Start Up No.1,065: Ever had your photo misused?, Illinois faces the truth, Clegg’s Facebook switch, “Netflix and till”, and more

If you recognise these, you’ll already know that Ingress is an AR game where players may travel thousands of miles. CC-licensed photo by killbox 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How an augmented reality game escalated into real-world spy warfare • VICE

Elizabeth Ballou:


Meng was tired. The weekend before, she’d flown from Beijing to Seattle and back in less than forty-eight hours in order to meet one of her counterparts and obtain the key required to complete the connection from Jiangsu Province to Alaska. Then she’d spent the following days coordinating with the Nanjing group. Now she was getting ready to sleep in a tent on a backwater island. She only hoped that all her effort to marshal other teams into following her lead would pay off, because her plan hinged on whether they could take and hold that island long enough to complete their mission.

At first, Meng hadn’t wanted to get involved in the Resistance. But she made an ideal agent, which is why they recruited her. She traveled a lot for work, and made enough money that she could travel extensively outside of it. Those two factors would make her a powerful player within the intensely competitive community around Ingress, an augmented reality mobile game. It uses the same geolocation functions as an app like Foursquare, but places them in the context of a sci-fi story about factional intrigue: to seize territory, players go to different physical locations in the world. Which is where Meng came in. In 2016, some friends convinced her to start doing them small favors on her travels, little side-trips that wouldn’t take her too far out of her way. Within a year, 25-year-old Meng was planning and executing some of the group’s most ambitious operations while working another job full-time.


This is quite surreal – and it would only require another layer, in which the people behind the game are actively trying to carry out some sort of espionage, for it to be really mindbending.
unique link to this extract

What Sony’s robot dog teaches us about biometric data privacy • CNET

Megan Wollerton:


Because of our office pet’s face-detecting capabilities, Sony doesn’t sell Aibo in Illinois. The state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) regulates the collection of biometric data, including face scans.

So Aibo’s out in the land of Lincoln, but the story doesn’t stop with Sony’s quirky robot. Illinois also limits access to facial recognition in home security cameras, a feature that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the consumer security market. Let’s take a closer look at BIPA, the growth of biometric tech in consumer products – and how other states in the US treat your biometric info.

The Biometric Information Privacy Act was established in 2008 to regulate “the collection, use, safeguarding, handling, storage, retention, and destruction of biometric identifiers and information.” BIPA defines “biometric identifiers” as retina scans, iris scans, fingerprints, hand scans, face scans and voiceprints.

Basically, an individual or a company needs “informed written consent” to use another individual’s biometric info. 

State senator Terry Link for Illinois’ 30th district introduced Senate Bill 2400 on Feb. 14, 2008 to protect the biometric privacy of Illinois residents. State senators Christine Radogno, Iris Y. Martinez, David Koehler and Heather Steans served as co-sponsors of the bill. It was approved as the Biometric Information Privacy Act on Oct. 3, 2008.

Senator Link filed an amendment to BIPA on May 26, 2016 to redefine “biometric identifier,” to make it easier to collect certain biometric data, but later withdrew the amendment.


Which also prevents various other bits of kit being sold there – such as Nest’s facial recognition-enabled systems, which are disabled there. Texas and Washington states have some too.
unique link to this extract

Millions of people uploaded photos to the Ever app. Then the company used them to develop facial recognition tools • NBC News

Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar:


“Make memories”: That’s the slogan on the website for the photo storage app Ever, accompanied by a cursive logo and an example album titled “Weekend with Grandpa.”

Everything about Ever’s branding is warm and fuzzy, about sharing your “best moments” while freeing up space on your phone.

What isn’t obvious on Ever’s website or app — except for a brief reference that was added to the privacy policy after NBC News reached out to the company in April — is that the photos people share are used to train the company’s facial recognition system, and that Ever then offers to sell that technology to private companies, law enforcement and the military.

In other words, what began in 2013 as another cloud storage app has pivoted toward a far more lucrative business known as Ever AI — without telling the app’s millions of users.

“This looks like an egregious violation of people’s privacy,” said Jacob Snow, a technology and civil liberties attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “They are taking images of people’s families, photos from a private photo app, and using it to build surveillance technology. That’s hugely concerning.”


Wonder if this is legal in Illinois?
unique link to this extract

Opinion: breaking up Facebook is not the answer • The New York Times

Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister of the UK, now a PR for Facebook, in a placed op-ed at the NYT:


In this competitive environment, it is hard to sustain the claim that Facebook is a monopoly. Almost all of our revenue comes from digital advertising, and most estimates say Facebook’s share is about 20% of the United States online ad market, which means 80% of all digital ads happen off our platforms.

The second misunderstanding is of antitrust law. These laws, developed in the 1800s, are not meant to punish a company because people disagree with its management. Their main purpose is to protect consumers by ensuring they have access to low-cost, high-quality products and services. And especially in the case of technology, rapid innovation. That is exactly where Facebook puts its attention: building the best products, free for consumers, and funded by advertisers.

What antitrust law isn’t about is size alone. In Facebook’s case, our size has not only brought innovation, it has also allowed us to make a huge investment in protecting the safety and security of our services.

Over the past two years we’ve focused heavily on blocking foreign adversaries from trying to influence democratic elections by using our platforms. We’ve done the same to protect against terrorism and hate speech and to better safeguard people’s data. And the resources that we will spend on security and safety this year alone will be more than our overall revenues at the time of our initial public offering in 2012. That would be pretty much impossible for a smaller company.


And here’s Clegg, writing in 2017 (after he’d left government), in The Independent:


As an old-fashioned liberal who believes in the virtues of competition, I remain perplexed at the way in which US competition law only seems to care about the effect of near monopoly market dominance by a tiny number of big players if and when it increases the prices paid by consumers.


(H/t Olivia Solon, who spotted the latter.)
unique link to this extract

Farmers plough through Netflix while ploughing fields • WSJ

Jacob Bunge:


After kissing his three children goodnight this spring, Aaron Newell settled in to binge-watch the “Avengers” movies ahead of the franchise’s new theater release, “Avengers: Endgame.”

Mr. Newell’s home theatre — equipped with a stereo sound system and an ergonomically designed chair—sits inside a five-by-five foot soundproofed cab above roughly 30,000 pounds of rumbling machinery, crawling over fields on massive caterpillar tracks.

“People think I’m crazy, but I look forward to it,” Mr. Newell, 35, said of planting-season hours on his farm that can begin before dawn and stretch past midnight.

Mr. Newell, who plowed through all six seasons of Netflix’s “House of Cards” while tilling his fields near Callender, Iowa, last fall, said he would farm with or without modern conveniences. But glancing over at “The Wolf of Wall Street” or the “Star Wars” series on a cabin-mounted iPad makes long days go by faster, he said. “If it was dead silence for 12 to 13 hours, that might be a different issue.”

Thanks to GPS-enabled guidance systems and high-speed planters, US farmers can plant and harvest fields faster than ever before, often with minimal human involvement. Self-steering tractors and combines free farmers to monitor seeding rates, haggle on the phone over crop sales, watch the weather—and get bored.


Or, as one wag on Twitter put it, “Netflix and till”. (Bet the WSJ’s subeditors are kicking themselves at missing that one.)
unique link to this extract

“Strong opinions loosely held” might be the worst idea in tech • The Glowforge Blog

Michael Natkin:


in the tech industry, with our motto of “strong opinions, loosely held”, we’ve glorified overconfidence. The same foolishness that would cost your money and pride in a pool hall is the stuff of legend in Silicon Valley. Stroll through an engineering office and you are likely to hear the (mostly white, mostly male) denizens making statements like:

“Only an idiot would use MongoDB.”

“We should absolutely build this using GoLang.”

“All of our users would kill for that feature.”

“Linguini’s is the worst restaurant in the world and I’d rather eat dehydrated bat vomit for the rest of my life than have lunch there again.”

The idea of strong opinions, loosely held is that you can make bombastic statements, and everyone should implicitly assume that you’ll happily change your mind in a heartbeat if new data suggests you are wrong. It is supposed to lead to a collegial, competitive environment in which ideas get a vigorous defense, the best of them survive, and no-one gets their feelings hurt in the process.

On a certain kind of team, where everyone shares that ethos, and there is very little power differential, this can work well. I’ve had the pleasure of working on teams like that, and it is all kinds of fun. When you have a handful of solid engineers that understand each other, and all of them feel free to say “you are wrong about X, that is absolutely insane, and I question your entire family structure if you believe that, clearly Y is the way to go”, and then you all happily grab lunch together (at Linguini’s), that’s a great feeling of camaraderie.

Unfortunately, that ideal is seldom achieved.

What really happens? The loudest, most bombastic engineer states their case with certainty, and that shuts down discussion.


See also: Twitter.
unique link to this extract’s Heather Armstrong was the “queen of the mommy bloggers.” Then her life fell apart • Vox

Chavie Lieber:


The Armstrongs’ divorce was finalized in March 2013, and Jon moved to New York a year later to be with a new girlfriend. Armstrong now has custody of her two daughters for most of the year (they spend summers with their father).

The Armstrong marriage wasn’t the only thing in the Dooce universe that had gone south. By 2012, Dooce’s audience — like that of so many blogs — had scattered to social media, so readership declined. Blogging started to fizzle out as a medium, and display advertising money dried up.

Dooce did have a somewhat diversified revenue stream; Armstrong started doing sponsored content as early as 2009. Brands would pay her for blog posts that promoted their products, but she says brand demands began to cross a line.

“It became about products in posts, manufacturing experiences I may not have had, and then including photos of my children,” Armstrong recalls. “It very quickly spiraled and I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

The Dooce blog lived on for a bit after the divorce. Armstrong filled it with recipes, shopping guides, and tales of single parenthood. In 2015, though, she announced she was taking a break.


Divorce apart, it’s the story of so many bloggers who found success in the mid-noughts: social media (particularly Facebook) swallowed their audience.
unique link to this extract

Review: Shell Recharge • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden has an electric car:


Even when I had a petrol car, I boycotted Shell – refusing to use their petrol stations. I thought that would continue once I got an electric car – no dino-juice for me!

My car has more than enough range for me, but on a recent journey I decided it would be prudent to do a splash-and-dash – shove a few kWh in the battery just in case. I fired up Zap Map and was pleasantly surprised to see that Shell had a rapid charger near me. So, here’s my review. Can a station forecourt deliver the power I need?


Worth reading, especially in conjunction with his calculation that electric cars get the equivalent of 165mpg. (The calculation is slightly different in the US, where fuel is underpriced relative to the negative externalities that it has.)
unique link to this extract

Google launches Portals, a new web page navigation system for Chrome • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


At the I/O 2019 developer conference yesterday, Google launched a new technology called Portals that aims to provide a new way of loading and navigating through web pages.

According to Google, Portals will work with the help of a new HTML tag named . This tag works similarly to classic tags, allowing web developers to embed remote content in their pages.

The difference between a portal and an iframe tag is that Google’s new Portals technology is an upgrade over iframes.

Google says portals allow users to navigate inside the content they are embedding –something that iframes do not allow for security reasons…

…Google engineers hope that their new Portals technology will take over the web and become the standard way in which websites transition between links.


Chrome dev track-only, non-standard (“it is not a W3 Standard nor is it on th W3C Standards Track”). Remember when Google was about the open web? Now it’s about the Google-defined web. When Microsoft used to do this stuff, people went mad.
unique link to this extract

Trump’s washing machine tariffs stung consumers while lifting corporate profits • The New York Times

Jim Tankersley:


President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on imported washing machines has had an odd effect: It raised prices on washing machines, as expected, but also drove up the cost of clothes dryers, which rose by $92 last year.

What appears to have happened, according to new research from economists at the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve, is a case study in how a measure meant to help domestic factory workers can rebound on American consumers, creating unexpected costs and leaving shoppers with a sky-high bill for every factory job created.

Research to be released on Monday by the economists Aaron Flaaen, of the Fed, and Ali Hortacsu and Felix Tintelnot, of Chicago, estimates that consumers bore between 125% and 225% of the costs of the washing machine tariffs. The authors calculate that the tariffs brought in $82m to the United States Treasury, while raising consumer prices by $1.5bn.

And while the tariffs did encourage foreign companies to shift more of their manufacturing to the United States and created about 1,800 new jobs, the researchers conclude that those came at a steep cost: about $817,000 per job.

Mr. Trump imposed the tariffs last year in response to a complaint by the Michigan-based manufacturer Whirlpool, which claimed foreign competitors were cornering the American washing machine market with cheaper models that threatened domestic manufacturers. The tariffs started at 20% per imported washer and rose to 50% late in the year, after total imports exceeded a quota set by the administration.


Yet there are people who believe China is paying the tariffs and that this is a successful readjustment.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,065: Ever had your photo misused?, Illinois faces the truth, Clegg’s Facebook switch, “Netflix and till”, and more

  1. “social media (particularly Facebook) swallowed their audience. ” – As a song from another era described it: video killed the radio star.

    It’s the pathology of celebrity, writ small but still destructive even at lesser scale.
    And the grifters and hypesters who were evangelizing blogs back then have simply moved on to another hustle, to repeat the process all over again.

  2. I’m getting whiplash about Google’s dev toolchain: they now seem to be recommending that small Flutter Android apps be dev’d on a ChromeOS ChromeBook in its Linux container because the apps can be insta-compiled and tested on that same dev machine. It sounds Turing-complete but feels Tu-Tu-Tu-ring-ring-ring-ish.
    Maybe one of the reasons they want this to happen is that it makes the Desktop and Web UIs for Flutter apps very reachable, so hopefully they’ll get more tablet/desktop/web-optimized apps ?

    What about we do all of this in Fuchsia ? ;-p

    • (because Chromebooks run ChromeOS *and* Linux *and Android*, and they’ve announced a Windows VM for the x86 Chromebooks I think)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.