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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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“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.”

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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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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Go here to see your own: http://myaccount.google.com/purchases.

“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.

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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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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “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

  1. Because they’re my pet project, Here’s Xiaomi’s Q1 2019 summary:
    – smartphones: $4b, +16% (28m units, 4th )
    – other hardware: $1.7b, +50% (IoT, clothes, roomba…)
    – services $0.6b, +30% (ads, gaming,…)

    That’s an ASP of $143 which makes sense, their best-seller Redmi Note retails at $140-$200 and they’ve got 3 models below it at $60, $90 and $120. Their flagships barely break $500, and apparently they sell 1Mi 9 for every 9 Note (they’ve also got a Mi Mix).

    The funny part is that at their own small scale, their Services/Total ratio isn’t utterly different from Apple’s (10% to Apple’s 20%)

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