Start Up No.1,072: Huawei planning Android alternative, US EPA’s memory hole solution, Facebook and Google’s media money influence, and more


Now Huawei’s MateBook line seems to have been hit by US blacklisting. CC-licensed photo by Hardware Italia on Flickr

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A selection of 10 links for you. Fabulous. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei considers rivals to Google’s Android after US ban • Bloomberg

Natalia Drozdiak:

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Huawei Technologies said it’s working on its own operating system for its mobile handsets and will consider rivals to Google’s Android, after the US blacklisted the company, threatening its partnerships with chip, component and software suppliers.

The Chinese telecom equipment giant said Tuesday it was in talks with the Alphabet unit about how to proceed after Google confirmed it would cut access to some of Huawei’s operating system features for the company’s new devices in response to the announcement.

Should Google’s system no longer be available, “then the alternative option will naturally come out – either from Huawei or someone else,” Abraham Liu, Huawei’s representative to the European Union institutions, said at an event in Brussels on Tuesday.

Liu said Huawei had been working on its own operating system but that he didn’t have the details about when this would be ready. Huawei would do everything in its power to mitigate the impact of the US decisions, Liu said.

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The effects of this are going to ripple on and on, but it’s clear that Huawei took notice from ZTE being banned a year ago. After all, it had been dealing with Iran in breach of US sanctions too. Remember there’s a Huawei CFO facing a US trial for breaching sanctions.
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Microsoft removes Huawei laptop from store, remains silent on potential Windows ban • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is one of the best Windows laptops available in the US right now, but without a Windows license, it’s no longer a viable alternative to Apple’s MacBook Pro or the HP Spectre x360 and even Microsoft’s own Surface lineup. Microsoft appears to have stopped selling Huawei’s MateBook X Pro at the company’s online store, too.

A listing for the MateBook X Pro mysteriously disappeared over the weekend, and searching for any Huawei hardware brings up no results at the Microsoft Store. You can still find the laptop listing in a Google cache of last week, though. The Verge understands that Microsoft retail stores are still selling existing MateBook X Pro laptops they have in stock.

Microsoft’s potential Windows ban could also affect Huawei’s server solutions. Microsoft and Huawei both operate a hybrid cloud solution for Microsoft’s Azure stack, using Microsoft-certified Huawei servers.

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Without Windows they’ll have to turn to… Linux? for their servers.
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July 2018: We estimate China only makes $8.46 from an iPhone – and that’s why Trump’s trade war is futile • The Conversation

Greg Linden, in July 2018:

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Start with the most valuable components that make up an iPhone: the touch screen display, memory chips, microprocessors and so on. They come from a mix of U.S., Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese companies, such as Intel, Sony, Samsung and Foxconn. Almost none of them are manufactured in China. Apple buys the components and has them shipped to China; then they leave China inside an iPhone.

So what about all of those famous factories in China with millions of workers making iPhones? The companies that own those factories, including Foxconn, are all based in Taiwan. Of the factory-cost estimate of $237.45 from IHS Markit at the time the iPhone 7 was released in late 2016, we calculate that all that’s earned in China is about $8.46, or 3.6% of the total. That includes a battery supplied by a Chinese company and the labor used for assembly.

The other $228.99 goes elsewhere. The U.S. and Japan each take a roughly $68 cut, Taiwan gets about $48, and a little under $17 goes to South Korea. And we estimate that about $283 of gross profit from the retail price – about $649 for a 32GB model when the phone debuted – goes straight to Apple’s coffers.

In short, China gets a lot of (low-paid) jobs, while the profits flow to other countries.

A better way of thinking about the US-China trade deficit associated with one iPhone would be to only count the value added in China, $8.50, rather than the $240 that shows up as a Chinese import to the U.S.

Scholars have found similar results for the broader US-China trade balance, although the disparity is less extreme than in the iPhone example. Of the 2017 trade deficit of $375bn, probably one-third actually involves inputs that came from elsewhere – including the US.

The use of China as a giant assembly floor has been good for the US economy, if not for US factory workers. By taking advantage of a vast, highly efficient global supply chain, Apple can bring new products to market at prices comparable to its competitors, most notably the Korean giant Samsung.

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You can argue about the minor detail, but this is broadly correct; and quite opposite to the general expectation. What the films of Foxconn workers in Shenzhen assembling and testing phones doesn’t show is the container loads of components that have come in from abroad to be assembled.
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Apple tweaks its troubled MacBook keyboard design yet again, expands repair program • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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Apple is announcing an update to its keyboard repair program today. All MacBooks with the so-called “butterfly mechanism” (that’s pretty much all modern MacBooks) will now be fully eligible for Apple’s Keyboard Service Program. The expansion means that a few newer models that weren’t previously covered will be able to get repairs. Unfortunately, Apple is not extending how long that program lasts — it’s still “four years after the first retail sale of the unit.”

Apple is also announcing that it has created yet another iteration of its butterfly keyboard, which will ship on the new MacBook Pros it’s announcing today. It also promises that it will speed up keyboard repair times. You will not be able to just take your MacBook in to have its keyboard replaced if you don’t trust it, of course; it will need to exhibit issues for Apple to fix it.

Apple has been put through the wringer over the reliability of its butterfly keyboards for the past few years, and rightly so. Although the company stressed again in a call today that the “vast majority” of customers don’t have a problem, all too many of them have had issues with stuck keys that could cause double letters or no letters at all. It only recently began to apologize for the issue, but has also been trying to characterize it as something minor that doesn’t affect that many customers.

The amount of evidence we’re seeing on social media, among writers, and on our own laptops is getting to the point where you can’t call it anecdotal anymore, though. So simply expanding the repair program won’t be enough.

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Ed Bott calls this “Apple’s [equivalent of] Windows Vista, a reputation-destroying slow-motion train wreck”. He’s not wrong. But if this does actually fix this, then I might buy one. Wait for iFixit’s teardown, I suppose.
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Facial recognition is making its way to cruise ships • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:

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Like some airlines, Royal Caribbean has started to roll out facial recognition and other technologies to streamline its boarding process. The company’s SVP of digital, Jay Schneider, tells Quartz that the typical wait time to board is 10 minutes with a mobile boarding pass; less if the passenger opts into facial recognition by uploading a “security selfie.” Before those additions, he says the typical wait time was around 90 minutes.

“We wanted it to be a welcoming experience, such that the agent knows who you are when you’re getting there,” Schneider says, adding that the company wants to turn facial recognition “not into a stop and frisk moment, but into a way to welcome you on vacation, answer any questions, and let me just get you on your way.”

As people churn through the line faster with mobile boarding passes and facial recognition, the rest of the line benefits as well—that 90-minute wait will average more like 20 minutes for even those passengers boarding the old-fashioned way. Schneider says Royal Caribbean deletes security selfies at the end of each trip, to avoid storing data any longer than necessary.

Royal Caribbean has also rolled out mobile boarding to board its crew members; Schneider says the technology saves the company 50,000 crew hours each year.

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Very tempting. Convenience always wins in these situations; the vast majority will go along with it. Principles are expensive, either in time or money.
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Police facial recognition surveillance court case starts • BBC

Clive Coleman:

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The first major legal challenge to police use of automated facial recognition surveillance has begun in Cardiff today.

Ed Bridges, whose image was taken while he was shopping, says weak regulation means AFR breaches human rights.

The civil rights group Liberty says current use of the tool is equivalent to the unregulated taking of DNA or fingerprints without consent.

South Wales Police defends the tool but has not commented on the case.

In December 2017, Mr Bridges was having a perfectly normal day.

“I popped out of the office to do a bit of Christmas shopping and on the main pedestrian shopping street in Cardiff, there was a police van,” he told BBC News.

“By the time I was close enough to see the words ‘automatic facial recognition’ on the van, I had already had my data captured by it. That struck me as quite a fundamental invasion of my privacy.”

The case could provide crucial guidance on the lawful use of facial technology.

It is a far more powerful policing tool than traditional CCTV – as the cameras take a biometric map, creating a numerical code of the faces of each person who passes the camera.

These biometric maps are uniquely identifiable to the individual.

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The irony of course is that Bridges is now far more recognisable and better known than he ever would have been before. But it’s an important point, which is that there are regulations about the storage of fingerprints and DNA, but not for AFR. This is a use of AI that’s creeping into our lives without us noticing. What would the regulations be for businesses using it around their buildings?
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The platform patrons: how Facebook and Google became two of the biggest funders of journalism in the world • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:

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Taken together, Facebook and Google have now committed more than half a billion dollars to various journalistic programs and media partnerships over the past three years, not including the money spent internally on developing media-focused products like Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google’s competing AMP mobile project. The result: These mega-platforms are now two of the largest funders of journalism in the world.

The irony is hard to miss. The dismantling of the traditional advertising model—largely at the hands of the social networks, which have siphoned away the majority of industry ad revenue—has left many media companies and journalistic institutions in desperate need of a lifeline. Google and Facebook, meanwhile, are happy to oblige, flush with cash from their ongoing dominance of the digital ad market.

The result is a somewhat dysfunctional alliance. People in the media business (including some on the receiving end of the cash) see the tech donations as guilt money, something journalism deserves because Google and Facebook wrecked their business. The tech giants, meanwhile, are desperate for some good PR and maybe even a few friends in a journalistic community that—especially now—can seem openly antagonistic.

Given that tangled backstory, it’s no surprise the funding issue is contentious. Should media companies really be involved in rehabbing the images of two of the wealthiest companies on earth, especially when they are fundamentally competitors? Yet, given the financial state of journalism, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to take the funds?

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Do you think they might be conflicted? Now read on.
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Facebook and Google pressured EU experts to soften fake news regulations, say insiders • Open Democracy

Nico Schmidt and Daphné Dupont-Nivet:

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Matters came to a head when Goyens and other members of the group suggested looking into whether European policy on commercial competition could have a role in limiting fake news. Such a move would have allowed the EU competition commissioner to examine the platforms’ business models to see whether they helped misinformation to spread. “We wanted to know whether the platforms were abusing their market power,” says Goyens.

She recalls that in a subsequent break Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Richard Allan – another member of the expert group – said to her: “We are happy to make our contribution, but if you go in that direction, we will be controversial.”

Allan spelled out more clearly what this meant to another group member: “He threatened that if we did not stop talking about competition tools, Facebook would stop its support for journalistic and academic projects.”

Facebook declined to comment on these incidents. In the end, the proposed vote on competition policy tools never took place.

The platforms had influence over the group’s decisions in other ways, too. “It was not made transparent [to some members of the group] that some members had a conflict of interest. Because they worked for organisations that received money from the platforms,” says Goyens.

“The Google people did not have to fight too hard for their position,” says another group member, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It quickly became clear that they had some allies at the table.”

At least 10 organisations with representatives in the expert group received money from Google. One of them is the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford. By 2020, the institute will have received almost €10m from Google to pay for its annual Digital News Report. Google is one of 14 funders of this major project, which began in 2015. The institute declared this funding relationship to the European Commission in its application to be part of the expert group.

A number of other organisations represented on the group have also received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative, including the Poynter Institute and First Draft News.

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EPA plans to get thousands of pollution deaths off the books by changing its math • NY Times

Lisa Friedman:

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The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution, a shift that would make it easier to roll back a key climate change rule because it would result in far fewer predicted deaths from pollution, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The E.P.A. had originally forecast that eliminating the Obama-era rule, the Clean Power Plan, and replacing it with a new measure would have resulted in an additional 1,400 premature deaths per year. The new analytical model would significantly reduce that number and would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules if it is formally adopted.

The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels.

Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.

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Amazing. The US is plummeting into a bizarre era that makes ‘1984’ look like an instruction manual.
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Your car knows when you gain weight – and much, much more • NY Times

Bill Hanvey:

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Today’s cars are equipped with telematics, in the form of an always-on wireless transmitter that constantly sends vehicle performance and maintenance data to the manufacturer. Modern cars collect as much as 25 gigabytes of data per hour, the consulting firm McKinsey estimates, and it’s about much more than performance and maintenance.

Cars not only know how much we weigh but also track how much weight we gain. They know how fast we drive, where we live, how many children we have — even financial information. Connect a phone to a car, and it knows who we call and who we text.
But who owns and, ultimately, controls that data? And what are carmakers doing with it?

The issue of ownership is murky. Drivers usually sign away their rights to data in a small-print clause buried in the ownership or lease agreement. It’s not unlike buying a smartphone. The difference is that most consumers have no idea vehicles collect data.

We know our smartphones, Nests and Alexas collect data, and we’ve come to accept an implicit contract: We trade personal information for convenience. With cars, we have no such expectation.

What carmakers are doing with the collected data isn’t clear. We know they use it to improve car performance and safety. And we know they have the ability to sell it to third parties they might choose. Indeed, Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, has spoken in detail about the company’s plans to monetize car data.

Debates around privacy often focus on companies like Facebook. But today’s connected cars — and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles — show how the commercial opportunities in collecting personal data are limitless.

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The commercial *desire* to collect personal data is limitless, especially in the US, where everyone and everything is viewed just as more grist for the ever-advancing maw.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

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