Start Up No.1,050: Sri Lanka shuts social nets, where are the smart guns?, Samsung’s Fold reviewed (and delayed), and more


Puzzled? You will be too when you read a story about Chrome getting “encrypted”. CC-licensed photo by Chris Potter on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Bonus episode, director’s cut. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart gun doesn’t exist because of New Jersey and the NRA • Bloomberg

Polly Mosendz , Austin Carr , and Neil Weinberg:

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The 2002 bill stipulated that once smart guns went on sale anywhere in the US, New Jersey’s gun dealers would have three years to take all other weapons off their shelves. If anyone sold a smart gun, in other words, all guns sold in New Jersey would have to be smart.

The NRA feared the New Jersey legislation could spread to other states and quickly urged its millions of members to protest. The group said in a statement that it doesn’t oppose research but “opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology.”

The New Jersey law did just that. Which made it the perfect tool for mobilizing bitter opposition to any attempt to sell smart guns, even hundreds of miles away from New Jersey. When a gun-store owner in Rockville, Md., named Andy Raymond decided to become one of America’s first smart-gun retailers in 2014, he had to import the merchandise from overseas. The burly, tattooed owner of Engage Armament found a German-made Armatix iP1 pistol that could only be fired when a watch with an embedded RFID chip was within 15 inches of the firearm.

Protesters attacked his store on social media, making national headlines. Their fear was that the first retail sale of a smart gun could start New Jersey’s clock ticking toward the ban on sales of conventional guns enacted by the Childproof Handgun Law. Raymond reported death threats, and he posted a video online in which he sipped whiskey and explained that selling smart guns would draw “fence-sitters” to the pro-gun camp. He slammed the NRA’s hypocrisy on the issue.

The NRA tested the Armatix iP1 and found it “disappointing at best, and alarming at worst,” in a scathing review distributed to members. Others have found issues with the same gun. Armatix at the time said the gun passed all tests by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Poor reviews meant that, thanks to the New Jersey law, the NRA could argue that a firearm it deemed unreliable could be the only gun available to purchase in the future. The smart gun went from being viewed as politically toxic by gun-rights supporters to outright dangerous.

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Related, in a roundabout way: an in-depth piece in the New Yorker about the NRA’s extremely dubious accounting and interrelationship with its own PR agency. I remember writing about smart guns when I was at New Scientist around 1994. Always promised, never arrived.
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Sri Lanka blocks social media after attacks • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:

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Sri Lanka placed a nationwide block on social media sites after more than 200 people died in multiple attacks on Sunday. The government, in taking the drastic step, cited “false news reports” it said were circulating online.

The shutdown, which the government said would be temporary, highlights the challenges the world’s most powerful tech companies face in curbing the spread of misinformation and propaganda in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. It also raises questions of censorship and a government’s ability to turn off the world’s most popular websites.

In announcing the ban on its official news portal, Sri Lanka named Facebook and Instagram among the sites it had blocked.

YouTube, Snapchat and the messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber were also blocked, according to the internet monitoring group NetBlocks. Twitter did not appear to be blocked. Twitter is not as widely used in Sri Lanka as are Facebook and WhatsApp, according to Sanjana Hattotuwa, senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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Remember 2011, when the UK government considered shutting down BlackBerry Messenger during the riots? But it didn’t. Times are changing.
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Warning over Google Chrome browser’s new threat to children • The Sunday Times

Nicholas Hellen and Richard Kerbaj:

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Internet safety watchdogs and intelligence agencies are holding crisis talks about a new version of Britain’s most popular web browser, which they fear will endanger children.

They say Google’s plans to encrypt Chrome will make it harder to block harmful material, including child-abuse images and terrorist propaganda. The new version will bypass most parental control systems and undermine the government’s attempts to stop under-18s viewing pornography…

…Broadband companies block millions of dangerous sites by installing filters that can read the internet’s “address book”, known as domain name servers.

However, the planned encryption will allow users to bypass the filters and connect instead to Google’s servers. Supporters argue it will boost privacy and security and prevent governments from snooping on people.

But a government official said its ability to investigate paedophiles and terror cells would be hampered. And intelligence and law enforcement officials fear Google could use it to amass unprecedented detail on people’s browsing habits, to be held by Google under Californian law.

“Google will have a lot more than their searches — it will have their entire browser history. That’s an incredible amount of data,” he said. It will also be able to track devices rather than just household accounts.

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Does anyone know what they’re on about? It sounds like they’re talking about DNS query encryption, but I can’t find anything suggesting Google is going to do that. (Thanks Charles Knight, who is as confused as us all, for the link.)
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Popular apps in Google’s Play Store are abusing permissions and committing ad fraud • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman and Jeremy Singer-Vine:

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A host of popular Android apps from a major Chinese developer, including a selfie app with more than 50 million downloads, have been committing large-scale ad fraud and abusing user permissions, a BuzzFeed News investigation of popular Android apps has found. In several cases, the apps took steps that concealed their connections to the developer, DO Global, to users and failed to clearly disclose they were collecting and sending data to China. The investigation also raises questions about Google’s policing of apps in the Play store for fraud and data collection practices.

DO Global is a Chinese app developer that claims more than 800 million monthly active users on its platforms, and was spun off from Baidu, one of China’s largest tech companies, last year. At least six of DO Global’s apps, which together have more than 90 million downloads from the Google Play store, have been fraudulently clicking on ads to generate revenue, and at least two of them contain code that could be used to engage in a different form of ad fraud, according to findings from security and ad fraud researchers Check Point and Method Media Intelligence.

The DO Global apps were identified after BuzzFeed News gathered a list of close to 5,000 popular apps from the Google Play store, along with associated information, such as the developer’s name, number of installs, and requested permissions.

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Checkpoint Software has written a blogpost about it. This is some malicious stuff. That it’s Chinese probably isn’t a big part of it, but it makes going after them much harder. But the really painful part is that all of these apps are useless: “Selfie Camera” (you have one), AIO Flashlight, and so on. Utter crap. That’s what makes app stores such a pain to use.
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Claims of shoddy production draw scrutiny to a second Boeing jet • The New York Times

Natalie Kitroeff and David Gelles:

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Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees.

Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes.

Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.

Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.

“I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.”

In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems.

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Hell of a story, which gets to the question of distributed manufacturing systems, and how people can raise objections within them.
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Samsung Galaxy Fold review: broken dream • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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On an objective basis, using the same standards we apply to any smartphone, the screen on the Galaxy Fold is bad. And that is wild to say because, again, subjectively, I deeply enjoy using it.

The biggest issue everybody wants to know about is the crease. There’s just no pretending that it isn’t there or that you don’t see it or feel it when you run your finger across it. Especially when you’re looking at it from an angle, it’s just a really obvious line through the middle of the screen. What’s worse, it’s a really obvious line that has two different color temperatures on either side of it when you look at it from an angle.

But when you start using the Fold, it tends to disappear. I stopped seeing it; it is actually difficult to spot when you’re looking at the Fold straight-on, which means that my subjective experience is just that it’s a great little 7-inch tablet. The screen is just slightly smaller than the iPad mini’s, but the Galaxy Fold has radically smaller bezels.

If that were the whole story, I’d tell you that the crease is a sort of modern version of the notch: a thing that is annoying but ultimately something you can get used to. I could tell you that it’s one of the things that is just going to happen on a folding phone, then move on to say that the colors are super vivid, the text is sharp, and it gets plenty bright.

But I can’t tell you that because the crease is just the start of this screen’s issues.

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Bohn basically assumes that Samsung is going to figure out why multiple review screens failed before it starts selling them to consumers but even so essentially says it’s not worth buying. Samsung has postponed its launch events in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Over to you, Huawei.
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Mueller report: Sarah Sanders makes tortured effort to explain her lies • Vox

Aaron Rupar:

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On Thursday evening and Friday morning, Sanders repeatedly downplayed that lie as a mere “slip of the tongue” [the excuse she used in testifying under oath to the FBI; lying to them can lead to a prison sentence]. But as ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out to her in an interview on Friday morning, she used the line about “countless members of the FBI” multiple times in the days following Comey’s firing — a revelation undercutting her claim that she merely misspoke.

“You said it was a ‘slip of the tongue’ when you talked about ‘countless FBI members,’ [contacting her to say they were glad Comey had been fired] yet you repeated it twice the very next day,” Stephanopoulos said. “That’s not a slip of the tongue, Sarah, that’s a deliberate false statement.”

Sanders, however, refused to own it, and bizarrely blamed her lie on Democrats.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party that went out for two-and-a-half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign, that they had evidence to show it, and that the president and his team deserved to be in jail,” she said.

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A reminder of what Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2018:

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“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”

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Over which lots of conservatives got upset. But Sanders is confirmed as a liar. In which sense, she fits in perfectly to Trump’s administration. However, nobody should believe a word she says ever again.
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CIA warning over Huawei • The Times

Lucy Fisher and Michael Evans:

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American intelligence shown to Britain says that Huawei has taken money from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, according to a UK source.

The US shared the claims with Britain and its other partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — Australia, New Zealand and Canada — earlier this year, with the UK entering the final stages of a wider review into its next generation mobile network rollout.

The funding allegation is the most serious claim linking the world’s largest telecoms equipment manufacturer to the Chinese state. Huawei insists that it is a private company that is independent of influence from the government and has repeatedly denied posing any security risks. Critics, however, warn that China’s laws oblige companies to co-operate with its security branches, and that “backdoors” could be built into software allowing it to spy on or disrupt British communications.

The Whitehall review into plans for Britain’s introduction of 5G will be discussed by Theresa May, cabinet ministers and security chiefs at the National Security Council, expected to be held next week. A Whitehall source said of the review: “I don’t think it’s massively supportive [towards Huawei].”

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Obliging cooperation with security branches and building in backdoors is something that the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) forces too. It’s also instructive to notice the sources here: Lucy Fisher is the defence correspondent. This is careful leaking by UK security sources to push a narrative. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s untrue; only that this is intended to be aired.
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Canada group sues government over Google’s Sidewalk Labs • BBC News

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“Canada is not Google’s lab rat,” said the association’s executive director and general counsel MJ Bryant. “We can do better. Our freedom from unlawful public surveillance is worth fighting for.”
The association is suing Waterfront Toronto, municipal, provincial and federal governments. Although Waterfront Toronto is funded through federal, provincial and municipal purses, it does not report to the city or the province.

Sidewalk Labs – a firm owned by Google’s parent Alphabet – won a bid with Waterfront Toronto in October 2017 to develop a 12-acre patch of industrial landscape in Toronto, Ontario into a “smart city”.

But the deal struck between the government-funded organisation and Sidewalk Labs has been mired in controversy and shrouded in secrecy.

Ontario’s auditor general said oversight of the project was a concern in her report last December.

In February, the Toronto Star reported that Sidewalk Labs intends to expand onto 300 adjacent acres and build a light-rail line – in exchange for a cut of development fees and property taxes.
The land is potentially worth billions, according to the Star.

Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of BlackBerry, called the project a “colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.
“Of all the misguided innovation strategies Canada has launched over the past three decades, this purported smart city is not only the dumbest but also the most dangerous”.

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Apple paid $5 billion to $6 billion to settle with Qualcomm: UBS

Kif Leswing:

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Apple probably paid Qualcomm between $5 billion and $6 billion to settle the litigation between the two companies, UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri estimated in a note distributed on Thursday.

Apple probably also agreed to pay between $8 and $9 in patent royalties per iPhone, estimated UBS, based on Qualcomm’s guidance that it expects earnings per share to increase by $2 as a result of the settlement.

The UBS estimate suggests that Apple paid a high price to end a bitter legal battle that spanned multiple continents and threatened Apple’s ability to release a 5G iPhone and put pressure on Qualcomm’s licensing business model that contributes over half of the company’s profit…

…Arcuri wrote that the one-time payment was likely for royalty payments that Apple had stopped paying when the two companies were embroiled in litigation, and that is how it was calculated.

The settlement is “a solid outcome for Qualcomm and certainly better than the [roughly] $5 [royalty payment] assumption we had been making,” Arcuri wrote.

If Apple does pay between $8 and $9 in royalties per iPhone it would be a significant increase over the $7.50 in royalties that it previously paid Qualcomm per phone, according to Apple COO Jeff Williams’ testimony in an FTC trial.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,050: Sri Lanka shuts social nets, where are the smart guns?, Samsung’s Fold reviewed (and delayed), and more

  1. The “encrypted browser” mystery deepens. The Mail has an explainer saying that it comes about because Chrome can use Google’s DNS servers rather than the ISPs, something that makes even less sense. If the block operates at an IP level, who cares which server you got the address from when you trie to access annunziatadoessheptonmallet.com?

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