Start Up No.1,076: Facebook’s shredded ethics, Federighi bites on privacy, Asus’s dual-screen wonder, the AR killer app?, and more


DuckDuckGo’s CEO reckons people will object to having their private data slurped up pretty soon. CC-licensed photo by pixishared on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Nancy Pelosi and Fakebook’s dirty tricks • The New York Times

Kara Swisher Charlie Warzel is as angry as I was, but sets it out so well:

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By conflating censorship with the responsible maintenance of its platforms, and by providing “rules” that are really just capricious decisions by a small coterie of the rich and powerful, Facebook and others have created a free-for-all with no consistent philosophy.

The Chewbacca mom video is sure fun, and so are New York Times articles, because classy journalism looks good on the platform. But the toxic stew of propaganda and fake news that is allowed to pour into the public river without filters? Also A-O.K., in the clearly underdeveloped mind of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, who has been — try as he might with great earnestness — guiding his ship into dangerous waters.

Don’t believe me? Listen to what came out of his mouth during a podcast interview with me less than a year ago, a comment that in hindsight makes his non-action against the Pelosi video look completely inevitable. We had been talking about the vile Alex Jones, whom Mr. Zuckerberg had declined to remove from Facebook despite his having violated many of its policies. (This month Facebook finally did bar him from the platform). For some reason, presumably to make a greater point, he shifted the conversation to the Holocaust. It was a mistake, to say the least.

“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened. I find that deeply offensive,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

I was shocked, but I wanted to hear more, so I said briefly: “In the case of Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.”

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And Zuckerberg did go ahead. Warzel was just astonished at the ensuing “senseless jumble of words”, and thinks that the company has “been wandering ever since from one ethical quandary to the next”.

Time to make hard choices, Facebook. Time to grow up.
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DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg talks “do not track” legislation on Kara Swisher podcast Recode Decode • Vox

Eric Johnson:

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People don’t realize just how much they’re being tracked online, says DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg — but he’s confident that once they learn how much tech companies like Google and Facebook are quietly slurping up their private data, they will demand a change.

“They’re getting purchase history, location history, browsing history, search history,” Weinberg said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher. “And then when you go to, now, a website that has advertising from one of these networks, there’s a real-time bidding against you, as a person. There’s an auction to sell you an ad based on all this creepy information you didn’t even realize people captured.”

DuckDuckGo offers a privacy-minded search engine that has about 1% of the search market share in the US (Google’s share is more than 88%), as well as a free browser extension for Firefox and Google Chrome that blocks ad networks from tracking you. But rather than waiting for a comprehensive privacy bill to lurch through Congress over many years, he’s proposed a small, simple tweak to US regulations that might help: Make not being tracked by those networks the default, rather than something you have to opt into.

“The fact that consumers have already adopted it and it’s in the browser is just an amazing legislative opportunity, just give it teeth,” he said. “It’s actually a better mechanism for privacy laws because once you have this setting and it works, you don’t have to deal with all the popups anymore. You just set it once, and then sites can’t track you.”

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Weinberg is always good value. Also: DuckDuckGo is profitable; it doesn’t have huge VC funding to chase to repay millions of times over.
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Inside Apple’s top secret testing facilities where iPhone defences are forged in temperatures of -40C • The Independent

Andrew Griffin:

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The cost of those [Apple] products has led to some criticism from Apple’s rivals, who have said that it is the price of privacy; that Apple is fine talking about how little data it collects, but it is only able to do so because of the substantial premiums they command. That was the argument recently made by Google boss Sundar Pichai, in just one of a range of recent broadsides between tech companies about privacy.

“Privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services,” [Google chief Sundar] Pichai wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. He didn’t name Apple, but he didn’t need to.

Pichai argued that the collection of data helps make technology affordable, echoing a sentiment often heard about Apple, that their commitment to privacy is only possible because their products are expensive and it can afford to take such a position. Having a more lax approach to privacy helps keep the products made by almost all of the biggest technology products in the world – from Google to Instagram – free, at least at the point of use.

“I don’t buy into the luxury good dig,” says Federighi, giving the impression he was genuinely surprised by the public attack.

“On the one hand gratifying that other companies in space over the last few months, seemed to be making a lot of positive noises about caring about privacy. I think it’s a deeper issue than then, what a couple of months and a couple of press releases would make. I think you’ve got to look fundamentally at company cultures and values and business model. And those don’t change overnight.

“But we certainly seek to both set a great example for the world to show what’s possible to raise people’s expectations about what they should expect the products, whether they get them from us or from other people. And of course, we love, ultimately, to sell Apple products to everyone we possibly could certainly not just a luxury, we think a great product experience is something everyone should have. So we aspire to develop those.”

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Lots of other details in there, but this is the core.
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The Asus ZenBook Pro Duo is an extravagant laptop with two 4K screens • The Verge

Sam Byford:

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The ZenBook Pro Duo has not one, but two 4K screens. (At least if you’re counting horizontal pixels.) There’s a 15-inch 16:9 OLED panel where you’d normally find the display on a laptop, then a 32:9 IPS “ScreenPad Plus” screen directly above the keyboard that’s the same width and half the height. It’s as if Asus looked at the MacBook Pro Touch Bar and thought “what if that, but with 32 times as many pixels?”

Unlike the Touch Bar, though, the ScreenPad Plus doesn’t take anything away from the ZenBook Pro Duo, except presumably battery life. Asus still included a full-sized keyboard with a function row, including an escape key, and the trackpad is located directly to the right. The design is very reminiscent of Asus’ Zephryus slimline gaming laptops — you even still get the light-up etching that lets you use the trackpad as a numpad. HP tried something similar recently, too, though its second screen was far smaller.

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OK, so the photo shows the use for the second screen. But it’s just wild.
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Five legal principles for the Green New Deal • The Washington Post

Michael Burger:

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The GND resolution is enormously ambitious. It recognizes that the goal of Congress must be to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” and proposes to accomplish this through a 10-year process that would include “meeting 100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources,” upgrading all buildings for energy efficiency, and the widespread electrification of vehicles and heating systems. It also calls for nature-based solutions to climate change, such as land preservation, afforestation and soil management. Additional first order goals acknowledge the great and unequal threats climate change poses to American lives and include providing all people of the United States with health care, housing and economic security.

Critics have lambasted this ambition. The proposal has been called unrealistic and infeasible by some in the political center and center-left, and stupid, dumb, evil, a socialist con game and a communist manifesto by some on the right. But, from a drafting perspective, the GND’s scope, and its visionary language, would serve a practical purpose. What Congress says about the nature of the problem, its purpose in taking action and the range of solutions will serve as a lodestar for future generations.

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The five principles are: Go big, be specific, set deadlines, let them [individuals] sue [companies], make floors not ceilings. Ally this to the green vote expansion in the European parliament elections, and there’s at least a glimpse of hope.
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How Trump uses likes and retweets to shape policy • NY Mag

Adam K. Raymond:

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Politico published a profile of Dan Scavino, Donald Trump’s social media guy, on Thursday that included all the usual nonsense we’ve become inured to in the past two years. Like the fact that Scavino, who’s one of Trump’s closest confidants, is a lurker on /r/The_Donald.

But there’s one revelation in the piece that’s actually worth dwelling on — Trump apparently uses social media metrics to influence policy. And Scavino is the guy who helps him do it.

The article’s opening anecdote shows how this plays out. Trump was meeting with lawmakers after he announced that the US would pull out of Syria. Like his former Defense Secretary, who quit over the decision, the members of Congress were trying to convince Trump to change his mind. But Trump was more interested in how the decision was playing on Twitter than on Capitol Hill or at the Pentagon. So he called Scavino into the meeting:

“Tell them how popular my policy is,” Trump instructed Scavino, who, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, proceeded to walk lawmakers through the positive reaction he had picked up on social media about Trump’s Syria decision.

The sudden pivot from geostrategy to retweets and likes surprised the lawmakers.

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The idiocy of the crowd. What does Twitter know about geopolitics? What happens if more people try this?
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To win online debates, social networks worth a thousand words • EurekAlert! Science News

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Want to win an argument online? Bolstering your social network may be more helpful than rehearsing your rhetorical flourishes.

According to Cornell researchers, social interactions are more important than language in predicting who is going to succeed at online debating. However, the most accurate model for predicting successful debaters combines information about social interactions and language, the researchers found.

They analyzed data from Debate.org, a website that hosts debates on a variety of topics. Users can debate each other, comment on other debates, ask and answer questions, create and respond to polls, and become friends.

“It turns out that the interaction of people on this platform is really predictive of their success,” said Esin Durmus, a doctoral student in computer science and first author of “Modeling the Factors of Online Debate,” presented at the Web Conference, May 13-17 in San Francisco. “So if someone is trying to win an argument, they should focus on their social interactions, like discussing interesting findings with the people they’re friends with.”

The study, co-authored with Claire Cardie, professor of computer and information science, has implications for online debaters looking to improve and for developers of artificial intelligence systems seeking to expose humans to different perspectives, Durmus said.

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Is online shopping AR’s killer app? • On my Om

Om Malik:

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This week, I came across the Nike Fit, which seems like such a smart use of a much-hyped technology: augmented reality. Nike Fit allows you to point your phone at your feet and get the most accurate measurement. The size data that is collected enables you to find the right match for your foot from Nike’s mind-boggling array of shoe choices.

This is a product and use of technology that makes perfect sense. It affirms my confidence in the long-term prospects for AR and the possibilities of visual sensors. According to Nike’s PR, for what it’s worth, about “60% of people at any given time are walking around in the wrong size shoe.” And in North America alone, “half a million people complain about purchasing the wrong shoe size a year.”

In the past, we would go to a store, where a clerk would measure our foot using the Brannock Device to determine the correct fit. It would take him a trip back or two to the storeroom to find the right shoe. But we don’t go to the stores all that much anymore. Instead, we increasingly shop online and get everything shipped to our homes.

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My initial reaction was that this is a “no”, but then again we do adapt to unusual ways of doing things. It would be good to be able to be certain of getting the right size of anything like that. Of course there’s the question of what that does to the high street. Nothing good, probably.
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YouTubers and record labels are fighting, and record labels keep winning • The Verge

Julia Alexander:

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The Guitar Manifesto hasn’t had videos taken down, but it has had labels claim revenue from its videos. “It seems to be a big thing at the moment where a bunch of guitar channels are getting claims put against their videos due to copyright infringement,” Rob says. Even playing 10 seconds of music in a 30-minute video can lead to a record label getting all the money it takes in. Rob said he relies heavily on advertising revenue and will often go in to edit segments out that YouTube dinged him for in order to monetize videos.

In order to prevent a video from being completely blocked in the US, the operator of another guitar instruction channel, Paul Davids, removed a portion showing viewers how to play a “two second lick” from The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” which also included a several-second clip from said song. “Hotel California” is one of the many songs that automatically leads to a video being blocked in most countries, according to a tool YouTube built for creators to see if any of the songs they want to use or cover will end up getting their video blocked. Davids’ video, “10 Extremely Tasty Licks (you should know),” now includes only nine licks.

YouTube has put a strong emphasis on educational content, including the type of tutorials and informative commentary that Fricker and Rob both produce. Executives have touted educational content as an area the company wants to invest in and expand upon. The company announced in October 2018 that it was investing $20 million in creators who produce educational videos, and it’s used this type of advertiser-friendly content as a way to encourage more companies to run ads on the platform.

Because their videos are educational, both Fricker and Rob believe their use of popular songs should fall under fair use — a carve-out in copyright law that allows people to use copyrighted content if the resulting work is transformative enough that it’s completely separate from the original work it’s using.

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The labels are being bastards, but YouTube encouraged the laissez-faire approach; now people are being bitten by it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: an earlier version of this post miscredited Kara Swisher’s article to Charlie Warzel.

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,076: Facebook’s shredded ethics, Federighi bites on privacy, Asus’s dual-screen wonder, the AR killer app?, and more

  1. Asus also relased v2.0 of their screen-in-touchpad in half a dozen laptops incl. midrange. I’d love one of those. Apparently they can be used either as a regular-though-small screen, or run some Asus control tool for media, specific apps,…
    I’d try to run Android on it, which can almost certainly be done since Android does run as a regular Windows app.

  2. The Nike bit reminds me that StitchNFix always asks if the sleeves were too long, the length too short etc… which is helpful. Of course, if manufacturers actually followed the measurements more accurately we wouldn’t have to do all this stuff (Old Navy jeans for 34 inch waist turned out to be 40 inches).

  3. “Privacy cannot be a luxury good offered only to people who can afford to buy premium products and services,” [Google chief Sundar] Pichai wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times. He didn’t name Apple, but he didn’t need to.

    – Im sorry, but anyone who works for Google, a company that does now make high quality products (Google Pixel) AND makes money off of people’s information is not in a position to make this claim..

    They have a point, but it sounds almost hypocritical coming from them.

    • They said this is because Apple makes luxury products, and so the money buys privacy, right? well this is a valid point, BUT Apple made the iPhone 5c, and SE which were cheaper phones that ran their IOS software. So we can’t say Apple doesn’t make anything affordable.

  4. With Oneplus moving into regular flagship territory – their latest is the same price as Samsung’s Galaxy Note current street price -, the “flagship killer” segment is up for grab.

    Xiaomi released their attempt at the niche today via their value brand Redmi, with a $360 device (so, about half to a third the street price of regular flagships).
    – It has most of the flagships goodies : AMOLED, latest Qualcomm SoC, very fast charging, lots of RAM and storage, recent Gorilla Glass, Sony camera sensor… even has some flagships unfeatures (no SD slot), and a tricky idiocy (pop up selfie cam) for some wow factor.
    – It’s missing some stuff: no wireless charging, no SD slot, and some qualitative stuff will certainly not be current-flagship level (pics, screen sound in and out). It does have a nice comfy battery and a headphone jack though.

    Interestingly, there’s a cheaper variant that doesn’t sacrifice much. 260€ for a latest gen 7nm Snapdragon 730 instead of 855, and previous-gen Sony sensor instead of last-gen.

    Probably not going to impact the flagship market much, but an interesting upgrade option for all current Xiaomi users (and there’s a whole lot of Redmi Note and Xiaomi Mi users), and a better alternative for the “older flagship” crowd (I was looking at iPhone 8 vs Galaxy S10e the other day, iP8 hasn’t aged well).

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