Start Up No.1,075: Huawei accused over the years, Facebook’s video doubletalk, the need for clouds, how Prime began, and more


Yet another problem for Huawei: it’s been thrown out of the SD (card) association. CC-licensed photo by Rob Albright on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. No rest for the wicked. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei’s yearslong rise is littered with accusations of theft and dubious ethics • WSJ

Chuin-Wei Yap, Dan Strumpf, Dustin Volz, Kate O’Keeffe and Aruna Viswanatha:

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Theft and industrial espionage are relatively common in the global tech industry, and Huawei isn’t the sole company to face accusations of stealing foreign intellectual property. What set Huawei apart, its accusers say, was the flagrancy of its plagiarism.

Eighteen months before the Supercomm imbroglio erupted, Cisco accused Huawei in January 2003 of copying its software and manuals—the first time Huawei had to fight a major international allegation of its theft.

“They have made verbatim copies of whole portions of Cisco’s user manuals,” Cisco said in its lawsuit. Cisco manuals accompany its routers, and its software is visible during the router’s operation; both are easily copied, Cisco said.

The copying was so extensive that Huawei inadvertently copied bugs in Cisco’s software, according to the lawsuit.

“Huawei couldn’t release its routers for shipment until it fixed a substantial number of the common Cisco bugs contained in the Huawei routers” for fear of giving away the plagiarism, said former Huawei human resources manager Chad Reynolds in a court filing. Cisco declined to comment.

Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler flew to Shenzhen to confront Mr. Ren with evidence of Huawei’s theft, which included typos from Cisco’s manuals that also appeared in Huawei’s, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Mr. Ren listened impassively and gave a one-word response: “Coincidence.”

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Also vacuumed up talent let go by other companies such as Ericsson, but also accused of using hackers to steal commercial secrets, of stealing Motorola secrets (an allegation dropped when China’s government seemed about to stall a Motorola selloff), of stealing a camera design, of stealing music that it preloaded on phones… it’s a very long list. Even if you think that the US intel services have been helping feed this.
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Huawei can’t use microSD cards in its smartphones w/ ban • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:

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Huawei has been de-listed from the SD Association, no longer appearing on the list of members. Speaking to Android Authority, the SD Association confirmed that Huawei was removed from this list in compliance with the US order. Huawei also mentioned that its current smartphones with microSD card support won’t be affected, obviously, but declined to comment on any future devices having support.

What’s important to note here, though, is that this move isn’t exactly a dagger for Huawei. The company has been moving away from using SD cards in its phones for a couple of years. Instead, Huawei devices, especially flagships, have been adopting the company’s own “NanoMemory” format which is smaller than a microSD card.

Nikkei has further pointed out that Huawei has also been “temporarily restricted” from the Wi-Fi Alliance following its US blacklisting. JEDEC, an organization which sets semiconductor standards, also saw Huawei temporarily withdraw its membership voluntarily in the days since the ban. These two moves mean that Huawei can’t contribute to these standards until things change. The company can still use these standards in developing its products, but they’ll no longer have a say in “crafting” the standards.

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As football fans say: getting to squeaky bum time for Huawei.

(I used the 9to5 Google writeup rather than the Android Authority one, despite the latter being first, because the former was more thorough and had the Wi-Fi stuff.)

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nothing bad can stay • Substack

Mike Isaac (who prefers not to bother with capitals):

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there’s one more big problem [with Facebook de-emphasising the Newsfeed in favour of Snapchat-style Stories]: Making money off of Stories is not as simple as making money from the News Feed. the advertising formats are fundamentally different. it’s easy to skip a story ad with a tap of the finger. you don’t linger on the image or video as long when you realize it’s an ad. and the less time you spend on ads, the less Facebook gets paid. that’s a remarkable contrast to how much time people spent lingering on news feed ads.

here’s an example: snapchat, which has been impermanent from the very start, ended 2018 with a little over $1.1bn in annual revenue from its different ad formats. Facebook, by contrast, raked in more than fifty times that amount, some $55bn, most of that coming from news feed ads. that is an insane amount of money. but it is also based on a permanent internet, one that is quickly going away.

so we are left with a few questions. as people realize their digital pasts are a liability and post less frequently, are some of these companies going to grow smaller and less lucrative? will facebook — the biggest social network on the planet — end up shrinking? will those annual revenues dry up?

and what happens to Twitter, the absolute furthest behind in terms of any and all product development that deals with an impermanent internet? (in my mind, twitter is super fucked if it doesn’t start testing different versions of itself to experiment with ephemerality. but god knows whats going on over there these days, since it takes them 3+ years to formulate a plan to deal with its harassment problems.)

anyway, food for thought.

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China approves 20.76 GW of subsidy-free solar, wind power projects • Reuters

Muyu Xu and David Stanway:

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China approved its first batch of subsidy-free wind and solar projects with a combined capacity of 20.76 gigawatts (GW), the country’s top planning agency said on Wednesday.

That follows China’s vow in January to launch a series of unsubsidized renewable power projects this year to tackle a payment backlog amid a decline in construction costs in the sector.

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) also urged grid companies to sign long-term power purchase contracts with operators of the unsubsidized renewable projects, it said in a statement.

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China’s installed power generation capacity is 1,777GW as of 2017, of which 55% is from coal. So this is good, but the context (especially of coal – still growing) is still not.
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How Amazon created the Prime membership program • Vox

Jason Del Rey spoke to lots of former Amazon people, and this is the start of it:

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Andrea Leigh (former Amazon business leader for Prime in Canada)
It’s hard to put ourselves back in that year, but at that time we did not know what form of e-commerce was going to take off. Was it going to be auction sites? Was it going to be subscription services? Or was it going to be sites with free shipping thresholds?

Vijay Ravindran (former Amazon director of ordering)
Back then there wasn’t a blind faith that every Jeff idea was going to be a home run. And so there was a lot of pushback. Very prominent people who are at Amazon today and in high positions told me, “You shouldn’t be allowing Jeff to do this,” and, ”This is setting a bad example for the company.”

The “this” in question was a secret Amazon project that went by the code name Futurama — what would eventually become Amazon Prime. And it started, in part, with a software engineer’s frustration that Amazon’s free-shipping offer — then called Super Saver Shipping — was annoyingly complex, both on the backend and to shoppers, who were required to hit a $25 minimum with each order to qualify for the perk, and then wait eight to 10 business days for their delivery.

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Lots more, of course. The idea that nobody knew how it would all shake out is unfamiliar now; but that was the uncertainty then.
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Urbanism under Google: lessons from Sidewalk Toronto • SSRN

Ellen P. Goodman and Julia Powles:

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In October 2017, Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs embarked on its first prototype smart city in Toronto, Canada, planning a new kind of data-driven urban environment: “the world’s first neighborhood built from the internet up.” Although the vision is for an urban district foregrounding progressive ideals of inclusivity, for the crucial first 18 months of the venture, many of the most consequential features of the project were hidden from view and unavailable for serious scrutiny. The players defied public accountability on questions about data collection and surveillance, governance, privacy, competition, and procurement. Even more basic questions about the use of public space went unanswered: privatized services, land ownership, infrastructure deployment and, in all cases, the question of who is in control. What was hidden in this first stage, and what was revealed, suggest that the imagined smart city may be incompatible with democratic processes, sustained public governance, and the public interest.

This article analyzes the Sidewalk project in Toronto as it took shape in its first phase, prior to the release of the Master Innovation and Development Plan, exploring three major governance challenges posed by the imagined “city of the future”: privatization, platformization, and domination.

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The paper is a free download. It points out the hyperbolic nature of what Sidewalk has promised, compared to what’s been achieved.
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In Baltimore and beyond, a stolen NSA tool wreaks havoc • The New York Times

Nicole Perlroth and Scott Shane:

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Before it leaked, EternalBlue was one of the most useful exploits in the N.S.A.’s cyberarsenal. According to three former N.S.A. operators who spoke on the condition of anonymity, analysts spent almost a year finding a flaw in Microsoft’s software and writing the code to target it. Initially, they referred to it as EternalBluescreen because it often crashed computers — a risk that could tip off their targets. But it went on to become a reliable tool used in countless intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism missions.

EternalBlue was so valuable, former N.S.A. employees said, that the agency never seriously considered alerting Microsoft about the vulnerabilities, and held on to it for more than five years before the breach forced its hand.

The Baltimore attack, on May 7, was a classic ransomware assault. City workers’ screens suddenly locked, and a message in flawed English demanded about $100,000 in Bitcoin to free their files: “We’ve watching you for days,” said the message, obtained by The Baltimore Sun. “We won’t talk more, all we know is MONEY! Hurry up!”

Today, Baltimore remains handicapped as city officials refuse to pay, though workarounds have restored some services. Without EternalBlue, the damage would not have been so vast, experts said. The tool exploits a vulnerability in unpatched software that allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than they otherwise could.

North Korea was the first nation to co-opt the tool, for an attack in 2017 — called WannaCry — that paralyzed the British health care system, German railroads and some 200,000 organizations around the world. Next was Russia, which used the weapon in an attack — called NotPetya — that was aimed at Ukraine but spread across major companies doing business in the country. The assault cost FedEx more than $400 million and Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, $670 million.

The damage didn’t stop there.

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November 2018: Facebook’s dangerous push to appease the right • Arc Digital

Elizabeth Picciuto, in November 2018:

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Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, was brought on board by Sandberg in 2011 with an eye toward improving the company’s outreach to Republicans. Before coming to Facebook, Kaplan had played several important roles in the Bush administration and had clerked for the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In December 2015, then-candidate Trump put out a statement, which was also published as a Facebook post, proposing a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S. The Times reports that Zuckerberg was appalled at the message. Several senior Facebook employees wanted to make a stand against hate speech and remove the post. Kaplan advised Sandberg not to “poke the bear”—that is, Facebook should avoid angering conservatives who would see such a move as violating principles of speech. Facebook was already suspected of liberal bias. No fodder should be given to the powerful right wing media companies, not to mention politicians, to nourish outrage. The post remained up.

Over the next three years, the Times exposé shows the extraordinary lengths Facebook went to avoid poking that bear. Kaplan repeatedly encouraged Sandberg and Zuckerberg to tone down—to the point of dishonesty—their descriptions of Russia’s actions on Facebook, lest they be seen as siding with Democrats. Again and again, Facebook listened.

Kaplan reviewed their press releases carefully to strike out any phrasing that might set off conservative rage. These moves are notable both for their partisan pandering and their inefficacy.

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Nancy Pelosi fake video: Facebook defends its decision not to delete • The Washington Post

Alex Horton:

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There is no dispute that the Facebook video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) viewed by millions is a fake, deliberately altered to make her appear drunk. YouTube acted fast and removed duplicates. Other social media outlets have not made the same call.

Facebook acknowledged the video is “false” but said the videos would remain on the platform.

Amid fierce calls across the public and government for Facebook to remove the video — which has been viewed 2.6 million times — and others like it, a Facebook official took to CNN on Friday to defend its decision.

Monika Bickert, a company vice president for product policy and counterterrorism, said the video was reviewed by fact-checking organizations, and after it deemed the video a hoax, the company “dramatically” reduced its distribution. But Facebook did not remove the video, Bickert said.

“We think it’s important for people to make their own informed choice for what to believe. Our job is to make sure we are getting them accurate information,” she said.

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This is such horseshit. It’s not accurate information. There’s no “informed choice what to believe”. Bickert knows that it’s fake, and not to be believed.

If you want a conspiracy theory: Trump and his team are spending huge amounts on advertising on Facebook. Can’t upset the big advertisers. Whatever; this is blatant cowardice by Facebook. Increasingly, I feel the world would be better without it.
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Cloud loss could add 8 degrees to global warming • Quanta Magazine

Natalie Wolchover:

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A picture emerged of a brief, cataclysmic hot spell 56 million years ago, now known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). After heat-trapping carbon leaked into the sky from an unknown source, the planet, which was already several degrees Celsius hotter than it is today, gained an additional 6 degrees. The ocean turned jacuzzi-hot near the equator and experienced mass extinctions worldwide. On land, primitive monkeys, horses and other early mammals marched northward, following vegetation to higher latitudes. The mammals also miniaturized over generations, as leaves became less nutritious in the carbonaceous air. Violent storms ravaged the planet; the geologic record indicates flash floods and protracted droughts. As Kennett put it, “Earth was triggered, and all hell broke loose.”

The PETM doesn’t only provide a past example of CO2-driven climate change; scientists say it also points to an unknown factor that has an outsize influence on Earth’s climate. When the planet got hot, it got really hot. Ancient warming episodes like the PETM were always far more extreme than theoretical models of the climate suggest they should have been. Even after accounting for differences in geography, ocean currents and vegetation during these past episodes, paleoclimatologists find that something big appears to be missing from their models — an X-factor whose wild swings leave no trace in the fossil record.

Evidence is mounting in favor of the answer that experts have long suspected but have only recently been capable of exploring in detail. “It’s quite clear at this point that the answer is clouds,” said Matt Huber, a paleoclimate modeler at Purdue University.

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Long, but so very worth your time.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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