Start Up No.1,059: Facebook bans right-wing extremists, esports takes training!, questions over Apple’s kids app ban, and more


Take two layers of graphene (this is one), twist one by 1.1 degrees, and you get a superconductor. CC-licensed photo by UCL Mathematical + Physical Sciences 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 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Instagram and Facebook ban far-right extremists • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:

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In an effort to contain misinformation and extremism that have spread across the platforms, Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, have banned Alex Jones, Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Paul Nehlen under their policies against dangerous individuals and organizations. They also banned the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly made anti-Semitic statements.

Infowars is subject to the strictest ban. Facebook and Instagram will remove any content containing Infowars videos, radio segments, or articles (unless the post is explicitly condemning the content), and Facebook will also remove any groups set up to share Infowars content and events promoting any of the banned extremist figures, according to a company spokesperson. (Twitter, YouTube, and Apple have also banned Jones and Infowars.)

Jones, Yiannopoulos, Watson, Loomer, Nehlen, and Farrakhan are all personally banned, as are any accounts set up in their likeness. But users may still praise those figures on Instagram and share content related to them that doesn’t violate other Instagram and Facebook terms of service. “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” a Facebook spokesperson said via email.

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So overdue. Very interesting to see Facebook (and thus of course Instagram) decide that they want to be known for not hosting extremism, and in favour of truth. It also puts a lot of the edge cases on notice: tip too far over, and you’re out.
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Hitting the gym makes esports athletes more successful • The Next Web

Rachel Kaser:

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A study by Professor Ingo Froböse of the University of Cologne found that, even though they appear to be sitting still, esports players are frequently putting out a lot of effort. As Froböse told Deutsche Welle, “The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver. This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon.”

Given those demands, and how often and how long players have to practice, it’s probably no surprise esports pros have to maintain good fitness just to survive.

Eric Sanders, head of eSports operations with 100 Thieves, which has pros in League of Legends, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Apex Legends, told TNW players often get up early or stay up late in order to hit the gym while still getting their hours in with the game. “We have a fair amount of players who work out 5-6 days a week… we have a few guys on our Call of Duty team who’ll play until 11 at night and go lift at 11:30.”

So what do esports players do when they hit the gym? There’s no one answer that best suits all pros — many have their own trainers and routines they follow. But most team managers and coaches who spoke with TNW said it’s not the specific exercise that matters, but the consistent routine.

Jasper Schellens, fitness and nutrition coach with FaZe Clan, an organization that started with three YouTubers but has since ballooned into teams in six separate esports, said to TNW of the exercises he assigns, “rowing exercises, chin-ups… they’re sitting down a lot and leaning forward a little bit, so I try to focus a lot more on the back exercises because it pulls them straight so they don’t get neck or back pain… I also try to work on their cardio so they don’t fatigue as much or as fast.”

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OK, they might have an elevated pulse, but that’s not the same as being in aerobic or anaerobic stress, which is what athletes encounter.
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Pornhub is “extremely interested” in acquiring Tumblr • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:

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Pornhub Vice President Corey Price said in an email to BuzzFeed News that the porn-streaming giant is extremely interested in buying Tumblr, the once uniquely horny hub for young women and queer people that banned adult content last December to the disappointment of many of its users.

Price said that restoring Tumblr’s NSFW edge would be central to their acquisition of it, were it to actually happen.

Tumblr owner Verizon is reportedly currently seeking a buyer for the blogging platform, which according to the Wall Street Journal has struggled to meet revenue targets.

“Tumblr was a safe haven for those who wanted to explore and express their sexuality, adult entertainment aficionados included,” Price told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve long been dismayed that such measures were taken to eradicate erotic communities on the platform, leaving many individuals without an asylum through which they could comfortably peruse adult content.”

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You know, I can see that being a really good fit. Pornhub would know how to monetise the porn, and it could expand its income base with the non-porn on Tumblr.

And of course Verizon didn’t have a clue what to do with Tumblr.
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The US government wants a man at the center of a massive “cryptocurrency scheme” held without bail • Amy Castor

Amy Castor is a freelance journalist who has been covering many of the twists and turns of the crypto world:

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The US government wants a football businessman linked to an investigation into $850 million of missing Tether and Bitfinex funds to be held without bail.

According to a memorandum in support of detention filed with the District Court of Arizona on May 1, Reginald Fowler poses a serious fight risk due to his overseas connections and access to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The court doc also presents startling new twists in an already tangled plot—a “Master US Workbook,” which details the financial operations of the “cryptocurrency scheme,” fake bond certificates worth billions of dollars, and a counterfeit money operation.

Reggie Fowler

Fowler, 60, is a football businessman. He was a former co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the original main investor in the Alliance of American Football (AAF)—an attempt to form a new football league. The AAF collapsed when Fowler withdrew funding—after the Department of Justice froze his bank accounts in late 2018.

I did a search on Pacer and got a number of hits showing Fowler has been in and out of courts for years. In fact, in 2005, ESPN reported that he had been sued 36 times.

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The allegations against Fowler are jawdropping – including one that says he tried to pass off fake bonds for billions of dollars.
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The successful conspiracy inside YouTube to kill Internet Explorer 6 • Chris Zacharias

Chris Zacharias:

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I do not recall the exact triggering event that led to our web development team laying out plans to kill IE6 over lunch in the YouTube cafeteria. Perhaps it was the time I pushed out a CSS stylesheet that included an attribute selector on a semi-supported HTML element. Any reasonable web developer would expect this to be ignored by browsers not up to the task. This was not the case with older flavors of IE. Under very specific conditions, an attribute selector on an unsupported HTML element in IE would create an internal recursion that would at best, cause the browser to crash and at worst, trigger a blue screen of death. Or perhaps it was the hundredth time one of our software engineers had innocently pushed out an tag with an empty src attribute. Nobody joining the team could be expected to know that in early versions of IE, the browser would load the root path “/” for empty src attributes. The tag would suddenly behave like an , loading our homepage and all of its dependent resources in what could become an exponentially expanding recursive loop. Whenever an empty image tag found its way on to the homepage, it was all-hands-on-deck emergency to locate and replace the offending code before we melted our servers into paperweights.

Regardless of whatever the event at that time was, it had been brutal and it had been IE6 related.

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I love how this account begins in the tone of an old man at the opening of a film talking to a young helper. I think the screenplay then says “DISSOLVE TO YOUTUBE CAFETERIA”. Like tears in the rain…

Also, it’s not a conspiracy if it’s for good, right?
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There used to be an app for that • Medium

OurPact makes a “control your kid’s screen time” app which Apple recently yanked from the App Store, saying that its use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) – an API Apple provides – left it vulnerable to hacking:

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Shortly after the release of the iPhone in 2007, a growing body of research confirmed the negative impact of excessive screen time exposure for growing children and teens. In 2012, the OurPact team recognized the lack of solutions available on iOS and set out to develop comprehensive parental controls for families. We don’t just develop OurPact, we use it in our own homes.

From day one, our focus has been what’s best for parents and their children. A core part of that mission is a commitment to data protection and user privacy — we never have and never will sell or provide any user data to any third party.

Since its initial release, OurPact has employed a public, documented Apple technology known as MDM.

While MDM was initially intended for company-owned or personally-owned BYOD implementations, it has also been used by many parental control applications to give parents more freedom to manage their children’s mobile devices. In recent years, Apple has also extended MDM for use by children and teachers in schools.
OurPact’s core functionality would not be possible without the use of MDM; it is the only API available for the Apple platform that enables the remote management of applications and functions on children’s devices. We have also been transparent about our use of this technology since the outset, and have documented its use in our submissions to the App Store.

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Plenty of detail in this, and Apple doesn’t come out looking at all good. The MDM point looks extremely weak, in fact.
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Amazing AI generates entire bodies of people who don’t exist • Futurism

Dan Robitzski:

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A new deep learning algorithm can generate high-resolution, photorealistic images of people — faces, hair, outfits, and all — from scratch.

The AI-generated models are the most realistic we’ve encountered, and the tech will soon be licensed out to clothing companies and advertising agencies interested in whipping up photogenic models without paying for lights or a catering budget. At the same time, similar algorithms could be misused to undermine public trust in digital media.

The algorithm was developed by DataGrid, a tech company housed on the campus of Japan’s Kyoto University, according to a press release.

In a video showing off the tech, the AI morphs and poses model after model as their outfits transform, bomber jackets turning into winter coats and dresses melting into graphic tees.

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So that’s another group of jobs gone. (Thanks Charles Knight for the link.)
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With a simple twist, a ‘magic’ material is now the big thing in physics • Quanta Magazine

David Freedman:

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Physicists are excited about magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene [which becomes superconducting when two layers are rotated by 1.1 degrees] not because it’s likely to be a practical superconductor but because they’re convinced it can illuminate the mysterious properties of superconductivity itself. For one thing, the material seems to act suspiciously like a cuprate, a type of exotic ceramic in which superconductivity can occur at temperatures up to about 140 kelvin, or halfway between absolute zero and room temperature. In addition, the sudden jumps in twisted bilayer graphene — from conducting to insulating to superconducting — with just a tweak of an external electric field indicate that free electrons are slowing to a virtual halt, notes physicist Dmitri Efetov of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain. “When they stop, [the electrons] interact all the more strongly,” he said. “Then they can pair up and form a superfluid.” That fluidlike electron state is considered a core feature of all superconductors.

The main reason 30 years of studying cuprates has shed relatively little light on the phenomenon is that cuprates are complex, multi-element crystals. “They’re poorly understood materials,” said Efetov, noting that they superconduct only when precisely doped with impurities during their demanding fabrication in order to add free electrons. Twisted bilayer graphene, on the other hand, is nothing but carbon, and “doping” it with more electrons merely requires applying a readily varied electric field. “If there’s any system where we can hope to understand strongly correlated electrons, it’s this one,” said Jarillo-Herrero. “Instead of having to grow different crystals, we just turn a voltage knob, or apply more pressure with the stamps, or change the rotation angle.” A student can try to change the doping in an hour at virtually no cost, he notes, versus the months and tens of thousands of dollars it might take to try out a slightly different doping scheme on a cuprate.

Also unique, said MacDonald, is the small number of electrons that seem to be doing the heavy lifting in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene — about one for every 100,000 carbon atoms.

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Helping small business phones get smart with CallJoy • Google blog

Bob Summers, general manager for CallJoy:

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My team within Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, conducted testing and found that small businesses receive an average of 13 phone calls every day. If you apply that average to America’s 30.2 million small businesses, that would equal roughly 400 million incoming daily calls to local businesses from consumers placing a to-go order, booking an appointment, inquiring about inventory and more. That’s why we built CallJoy, a cloud-based phone agent that enables small business owners to measure, improve and automate customer service.

With CallJoy, small businesses have access to the same customer service options that have historically only been available to larger corporations. If you’re associated with small business using CallJoy, here’s how it works: After a quick setup, you’ll receive a local phone number. CallJoy will immediately begin blocking unwanted spam calls so you receive the calls that matter—the ones from customers. Then, when the phone rings, the automated CallJoy agent answers, greets callers with a custom message and provides basic business information (like hours of operation).

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Wait – 13 calls per day? That’s about one every 45 minutes. Maybe every half hour, if you have a lunch break. That’s not a lot, is it? Basically Google seems to be turning the human responder into a web page. Wonderfully annoying for customers: now it’s a call centre!
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You’re holding it wrong — touching the corner of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e reportedly kills Wi-Fi performance • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

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The Samsung Tab S4 is a nice piece of hardware if you’re into Android tablets, but it’s very expensive. The new Tab S5e has some of the S4’s features but drops the price to $400. It turns out it also drops the WiFi signal when you touch the corner. Maybe we’re all just holding it wrong.

Based on reports from multiple users, the tablet’s upper left corner (in portrait) needs to remain unobstructed to maintain WiFi performance. The Tab S5e is a large-ish 10.5-inch tablet with a widescreen ratio. So, it’s a bit ungainly to hold in portrait orientation. However, in landscape, the aforementioned corner is where you’d naturally want to place your hand.

Users on Instagram have shown that WiFi connectivity can drop completely when touching the corner. Meanwhile, SamMobile has confirmed there’s an issue by eliciting a 50% drop in signal strength when covering the corner. The issue brings to mind Apple’s “you’re holding it wrong” incident with the iPhone 4.

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Though I bet many more iPhone 4s were sold than Galaxy Tab S4Es. Wonder if this person also worked on the Fold?
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Japan to develop computer virus to defend against cyberattacks • Japan Times

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Japan will develop its first-ever computer virus by next March as a defense measure against cyberattacks, sources have said.

The Defense Ministry is considering malware that can break into a computer system, hoping such a computer virus could work as a deterrent against cyberattacks, the sources said Monday.

The government has said it is looking to enhance its defense capabilities beyond the ground, marine and air domains to address security challenges in new areas such as cyberspace and outer space amid technological advances in recent years.

Japan lags behind other countries in addressing the threat of cyberattacks. It plans to increase the number of personnel in its cyberspace unit to 220 from 150, compared with 6,200 in the United States, 7,000 in North Korea and 130,000 in China, according to the ministry.

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“Only to be used for defensive purposes”, apparently.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,059: Facebook bans right-wing extremists, esports takes training!, questions over Apple’s kids app ban, and more

  1. re. S5e that’s belatedly funny. Maybe an homage to that iPhone ? Also, I’ve never seen anyone hole their tablet but the corners: they’re either fully holding them up from the sides, or just tilting them upright, well, from the sides too.

    re. CallJoy. Exactly what the world needs: more phone menus. Materiel.net (computer hardware shop) in France got my undying loyalty after a competent and nice human being picked up the phone on the 3rd ring on their tech support line. Straight up, no menu, no nothing, just call the listed number. I’d spent half a day trying to fix my PC swapping out everything. Turns out I’d had a mild power surge that had triggered the surge protection I didn’t even know my motherboard had. Reset BIOS, and awaaaaay we go ! Too bad the induction plate and water heater didn’t have the same ;-p

  2. re. Apple and MDM. Again, what makes a nice (ethical and friendly) person (or company) is
    a) reciprocity. We’re fairly safe on that one, I doubt Apple is pushing boundaries on others’ platforms since it doesn’t have anything to run on them
    b) consistency. Apple empathically fails on that one: first, over time, they used to not care about that MDM use, now they’ve got product in the space and suddenly they do; second, there are plenty of instances of Apple OKaying rule-breaking in general (not just bending as in the MDM case, nut full-on breaking), unsafe use of features in particular, when it suits them. For example that one: https://forums.appleinsider.com/discussion/202181/apple-allowed-uber-use-of-api-to-record-iphone-screens-feature-to-be-removed

    Apple is not worse than any other corp. What’s surprising is that many think they’re better.

    And that’s before the cor question of: granted, there’s a need for a walled garden for users who want to be safe. What about the need to be able to break out of it for users who don’t want to, or need not to because what their local laws forbid is problematic ?

    • Oh, on the reciprocity side, there’s the issue of Apple pushing ads in notifications, which it forbids to all other devs.

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