Start Up No.1,067: AT+T’s jobs fib, Google adds more ads, hacking Tinder, the WhatsApp attack, and more


Intel’s in trouble again. Actually, we all are. CC-licensed photo by Uwe Hermann 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.

AT&T promised 7,000 new jobs to get tax break; it cut 23,000 jobs instead • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

AT&T has cut more than 23,000 jobs since receiving a big tax cut at the end of 2017, despite lobbying heavily for the tax cut by claiming that it would create thousands of jobs.

AT&T in November 2017 pushed for the corporate tax cut by promising to invest an additional $1 billion in 2018, with CEO Randall Stephenson saying that “every billion dollars AT&T invests is 7,000 hard-hat jobs. These are not entry-level jobs. These are 7,000 jobs of people putting fiber in ground, hard-hat jobs that make $70,000 to $80,000 per year.”

The corporate tax cut was subsequently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. The tax cut reportedly gave AT&T an extra $3 billion in cash in 2018.

But AT&T cut capital spending and kept laying people off after the tax cut. A union analysis of AT&T’s publicly available financial statements “shows the telecom company eliminated 23,328 jobs since the Tax Cut and Jobs Act passed in late 2017, including nearly 6,000 in the first quarter of 2019,” the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said yesterday.

AT&T’s total employment was 254,000 as of December 31, 2017 and rose to 262,290 by March 31, 2019. But AT&T’s overall workforce increased only because of its acquisition of Time Warner Inc. and two smaller companies, which together added 31,618 employees during 2018, according to an AT&T proxy statement cited in the CWA report.

«

Has there ever been so much dishonesty on show as there is at the top of the US now? It’s just stunning. (Thanks Nic for the pointer.)
unique link to this extract


Intel flaw lets hackers siphon secrets from millions of PCs • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

MORE THAN A year has passed since security researchers revealed Meltdown and Spectre, a pair of flaws in the deep-seated, arcane features of millions of chip sold by Intel and AMD, putting practically every computer in the world at risk. But even as chipmakers scrambled to fix those flaws, researchers warned that they weren’t the end of the story, but the beginning—that they represented a new class of security vulnerability that would no doubt surface again and again. Now, some of those same researchers have uncovered yet another flaw in the deepest guts of Intel’s microscopic hardware. This time, it can allow attackers to eavesdrop on virtually every bit of raw data that a victim’s processor touches.

Today Intel and a coordinated supergroup of microarchitecture security researchers are together announcing a new, serious form of hackable vulnerability in Intel’s chips. It’s four distinct attacks, in fact, though all of them use a similar technique, and all are capable of siphoning a stream of potentially sensitive data from a computer’s CPU to an attacker.

«

😫😫😫😫
unique link to this extract


Google to push new ads on its apps to snare shoppers • Reuters

Paresh Dave:

»

Alphabet Inc’s Google will begin featuring ads on the homepage of its smartphone app worldwide later this year, as the search engine expands its advertising real estate to boost revenue from mobile shoppers.

Google said on Tuesday it will also start placing ads with image galleries in search results and show ads in new spots on Google Maps, increasing opportunities for advertisers.

The changes come as choppy revenue growth prompt questions from some Alphabet investors about whether services such as Amazon.com and Facebook’s Instagram are drawing online shoppers and in turn, advertisers away from Google.

Google executives told reporters on Monday the latest features were a response to how users behave, not competition.

The company wants to make it easier for users to discover and buy new products because they shop in spurts while watching TV or sitting in the bathroom, said Oliver Heckmann, vice president of engineering for travel and shopping.

«

Remember Tom Foremski’s article a couple of weeks back wondering whether Google could keep growing its revenue? There you go. This is indeed about how users behave: show them enough ads and some percentage of them will click them, whether by accident or some weird purpose.
unique link to this extract


The Tinder hacker • The Cut

Francesca Mari:

»

It all started when Sean recruited his close friend and roommate Haley to create a Tinder profile. Haley, in the words of a Tinder user who would soon encounter her, was a “tall, dark, younger, better-looking version of Kim Kardashian.” Together Sean and Haley selected her profile photos — Haley lounging in a tube with a serving of side boob, Haley in shorts leaning on a baseball bat. Sean wanted her to appear seductive but approachable. Once finished, Sean ran two rather mischievous programs.

The first program had her dummy account indiscriminately swipe right on some 800 men. The second program was one that Sean had spent months coding. It paired men who matched with Haley with one another, in the order that they contacted her. A man would send a message thinking he was talking to Haley — he saw her pictures and profile — and instead another dude would receive the message, which, again, would appear to be coming from Haley. When the first dude addressed Haley by name, Sean’s code subbed in the name of the man receiving the message.

As soon as they ran this code, it was off to the races. Conversations streamed in, around 400 of them unfurling between the most unlikely people, the effect something like same-sex Tinder chat roulette.

“There was a certain breed of guy that this really worked on,” Sean told me. “It wasn’t the kind of guy looking for a girlfriend or looking to talk or be casual. It was the guy looking for a hookup.” And those guys cut to the chase, thrilled at how down “Haley” was to sext, thrusting their way through any miscommunication. (Remember, both dudes think the other is Haley.)

«

I feel that I’ve seen this before, but it’s so splendid that it’s worth bringing back.
unique link to this extract


Trash found littering ocean floor in deepest-ever sub dive • The Jakarta Post

Daniel Fastenberg:

»

On the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, a Texas investor and explorer found something he could have found in the gutter of nearly any street in the world: trash.

Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, said he made the unsettling discovery as he descended nearly 6.8 miles (35,853 feet/10,928 meters) to a point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench that is the deepest place on Earth. His dive went 52 feet (16 meters) lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960.

Vescovo found undiscovered species as he visited places no human had gone before. On one occasion he spent four hours on the floor of the trench, viewing sea life ranging from shrimp-like anthropods with long legs and antennae to translucent “sea pigs” similar to a sea cucumber.

He also saw angular metal or plastic objects, one with writing on it.

“It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo said in an interview.

«

unique link to this extract


WhatsApp voice calls used to inject Israeli spyware on phones • Financial Times

Mehul Srivastava:

»

WhatsApp, which is used by 1.5bn people worldwide, discovered in early May that attackers were able to install surveillance software on to both iPhones and Android phones by ringing up targets using the app’s phone call function. 

The malicious code, developed by the secretive Israeli company NSO Group, could be transmitted even if users did not answer their phones, and the calls often disappeared from call logs, said the spyware dealer, who was recently briefed on the WhatsApp hack.

WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is too early into its own investigations of the vulnerability to estimate how many phones were targeted using this method, said a person familiar with the issue.

As late as Sunday, as WhatsApp engineers raced to close the loophole, a UK-based human rights lawyer’s phone was targeted using the same method. 

«

Further reading on this: the CVE details about which platforms the WhatsApp vulnerability exists on (all of them, including Tizen, because the weakness is in the WhatsApp VOIP stack.

Iyad El-Baghdadi’s press conference transcript about being targeted by the Saudis using this attack.

A story from May 7, in the Guardian, about how the CIA and others warned El-Baghdadi he was being targeted.

Amnesty International’s supporting action for legal action in Israel to suspect NSO Group’s export licence, which would stop is selling software to governments which target human rights defenders.
unique link to this extract


Israel’s NSO: the business of spying on your iPhone • Financial Times

Mehul Srivastava and Robert Smith:

»

At an investor presentation in London in April, NSO bragged that the typical security patches from Apple did not address the “weaknesses exploited by Pegasus”, according to an unimpressed potential investor. Despite the annual software updates unveiled by companies such as Apple, NSO had a “proven record” of identifying new weaknesses, the company representative told attendees.

NSO’s pitch has been a runaway success — allowing governments to buy off the shelf the sort of software that was once thought to be restricted to only the most sophisticated spy agencies, such as GCHQ in the UK and the National Security Agency in America.

The sale of such powerful and controversial technologies also gives Israel an important diplomatic calling card. Through Pegasus, Israel has acquired a major presence — official or not — in the deeply classified war rooms of unlikely partners, including, researchers say, Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Although both countries officially reject the existence of the Jewish state, they now find themselves the subject of a charm offensive by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that mixes a shared hostility to Iran with intelligence knowhow.

The Israeli government has never talked publicly about its relationship with NSO. Shortly after he stepped down as defence minister in November, Avigdor Lieberman, who had responsibility for regulating NSO’s sales, said: “I am not sure now is the right time to discuss this . . . I think that I have a responsibility for the security of our state, for future relations.” But he added: “It is not a secret today that we have contact with all the moderate Arab world. I think it is good news.”

«

unique link to this extract


The Chernobyl disaster may have also built a paradise • WIRED

Adam Rogers:

»

Møller and Mousseau inventoried the total populations of invertebrates in and around the Exclusion Zone, and they found that their populations were smaller inside. The same, they say, goes for birds and mammals, though the changes weren’t consistent for every species. “We see negative impacts of ionizing radiation on free-living organisms. This applies to mammals, insects, spiders, butterflies, you name it,” Møller says. “And a second issue is, are these populations of large mammals composed of healthy individuals? Or individuals that are sick or malformed or in other ways negatively impacted by radiation? That’s not investigated, and that’s the big question mark that hangs over the Exclusion Zone.”

Other researchers using different methods, though, have found quite the opposite. In the 1990s, a preliminary study of rodents showed that radiation had no effect on population. Twenty years later, a team of international researchers counting actual animals from helicopters found no measurable difference in the populations of elk, deer, and wild boar—and a sevenfold increase in wolf population—compared with similar, uncontaminated nature preserves. And all those populations had gone up since the first decade after the accident.

Why the difference? Possibly it’s that the animals in question reproduce faster than the radiation can kill them.

«

Really fascinating piece. There’s a TV series running on US and UK TV; the first episode was excellent. (I haven’t seen the second just yet.)
unique link to this extract


Lenovo shows off the world’s first ‘foldable PC’ • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

»

Lenovo has just announced what it says is the world’s first “foldable PC:” a prototype ThinkPad that iterates the foldable tech we’ve already seen from phones on a much bigger scale.

It’s not just a cool tech demo, either: Lenovo has been developing this for over three years and has plans to launch a finished device in 2020 as part of its premium ThinkPad X1 brand. The goal here is a premium product that will be a laptop-class device, not an accessory or secondary computer like a tablet might be.

Cool factor aside, though, why build a folding PC? The answer is largely portability. Conceptually, it’s the opposite of what most of the foldable phones out there are trying to do. There, companies like Samsung and Huawei are trying to take a device the size of a regular phone and make them bigger. But the idea behind the folding ThinkPad is to take a full-sized PC and make it smaller.

The result is a 13.3-inch 4:3 2K OLED display that can fold up to about the size of a hardcover book (we don’t have the exact weight yet, but Lenovo says it’s less than two pounds, which is about as much as a hardcover copy of one of the larger Harry Potter books). That’s already enough to put it on the lighter side of the portable computer spectrum, but the size savings are really when you fold it in half, making it dramatically smaller than a regular laptop.

«

Colour me sceptical. This looks like a foldable-screen version of the 2016 Yoga Book, which was (also) superficially impressive but in the end didn’t sell. We’ve have folding PCs for ages. They’re called laptops, and they have real keyboards.
unique link to this extract


Handful of tablet vendors consolidate leadership positions in Q1 2019 as market falls 5% • Strategy Analytics

»

Incredibly fierce price competition has put incredible pressure on many Android tablet vendors, but a few companies stood above the rest in Q1 2019. Apple, Huawei, Amazon, and Microsoft have each found ways to press their advantage and gain market share as the rest of the market struggles to find momentum. The global tablet market declined 5% year-on-year in Q1 2019. The question remains, can more vendors break through to growth or will they continue to cede ground to the market leaders?

Eric Smith, director – connected computing, said, “Amazon had an excellent post-holiday quarter on the back of several promotional discounts, pushing shipments 21% higher than a year ago. Huawei is still eating the lunch of its Android competitors, particularly in EMEA and China, growing 8% globally year-on-year. There are signs of stabilization among some vendors, including Samsung, HP, Dell, and even TCL-Alcatel. Certainly, the picture is rosier for many companies still in the tablet business when you look at revenues, which explains why competition is so heated.”

Chirag Upadhyay, senior research analyst, added, “Most Windows Detachable 2-in-1 vendors are targeting the premium tier for enterprise users to make higher profits but a crowded market prevents all vendors from growing at once, especially now that Apple is competing strongly with three iPad Pro models in this price tier. As a result of taking focus off of the larger consumer market, Windows market share actually fell by 1 percentage point year-on-year to 14%. Windows shipments fell 13% year-on-year to 5.0 million units in Q1 2019 from 5.7 million in Q1 2018. Shipments declined 29% from the previous quarter on low seasonality. Microsoft fully owns the leadership position in Windows Detachable 2-in-1s with the release of the lower cost Surface Go and a refreshed Surface Pro 6 all in the last half of 2018. This is the fifth straight quarter of year-on-year shipment and revenue gains for Microsoft.”

«

I’d hazard a guess that average selling prices are rising, while small players are being squeezed out at the bottom end. In other words, the tablet market has hit maturity, and it’s all going to be consolidation now.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,067: AT+T’s jobs fib, Google adds more ads, hacking Tinder, the WhatsApp attack, and more

  1. Can someone use small words to explain to me the obsession with folding phones and computers? I don’t want it, can’t imagine use cases for it, and am utterly baffled.

    • – Tech needs new tech to sell tech, especially of the premium/expensive variety. 3D and AR/VR flopped, in-display fingerprint readers and notches are already a bit passé and not that big to start with. You need something, anything, new.
      – More fragile devices = more breakage = more sales = Good !
      – today’s extra-narrow phones are a bad form factor for actual use, so de-narrowing them is actually helpful, at the margins. For people who commute on public transport, it might make a bit of sense.
      – for less accident-prone devices (laptops, TVs), folding screens might save space w/o increasing casualties, so why not ?

      I want a scroll-like device that unrolls and magically stiffens when I’m using it, and rolls back into a large pen. Preferably with 1/3rd- (phone) and fully-extended (tablet) positions.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.