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.

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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

1 thought on “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

  1. “A sledgehammer, for sure, but child sexual exploitation imagery isn’t something to ignore.” Absolutely correct however this sledgehammer seems to have missed the problematic actors. My Tumblr has been followed by more spamblogs filled with inappropriate content per day since December than I had in years prior. Tumblr has somehow managed to eliminate real people giving bots free roam.

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