Start Up No.1,079: DeepMind wins again, the scanner company at bars, meet your data self, Huawei’s life on subsidies, and more

Suddenly very unpopular with Wikipedia after a Google stunt. CC-licensed photo by gingerbeardman on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Until next week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The North Face used Wikipedia to climb to the top of Google search results • AdAge

Ann-Christine Diaz:


When you first start planning a big trip, step one will likely happen at the Google search bar. Step two might be clicking onto the images of your target destination. The North Face, in a campaign with agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made, took advantage of this consumer behavior to keep its name top of mind with travelers considering an adventure sports excursion.

The brand and agency took pictures of athletes wearing the brand while trekking to famous locations around the world, including Brazil’s Guarita State Park and Farol do Mampimptuba, Cuillin in Scotland and Peru’s Huayna Picchu. They then updated the Wikipedia images in the articles for those locations so that now, the brand would appear in the top of Google image search results when consumers researched any of those locations—all done for a budget of zero dollars.

“Our mission is to expand our frontiers so that our consumers can overcome their limits. With the ‘Top of Images’ project, we achieved our positioning and placed our products in a fully contextualized manner as items that go hand in hand with these destinations,” explained Fabricio Luzzi, CEO of The North Face Brazil in a statement. 


As you might expect, Wikimedia (owner of Wikipedia) is absolutely furious about this.
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An AI taught itself to play a video game; for the first time, it’s beating humans • The Conversation

Amit Joshi on DeepMind’s latest:


The Capture the Flag bot from the recent study also began learning from scratch. But instead of playing against its identical clone, a cohort of 30 bots was created and trained in parallel with their own internal reward signal. Each bot within this population would then play together and learn from each other. As David Silver – one of the research scientists involved – notes, AI is beginning to “remove the constraints of human knowledge… and create knowledge itself”.

The learning speed for humans is still much faster than the most advanced deep reinforcement learning algorithms. Both OpenAI’s bots and DeepMind’s AlphaStar (the bot playing StarCraft II) devoured thousands of years’ worth of gameplay before being able to reach a human level of performance. Such training is estimated to cost several millions of dollars. Nevertheless, a self-taught AI capable of beating humans at their own game is an exciting breakthrough that could change how we see machines.

AI is often portrayed replacing or complementing human capabilities, but rarely as a fully-fledged team member, performing the same task as human beings. As these video game experiments involve machine-human collaboration, they offer a glimpse of the future.

Human players of Capture the Flag rated the bots as more collaborative than other humans, but players of DOTA 2 had a mixed reaction to their AI teammates. Some were quite enthusiastic, saying they felt supported and that they learned from playing alongside them.


How long before there’s a system which can learn to play any game, and trounce humans at it? In which case, isn’t that something like the scary AI, except just limited to video games?
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The Galaxy Note 10 won’t have a headphone jack or physical volume and power keys (rumour) • Android Police

David Ruddock:


Speaking to a source familiar with the company’s plans, Android Police has learned that Samsung will likely begin its wind-down of the headphone jack – and even physical keys for functions like volume and power – with the Galaxy Note 10. The Note 10 will have no 3.5mm connector, and exterior buttons (power, volume, Bixby) will be replaced by capacitive or pressure-sensitive areas, likely highlighted by some kind of raised ‘bump’ and/or texture along the edge (i.e., a faux button). We don’t know if it’s Samsung’s intent to carry over both of these changes to the Galaxy S11 in 2020.


Slightly delayed courage?
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This ID scanner company is collecting sensitive data on millions of bar-goers • One Zero

Susie Cagle:


mouths off to a bouncer, tags a wall, gets in a fight, or is just too drunk and disorderly. They’re not just kicked out for the night, but “eighty-sixed” — permanently banned from the establishment.

Now imagine if a bar owner could flag that ejected patron digitally, documenting their transgression for other bar owners to see and placing them on a nightlife equivalent of a no fly list that stretches across city, state, and even international borders.

PatronScan allows bars to do just that. The PatronScan kiosk, placed at the entrance of a bar or nightlife establishment, can verify whether an ID is real or fake, and collect and track basic customer demographic data. For bars, accurate ID scanners are valuable tools that help weed out underage drinkers, protecting the establishments’ liquor licenses from fines and scrupulous state alcohol boards. But PatronScan’s main selling point is security.

The system allows a business to maintain a record of bad customer behavior and flag those individuals, alerting every other bar that uses PatronScan. What constitutes “bad behavior” is at a bar manager’s discretion, and ranges from “sexual assault” to “violence” to “public drunkenness” and “other.” When a bargoer visits another PatronScan bar and swipes their ID, their previously flagged transgressions will pop up on the kiosk screen. Unless patrons successfully appeal their status to PatronScan or the bar directly, their status can follow them for anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months, to much, much longer. According to a PatronScan “Public Safety Report” from May 2018, the average length of bans handed out to customers in Sacramento, California was 19 years. (The company’s “Public Safety Report” is embedded in full below.)


And of course you don’t know what the company is doing with all that data because it’s America, where your personal data is my potential future revenue stream.
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Would you recognise yourself from your data? • BBC News

Carl Miller had the clever idea of getting all the data held about him, to see what it revealed – and whether it was accurate:


About 1,500 of those pages were this kind of educated guesswork, all of it from companies I had never heard of before.

It’s easy to find data on this scale a little alarming, but most of it I found more silly than sinister:
• The age of my boiler had been predicted
• My likelihood to be interested in gardening was 23.3%
• My interest in prize draws and competitions was 11%
• My “animal/nature awareness level” was low
• My consumer technology audience segmentation was described as (among other things) “young and struggling”.
• My household was found to have no “regular interest in book reading” (I have written a book)
• At one moment I was a go-getter, an idea-seeker.
• Then I was a love aspirer, a disengaged worker, part of a group called budgeted stability or, simply, downhearted.
• Something I did triggered a “Netmums – women trying to conceive” event.

If this was a reflection of myself, I didn’t recognise it.


Not a very accurate picture, in other words. This is the world of “targeted” advertising?

And of course when he did try to get the data, in many cases he was directed to broken systems or told to send his request by snail mail. Though there’s an argument that you want to make it a little harder to access that data than just downloading it, because otherwise it might be open to hackers.
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Border collies run like the wind to bring new life to Chilean forest • Mother Nature Network

Mary Jo Dilonardo:


The worst wildfire season in Chile’s history ravaged more than 1.4 million acres early in 2017, destroying nearly 1,500 homes and killing at least 11 people. More than a dozen countries sent fire-fighting specialists to help battle the dozens of destructive blazes. When the fires were finally extinguished, the landscape was a charred wasteland.

A few months later, a unique team was brought in to help restore the damaged ecosystem. They have four legs and a penchant for careening at high speeds through the forest.

Border collies Das, Summer and Olivia were outfitted with special backpacks brimming with seeds. Then they were sent on a mission, let loose to race through the ruined forests. As they bounded and darted, their packs streamed a trickle of seeds. The hope is that these seeds will take root and sprout, bringing the forest slowly back to life one tree at a time.


Look at those doggos. This is your happy story for today.
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Huawei a key beneficiary of China subsidies that US wants ended •


Huawei’s annual reports and public records show that it has received hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, heavily subsidised land to build facilities and apartments for loyal employees, bonuses to top engineers, and massive state loans to international customers to fund purchases of Huawei products.

“Below market price land sales, massive targeted R&D grants, and export financing on terms that are more favourable than what Huawei could get from the private sector collectively appear to provide significant subsidies that other countries could challenge at the WTO if they are harming domestic companies,” said Claire Reade, a former assistant US trade representative.

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei had denied that the company received subsidies in a BBC interview in February, but a Huawei spokeswoman later said Ren meant the firm did not receive any special government aid.

“Like other companies, Huawei receives research subsidies from governments in several jurisdictions,” the spokeswoman told AFP.

Over the past 10 years, Huawei has received 11bn yuan ($1.6bn) in grants, according to its annual reports.

More than half was given by China as “unconditional government grants” because of the firm’s “contributions to the development of new high-technology” in China, according to Huawei’s 2009 annual report.

Even some of Huawei’s top engineers receive bonuses through government programmes: more than 100 of them received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city of Shenzhen last year…

…Huawei inked a $10bn credit line with the China Development Bank (CDB) in 2004 to provide low-cost financing to customers buying its telecom gear. It was tripled to $30bn in 2009.


The grants don’t amount to much, but the credit line does.
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What Apple Watch design alternatives do you wish had made it into the final product? • Quora

Anna-Katrina Shedletsky worked on the team that built the first version:


One of the important skills in engineering and designing a new product is making tough decisions about how to weigh the risk of a feature with its potential value add and to make the call as to whether it should be in the first generation, or a later version (after some of the other risks have been figured out). ECG is a good example of Apple showing restraint: just because it was potentially possible, doesn’t mean it should be in the product. The team figured ECG out on later generations of the product and it’s helping a ton of people manage their health better – so congratulations to them!

I also wish we had been able to make the cellular antenna work in the first generation product – we couldn’t figure it out because the antenna design was already incredibly challenging and the chipset for cellular at the time would have taken up 1/2 of all of the board space available (and we needed that space for other important stuff!).

Antenna Design was a challenge because the design was … not particularly antenna friendly: it’s a metal box strapped to an incredibly lossy surface (your wrist). Think back to the contemporary designs of the day: iPhones had splits in the enclosures to enable large portions of the metal enclosure itself to be an antenna. That didn’t work for Watch because it’s not possible to make a split between metal and non-metal (an insulator like plastic) that is also waterproof under pressure.

While Watch had many engineering challenges this one was fundamental: without at least a Wi-Fi antenna, we had no product.


The story that follows of how they figured out the Wi-Fi antenna is remarkable – and might explain why the Watch didn’t arrive quite when expected; the supply chain has a lot of hysteresis.
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Deceased GOP strategist’s hard drives reveal new details on the census citizenship question • The New York Times

Michael Wines:


Thomas B. Hofeller achieved near-mythic status in the Republican Party as the Michelangelo of gerrymandering, the architect of partisan political maps that cemented the party’s dominance across the country.

But after he died last summer, his estranged daughter discovered hard drives in her father’s home that revealed something else: Mr. Hofeller had played a crucial role in the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Files on those drives showed that he wrote a study in 2015 concluding that adding a citizenship question to the census would allow Republicans to draft even more extreme gerrymandered maps to stymie Democrats. And months after urging President Trump’s transition team to tack the question onto the census, he wrote the key portion of a draft Justice Department letter claiming the question was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act — the rationale the administration later used to justify its decision.

Those documents, cited in a federal court filing Thursday by opponents seeking to block the citizenship question, have emerged only weeks before the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the citizenship question.


He died in August; the story relates a remarkable chain of events – just off coincidence – that got the files to the court. That word “estranged” is doing a lot of work here; the obvious subtext is that she disagreed strongly with his politics. And now she might have overturned them.

Of course, in past times those hard drives would have been letters.
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Leap Motion, once a virtual-reality high flier, sells itself to UK rival • WSJ

Parmy Olson:


Leap Motion, a virtual-reality startup that helped pioneer gesture tracking technology, has agreed to sell itself to British rival UltraHaptics [based in Bristol] for approximately $30m, according to people familiar with the matter—about a tenth of its valuation just a few years ago.

Leap Motion, based in San Francisco, develops and licenses sensors that track hand movements for virtual-reality experiences. Over the past decade, firms have rushed into the nascent fields of augmented and virtual reality. Augmented reality overlays computerized images on the real world through glasses or a headset, like Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. Virtual reality aims to more fully immerse people in a digital world through a headset like the Oculus Rift, owned by Facebook.

Leap Motion made an early splash in the VR field. Founded in 2010, the startup initially attracted an array of venture capitalists including Silicon Valley investor Andreessen Horowitz. By 2013, the company was valued at approximately $300m, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But it struggled to take advantage of its early name-brand recognition in a field that was new, fast-changing and tied heavily to the AR and VR hardware market. A device Leap Motion rolled out to help control a computer with finger movements met mixed reviews.


Apple considered buying it twice, according to reports. UltraHaptics has been using LeapMotion’s tech for six years for “using focussed sound waves to create the sensation of touch in midair”; potential application in cars. The clock ticks louder for Magic Leap.
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Start Up No.1,078: GDPR one year on, Chernobyl by bike, is your Uber ranking high enough?, Google blocks adblockers, and more

New York is going to join London by introducing a limited congestion charge. CC-licensed photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

One year into GDPR, most apps still harvest data without permission • AdExchanger

Allison Schiff:


The front door may be locked, but the basement windows are wide open.

Unauthorized data harvesting from mobile apps has continued nearly unabated in the year since Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation came into force last May.

In a recent test conducted for AdExchanger, mobile analytics company Kochava examined the behavior of the top 2,700 apps in the Google Play store in the United States compared with France, where GDPR applies.

Despite a small drop in the average number of network requests coming per app in France, which was to be expected, there was no discernible difference in the prevalence of data transmission between regions.

Nearly 60% of apps sent advertising IDs to a remote endpoint at least once either directly or through a third-party SDK, regardless of where the users were located or whether they’d given consent.

Apps often presented users with a consent notice screen and then ignored the user’s choice, transmitting the data regardless of the user’s preference.

“The regulation exists, but is there a body in Belgium looking at the mobile ecosystem to try and determine which calls from a device are legitimate or not – hell no, that’s not happening,” said Grant Simmons, head of client analytics at Kochava.

But even if there was, this stuff is hard to catch by design, Simmons said. Around 30% of the data calls transmitted to and from devices are encrypted and when fraudsters enter the picture, they usually use transitory domains to obscure their actions, including data harvesting.


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Websites not available in the European Union after GDPR • Verified Joseph

Joseph O’Connor:


On 25 May 2018, the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came in to force, resulting in organisations (mainly US-based newspapers) blocking people living in the European Union from accessing their websites as they are not compliant with the new regulations. This dataset lists websites that are or were unavailable, along with links to archived versions of the websites and archived block messages. This dataset has been featured in a number of news articles including NiemanLab, TechRadar and

The Los Angeles Times’ website is reportedly available in Bulgaria as of 08/08/2018. The website remains unavailable in other European countries.


Bulgaria. Why there? Anyhow, there’s 1,129 unavailable sites. There’s also a list, at the end of “Costs and Unintended Consequences” of a number of companies which “have left the EU in droves (or shut down entirely)”. At which one looks and says: sure, but there are plenty more which are still here, in those sectors, and they don’t seem to be dying because of GDPR. Perhaps it was your lousy business model reliant on grabbing personal data?
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Scene report from the Chernobyl Zone • Moxie Marlinspike

Marlinspike went on a bicycle trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone:


When the firefighters from the first night, before they understood that this was not just a fire, showed up at the hospital sick and suffering from radiation burns, the medical staff there knew that they must have been severely contaminated, but they stayed and treated them anyway, potentially exposing themselves to the same fate.

Every interview I’ve seen or account that I’ve read from those involved, most of whom died within weeks or have suffered life-long health problems, has a common theme of no regrets; the sentiment almost universally “It had to be done. Who would I expect to do it instead of me?”

There’s so much in Pripyat that by the time we had to leave, we had probably explored less than 1% of the city. We went out on the same road that the residents did 33 years ago. Riding across the zone under the full moon, we’d stop sometimes and stare out at the woods and fields around us, all alone in the middle of that huge seeming expanse. The experience is full of tensions. It is so beautiful and so peaceful that it really feels like paradise, but it’s a paradise that you can’t enjoy. You have to be careful about where you sit, what you eat, how you eat it, what you touch; which is — ironically — why it exists. The reason it’s so beautiful and so peaceful is precisely because we can’t consume it. Like, perhaps, all real paradises everywhere.


If you haven’t seen the Chernobyl TV series, you should; it’s possible that the accident couldn’t have happened anywhere but the Soviet Union, and couldn’t have been stopped with the human sacrifice that it demanded anywhere but the Soviet Union.
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Uber will start deactivating riders with low ratings • TechCrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:


Uber is now requiring the same good behavior from riders that it has long expected from its drivers. Uber riders have always had ratings, but they were never really at risk of deactivation — until now. Starting today, riders in the U.S. and Canada are now at risk of deactivation if their rating falls significantly below a city’s average.

“Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Uber Head of Safety Brand and Initiatives Kate Parker wrote in a blog post. “Drivers have long been required to meet a minimum rating threshold which can vary city to city. While we expect only a small number of riders to ultimately be impacted by ratings-based deactivations, it’s the right thing to do.”


Black Mirror: less a warning, more an instruction manual.
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Studies don’t support Elon Musk’s Autopilot safety claims • The Information

Matt Drange:


In 2016, for instance, [Elon Musk] said that “half a million” people would be saved if Autopilot were more widely available. In 2017, Musk tweeted that the latest Autopilot software update could reduce collisions by “90%.”…

…In an effort to verify Tesla’s claims about the safety of Autopilot, The Information interviewed dozens of safety experts who have studied the software—many of them Tesla owners themselves. The interviews, along with internal documents, research reports and an analysis of five years’ worth of crash data collected by state and federal government agencies, show that attempts to measure the safety of Autopilot have failed to back up Mr. Musk’s claims.

The reality, researchers say, is that only Tesla has the data needed to determine whether its cars are safer when on Autopilot mode. Despite calls for transparency, Mr. Musk has kept this information from the public and attacked those who question the technology. Mr. Musk has gone so far as to say that journalists who write about crashes involving Autopilot are “killing people” if the coverage dissuades them from trying the technology.

The questions surrounding Autopilot’s safety come at a critical juncture for Tesla, which continues to burn through cash as it ramps up production. That has forced the company to raise more money: Earlier this month, Tesla said it would raise $2bn in new debt and equity. The company’s share price, meanwhile, continues to decline, dropping steadily from $376 in December to about $189 Tuesday.


Ready when you are, Mr Musk.
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Donald Trump’s Wikipedia page: inside the brutal, petty battles over the president’s entry • Slate

Aaron Mak:


Unlike most Wikipedia pages, which mostly anyone can edit, the only way for an entry like Trump’s to function is with a hierarchy. Any user can still argue for a change, but more senior editors—those with at least 30 days of tenure and 500 edits under their belts—have to approve it. And there are even higher levels of power above them: administrators (volunteers who apply for the right to wield special override abilities and are voted in by fellow users after a review of their edit histories) and arbitrators, a group of 13 editors chosen in an annual election who can make final decisions when there’s high-profile misconduct or conflicts arise involving administrators. On Trump’s page, there’s also an unofficial editorial board of experienced users who try to protect the page’s integrity.

The senior editors put the Helsinki proposal to a vote, which clarified little. The results were roughly tied, but even final tallies don’t necessarily dictate outcomes. Instead, administrators with special editing privileges weigh the quality of the arguments made on both sides against Wikipedia’s editorial policies on things like neutrality and reliable sourcing, and make a decision.

After 10 days of trying to reach a consensus on the Helsinki debate, administrator Awilley concluded there was enough support for the inclusion and closed the discussion.


Has undergone more than 28,000 edits since it was created in 2004. The page has the equivalent of its own bodyguard protection squad – and that’ll probably remain the case for a long while.
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Google relents slightly on blocking ad-blockers – for paid-up enterprise Chrome users, everyone else not so much • The Register

Thomas Claburn:


Google Chrome users will continue to have access to the full content blocking power of the webRequest API in their browser extensions, but only if they’re paying enterprise customers.

Everyone else will have to settle for extensions that use the neutered declarativeNetRequest API, which is being developed as part of a pending change to the way Chrome Extensions work. And chances are Chrome users will have fewer extensions to choose from because some developers won’t be able to rework their extensions so they function under the new regime, or won’t want to do so…

…developer Raymond Hill, who created popular content control extension uBlock Origin, contends blocking capabilities matter more than observing. Losing the ability to block content with the webRequest API is his main concern.

“This breaks uBlock Origin and uMatrix, [which] are incompatible with the basic matching algorithm [Google] picked, ostensibly designed to enforce EasyList-like filter lists,” he explained in an email to The Register. “A blocking webRequest API allows open-ended content blocker designs, not restricted to a specific design and limits dictated by the same company which states that content blockers are a threat to its business.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment. The ad biz previously said its aim with Manifest v3 is “to create stronger security, privacy, and performance guarantees.”

But Hill, in a note posted over the weekend to GitHub, observes that performance problems arise more from bloated web pages stuffed with tracking code than from extensions intercepting and processing content.


So, basically, Google is making harder to have adblocking extensions that actually block ads. (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
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The end of mobile • Benedict Evans

Benedict Evans notes that there are about 4bn smartphones in use, and surveys the broader market:


the PC market, which has had flat-to-falling sales for the last few years, has something around 1.5bn active devices (including a bit over 100m Macs and a similar number running Linux of various kinds, and 800m running Windows 10, which was released 4 years ago), split roughly 50/50 consumer/enterprise. Quite which number you use depends on which analyst firm’s estimates you prefer, but they’re all in the same range.

What about tablets? Apple says 900m iPhones and ‘over 1.4bn’ total actives devices: if you subtract 200m Macs, Watches and Apple TVs combined that leaves about 300m iPads (again, this is consistent with historically reported unit sales) – 350m seems possible. Google’s numbers cited above imply something between 100m and 150m (I hesitate to be more precise given how rounded these numbers are). Non-Google Android tablets in China might be double that, or even more – here again the question of whether the device goes online to show up in the stats means it’s hard to make a firm estimate (I’m sure people will disagree with this one). But this means there are certainly over half a billion tablets in use.

So. There’s an old joke that the career of an analyst progresses from Word to Excel to Powerpoint. That’s pretty much what’s happened here over the last 20 years: first we discussed what might happen (“imagine if everyone had a phone!”), then we tracked the numbers of what was happening, and finally we draw diagrams and bullet points of what that means. That’s where we are now – we try to work out what it means that almost everyone has a phone or a smartphone (I made a presentation about this). 

But this also means that now we go back to the beginning: I’m not updating my smartphone model anymore. The next fundamental trends in tech, today, are probably machine learning, crypto and regulation. I can write about those, but it’s too early to make charts. 


Yup – I’ve long since stopped updating my many spreadsheet models. There’s no drama about the industry itself. Outside it, well, that’s different.
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New York’s adoption of congestion charging might mean something much more radical could come • Forbes

Brad Templeton:


New York is going to institute a congestion charge below 60th St. in Manhattan. This is controversial, as expected, and fees don’t start until 2021. They may be around $12 for cars and $25 for trucks, so not minor. The plan is to use the $1bn generated each year to pay for public transit.

New York’s charging, like London’s, is very imprecise. It’s a daily fee. It charges the same no longer how long you spend in the zone. The idea is almost 45 years old, and so it’s strange that NYC isn’t considering something much better and more modern. Singapore began with paper tickets you put on the windshield, and moved to electronic tolling over 20 years ago. We now live in the era of the smartphone. By 2021, it’s entirely reasonable to require that every car entering downtown Manhattan have a smartphone in it.

This means that much more is possible today than was imagined 45 years ago.

Congestion charging has had mixed reactions around the world, but not always as expected. In Sweden, support for it was 40% before it started, and rose to 68% later. For example, it was feared that downtown retailers would hate it – it’s effectively a tax on people driving to shop at their store – but by clearing the roads, it made the shopping more pleasant and worth the fee.


OK, congestion charges are regressive (proportionately, they affect poorer road users). But if you use them for public transport, you square the circle: personal road users can shift to that mode, or shift to ride-sharing (hello Uber). London has followed with a ULEZ (ultra low-emission zone) to reduce emissions. London’s congestion zone reduced traffic by 10% and generated £2.3bn ($2.9bn) in its first ten years.

More US cities should use it – Los Angeles, with its smog, would benefit from forcing more ride-sharing.
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China gears up to weaponize rare earths dominance in trade war • Bloomberg

Jason Rogers, David Stringer, and Martin Ritchie:


The world’s biggest producer, China supplies about 80% of US imports of rare earths, which are used in a host of applications from smartphones to electric vehicles and wind turbines.

The threat to weaponise strategic materials ratchets up the tension between the world’s two biggest economies before an expected meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G-20 meeting next month…

…The US shouldn’t underestimate China’s ability to fight the trade war, the People’s Daily said in an editorial Wednesday that used some historically significant language on the weight of China’s intent.

The newspaper’s commentary included a rare Chinese phrase that means “don’t say I didn’t warn you.” The specific wording was used by the paper in 1962 before China went to war with India, and “those familiar with Chinese diplomatic language know the weight of this phrase,” the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party, said in an article last April. It was also used before conflict broke out between China and Vietnam in 1979.

On rare earths specifically, the People’s Daily said it isn’t hard to answer the question whether China will use the elements as retaliation in the trade war.

China is “seriously” considering restricting rare earth exports to the U.S. and may also implement other countermeasures, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said in a tweet.


“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Someone tweeted that a year ago. How’s it working out?
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Apple expected to remove 3D Touch • Michael Tsai’s blog

Michael J. Tsai:


Last week, in a research note shared with MacRumors, a team of Barclays analysts “confirmed” that 3D Touch “will be eliminated” in all 2019 iPhones, as they predicted back in August 2018. The analysts gathered this information from Apple suppliers following a trip to Asia earlier this month.


What’s different about Tsai’s approach is that he rounds up not just the news, but also the reactions, and his reactions. 3D Touch has always felt like one of those things that’s just on the verge of being really useful, but didn’t tip over into it as much as anything because Apple hasn’t shown a clear path for third-party developers. And it did tend to confuse things: the subtle distinction between a long press, a 3D press and a short press can be particularly annoying when you’re trying to reorganise your home screen and it brings up the 3D Touch menu, or vice-versa.

A quick note too that when it became known that Apple was going to introduce this in 2015, Huawei hurried out its Mate S with the same feature, which was quickly abandoned.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,077: leaky data apps on iOS, Google settles cold fusion question, how to secure politicians, the concerns over Chrome, and more

Google Wave: the Voynich manuscript of user interfaces was introduced 10 years ago – and killed nine years ago. CC-licensed photo by Panagiotis Giannakopoulos on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. I voted for Spartacus! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple promises privacy, but iPhone apps share your data with trackers, ad companies and research firms • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:


You might assume you can count on Apple to sweat all the privacy details. After all, it touted in a recent ad, “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.” My investigation suggests otherwise.

IPhone apps I discovered tracking me by passing information to third parties — just while I was asleep — include Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Washington Post and IBM’s the Weather Channel. One app, the crime-alert service Citizen, shared personally identifiable information in violation of its published privacy policy.

And your iPhone doesn’t only feed data trackers while you sleep. In a single week, I encountered over 5,400 trackers, mostly in apps, not including the incessant Yelp traffic. According to privacy firm Disconnect, which helped test my iPhone, those unwanted trackers would have spewed out 1.5 gigabytes of data over the span of a month. That’s half of an entire basic wireless service plan from AT&T.

“This is your data. Why should it even leave your phone? Why should it be collected by someone when you don’t know what they’re going to do with it?” says Patrick Jackson, a former National Security Agency researcher who is chief technology officer for Disconnect. He hooked my iPhone into special software so we could examine the traffic. “I know the value of data, and I don’t want mine in any hands where it doesn’t need to be,” he told me.

In a world of data brokers, Jackson is the data breaker. He developed an app called Privacy Pro that identifies and blocks many trackers. If you’re a little bit techie, I recommend trying the free iOS version to glimpse the secret life of your iPhone.


Certainly worth a try. That’s a dismaying lot of trackers (hellooo Washington Post, for which Fowler writes). Expect Apple to try to crack down on this in a future iOS release – though the US could try something like GDPR. I wonder what those apps do in Europe.
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Google revives controversial cold-fusion experiments • Nature

Elizabeth Gibney:


Google’s team was made up of 30 researchers who had no strong opinions on cold fusion. All had access to each other’s data and apparatus, and could review each other’s work.

The researchers pursued the three experimental strands that they deemed sufficiently credible. In one, they tried to load palladium with amounts of deuterium hypothesized to be necessary to trigger fusion. But at high concentrations the team was unable to create stable samples.

A second strand followed up on 1990s work by US physicists who claimed to have generated anomalous levels of tritium — another heavy hydrogen isotope, created only through nuclear reactions — by bombarding palladium with pulses of hot deuterium ions. Google’s analysis of nuclear signatures showed no tritium production from this experiment.

A final strand involved heating up metallic powders in a hydrogen-rich environment. Some current proponents of cold fusion claim that the process produces excess and unexplained heat, which they theorize is the result of fusing elements. But across 420 tests, the Google-funded team found no such heat excess.

But the researchers say that both palladium experiments warrant further study. The hypothesized effects in the tritium experiment could be too small to measure with current equipment, they suggest. The team also says that further work could produce stable samples at extremely high deuterium concentrations, where interesting effects might occur.


They revived it, but only to put a stake through it. It’s 99.9999% certain that cold fusion isn’t a thing.
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Intel’s Project Athena could make laptops better, if only it had teeth • The Verge

Sean Hollister:


Project Athena isn’t going to be a meaningless marketing campaign. In fact, Intel has set its sights on killing off one of the biggest lies the PC industry ever told laptop buyers: battery life.

Intel says Project Athena laptops will need to deliver 9 hours of real-world battery life, browsing the web over Wi-Fi, with their screen set to a level of brightness (250 nits) that a user might actually have in the real world. This is important, because today’s laptop benchmarks are anything but — when a PC maker says your new machine gets 24 hours of battery life, they’re typically measuring that by playing back a video that barely taxes the processor, with Wi-Fi off, and low screen brightness to boot. Who uses a laptop like that?

Now, we’re learning that battery life is just the beginning. Project Athena laptops will need to wake from sleep in under a second, be ready to browse the web in under two seconds thanks to connected standby, and have the same sort of responsiveness on battery that they have when plugged into the wall — plus come with touchscreen displays, precision touchpads (trust us, it’s a must), the latest Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and enough RAM (8GB) and speedy NVMe solid state storage (256GB) to tackle the basics for most users.

And Intel isn’t just going to leave these things up to the manufacturers. It’s going to test the crap out of some of these things itself, namely battery life and responsiveness, because Intel believes they’re the basis for PCs that actually satisfy modern users’ needs.


Nice, but as Hollister points out, without a brand like “Ultrabook” (from 2011) it will struggle. And there’s also ARM processors – which will improve battery life enormously – coming up.
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What I learned trying to secure Congressional Campaigns • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski spent a lot of last year helping candidates lock down their accounts against hackers:


There are two big areas of sensitive information around a political campaign. Let’s call them ‘Bucket A’ and ‘Bucket B’.

Bucket A is the stuff that is campaign-specific and needs to be kept confidential. This includes fundraising numbers and mailing lists, campaign memos on issue positions, research on opponents, strategy documents, media buys, correspondence with the national party, unflattering photos of the candidate and so on. The training materials the Democratic Party provides to campaigns are meant to keep this stuff safe.

Bucket B is what lives in people’s personal accounts. This includes every email they’ve written, their social media history, complete access (via password reset) to all the online services they’ve signed up for, their chat history, creepy DMs, sexts to minors, plus all the stuff they’ve forwarded to their personal accounts from the campaign account, the Dropbox folder they keep their passwords in, and so on.

As an attacker, I would be drawn to bucket B. There is nothing interesting in a campaign’s financials or strategy. The strategy is always ‘talk about health care’, and the financials have to be disclosed every quarter by law. Everything juicy lives in the personal accounts, and moving laterally between those accounts will eventually give you access to bucket A anyway, because people are terrible at keeping this stuff separate.

Targeting Bucket B means you can also target more people, like the candidate’s spouse and family, who the people defending Bucket A consider out of scope.

In our training, we worked off the assumption that the Podesta hacks were a template for what might happen to campaigns, and that securing campain-adjacent personal accounts was more important than worrying about campaign data.


As ever, he’s hilarious, wry, and laser-accurate.
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Google’s Chrome becomes web ‘gatekeeper’ and rivals complain • Bloomberg

Gerrit De Vynck:


Google won by offering consumers a fast, customizable browser for free, while embracing open web standards. Now that Chrome is the clear leader, it controls how the standards are set. That’s sparking concern Google is using the browser and its Chromium open-source underpinnings to elbow out online competitors and tilt entire industries in its favor.

Most major browsers are now built on the Chromium software code base that Google maintains. Opera, an indie browser that’s been used by techies for years, swapped its code base for Chromium in 2013. Even Microsoft is making the switch this year. That creates a snowball effect, where fewer web developers build for niche browsers, leading those browsers to switch over to Chromium to avoid getting left behind.

This leaves Chrome’s competitors relying on Google employees who do most of the work to keep Chromium software code up to date. Chromium is open source, so anyone can suggest changes to it, but the majority of programmers who approve contributions are Google employees, and any major disagreements get settled by a small circle of senior Google employees.

Chrome is so ascendant these days that web developers often don’t bother to test their sites on competing browsers. Google services including YouTube, Docs and Gmail sometimes don’t work as well on rival browsers, sending frustrated users to Chrome. Instead of just another ship slicing through the sea of the web, Chrome is becoming the ocean.


Chrome has 63% of the market; Safari, the next biggest, 15%. Wonder if the EC will find that monopolistic.
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What in the hell was Google Wave trying to be anyway? • Gizmodo

Catie Keck:


Wave [introduced ten years ago] was extraordinarily ambitious in its quest to do damn near everything, including reimagining the limits and functionality of email. But in spite of itself, and primarily because its tools were confusing as hell, Wave wasn’t long for this world. Just a year after announcing the product at its annual Google I/O developers conference, Google announced that it was putting the tool out of its misery. The company said in a blog post at the time Wave had “not seen the user adoption we would have liked,” adding that parts of Wave would remain available open source “so customers and partners can continue the innovation we began.” In December of 2010, Google announced that the product would enter the Apache Software Foundation’s incubator program and would henceforth be known as Apache Wave.

Google may have been right to call Wave a “radically different kind of communication,” though, it did not do so particularly well, and it didn’t successfully convert people to its vision. Wave was not the first communications app that Google decided to mercy kill, and it definitely will not be the last. That said, even if somewhat confused about its identity, Wave seemed to have a good idea of where the communications space was going. Many of us would be hard-pressed to do our jobs without the help of Wave’s modern-day equivalent in Slack (even if Slack means that we’re never truly logged off anymore).


Wave was a terrible thing; throwing the kitchen sink in, rather than taking Slack’s approach of building the kitchen piece by piece. A classic example of putting everything in because you can, not because you should.
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WhatDoTheyKnow Pro helps Bureau of Investigative Journalism get the whole picture on council sales • mySociety

Myfanwy Nixon:


In a major new inquiry, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism made Freedom of Information requests across all 353 councils in England.

Their aim? To build up a full picture of the public places and spaces sold by councils across the country, as they struggle to make up funding shortfalls.

The Bureau used WhatDoTheyKnow Pro‘s batch functionality to help them in this mass investigation, which has resulted in an important report for Huffington Post as well as an interactive public database where you can search to see what your own local council has sold.

In total, councils’ responses have confirmed the sale of over 12,000 assets since 2014. The report goes on to prove that in many cases, the proceeds have been used to fund staff redundancies as authorities are forced to cut back.


Hacking for good. (WhatDoTheyKnow is a site which makes it easy to make freedom of information requests; a godsend for journalists, and everyone else.)
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Samsung Galaxy Fold reportedly won’t ship in June • Android Police

Taylor Kerns:


The integrity of the Samsung Galaxy Fold’s design was shown to be questionable (at best) shortly after pre-release models reached the hands of the first round of reviewers. Debris made its way into their screens, causing several early hardware failures, and release was delayed from April 26 to an unspecified later date. AT&T made it seem like the new date would be mid-June, but a new report out of Korea contradicts that.

According to the report, quality control is taking longer than Samsung expected. An unnamed official with the company is quoted as saying the release date is still undecided, and that the company will make an announcement to that end in the next few weeks. The report also notes that with Huawei’s ongoing difficulties caused by US sanctions, Samsung isn’t as concerned about beating that company’s foldable phone, the Mate X, to market.


I think the Huawei saga has a lot of Samsung engineers breathing huge sighs of relief. There’s really no pressure on them to hurry this, and they ought to take the time to get it right. (Mumble mumble Apple keyboard designs mumble mumble.)
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HP adds real wood to its latest Envy laptops • Android Authority

John Callaham:


Today, HP announced new versions of the Envy laptop and x360 convertible PCs, and all of them have real wood as part of their materials. HP says that the convertible Envy notebooks are the first ones ever release with authentic wood in their designs.

The wood on the new Envy laptops are either natural walnut or pale birch and are used for the area below the keyboard, including the top of the Microsoft Precision Touchpad that are used in all of the Envy notebooks. HP says the wood material retains its natural texture and feel, while at the same time is also highly durable. HP added that the wood used in the Envy is environmentally friendly as it comes from a sustainable forest.


They photograph well; I guess that the inevitable darkening from your palms’ sweat will make them look more real, rather than less. It’s quite a nice idea: a more natural design. Watch out for the recall when they discover woodworm.
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For a longer, healthier life, share your data • The New York Times

Luke Miner is “a data scientist”:


There are a number of overlapping reasons it is difficult to build large health data sets that are representative of our population. One is that the data is spread out across thousands of doctors’ offices and hospitals, many of which use different electronic health record systems. It’s hard to extract records from these systems, and that’s not an accident: The companies don’t want to make it easy for their customers to move their data to a competing provider.

But there is also a fundamental problem with our health care privacy protections, primarily the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as Hipaa.

Hipaa was passed in 1996, when artificial intelligence was largely the realm of science fiction movies and computer science dreams. It was intended to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of patient records (as well as to improve the portability of health coverage when patients switched jobs).

But today one of the main effects of the law is to make it much harder for doctors and hospitals to share data with researchers. The fees they would have to pay for legal experts, statisticians and the other consultants needed to ensure compliance with the law are just too steep to bother.

Julia Adler-Milstein, the director of the Center for Clinical Informatics and Improvement Research at the University of California, San Francisco, told me that “the costs associated with sharing data for research purposes in a Hipaa-compliant way are beyond what many hospitals can justify.” She added, “The fines associated with a potential data breach are also a deterrent.”

These fines are a blunt instrument that don’t correspond to varying levels of harm, creating a climate of fear that discourages sharing.


Obviously, the temptation is to say “you first, Luke.” Show us how harmless having your health data shared with the world is, because this is a one-way valve: once the data goes in, it doesn’t come out.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: thanks to the many people who pointed out that yesterday’s lead item from the NY Times about Facebook was by Kara Swisher, not Charlie Warzel. (He wrote a similar, but different article, also at the NYT.)

Start Up No.1,076: Facebook’s shredded ethics, Federighi bites on privacy, Asus’s dual-screen wonder, the AR killer app?, and more

DuckDuckGo’s CEO reckons people will object to having their private data slurped up pretty soon. CC-licensed photo by pixishared on Flickr.

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

Nancy Pelosi and Fakebook’s dirty tricks • The New York Times

Kara Swisher Charlie Warzel is as angry as I was, but sets it out so well:


By conflating censorship with the responsible maintenance of its platforms, and by providing “rules” that are really just capricious decisions by a small coterie of the rich and powerful, Facebook and others have created a free-for-all with no consistent philosophy.

The Chewbacca mom video is sure fun, and so are New York Times articles, because classy journalism looks good on the platform. But the toxic stew of propaganda and fake news that is allowed to pour into the public river without filters? Also A-O.K., in the clearly underdeveloped mind of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who has been — try as he might with great earnestness — guiding his ship into dangerous waters.

Don’t believe me? Listen to what came out of his mouth during a podcast interview with me less than a year ago, a comment that in hindsight makes his non-action against the Pelosi video look completely inevitable. We had been talking about the vile Alex Jones, whom Mr. Zuckerberg had declined to remove from Facebook despite his having violated many of its policies. (This month Facebook finally did bar him from the platform). For some reason, presumably to make a greater point, he shifted the conversation to the Holocaust. It was a mistake, to say the least.

“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

I was shocked, but I wanted to hear more, so I said briefly: “In the case of Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.”


And Zuckerberg did go ahead. Warzel was just astonished at the ensuing “senseless jumble of words”, and thinks that the company has “been wandering ever since from one ethical quandary to the next”.

Time to make hard choices, Facebook. Time to grow up.
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DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg talks “do not track” legislation on Kara Swisher podcast Recode Decode • Vox

Eric Johnson:


People don’t realize just how much they’re being tracked online, says DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg — but he’s confident that once they learn how much tech companies like Google and Facebook are quietly slurping up their private data, they will demand a change.

“They’re getting purchase history, location history, browsing history, search history,” Weinberg said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “And then when you go to, now, a website that has advertising from one of these networks, there’s a real-time bidding against you, as a person. There’s an auction to sell you an ad based on all this creepy information you didn’t even realize people captured.”

DuckDuckGo offers a privacy-minded search engine that has about 1% of the search market share in the US (Google’s share is more than 88%), as well as a free browser extension for Firefox and Google Chrome that blocks ad networks from tracking you. But rather than waiting for a comprehensive privacy bill to lurch through Congress over many years, he’s proposed a small, simple tweak to US regulations that might help: Make not being tracked by those networks the default, rather than something you have to opt into.

“The fact that consumers have already adopted it and it’s in the browser is just an amazing legislative opportunity, just give it teeth,” he said. “It’s actually a better mechanism for privacy laws because once you have this setting and it works, you don’t have to deal with all the popups anymore. You just set it once, and then sites can’t track you.”


Weinberg is always good value. Also: DuckDuckGo is profitable; it doesn’t have huge VC funding to chase to repay millions of times over.
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Inside Apple’s top secret testing facilities where iPhone defences are forged in temperatures of -40C • The Independent

Andrew Griffin:


The cost of those [Apple] products has led to some criticism from Apple’s rivals, who have said that it is the price of privacy; that Apple is fine talking about how little data it collects, but it is only able to do so because of the substantial premiums they command. That was the argument recently made by Google boss Sundar Pichai, in just one of a range of recent broadsides between tech companies about privacy.

“Privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services,” [Google chief Sundar] Pichai wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. He didn’t name Apple, but he didn’t need to.

Pichai argued that the collection of data helps make technology affordable, echoing a sentiment often heard about Apple, that their commitment to privacy is only possible because their products are expensive and it can afford to take such a position. Having a more lax approach to privacy helps keep the products made by almost all of the biggest technology products in the world – from Google to Instagram – free, at least at the point of use.

“I don’t buy into the luxury good dig,” says Federighi, giving the impression he was genuinely surprised by the public attack.

“On the one hand gratifying that other companies in space over the last few months, seemed to be making a lot of positive noises about caring about privacy. I think it’s a deeper issue than then, what a couple of months and a couple of press releases would make. I think you’ve got to look fundamentally at company cultures and values and business model. And those don’t change overnight.

“But we certainly seek to both set a great example for the world to show what’s possible to raise people’s expectations about what they should expect the products, whether they get them from us or from other people. And of course, we love, ultimately, to sell Apple products to everyone we possibly could certainly not just a luxury, we think a great product experience is something everyone should have. So we aspire to develop those.”


Lots of other details in there, but this is the core.
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The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo is an extravagant laptop with two 4K screens • The Verge

Sam Byford:


The ZenBook Pro Duo has not one, but two 4K screens. (At least if you’re counting horizontal pixels.) There’s a 15-inch 16:9 OLED panel where you’d normally find the display on a laptop, then a 32:9 IPS “ScreenPad Plus” screen directly above the keyboard that’s the same width and half the height. It’s as if Asus looked at the MacBook Pro Touch Bar and thought “what if that, but with 32 times as many pixels?”

Unlike the Touch Bar, though, the ScreenPad Plus doesn’t take anything away from the ZenBook Pro Duo, except presumably battery life. Asus still included a full-sized keyboard with a function row, including an escape key, and the trackpad is located directly to the right. The design is very reminiscent of Asus’ Zephryus slimline gaming laptops — you even still get the light-up etching that lets you use the trackpad as a numpad. HP tried something similar recently, too, though its second screen was far smaller.


OK, so the photo shows the use for the second screen. But it’s just wild.
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Five legal principles for the Green New Deal • The Washington Post

Michael Burger:


The GND resolution is enormously ambitious. It recognizes that the goal of Congress must be to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” and proposes to accomplish this through a 10-year process that would include “meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” upgrading all buildings for energy efficiency, and the widespread electrification of vehicles and heating systems. It also calls for nature-based solutions to climate change, such as land preservation, afforestation and soil management. Additional first order goals acknowledge the great and unequal threats climate change poses to American lives and include providing all people of the United States with health care, housing and economic security.

Critics have lambasted this ambition. The proposal has been called unrealistic and infeasible by some in the political center and center-left, and stupid, dumb, evil, a socialist con game and a communist manifesto by some on the right. But, from a drafting perspective, the GND’s scope, and its visionary language, would serve a practical purpose. What Congress says about the nature of the problem, its purpose in taking action and the range of solutions will serve as a lodestar for future generations.


The five principles are: Go big, be specific, set deadlines, let them [individuals] sue [companies], make floors not ceilings. Ally this to the green vote expansion in the European parliament elections, and there’s at least a glimpse of hope.
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How Trump uses likes and retweets to shape policy • NY Mag

Adam K. Raymond:


Politico published a profile of Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social media guy, on Thursday that included all the usual nonsense we’ve become inured to in the past two years. Like the fact that Scavino, who’s one of Trump’s closest confidants, is a lurker on /r/The_Donald.

But there’s one revelation in the piece that’s actually worth dwelling on — Trump apparently uses social media metrics to influence policy. And Scavino is the guy who helps him do it.

The article’s opening anecdote shows how this plays out. Trump was meeting with lawmakers after he announced that the US would pull out of Syria. Like his former Defense Secretary, who quit over the decision, the members of Congress were trying to convince Trump to change his mind. But Trump was more interested in how the decision was playing on Twitter than on Capitol Hill or at the Pentagon. So he called Scavino into the meeting:

“Tell them how popular my policy is,” Trump instructed Scavino, who, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, proceeded to walk lawmakers through the positive reaction he had picked up on social media about Trump’s Syria decision.

The sudden pivot from geostrategy to retweets and likes surprised the lawmakers.


The idiocy of the crowd. What does Twitter know about geopolitics? What happens if more people try this?
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To win online debates, social networks worth a thousand words • EurekAlert! Science News


Want to win an argument online? Bolstering your social network may be more helpful than rehearsing your rhetorical flourishes.

According to Cornell researchers, social interactions are more important than language in predicting who is going to succeed at online debating. However, the most accurate model for predicting successful debaters combines information about social interactions and language, the researchers found.

They analyzed data from, a website that hosts debates on a variety of topics. Users can debate each other, comment on other debates, ask and answer questions, create and respond to polls, and become friends.

“It turns out that the interaction of people on this platform is really predictive of their success,” said Esin Durmus, a doctoral student in computer science and first author of “Modeling the Factors of Online Debate,” presented at the Web Conference, May 13-17 in San Francisco. “So if someone is trying to win an argument, they should focus on their social interactions, like discussing interesting findings with the people they’re friends with.”

The study, co-authored with Claire Cardie, professor of computer and information science, has implications for online debaters looking to improve and for developers of artificial intelligence systems seeking to expose humans to different perspectives, Durmus said.


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Is online shopping AR’s killer app? • On my Om

Om Malik:


This week, I came across the Nike Fit, which seems like such a smart use of a much-hyped technology: augmented reality. Nike Fit allows you to point your phone at your feet and get the most accurate measurement. The size data that is collected enables you to find the right match for your foot from Nike’s mind-boggling array of shoe choices.

This is a product and use of technology that makes perfect sense. It affirms my confidence in the long-term prospects for AR and the possibilities of visual sensors. According to Nike’s PR, for what it’s worth, about “60% of people at any given time are walking around in the wrong size shoe.” And in North America alone, “half a million people complain about purchasing the wrong shoe size a year.”

In the past, we would go to a store, where a clerk would measure our foot using the Brannock Device to determine the correct fit. It would take him a trip back or two to the storeroom to find the right shoe. But we don’t go to the stores all that much anymore. Instead, we increasingly shop online and get everything shipped to our homes.


My initial reaction was that this is a “no”, but then again we do adapt to unusual ways of doing things. It would be good to be able to be certain of getting the right size of anything like that. Of course there’s the question of what that does to the high street. Nothing good, probably.
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YouTubers and record labels are fighting, and record labels keep winning • The Verge

Julia Alexander:


The Guitar Manifesto hasn’t had videos taken down, but it has had labels claim revenue from its videos. “It seems to be a big thing at the moment where a bunch of guitar channels are getting claims put against their videos due to copyright infringement,” Rob says. Even playing 10 seconds of music in a 30-minute video can lead to a record label getting all the money it takes in. Rob said he relies heavily on advertising revenue and will often go in to edit segments out that YouTube dinged him for in order to monetize videos.

In order to prevent a video from being completely blocked in the US, the operator of another guitar instruction channel, Paul Davids, removed a portion showing viewers how to play a “two second lick” from The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” which also included a several-second clip from said song. “Hotel California” is one of the many songs that automatically leads to a video being blocked in most countries, according to a tool YouTube built for creators to see if any of the songs they want to use or cover will end up getting their video blocked. Davids’ video, “10 Extremely Tasty Licks (you should know),” now includes only nine licks.

YouTube has put a strong emphasis on educational content, including the type of tutorials and informative commentary that Fricker and Rob both produce. Executives have touted educational content as an area the company wants to invest in and expand upon. The company announced in October 2018 that it was investing $20 million in creators who produce educational videos, and it’s used this type of advertiser-friendly content as a way to encourage more companies to run ads on the platform.

Because their videos are educational, both Fricker and Rob believe their use of popular songs should fall under fair use — a carve-out in copyright law that allows people to use copyrighted content if the resulting work is transformative enough that it’s completely separate from the original work it’s using.


The labels are being bastards, but YouTube encouraged the laissez-faire approach; now people are being bitten by it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: an earlier version of this post miscredited Kara Swisher’s article to Charlie Warzel.

Start Up No.1,075: Huawei accused over the years, Facebook’s video doubletalk, the need for clouds, how Prime began, and more

Yet another problem for Huawei: it’s been thrown out of the SD (card) association. CC-licensed photo by Rob Albright on Flickr.

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Huawei’s yearslong rise is littered with accusations of theft and dubious ethics • WSJ

Chuin-Wei Yap, Dan Strumpf, Dustin Volz, Kate O’Keeffe and Aruna Viswanatha:


Theft and industrial espionage are relatively common in the global tech industry, and Huawei isn’t the sole company to face accusations of stealing foreign intellectual property. What set Huawei apart, its accusers say, was the flagrancy of its plagiarism.

Eighteen months before the Supercomm imbroglio erupted, Cisco accused Huawei in January 2003 of copying its software and manuals—the first time Huawei had to fight a major international allegation of its theft.

“They have made verbatim copies of whole portions of Cisco’s user manuals,” Cisco said in its lawsuit. Cisco manuals accompany its routers, and its software is visible during the router’s operation; both are easily copied, Cisco said.

The copying was so extensive that Huawei inadvertently copied bugs in Cisco’s software, according to the lawsuit.

“Huawei couldn’t release its routers for shipment until it fixed a substantial number of the common Cisco bugs contained in the Huawei routers” for fear of giving away the plagiarism, said former Huawei human resources manager Chad Reynolds in a court filing. Cisco declined to comment.

Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler flew to Shenzhen to confront Mr. Ren with evidence of Huawei’s theft, which included typos from Cisco’s manuals that also appeared in Huawei’s, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Mr. Ren listened impassively and gave a one-word response: “Coincidence.”


Also vacuumed up talent let go by other companies such as Ericsson, but also accused of using hackers to steal commercial secrets, of stealing Motorola secrets (an allegation dropped when China’s government seemed about to stall a Motorola selloff), of stealing a camera design, of stealing music that it preloaded on phones… it’s a very long list. Even if you think that the US intel services have been helping feed this.
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Huawei can’t use microSD cards in its smartphones w/ ban • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:


Huawei has been de-listed from the SD Association, no longer appearing on the list of members. Speaking to Android Authority, the SD Association confirmed that Huawei was removed from this list in compliance with the US order. Huawei also mentioned that its current smartphones with microSD card support won’t be affected, obviously, but declined to comment on any future devices having support.

What’s important to note here, though, is that this move isn’t exactly a dagger for Huawei. The company has been moving away from using SD cards in its phones for a couple of years. Instead, Huawei devices, especially flagships, have been adopting the company’s own “NanoMemory” format which is smaller than a microSD card.

Nikkei has further pointed out that Huawei has also been “temporarily restricted” from the Wi-Fi Alliance following its US blacklisting. JEDEC, an organization which sets semiconductor standards, also saw Huawei temporarily withdraw its membership voluntarily in the days since the ban. These two moves mean that Huawei can’t contribute to these standards until things change. The company can still use these standards in developing its products, but they’ll no longer have a say in “crafting” the standards.


As football fans say: getting to squeaky bum time for Huawei.

(I used the 9to5 Google writeup rather than the Android Authority one, despite the latter being first, because the former was more thorough and had the Wi-Fi stuff.)

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nothing bad can stay • Substack

Mike Isaac (who prefers not to bother with capitals):


there’s one more big problem [with Facebook de-emphasising the Newsfeed in favour of Snapchat-style Stories]: Making money off of Stories is not as simple as making money from the News Feed. the advertising formats are fundamentally different. it’s easy to skip a story ad with a tap of the finger. you don’t linger on the image or video as long when you realize it’s an ad. and the less time you spend on ads, the less Facebook gets paid. that’s a remarkable contrast to how much time people spent lingering on news feed ads.

here’s an example: snapchat, which has been impermanent from the very start, ended 2018 with a little over $1.1bn in annual revenue from its different ad formats. Facebook, by contrast, raked in more than fifty times that amount, some $55bn, most of that coming from news feed ads. that is an insane amount of money. but it is also based on a permanent internet, one that is quickly going away.

so we are left with a few questions. as people realize their digital pasts are a liability and post less frequently, are some of these companies going to grow smaller and less lucrative? will facebook — the biggest social network on the planet — end up shrinking? will those annual revenues dry up?

and what happens to Twitter, the absolute furthest behind in terms of any and all product development that deals with an impermanent internet? (in my mind, twitter is super fucked if it doesn’t start testing different versions of itself to experiment with ephemerality. but god knows whats going on over there these days, since it takes them 3+ years to formulate a plan to deal with its harassment problems.)

anyway, food for thought.


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China approves 20.76 GW of subsidy-free solar, wind power projects • Reuters

Muyu Xu and David Stanway:


China approved its first batch of subsidy-free wind and solar projects with a combined capacity of 20.76 gigawatts (GW), the country’s top planning agency said on Wednesday.

That follows China’s vow in January to launch a series of unsubsidized renewable power projects this year to tackle a payment backlog amid a decline in construction costs in the sector.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also urged grid companies to sign long-term power purchase contracts with operators of the unsubsidized renewable projects, it said in a statement.


China’s installed power generation capacity is 1,777GW as of 2017, of which 55% is from coal. So this is good, but the context (especially of coal – still growing) is still not.
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How Amazon created the Prime membership program • Vox

Jason Del Rey spoke to lots of former Amazon people, and this is the start of it:


Andrea Leigh (former Amazon business leader for Prime in Canada)
It’s hard to put ourselves back in that year, but at that time we did not know what form of e-commerce was going to take off. Was it going to be auction sites? Was it going to be subscription services? Or was it going to be sites with free shipping thresholds?

Vijay Ravindran (former Amazon director of ordering)
Back then there wasn’t a blind faith that every Jeff idea was going to be a home run. And so there was a lot of pushback. Very prominent people who are at Amazon today and in high positions told me, “You shouldn’t be allowing Jeff to do this,” and, ”This is setting a bad example for the company.”

The “this” in question was a secret Amazon project that went by the code name Futurama — what would eventually become Amazon Prime. And it started, in part, with a software engineer’s frustration that Amazon’s free-shipping offer — then called Super Saver Shipping — was annoyingly complex, both on the backend and to shoppers, who were required to hit a $25 minimum with each order to qualify for the perk, and then wait eight to 10 business days for their delivery.


Lots more, of course. The idea that nobody knew how it would all shake out is unfamiliar now; but that was the uncertainty then.
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Urbanism under Google: lessons from Sidewalk Toronto • SSRN

Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles:


In October 2017, Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs embarked on its first prototype smart city in Toronto, Canada, planning a new kind of data-driven urban environment: “the world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.” Although the vision is for an urban district foregrounding progressive ideals of inclusivity, for the crucial first 18 months of the venture, many of the most consequential features of the project were hidden from view and unavailable for serious scrutiny. The players defied public accountability on questions about data collection and surveillance, governance, privacy, competition, and procurement. Even more basic questions about the use of public space went unanswered: privatized services, land ownership, infrastructure deployment and, in all cases, the question of who is in control. What was hidden in this first stage, and what was revealed, suggest that the imagined smart city may be incompatible with democratic processes, sustained public governance, and the public interest.

This article analyzes the Sidewalk project in Toronto as it took shape in its first phase, prior to the release of the Master Innovation and Development Plan, exploring three major governance challenges posed by the imagined “city of the future”: privatization, platformization, and domination.


The paper is a free download. It points out the hyperbolic nature of what Sidewalk has promised, compared to what’s been achieved.
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In Baltimore and beyond, a stolen NSA tool wreaks havoc • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane:


Before it leaked, EternalBlue was one of the most useful exploits in the N.S.A.’s cyberarsenal. According to three former N.S.A. operators who spoke on the condition of anonymity, analysts spent almost a year finding a flaw in Microsoft’s software and writing the code to target it. Initially, they referred to it as EternalBluescreen because it often crashed computers — a risk that could tip off their targets. But it went on to become a reliable tool used in countless intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism missions.

EternalBlue was so valuable, former N.S.A. employees said, that the agency never seriously considered alerting Microsoft about the vulnerabilities, and held on to it for more than five years before the breach forced its hand.

The Baltimore attack, on May 7, was a classic ransomware assault. City workers’ screens suddenly locked, and a message in flawed English demanded about $100,000 in Bitcoin to free their files: “We’ve watching you for days,” said the message, obtained by The Baltimore Sun. “We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up!”

Today, Baltimore remains handicapped as city officials refuse to pay, though workarounds have restored some services. Without EternalBlue, the damage would not have been so vast, experts said. The tool exploits a vulnerability in unpatched software that allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than they otherwise could.

North Korea was the first nation to co-opt the tool, for an attack in 2017 — called WannaCry — that paralyzed the British health care system, German railroads and some 200,000 organizations around the world. Next was Russia, which used the weapon in an attack — called NotPetya — that was aimed at Ukraine but spread across major companies doing business in the country. The assault cost FedEx more than $400 million and Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, $670 million.

The damage didn’t stop there.


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November 2018: Facebook’s dangerous push to appease the right • Arc Digital

Elizabeth Picciuto, in November 2018:


Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, was brought on board by Sandberg in 2011 with an eye toward improving the company’s outreach to Republicans. Before coming to Facebook, Kaplan had played several important roles in the Bush administration and had clerked for the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In December 2015, then-candidate Trump put out a statement, which was also published as a Facebook post, proposing a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S. The Times reports that Zuckerberg was appalled at the message. Several senior Facebook employees wanted to make a stand against hate speech and remove the post. Kaplan advised Sandberg not to “poke the bear”—that is, Facebook should avoid angering conservatives who would see such a move as violating principles of speech. Facebook was already suspected of liberal bias. No fodder should be given to the powerful right wing media companies, not to mention politicians, to nourish outrage. The post remained up.

Over the next three years, the Times exposé shows the extraordinary lengths Facebook went to avoid poking that bear. Kaplan repeatedly encouraged Sandberg and Zuckerberg to tone down—to the point of dishonesty—their descriptions of Russia’s actions on Facebook, lest they be seen as siding with Democrats. Again and again, Facebook listened.

Kaplan reviewed their press releases carefully to strike out any phrasing that might set off conservative rage. These moves are notable both for their partisan pandering and their inefficacy.


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Nancy Pelosi fake video: Facebook defends its decision not to delete • The Washington Post

Alex Horton:


There is no dispute that the Facebook video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) viewed by millions is a fake, deliberately altered to make her appear drunk. YouTube acted fast and removed duplicates. Other social media outlets have not made the same call.

Facebook acknowledged the video is “false” but said the videos would remain on the platform.

Amid fierce calls across the public and government for Facebook to remove the video — which has been viewed 2.6 million times — and others like it, a Facebook official took to CNN on Friday to defend its decision.

Monika Bickert, a company vice president for product policy and counterterrorism, said the video was reviewed by fact-checking organizations, and after it deemed the video a hoax, the company “dramatically” reduced its distribution. But Facebook did not remove the video, Bickert said.

“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe. Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information,” she said.


This is such horseshit. It’s not accurate information. There’s no “informed choice what to believe”. Bickert knows that it’s fake, and not to be believed.

If you want a conspiracy theory: Trump and his team are spending huge amounts on advertising on Facebook. Can’t upset the big advertisers. Whatever; this is blatant cowardice by Facebook. Increasingly, I feel the world would be better without it.
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Cloud loss could add 8 degrees to global warming • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:


A picture emerged of a brief, cataclysmic hot spell 56 million years ago, now known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). After heat-trapping carbon leaked into the sky from an unknown source, the planet, which was already several degrees Celsius hotter than it is today, gained an additional 6 degrees. The ocean turned jacuzzi-hot near the equator and experienced mass extinctions worldwide. On land, primitive monkeys, horses and other early mammals marched northward, following vegetation to higher latitudes. The mammals also miniaturized over generations, as leaves became less nutritious in the carbonaceous air. Violent storms ravaged the planet; the geologic record indicates flash floods and protracted droughts. As Kennett put it, “Earth was triggered, and all hell broke loose.”

The PETM doesn’t only provide a past example of CO2-driven climate change; scientists say it also points to an unknown factor that has an outsize influence on Earth’s climate. When the planet got hot, it got really hot. Ancient warming episodes like the PETM were always far more extreme than theoretical models of the climate suggest they should have been. Even after accounting for differences in geography, ocean currents and vegetation during these past episodes, paleoclimatologists find that something big appears to be missing from their models — an X-factor whose wild swings leave no trace in the fossil record.

Evidence is mounting in favor of the answer that experts have long suspected but have only recently been capable of exploring in detail. “It’s quite clear at this point that the answer is clouds,” said Matt Huber, a paleoclimate modeler at Purdue University.


Long, but so very worth your time.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,074: moderating YouTube (it’s hard), Twitter’s ad overload, Mona Lisa talks, Amazon get emotional, and more

Normally there would be a Flickr photo here, but Flickr is undergoing “improvements”, and you know what that means.
Screenshot 2019 05 23 22 50 02

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. “Flickr is unavailable”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Q&A with Neal Mohan: the man with YouTube’s most impossible job • Vox

Peter Kafka:


instead of locking YouTube up, Mohan and his team are trying to tame it as best they can, with computers, humans, and a set of constantly updated guidelines for those computers and humans to follow.

During my conversation with Mohan, he mentioned those guidelines and the work the company has done to update them over the last few years, over and over.

That emphasis surprised me: I would think that the problem is the sheer volume of horrible things people are uploading, which is why YouTube took down a staggering 8.3 million videos in the first three months of this year. The company uses a combination of software and humans — at least 10,000 people have been hired to help flag offensive content — to find and remove those videos.

But if I understood Mohan correctly, he’s arguing that computers and humans can’t do anything without rules to follow. And that YouTube thinks refining and changing those rules is core to the work it’s doing to clean up the site. He’s also arguing that those rules will have to allow some videos that you might not like to remain on the site.

“In some cases, some of those videos … might be something that lots of users might find objectionable but are not violating our policies as they stand today,” he said.

That makes sense (though Bloomberg has reported, convincingly, that YouTube turned a blind eye to some of its worst content because it was more concerned about increasing engagement). But it doesn’t explain a recurring story for YouTube, where users or journalists find offensive (or worse) videos and point them out to YouTube, which then takes them down.


There’s also a podcast episode of this conversation.
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Twitter is running lots more ads, and some are scammy or just bad • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


David Carroll, an associate professor of media design at Parsons School of Design, said in the past he’s seen relatively high-quality promoted tweets. But “it’s pretty shocking to see what garbage is circulating” recently on the platform, he told BuzzFeed News.

The onslaught of junky ads and associated user complaints is the latest challenge for Twitter’s promoted tweets product. While popular with advertisers, it has in the past been exploited by Bitcoin scammers, as well as those that masqueraded as Twitter itself and falsely claimed to offer account verification services.

Other screenshots of promoted tweets sent to BuzzFeed News evoke the kind of articles promoted in the content ad units provided by companies such as Taboola and RevContent. Carroll said these kind of ads sometimes include false or misleading claims and therefore “pose a challenge for Twitter’s stance on how far it will go to police truth-in-advertising.”

In other cases, people sent BuzzFeed News images of alleged promoted tweets that made little, if any, sense.


Can’t understand why people don’t use third-party apps such as Tweetbot. No ads there (if you get the paid version).
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Report: Uber and Lyft’s rise tanked wheelchair access to taxis • The San Francisco Examiner

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez:


SFMTA [San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] also recommends state regulators instate a local “advisory body” to keep a watchful eye on Uber and Lyft’s disability services.

That’s especially key, as without any prompting from state or local lawmakers Uber and Lyft have for years left wheelchair users at the curb.

The report highlights a steep drop-off of ramp-enabled taxi services for people who use wheelchairs during the rise of Uber and Lyft. While wheelchair users can ride Muni buses, and have access to pre-planned trips using San Francisco’s robust paratransit services, impromptu trips are needed by us all, the report notes.

From a scheduling change at the doctor’s office to a sudden (and perhaps welcome) romantic date, life happens. But whereas years ago San Francisco’s estimated 5,000 people who use wheelchairs could catch a cab, that’s less possible now, especially because Uber and Lyft do not widely provide wheelchair accessible vehicles in San Francisco.

While SFMTA cannot track all wheelchair taxi trips, it can measure the riding habits of wheelchair users who partake in city subsidies.

In 2013 there were roughly 1,400 monthly subsidized wheelchair-ramp taxi rides, but by 2018 that number dropped to roughly 500 monthly requests.

That’s not because there were fewer wheelchair users, or because those wheelchair users requested fewer rides, according to SFMTA. There simply weren’t enough taxi drivers available anymore after the rise of Uber and Lyft, with people left stranded.


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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange indicted on 17 counts of espionage • HuffPost UK

Ryan Reilly:


Of particular concern to journalism advocates is the fact that Assange faces charges not only for working with Manning to obtain classified information, but also for publishing it.

“Assange is no journalist,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told reporters Thursday. The Justice Department maintains that Assange was complicit with and conspired with Manning in WikiLeaks’ publication of classified materials.

Manning, whose sentence was commuted by former President Barack Obama in the final days of his presidency, recently spent several weeks in jail after being held in contempt for refusing to testify before the grand jury. She was sent back to jail last week, and remained in jail as of Thursday.


Bad move. Assange faced charges for his role helping Manning to get the data. But publishing it? On that basis you’d have to charge people at the newspapers which published emails stolen by Russians from the DNC. You’ll note that’s not happening, because it’s not enforceable under the US’s 1st Amendment. I wonder if (some of) these charges will fail on that basis too.
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An algorithm may decide who gets suicide prevention • OneZero on Medium

Jake Pitre:


The researchers behind the New Media + Society paper set out to understand this odd quirk of Google’s algorithm, and to find out why the company seemed to be serving some markets better than others. They developed a list of 28 keywords and phrases related to suicide, Scherr says, and worked with nine researchers from different countries who accurately translated those terms into their own languages. For 21 days, they conducted millions of automated searches for these phrases, and kept track of whether hotline information showed up or not.

They thought these results might simply, logically, show up in countries with higher suicide rates, but the opposite was true. Users in South Korea, which has one of the world’s highest suicide rates, were only served the advice box about 20% of the time. They tested different browser histories (some completely clean, some full of suicide-related topics), with computers old and new, and tested searches in 11 different countries.

It didn’t seem to matter: the advice box was simply much more likely to be shown to people using Google in the English language, particularly in English-speaking countries (though not in Canada, which Scherr speculates was probably down to geographical rollout). “If you’re in an English-speaking country, you have over a 90% chance of seeing these results — but Google operates differently depending on which language you use,” he said. Scherr speculates that using keywords may simply have been the easiest way to implement the project, but adds that it wouldn’t take much to offer it more effectively in other countries, too.

A Google spokesperson, who asked not to be quoted directly, said that the company is refining these algorithms.


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Mona Lisa frown: machine learning brings old paintings and photos to life • TechCrunch

Dewin Coldewey:


We can already make a face in one video reflect the face in another in terms of what the person is saying or where they’re looking. But most of these models require a considerable amount of data, for instance a minute or two of video to analyze.

The new paper by Samsung’s Moscow-based researchers, however, shows that using only a single image of a person’s face, a video can be generated of that face turning, speaking and making ordinary expressions — with convincing, though far from flawless, fidelity.

It does this by frontloading the facial landmark identification process with a huge amount of data, making the model highly efficient at finding the parts of the target face that correspond to the source. The more data it has, the better, but it can do it with one image — called single-shot learning — and get away with it. That’s what makes it possible to take a picture of Einstein or Marilyn Monroe, or even the Mona Lisa, and make it move and speak like a real person.


Film makers of all stripes will love this. But it’s also going to make the fake news of 2016 look like kiddies’ play.

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Amazon is working on a device that can read human emotions • Bloomberg

Matt Day:

» Inc. is developing a voice-activated wearable device that can recognize human emotions.

The wrist-worn gadget is described as a health and wellness product in internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg. It’s a collaboration between Lab126, the hardware development group behind Amazon’s Fire phone and Echo smart speaker, and the Alexa voice software team.

Designed to work with a smartphone app, the device has microphones paired with software that can discern the wearer’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice, according to the documents and a person familiar with the program. Eventually the technology could be able to advise the wearer how to interact more effectively with others, the documents show…

…A US patent filed in 2017 describes a system in which voice software uses analysis of vocal patterns to determine how a user is feeling, discerning among “joy, anger, sorrow, sadness, fear, disgust, boredom, stress, or other emotional states.” The patent, made public last year, suggests Amazon could use knowledge of a user’s emotions to recommend products or otherwise tailor responses.


So it’ll be more adept than its early testers?
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Trump administration could blacklist China’s Hikvision, a surveillance firm • The New York Times

Ana Swanson and Edward Wong:


The Trump administration is considering limits to a Chinese video surveillance giant’s ability to buy American technology, people familiar with the matter said, the latest attempt to counter Beijing’s global economic ambitions.

The move would effectively place the company, Hikvision, on a United States blacklist. It also would mark the first time the Trump administration punished a Chinese company for its role in the surveillance and mass detention of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

The move is also likely to inflame the tensions that have escalated in President Trump’s renewed trade war with Chinese leaders. The president, in the span of two weeks, has raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, threatened to tax all imports and taken steps to cripple the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei. China has promised to retaliate against American industries.

Hikvision is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products and is central to China’s ambitions to be the top global exporter of surveillance systems. The Commerce Department may require that American companies obtain government approval to supply components to Hikvision, limiting the company’s access to technology that helps power its equipment.


Hmm. I could get behind this, as a proportionate (and feasible) punishment for enabling the forced detention simply on religious grounds of a million people.
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Inside GCHQ: the art of spying in the digital age • Financial Times

David Bond:


Over the past year I have interviewed 20 people, the majority of whom used only their first name or a cover name to protect their identity. At all times, I was escorted by members of the agency’s press and security staff.

The picture that emerged is of an organisation still heavily bound up in its traditional work of secretive code-cracking and surveillance, but also braced for another wave of technological change that is thrusting it and its staff of 6,000 people into the spotlight.

As the nature of intelligence work becomes increasingly digital, GCHQ is no longer a passive collector and distributor of intelligence, but is transforming into a key player in offensive combat operations.

“In the past, you could characterise what we did as producing pieces of paper which we handed to government who could take action,” explains Tony Comer, GCHQ’s historian and one of just seven people allowed to speak publicly on its behalf. “Now we are the ones actually taking the action.”

Nearly three decades after the birth of the world wide web forced GCHQ to rapidly shift from cold war-era listening posts to a digital surveillance and security service, the arrival of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the internet of things and the sheer scale and complexity of modern online communications is upending the agency again, forcing it to rethink how it delivers its expanding mission…

…In the coming months, Britain will launch a new offensive cyber force, made up of more than 2,000 people, which will build significantly on existing powers to initiate online operations that can degrade or destroy computer networks and have real-world effects, such as turning off energy grids or water supplies. While no decision has yet been made public, the force is expected to be led by GCHQ.


If Britain has one, then it’s a good bet that the US and China do.
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Google’s Duplex uses AI to mimic humans (sometimes) • The New York Times

Brian X. Chen and Cade Metz:


“It sounded very real,” Mr. Tran said in an interview after hanging up the call with Google. “It was perfectly human.”

Google later confirmed, to our disappointment, that the caller had been telling the truth: He was a person working in a call center. The company said that about 25% of calls placed through Duplex started with a human, and that about 15% of those that began with an automated system had a human intervene at some point.

We tested Duplex for several days, calling more than a dozen restaurants, and our tests showed a heavy reliance on humans. Among our four successful bookings with Duplex, three were done by people. But when calls were actually placed by Google’s artificially intelligent assistant, the bot sounded very much like a real person and was even able to respond to nuanced questions.

In other words, Duplex, which Google first showed off last year as a technological marvel using AI, is still largely operated by humans. While AI services like Google’s are meant to help us, their part-machine, part-human approach could contribute to a mounting problem: the struggle to decipher the real from the fake, from bogus reviews and online disinformation to bots posing as people.


Forgivable; these are still very early days for this technology. Did you expect you’d be able to say “a machine will be able to make a booking with a restaurant, and it will seem like a human” a couple of years ago?
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TfL is going to track all London Underground users using Wi-Fi • WIRED UK

James O’Malley:


TfL’s use of Wi-Fi data is particularly interesting, however, because of its sheer scale. The 2016 trial collected 509 million pieces of data from 5.6m mobile devices on 42m journeys. Until now, all TfL has known about your journey is where you tapped in and out, if you were using an Oyster Card or contactless payments. Wi-Fi can fill in the gaps. Transport planners will be able to see exactly which route between two stations was taken by customers, and how they move around each station.

The trial data contained some intriguing insights, including the convoluted paths that some customers take. While the majority of those travelling between Liverpool Street and Victoria changed at Oxford Circus, two% of travellers inexplicably took the Central line to Holborn, then the Piccadilly line to Green Park, then the Victoria line to Victoria. It also revealed that passengers have 18 different ways to get between King’s Cross and Waterloo, and that it takes 86 seconds to get from the ticket hall to the platforms at Victoria.

TfL plan to use the data to model passenger behaviour, and squeeze more capacity out of the existing tube network. It can, for example, show how passengers react to problems on the network. When the Waterloo and City line was suspended in December 2016, TfL was able to use Wi-Fi data to see exactly what alternatives people took.

Apps that use TfL data, such as Google Maps and CityMapper – will also be able to use the data, to incorporate information about delays and congestion. If Wi-Fi beacons detect queues forming in a ticket hall, apps could suggest alternative routes for subsequent travellers.

There’s also a clear commercial incentive – which may be particularly important to TfL given the dual blows of the Crossrail delay and the loss of its central government grant.


Lots of privacy concerns; but TfL isn’t really interested in invading privacy or tracking individuals. I guess the problem comes if there’s an administration which wants to invade privacy and track people.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,073: Huawei’s problems deepen, Australia’s role in 5G concerns, fingerprinting iPhones, Qualcomm loses on antitrust, and more

Is the internet becoming a dark forest, where you don’t want to disturb the nastier denizens? CC-licensed photo by Oliver Henze on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not written in turquoise ink. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hobbling Huawei: inside the US war on China’s tech giant • Reuters

Cassell Bryan-Low, Colin Packham, David Lague, Steve Stecklow and Jack Stubbs:


In early 2018, in a complex of low-rise buildings in the Australian capital, a team of government hackers was engaging in a destructive digital war game.

The operatives – agents of the Australian Signals Directorate, the nation’s top-secret eavesdropping agency – had been given a challenge. With all the offensive cyber tools at their disposal, what harm could they inflict if they had access to equipment installed in the 5G network, the next-generation mobile communications technology, of a target nation?

What the team found, say current and former government officials, was sobering for Australian security and political leaders: The offensive potential of 5G was so great that if Australia were on the receiving end of such attacks, the country could be seriously exposed. The understanding of how 5G could be exploited for spying and to sabotage critical infrastructure changed everything for the Australians, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Mike Burgess, the head of the signals directorate, recently explained why the security of fifth generation, or 5G, technology was so important: It will be integral to the communications at the heart of a country’s critical infrastructure – everything from electric power to water supplies to sewage, he said in a March speech at a Sydney research institute.


As the article (cast of thousands writing it!) points out, the current concerns about 5G and by extension Huawei originated in Australia when it was looking at its Next Generation Network scheme. From that, everything we see now flows.
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US says Europeans coming around on threat posed by Huawei • Bloomberg

Nick Wadhams:


The US has strong indications that European nations are coming around to the severity of the threat posed by China’s Huawei Technologies and the dangers of incorporating its equipment into their coming 5G networks, according to an administration official.

The official said that while European nations probably won’t impose an outright legal ban on Huawei, the US anticipates that many nations will effectively bar the company’s equipment from their next-generation telecom networks. The official asked not to be identified discussing private discussions.

Such moves would represent a victory for the Trump administration, which has warned against the use of Huawei in 5G systems and has opened its own campaign to blacklist the company and limit its access to American suppliers over security concerns. The official declined to name specific countries prepared to change their position.

In April, Bloomberg News reported that the UK is set to toughen the rules under which Huawei operates there, while stopping short of an outright ban.


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Vodafone and EE just killed Huawei’s 5G launch in the UK • Android Authority

Scott Scrivens:


Things are going from bad to worse for Huawei. In the wake of the US Government executive order that restricts US companies from doing business with the Chinese tech company, the repercussions are mounting. Huawei and Honor phones could lose Google services and access to future Android updates and HiSilicon’s Kirin chips are also under threat. Now, two major UK carriers have dropped Huawei from their 5G launch plans.

BT-owned network EE was the first to announce that it would be pulling Huawei phones from its 5G selection, with the service to be turned on in 16 UK cities this year, starting May 30. Google’s enforced decision that could see Huawei devices lose access to the Play Store and Android version updates is the key factor, with an EE spokesperson releasing the following statement:

“We’ve put the Huawei devices on pause, until we have more information. Until we have the information and confidence that ensures our customers will get support for the lifetime of their devices with us then we’ve got the Huawei devices on pause.”

In a further blow, Vodafone has followed suit and will also not sell the Huawei Mate 20 X 5G when its new network goes online on July 3. The UK’s third largest mobile operator has said only that the device “is yet to receive the necessary certifications,” but it’s likely similar pressures faced by EE were also behind the decision.


It never rains but it absolutely pours for days on end.
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Huawei: ARM memo tells staff to stop working with China’s tech giant • BBC News

Dave Lee:


Huawei currently sources some of its chips from HiSilicon, which it owns. However, while produced in China, HiSilicon’s chips are built using underlying technology created by ARM.

While HiSilicon and Huawei are free to carry on using and manufacturing existing chips, the ban would mean the company could no longer turn to ARM for assistance in developing components for devices in future.

HiSilicon’s upcoming processor, Kirin 985, is due be used in Huawei devices later this year. According to a source at ARM, it is not expected to be affected by the ban. However, the next iteration of the chip has not yet been completed – and is likely to need to be rebuilt from scratch, the source said.

Huawei also uses ARM’s designs for its recently unveiled Kunpeng chips. These are used to power its TaiShan-series computer servers, which are designed to provide cloud computing and storage to clients.

In addition, the company told analysts in January that the Tiangang chip at the heart of its 5G base stations is also ARM-based.

“The problem of the whole telecoms industry is that so much of it is based on the exchange of technology between different companies – whether that’s chip companies, software providers or the makers of other hardware,” commented Alan Burkitt-Gray, editor-at-large of the telecoms news site Capacity Media.

He added that Huawei would likely face other problems licensing 5G-related tech from others, and in turn US-based companies would now be unable to licence the Chinese company’s 5G inventions.


Terrific scoop by Lee. But this is going to destroy all of Huawei’s business. Without ARM, the networking side gradually dies.
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SensorID: sensor calibration fingerprinting for smartphones • Cambridge Computing Lab

Jiexin Zhang, Alastair Beresford and Ian Sheret:


We have developed a new type of fingerprinting attack, the calibration fingerprinting attack. Our attack uses data gathered from the accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensors found in smartphones to construct a globally unique fingerprint. Overall, our attack has the following advantages:

• The attack can be launched by any website you visit or any app you use on a vulnerable device without requiring any explicit confirmation or consent from you
• The attack takes less than one second to generate a fingerprint
• The attack can generate a globally unique fingerprint for iOS devices
• The calibration fingerprint never changes, even after a factory reset
• The attack provides an effective means to track you as you browse across the web and move between apps on your phone.

Following our disclosure, Apple has patched this vulnerability in iOS 12.2.

…Our approach works by carefully analysing the data from sensors which are accessible without any special permissions to both websites and apps. Our analysis infers the per-device factory calibration data which manufacturers embed into the firmware of the smartphone to compensate for systematic manufacturing errors. This calibration data can then be used as the fingerprint.

We found that the gyroscope and magnetometer on iOS devices are factory calibrated and the calibration data differs from device to device. In addition, we find that the accelerometer of Google Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 can also be fingerprinted by our approach.


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Huawei ban nudges Chinese iPhone fans to switch sides • Tech In Asia

Meng Jing and Zen Soo:


Both sense and sensibility played major roles when diehard iPhone fan Wang Zhixin finally made the decision to become a first-time Huawei user after sticking with the US brand for almost a decade.

“There is a calling from my heart that I need to show support for Chinese brands, especially in the trade war climate,” said the manager at one of China’s largest solar module manufacturers. When the time finally came to retire his three-year-old iPhone 7 earlier this month, Wang went with a Huawei P30.

Huawei was not entirely chosen out of sympathy. “The company has a reputation for better quality at a cheaper price,” Wang said. “[The P30] is faster and can take better pictures.”

For Sam Li, who works at a state-owned telecom company in Beijing, switching from Apple to Huawei was also driven by an emotion. “It’s kind of embarrassing to pull an iPhone out of your pocket nowadays when all the company executives use Huawei.”


And in today’s example of “irony”: “Huawei’s CEO says he admires Apple and buys his family iPhones when they’re not in China”.
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Qualcomm’s practices violate antitrust law, judge rules • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Brent Kendall and Asa Fitch:


Judge Koh found that Qualcomm violated antitrust law, charging unreasonably high royalties for its patents and eliminating rivals. She challenged its practice of collecting billions of dollars by charging royalties on a percentage of a smartphone’s price.

“Qualcomm’s licensing practices have strangled competition” in key parts of the modem chip market for years, “and harmed rivals, OEMs, and end consumers in the process,” the judge wrote. She added that the company’s lead in developing modem chips for smartphones using 5G, the new generation of cellular technology, made it likely that behavior would continue.

The judge ordered that Qualcomm negotiate or renegotiate licensing agreements with customers free of unfair tactics, such as threatening to cut off access to its chips. Qualcomm also must license its patents to rival chip makers at fair and reasonable prices, and can’t sign exclusive supply agreements with smartphone makers like Apple that block rivals from selling chips into devices.

Judge Koh said Qualcomm must submit to monitoring for the next seven years to ensure it abides by the remedies.

Qualcomm on Wednesday said it plans to seek an immediate stay of the judgment and an expedited appeal to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.


I wonder if Apple is going to ask for a refund on all the money it paid Qualcomm after Intel couldn’t cope with the demands of building 5G modems. But Qualcomm’s tactic of charging based on the final pricing didn’t work for Motorola against Microsoft on Wi-Fi patents. Couldn’t work here.
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The dark forest theory of the internet • OneZero

Yancey Strickler:


Imagine a dark forest at night. It’s deathly quiet. Nothing moves. Nothing stirs. This could lead one to assume that the forest is devoid of life. But of course, it’s not. The dark forest is full of life. It’s quiet because night is when the predators come out. To survive, the animals stay silent.

Is our universe an empty forest or a dark one? If it’s a dark forest, then only Earth is foolish enough to ping the heavens and announce its presence. The rest of the universe already knows the real reason why the forest stays dark. It’s only a matter of time before the Earth learns as well.

This is also what the internet is becoming: a dark forest.

In response to the ads, the tracking, the trolling, the hype, and other predatory behaviors, we’re retreating to our dark forests of the internet, and away from the mainstream.

This very piece is an example of this. This theory was first shared on a private channel sent to 500 people who I know or who have explicitly chosen to receive it. This is the online environment in which I feel most secure. Where I can be my most “real self.”

These are all spaces where depressurized conversation is possible because of their non-indexed, non-optimized, and non-gamified environments.

Podcasts are another example. There, meaning isn’t just expressed through language, but also through intonation and interaction. Podcasts are where a bad joke can still be followed by a self-aware and self-deprecating save. It’s a more forgiving space for communication than the internet at large.

Dark forests like newsletters and podcasts are growing areas of activity. As are other dark forests, like Slack channels, private Instagrams, invite-only message boards, text groups, Snapchat, WeChat, and on and on. This is where Facebook is pivoting with Groups (and trying to redefine what the word “privacy” means in the process).


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The North Korean restaurant [in Vietnam] accused of using software sales to bypass sanctions • CNN

Joshua Berlinger, CNN:


North Korea is barred from selling weapons abroad – though the UN alleges that the country is still attempting to do so – but it’s not clear if high-tech software that isn’t used for military purposes is subject to that arms embargo. The UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, the body charged with monitoring sanctions enforcement, did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Facial recognition software could provide a loophole in existing sanctions that seek to limit Pyongyang’s ability to make money overseas.

“(Information technology) services aren’t covered by the United Nations sanctions,” said Cameron Trainer, an analyst studying North Korean illicit finance at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). “It’s still a way North Korea can procure currency that is then funneled to its nuclear program.”

…Experts say the Hanoi restaurant’s alleged software sales raise concerns that other North Korean restaurants around Asia could also be used to sidestep sanctions. Police and investigators usually detect sanction evasions at points of entry, like harbors. Customs officials from countries in the region do not track online software sales, said George Lopez, a former member of the UN panel charged with investigating North Korean sanctions enforcement and efficacy.

“The irony that these operate in such plain sight make it more difficult to discover what exactly they are contributing to sanction evasion, other than wages being sent back,” Lopez said.


This is real spy novel territory.
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Sony confirms which countries it has dropped for mobile • Xperia Blog



Sony confirmed it wants MC [mobile communications, its smartphone arm] to be profitable by FY 2020, by reducing operating costs by 50% (vs FY 2017). It also aims to leverage its reorganisation under the EP&S segment to strengthen its product appeal for smartphones. It highlights the Xperia 1 as the first example of this.

However, the most interesting slide was confirmation of which regions around the world it is now focused on, and by consequence which regions were ‘defocused’. Sony confirms that the focus regions are Japan, Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, there is a long-list of ‘non-focus’ regions which you can see shaded red in the slide below.

These “defocused” regions include India, Australia, Canada, South America, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and others. We have been hearing from many in these regions that Sony has pulled out quietly, but this is the first official confirmation.

It shows that Sony is not expecting a quick bounce back in smartphone volumes any time soon.


And yet, despite all the “defocussing”, Sony’s CEO says it sees the smartphone business as “indispensable”: “We see smartphones as hardware for entertainment and a component necessary to make our hardware brand sustainable. And younger generations no longer watch TV. Their first touchpoint is smartphone.” It used to be a Sony remote TV control, of course.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: 1) thanks to Seth Finkelstein for pointing out that the phrase “fierce urgency”, which was used by Microsoft about the importance of gameplay moderation, was originally used by the Reverend Martin Luther King in 1963 in reference to the need for civil rights for minorities. Decide for yourself whether Microsoft’s use was appropriate.
2) Lots of disagreement for the idea that China only adds $8.46 of value to the iPhone. It leans very heavily on how you value the sheer ability to be able to build iPhones and iPads in the volume and speed Apple demands, basically.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up No.1,072: Huawei planning Android alternative, US EPA’s memory hole solution, Facebook and Google’s media money influence, and more

Now Huawei’s MateBook line seems to have been hit by US blacklisting. CC-licensed photo by Hardware Italia on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Fabulous. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei considers rivals to Google’s Android after US ban • Bloomberg

Natalia Drozdiak:


Huawei Technologies said it’s working on its own operating system for its mobile handsets and will consider rivals to Google’s Android, after the US blacklisted the company, threatening its partnerships with chip, component and software suppliers.

The Chinese telecom equipment giant said Tuesday it was in talks with the Alphabet unit about how to proceed after Google confirmed it would cut access to some of Huawei’s operating system features for the company’s new devices in response to the announcement.

Should Google’s system no longer be available, “then the alternative option will naturally come out – either from Huawei or someone else,” Abraham Liu, Huawei’s representative to the European Union institutions, said at an event in Brussels on Tuesday.

Liu said Huawei had been working on its own operating system but that he didn’t have the details about when this would be ready. Huawei would do everything in its power to mitigate the impact of the US decisions, Liu said.


The effects of this are going to ripple on and on, but it’s clear that Huawei took notice from ZTE being banned a year ago. After all, it had been dealing with Iran in breach of US sanctions too. Remember there’s a Huawei CFO facing a US trial for breaching sanctions.
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Microsoft removes Huawei laptop from store, remains silent on potential Windows ban • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is one of the best Windows laptops available in the US right now, but without a Windows license, it’s no longer a viable alternative to Apple’s MacBook Pro or the HP Spectre x360 and even Microsoft’s own Surface lineup. Microsoft appears to have stopped selling Huawei’s MateBook X Pro at the company’s online store, too.

A listing for the MateBook X Pro mysteriously disappeared over the weekend, and searching for any Huawei hardware brings up no results at the Microsoft Store. You can still find the laptop listing in a Google cache of last week, though. The Verge understands that Microsoft retail stores are still selling existing MateBook X Pro laptops they have in stock.

Microsoft’s potential Windows ban could also affect Huawei’s server solutions. Microsoft and Huawei both operate a hybrid cloud solution for Microsoft’s Azure stack, using Microsoft-certified Huawei servers.


Without Windows they’ll have to turn to… Linux? for their servers.
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July 2018: We estimate China only makes $8.46 from an iPhone – and that’s why Trump’s trade war is futile • The Conversation

Greg Linden, in July 2018:


Start with the most valuable components that make up an iPhone: the touch screen display, memory chips, microprocessors and so on. They come from a mix of U.S., Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese companies, such as Intel, Sony, Samsung and Foxconn. Almost none of them are manufactured in China. Apple buys the components and has them shipped to China; then they leave China inside an iPhone.

So what about all of those famous factories in China with millions of workers making iPhones? The companies that own those factories, including Foxconn, are all based in Taiwan. Of the factory-cost estimate of $237.45 from IHS Markit at the time the iPhone 7 was released in late 2016, we calculate that all that’s earned in China is about $8.46, or 3.6% of the total. That includes a battery supplied by a Chinese company and the labor used for assembly.

The other $228.99 goes elsewhere. The U.S. and Japan each take a roughly $68 cut, Taiwan gets about $48, and a little under $17 goes to South Korea. And we estimate that about $283 of gross profit from the retail price – about $649 for a 32GB model when the phone debuted – goes straight to Apple’s coffers.

In short, China gets a lot of (low-paid) jobs, while the profits flow to other countries.

A better way of thinking about the US-China trade deficit associated with one iPhone would be to only count the value added in China, $8.50, rather than the $240 that shows up as a Chinese import to the U.S.

Scholars have found similar results for the broader US-China trade balance, although the disparity is less extreme than in the iPhone example. Of the 2017 trade deficit of $375bn, probably one-third actually involves inputs that came from elsewhere – including the US.

The use of China as a giant assembly floor has been good for the US economy, if not for US factory workers. By taking advantage of a vast, highly efficient global supply chain, Apple can bring new products to market at prices comparable to its competitors, most notably the Korean giant Samsung.


You can argue about the minor detail, but this is broadly correct; and quite opposite to the general expectation. What the films of Foxconn workers in Shenzhen assembling and testing phones doesn’t show is the container loads of components that have come in from abroad to be assembled.
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Apple tweaks its troubled MacBook keyboard design yet again, expands repair program • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Apple is announcing an update to its keyboard repair program today. All MacBooks with the so-called “butterfly mechanism” (that’s pretty much all modern MacBooks) will now be fully eligible for Apple’s Keyboard Service Program. The expansion means that a few newer models that weren’t previously covered will be able to get repairs. Unfortunately, Apple is not extending how long that program lasts — it’s still “four years after the first retail sale of the unit.”

Apple is also announcing that it has created yet another iteration of its butterfly keyboard, which will ship on the new MacBook Pros it’s announcing today. It also promises that it will speed up keyboard repair times. You will not be able to just take your MacBook in to have its keyboard replaced if you don’t trust it, of course; it will need to exhibit issues for Apple to fix it.

Apple has been put through the wringer over the reliability of its butterfly keyboards for the past few years, and rightly so. Although the company stressed again in a call today that the “vast majority” of customers don’t have a problem, all too many of them have had issues with stuck keys that could cause double letters or no letters at all. It only recently began to apologize for the issue, but has also been trying to characterize it as something minor that doesn’t affect that many customers.

The amount of evidence we’re seeing on social media, among writers, and on our own laptops is getting to the point where you can’t call it anecdotal anymore, though. So simply expanding the repair program won’t be enough.


Ed Bott calls this “Apple’s [equivalent of] Windows Vista, a reputation-destroying slow-motion train wreck”. He’s not wrong. But if this does actually fix this, then I might buy one. Wait for iFixit’s teardown, I suppose.
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Facial recognition is making its way to cruise ships • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:


Like some airlines, Royal Caribbean has started to roll out facial recognition and other technologies to streamline its boarding process. The company’s SVP of digital, Jay Schneider, tells Quartz that the typical wait time to board is 10 minutes with a mobile boarding pass; less if the passenger opts into facial recognition by uploading a “security selfie.” Before those additions, he says the typical wait time was around 90 minutes.

“We wanted it to be a welcoming experience, such that the agent knows who you are when you’re getting there,” Schneider says, adding that the company wants to turn facial recognition “not into a stop and frisk moment, but into a way to welcome you on vacation, answer any questions, and let me just get you on your way.”

As people churn through the line faster with mobile boarding passes and facial recognition, the rest of the line benefits as well—that 90-minute wait will average more like 20 minutes for even those passengers boarding the old-fashioned way. Schneider says Royal Caribbean deletes security selfies at the end of each trip, to avoid storing data any longer than necessary.

Royal Caribbean has also rolled out mobile boarding to board its crew members; Schneider says the technology saves the company 50,000 crew hours each year.


Very tempting. Convenience always wins in these situations; the vast majority will go along with it. Principles are expensive, either in time or money.
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Police facial recognition surveillance court case starts • BBC

Clive Coleman:


The first major legal challenge to police use of automated facial recognition surveillance has begun in Cardiff today.

Ed Bridges, whose image was taken while he was shopping, says weak regulation means AFR breaches human rights.

The civil rights group Liberty says current use of the tool is equivalent to the unregulated taking of DNA or fingerprints without consent.

South Wales Police defends the tool but has not commented on the case.

In December 2017, Mr Bridges was having a perfectly normal day.

“I popped out of the office to do a bit of Christmas shopping and on the main pedestrian shopping street in Cardiff, there was a police van,” he told BBC News.

“By the time I was close enough to see the words ‘automatic facial recognition’ on the van, I had already had my data captured by it. That struck me as quite a fundamental invasion of my privacy.”

The case could provide crucial guidance on the lawful use of facial technology.

It is a far more powerful policing tool than traditional CCTV – as the cameras take a biometric map, creating a numerical code of the faces of each person who passes the camera.

These biometric maps are uniquely identifiable to the individual.


The irony of course is that Bridges is now far more recognisable and better known than he ever would have been before. But it’s an important point, which is that there are regulations about the storage of fingerprints and DNA, but not for AFR. This is a use of AI that’s creeping into our lives without us noticing. What would the regulations be for businesses using it around their buildings?
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The platform patrons: how Facebook and Google became two of the biggest funders of journalism in the world • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:


Taken together, Facebook and Google have now committed more than half a billion dollars to various journalistic programs and media partnerships over the past three years, not including the money spent internally on developing media-focused products like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s competing AMP mobile project. The result: These mega-platforms are now two of the largest funders of journalism in the world.

The irony is hard to miss. The dismantling of the traditional advertising model—largely at the hands of the social networks, which have siphoned away the majority of industry ad revenue—has left many media companies and journalistic institutions in desperate need of a lifeline. Google and Facebook, meanwhile, are happy to oblige, flush with cash from their ongoing dominance of the digital ad market.

The result is a somewhat dysfunctional alliance. People in the media business (including some on the receiving end of the cash) see the tech donations as guilt money, something journalism deserves because Google and Facebook wrecked their business. The tech giants, meanwhile, are desperate for some good PR and maybe even a few friends in a journalistic community that—especially now—can seem openly antagonistic.

Given that tangled backstory, it’s no surprise the funding issue is contentious. Should media companies really be involved in rehabbing the images of two of the wealthiest companies on earth, especially when they are fundamentally competitors? Yet, given the financial state of journalism, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to take the funds?


Do you think they might be conflicted? Now read on.
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Facebook and Google pressured EU experts to soften fake news regulations, say insiders • Open Democracy

Nico Schmidt and Daphné Dupont-Nivet:


Matters came to a head when Goyens and other members of the group suggested looking into whether European policy on commercial competition could have a role in limiting fake news. Such a move would have allowed the EU competition commissioner to examine the platforms’ business models to see whether they helped misinformation to spread. “We wanted to know whether the platforms were abusing their market power,” says Goyens.

She recalls that in a subsequent break Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Richard Allan – another member of the expert group – said to her: “We are happy to make our contribution, but if you go in that direction, we will be controversial.”

Allan spelled out more clearly what this meant to another group member: “He threatened that if we did not stop talking about competition tools, Facebook would stop its support for journalistic and academic projects.”

Facebook declined to comment on these incidents. In the end, the proposed vote on competition policy tools never took place.

The platforms had influence over the group’s decisions in other ways, too. “It was not made transparent [to some members of the group] that some members had a conflict of interest. Because they worked for organisations that received money from the platforms,” says Goyens.

“The Google people did not have to fight too hard for their position,” says another group member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It quickly became clear that they had some allies at the table.”

At least 10 organisations with representatives in the expert group received money from Google. One of them is the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford. By 2020, the institute will have received almost €10m from Google to pay for its annual Digital News Report. Google is one of 14 funders of this major project, which began in 2015. The institute declared this funding relationship to the European Commission in its application to be part of the expert group.

A number of other organisations represented on the group have also received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative, including the Poynter Institute and First Draft News.


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EPA plans to get thousands of pollution deaths off the books by changing its math • NY Times

Lisa Friedman:


The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, a shift that would make it easier to roll back a key climate change rule because it would result in far fewer predicted deaths from pollution, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted.

The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.


Amazing. The US is plummeting into a bizarre era that makes ‘1984’ look like an instruction manual.
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Your car knows when you gain weight – and much, much more • NY Times

Bill Hanvey:


Today’s cars are equipped with telematics, in the form of an always-on wireless transmitter that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer. Modern cars collect as much as 25 gigabytes of data per hour, the consulting firm McKinsey estimates, and it’s about much more than performance and maintenance.

Cars not only know how much we weigh but also track how much weight we gain. They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text.
But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?

The issue of ownership is murky. Drivers usually sign away their rights to data in a small-print clause buried in the ownership or lease agreement. It’s not unlike buying a smartphone. The difference is that most consumers have no idea vehicles collect data.

We know our smartphones, Nests and Alexas collect data, and we’ve come to accept an implicit contract: We trade personal information for convenience. With cars, we have no such expectation.

What carmakers are doing with the collected data isn’t clear. We know they use it to improve car performance and safety. And we know they have the ability to sell it to third parties they might choose. Indeed, Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, has spoken in detail about the company’s plans to monetize car data.

Debates around privacy often focus on companies like Facebook. But today’s connected cars — and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles — show how the commercial opportunities in collecting personal data are limitless.


The commercial *desire* to collect personal data is limitless, especially in the US, where everyone and everything is viewed just as more grist for the ever-advancing maw.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,071: more Huawei fallout, Telegram says WhatsApp can’t be secured, Google Glass lives!, do you want to know your future?, and more

Teslas are quite rare, but they might get rarer if the company runs out of money. CC-licensed photo by sasa.mutic on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. What Iron Throne? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei’s phone business would be decimated without Google’s Android • The Verge

Vlad Savov:


Huawei still has the option to use the open-source variety of Android, but Google has been gradually whittling all of the attractive components away from the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). The genuine full-fat Android experience of today — featuring Google Maps, YouTube, and, most crucially, the full ecosystem of third-party Android apps — is dependent on Google’s licensing assent. Deprived of Google’s software, Huawei would be selling featherless chickens to smartphone buyers used to having Play Store access. In Europe, even the finest hardware wouldn’t convince consumers to buy a phone without an app ecosystem. Google wields enormous market power through its Play Store, significant enough for the European Commission to conduct an antitrust investigation.

In its native China, Huawei already operates without the Play Store, owing to Google’s absence from the market. But even there, Huawei would suffer from not having a close working relationship with Google. All of its fellow Chinese rivals would get earlier access to the next version of Android while Huawei would have to wait for the AOSP code to be made available to the public. The Chinese consumer is probably the least sensitive to operating system updates and upgrades, given how WeChat has evolved to be an OS and ecosystem atop Android, but Huawei would still be at a disadvantage in one of the world’s most competitive phone markets.

There’s no positive spin to this situation for Huawei. Trying to sell smartphones without Google’s cooperation in the modern age is a spectrum that goes from bad to disastrous. Windows Phone, Palm OS, MeeGo, Symbian, Bada (later Tizen), and BlackBerry OS are just a few of the mobile OS corpses that Android’s rise has produced.


It would be more than decimated – it would be halved. I bet it would find ways to get access to new code before AOSP, but there’s a suspicion that there won’t be any more updates for Google apps, or the Play Store, for existing handsets. We just don’t know. The irony is that the security concerns – what all this is about – have been raised over Huawei’s networking gear, not its smartphones.
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Huawei supply freeze points to US-China tech cold war • Bloomberg

Tim Culpan:


An initial Chinese version of Android – let’s call it Chandroid – won’t hold a candle to the original developed by Alphabet’s Google. Home-grown communications chips will be inferior to those offered by Qualcomm and Xilinx. But whereas past attempts to develop local products could flop because Western alternatives were still available, failure is no longer an option in the eyes of China’s top leadership.

The government will pump in more subsidies to make sure the industry doesn’t fall short, and much money will be wasted. Money can’t solve all problems. But given time, Chinese state funding will overcome enough challenges to make local alternatives viable, if not comparable to American technology. It’s unlikely the US has the political will to subsidize its own companies to the same extent. Initially, it won’t need to because of America’s current superiority. But Huawei’s position at the forefront of 5G mobile technology shows that this lead won’t be held forever.

So now the tech cold war has begun. The winner won’t be the side with the best fighters, but the one with the greater ability to endure the pain of prolonged losses.


Huawei management had been considering the cutoff by Google for a year – which makes sense since it was last April that ZTE was told it couldn’t have any components or software from the US. That was rescinded a month later, but clearly Huawei took it as a warning shot.

And this could be a cold war that the US doesn’t win, as Culpan hints.
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January 2019: The Huawei crackdown could be a disaster for small carriers • The Verge

Colin Lecher:


The Trump administration has banned contractors from using Huawei tech, and major carriers do not use Huawei equipment that could compromise that contract work. But the same isn’t true for smaller companies without those contracts. In the face of the unfolding controversy, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that could prevent companies from using agency funds to buy equipment from businesses deemed a security risk — or possibly from using equipment from companies like Huawei at all. Small carriers will likely feel the brunt of that policy.

To build out its infrastructure, those small carriers say they often rely on Huawei, which has become the largest provider of telecommunications equipment in the world, offering whatever tools a company might need. Some of the companies argue that the Huawei-made equipment can mean several million dollars in savings.

In a filing to the FCC, the Rural Wireless Association (RWA), which represents small service providers as well as Huawei itself, has claimed that the costs associated with dumping Huawei products would be substantial. “RWA estimates that at least 25% of its carrier members would be impacted,” the group wrote in a filing to the agency. “Estimated rip-and-replace costs vary by carrier, but are significant across the board.” The RWA argues that the FCC should provide funding for any required change in equipment.


I’d love to know how it is that Huawei can build this stuff at such lower prices than companies such as Nokia and Ericsson. Cheaper labour? Cheaper capital costs?
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Adware is malicious, and it uses advanced techniques to infect • Sensors Tech Forum

Milena Dimitrova:


researchers investigated the evolution of Wajam in the course of nearly six years. As of 2016, revealed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Wajam had “hundreds of millions of installations” and collected 400TB of private information from users, the report said.

Wajam has been around since 2013. In the past, it was advertised as a social search browser add-on that allows users to find what information has been searched online or shared by their friends on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. As this is an ad-supported browser plug-in, Wajam is known to display various advertisements that some users find quite annoying. What turns Wajam into a potentially unwanted application is the risk of various infections involved with the pop-up, banner and in-text ads, which may lead the user to unverified and unsafe webpages.

In other words, Wajam has been known to inject ads into browser traffic, using techniques that malware operators use, such as man-in-the-browser (browser process injection) attacks seen in
Zeus operations. Other examples include anti-analysis and evasion techniques, security policy downgrading and data leakage.


Also has 248 domain names associated with it. Adware used to be a big problem back in 2005 or so, but seemed to go away. Yet here it is again.
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Google Glass still exists: meet Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google Glass is not only a product that still exists inside Google, but today, Google is announcing a new version of Google Glass, called “Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2.” It has a new design, new specs, and a $999 price tag. We can’t believe it either.

Google has a blog post detailing the new product, and has been resurrected with all sorts of details on the new face computer. The new Google Glass has a thicker, bulkier design, which probably helps to fit a larger 820mAh battery compared to the original’s 570mAh. Given that Glass is now an enterprise-focused product, it makes sense that Google is promoting a design with built-in safety glasses, although a more traditional frameless style is still available…

…Google VR/AR lead Clay Bavor has claimed ownership of Google Glass on Twitter, so now it seems the same group that brings you ARCore and Google Daydream VR goggles will be in charge of Google Glass.

As an enterprise product, Glass is not available to consumers and, last we checked, didn’t come with general-purpose software. You’d need to have a company buy a large quantity of Glass devices and develop custom software that would work on them.


Not sure there are many of those (though of course the volume might make up for it).
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Elon Musk: Tesla needs to cut costs or it will run out of money in 10 months • BGR

Yoni Heisler:


When the company last month released its earnings report for the March quarter, it posted a quarterly loss of $702m. That said, it’s worth noting that production, deliveries, and demand for Tesla vehicles have all grown at an impressive clip over the past many months. As an illustrative example, Tesla during Q1 of 2019 manufactured 77,100 vehicles, a figure which well more than double the amount it manufactured during the same quarter in 2018.

Nonetheless, Tesla continues to burn through money at an alarming rate. So much so, in fact, that Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently sent an email (obtained via Electrek) wherein the Tesla CEO explained that the company — which has approximately $2.2bn in cash on hand — may not have enough cash to last beyond a period of 10 months.

“This is a lot of money,” Musk said, “but actually only gives us about 10 months at the Q1 burn rate to achieve breakeven!”

Consequently, Musk explained that the company will be taking a much closer look at employee expenses as it pertains to “parts, salary, travel expenses, and rent.”


Seems like it loses money on every car it sells, so upping the production volume doesn’t seem like the solution. (Yes yes overheads etc.) Tesla just doesn’t seem like a company modelled around profit. Demand outstrips supply, but it can’t find a way to satisfy that and also hold onto cash.
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Why WhatsApp will never be secure • Telegram blog

Pavel Durov is one of the authors of Telegram:


Everything on your phone, including photos, emails and texts was accessible by attackers just because you had WhatsApp installed.  

This news didn’t surprise me though. Last year WhatsApp had to admit they had a very similar issue – a single video call via WhatsApp was all a hacker needed to get access to your phone’s entire data

Every time WhatsApp has to fix a critical vulnerability in their app, a new one seems to appear in its place. All of their security issues are conveniently suitable for surveillance, and look and work a lot like backdoors.  

Unlike Telegram, WhatsApp is not open source, so there’s no way for a security researcher to easily check whether there are backdoors in its code. Not only does WhatsApp not publish its code, they do the exact opposite: WhatsApp deliberately obfuscates their apps’ binaries to make sure no one is able to study them thoroughly. 

WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook may even be required to implement backdoors – via secret processes such as the FBI’s gag orders. It’s not easy to run a secure communication app from the US. A week our team spent in the US in 2016 prompted three infiltration attempts by the FBI Imagine what 10 years in that environment can bring upon a US-based company. 


The open-source argument is probably good. The argument that its flaws are conveniently about surveillance isn’t; the general purpose of hacking into apps or phones is always surveillance. And Telegram has its own problems – emanating from its users.
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No spoilers! Most people don’t want to know their future • EurekAlert! Science News


Given the chance to see into the future, most people would rather not know what life has in store for them, even if they think those events could make them happy, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“In Greek mythology, Cassandra, daughter of the king of Troy, had the power to foresee the future. But, she was also cursed and no one believed her prophecies,” said the study’s lead author, Gerd Gigerenzer, PhD, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. “In our study, we’ve found that people would rather decline the powers that made Cassandra famous, in an effort to forgo the suffering that knowing the future may cause, avoid regret and also maintain the enjoyment of suspense that pleasurable events provide.”

Two nationally representative studies involving more than 2,000 adults in Germany and Spain found that 85% to 90% of people would not want to know about upcoming negative events, and 40 to 70% preferred to remain ignorant of upcoming positive events. Only 1% of participants consistently wanted to know what the future held. The findings are published in the APA journal Psychological Review.


This is from 2017, though I don’t think much will have changed. This does rather bring into question DNA testing companies’ promise that “we’ll tell you about all the awful diseases you’ll get when you’re older!” Which is probably why they’ve been focussing more on the backward-looking “find out how varied your ancestry is!”
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Number go down — the single trade that crashed Bitcoin • Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard:


The price of Bitcoin went from $4000 in early April, to $6000 on 9 May, to $8000 one week later on 16 May — and Bitcoin fans treated this as only its right and natural due. Number go up!

The crypto blogs put forward all sorts of bad reasons — it’s capital flight from China! It’s Bakkt offering Bitcoin futures! It’s Flexa offering retail payments in crypto! It’s Microsoft experimenting with the blockchain! — even though this was really obviously a manipulated push like so many before.

The Bitcoin price goes up and down with weird jumps in the graph — nicknamed “Barts,” after the shape of Bart Simpson’s haircut — the telltale signs of market manipulation.

The Bitcoin price is a game for “whales” — the largest traders — to wreck the smaller players. The prize is whatever small amounts of actual-money dollars come into the crypto market.

And then the price dropped again — from a single transaction, around 02:50 UTC on Friday 17 May — in the biggest single-day dip since January 2018.


As Gerard explains, the market manipulation that’s going on – where the big players can squeeze out the short players for fun and profit – is quite something to behold. Ignore the usual media narrative around blockchain. It simply isn’t being used for anything but financial games.
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Microsoft Xbox moderation to cut back toxic content • CNBC

Jordan Novet:


The changes follow Microsoft’s recent update to its Xbox “community standards” for gameplay, which pointed out several practices that aren’t acceptable. Now it’s taking that a step further with moderation tools.

“This summer, we are empowering our official Club community managers with proactive content moderation features that will help create safe spaces for fans to discuss their favorite games,” Microsoft’s executive vice president of gaming, Phil Spencer, said Monday. “We plan to roll out new content moderation experiences to everyone on Xbox Live by the end of 2019.” Xbox Live has 63 million monthly active users, and the service includes groups where people can post content and submit comments, along with chat rooms.

“The gaming community continues to grow rapidly, and the imminent roll-out of new game services such as Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud will make gaming available to even more people worldwide,” Spencer said. “Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety.”


“Proactive” surely means “ban first, examine comments later”, doesn’t it? Or are they just trying to sound terribly involved? I guess it goes along with the “fierce urgency”, which is a brand-new phrase in my canon. What exactly is a fierce urgency to play? It sounds like having a UTI.
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Start Up No.1,070: Google cuts off Huawei, Britain’s climate crisis refugees, Facebook shuts another fake news op, what if women made the laws?, and more

There’s a shortage of helium – which isn’t just a problem for parties. CC-licensed photo by Michael Pereckas on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Just enough. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Google suspends some business with Huawei after Trump blacklist – source • Reuters

Angela Moon:


Alphabet Inc’s Google has suspended business with Huawei that requires the transfer of hardware and software products except those covered by open source licenses, a source close to the matter told Reuters on Sunday, in a blow to the Chinese technology company that the U.S. government has sought to blacklist around the world.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd will immediately lose access to updates to the Android operating system, and the next version of its smartphones outside of China will also lose access to popular applications and services including the Google Play Store and Gmail app.

Details of the specific services were still being discussed internally at Google, according to the source. Huawei attorneys are also studying the impact of the U.S. Commerce Department’s actions, a Huawei spokesman said on Friday. Huawei was not immediately reachable for further comment.


If this is continued, it’s calamitous for Huawei; without Google apps and the Google Play Store, it can’t serve customers. (It’s unclear whether existing Huawei phones will lose access.) In Q1 2019 it shipped a total of 59m smartphones; of those, 29.9m were in China, so half were outside. This decision affects the half outside China.

Bear in mind though that this may be a negotiating ploy – just as Trump’s ban on China’s ZTE, which could have razed it, was imposed in April 2018 and lifted a month later, apparently amid some trade bargaining. At least with ZTE there was a clear reason – its breach of technology embargoes with Iran. For Huawei, there’s no such smoking gun.
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Progress and the randomized time machine • The Technium

Kevin Kelly:


Here is a thought experiment. I give you a ride in a time machine. It has only one lever. You can choose to go forward in time, or backwards. All trips are one-way. Whenever you arrive, you arrive as a newborn baby.  Where you land is random, and so are your parents. You might be born rich or poor, male or female, dark or light, healthy or sick, wanted or unwanted.

Your only choice is whether you choose to be thrust forward in time, spending your new life in some random future in some random place, or thrust into the past, in some random time and random place. I have not met anyone yet who would point the lever to the past. (If you would, leave a comment why.) Even if we constrained the time machine to jump mere decades away, everyone points it to the future. For while we can certainly select certain places, certain eras in the past that seem attractive, their attractiveness disappears if we arrive as a servant, a slave, an outcast ethnicity, or even as a farmer during a drought, or during never-ending raiding and wars.

The only argument I’ve heard for choosing the past is that the downsides are known; you have a randomized chance of being a slave, or the fourth wife, or a Roman miner, while the downsides of some future date are unknown and could possibly be worse. Perhaps there is no civilization at all in 500 years, and you therefore arrive in a toxic wasteland, or all humans are enslaved to robots. In this calculus the known horror is preferred to unknown horrors. The likelihood of self-eradication seems to some people, at this point in time, to increase the further out in history we might go. Five thousand years in the future may be as unappealing a destination to some as five thousand years in the past.


But what he doesn’t mention is that there is a third option: don’t take the trip. Now which one do you prefer?
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Facebook busts Israel-based ‘fake news’ campaign to disrupt elections worldwide • The Japan Times


Facebook said Thursday it banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, told reporters that the tech giant had purged 65 Israeli accounts, 161 pages, dozens of groups and four Instagram accounts.

Although Facebook said the individuals behind the network attempted to conceal their identities, it discovered that many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that publicly boasts of its social media skills and ability to “change reality.”

“It’s a real communications firm making money through the dissemination of fake news,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council, a think tank collaborating with Facebook to expose and explain disinformation campaigns.

He called Archimedes’ commercialization of tactics more commonly tied to governments, like Russia, an emerging — and worrying — trend in the global spread of social media disinformation. “These efforts go well beyond what is acceptable in free and democratic societies,” Brookie said.


It feels like we get a story like this – company paid to spread disinformation (especially around elections), Facebook identifying lots of accounts, and shutting down said accounts – every week or so. It’s quite troubling that Facebook is so easily used for manipulation.
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Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:


The Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world.

Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned.

“We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue,” said the editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner. “The phrase ‘climate change’, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.”

“Increasingly, climate scientists and organisations from the UN to the Met Office are changing their terminology, and using stronger language to describe the situation we’re in,” she said.


Timely – let’s hope that others will follow quickly. Language frames the discussion and the response to it.
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‘This is a wake-up call’: the Welsh villagers who could be Britain’s first climate refugees • The Guardian

Tom Wall:


In 26 years – or sooner, if forecasts worsen or a storm breaches the sea defences – a taskforce led by Gwynedd council will begin to move the 850 residents of Fairbourne out of their homes. The whole village – houses, shops, roads, sewers, gas pipes and electricity pylons – will then be dismantled, turning the site back into a tidal salt marsh.

It will become the first community in the UK to be decommissioned as a result of climate change; while other villages along England’s crumbling east coast have lost houses to accelerating erosion, none have been abandoned. It may also create hundreds of British climate refugees: the residents of Fairbourne are not expected to receive any compensation for the loss of their homes, and resettlement plans are unclear.

It will not be the last village to meet this fate. Sea levels around the UK have risen by 15.4cm (6in) since 1900, and the Met Office expects them to rise by as much as 1.12 metres (3ft 8in) from modern levels by 2100, putting at risk communities in coastal floodplains and on sea cliffs, which are found around much of the east and south coast of England. The west of Wales and north-west England are also vulnerable. Even if the world’s governments succeed in reversing increasing emissions in line with their Paris climate commitments, sea levels are set to rise for centuries, as the impact of higher global temperature and warmer oceans takes effect.


I added the conversion of the sea level rise from metric to imperial for American readers. (Why does America use imperial? A question for another day.) The Florida Keys in the US faces the same fate.
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Jay Inslee unveils $9trn climate jobs plan to cut emissions and bolster unions • HuffPost UK

Alexander Kaufman:


The 38-page Evergreen Economy Plan promises at least 8 million jobs over 10 years, and offers the most detailed policy vision yet for mobilizing the entire United States economy to stave off catastrophic global warming and prepare for already inevitable temperature rise.

The proposal lays out a five-pronged strategy to launch an unprecedented deployment of renewable energy, fortify the nation’s infrastructure to cope with climate change, spur a clean-tech manufacturing boom, increase federal research funding fivefold and level income inequality by repealing anti-union laws and enacting new rules to close the racial and gender pay gaps. By spending $300bn per year, the plan projects another $600bn in annual economic activity generated by its mandates.  

“The thing that can really cost is the path of inaction, the path of letting Paradise, California, keep burning down, the path of letting Davenport, Iowa, keep flooding, the path of letting Miami be inundated,” Inslee told HuffPost by phone on Wednesday. “It’s too expensive, besides being too deadly.”

The breadth is stunning, with few problems left untouched. The plan includes specifics on everything from national parks to drinking water, “ultra-high-speed” rail to electric scooters, climate literacy education to a new Climate Conservation Corps.


The devil’s in the details (and there aren’t many details in this, despite its length). But that creaking noise? It’s the Overton window shifting climatewards among the Democratic candidates.
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The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada. Carson city may never be the same • Washington Post

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux:


Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52%.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in US history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47% of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15% of lawmakers.


Wonder what it would be like if you could somehow mandate equal representation, perhaps through a listing scheme.
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Not just Party City: why helium shortages worry scientists and researchers • NBC News

Mary Pflum:


“Helium is used in MRIs, it’s used in nuclear magnetic resonance, and the semiconductor industry uses a lot of helium,” Elsesser said.

“Helium is the workhorse of chemistry. Because of a helium shortage, some important experiments are being forced to shut down. The development of some drugs is being impacted. We’re losing time in research efforts.”

Liquid helium is like liquid gold to scientists, according to Sophia Hayes, a professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis and one of the nation’s leading helium experts.

“It’s the coldest substance in the world,” Hayes said, explaining it plummets to minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s almost as cold as outer space. There is no substitute. There is nothing else that can create those low temperatures.”

Scientists have been issuing warnings for years about the world’s shrinking helium supply. This year, the American Physical Society said that addressing the helium crisis is one of its top priorities.

Even fictitious scientists, like the ones featured on the popular sitcom, “The Big Bang Theory,” have devoted entire episodes to the search for the gas. In an episode that aired in October 2015, entitled “The Helium Insufficiency,” two of the show’s main characters, Leonard and Sheldon, resort to shady dealings in a dark alley to source helium for an experiment.

But while the characters have been well aware of the helium shortage, it’s taken a while for the public and government officials to catch up.

“The helium shortage has hit us really hard,” Hayes said. “The situation is urgent.”


An unexpected thing to run short of. This is (also) why we need fusion reactors so they can make more.
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ICO says that voice data collected unlawfully by HMRC should be deleted • Information Commissioner’s Office



An ICO investigation into HMRC’s Voice ID service was prompted by a complaint from Big Brother Watch about the department’s conduct. The investigation focused on the use of voice authentication for customer verification on some of HMRC’s helplines since January 2017.

The ICO found that HMRC failed to give customers sufficient information about how their biometric data would be processed and failed to give them the chance to give or withhold consent. This is a breach of the General Data Protection Regulation.

The ICO issued a preliminary enforcement notice to HMRC on April 4, 2019 stating the Information Commissioner’s initial decision to compel the department to delete all biometric data held under the Voice ID system for which it does not have explicit consent.


Interesting: HMRC trumpeted this back in January 2017, but as the ICO says it doesn’t explain what’s going to be done with it.
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Adobe warning of legal problems if subscribers keep using old versions of Creative Cloud apps • Apple Insider

William Gallagher:


Users of older versions of Adobe Creative Cloud apps including Photoshop have been told to stop using them or face potential “infringement claims” from third-party companies who are unnamed but suspected to be Dolby. Adobe cites only “ongoing litigation” as the reason for the abrupt announcement.

“Adobe recently discontinued certain older versions of Creative Cloud applications. Customers using those versions have been notified that they are no longer licensed to use them and were provided guidance on how to upgrade to the latest authorized versions,” said Adobe in a statement to AppleInsider.

“Unfortunately, customers who continue to use or deploy older, unauthorized versions of Creative Cloud may face potential claims of infringement by third parties. We cannot comment on claims of third-party infringement, as it concerns ongoing litigation.”…

…While Adobe has not said who the dispute is with, the company is presently being sued by Dolby. Through a legal complaint filed in March 2019 with the US District Court and the Northern District of California, Dolby is seeking a jury trial over issues of “copyright infringement and breach of contract” against Adobe.

Prior to the creation of the Creative Cloud subscription service, Adobe licensed certain technologies from Dolby with an agreement based on how many discs of certain apps were sold. Now that the software is distributed online, the companies reportedly renegotiated their agreement to be based on how many users are actually running the software.

According to Dolby’s legal filing, this agreement was subject to the figures Adobe reported being examined by a third-party audit.


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Google Gmail tracks your purchase history (not just from Google); here’s how to delete it • CNBC

Todd Haselton and Megan Graham:


Go here to see your own:

“To help you easily view and keep track of your purchases, bookings and subscriptions in one place, we’ve created a private destination that can only be seen by you,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “You can delete this information at any time. We don’t use any information from your Gmail messages to serve you ads, and that includes the email receipts and confirmations shown on the Purchase page.”

But there isn’t an easy way to remove all of this. You can delete all the receipts in your Gmail inbox and archived messages. But, if you’re like me, you might save receipts in Gmail in case you need them later for returns. In order to remove them from Google Purchases and keep them in your Gmail inbox, you need to delete them one by one from the Purchases page. It would take forever to do that for years’ worth of purchase information.

Google’s privacy page says that only you can view your purchases. But it says “Information about your orders may also be saved with your activity in other Google services ” and that you can see and delete this information on a separate “My Activity” page.

Except you can’t. Google’s activity controls page doesn’t give you any ability to manage the data it stores on Purchases.


There’s an even more interesting page: Purchases and Subscriptions, which you reach by hitting the back button on the Purchases page. What is Google up to with this? It’s tracking purchases and subscriptions from absolutely all over. It might say that it’s not using this to serve you ads, but frankly it’s hard to think what this is for except that – unless it’s being fed to the AI systems, which then make some sort of conclusion about ads. Perhaps it’s to *avoid* serving you ads about things you’ve already bought – in which case “we don’t use the information to serve you ads” would just about be true.
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