saw their supply gaps expand from a single digit percentage previously to over 10% in the fourth quarter.


A “supply gap” implies that the (PC) vendor can’t raise prices to reduce demand to match the supply. But if all the big names are suffering, why don’t they want to raise prices?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified