Start Up No.1,078: GDPR one year on, Chernobyl by bike, is your Uber ranking high enough?, Google blocks adblockers, and more


New York is going to join London by introducing a limited congestion charge. CC-licensed photo by Leo Reynolds on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

One year into GDPR, most apps still harvest data without permission • AdExchanger

Allison Schiff:

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The front door may be locked, but the basement windows are wide open.

Unauthorized data harvesting from mobile apps has continued nearly unabated in the year since Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation came into force last May.

In a recent test conducted for AdExchanger, mobile analytics company Kochava examined the behavior of the top 2,700 apps in the Google Play store in the United States compared with France, where GDPR applies.

Despite a small drop in the average number of network requests coming per app in France, which was to be expected, there was no discernible difference in the prevalence of data transmission between regions.

Nearly 60% of apps sent advertising IDs to a remote endpoint at least once either directly or through a third-party SDK, regardless of where the users were located or whether they’d given consent.

Apps often presented users with a consent notice screen and then ignored the user’s choice, transmitting the data regardless of the user’s preference.

“The regulation exists, but is there a body in Belgium looking at the mobile ecosystem to try and determine which calls from a device are legitimate or not – hell no, that’s not happening,” said Grant Simmons, head of client analytics at Kochava.

But even if there was, this stuff is hard to catch by design, Simmons said. Around 30% of the data calls transmitted to and from devices are encrypted and when fraudsters enter the picture, they usually use transitory domains to obscure their actions, including data harvesting.

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Websites not available in the European Union after GDPR • Verified Joseph

Joseph O’Connor:

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On 25 May 2018, the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came in to force, resulting in organisations (mainly US-based newspapers) blocking people living in the European Union from accessing their websites as they are not compliant with the new regulations. This dataset lists websites that are or were unavailable, along with links to archived versions of the websites and archived block messages. This dataset has been featured in a number of news articles including NiemanLab, TechRadar and publico.pt

The Los Angeles Times’ website is reportedly available in Bulgaria as of 08/08/2018. The website remains unavailable in other European countries.

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Bulgaria. Why there? Anyhow, there’s 1,129 unavailable sites. There’s also a list, at the end of “Costs and Unintended Consequences” of a number of companies which “have left the EU in droves (or shut down entirely)”. At which one looks and says: sure, but there are plenty more which are still here, in those sectors, and they don’t seem to be dying because of GDPR. Perhaps it was your lousy business model reliant on grabbing personal data?
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Scene report from the Chernobyl Zone • Moxie Marlinspike

Marlinspike went on a bicycle trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone:

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When the firefighters from the first night, before they understood that this was not just a fire, showed up at the hospital sick and suffering from radiation burns, the medical staff there knew that they must have been severely contaminated, but they stayed and treated them anyway, potentially exposing themselves to the same fate.

Every interview I’ve seen or account that I’ve read from those involved, most of whom died within weeks or have suffered life-long health problems, has a common theme of no regrets; the sentiment almost universally “It had to be done. Who would I expect to do it instead of me?”

There’s so much in Pripyat that by the time we had to leave, we had probably explored less than 1% of the city. We went out on the same road that the residents did 33 years ago. Riding across the zone under the full moon, we’d stop sometimes and stare out at the woods and fields around us, all alone in the middle of that huge seeming expanse. The experience is full of tensions. It is so beautiful and so peaceful that it really feels like paradise, but it’s a paradise that you can’t enjoy. You have to be careful about where you sit, what you eat, how you eat it, what you touch; which is — ironically — why it exists. The reason it’s so beautiful and so peaceful is precisely because we can’t consume it. Like, perhaps, all real paradises everywhere.

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If you haven’t seen the Chernobyl TV series, you should; it’s possible that the accident couldn’t have happened anywhere but the Soviet Union, and couldn’t have been stopped with the human sacrifice that it demanded anywhere but the Soviet Union.
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Uber will start deactivating riders with low ratings • TechCrunch

Megan Rose Dickey:

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Uber is now requiring the same good behavior from riders that it has long expected from its drivers. Uber riders have always had ratings, but they were never really at risk of deactivation — until now. Starting today, riders in the U.S. and Canada are now at risk of deactivation if their rating falls significantly below a city’s average.

“Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Uber Head of Safety Brand and Initiatives Kate Parker wrote in a blog post. “Drivers have long been required to meet a minimum rating threshold which can vary city to city. While we expect only a small number of riders to ultimately be impacted by ratings-based deactivations, it’s the right thing to do.”

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Black Mirror: less a warning, more an instruction manual.
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Studies don’t support Elon Musk’s Autopilot safety claims • The Information

Matt Drange:

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In 2016, for instance, [Elon Musk] said that “half a million” people would be saved if Autopilot were more widely available. In 2017, Musk tweeted that the latest Autopilot software update could reduce collisions by “90%.”…

…In an effort to verify Tesla’s claims about the safety of Autopilot, The Information interviewed dozens of safety experts who have studied the software—many of them Tesla owners themselves. The interviews, along with internal documents, research reports and an analysis of five years’ worth of crash data collected by state and federal government agencies, show that attempts to measure the safety of Autopilot have failed to back up Mr. Musk’s claims.

The reality, researchers say, is that only Tesla has the data needed to determine whether its cars are safer when on Autopilot mode. Despite calls for transparency, Mr. Musk has kept this information from the public and attacked those who question the technology. Mr. Musk has gone so far as to say that journalists who write about crashes involving Autopilot are “killing people” if the coverage dissuades them from trying the technology.

The questions surrounding Autopilot’s safety come at a critical juncture for Tesla, which continues to burn through cash as it ramps up production. That has forced the company to raise more money: Earlier this month, Tesla said it would raise $2bn in new debt and equity. The company’s share price, meanwhile, continues to decline, dropping steadily from $376 in December to about $189 Tuesday.

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Ready when you are, Mr Musk.
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Donald Trump’s Wikipedia page: inside the brutal, petty battles over the president’s entry • Slate

Aaron Mak:

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Unlike most Wikipedia pages, which mostly anyone can edit, the only way for an entry like Trump’s to function is with a hierarchy. Any user can still argue for a change, but more senior editors—those with at least 30 days of tenure and 500 edits under their belts—have to approve it. And there are even higher levels of power above them: administrators (volunteers who apply for the right to wield special override abilities and are voted in by fellow users after a review of their edit histories) and arbitrators, a group of 13 editors chosen in an annual election who can make final decisions when there’s high-profile misconduct or conflicts arise involving administrators. On Trump’s page, there’s also an unofficial editorial board of experienced users who try to protect the page’s integrity.

The senior editors put the Helsinki proposal to a vote, which clarified little. The results were roughly tied, but even final tallies don’t necessarily dictate outcomes. Instead, administrators with special editing privileges weigh the quality of the arguments made on both sides against Wikipedia’s editorial policies on things like neutrality and reliable sourcing, and make a decision.

After 10 days of trying to reach a consensus on the Helsinki debate, administrator Awilley concluded there was enough support for the inclusion and closed the discussion.

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Has undergone more than 28,000 edits since it was created in 2004. The page has the equivalent of its own bodyguard protection squad – and that’ll probably remain the case for a long while.
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Google relents slightly on blocking ad-blockers – for paid-up enterprise Chrome users, everyone else not so much • The Register

Thomas Claburn:

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Google Chrome users will continue to have access to the full content blocking power of the webRequest API in their browser extensions, but only if they’re paying enterprise customers.

Everyone else will have to settle for extensions that use the neutered declarativeNetRequest API, which is being developed as part of a pending change to the way Chrome Extensions work. And chances are Chrome users will have fewer extensions to choose from because some developers won’t be able to rework their extensions so they function under the new regime, or won’t want to do so…

…developer Raymond Hill, who created popular content control extension uBlock Origin, contends blocking capabilities matter more than observing. Losing the ability to block content with the webRequest API is his main concern.

“This breaks uBlock Origin and uMatrix, [which] are incompatible with the basic matching algorithm [Google] picked, ostensibly designed to enforce EasyList-like filter lists,” he explained in an email to The Register. “A blocking webRequest API allows open-ended content blocker designs, not restricted to a specific design and limits dictated by the same company which states that content blockers are a threat to its business.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment. The ad biz previously said its aim with Manifest v3 is “to create stronger security, privacy, and performance guarantees.”

But Hill, in a note posted over the weekend to GitHub, observes that performance problems arise more from bloated web pages stuffed with tracking code than from extensions intercepting and processing content.

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So, basically, Google is making harder to have adblocking extensions that actually block ads. (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
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The end of mobile • Benedict Evans

Benedict Evans notes that there are about 4bn smartphones in use, and surveys the broader market:

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the PC market, which has had flat-to-falling sales for the last few years, has something around 1.5bn active devices (including a bit over 100m Macs and a similar number running Linux of various kinds, and 800m running Windows 10, which was released 4 years ago), split roughly 50/50 consumer/enterprise. Quite which number you use depends on which analyst firm’s estimates you prefer, but they’re all in the same range.

What about tablets? Apple says 900m iPhones and ‘over 1.4bn’ total actives devices: if you subtract 200m Macs, Watches and Apple TVs combined that leaves about 300m iPads (again, this is consistent with historically reported unit sales) – 350m seems possible. Google’s numbers cited above imply something between 100m and 150m (I hesitate to be more precise given how rounded these numbers are). Non-Google Android tablets in China might be double that, or even more – here again the question of whether the device goes online to show up in the stats means it’s hard to make a firm estimate (I’m sure people will disagree with this one). But this means there are certainly over half a billion tablets in use.

So. There’s an old joke that the career of an analyst progresses from Word to Excel to Powerpoint. That’s pretty much what’s happened here over the last 20 years: first we discussed what might happen (“imagine if everyone had a phone!”), then we tracked the numbers of what was happening, and finally we draw diagrams and bullet points of what that means. That’s where we are now – we try to work out what it means that almost everyone has a phone or a smartphone (I made a presentation about this). 

But this also means that now we go back to the beginning: I’m not updating my smartphone model anymore. The next fundamental trends in tech, today, are probably machine learning, crypto and regulation. I can write about those, but it’s too early to make charts. 

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Yup – I’ve long since stopped updating my many spreadsheet models. There’s no drama about the industry itself. Outside it, well, that’s different.
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New York’s adoption of congestion charging might mean something much more radical could come • Forbes

Brad Templeton:

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New York is going to institute a congestion charge below 60th St. in Manhattan. This is controversial, as expected, and fees don’t start until 2021. They may be around $12 for cars and $25 for trucks, so not minor. The plan is to use the $1bn generated each year to pay for public transit.

New York’s charging, like London’s, is very imprecise. It’s a daily fee. It charges the same no longer how long you spend in the zone. The idea is almost 45 years old, and so it’s strange that NYC isn’t considering something much better and more modern. Singapore began with paper tickets you put on the windshield, and moved to electronic tolling over 20 years ago. We now live in the era of the smartphone. By 2021, it’s entirely reasonable to require that every car entering downtown Manhattan have a smartphone in it.

This means that much more is possible today than was imagined 45 years ago.

Congestion charging has had mixed reactions around the world, but not always as expected. In Sweden, support for it was 40% before it started, and rose to 68% later. For example, it was feared that downtown retailers would hate it – it’s effectively a tax on people driving to shop at their store – but by clearing the roads, it made the shopping more pleasant and worth the fee.

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OK, congestion charges are regressive (proportionately, they affect poorer road users). But if you use them for public transport, you square the circle: personal road users can shift to that mode, or shift to ride-sharing (hello Uber). London has followed with a ULEZ (ultra low-emission zone) to reduce emissions. London’s congestion zone reduced traffic by 10% and generated £2.3bn ($2.9bn) in its first ten years.

More US cities should use it – Los Angeles, with its smog, would benefit from forcing more ride-sharing.
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China gears up to weaponize rare earths dominance in trade war • Bloomberg

Jason Rogers, David Stringer, and Martin Ritchie:

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The world’s biggest producer, China supplies about 80% of US imports of rare earths, which are used in a host of applications from smartphones to electric vehicles and wind turbines.

The threat to weaponise strategic materials ratchets up the tension between the world’s two biggest economies before an expected meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump at the G-20 meeting next month…

…The US shouldn’t underestimate China’s ability to fight the trade war, the People’s Daily said in an editorial Wednesday that used some historically significant language on the weight of China’s intent.

The newspaper’s commentary included a rare Chinese phrase that means “don’t say I didn’t warn you.” The specific wording was used by the paper in 1962 before China went to war with India, and “those familiar with Chinese diplomatic language know the weight of this phrase,” the Global Times, a newspaper affiliated with the Communist Party, said in an article last April. It was also used before conflict broke out between China and Vietnam in 1979.

On rare earths specifically, the People’s Daily said it isn’t hard to answer the question whether China will use the elements as retaliation in the trade war.

China is “seriously” considering restricting rare earth exports to the U.S. and may also implement other countermeasures, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, said in a tweet.

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“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” Someone tweeted that a year ago. How’s it working out?
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Apple expected to remove 3D Touch • Michael Tsai’s blog

Michael J. Tsai:

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Last week, in a research note shared with MacRumors, a team of Barclays analysts “confirmed” that 3D Touch “will be eliminated” in all 2019 iPhones, as they predicted back in August 2018. The analysts gathered this information from Apple suppliers following a trip to Asia earlier this month.

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What’s different about Tsai’s approach is that he rounds up not just the news, but also the reactions, and his reactions. 3D Touch has always felt like one of those things that’s just on the verge of being really useful, but didn’t tip over into it as much as anything because Apple hasn’t shown a clear path for third-party developers. And it did tend to confuse things: the subtle distinction between a long press, a 3D press and a short press can be particularly annoying when you’re trying to reorganise your home screen and it brings up the 3D Touch menu, or vice-versa.

A quick note too that when it became known that Apple was going to introduce this in 2015, Huawei hurried out its Mate S with the same feature, which was quickly abandoned.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,078: GDPR one year on, Chernobyl by bike, is your Uber ranking high enough?, Google blocks adblockers, and more

  1. I’m really curious about the rationale for 3D touch, especially from the company that argued 2 buttons on a mouse was too many (I use a gaming mouse for work just so I can have more buttons and macros, gaming keyboard too)
    – what does 3D touch do that a long press can’t ? Or a double tap ?
    – are we suposed to have 2-3-4 types of taps/presses ?
    – but only sometimes, and with 0 discoverabiity ?
    – how does it work on significantly more bendy tablets ? Do you have to secure the back of the tablet with your other hand before hard-pressing ? Or just chance bending it ? Or is it not available on tablets (fragmentation !)
    – ditto for large phones actually, except for those the issue is that since you don’t grip them securely, hard-pressing is acrobatic, unless you get your second hand in play.
    – if it’s neither obvious it’s there, nor there all the time, how can UI designers make use of it when most users won’t use it ?

    Frankly, the whole thing always smelled of senseless hypable headline feature. I’m already tired of discovering UIs by chance because tappable stuff isn’t identified in Mobile UIs. Now I’ve got to look for long-pressable stuff too. Add hard-pressable (sometimes) to that ? nothankyou.

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