Start Up No.1,054: the Tesla hunters, expiring app permissions on Facebook, Kodi boxes are malware traps, are YouTube kids exploited?, and more


Greta Thunberg stopped using airplanes years ago – and is dismissive of politicians’ efforts so far on climate change. CC-licensed photo by World Economic Forum on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Getting warmer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The uncanny power of Greta Thunberg’s climate-change rhetoric • The New Yorker

Sam Knight:

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In 2015, the year Thunberg turned twelve, she gave up flying. She travelled to London by train, which took two days. Her voice, which is young and Scandinavian, has a discordant, analytical clarity. Since 2006, when David Cameron, as a reforming Conservative Party-leadership contender, visited the Arctic Circle, Britain’s political establishment has congratulated itself on its commitment to combatting climate change. Thunberg challenged this record, pointing out that, while the United Kingdom’s carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen by 37% since 1990, this figure does not include the effects of aviation, shipping, or trade. “If these numbers are included, the reduction is around ten% since 1990—or an average of 0.4% a year,” she said.

She described Britain’s eagerness to frack for shale gas, to expand its airports, and to search for dwindling oil and gas reserves in the North Sea as absurd. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before,” she said. “Like now. And those answers don’t exist anymore. Because you did not act in time.”

The climate-change movement feels powerful today because it is politicians—not the people gluing themselves to trucks—who seem deluded about reality. Thunberg says that all she wants is for adults to behave like adults, and to act on the terrifying information that is all around us. But the impact of her message does not come only from her regard for the facts. Thunberg is an uncanny, gifted orator. Last week, the day after the fire at Notre-Dame, she told the European Parliament that “cathedral thinking” would be necessary to confront climate change.

Yesterday, Thunberg repeated the phrase. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking,” she said. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

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The failure in politics laid bare. (I didn’t know that detail about her taking the train. Nor, I think, did a lot of those sneering on social media.)
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The crowdsourced social media swarm betting Tesla will crash and burn • Los Angeles Times

Russ Mitchell:

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Machine Planet [their Twitter handle] belongs to a large and growing network of Tesla skeptics who connect on Twitter through $TslaQ — Tesla’s stock symbol, followed by Q, a stock exchange notation for a company in bankruptcy. Which Tesla, to be clear, is not. What Tesla is, relatively speaking, is heavily shorted: About 32.7 million of its shares, or 27.7% of those available for trade, have been borrowed by short sellers and then sold. They must be paid back at some point — at a lower price, the shorts hope.

Pronounced Tesla-Q, the channel has emerged as a crowd-sourced stock research platform. Contributors divide up research duties according to personal interest and ability, with no one in charge.

Some use commercial databases to track Tesla-loaded ships from San Francisco to Europe and China. Some are experts at automotive leasing or convertible bonds. Some repost customer complaints about Tesla quality and service. One contributor, whose Twitter handle is TeslaCharts, assembles collected data to offer graphical representations of Tesla’s own reports and $TslaQ’s findings.

And some do reconnaissance, posting photos and videos of Tesla storage lots, distribution centers, even the company’s Fremont assembly plant as seen from above.

A major aim is to change the mind of Tesla stock bulls and the media. The research helps individual short sellers decide when to move in and out of the stock. But it’s clear from the posts that $TslaQ can be just as vitriolic as Tesla fans are adoring.

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Why won’t Twitter treat white supremacy like ISIS? Because it would mean banning some Republican politicians too • Motherboard

Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler:

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At a Twitter all-hands meeting on March 22, an employee asked a blunt question: Twitter has largely eradicated Islamic State propaganda off its platform. Why can’t it do the same for white supremacist content?

An executive responded by explaining that Twitter follows the law, and a technical employee who works on machine learning and artificial intelligence issues went up to the mic to add some context. (As Motherboard has previously reported, algorithms are the next great hope for platforms trying to moderate the posts of their hundreds of millions, or billions, of users.)

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.

In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.

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Twitter insists this is “completely untrue”. But it’s peculiar that David Duke and similar can blather on without any action.
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API updates and important changes • Facebook Developer News blog

Eddie O’Neil:

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as of today, previously approved user permissions that your app has not used or accessed in the past 90 days may be considered expired. Access to expired permissions will be revoked. Going forward, we will periodically review, audit, and remove permissions that your app has not used. Developers can submit for App Review to re-gain access to expired permissions.

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Good idea – and it would be great if other platforms did this too. Why not make it the default on Twitter, iOS, Android? 90 days is a long time not to use an app or its permissions.
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Facebook racism? Black users say racism convos blocked as hate speech • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

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For Wysinger, an activist whose podcast The C-Dubb Show frequently explores anti-black racism, the troubling episode [of Liam Neeson’s talking about wanting when young to kill someone black in retaliation for an attack on a friend] recalled the nation’s dark history of lynching, when charges of sexual violence against a white woman were used to justify mob murders of black men.

“White men are so fragile,” she fired off, sharing William’s post with her friends, “and the mere presence of a black person challenges every single thing in them.”

It took just 15 minutes for Facebook to delete her post for violating its community standards for hate speech. And she was warned if she posted it again, she’d be banned for 72 hours.

Wysinger glared at her phone, but wasn’t surprised. She says black people can’t talk about racism on Facebook without risking having their posts removed and being locked out of their accounts in a punishment commonly referred to as “Facebook jail.” For Wysinger, the Neeson post was just another example of Facebook arbitrarily deciding that talking about racism is racist.

“It is exhausting,” she says, “and it drains you emotionally.”

Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims it’s trying to protect.

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Apple power adapters recalled because they risk shocking people • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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Apple on Thursday announced a recall of some AC wall adapters that were sold in Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom because they may “break and create a risk of electrical shock,” the company said. Customers who own them are asked to stop using them immediately, following six “incidents” Apple knows about.

Apple included the wall plugs with some of its iOS and Mac products in the aforementioned locations and sold them between 2003 and 2010. The plug was also included in Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, which was sold worldwide. Customers can identify if their device is among those recalled by looking at the inside of the white adapter. Just unplug it first.

Apple said that affected devices have “no letters on the inside slot where it attaches to the main power adapter.”

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Looks like a shonky batch got through the QA process.
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Pirated streaming devices are filled with malware, researchers find • CNET

Alfred Ng:

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While you may have bought a bona fide Apple TV or Roku to watch shows on Netflix or Hulu, there’s an entire market online for jailbroken and modified devices that are tuned to watch this same content for free. They come at a much cheaper price and offer free, unlimited access to shows that you’d normally have to pay a subscription fee for.

These devices work just like a Roku or a Fire TV Stick – you plug it into your TV and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. In some cases, they’re loaded with apps.

If the hardware isn’t laced with malware, the apps are, Timber Wolfe, a principal at Dark Wolfe Consulting, found in his research. He said 40% of apps for these devices were infected with malware that can take over a camera or microphone on the network within the first hour.

As viewers move to streaming devices to watch shows, like Apple TVs, Rokus, Chromecasts and Fire TVs, black market sellers have capitalized on cordcutters by offering pirated alternatives. Cybercriminals have taken notice, by targeting these bootleg boxes with malware, researchers found.

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Not just the camera: these “Kodi boxes” grab usernames and passwords by probing the user network; people who buy them are seven times more likely to report problems with malware.
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‘It’s not play if you’re making money’: how Instagram and YouTube disrupted child labour laws • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

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Somewhere along the spectrum between garden variety stage-parenting and straight-up abuse are situations such as the headline-grabbing April Fool’s Day “prank” pulled by YouTube stars Cole and Savannah LaBrant on their daughter, six-year-old Everleigh Rose.

Earlier this month, the couple published a video showing Everleigh in distress. “You haven’t even told the vlog yet, do you want to tell the vlog?” Cole LaBrant prompted the child, as she cried and hid her face under a blanket in the opening moments of the video. The tears were the result of the LaBrants telling Everleigh they were going to give her dog away but they didn’t mean it; the dog giveaway was an April Fool’s Day prank gone too far…

…The LaBrants did not respond to questions about whether they pay Everleigh a percentage of their YouTube revenues or have a savings account for her.

To Paul Petersen, legal protections like those in California should apply equally to Everleigh, who lives in the state, and the Hobson kids in Arizona or the McClures in New Jersey.

“It’s shameful” said Petersen, who founded a support and advocacy group for former child performers, A Minor Consideration, in 1991.

“YouTube is in San Bruno, California, which is under the authority of California law,” he added. “If you’re going to broadcast the images of minor children and pay them, the provisions of California law must apply. That is the position of A Minor Consideration. That’s why we changed the law.”

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Rather like Uber, it seems as though geographical law is going to catch up with YouTube and those who exploit it.
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China exploits fleet of US satellites to strengthen police and military power • WSJ

Brian Spegele and Kate O’Keeffe:

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US law effectively prohibits American companies from exporting satellites to China, where domestic technology lags well behind America’s. But the US doesn’t regulate how a satellite’s bandwidth is used once the device is in space. That has allowed China to essentially rent the capacity of US-built satellites it wouldn’t be allowed to buy, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

Tangled webs of satellite ownership and offshore firms have helped China’s government achieve its goals. Some of America’s biggest companies, including private-equity firm Carlyle Group in addition to Boeing, have indirectly facilitated China’s efforts, the Journal found.

All this appears to run counter to the US’s stance of confronting China’s military buildup and condemning what international watchdog groups describe as widespread human-rights abuses by China’s police. That includes in far-flung territories, where the satellites help the government beam communications. Current and former US officials who reviewed the Journal’s findings called the satellite deals worrisome examples of China using U.S. commercial technology for strategic gain.

“It’s a serious ethical and moral problem as well as a national-security issue,” said Larry Wortzel, a former chairman of the bipartisan US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group that advises Congress.

Boeing, in response to questions, said it has put on hold its latest satellite deal involving China, the one that would bolster the Chinese rival to GPS.

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The promises and perils of the AI-powered airport of the future • Fast Company

Devin Liddell:

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Imagine even an early version—informed by cameras, sensors, and an airport network in which every passenger and every bag is a node—that simply develops a basic understanding of a few interrelated data sets. A computer vision system with a dynamic comprehension of who’s at the gate and who’s not, the bags they have and the other people they’re traveling with, and even how these people physically move, can then bring those disparate data sets together to answer the question that matters most: How can we board everyone in the fastest way that never creates a line? The system would also coordinate communications with you and your fellow passengers in ways that are far more personalized than the class- and zone-based boarding routines used today. This future could liberate flyers—and the gate itself—in ways that are difficult to predict. At the very least, airport gates would feature fewer crowded waiting rooms, and passengers would spend more leisure time at airport restaurants and stores—or, even better, less time in the airport overall.

There is a more pessimistic side to this narrative, though. If AI can be used to optimize airport and airline processes, it can be used to re-architect those processes in ways that don’t necessarily benefit passengers, and instead benefit commercial interests. Put simply, AI’s strength at seeing what’s happening could be used to manipulate passengers. That fatigued family with three bored and hungry kids? AI could help ensure they’re funneled through a security checkpoint that’s adjacent to a toy shop or fast-food restaurant where they are more likely to make impulsive purchases.

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Plenty more ideas too. Though it doesn’t have to be AI, does it? And the facial recognition element worries people.
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It’s 2019 and USB-C is still a mess • Android Authority

Robert Triggs lets rip. I think that all you need to know is contained in the following:

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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article first published in 2018. 

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That’s not to say that Triggs hasn’t done some good work here to show what a mess things are. Definitely worth your time, if only for the teeth-grinding nodding frustration. (And to show how messed up things are, I have two tags for this topic: “usbc” and “usb-c”. Can’t even standardise on that.)
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The truth about dentistry • The Atlantic

Ferris Jabr:

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Studies that explicitly focus on overtreatment [unnecessary procedures for financial gain] in dentistry are rare, but a recent field experiment provides some clues about its pervasiveness. A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, asked a volunteer patient with three tiny, shallow cavities to visit 180 randomly selected dentists in Zurich. The Swiss Dental Guidelines state that such minor cavities do not require fillings; rather, the dentist should monitor the decay and encourage the patient to brush regularly, which can reverse the damage. Despite this, 50 of the 180 dentists suggested unnecessary treatment. Their recommendations were incongruous: Collectively, the overzealous dentists singled out 13 different teeth for drilling; each advised one to six fillings. Similarly, in an investigation for Reader’s Digest, the writer William Ecenbarger visited 50 dentists in 28 states in the U.S. and received prescriptions ranging from a single crown to a full-mouth reconstruction, with the price tag starting at about $500 and going up to nearly $30,000.

A multitude of factors has conspired to create both the opportunity and the motive for widespread overtreatment in dentistry. In addition to dentistry’s seclusion from the greater medical community, its traditional emphasis on procedure rather than prevention, and its lack of rigorous self-evaluation, there are economic explanations. The financial burden of entering the profession is high and rising. In the U.S., the average debt of a dental-school graduate is more than $200,000. And then there’s the expense of finding an office, buying new equipment, and hiring staff to set up a private practice. A dentist’s income is entirely dependent on the number and type of procedures he or she performs; a routine cleaning and examination earns only a baseline fee of about $200.

In parallel with the rising cost of dental school, the amount of tooth decay in many countries’ populations has declined dramatically over the past four decades, mostly thanks to the introduction of mass-produced fluoridated toothpaste in the 1950s and ’60s.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,054: the Tesla hunters, expiring app permissions on Facebook, Kodi boxes are malware traps, are YouTube kids exploited?, and more

  1. Re dentistry over-treatment; even as a kid, I used to wonder why the dentist had to do some much drilling before putting in a filling. My mouth is so full of dental amalgam I might actually be worth something!

  2. Re Apple cables; they are ridiculously thin – to the point of in-built obsolescence. I replaced my power brick when the MacBook Air adapter developed a kink/crack in the wire’s plastic coating and when i tested it a spark came out of it! It was hardwired to the brick so had to replace the whole thing for 70 quid. The Air was 6+ yrs-old which softened the blow a bit but Apple could make their cables more robust if they wanted.

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