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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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 Google.com/glass 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.

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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:

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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.”

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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:

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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 FBIhttps://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-crypto-keepers-levine. Imagine what 10 years in that environment can bring upon a US-based company. 

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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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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“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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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “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

  1. “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? ”

    Because Chinese can’t have better tech, better processes, better management, better people, better engineering, lower taxes, lower lobbying costs… And certainly not better designers (all the good ones are in California). It’s not as if various parts of Asia had been making better/cheaper cars, TVs, smartphones, white goods, brown goods,… for a few decades…

    I’m not saying Huawei is perfect, but looking a bit at how Cisco and PC OEMs work (sorry, no specific knowledge about Nokia and Ericsson), it’s really not hard to imagine a few ways Huawei could do better that doesn’t involve little ants ( apnews.com/236b5ee30b7631c806e6300fb41c792c )

  2. re. whatsapp security: I’d say hacking can be about ad fraud, ID theft, and ransomware, not just surveillance. On Android, Google says ad fraud is 75% of “potentially harmful apps”. On iOS, Apple doesn’t report anything.

    Not only can closed-source code not be scrutinized, the appstore model with automatic pushed updates makes it easy to disseminate hacked or faulty variants/updates of apps. That’s frightening because it only takes 1 insider, or 1 vulnerability, to compromise the whole user base.

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