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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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!

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