Start Up No.1,053: Facebook faces $3bn fine, AirPods 3 on the way?, laundry robot folds without folding, the Fold’s fatal flaw, and more


Huawei says its P30 can spruce up a smartphone shot of the moon. Others don’t think so. CC-licensed photo by Christopher Dart on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Unretouched. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook sets aside billions of dollars for a potential FTC fine • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm:

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Facebook on Wednesday said it would set aside $3bn to cover costs in its ongoing investigation with the US Federal Trade Commission over the social media company’s privacy practices, as its recent scandals take a toll on its balance sheet in a big way.

That number, which the company said could ultimately range between $3bn and $5bn, correlates with the size of the fine the agency is expected to levy against the tech giant and would be represent the largest the FTC has ever imposed.

Facebook’s decision to set aside billions of dollars comes as the company continues negotiating with the FTC on a settlement that would end its investigation. As part of those talks, federal officials have sought to force Facebook to pay a fine into the billions of dollars, sources previously told the Post. That would set a new record for the largest fine imposed by the FTC for a repeat privacy violation, after Google had to pay $22.5m a few years ago.

The FTC came to determine that violations could result in a multi-billion dollar fine after computing the number of times Facebook breached a 2011 order with the government to improve its privacy practices.

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This is going to be quite a thing to watch. Will Facebook, like Google, be able to shrug it off and move on? If the FTC hands down that size of fine it’s going to lead a lot of news bulletins. That will get a lot of peoples’ attention.
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Laundroid company folds before its giant robot does • Engadget

Nick Summers:

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A small part of us always knew the Laundroid was too good to be true. The black obelisk, developed by Japanese company Seven Dreamers, was supposed to be a washing machine, dryer, ironing and laundry-folding robot rolled into one. It was the perfect appliance, in short, for chore-dodging so-and-sos who hate dealing with grimy clothes. But that dream has come to a predictable end. Today, Seven Dreamers filed for bankruptcy in Japan, all but ensuring its halo product will never reach store shelves. According to Teikoku Databank, a private credit research agency, the company owes 2.25 billion yen ($20.1 million USD) to 200 creditors.

Clearly, the product was too ambitious.

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Ya think? But, good headline.
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Huawei: why UK is at odds with its cyber-allies • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

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Australia concluded in August that it was impossible to “mitigate” the national security risks involved in allowing Huawei to form any part of its 5G network, because next-generation networks would operate in a different way to their predecessors.

The reason for this, it added, was that the relationship between two distinct bits of the network would change.

The first part – “the core” – it said was where the “most sensitive functions occur”, including device authentication, voice and data-routing and billing.

The second – “the edge” – referred to equipment including antennae and base stations that is used to capture the radio signals emitted by wireless devices and send them into the core.

The key phrase in a ministerial statement then explained: “The distinction between the core and the edge will disappear over time.”

One of the country’s spy chiefs, Mike Burgess, later expanded on this, saying that as 5G technologies matured, the expectation was that the distinction between the edge and core “collapses” because “sensitive functions” would begin to move outside of the protected part.

Part of the reason for this, he explained, would be to take advantage of the lower latencies 5G offers – the lag between issuing a command and getting a response. This, for example, could help make it safe to direct surgical robots or remote-controlled vehicles from afar.

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However Theresa May thinks this doesn’t matter – against the advice of her defence secretary and home secretary (the latter is advised by the security services), she has apparently ruled that Huawei can be used in non-core 5G systems.
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Huawei P30 Pro ‘Moon Mode’ is mired in new controversy • Android Authority

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new testing of this Moon Mode feature suggests Huawei’s method of getting shots like the one above is shady at best and unethical at worst, if the testing results are legitimate. (Android Authority Ed: This sentence has been slightly altered from the original to reflect the ambiguity of the test results).

The official user’s guide for the Huawei P30 Pro describes Moon Mode as such: “Moon Mode helps to adequately capture the beauty of the moon along with fine details like moonbeams and shadows.”

Supposedly, this is how the system works:
• A user holds the Huawei P30 Pro towards the moon and zooms in a bit using pinch-to-zoom on the camera.
• The P30 Pro identifies (using AI) that the user is trying to take a photo of the moon, and thus suggests Moon Mode.
• The user selects Moon Mode and the camera system then “helps you get a clear shot” using the aforementioned algorithms.

Huawei doesn’t go into any specific detail on how the Moon Mode algorithm actually works. From the language in the user’s guide and marketing materials, Huawei seems to suggest that the algorithm takes the information in your specific photo and then enhances that specific image by using known information about the face of the moon to clarify, stabilize, and otherwise “fix” the image.

According to anecdotal research by some industrious photographers though, this is potentially not completely true. According to tests performed by Wang Yue at Zhihu, the Huawei P30 Pro isn’t just enhancing the image information the user captures but actually placing pre-existing imagery of the moon into the photo.

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There’s a more detailed examination of this (in Chinese) at Zhihu. It sure feels like Huawei is streeeeeetching the truth here, which it has done a number of times in its claims. (In its response to AA, it says that it “recognises and optimizes details within an image” but doesn’t replace them.) Guess it needs someone in the west to try a picture in a few weeks’ time at the full moon.
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LG Electronics to suspend mobile phones production in South Korea this year: Yonhap • Reuters

Heekyong Yang and Ju-min Park:

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South Korea’s LG Electronics plans to suspend manufacturing of its loss-making mobile phones in the country this year and shift the production to its existing plant in Vietnam, Yonhap News Agency said on Wednesday.

Citing an unidentified source, Yonhap reported that LG decided to move its local handset production to Vietnam to help turn around the money-losing smartphones division.

LG’s mobile business, in the red for seven quarters, and intensifying price competition in the global TV market likely weighed on its first quarter earnings, analysts have said.

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Can’t see it making a difference. And the mobile business has been losing money for 14 quarters, not seven. The South Korean factory does high-end phones, which is 10%-20% of its output. The mobile is circling the drain; or, if you prefer, the event horizon.
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AirPods 3 said to be launched by year-end 2019 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Willis Ke:

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Apple is reportedly set to release its third-generation AirPods for sales by the end of 2019, with the new wireless earphones to incorporate a noise cancellation function. And Taiwan’s Inventec reportedly will be the major assembler of AirPods 3, while China’s Luxshare Precision will also grab part of the orders for the new device, according to industry sources.

Apple has dominated the global market for true wireless headsets. Statistics show that the company delivered 35 million pairs of AirPods in 2018, commanding a 75% global market share. Sales boom of AirPods is expected to linger on, with annual shipments likely to surge to 50 million sets in 2019.

Inspired by the booming sales of AirPods, many consumer brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi and web giants including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are also moving to roll out their own true wireless earphones to cash in on the growing demand, the sources said.

To meet challenges from rivals, Apple and its supply chain partners are looking to raise the bar by adding new features to AirPods 3, including the noise cancellation function.

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That would probably fit into a September launch; noise cancellation would be a reason to bump up the price, and leave the price of the current AirPods where it is. Clever.
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Here’s why we think Galaxy Folds are failing • iFixit

Kevin Purdy:

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Knowing how OLEDs react to prying, moisture, oxygen, or nearly anything, it’s plain to see—from reviewers’ photos alone—that the Fold is literally inviting trouble into its fragile innards.

In pictures posted in The Verge’s hands-on impressions (before their Fold review unit broke), you can clearly see gaps at the top and bottom of the hinge when the full screen is open. A close-up of the hinge on its side, with accumulated pocket detritus, makes it even clearer. And the back of the Fold, even with the hinge closed or partially open, doesn’t look airtight.

“These are some of the biggest ingress points I’ve seen on a modern phone,” [iFixit lead teardown engineer Sam] Lionheart said. “Unless there’s some kind of magic membrane in there, dust will absolutely get in the back.” It’s important to note, too, that Samsung has offered no IP rating for the Fold. [IP rating indicates protection against dust and/or water ingress.]

Bohn finds it baffling the way his Fold unit broke. Especially because the first time he saw a “bump” under the Fold screen was late one night. After consulting with Samsung, he closed the phone and put it aside until the morning. The next day, examining the phone, Bohn saw two bumps under the screen.

“It seems odd to me that it appeared where it did,” Bohn said. “It’s hard to believe that I would not have noticed a piece of debris inching its way up from the bottom.” To us, this suggests the debris, both pieces, may have gotten in from the back hinge. Backing this up is Swiss reviewer Lorenz Keller, who tweeted at Bohn that his Fold also developed a bump, at a point that was the mirror opposite of Bohn’s defects. Keller’s bump eventually went away, which may be the result of the hinge being open enough to allow debris back out.

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Maybe test it outside the lab next time before setting a release date. Though Samsung is presently suggesting it will go ahead with the launch, in June. Sounds hopelessly optimistic: these are fundamental design faults.
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Innovate? Big tech would rather throw us a broken Samsung Galaxy Fold • The Guardian

I wrote a thing:

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are there no new boundaries to explore in technology other than phone-tablets? (And why is nobody calling the Fold a “phablet”, a word coined when phones started to grow to the size of bread slices?) Again and again, technology companies show a peculiar deafness to users’ desires. Facebook has the rare distinction of having been cited in a United Nations report on genocide, and was used by Russia to try to steer the US presidential election. So what’s it doing about that? Good news: political ads will in future have teeny-tiny labels you can click to find out who funded them. That’s going to fix it all!

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Anyone who has visited San Francisco, at the upper end of Silicon Valley, knows it desperately needs a solution to homelessness: which is why millions of dollars are being poured into scooter startups so that moneyed people can get away from them faster. Similarly, America’s health system is absurdly expensive, so tech companies have invented systems that let you scan a cheque and email the image rather than posting the thing, thus saving you the cost of a stamp.

Somewhere, it’s all gone a bit off-kilter.

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How Nest, designed to keep intruders out of people’s homes, effectively allowed hackers to get in • Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:

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Nest, which is part of Google, has been featured on local news stations throughout the country for hacks similar to what the Thomases experienced [where hackers accessed a webcam in a child’s room]. And Nest’s recognizable brand name may have made it a bigger target. While Nest’s thermostats are dominant in the market, its connected security cameras trail the market leader, Arlo, according to Jack Narcotta, an analyst at the market research firm Strategy Analytics. Arlo, which spun out of Netgear, has around 30% of the market, he said. Nest is in the top five, he said.

Nik Sathe, vice president of software engineering for Google Home and Nest, said Nest has tried to weigh protecting its less security-savvy customers while taking care not to unduly inconvenience legitimate users to keep out the bad ones. “It’s a balance,” he said. Whatever security Nest uses, Sathe said, needs to avoid “bad outcomes in terms of user experience.”

Google spokeswoman Nicol Addison said Thomas could have avoided being hacked by implementing two-factor authentication, where in addition to a password, the user must enter a six-digit code sent via text message. Thomas said she had activated two-factor authentication; Addison said it had never been activated on the account.

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That last bit is worth noting: Thomas probably thought her Nest was protected because it’s a Google device and she has 2FA on her Gmail account. That’s not the same as her Nest account – but understanding that requires a lot of compartmentalisation.

But 2FA v password isn’t “a balance”. It’s an on-off switch, a Rubicon. 2FA is robust; a password isn’t.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

7 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,053: Facebook faces $3bn fine, AirPods 3 on the way?, laundry robot folds without folding, the Fold’s fatal flaw, and more

  1. I know you’ve already told me it’s a very lazy and shoddy thing to do, but I conducted a search for “butterfly” (for the apple keyboard) and “Galaxy fold”, since both are bad products.

    Butterfly has about 2x the hits, which I find disproportionate since it affects several 100k of user (to… none), has for years (to… prerelease).

    I don’t think your’re under-reporting Apple’s issue but for someone not interested in covering umpteen Andrid handsets as you told me, you sell to cover that one quite intensely

    • Yup, it’s a lazy thing to do, because you don’t know the criteria that Google uses to present results, you’re forgetting the spam farms trying to attract clicks which are using a newsworthy product to game results, and so on.
      The Galaxy Fold (and whatever Huawei’s product comes to be called – if it’s released) are worthy of close attention because they’re a new form factor after many years of identical form factors. The Fold seems to be demonstrating that even making that into a reliable device is incredibly hard, which implies we could be back at status quo ante before long.

    • Surely “butterfly keyboard” would have been the equivalent search term to “Galaxy fold’”. If you only use “butterfly” for the former you may as well just use “fold” for the latter.

      • I wouldn’t rely on that. I’ve never known how it indexes stuff. And I’m not representative. Plus I might not use the word “butterfly” about a problem with Apple’s keyboards, where “Fold” is a word that could be applied to Huawei, Samsung, Xiaomi and whatever the other one was.

      • I searched for “Galaxy Fold” (with quotes, search is supposed to treat that as a single term), and tried searching for Apple butterfly and keyboard butterfly but indeed the search results in that second case were Amazon-like , ie it sent back either, and quotes didn’t work here. So, one search item in both cases. At worst it over-reported butterfly, I don’t remember seeing an article about Monarch migration.

        I was surprised to see 2 articles on the Fold issue in a single Overspill, alongside the 3rd (I think) article on pre-release Apple earbuds. And got to wondering about quantitative and qualitative bias. At first glance, both of them are present, but it would need further, time consuming validation.

        I’m sure anyone can do better with a bit of time, I’m interested in less preliminary results.

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