Start Up No.1,046: where now for Wikileaks?, UK’s carbon miss, Microsoft admits mail hack, hands on the Galaxy Fold, and more


The European Parliament has passed Article 13 on copyright. What happens next? CC-licensed photo by Elias Bizannes on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Isn’t that enough? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

WikiLeaks and the lost promise of the internet • Lawfare

Quinta Jurecic:

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The more common demand is now for more curation and moderation—what Assange would call censorship—not less. (Assange curates as well; a 2012 document release reportedly excluded material relating to a bank transfer between the Syrian government and a Russian-owned bank, and according to Foreign Policy, in the summer of 2016 WikiLeaks turned down an offer of documents containing information on the workings of the Russian government.) The free flow of information, it turns out, can do a great deal of damage to things other than governments—particularly if it is selective in its freedom. It can help cultivate extremism. It can spread disinformation. What Assange offers is not so enticing anymore. Despite the controversy over what indicting Assange means for a free press, his detractors within the US government might reasonably argue that public opinion on WikiLeaks has caught up to their skepticism.

The internet, at least in theory, at first appeared to complicate older notions of sovereignty. This was Assange’s “intelligence agency for the people,” using the internet to reorganize the relationship between government and citizen. The irony is that the intelligence agency for the people was employed by the Russian intelligence apparatus and subsumed into a traditional conflict between two Westphalian states. The internet’s initial promise of democratization succeeded in lessening the authority of the traditional gatekeepers, but the dynamics of power were never entirely flattened.

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(The piece also deals with Assange’s overt sexism.) The question is, what is Wikileaks without Assange? Is it anything? Does it even exist?
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Analysis: half of UK’s electricity to be renewable by 2025 • Carbon Brief

Simon Evans:

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Close to half of the UK’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2025, according to Carbon Brief analysis of new government projections.

This marks a significant increase on earlier projections, which as recently as 2016 saw renewables meeting less than a third of demand in 2025. At the same time, there are further cuts to the outlook for gas-fired electricity generation, which is now set to drop by two-fifths over the next six years.

Nevertheless, the projections show the UK missing its legally binding carbon budgets for 2023- 2032 by even wider margins than expected last year. The fifth carbon budget for 2028-2032 is now set to be missed by as much as 20%, according to the new energy and emissions projections from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

These latest projections highlight the large gap between the UK’s current climate goals and the policies that would be required to deliver them.

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EU Council of Ministers approves copyright directive, including Article 17 (13) • TorrentFreak

“Andy”:

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with both Germany and the UK voting in favor, the Copyright Directive is now adopted. EU member states will now have two years to implement the law, which requires platforms like YouTube to sign licensing agreements with creators in order to use their content. If that is not possible, they will have to ensure that infringing content uploaded by users is taken down and not re-uploaded to their services.

“The entertainment lobby will not stop here, over the next two years, they will push for national implementations that ignore users’ fundamental rights,” comments Julia Reda.

“It will be more important than ever for civil society to keep up the pressure in the Member States!”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says that with the passing of the legislation this morning, Europe is making copyright rules “fit for the digital age.”

“Europe will now have clear rules that guarantee fair remuneration for creators, strong rights for users and responsibility for platforms,” Juncker says. “When it comes to completing Europe’s digital single market, the copyright reform is the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Juncker also makes an additional comment which is likely to come under intense scrutiny.

He suggests that in addition to not having to worry about uploading memes, users will also be able to upload otherwise ‘pirate’ content to sites like YouTube without having to worry about the consequences.

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Microsoft: hackers compromised support agent’s credentials to access customer email accounts • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden and Zack Whittaker:

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Microsoft has confirmed to TechCrunch that a certain “limited” number of people who use web email services managed by Microsoft — which cover services like @msn.com and @hotmail.com — had their accounts compromised.

“We addressed this scheme, which affected a limited subset of consumer accounts, by disabling the compromised credentials and blocking the perpetrators’ access,” said a Microsoft spokesperson in an email.

According to an email Microsoft has sent out to affected users (the reader who tipped us off got his late Friday evening), malicious hackers were potentially able to access an affected user’s e-mail address, folder names, the subject lines of e-mails, and the names of other e-mail addresses the user communicates with — “but not the content of any e-mails or attachments,” nor — it seems — login credentials like passwords.

Microsoft is still recommending that affected users change their passwords regardless.

The breach occurred between January 1 and March 28, Microsoft’s letter to users said. 

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They “hacked” one of the customer support team.
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Samsung Galaxy Fold hands-on: 10 minutes with this futuristic beauty • SamMobile

“Martin R:

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the magic starts when you unfold the Fold, and the first thing I noticed is how the thing suddenly snaps open. That’s the hinge in the middle of the screen doing its job; the hinge on the unit I played with had some wiggle to it, but Samsung assured me this would not be the case on the final product. And once unfolded, the device fit very well in my (rather large) hands and I never felt like I’d drop it. One thing I don’t like is how the Fold has a square form factor like the iPad, as you’ll see those hideous black bars when you watch videos. The bezels, however, are minimal, except for the part around the cameras, although I think that will be a non-issue after a few days of regular use.

And now, about that elephant in the room: the folding screen and the crease in the middle that has been talked about in recent weeks. Well, the crease was certainly there on the demo unit, but it’s barely noticeable when you look at the Fold from the front. However, you won’t be able to unsee the crease once you look at the device from an angle when the screen is off. Samsung said this crease would be less noticeable on the final product, and I certainly hope that’s the case.

Something that struck me is how, glassy the screen felt. The Galaxy Fold uses a plastic display, but there’s some kind of coating on top that makes it feel like glass, and I loved that. Also impressive is how the Fold’s display opens to a full 180 degrees. I was worried that would be hard because of the book-like implementation of Samsung’s foldable device, just like an actual book can start to tear in the middle if you try to make the two sides of the book lay completely flat. But there’s no such problem on the Fold, and it feels almost magical to use.

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Let’s come back in nine months or so and find out how people are using it.
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iOS 13: Dark Mode, detachable panels, Safari and Mail, more • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo has some leakiness:

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The Mail app is getting smarter for the first time in a while: the upgraded app will be able to organize messages into categories such as marketing, purchases, travel, “not important” and more, with the categories being searchable. Users will also be able to add messages to a “read later” queue similar to third-party email apps.

Engineers are also working on bringing easy collaboration to third-party document-based apps, similar to what’s already available in Apple’s own productivity apps including Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

The focus on productivity on iOS continues with the inclusion of new gestures to allow for the selection of multiple items in table views and collection views, which make up for most of the user interfaces found in apps that list large amounts of data. Users will be able to drag with multiple fingers on a list or collection of items to draw a selection, similar to clicking and dragging in Finder on the Mac.

There will also be the ability for developers to use a different status bar style (light or dark) for each side of a Split View (side-by-side apps), which should prevent issues that currently happen in some apps where the status bar will lack contrast with the background in one side of the split view. Split Views on Marzipan apps based on iPad designs that run on the Mac will get the ability to be resized by dragging the divider and have their position reset when double-clicking the divider, like existing Split View apps on the Mac.

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Dark Mode, blah, Mail being able to do “categories” (smart lists? Like a computer should be able to?) is long overdue.
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Google quietly disbanded another AI review board following disagreements • WSJ

Parmy Olson:

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in late 2018, Google began to wind down another independent panel set up to do the same thing [as the recently short-lived one in the US]—this time for a division in the UK doing AI work related to health care. At the time, Google said it was rethinking that board because of a reorganization in its health-care-focused businesses.

But the move also came amid disagreements between panel members and DeepMind, Google’s UK-based AI research unit, according to people familiar with the matter. Those differences centered on the review panel’s ability to access information about research and products, the binding power of their recommendations and the amount of independence that DeepMind could maintain from Google, according to these people.

A spokeswoman for DeepMind’s health-care unit in the U.K. declined to comment specifically about the board’s deliberations. After the reorganization, the company found that the board, called the Independent Review Panel, was “unlikely to be the right structure in the future.”

… internally, some board members chafed at their inability to review the full extent of the group’s AI research and the unit’s strategic plans, according to the people familiar with the matter. Members of the board weren’t asked to sign nondisclosure agreements about the information they received. Some directors felt that limited the amount of information the company shared with them and thus the board’s effectiveness, according to one person.

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Smart story from Olson, who is – you noticed? – now at the WSJ. The next question is, why did Google think that the format which had failed in the UK would work in the US?

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UK.gov admits it was slow to intervene in Verify’s abject failure to meet user targets • The Register

Rebecca Hill:

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UK.gov has admitted it was slow to intervene as it failed to meet “overambitious” targets for the adoption of [its identity service] Verify, and has been accused of splashing £154m on creating an open standard for the identity service.

Civil servants were hauled in front of the influential Public Accounts Committee this week to discuss a damning assessment of the Verify scheme that was published by the UK’s spending watchdog earlier this month.

Up to 2016, the Government Digital Service was claiming that 25 million people would be signed up to Verify by 2020 – based on current estimates, the real figure will be more like 5.4 million. As of last month, just 3.6 million were verified.

Despite acknowledging that some reasons for slow uptake – user demographic and the fact strong nudges can’t be used for systems like benefits – should have been predictable, the witnesses attempted to pin the blame on previous leadership teams and other government departments.

“In 2015, we had only 25 live services across the whole of government, yet we were projecting to have 46 more incorporate Verify over the next few years,” said GDS boss Kevin Cunnington.

“That has just not turned out to be true. The government has not transformed as quickly as we had hoped; therefore we have seen this reduction in volume.”

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I used Verify, once; it was pretty nightmarish trying to get verified enough, because it wanted multiple independent sources. And then I never used it again.

Anyhow, £154m to set a standard. That must be one of the most expensive and simultaneously least worthwhile standards ever.
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The US is losing a major front to China in the New Cold War • Bloomberg

Lulu Yilun Chen and Yoolim Lee:

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The more free-wheeling Silicon Valley model once seemed unquestionably the best approach, with stars from Google to Facebook to vouch for its superiority. Now, a re-molding of the internet into a tightly controlled and scrubbed sphere in China’s image is taking place from Russia to India. Yet it’s Southeast Asia that’s the economic and geopolitical linchpin to Chinese ambitions and where US-Chinese tensions will come to a head: a region home to more than half a billion people whose internet economy is expected to triple to $240bn by 2025.

“For authoritarian countries in general, the idea of the state being able to wall off to some extent its internet is deeply appealing,” said Howard French, author of “Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power. “This is about the regimes’ survival in an authoritarian situation. So that’s why they like to do this. They want to be able to insulate themselves against shocks.”

The Chinese model is gaining traction just as the American one comes under fire. Facebook and Twitter were used to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election, YouTube was criticized for failing to detect child porn, and American social media allowed a gunman to live-stream the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history for 10 minutes or more before severing it. Against the backdrop of wider fears about U.S. social media failings, Beijing’s approach now seems a reasonable alternative, or reasonable enough that self-serving governments can justify its adoption.

Vietnam’s controversial version went into effect Jan. 1 – a law BSA/The Software Alliance, which counts Apple and Microsoft among its members – called chilling and ineffectual. Indonesia, the region’s largest economy, already requires data be stored locally. The Philippines has stepped up what critics call a media crackdown, arrested the head of media outlet Rappler after it grew critical of President Rodrigo Duterte. And last year, the government of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak introduced a fake news law used to probe his chief opponent, though the current government may yet repeal it.

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Tech groups told to stop nudging children into using apps • Financial Times

Aliya Ram:

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Technology companies must not suck children further into their websites and apps with psychological devices such as Facebook’s “like” button or Snap’s “streaks”, according to draft guidelines from the UK’s tech regulator.

The new code on safeguarding the privacy of users under 18, which is expected to come into force this year, would cover apps, connected toys, social media platforms, online games, educational websites and streaming services.

Among its 16 points is a ban on so-called “nudge techniques” that try to tempt users into further engagement.

“You should not exploit unconscious psychological processes (such as associations between certain colours or imagery and positive outcomes, or human affirmation needs) to this end,” the Information Commissioner’s Office’s code said.

So-called “streaks” reward Snapchat users who send messages to one another on consecutive days with special emojis, while “like” buttons allow Facebook users to affirm one another’s posts and pictures.

“Reward loops or positive reinforcement techniques (such as likes and streaks) can also nudge or encourage users to stay actively engaged with a service, allowing the online service to collect more personal data,” the report said.

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Slowly but surely, regulators in Europe (I’m counting the UK in that, for now) are looking to roll back the addictive elements of social networks. After all, why shouldn’t it be “privacy by default”? Although these are draft guidelines, out for consultation until 31 May; probably in force by the end of the year.
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Power in the shadows • Tortoise

Xavier Greenwood:

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[The closed Facebook group started by a local in a Welsh village] Merthyr Council Truths has emerged as a powerful force in local politics, stepping into the space left by the waning enthusiasm for political parties and the decline of local media. It’s not alone. Across the UK, these networks are growing. They’re private, popular and powerful. The gates are kept by locals; they’re where members can buy and sell, fight and gossip, but also politick: talk, protest, organise.

The pattern is repeating elsewhere, from Newport’s Casnewydd News (6,099 members), where dubious claims about “no deal” and the European Union infect discussions, to Essex’s Rayleigh Community Group (10,437 members), which a former councillor is “disappointed to see being used for party political purposes”. Next month’s local elections are argued out on them through the furious lens of the perceived disrespect shown towards the Brexit vote by the Conservative Party and the Labour Party.

The nation is engaged in intense political discussions which most of us can’t see. With 270 councils up for grabs in the local elections on 2 May, Merthyr Council Truths is beginning to look like a prototype. Not as a folksy community group, but as an alternative, opaque kind of political organisation…

…In politics, Facebook is creating the next version of the public square, only it’s in private.

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But there’s also trouble in the not-paradise. Tortoise is a new “slow news” publication: it takes its time and writes at length. Interesting concept, though how do you tell the difference between “slow news” and “news that arrives like all the other stuff”?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,046: where now for Wikileaks?, UK’s carbon miss, Microsoft admits mail hack, hands on the Galaxy Fold, and more

  1. The difference may be that slow news comes as news to you. The fast news is s commodity that gets absorbed almost by osmosis. There are rare exceptions like the fire at Notre dame of course.

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