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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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..”

link to this extract

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?
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.

link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.)
link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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?
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
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.1,021: 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?
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

‘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.
link to this extract

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.


link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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?
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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.
link to this extract

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?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,020: breaking up Facebook?, the spectacles ripoff, the Brexit ad mystery, Iranian hackers hit Citrix, the AI hype, and more

Guess what’s going to happen to Google-owned Picasa links really soon? CC-licensed photo by Kai Hendry 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. Is “extend and embrace” the next Brexit slogan? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Less than a month to go before Google breaks hundreds of thousands of links all over the Internet • Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

Philip Greenspun:


Google wasted a huge amount of humanity’s time and effort by shutting down Picasa (see my previous post on the subject).

Now they’re going to waste millions of additional hours worldwide by breaking links to all of the Google+ albums that they had Picasa create. People will either have to edit a ton of links and/or, having arrived at a broken link, will have to start searching to see if they can find the content elsewhere.

Example: my review of an Antarctica cruise on the Ocean Diamond. It was so easy to publish the photos via Picasa that I just linked to the photo album from the HTML page. Now I will have to move the photos somewhere else, edit the HTML file, git push, git pull, etc. Then repeat for every other blog posting and web page that links to a Picasa-created album.

Maybe this is why Google has a corporate mission of making the world’s information accessible? They’re the primary force now in making information inaccessible?


link to this extract

We can’t assume our water is safe to drink. But we can fix it • National Geographic

Rhea Suh:


As we mark World Water Day on March 22, the disturbing truth is that roughly a quarter of Americans drink from water systems that violate the Safe Drinking Water Act. Violations range from failing to properly test water to allowing dangerous levels of lead or arsenic—and occur everywhere: in rural communities and big cities, in red states and blue ones.

The lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, was extreme—and shocking because of the role that race played. However, it was not an isolated case, and we need to consider it a national wake-up call.

Across the country, water systems are old, badly maintained, and in dire need of modernizing—from lead service lines in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Newark, New Jersey, to silt and debris in drinking water after heavy rain in Austin, Texas, to fecal contamination in Penn Township, Pennsylvania. Worse, some are managed by dysfunctional agencies where incompetence and socioeconomic and racial bias may determine whether a community is made sick by its drinking water. The reality is that we can no longer assume that our water is safe to drink.

How unsafe is it? Depending on the source of contamination and the exposure, health effects include neurological problems and developmental disabilities in children (lead), interference with hormones (perchlorates), and increased risk of cancers of the skin, bladder, and kidney (arsenic). The Environmental Protection Agency regulates more than 90 contaminants—but a hundred more that are tracked are so far unregulated.


Inside the Trump administration, the answer’s easy: stop regulating the contaminants! Let the market sort it out! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
link to this extract

The massage parlour owner peddling access to Trump has ties to Chinese government-linked groups • Mother Jones

Daniel Schulman, David Corn and Dan Friedman:


Li Yang, the Florida massage parlor entrepreneur who created and operated a business that sold Chinese business executives access to President Donald Trump and his family at Mar-a-Lago, has yet another intriguing line of work. She is an officer of two groups with ties to China’s Communist government. And she founded a Miami-based nonprofit that promotes “economic and cultural exchange” between China and the West in coordination with “senior…Chinese leaders” in the United States, according to a profile of Yang posted on a Chinese social media platform.

After Mother Jones on Saturday revealed that Yang, who goes by Cindy, had been peddling entrée to the Trump family, the Trump White House, and assorted GOP powerbrokers, national security experts noted that this situation could pose a threat, presenting opportunities for espionage or blackmail targeting the president and his inner circle.


You mean it’s not enough that she’s a massage parlour peddling access to Trump? As ever, imagine if the name there were “Obama” rather than “Trump”.
link to this extract

How badly are we being ripped off on eyewear? Former industry execs tell all • Los Angeles Times

David Lazarus:


[Former LensCrafters executives] Butler and Dahan acknowledged what most consumers have long suspected: that the prices we pay for eyewear in no way reflect the actual cost of making frames and lenses.

When he was in the business, in the 1980s and ’90s, Dahan said it cost him between $10 and $16 to manufacture a pair of quality plastic or metal frames.

Lenses, he said, might cost about $5 a pair to produce. With fancy coatings, that could boost the price all the way to $15.

He said LensCrafters would turn around and charge $99 for completed glasses that cost $20 or $30 to make — and this was well below what many independent opticians charged. Nowadays, he said, those same glasses at LensCrafters might cost hundreds of dollars.

Butler said he recently visited factories in China where many glasses for the U.S. market are manufactured. Improved technology has made prices even lower than what Dahan recalled.
“You can get amazingly good frames, with a Warby Parker level of quality, for $4 to $8,” Butler said. “For $15, you can get designer-quality frames, like what you’d get from Prada.”

And lenses? “You can buy absolutely first-quality lenses for $1.25 apiece,” Butler said. Yet those same frames and lenses might sell in the United States for $800.


It’s down to EssilorLuxottica, which demands colossal markups. A candidate for disruption?
link to this extract

Here’s how we can break up Big Tech • Medium

Elizabeth Warren, 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful:


my administration would restore competition to the tech sector by taking two major steps:

First, by passing legislation that requires large tech platforms to be designated as “Platform Utilities” and broken apart from any participant on that platform.

Companies with an annual global revenue of $25bn or more and that offer to the public an online marketplace, an exchange, or a platform for connecting third parties would be designated as “platform utilities.”

These companies would be prohibited from owning both the platform utility and any participants on that platform. Platform utilities would be required to meet a standard of fair, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory dealing with users. Platform utilities would not be allowed to transfer or share data with third parties…

…Second, my administration would appoint regulators committed to reversing illegal and anti-competitive tech mergers.

Current antitrust laws empower federal regulators to break up mergers that reduce competition. I will appoint regulators who are committed to using existing tools to unwind anti-competitive mergers, including:
Amazon: Whole Foods; Zappos
Facebook: WhatsApp; Instagram
Google: Waze; Nest; DoubleClick

Unwinding these mergers will promote healthy competition in the market — which will put pressure on big tech companies to be more responsive to user concerns, including about privacy.


She hopes this would stop Google from demoting competitors in search results, though it’s hard to see that leopard ever changing its spots. Warren’s ideas are certainly a step forward; would they apply to foreign companies that passed that threshold, such as – let’s say – Chinese ones? And they’ve been torn to shreds by tech people (“are you really saying Apple shouldn’t have an App Store? Amazon shouldn’t have a Marketplace?”). It needs work – quite a lot – but it’s a shift from the present laissez-faire, and that is needed.
link to this extract

A mysterious hard Brexit group run by a young Tory writer is now Britain’s biggest spending political campaign on Facebook • Buzzfeed News

Alex Spence and Mark di Stefano:


Week after week while the Brexit negotiations have approached the nail-biting endgame, Britain’s Future has been micro-targeting voters across the country to convince them to lobby specific MPs to “deliver Brexit”.

Last week alone, Britain’s Future splurged more than £50,000 on Facebook. The next biggest spender that week, the pro-Remain Best For Britain group, spent £15,457.

The extent of Britain’s Future’s social media campaign has raised questions about the group’s origins and the impact of this “dark money” on the most important and contentious political decision in recent UK history. Yet despite the outsize influence the campaign is now having on the Brexit debate, very little is known about how it started or who is funding it. It is not clear whether the money is coming from thousands of small donations or from a few wealthy donors who want a no-deal Brexit.

The only person named on Britain’s Future’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account is Tim Dawson, the editor. Dawson is a 30-year-old freelance writer who lives in Manchester. He had a sitcom on BBC Three in the late 2000s and has written occasionally for the Daily Telegraph; he’s an active supporter of the Tories on social media but has little experience in frontline politics.


Facebook’s demand that you be a real person to place political ads doesn’t deal with the question of who funds you.
link to this extract

Iranian-backed hackers stole data from major US government contractor • NBC News

Dan De Luce and Courtney Kube:


Iranian-backed hackers have stolen vast amounts of data from a major software company that handles sensitive computer projects for the White House communications agency, the U.S. military, the FBI and many American corporations, a cybersecurity firm told NBC News.

Citrix Systems Inc. came under attack twice, once in December and again Monday, according to Resecurity, which notified the firm and law enforcement authorities.

Employing brute force attacks that guess passwords, the assault was carried out by the Iranian-linked hacking group known as Iridium, which was also behind recent cyberattacks against numerous government agencies, oil and gas companies and other targets, Charles Yoo, Resecurity’s president, said.

The hackers extracted at least six terabytes of data and possibly up to 10 terabytes in the assault on Citrix, Yoo said. The attackers gained access to Citrix through several compromised employee accounts, he said.


Successful brute-force attacks? Citrix really needs to rethink its approach to security. Password lockouts and/or two-factor authentication.
link to this extract

Nearly half of all ‘AI startups’ are cashing in on hype • Forbes

Parmy Olson:


a new report makes the surprising claim that 40% of European firms that are classified as an “AI startup” don’t exploit the field of study in any material way for their business.

Out of 2,830 startups in Europe that were classified as being AI companies, only 1,580 accurately fit that description, according to the eye-opening stat on page 99 of a new report from MMC, a London-based venture capital firm. In many cases the label, which refers to computer systems that can perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, was simply wrong.

“We looked at every company, their materials, their product, the website and product documents,” says David Kelnar, head of research for MMC, which has £300m ($400m) under management and a portfolio of 34 companies. “In 40% of cases we could find no mention of evidence of AI.” In such cases, he added, “companies that people assume and think are AI companies are probably not.”


It’s a constant cycle: beginning in the 1990s, companies would say (it helps if you imagine it in the voice of Ralph, the useless kid from The Simpsons): with “we’re an internet company!” and “we’re a mobile company!” and, now, “we’re an AI company!” Doesn’t make it so.
link to this extract

Facebook and Telegram are hoping to succeed where bitcoin failed • The New York Times

Nathaniel Popper and Mike Isaac:


The most anticipated but secretive project is underway at Facebook. The company is working on a coin that users of WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, could send to friends and family instantly, said five people briefed on the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

The Facebook project is far enough along that the social networking giant has held conversations with cryptocurrency exchanges about selling the Facebook coin to consumers, said four people briefed on the negotiations.

Telegram, which has an estimated 300 million users worldwide, is also working on a digital coin. A coin is in the works that will work with Signal, an encrypted messaging service that is popular among technologists and privacy advocates. And so do the biggest messaging applications in South Korea and Japan, Kakao and Line.

The messaging companies have a reach that dwarfs the backers of earlier cryptocurrencies. Facebook and Telegram can make the digital wallets used for cryptocurrencies available, in an instant, to hundreds of millions of users.


So.. like Apple Pay on iMessage except with weird “money”? The story suggests it’s to make it easier to move money between countries, especially in the developing world. But that turns Facebook etc into a form of bank (what if someone is sent “money” but they don’t activate their phone?). Do they want that regulatory frontier? As the story points out, the answers are all bad.
link to this extract

Microsoft’s 800m claim for Windows 10 signals migration acceleration • Computerworld

Gregg Keizer:


Although Windows 7’s support retirement is just 312 days away, the OS stubbornly clings to a position of power, a place it seems to have little desire to relinquish. Using the 12-month average change in user share, Computerworld recently forecast that nearly 41% of all Windows PCs will be running Windows 7 at the moment it falls off Microsoft’s support list. That would be about a dozen percentage points higher than Windows XP’s spot when it lost support in the spring of 2014.

Microsoft’s reporting of 800m Windows 10 devices, however, hints at a quickening uptake of the OS, which in the current environment – where total PC counts are flat at best – also means a faster diminishing of Windows 7.

The latest 100 million increase – from September 25, 2018 to yesterday – took only 163 days, little more than half the time needed to move Windows 10 from 600m to 700m (300 days). It was also a quicker transition than the ones from 500m to 600m (203 days) and from 400m to 500m (226 days).


What that graph doesn’t show – but should – is that when Windows 10 was launched in July 2015, Satya Nadella’s target was to be on a billion devices (with 1.5bn Windows PCs installed) in three years. They got about two-thirds of the way there by that time; the upgrade curve had flattened out almost at once because Windows got crushed on mobile.
link to this extract

Questions about Marzipan apps on the Mac •

Brent Simmons, the original author of the NetNewsWire newsreader app released back in 2002:


Though I’m not going to rewrite NetNewsWire as a Marzipan app, I do have a bunch of other app ideas I’d like to do, and many of those should be iOS apps as well as Mac apps.

If Marzipan means I can get those apps made more easily and in less time — and that the Mac versions will be as good as an AppKit app, without compromises — then I’ll be happy to adopt it.

But that part is critical. It has to be as good a Mac app as the AppKit version that I would have written. Otherwise it’s not worth my time. Other people may make other calculations, and I respect that.

(Note to those who think of me as a Mac-only programmer: I’ve written several iOS apps, including Vesper, Glassboard, and early versions of NetNewsWire, AllThingsD, and Variety.)


link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,019: Facebook’s privacy tweak, octopi are even more weird, BBC v Netflix, US government tracks journalists, and more

So guess what might be in short supply if we have No Deal Brexit? CC-licensed photo by GorillaSushi 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 12 links for you. Enough? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Zuckerberg’s so-called shift toward privacy • NY Times

Zeynep Tufekci on Mark Zuckerberg’s latest splurge of intent:


what we really need — and it is not clear what Facebook has in mind — is privacy for true person-to-person messaging apps, not messaging apps that also allow for secure mass messaging.

At the moment, critics can (and have) held Facebook accountable for its failure to adequately moderate the content it disseminates — allowing for hate speech, vaccine misinformation, fake news and so on. Once end-to-end encryption is put in place, Facebook can wash its hands of the content. We don’t want to end up with all the same problems we now have with viral content online — only with less visibility and nobody to hold responsible for it.

It’s also worth noting that encrypted messaging, in addition to releasing Facebook from the obligation to moderate content, wouldn’t interfere with the surveillance that Facebook conducts for the benefit of advertisers. As Mr. Zuckerberg admitted in an interview after he posted his plan, Facebook isn’t “really using the content of messages to target ads today anyway.” In other words, he is happy to bolster privacy when doing so would decrease Facebook’s responsibilities, but not when doing so would decrease its advertising revenue.

Another point that Mr. Zuckerberg emphasized in his post was his intention to make Facebook’s messaging platforms, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, “interoperable.” He described this decision as part of his “privacy-focused vision,” though it is not clear how doing do — which would presumably involve sharing user data — would serve privacy interests.

Merging those apps just might, however, serve Facebook’s interest in avoiding antitrust remedies. Just as regulators are realizing that allowing Facebook to gobble up all its competitors (including WhatsApp and Instagram) may have been a mistake, Mr. Zuckerberg decides to scramble the eggs to make them harder to separate into independent entities. What a coincidence.

In short, the few genuinely new steps that Mr. Zuckerberg announced on Wednesday seem all too conveniently aligned with Facebook’s needs, whether they concern government regulation, public scandal or profitability.


The European Commission is hopping mad about the idea that Facebook would roll itself, Instagram and WhatsApp together, having promised it wouldn’t. Fines may follow.
link to this extract

Hard Brexit means hard times on the toilet • Foreign Policy

Stephen Paduano:


in the case of the United Kingdom, where the average resident uses an unrivaled 110 rolls of toilet paper per year, the highest figure in Europe, any meaningful measure of forward planning would require more real estate than is currently available. This is just one of the terrible challenges that the paper industry—and the public—may face in the coming months, said Andrew Large, the director general of the Confederation of Paper Industries, the leading trade association for the U.K.’s paper-based industries.

“It’s very bulky and light in weight for its volume, which means you need an awful lot of warehousing space in order to be able to put down meaningful stocks of the material,” he said. While there has been some stockpiling—several weeks of finished rolls and perhaps months of unfinished pulp, according to Large—the practical limitations to stockpiling leave a great deal of uncertainty. This uncertainty, more than anything, is most worrying for the industry. “The thing that will cause a crisis,” Large said, “is if people do panic and they empty the shelves preemptively, whereas if normal buying patterns are continued, there would have been enough supply in the system for everybody to be fine.”

In the event of no deal, it is difficult to imagine that this sort of self-perpetuating panic will not get produced. The campaign to drive up this panic to avert a no-deal Brexit or force a second referendum has been underway for the better part of the past three years. It will undoubtedly continue. And on the toilet paper front, “Project Fear” has already found a vociferous champion in the former Labour Party MP Denis MacShane, who has claimed, wrongly, that Britain has a toilet paper supply of just one day.


link to this extract

Octopus and squid evolution is officially weirder than we could have ever imagined • Science Alert

Signe Dean:


Just when we thought octopuses couldn’t be any weirder, it turns out that they and their cephalopod brethren evolve differently from nearly every other organism on the planet.

In a surprising twist, in April 2017 scientists discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.

This is weird because that’s really not how adaptations usually happen in multicellular animals. When an organism changes in some fundamental way, it typically starts with a genetic mutation – a change to the DNA.

Those genetic changes are then translated into action by DNA’s molecular sidekick, RNA. You can think of DNA instructions as a recipe, while RNA is the chef that orchestrates the cooking in the kitchen of each cell, producing necessary proteins that keep the whole organism going.

But RNA doesn’t just blindly execute instructions – occasionally it improvises with some of the ingredients, changing which proteins are produced in the cell in a rare process called RNA editing.

When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations.


The hypothesis that they’re actually alien visitors gathers steam.
link to this extract

$356,000 to protect your computer? Feds promise ‘all-out attack’ on scams targeting the elderly • USA Today

Kevin Johnson:


One man, alarmed at the thought that hackers might attack his computer, shelled out $14,990 to a company promising a “fix” that would keep it safe.

Eight months later, the 68-year-old from Hawaii mailed the same company a check for $24,999 more. And he kept paying. All told, the unnamed man, who suffers from dementia, sent about $356,000 in checks and wire transfers, unaware that the computer security alert was part of a network of elaborate scams that the government says cost the nation’s elderly and infirm hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year alone.

The case is part of a heartbreaking archive of court documents filed in just the past year, charging more than 200 suspects with trying to swindle 2 million Americans, most of them elderly.

Federal authorities said the illicit operations, some based in the United States and others scattered across the globe, looted seniors of nearly $1bn. The charges brought in the past 12 months, the second such enforcement campaign in as many years, represents the largest of the federal sweeps against elder fraud.


Terrible. And also near-impossible to stop.
link to this extract

BBC boss mocks Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ viewing figures • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


“I mentioned the Bodyguard finale reaching 17 million viewers,” [BBC chief Tony Hall] told a media conference in London. “That was in one month. Our data suggests The Crown reached seven million users in 17 months.”

Netflix is infamous for never revealing the number of people who view any of its shows, leaving industry rivals and the media to fill in the blanks. This approach means the streaming service does not have to admit which of its shows are critical hits but flop with audiences, while also avoiding direct comparisons between the popularity of its shows and the audiences for programmes on traditional channels.

A BBC spokesperson said Hall’s source for the viewing figures was a nationally representative survey commissioned by the corporation last year, which asked Britons whether they had watched at least 15 minutes of an episode of The Crown. Netflix declined to comment on the figures.

The Crown, which is following the reign of the Queen from her early years to the present day, is scheduled to last six series at a rumoured cost of £100m. The drama, created by Peter Morgan, has been a major critical hit around the world and has been seen as indicative of a media environment where leading British television talent choose to work for streaming services on bigger budgets rather than produce material for domestic broadcasters.

Hall’s aggressive stance towards Netflix came as he urged the BBC to improve its online offering and prepare for an era where many licence fee payers never watch live television channels.


It’s a good attempt, but Netflix aims, just like the BBC, to make its returns over the long term.
link to this extract

Facebook finds UK-based ‘fake news’ network • BBC

Chris Fox:


Facebook said about 175,000 people followed at least one of the fake pages, which included 35 profiles on Instagram.

The company said the pages “engaged in hate speech and spread divisive comments on both sides of the political debate in the UK”.

“They frequently posted about local and political news including topics like immigration, free speech, racism, LGBT issues, far-right politics, issues between India and Pakistan, and religious beliefs including Islam and Christianity.

“We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted. In each of these cases, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”

The BBC understands Facebook discovered the network of inauthentic accounts while investigating hate speech about the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid


Who would be behind a fake news network that tries to spread division, do you think?
link to this extract

Leaked documents show US government tracking journalists and immigration advocates through a secret database • NBC San Diego

Tom Jones:


Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the US government created a secret database of activists, journalists, and social media influencers tied to the migrant caravan and in some cases, placed alerts on their passports.

At the end of 2018, roughly 5,000 immigrants from Central America made their way north through Mexico to the United States southern border. The story made international headlines. 

As the migrant caravan reached the San Ysidro Port of Entry in south San Diego County, so did journalists, attorneys, and advocates who were there to work and witness the events unfolding. 

But in the months that followed, journalists who covered the caravan, as well as those who offered assistance to caravan members, said they felt they had become targets of intense inspections and scrutiny by border officials. 

One photojournalist said she was pulled into secondary inspections three times and asked questions about who she saw and photographed in Tijuana shelters. Another photojournalist said she spent 13 hours detained by Mexican authorities when she tried to cross the border into Mexico City. Eventually, she was denied entry into Mexico and sent back to the US. 

These American photojournalists and attorneys said they suspected the US government was monitoring them closely but until now, they couldn’t prove it.


This is what they warned you about: authoritarian governments misusing powers.
link to this extract

US users are leaving Facebook by the millions, Edison Research says • Marketplace

Kimberly Adams:


The biggest drop is in the very desirable 12- to 34-year-old group. Marketplace Tech got a first look at Edison’s latest social media research. It revealed almost 80% of people in the US are posting, tweeting or snapping, but fewer are going to Facebook.

Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams talked with Larry Rosin, president of Edison Research. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kimberly Adams: In your survey you found an estimated drop of 15 million fewer Facebook users in the US today than in 2017. That’s just in the US. Is this a meaningful drop for Facebook?

Larry Rosin: I don’t see how you couldn’t say it’s a meaningful drop. Fifteen million is a lot of people, no matter which way you cut it. It represents about 65 of the total US population ages 12 and older. What makes it particularly important is if it is part of a trend. This is the second straight year we’ve seen this number go down. Obviously, the US is the biggest market, in terms of dollars, and it’s going to be a super important market for Facebook or anybody who’s playing in this game.


Indeed, the US is the biggest and most valuable market for Facebook.
link to this extract

Criminal machine learning • Calling Bullshit



the authors note elsewhere that the criminal photos are all from individuals actually convicted of crimes. Figure 2 below shows the six example photos that the authors have provided from their training set.

Figure 2. Criminal and non-criminal faces from Wu and Zhang (2016)

From these details alone, two massive problems leap to our attention. Each introduces major biases of precisely the sort that the authors claim are avoided by machine learning algorithms.

The first and probably most prominent source of bias in this methodology is that the images of non-criminals have been posted to websites presumably designed for promotional purposes, be they company websites or personal profiles. Many of these images will have been chosen by the photo subject himself; most of the others, while chosen by a third party, will presumably have been picked to convey a positive impression.

By contrast, the images from the set of criminals are described as ID photographs. While it is unclear exactly what this means, it’s a pretty good guess that these have been selected neither by the individual depicted, nor with the aim of casting that individual in a favorable light. Thank goodness no one judges our character based upon our driver’s license photos!


Such subtle things you need to beware when building a machine learning set.
link to this extract

Prioritizing the MacBook hierarchy of needs • Six Colo(u)rs

Jason Snell:


This week on the Accidental Tech Podcast, John Siracusa floated the concept of a MacBook Hierarchy of Needs, a priority list of features for the next time Apple redesigns the MacBook line, as is rumored to happen later this year.

It’s a fun thought experiment, because it requires you to rank your wish list of laptop features. That’s important, because if I’ve learned anything in this wacky world of ours, it’s that you can never get everything you ask for, so you’ve got to prioritize.

The ATP hosts all made a “good keyboard” their top priority, an idea that would’ve been surprising a few years ago but now is almost a given. Yes, of course, Apple laptops need to be fast and reliable and have great displays and good battery life, but the past few years’ worth of MacBooks have made a lot of people realize the truth: a bad/unreliable laptop keyboard isn’t something you can really work around if you’re a laptop user.

This is why a lot of nice-to-have-features, like SD card slots, have to fall way down the hierarchy of needs. Any feature that can be rectified with an add-on adapter falls immediately to the bottom of the list. You’re stuck with a laptop keyboard forever, and if you’re committed to the Mac and every single Mac laptop that’s sold uses the exact same keyboard, there’s nowhere to run.


We are now three years into Apple’s flawed – there’s no other word – keyboard design, and it’s only improving incrementally. And yet it sells keyboards that work fine, with the iMac.

Why not listen to people who are saying: I’m not buying a new laptop until this is definitely sorted?
link to this extract

Facebook will block anti-vax ads and reduce vaccine misinformation in the news feed, pages, and groups • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:


Facebook announced Thursday that anti-vax misinformation will appear less frequently across people’s News Feeds, public pages and groups, private pages and groups, search predictions, and in recommendation widgets around the site. The announcement comes after weeks of pressure from lawmakers and public health advocates to crack down on anti-vax content.

“We are exploring ways to share educational information about vaccines when people come across misinformation on this topic,” Facebook said in its announcement. “Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them.”

Following a measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest in January, California Rep. Adam Schiff sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai a letter that outlined concerns with the way the big tech platforms surface anti-vaccine content and urged them to take action. Last month, after inquiries from from BuzzFeed News, YouTube said that it would prevent channels that promote anti-vax content from running advertising.


YouTube’s action misses the point: they don’t want to make money, they want to spread their nonsense. Both Facebook and YouTube are now in the stage of fighting fires all the time because they haven’t been designed with malice in mind.
link to this extract

2018: the year that LATAM smartphone market started to decline • Counterpoint Research


Smartphone shipments in the LATAM region declined by more than 1% year-on-year in 2018, making it the first time ever that the market has contracted in the region, the latest data from Counterpoint Research shows.

While declining smartphone sales was a global phenomenon in 2018, the LATAM region caught up with the trend at the drop of a hat due to the political and economic uncertainties in the region. Commenting on the overall market, Tina Lu, Senior Analyst at Counterpoint Research said, “With the exception of Chile, most countries in LATAM had a year-on-year decline in smartphone sales driven by the slowdown in the rate of replacement. The year was also marked by political and economic uncertainty across the region. Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil witnessed presidential elections which added to the political turmoil. The decline was led by Argentina and Brazil. While 2018 was particularly bad for Brazil as it was suffering from an economic crisis stemming out of the political uncertainty in the country, there could be some recovery in 2019. Argentina’s problems appear to be more long term as it is not possible to fix the inflationary economy in the short-term.”


But average selling prices rose, up by 5%: top-level brands ASP rose, but second-tier brands ASP fell. A dumbbell market. Also: Samsung’s leadership position under threat. The story keeps repeating around the world.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,018: smartphone woes continue, the foldable phone wait, Meizu falls (way) short, when is AI conscious?, and more

You’re probably wondering how Samsung’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor works, aren’t you? CC-licensed photo by Karlis Dambrans 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 9 links for you. Keep it private, we’ll keep it public. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Galaxy S10 review: The best phone of 2019 • Android Central

Andrew Martonik:


Samsung’s move to an in-display fingerprint sensor is the only controversial decision it made this year. Actually, the only controversial things Samsung has done in the last handful of years have all related to biometric security. Moving the fingerprint sensor to a nonsensical place, and trying to rely on iris scanning were solid blunders in their own right. (Iris scanning is gone now, by the way.) And now, we have another attempt: an in-display fingerprint sensor. This isn’t the first we’ve seen, but it is the first using this type of technology: ultrasonic, using sound waves, rather than optical, which uses a camera.

I’ll lay it out simply: the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor is better than the optical ones I’ve used (primarily, the OnePlus 6T), but it is not as fast, accurate or easy to use as a modern capacitive fingerprint sensor. That shouldn’t really come as any surprise, as capacitive sensors are a mature technology while the in-display sensors are still relatively new. But it’s worth making clear.

There is no situation in which the ultrasonic fingerprint sensor has been faster or more consistent than the Galaxy S9’s rear-mounted capacitive sensor. That’s incredibly unfortunate.

Having the sensor in the display adds the benefit of being able to unlock your phone while it’s sitting flat on a table or when you’re holding it loosely and can’t reach where a rear sensor would be. But the sensor requires far more effort to find the “sweet spot” where you know it’ll unlock right away. I found myself pressing harder on the screen to flatten out my print, which helped, but the zone where the sensor will read is smaller than you’d think.


Which would explain why Apple went for Face ID a whole 18 months earlier. This technology still isn’t ready. That aside, Samsung’s doing the usual upgrade thing, and reviewers seem happy.
link to this extract

Smartphone shipments expected to drop for the third consecutive year in 2019 • IDC


the smartphone market continues to be challenged and 2019 is projected to experience its third consecutive year of declining shipments. Worldwide smartphone volumes are forecast to fall by 0.8% in 2019 with volumes dipping to 1.39bn. However, the smartphone market will begin to pick up momentum this year with year-over-year growth of 2.3% expected in the second half of the year. Over the long term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.54bn units in 2023.

“The biggest question that remains unanswered is what will bring the smartphone industry back to growth,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “There is no question industry growth has been down for reasons that have already been identified – longer replacement cycles, a challenged China market, and geopolitical headwinds – but it is shortsighted to overlook the possibilities of some important technology advancements that are within reach with 5G probably being the most significant.”


Essentially static – but I’d expect replacement cycles will keep lengthening as people replace elements rather than the whole of expensive smartphones.
link to this extract

Want a foldable phone? Hold out for real glass • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


Corning is combining its experience with Willow glass, which can roll up like a sheet of paper, and Gorilla Glass, which gets its strength from an ion-exchange process. In fact, it’s that process that makes Willow Glass unsuitable for phones. It involves dipping glass into a molten salt solution, where potassium ions enter and push out smaller sodium ions, creating a “compressive stress layer.” To borrow an example from Corning, think of what would happen if you replaced the billiard balls in a rack with tennis balls, which are slightly larger. The additional compression would make it much harder to roll the rack. In a sense, it’s stronger. But it also comes at a cost.

“In a display application, you’re putting transistors on the glass. Transistors hate salt: Sodium, potassium, anything from the salt family will eat away a transistor,” Bayne says. “For this family of glasses to work, you have to have these components in the glass that are incompatible with transistors.”

Corning’s ultrathin, bendable glass attempts to square that circle but hasn’t quite yet. “We have glasses we’ve sampled to customers, and they’re functional, but they’re not quite meeting all the requirements,” Bayne says. “People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both.”

Bayne expects foldable glass to be ready by the time foldable smartphones go mainstream, say a couple of years. Mauro thinks Corning and competitors like Japan’s AGC may be even closer than that. But the important thing for you to know is that it’s not here now.


link to this extract

Fitbit’s new Versa Lite smartwatch is all about the fitness basics • Engadget

Chris Velazco:


At $160, the Versa Lite is about $40 cheaper than the original, and the company hopes it’ll be enough to sway people who have never wanted a smartwatch before.

Thankfully, the Lite provides almost everything that made the original such a great workout companion. It’s rated for the same four-ish days of battery life as the standard Versa, and should track steps, heartbeats and calories burned with the same level of precision. It uses the same 1.34-inch display and will show you your notifications without any fuss. It can handle prolonged swims as well as its more expensive sibling, too, and it packs all the same exercise modes. All of the Versa’s accessories can attach to the Lite, and vice versa. The Lite is even fully compatible with the female health tracking services Fitbit launched last year (even if they still leave some of Fitbit’s users wanting). For newcomers to fitness and smartwatches alike, the Versa Lite has the basics nicely taken care of.


If you nail fitness and messaging, you pretty much have 75% of the functionality needed from a smartwatch down. The other 25%, though, is harder: app control, weather, even two-factor (I use Authy on Apple Watch a surprising amount).
link to this extract

In epic fail, Meizu’s $1300 portless phone gets just 29 pre-orders on Indiegogo • Android Police

David Ruddock:


Meizu set itself an eminently reasonably bar for the campaign, too, at $100,000. That may sound like a fair bit of cash, but Meizu would only have had to sell 77 phones in order to meet this goal. It managed just 29. It’s unclear how many of those were Meizu employees, other than to say “not enough.”

Meizu isn’t a particularly well-known brand in western markets, having only expanded to Eastern Europe in the recent years, and only in 2018 had apparently received a renewal of its Google Mobile Services certification, which it lost for building phones with the Android fork Yun OS in China. Given Indiegogo is largely popular in places like North America and Europe, I guess it’s not terribly surprising no one wanted to sign up to buy a $1300 phone from a company they knew nothing about, especially one that appeared to just be taking away things people want.

While I do believe portless phones are our inevitable future, we’re years, possibly even a decade, from that being truly feasible in a mass market device.


Reminds me of the Ubuntu Edge project back in 2013: wanted $32m, managed $12m. Though in retrospect that looks a lot more impressive. They just set the wrong target.
link to this extract

Apple says iPhones with third-party batteries now eligible for repairs • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:


iPhones with aftermarket batteries installed by third-party repair shops are now eligible for service at Genius Bars and Apple Authorized Service Providers, according to an internal Apple document obtained by MacRumors from three reliable sources. The change was first reported by French blog iGeneration.

This is significant news for iPhone repairs, as the Genius Bar and AASPs were previously instructed to deny service of any kind for an iPhone with a third-party battery, regardless of the circumstances.

If the repair is unrelated to the battery, the Genius Bar and AASPs are now instructed to ignore the third-party battery and proceed with service as normal, according to Apple’s internal document. This could include repairs to the display, logic board, microphones, and so forth, with normal fees applying.

If the repair is related to the battery itself, the Genius Bar and AASPs are now permitted to replace the third-party battery with an official Apple battery for the standard fee.


Which is similar to its easing on replacing third-party displays in 2017. Wonder what drove it, though. When I tried to get a third-party battery replaced a year or so ago at an Apple Store, they said they wouldn’t take it because of the regulations around disposal. Guess that’s changed.
link to this extract

Uber escapes criminal charges for 2018 self-driving death in Arizona • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


“After a very thorough review of all evidence presented, this office has determined that there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation,” wrote Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk in a letter dated Monday.

Tempe is in Maricopa County, not Yavapai County. But Maricopa County once collaborated with Uber on a public safety campaign. So prosecutors referred the case to Yavapai County to avoid any potential for a conflict of interest.

While Uber appears to be off the hook, Uber driver Rafael Vasquez could still face criminal charges. Dashcam video showed Vasquez repeatedly looking down at her lap in the final minutes before the crash—including five agonizing seconds just before her car struck Herzberg. Records obtained from Hulu suggest that Vazquez was streaming the television show The Voice just before the fatal crash.

Yavapai County Attorney Polk said she didn’t have enough information to decide whether it would be appropriate to charge Vasquez.


“The driver of the self-driving car is responsible for this death.” That’s going to be fun to prosecute. Vasquez was given a horrible task: in charge of a potentially lethal device, but with minimal time to avert it killing. A weird formulation of the trolley problem.
link to this extract

Here’s how we’ll know an AI is conscious • Nautilus

Joel Frohlich:


It’s worth wondering, though, how a person or machine devoid of experience could reflect on experience it doesn’t have. In an episode of the “Making Sense” (formerly known as “Waking Up”) podcast with neuroscientist and author Sam Harris, Chalmers addressed this puzzle. “I don’t think it’s particularly hard to at least conceive of a system doing this,” Chalmers told Harris. “I mean, I’m talking to you now, and you’re making a lot of comments about consciousness that seem to strongly suggest that you have it. Still, I can at least entertain the idea that you’re not conscious and that you’re a zombie who’s in fact just making all these noises without having any consciousness on the inside.”

This is not a strictly academic matter—if Google’s DeepMind develops an AI that starts asking, say, why the color red feels like red and not something else, there are only a few possible explanations. Perhaps it heard the question from someone else. It’s possible, for example, that an AI might learn to ask questions about consciousness simply by reading papers about consciousness. It also could have been programmed to ask that question, like a character in a video game, or it could have burped the question out of random noise. Clearly, asking questions about consciousness does not prove anything per se. But could an AI zombie formulate such questions by itself, without hearing them from another source or belching them out from random outputs? To me, the answer is clearly no. If I’m right, then we should seriously consider that an AI might be conscious if it asks questions about subjective experience unprompted. Because we won’t know if it’s ethical to unplug such an AI without knowing if it’s conscious, we better start listening for such questions now.


The article goes into more depth, but this is quite the question for the modern age.
link to this extract

Ethan Lindenberger: Facebook’s anti-vax problem intensified in Congressional testimony • The Washington Post

Michael Brice-Saddler:


Ethan Lindenberger, a high school senior, testified Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and underscored the importance of “credible” information. In contrast, he said, the false and deep-rooted beliefs his mother held — that vaccines were dangerous — were perpetuated by social media. Specifically, he said, she turned to anti-vaccine groups on social media for evidence that supported her point of view.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Lindenberger said Facebook, or websites that were linked on Facebook, is really the only source his mother ever relied on for her anti-vaccine information.

Most importantly, Lindenberger said, was the impact Facebook’s anti-vax communities had on his family.

“I feel like if my mom didn’t interact with that information, and she wasn’t swayed by those arguments and stories, it could’ve potentially changed everything,” he said. “My entire family could’ve been vaccinated.”


Let’s hope that Facebook, like Pinterest, is considering breaking its search engine. Lindenberger told the committee that he got most of his information from “not Facebook.. CDC, WHO, scientific journals.. accredited sources.” Radical ideas these kids have.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,017: Spotify’s Indian foothold, Twitter beats Facebook on news, battery prices fall, RAM prices slump, the Instagram clones, and more

“Tonight, symphony No.5 by Tensor GPU array 57.” Would we listen, though? CC-licensed photo by Grant Williamson 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. Free at the point of demand. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Spotify adds 1 million unique listeners in India in less than a week • Reuters

Akanksha Rana:


Spotify Technology SA, the world’s most popular paid music streaming service, said it racked up more than 1 million unique users in India across its free and premium tiers since launching less than a week ago.

Spotify launched in India on Tuesday, stepping into a price-sensitive market crowded by well-funded players such as Reliance Industries’ JioSaavn and Apple’s Apple Music.

The Swedish company is offering a free version that will run with ads, alongside a premium ad-free variant that will charge users 119 Indian rupees ($1.68) per month.

India, with a population of 1.3 billion and more than 400 million smartphone users, is a potentially huge market for the Swedish company.

According to media reports, Tencent-backed Gaana leads the Indian streaming market with over 80 million monthly users.


Uphill battle, but great for those user-count bragging rights. (Apple Music has been in India for a long time, I think.)
link to this extract

A behind-the-scenes take on lithium-ion battery prices • Bloomberg NEF

Logan Goldie-Scot is “Head of Energy Storage, BloombergNEF”:


In December 2018, BloombergNEF published the results of its ninth Battery Price Survey, a series that begin in 2012 looking back at data from as early as 2010. The annual price survey has become an important benchmark in the industry and the fall in prices has been nothing short of remarkable: the volume weighted average battery pack fell 85% from 2010-18, reaching an average of $176/kWh.

The key determinant of our forecast is the relationship between price and volume. From the observed historical values, we calculate a learning rate of around 18%. This means that for every doubling of cumulative volume, we observe an 18% reduction in price. Based on this observation, and our battery demand forecast, we expect the price of an average battery pack to be around $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030. It’s necessary here to highlight that this is the expected average price. Of course, some companies will undershoot and go to the market with lower prices, sooner. Others will be higher. Different cell and pack designs, a range of cathode chemistries on offer, economies of scale and regional differences will ensure there is a range in the market. A key downward driver of even lower average prices could be greater than forecast volumes.


So roughly halved in price by 2024. Though that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get twice as much battery in your electric car; only that the price of the car can come down. Range still feels like the limitation on electric cars, even if it isn’t; fear of running out of energy is what worries people. That, and not being able to charge them.
link to this extract

The mystery around QuadrigaCX continues as questions about its co-founder arise •

Trevor Smith:


Although proof of theft has yet to be uncovered, evidence has emerged suggesting that co-founder Michael Patryn is, in fact, convicted felon Omar Dhanani. In 2005 Dhanani and five others pleaded guilty in a US federal court to fraud charges involving the online trafficking of personal identities and credit card information.

Although circumstantial, the evidence that “Patryn” is an alias of Dhanani includes Canadian businesses registered in the names of Patryn and Dhanani’s sibling, Nazmin. Also, in 2008 a Canadian company named Midas Gold Exchange was created under the name Omar Patryn. This company claimed to be a processor of pre-blockchain digital currencies but quickly closed amid allegations of fraud.  

Curiously, speculation that Patryn and Dhanani are one and the same is not new. For example, early last year the suggestion was made in a Reddit cryptocurrency sub. Quadriga replied, calling it “hypothetical nonsense.” The Quadriga poster also claimed Patryn had left the company two years prior.


Dhanani was convicted through his association with Shadowcrew, a site in the early 2000s used for swapping credit card and ID data. Shadowcrew was taken over by the FBI when it arrested its operator, Albert Gonzalez, who led the crew that hacked TK Maxx’s Wi-Fi, which was only secured with WEP.

Gonzalez is still in prison. Dhanani.. isn’t. For now.
link to this extract

Can machines create? • Prospect Magazine

Philip Ball:


[The mathematician Marcus] Du Sautoy recounts examples of critics instantly (and anxiously) devaluing their assessments once they learn that a “work of art” was created by an algorithm. It seems to be a fairly universal response, and can’t be dismissed as mere snobbery. Lennox Mackenzie, the LSO’s chairman when the orchestra performed the works of [computer-generated music “composer”] Iamus, confessed that “my normal inclination is to delve into music and find out what it’s all about. But here I don’t think I’d find anything.” We find it harder to take pleasure in a creation devoid of human context or intention—but that of course is contingent knowledge.

Our judgment of creativity depends on a perception of intent. If machines are able to learn to reproduce the surface textures of visual art, music, even poetry and literature, our minds are attuned enough to respond and perhaps to attribute meaning to such works. It is not mere anti-machine prejudice that we should feel our response shift when we discover that nothing more than automated pattern-recognition has created the composition. The common response to computer-generated music or literature—that it is convincing enough in small snatches but can offer no large-scale architecture, no original thesis or involving story—testifies to its lack of a shaping consciousness, and there is no sign yet that computers have anything to offer in its place.


So if we believe we’re listening to something created by a human, we try to infer its intent. What happens when it’s the other way – can we miscategorise something created by a human as done by a machine? (Could happen with some EDM?)
link to this extract

Photographic proof that no idea is original and we’re all Instagram copycats • Pocket Lint

Adrian Willings:


Mark Twain once said: “There is no such thing as a new idea…We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations…”

Now a sobering Instagram account called @insta_repeat demonstrates just how right he was. In a modern world where we have unprecedented access to the world, not only via faster and better transport methods, but also by virtual ones, social media is full of photos from around the world.

This account shows that despite the sheer volume of these images, a staggering amount of them are eerily similar. Imitation may well be the greatest form of flattery, but sometimes we’re just reproducing exactly the same snap for the sake of likes. 


There’s nothing about it in the story, but I’d guess that there’s some sort of neural network behind this finding alike images. A company called Jetpac once did similar stuff with Instagram images to find people who were happy or hipster. Then Google bought it for its neural network chops. That was five years ago – so this ought to be simple enough.
link to this extract

First quarter DRAM contract prices see a rare, large down-correction, resulting in the sharpest decline since 2011 • DRAMeXchange


The latest analysis of the PC DRAM market from DRAMeXchange, a division of TrendForce, finds that most contracts are now monthly deals rather than quarterly deals, with February even seeing a most unusual, large down-correction in prices. The current quarterly decline dropped from the originally projected 25% to nearly 30%, resulting in the sharpest decline in a single season since 2011.

DRAMeXchange points out that, according to the most recent market observations, inventory levels have kept climbing ever since overall contract prices dropped in the fourth quarter of last year, and most DRAM suppliers are currently holding around a whopping six weeks’ worth of inventory (wafer banks included).

Meanwhile, Intel’s low-end CPU supply shortage is expected to last until the end of 3Q19, and PC-OEMs are unable to carry out the consumption of DRAM chips under demand suppression. The overall market has thus entered freefall, meaning that large reductions in prices aren’t going to be effective in driving sales. The excessively high inventory will continue to cause down-corrections in prices this year if demand doesn’t make a strong comeback.


PC market not growing, smartphone market not growing… looks like demand isn’t coming back.
link to this extract

Social network sites and acquiring current affairs knowledge: the impact of Twitter and Facebook usage on learning about the news • Journal of Information Technology & Politics

Anselm Hager:


This study investigates how the use of Twitter and Facebook affects citizens’ knowledge acquisition, and whether this effect is conditional upon people’s political interest. Using a panel survey design with repeated measures of knowledge acquisition, this study is able to disentangle causality and to demonstrate that more frequent usage of Twitter positively affects the acquisition of current affairs knowledge.

The opposite is found for Facebook: More frequent Facebook usage causes a decline in knowledge acquisition. This negative effect of Facebook usage occurred particularly for citizens with less political interest, thereby, amplifying the existing knowledge gap between politically interested and uninterested citizens…

…journalistic outlets have four times more followers on Twitter than on Facebook, while the overall user-base on Facebook is much larger. News media, such as CNN, NY Times or NPR, as well as certain politicians are among the most followed accounts on Twitter. Whereas news outlets today are present on a wide array of social media to drive traffic to their websites, these news media have the most followers on Twitter compared to other platforms (including Facebook)


This was published in January (in volume 0, No.0 🤔) But the point that when it comes to news, most social networks are *downstream* of Twitter has always been slow to catch on simply because Facebook is bigger. That, however, isn’t always the most important criterion.
link to this extract

Teen becomes first hacker to earn $1m through bug bounties • Digit

Dominique Adams:


Teen hacker Santiago Lopez from Argentina has become the world’s first white-hat hacker to earn a million dollars from bug bounties.

Lopez a.k.a @try_to_hack (his online moniker) started flagging up security weaknesses to companies via vulnerability coordination and bug bounty platform, HackerOne.

Since embarking on his legal hacking career in 2015, he has reported more than 1,600 security flaws to organisations, including social media platform Twitter and Verizon Media Company, as well as private corporate and government entities.

Inspired by the movie Hackers, Lopez taught himself how to hack watching free online tutorials and reading popular blogs.

At the age of 16 he earned his first bounty of $50 and was motivated to continued hacking after school. He now hacks full-time earning nearly 40 times the average software engineer salary in Buenos Aires…

…Numerous global companies including the US Department of Defense, General Motors, Google, Twitter, GitHub, Nintendo, Lufthansa, Panasonic Avionics, Qualcomm, Starbucks, Dropbox, and Intel have partnered with HackerOne to discover more than 100,000 vulnerabilities and award more than $45m (£34m) in bug bounties.

Luta Security CEO and cybersecurity expert, Katie Moussouris, said that bug bounties although useful weren’t a “silver bullet”. Moussouris, who created the bug bounty at Microsoft, warned that if badly implemented such programmes could see talent leaving organisations in favour of pursuing bug bounties, and thus damage the talent pipeline.


At a guess, the bounty will be distributed on the usual Pareto (power law) curve. Great for some, peanuts for many.
link to this extract

Accepting bitcoin as a small business, four years in • Seymour Locksmiths

Jeff Seymour, founder of the locksmith chain which has seven outlets in the south-east of England:


As self-confessed Bitcoin enthusiasts here at Seymour Locksmiths we value the importance of decentralised ledger technologies. They have the power to change a lot of things, from financial transactions to unlocking your front door (yep, Bitcoin-powered smart locks are a thing).

In 2014 a large school of thought suggested that the main breakthrough use case for Bitcoin would be peer to peer transactions. That being customers and businesses paying for goods and services directly between one another without having to rely on payment networks such as Visa.

We decided to put this theory to the test. In September 2014 we officially started accepting Bitcoin for all of our locksmithing services, shortly afterwards we also starting accepting Dash. Since that day over four years ago and the time of writing, we have not had one customer ask to pay in Bitcoin, Dash or any other cryptocurrency.

Why does no one want to pay their local locksmith with Bitcoin?

I could list 50 different reasons why but for us it boils down to two main facts. A very small percentage of our customers posses Bitcoin in a hot wallet ready to transfer and secondly, Bitcoin can be slow and expensive for small payments.


Bitcoin-powered smart locks may be a thing, but not a thing that sees use. Rather like bitcoin for small real-world transactions, in fact.
link to this extract

Amazon’s hard bargain extends far beyond New York • The New York Times

Karen Weise, Manny Fernandez and John Eligon:


When Texas officials pushed Amazon to pay nearly $270m in back sales taxes in 2010, Amazon responded by closing its only warehouse in the state and scrapping expansion plans there. Two years later, the officials agreed to waive the past taxes in exchange for Amazon opening new warehouses.

A similar scene played out in South Carolina, where officials decided in 2011 to deny Amazon a sales tax break. After threatening to stop hiring in the state, the company got the tax exemption by promising to hire more people.

And last year in Seattle, the company’s hometown, Amazon halted plans to build one tower and threatened to lease out one under construction when local officials pushed a tax on large employers. The City Council passed a smaller version of the tax, but the company helped finance a successful opposition to repeal it. Now, Amazon plans to lease out its space in the tower under construction anyway.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio called it a “shock to the system” when Amazon, facing criticism for the deal it reached to build a headquarters in the city, abruptly dropped the plans. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is still trying to woo them back. But the reversal mirrored the company’s interactions with officials in other states…

…“Amazon doesn’t like any friction,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of tech companies. But the desire for more urban locations, she said, means “it can’t be my way or the highway.”


The struggle to shift taxation onto capital invested is going to be a pretty tough one.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,016: Lenovo v Huawei, not so superstar economics, Facebook dinged on phone numbers, USB..4?, the strangest common password, and more

Hollywood studios are upset about the number of “notes” Apple is putting on drafts. Odd, since they’re very used to it. CC-licensed photo by Stephen Curry on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Is the female version of propaganda ‘propagoose’? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The “biggest puzzle in economics”: why the “superstar economy” lacks any actual superstars • Pro Market

Asher Schechter:


We live in an age of superstar firms. While the United States and other Western economies become increasingly concentrated, an ever-decreasing number of large firms now accounts for a growing share of economic activity. This, in turn, translates into massive profits for the Googles, the Facebooks, and the Amazons of the world: A 2018 McKinsey report found that 65% of global corporate earnings now go to firms with annual revenues above $1bn and that among the world’s largest firms, 80% of profits go to the top 10%…

…[but] If the “superstar firms are simply better” narrative is true, if today’s superstar firms are indeed more productive, why is this not reflected in the data?

This question, says NYU professor Thomas Philippon, is “the biggest puzzle in economics today.” To solve it, Philippon and co-author German Gutierrez set out to trace the evolution of superstar firms in the US over the past 60 years. The US economy, Philippon tells ProMarket, has always had superstar firms. In the 1950s and 60s, it was companies like GM, GE, and IBM that dominated various aspects of economic activity. Nowadays, it’s companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Are the superstars of today actually better?

The short answer is “no.” In fact, according to Philippon’s and Gutierrez’s findings, contrary to the popular narrative, superstar firms have not become more efficient or more productive over the years. Perhaps most importantly, the superstars of today contribute less to productivity growth than their counterparts in previous decades: The contribution of superstar firms to US productivity growth has decreased by over 40% over the past 20 years.


*raises hand* what if our productivity is leaching away into time spent staring at screens? There’s also a discussion of this at the European Centre for Economic Policy Research; registration seems to be free.
link to this extract

Thinking about working for a Chinese company? First, find out if it’s a ‘Lenovo’ or a ‘Huawei’ • SupChina

Elliott Zaagman:


There has been much written highlighting the achievements of each company in building their respective corporate cultures, and rightfully so. 2014’s The Lenovo Way, by executives Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers, and 2016’s Huawei: Leadership, Culture, and Connectivity, by Tian Tao, David De Cremer, and Wu Chunbo, tell the stories of how each company achieved global success through developing strong cultures.

However, when engaging with the employees themselves, a more complex picture of these two cultures emerges. In preparation for this piece, I spoke with 27 current and former Huawei and Lenovo employees, four of whom had experience at both companies. The majority of my respondents only agreed to speak off the record or on a condition that their identities not be revealed. Additionally, information was taken from anonymous online employer review forums such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Quora. In an attempt to assure accuracy and reliability, such online forums were used to identify patterns or trends, rather than a few disgruntled individuals.

Employees of both firms seemed to describe Lenovo’s culture and general view of its people in a more trusting and optimistic way, while Huawei’s general perspective seemed to be one of mistrust of its people. “People learn not to trust each other at Huawei,” said a former Huawei and Lenovo employee. “At Lenovo, it’s quite the opposite, very trusting. It is a very comfortable place to work. At Lenovo, the assumption is that everyone is trustworthy until they prove otherwise, while at Huawei, everyone is assumed to be untrustworthy until they prove to be worthy, and even then, people will be skeptical of you.”


A great read; of course Lenovo’s culture has been driven by its acquisitions, largely of American businesses. Huawei’s is all home-grown. Worth knowing in the current climate.
link to this extract

The new USB4 spec promises a lot: Thunderbolt 3 support, 40Gbps bandwidth, and less confusion • PCWorld

Mark Hachman:


Meet USB4, which promises to simply the USB naming scheme and integrate the high-bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 specification. Just a week after the upcoming USB 3.2 specification’s branding scheme threatened to confuse PC buyers, the next USB spec is trying to resolve it all. 

Though we don’t know the answer to all of the questions yet, it’s not too early to start thinking about USB4 as a combination of USB, the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 specification, and the convenient USB-C connector.

If you have a cable connecting your PC to a peripheral, chances are that it’s USB. Over its 20-plus years of existence, the USB interface has continued to add new speed tiers, including USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1, while remaining backward-compatible with older versions. A USB-C port has also been created alongside the older USB-A port, in a bid to simplify the connector scheme. USB4 will use the USB-C port, and run at 40Gbps—about double the speed of the preceding USB 3.2 specification.

You probably won’t see USB4 hardware in the near future, however. The USB 3.2 specification was published in 2017 and is due to show up in products this year. USB4 is just a specification at the moment, and it hasn’t even been published. The publication date is scheduled for sometime in mid-2019, which means we won’t likely see USB4 hardware until 2020 or beyond.


Do we think USB-C will have got its act together by next year? (Will people have stopped wanting USB-A ports in computers by next year?) I’ve gradually come to like the concept of USB-C, since you can add hubs with whatever ports you like. It’s just the practice (and the naming) that’s a mess.
link to this extract

MWC 2019 – The State of 5G • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Goldberg:


The problem that everyone at MWC was solving for is “When will the carriers start deploying their 5G networks?” This is literally a $64 billion question. And at this point we start to encounter our first elements of cognitive dissonance.

If you read the public and press accounts of 5G, the operators are lock and loaded, ready to start deploying 5G right now. This was the clear marketing message at the show. The reality is much less confident.

In private conversations, it quickly becomes clear that the operators are very nervous about rolling out 5G. As should be clear from the above discussion, there is a lot of money at stake. We will walk through this economic analysis below. Our best guess is that the US carriers will start deploying this year as will the operators in China. Japan and South Korea will start a bit later this year, or maybe next. Everyone else is in a wait-and-see holding pattern. And there seem to be lots of caveats and hedging about how extensive the deployments in China and the US will actually be.

A closing note about China. This could be one of the bright sparks of 5G deployments. The government there has made 5G deployments something of a policy priority. True to historical pattern, this policy is not 100% clear. Most people agree that the Chinese operators will begin deploying “100’s of thousands” of 5G base stations this year. A big number but short of a nationwide network. And then there is the question of licensing. Typically, the operators do not get a license to turn on those networks for commercial purpose until they meet some (publicly) unspoken objective.


If you read the full post, you’ll learn a lot more about how 5G works than you expected to know, or perhaps want to.
link to this extract

Apple’s Hollywood venture marred by ‘intrusive’ Tim Cook • NY Post

Alexandra Steigrad and Nicolas Vega:


Shortly after Apple announced its Hollywood ambitions in 2017, Tinseltown’s wheeler-dealers were lining up to work with the iPhone maker. But as the company’s streaming project gets ready for launch, agents and producers can’t stop griping about how “difficult” Apple is to deal with — citing a “lack of transparency,” “lack of clarity” and “intrusive” executives, including CEO Cook.

One of the biggest complaints involves the many “notes” from Apple executives seeking family-friendly shows, sources said. “Tim Cook is giving notes and getting involved,” said a producer who has worked with Apple. One of the CEO’s most repeated notes is “don’t be so mean!,” the source said.

“He’s giving feedback,” an agent said of Cook, adding that the CEO has been seen on the Vancouver set for “See,” a futuristic drama about human kind without sight, and in LA for the production of a drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston.

Apple executives in general have been “very involved,” this person said, adding that writers and directors prefer to work without corporate intrusions.

Apple’s nitpicking over content and technology has led to delays, sources said. The streaming service is widely expected to be unveiled this month, but the final product won’t likely be available to consumers before the end of the year — and it will offer just a handful of the several dozen shows it has in the works, sources said…

…Another frustration is that Apple also keeps moving the target on what it wants, sources said.

“They are making big changes, firing and hiring new writers. There’s a lack of clarity on what they want,” the producer said. “A lot of the product is not as good as they hoped it to be,” he said.


“Notes” are feedback on work in progress, and tend to come from anyone involved in any way in a project to show that they were involved. I doubt that having them from Tim Cook is actually making any difference to progress. Even if he said nothing, there would be endless looping around because that’s just how TV/film works. Getting it right – knowing who the audience is and what they’ll want – is, simply, really difficult.
link to this extract

Nuclear goes retro — with a much greener outlook • Knowable Magazine

M Mitchell Waldrop:


Every other reactor design in history had used fuel that’s solid, not liquid. This thing was basically a pot of hot nuclear soup. The recipe called for taking a mix of salts — compounds whose molecules are held together electrostatically, the way sodium and chloride ions are in table salt — and heating them up until they melted. This gave you a clear, hot liquid that was about the consistency of water. Then you stirred in a salt such as uranium tetrafluoride, which produced a lovely green tint, and let the uranium undergo nuclear fission right there in the melt — a reaction that would not only keep the salts nice and hot, but could power a city or two besides.

Weird or not, molten salt technology was viable; the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee had successfully operated a demonstration reactor back in the 1960s. And more to the point, the beer-and-nuclear group realized, the liquid nature of the fuel meant that they could potentially build molten salt reactors that were cheap enough for poor countries to buy; compact enough to deliver on a flatbed truck; green enough to burn our existing stockpiles of nuclear waste instead of generating more — and safe enough to put in cities and factories. That’s because Fukushima-style meltdowns would be physically impossible in a mix that’s molten already. Better still, these reactors would be proliferation resistant, because their hot, liquid contents would be very hard for rogue states or terrorists to hijack for making nuclear weapons.

Molten salt reactors might just turn nuclear power into the greenest energy source on the planet.

Crazy? “We had to try,” says Troels Schönfeldt. So in 2014 he and his colleagues launched Seaborg Technologies, a Copenhagen-based start-up named in honor of the late Glenn Seaborg, a Manhattan Project veteran who helped pioneer the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. With Schönfeldt as chief executive officer, they set about turning their vision into an ultracompact molten salt reactor that could serve the developed and developing world alike.


link to this extract

Robert Ou @ BSidesSF on Twitter: “Fun thing I learned today…”


Fun thing I learned today regarding secure passwords: the password “ji32k7au4a83” looks like it’d be decently secure, right? But if you check e.g. HIBP [Have I Been Pwned, which collects hashes of passwords], it’s been seen over a hundred times. Challenge: explain why and how this happened and how this password might be guessed


I hardly ever link just to single tweets, but the answer to this one (it’s here; but it’s better to read the thread on Twitter) is just mindblowing – and, once you’ve seen it, so obvious.
link to this extract

Facebook won’t let you opt-out of its phone number ‘look up’ setting • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


Users are complaining that the phone number Facebook hassled them to use to secure their account with two-factor authentication has also been associated with their user profile — which anyone can use to “look up” their profile.

Worse, Facebook doesn’t give you an option to opt out.

Last year, Facebook was forced to admit that after months of pestering its users to switch on two-factor by signing up their phone number, it was also using those phone numbers to target users with ads. But some users are finding out just now that Facebook’s default setting allows everyone — with or without an account — to look up a user profile based off the same phone number previously added to their account.

The recent hubbub began today after a tweet by Jeremy Burge blew up, criticizing Facebook’s collection and use of phone numbers, which he likened to “a unique ID that is used to link your identity across every platform on the internet.”


Facebook has handled this badly because it handles anything where it gets more data, especially data tying to you individually, badly – that is, as a thing which it wants above all other things, and will not relent in its use. Last year, the complaint was that if you use your phone number for 2FA, it pings you – even if you have all “notify me” settings turned off – to say that things are happening on your account.

You can however use a code generator program such as Authy or Google Authenticator for the 2FA part.
link to this extract

Dutch bitcoin trader tortured with a ‘heavy drill’ in violent robbery • CCN

Melanie Kramer:


Dutch publication De Telegraaf reporting indicates that three robbers, somewhat disguised as police, invaded the cryptocurrency trader’s home. The man was threatened with firearms and seriously injured with a ‘heavy drill’, according to the report.

After an hour-long ordeal for the man and his daughter, the suspects left and are now being hunted as part of a major investigation. A fifteen-strong team of Dutch police, usually in charge of murder investigations, are working on the case. The team’s allocation shows the seriousness of the incident and Dutch authorities focus on solving the crime. There is no information to suggest that his cryptocurrency holdings were stolen.

De Telegraaf’s research discovered the victim was a cryptocurrency trader, which local police sources confirmed. The man reportedly worked in Italy and Thailand. The house in Drenthe, the Netherlands, where the incident took place had apparently been purchased in cash by the owner.

De Telegraaf outlines another recent case in the Netherlands, where an Enschede man was jailed for laundering two million Euros worth of bitcoin.

Criminals not only target legitimate cryptocurrency owners but also those known for money laundering using bitcoin and other digital currencies.


Worth recalling that those violent scenes you see in films or read in books are inspired by real events. Gruesome real events. I wouldn’t like to be trying to remember a long private key while someone held a drill bit near some part of my body with intent. And yet this story will give you an involuntary laugh if you visit the page and look at the stock photo chosen for the illustration.
link to this extract

The making of the Fox News White House • The New Yorker

Jane Mayer:


When [Bill] Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels—buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.


Bill Shine is now in charge of communications at the White House. The subtitle of this article is “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?”
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: last week Ed Yong’s name was misspelt as Ed Yonh. But it was quickly fixed, so not for lonh.

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.1,015: AI judges benefit fraud, Excel gets snappy, UCal dumps Elsevier, how Facebook lobbied against privacy, and more

Ocean microphone data suggests the search for Malaysian Airlines MH 370 should have been closer to Madagascar. CC-licensed photo by DVIDSHUB 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. No, you leave the backstop. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Thousands face incorrect benefit cuts from automated fraud detector • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:


Thousands of people could soon be receiving letters threatening to cut off vital housing benefits as they face being incorrectly targeted by a new automated fraud detector.

The government-backed London Counter Fraud Hub, developed by BAE, has been hailed a success after being trialled in four boroughs – Camden, Ealing, Croydon and Islington.

Using vast quantities of data from millions of households, it is designed to target potential fraud cases involving the single person council tax discount, subletting in local authority housing and business rate relief and rating.

Ealing, the lead council for the project, found the automated elements of the system targeting single person discount fraud was 80% effective – which is seen as an acceptable benchmark.

With just over one million claimants of council tax single person discount in London, the London Counter Fraud Hub estimates it will detect around 40,000 fraudulent cases in the first year.

Critics say the 20% error rate is unacceptable as around 8,000 people will receive letters wrongly accusing them of fraud.


80% effective is acceptable? The way that these systems are graded on a curve is remarkable. Recall the local boroughs which were happy with “lie detector” telephone systems a few years ago, yet couldn’t really show that it worked in its own right. I’d like to see the trial results.
link to this extract

Microsoft Excel will now let you snap a picture of a spreadsheet and import it • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft is adding a very useful feature to its Excel mobile apps for iOS and Android. It allows Excel users to take a photo of a printed data table and convert it into a fully editable table in the app. This feature is rolling out initially in the Android Excel app, before making its way to iOS soon. Microsoft is using artificial intelligence to implement this feature, with image recognition so that Excel users don’t have to manually input hardcopy data. The feature will be available to Microsoft 365 users.


Very fun – though I’d have thought its biggest use will be for converting PDFs or to grab information out of books and make it more useful.
link to this extract

University of California terminates subscriptions with world’s largest scientific publisher in push for open access to publicly funded research • University of California


the University of California is taking a firm stand by deciding not to renew its subscriptions with Elsevier. Despite months of contract negotiations, Elsevier was unwilling to meet UC’s key goal: securing universal open access to UC research while containing the rapidly escalating costs associated with for-profit journals.

In negotiating with Elsevier, UC aimed to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery by ensuring that research produced by UC’s 10 campuses — which accounts for nearly 10% of all U.S. publishing output — would be immediately available to the world, without cost to the reader. Under Elsevier’s proposed terms, the publisher would have charged UC authors large publishing fees on top of the university’s multi-million dollar subscription, resulting in much greater cost to the university and much higher profits for Elsevier.

“Knowledge should not be accessible only to those who can pay,” said Robert May, chair of UC’s faculty Academic Senate. “The quest for full open access is essential if we are to truly uphold the mission of this university.”


The first crack in the dam?
link to this extract

Ocean microphones may have recorded lost Malaysian jet’s crash … thousands of miles from search sites • LiveScience

Tom Metcalfe:


As well as two matching sound events recorded by the CTBTO hydrophones at Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, the researchers found two sound events recorded by the hydrophones at Diego Garcia that could match the sounds of an airliner hitting the ocean.

Their directional bearings and timings indicated that they both occurred somewhere northwest of Madagascar — thousands of miles from the areas where searchers have looked for wreckage of the aircraft.

But the ocean is a noisy place, and Kadri said the underwater sounds might have also been caused by underwater earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, or even by meteorites or space junk falling in the ocean. [Top 10 Greatest Explosions Ever]

However, they were also valid sound signals that could have been created by the crash of Flight 370, he said.


Five years on, and all they’ve found has been some wing parts and engine cowling – off Reunion Island near Madagascar, on the Mozambique coast, Rodriques Island (east of Mauritius, which is east of Madagascar), and Mossel Bay on the Western Cape of South Africa. That suggests that you’d want to look closer to Madagascar – rather than a bit west of Australia, as most of the search was.
link to this extract

Revealed: Facebook’s global lobbying against data privacy laws • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalladr and Duncan Campbell:


The documents appear to emanate from a court case against Facebook by the app developer Six4Three in California, and reveal that Sandberg considered European data protection legislation a “critical” threat to the company. A memo written after the Davos economic summit in 2013 quotes Sandberg describing the “uphill battle” the company faced in Europe on the “data and privacy front” and its “critical” efforts to head off “overly prescriptive new laws”.

Most revealingly, it includes details of the company’s “great relationship” with Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister at the time, one of a number of people it describes as “friends of Facebook”. Ireland plays a key role in regulating technology companies in Europe because its data protection commissioner acts for all 28 member states. The memo has inflamed data protection advocates, who have long complained about the company’s “cosy” relationship with the Irish government.

The memo notes Kenny’s “appreciation” for Facebook’s decision to locate its headquarters in Dublin and points out that the new proposed data protection legislation was a “threat to jobs, innovation and economic growth in Europe”. It then goes on to say that Ireland is poised to take on the presidency of the EU and therefore has the “opportunity to influence the European Data Directive decisions”. It makes the extraordinary claim that Kenny offered to use the “significant influence” of the EU presidency as a means of influencing other EU member states “even though technically Ireland is supposed to remain neutral in this role”.


Campbell’s presence on the byline is worth noting: he’s a very well-connected highly experienced journalist who has done a lot on defence and spying in the past. If his contacts have these emails, that’s interesting.
link to this extract

Can China recover from its disastrous one-child policy? • The Guardian

Lily Kuo and Xueying Wang:


Faced with a population that is shrinking and ageing, Chinese policymakers are attempting to engineer a baby boom after more than three decades of a Malthusian family planning regime better-known as the one-child policy. Central policy planners have loosened restrictions on family sizes, and now all married couples can have two children. There is talk of the limits being dropped altogether, and amid aggressive propaganda drives, local officials are experimenting with subsidies and incentives for parents.

But these efforts appear to be too little too late. Birthrates have fallen and are likely to continue to drop as parents like Xu decide against having more children. More young women are pushing back against state propaganda and family pressure, while improving education standards and income levels have delayed marriage and childbirth. Moreover, decades of the one-child policy have made single-child households the norm, experts say.

“China should have stopped the policy 28 years ago. Now it’s too late,” says Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a longtime critic of the family planning policies.

Demographers warn that China’s population will begin to shrink in the next decade, potentially derailing the world’s second-largest economy, with a far-reaching global impact. China’s birthrate last year was at its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, with 15.23 million births, dramatically lower than the 21-23 million officials had expected.


Important for its effects in the next decade.
link to this extract

Trump’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize was apparently forged. Twice • The New York Times

Henrik Pryser Libell:


A total of 329 candidates — 217 individuals and 112 organizations — are being considered for this year’s prize, which will be announced in October. The identities of the candidates are kept secret, and indeed, the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the prizes, is forbidden from divulging any information about its deliberations for 50 years, and even then, only for scholarship purposes and at its discretion.

But a wrinkle in this time-honoured process — the peace prize was first awarded in 1901 — emerged on Tuesday, when the committee announced that it had uncovered what appeared to be a forged nomination of President Trump for the prize. The matter has been referred to the Oslo police for investigation.

Moreover, the forgery appears to have occurred twice: Olav Njolstad, the secretary of the five-member committee, said it appeared that a forged nomination of Mr. Trump for the prize was also submitted last year — and was also referred to the police. (The earlier forgery was not disclosed to the public at the time.)

Inspector Rune Skjold, the head of the economic crimes section of the Oslo police, said that investigators had been in touch with the FBI since last fall, which suggests that the forged nominations originated in the United States. He said the police believed that the same perpetrator was behind both forgeries…

…A large number of people qualify as nominators for the prize, including heads of state, lawmakers and cabinet ministers of countries around the world; members of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, both based in The Hague; members of the Institute of International Law, based in Ghent, Belgium; university professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology and religion; certain university leaders; directors of peace research institutes and foreign policy institutes; and past recipients of the prize.


Someone faked it so that one of the US nominators appeared to have suggested Trump. Should be easy enough to narrow down?
link to this extract

No . . . I did not say wind energy is ‘Idiot Power’ • Thomas Homer-Dixon

Homer-Dixon is an environment writer, and there’s a poster with his name being posted on Facebook to try to “prove” that wind power isn’t economical:


The poster [currently circulating on Facebook] includes the following text over my name:

“A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons”  “a windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it”

This text is selectively excerpted from a chapter written by David Hughes in Carbon Shift (2009), a book I co-edited. Here’s the full text (the words omitted on the circulated poster are enclosed in square brackets):

“[The concept of net energy must also be applied to renewable sources of energy, such as windmills and photovoltaics.] A two-megawatt windmill contains 260 tonnes of steel requiring 170 tonnes of coking coal and 300 tonnes of iron ore, all mined, transported and produced by hydrocarbons. [The question is: how long must a windmill generate energy before it creates more energy than it took to build it? At a good wind site, the energy payback day could be in three years or less; in a poor location, energy payback may be never. That is,] a windmill could spin until it falls apart and never generate as much energy as was invested in building it.”


That’s some serious lying in the poster. So who’s behind it? What do they have to gain? How do you track one of these things back to their source? (Also: Facebook, once again, considered harmful.)
link to this extract

Quadriga crypto mystery deepens with “cold wallets” found empty • Bloomberg

Doug Alexander:


Quadriga was primarily run by Cotten, using his laptop, and his widow has described his normal procedures for transactions as moving “the majority of the coins to cold storage as a way to protect the coins from hacking or virtual theft,” according to the March 1 report.

Ernst & Young identified six cold wallet addresses used by Quadriga to store Bitcoin in the past. Five of those wallets haven’t had any balances since April 2018, and a sixth “appears to have been used to receive Bitcoin from another cryptocurrency exchange account and subsequently transfer Bitcoin to the Quadriga hot wallet” on Dec. 3. The only activity since was an inadvertent transfer of Bitcoin into that sixth wallet last month, which was disclosed earlier.

Crypto investors and exchanges often keep their holdings in cold wallets — typically, physical devices disconnected from the web that can be plugged into a computer when needed since internet-connected hot wallets can be vulnerable to hackers.

A preliminary review of transactions of the six wallets using public blockchain records showed that from April 2014 to approximately April 2018, aggregate Bitcoin month end balances in the identified cold wallets ranged from zero to a peak of 2,776 Bitcoin. The average aggregate month end balance over the four-year period was approximately 124 Bitcoin. Some Bitcoin in the wallets appear to have been transferred to accounts at other crypto exchanges.


Other crypto exchanges? This was already suspicious, and now it’s suspect.
link to this extract

America’s cities are running on software from the ’80s • Bloomberg

Romy Vaghese:


The impetus for change is often public outcry over a crisis, such as the chaotic 2009 crash of a disco-era computer system regulating traffic signals in Montgomery County, Md., or the cyberattacks that brought Atlanta’s government to a standstill last March. And promises to improve are no guarantee of success: Minnesota spent about a decade and $100m to replace its ancient vehicle-licensing and registration software, but the new version arrived with so many glitches in 2017 that Governor Tim Walz has asked for an additional $16m to fix it.

Of course, improvements cost money that constituents don’t always want to pay. “We’re dealing with an irrational public who wants greater and greater service delivery at the same time they want their taxes to be lower,” says Alan Shark, executive director of the Public Technology Institute, an association for municipal tech officials.

In San Francisco the assessor uses a Cobol-based system called AS-400, whose welcome screen reads, “COPYRIGHT IBM CORP., 1980, 2009.” As the city tax rolls jumped 22% over two years, workers were struggling to keep track of the changes on their ancient systems. At one point they fell three years behind. It’s a “lot of manual work” just to perform basic functions, Chu says.

Searches that should seem simple take much longer because of the system’s quirks. If a resident contacts the agency saying her house should have a different assessed value, a worker has to look up the block and identification number that’s technically taxed; there’s no way to filter by address. Also, all street numbers need to have four digits, so 301 Grove St. becomes 0301 Grove St. Another problem: The system doesn’t flag data entry mistakes, such as if a worker misidentified 301 Grove St. as 0031 Grove St.


Got to love the way that the hard-coded systems rule the way people function. (Side note: long time since Cobol appeared here.)
link to this extract

The fake sex doctor who conned the media into publicizing his bizarre research on suicide, butt-fisting, and bestiality • Gizmodo

Jennings Brown:


A representative of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law told me Sendler was in their database as a student, but he is not listed as a member. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) could not share membership information and couldn’t tell me if he is in the database. But an APA representative asked me for his name and typed it into a computer, while I waited on the phone. A moment later, she told me Sendler could be a member since he has a MD from Columbia and Harvard.

I asked how the she knew that.

It’s on his website, the APA representative told me.

When I told her his website had many proven inaccuracies and he did not actually have an MD in the US, she then said he can’t be an APA member if he doesn’t have an MD from a U.S. school of medicine.

I asked Sendler about this and he would not answer whether or not he is an elected member, and asked me to respect his privacy.

According to Sendler’s website he is the recipient of the “United States President Barack Obama’s Gold Service Award for humanitarian work.” There is no such thing as the President’s Gold Service Award, but there is a President’s Volunteer Service Award. The organization that oversees the award, Points of Light, told me Sendler is not listed as having won the award. Sendler would not provide me with any evidence that he has the award.

Sendler claims he is the chief of sexology at the Felnett Health Research Foundation. I could find no mention of this foundation online outside of Sendler’s personal website, articles he has published, and articles that feature or quote him.


Great journalism. But: will the outlets that published his nonsense delete or retract it? And will they notice this, and not use him again?
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified