Start Up No.1,038: the lost internet, editing amid outrage, Facebook redux, the end of the desktop?, Mac keyboards (again), and more


Warning: old folks online. CC-licensed photo by Valeri Pizhanski on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What an ageing population means for the future of the internet • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

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Four recent studies found that older Americans are more likely to consume and share false online news than those in other age groups, even when controlling for factors such as partisanship. Other research has found that older Americans have a poor or inaccurate grasp of how algorithms play a role in selecting what information is shown to them on social media, are worse than younger people at differentiating between reported news and opinion, and are less likely to register the brand of a news site they consume information from.

Those digital and news consumption habits intersect with key characteristics of older Americans, such as being more likely to live in rural and isolated areas, and, perhaps in part as a result, to experience a high degree of loneliness. A survey conducted by AARP of Americans found that 36% of people ages 60–69 were lonely, while 24% of those ages 70 and older registered as lonely. (The survey focused on adults over 45.)

As a result, it’s now essential to better understand the effects of social media, loneliness, and a lack of digital literacy on older people, according to Vijeth Iyengar, a psychologist focused on aging at the US Department of Health and Human Services, and Dipayan Ghosh, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“With recent evidence that older adults are much more likely to disseminate fake news compared with their younger counterparts, coupled with the projected growth for this population segment in the decades to come, it is crucial to advance our understanding of the factors affecting the ways in which older adults engage with these platforms and how in turn these platforms are affecting how they function in society,” they wrote in a recent article for Scientific American.

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Although.. in 15 years, those 65-year-olds are going to be the people who are 40 now. Are they going to be as gullible as this current crop? Also, why is this current crop of 65yos so liable to get this stuff wrong?
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Why there’s so little left of the early internet • BBC Future

Stephen Dowling:

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Around a decade ago, I spent two years working on a rock music blog and on the music section of AOL, the sprawling internet pioneer now owned by US phone company Verizon. I edited or wrote hundreds of live reviews, music news stories, artists interviews and listicles. Facebook and Twitter were already massive audience drivers, and smartphones were connecting us to the Web between work and home; surfing the Web had become a round-the-clock activity.

You could, quite reasonably, assume that if I ever needed to show proof of my time there it would only be a Google search away. But you’d be wrong. In April 2013, AOL abruptly closed down all its music sites – and the collective work of dozens of editors and hundreds of contributors over many years. Little of it remains, aside from a handful of articles saved by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit foundation set up in the late 1990s by computer engineer Brewster Kahle.

It is the most prominent of a clutch of organisations around the world trying to rescue some of the last vestiges of the first decade of humanity’s internet presence before it disappears completely.
Dame Wendy Hall, the executive director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, is unequivocal about the archive’s work: “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have any” of the early material, she says. “If Brewster Kahle hadn’t set up the Internet Archive and started saving things – without waiting for anyone’s permission – we’d have lost everything.”

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(So donate, people!)
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Editing in an age of outrage • Financial Times

Ian Buruma, reflecting on his decision to commission an article by a man who had been accused (but not convicted in court) of sexual assault and choking:

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free speech can never be absolute. Too much depends on who says what, when and to whom. Common courtesy also puts limits on what we say and under what circumstances. Members of a minority can make jokes about themselves more readily than outsiders can. A novelist or film-maker can express the darker side of human behaviour in ways that a diplomat, say, or a university president cannot, at least not in public. A stand-up comedian can be more outrageous than a politician.

One thing that makes our times so disturbing is that the usual rules in public life no longer apply. The US president can voice or tweet insults as much as he likes, whereas stand-up comedians are held to such rigid standards, that offence, let alone insult, can derail a career.

So where does that leave a magazine editor? And what lesson should we draw from the storm over Ghomeshi’s article? An editor of a serious publication is not as bound to the normal rules of propriety as a politician, but has to be a bit more cautious than a stand-up comedian. I came of age in the late 1960s when a certain amount of provocation was not only more permissible than it is now but actually considered a virtue (this was the time when the NYRB published instructions on how to construct a Molotov cocktail; a lapse of judgment, however, that was quickly recognised even then)…

…Like all serious publications, editors would filter out gratuitous malice and utter nonsense. This is not true of the Twittersphere, which is often ad-hominem, intimidating and unhinged. As a result, debate can be stifled, because people fear the wrath of the mob.

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‘Grassroots’ Facebook Brexit ads secretly run by staff of Lynton Crosby firm • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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A series of hugely influential Facebook advertising campaigns that appear to be separate grassroots movements for a no-deal Brexit are secretly overseen by employees of Sir Lynton Crosby’s lobbying company and a former adviser to Boris Johnson, documents seen by the Guardian reveal.

The mysterious groups, which have names such as Mainstream Network and Britain’s Future, appear to be run independently by members of the public and give no hint that they are connected. But in reality they share an administrator who works for Crosby’s CTF Partners and have spent as much as £1m promoting sophisticated targeted adverts aimed at heaping pressure on individual MPs to vote for a hard Brexit.

Repeated questions have been raised about who is backing at least a dozen high-spending groups that have flooded MPs’ inboxes with calls to reject Theresa May’s deal. Until now they were thought to be independent entities.

But according to the documents, almost all the major pro-Brexit Facebook “grassroots” advertising campaigns in the UK share the same page admins or advertisers. These individuals include employees of CTF Partners and the political director of Boris Johnson’s campaigns to be mayor of London, who has worked closely with Crosby in the past.

Their collective Facebook expenditure swamps the amount spent in the last six months by all the UK’s major political parties and the UK government combined.

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The UK doesn’t allow political advertising on TV. Print media is too fragmented to reach a large targeted group. Facebook has made the equivalent of political TV advertising feasible in the UK. The effect isn’t good.
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The end of the desktop? • Computerworld

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols:

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Of course, [Windows] Virtual Desktop is a play for business users — for now. I expect Virtual Desktop to be offered to consumers in 2020. By 2025, Windows as an actual desktop operating system will be a niche product.

Sound crazy? Uh, you do know that Microsoft already really, really wants you to “rent” Office 365 rather than buy Office 2019, don’t you?

But what about games, you say? We’ll always have Windows for games! Will we? Google, with its Google Stadia gaming cloud service, is betting we’re ready to move our games to the cloud as well. It’s no pipe dream. Valve has been doing pretty well for years now with its Steam variation on this theme.

So where is all this taking us?

I see a world where the PC desktop disappears for all but a few. Most of us will be writing our documents, filling out our spreadsheets and doing whatever else we now do on our PCs via cloud-based applications on smart terminals running Chrome OS or Windows Lite.

If you want a “real” PC, your choices are going to be Linux or macOS.

Well, maybe we’ll still have Linux and macOS. None of the major Linux companies — Canonical, Red Hat, SUSE — makes the desktop a priority anymore. The Linux desktop will continue on, but it will keep going in the same way it is now: a platform only for power-using enthusiasts.

MacOS, which also has Unix as its root, is essential in some fields. But Mac sales make up a smaller and smaller percentage of Apple’s bottom line. I know Computerworld’s own Jonny Evans hopes 2019 will be the year Macs make serious inroads into the PC market. I can’t see it.

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Hacker Eva Galperin has a plan to eradicate stalkerware • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

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“Full access to someone’s phone is essentially full access to someone’s mind,” says Galperin, a security researcher who leads the Threat Lab of the digital civil liberties group the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The people who end up with this software on their phones can become victims of physical abuse, of physical stalking. They get beaten. They can be killed. Their children can be kidnapped. It’s the small end of a very large, terrifying wedge.”

Now Galperin has a plan to end that scourge for good—or at least take a serious bite out of the industry. In a talk she is scheduled to give next week at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit in Singapore, Galperin will lay out a list of demands: First, she’s calling on the antivirus industry to finally take the threat of stalkerware seriously, after years of negligence and inaction. She’ll also ask Apple to take measures to protect iPhone users from stalkerware, given that the company doesn’t allow antivirus apps into its App Store. Finally, and perhaps most drastically, she says she’ll call on state and federal officials to use their prosecutorial powers to indict executives of stalkerware-selling companies on hacking charges. “It would be nice to see some of these companies shut down,” she says. “It would be nice to see some people go to jail.”

Ahead of her talk, Galperin has notched her first win: Russian security firm Kaspersky announced today that it will make a significant change to how its antivirus software treats stalkerware on Android phones, where it’s far more common than on iPhones. Rather than merely flag those spy apps as suspect but label them with a confusing “not a virus” message, as it has for most breeds of stalkerware in the past, Kaspersky’s software will now show its users an unmistakeable “privacy alert” for any of dozens of blacklisted apps, and then offer options to delete or quarantine them to cut off their access to sensitive information.

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You may hate metrics. But they’re making journalism better • Columbia Journalism Review

Chris Moran:

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At 7am on Tuesday, March 18, Nick Dastoor, a member of The Guardian’s audience team, started working on the daily staff email that details how our audience responded to our stories the day before, and what we might learn from that.

He opened Ophan, the analytics tool that allows us to track stories in minute detail. He noticed a sustained spike in page views to an article about a church bombing in Pakistan.

He could tell that the 51,000 pageviews had come almost entirely from Facebook, that the audience was mainly viewing the story on their mobile phones, that the audience was global and mostly new to us, that we weren’t promoting the story ourselves, and that it was likely driven by niche Facebook pages. Many readers were spending just seconds on the 942-word story. It was clear to Dastoor that whatever was happening wasn’t about the journalism itself.  

He navigated, within Ophan, to see which tweets had sent people to the story: “Nothing on mainstream media,” “Just saying. . .,” “The news isn’t really talking about this, and many more like it. . .”

Apart from the fact that the authors of the tweets were condemning the mainstream media for not covering an event while linking to a mainstream media site covering the event, there was one other significant problem. The article was from 2013 and none of them seemed to know it.

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This drove the Guardian to add very visible year tags to images from old stories, so that nobody (in alt-right and extremist sites – as in this case) could misuse stories like this. Here’s the Before and After.


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Microsoft removes the Books category from the Microsoft Store • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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Microsoft is removing the Books category from the Microsoft Store as of today, April 2. This means users will no longer be able to buy, rent or pre-order books via the Store beginning now.

Previously purchased books and rentals will be accessible until early July, but after this, books will no longer be accessible, officials said in a customer-support article today. The company is promising full refunds for all content purchased from the Books category; anyone who bought books via the Store will receive further details on how to get refunds via email from Microsoft. 

Microsoft’s official reason for the move is it’s attempting to streamline the strategic focus of the Microsoft Store, I hear. GIven the timing of this announcement, I’m thinking the decision may have something to do with Microsoft’s next Windows 10 feature release (known as 1903, a k a the April 2019 Update) and/or the new Chromium-based Edge browser.

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You don’t think the decision might have been about nobody buying books on Microsoft’s Books category of its bookstore that pretty much nobody has heard of? At least there’s a refund.
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‘Beyond sketchy’: Facebook demanding some new users’ email passwords • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:

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Facebook users are being interrupted by an interstitial demanding they provide the password for the email account they gave to Facebook when signing up. “To continue using Facebook, you’ll need to confirm your email,” the message demands. “Since you signed up with [email address], you can do that automatically …”

A form below the message asked for the users’ “email password.”

“That’s beyond sketchy,” security consultant Jake Williams told the Daily Beast. “They should not be taking your password or handling your password in the background. If that’s what’s required to sign up with Facebook, you’re better off not being on Facebook.”

In a statement emailed to The Daily Beast after this story published, Facebook reiterated its claim it doesn’t store the email passwords. But the company also announced it will end the practice altogether.  

“We understand the password verification option isn’t the best way to go about this, so we are going to stop offering it,” Facebook wrote.

It’s not clear how widely the new measure was deployed, but in its statement Facebook said users retain the option of bypassing the password demand and activating their account through more conventional means, such as “a code sent to their phone or a link sent to their email.” Those options are presented to users who click on the words “Need help?” in one corner of the page.

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Not stored, but fosters insecurity – if people are used to that on Facebook, they’ll do it on a phishing page disguised as Facebook too. And at the same time, third-party apps integrated to Facebook left a whole lot of stuff exposed on some Amazon cloud servers.
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Tesla boom lifts Norway’s electric car sales to record market share • Reuters

Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Terje Solsvik:

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Almost 60% of all new cars sold in Norway in March were fully electric, the Norwegian Road Federation (NRF) said on Monday, a global record as the country seeks to end fossil-fueled vehicles sales by 2025.

Exempting battery engines from taxes imposed on diesel and petrol cars has upended Norway’s auto market, elevating brands like Tesla and Nissan, with its Leaf model, while hurting sales of Toyota, Daimler and others.

In 2018, Norway’s fully electric car sales rose to a record 31.2% market share from 20.8% in 2017, far ahead of any other nation, and buyers had to wait as producers struggled to keep up with demand.

The surge of electric cars to a 58.4% market share in March came as Tesla ramped up delivery of its mid-sized Model 3, which retails from 442,000 crowns ($51,400), while Audi began deliveries of its 652,000-crowns e-tron sports utility vehicle.

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So government action can make a difference. Though we did see that in the UK when the government made diesel vehicles effectively cheaper than petrol-fuelled ones in 2001: that has had the knock-on effect, years later, of far worse air quality in cities due to particulate emissions. Still, it would be hard for a shift to electric to make fossil fuel emissions worse, and it must make air quality better.
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The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks • Signal v. Noise

David Hansson:

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Apple keep insisting that only a “small number of customers have problems” with the MacBook keyboards. That’s bollocks. This is a huge issue, it’s getting worse not better, and Apple is missing the forest for the trees.

The fact is that many people simply do not contact Apple when their MacBook keyboards fail. They just live with an S key that stutters or a spacebar that intermittently gives double. Or they just start using (1) an (2) external (3) keyboard (4). Apple never sees these cases, so it never counts in their statistics.

So here’s some anecdata for Apple. I sampled the people at Basecamp. Out of the 47 people using MacBooks at the company, a staggering 30% are dealing with keyboard issues right now!! And that’s just the people dealing with current keyboard issues. If you include all the people who used to have issues, but went through a repair or replacement process, the number would be even higher.

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As John Gruber notes, Apple must know this; it uses its laptops internally. As a thought experiment: if Apple were to offer scissor-style keys as a build-to-order option on its laptops, what proportion of buyers do you think would take it up?

There are only two ways to fix this, because the “naked butterfly” mechanism (as in laptops; used in its iPad Pro keyboards, which have a synthetic cover, it’s delightful) is fundamentally flawed. Return to the scissor mechanism, or introduce “force touch” keys. I wouldn’t entirely put the latter past Jony Ive’s team.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,038: the lost internet, editing amid outrage, Facebook redux, the end of the desktop?, Mac keyboards (again), and more

  1. re Desktops. Again, I think the issue is not the desktop/laptop format, people still want big screens, pointers, I/O and storage. The issue is the legacy OSes which are a) overserving b) gratuitously different from the modern (mobile) OSes the people already know, both the OS themselves, and the apps.

    I understand everyone reading this blog, or Ars Technica, or any tech site really, probably justifies a legacy, workstation-type OS. I know I do. But almost all home users, and even most non-tech pro users (non=tech = not in a job where most of the work is done at a keyboard -and even some of those ie data entry…).

    So the real question isn’t “Will Windows move to the cloud ?”, but “Who needs Windows, really ?”. The question hasn’t been asked yet because there are precious few modern OSes for the desktop: iOS is stuck its in toaster-fridge delusion about this toaster-microvawe situation, Google is being stubborn about ChromeOS and blind about Android, and MS is pathetically trying and trying and trying to prime the users -> devs virtuous circle. But there’s hope: ChromeOS is silently quite successful not just in .edu; Fuchsia seems to have a true Desktop mode; and Google has a habit of following in OEMs’ footsteps, they must have noticed DeX and Huawei’s… equivalent (“Desktop Mode” I think ^^).

    Ten years from now, the idea that will seem quaint is not so much that people locally had the hardware to run their apps and games, but that they had 2 or 3 types of different, incompatible hardware, OS and ecosystems to do so.

    Running Windows in the cloud sounds sexy only because admin-ing Windows is a pain and users have too much latitude to mess things up and the hardware to run it is too expensive & fragile. Putting Windows in the cloud alleviates the symptoms, doesn’t fix the causes.

    Please someone wake up. If ChromeOS managed to overtake MacOS, starting from 0, in a handful of years, imagine what Android or iOS could achieve !

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