Start Up No.1,083: YouTube dithers and then decides, Apple’s healthy Watch, the GDPR ambulance chasers?, surveillance by Ring, and more


CC-licensed photo by Bill%20Strain on Flickr

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

The weatherman: the man who decided D-Day • User Journal

John Bull:

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As [geophysicist-turned-weather forecaster Group Captain James] Stagg prepared to deliver his daily briefing to Eisenhower, he thought about what the Supreme Commander would be hoping to hear. With only eight days to go until 5th June — D-Day — Ike and his staff would be looking for confirmation that the weather was going to be acceptable.

Just what “acceptable” meant in this context had taken Stagg and his staff months to work out. Every element of the combined amphibious assault brought different, complex weather restrictions into play.

The navy, for example, said that surface winds could not exceed Force 3 onshore or Force 4 at sea. Any more than that and the flat-bottomed landing craft carrying the infantry would be driven off course or swamped. The first wave of tanks, which were to be floated ashore from 5000 yards out using inflatable side-panels, would also likely flounder.

This wasn’t their only requirement. The tides also needed to be just right to allow mines and obstructions to be cleared. They also needed visibility of at least three miles if the battleships, cruisers and destroyers assembled offshore were to be used as artillery support. Finally, to have any hope of supplying and reinforcing the beachheads they needed the wind to remain low for at least D-Day 1 as well.

The demands of the air force were even greater. Fog in Britain would ground their planes completely and heavy clouds would cause a whole variety of problems. The fighters and fighter bombers needed a cloud base of no less than 1,000ft, whilst the medium and light bombers tasked with neutralising gun emplacements during the landings needed both visibility of three miles and a cloud ceiling not less than 4,500ft. The heavy bombers meanwhile, which were intended to disrupt German reinforcements and destroy infrastructure, ideally needed no more than 5/10ths cloud cover below 5,000ft and a cloud ceiling not below 11,000ft.

The list of demands didn’t stop there. Both air force and army agreed that for the transport aircraft carrying the paratroopers to find their targets they’d need at least a half-moon and a cloud ceiling of 2,500ft over their targets. Winds could also not exceed 20mph (roughly Force 5) or the paratroopers would be unable to jump. The gliders had similar limitations. Finally, the army pointed out, they needed the weather to be dry during and after the landing (without significant rain beforehand) else the roads and beaches would quickly become unusable.

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And you thought you had responsibilities.
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238 Google Play apps with more than 440 million installs made phones nearly unusable • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

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If the prevalence of abusive Google Play apps has left you numb, this latest report is for you. Carefully concealed adware installed in Google-approved apps with more than 440 million installations was so aggressive that it rendered mobile devices nearly unusable, researchers from mobile security provider Lookout said Tuesday.

BeiTaAd, as the adware is known, is a plugin that Lookout says it found hidden in emojis keyboard TouchPal and 237 other applications, all of which were published by Shanghai, China-based CooTek. Together, the 238 unique apps had a combined 440 million installs. Once installed, the apps initially behaved normally. Then, after a delay of anywhere between 24 hours and 14 days, the obfuscated BeiTaAd plugin would begin delivering what are known as out-of-app ads. These ads appeared on users’ lock screens and triggered audio and video at seemingly random times or even when a phone was asleep.

“My wife is having the exact same issue,” one person reported in November in this thread discussing BeiTaAd. “This will bring up random ads in the middle of phone calls, when her alarm clock goes off or anytime she uses any other function on her phone. We are unable to find any other information on this. It is extremely annoying and almost [makes] her phone unusable.”

…Lookout reported the behavior of BeiTaAd to Google, and the apps responsible were subsequently either removed from Play or updated to remove the abusive plugin. There’s no indication that CooTek will be banned or otherwise punished for breaching Play terms of service on such a mass scale and for taking the steps it did to hide the violation. The remaining 237 CooTek apps that embedded the plugin are listed at the end of Lookout’s post.

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Ad fraud on a huge scale, no doubt. Just as the invention of the ship created the shipwreck, the ad-supported app created ad fraud.
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Youtube flip-flops on suspending video blogger accused of harassment • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:

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Vox.com producer Carlos Maza, who identifies as gay, initially complained to YouTube on June 1, saying that [Stephen] Crowder, a popular YouTube user, made homophobic and racial slurs toward him in his videos. Crowder[‘s channel], which has 3.84 million subscribers, earns an estimated annual revenue of $81,000 from YouTube, according to social analytics company SocialBlade.com.

YouTube responded Tuesday, saying that after a four-day long “in-depth investigation,” Crowder’s videos were “hurtful” but didn’t violate any of the platform’s policies. Maza became the target of more harassment as a result of that decision, he told CNBC.com, adding that he had received increased death threats from Crowder supporters since Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, the company announced a new anti-harassment policy that will crack down on users and accounts that express supremacy over other groups. However, Crowder’s videos remained available and YouTube continued to tell CNBC that they didn’t violate the policies.

Two hours later, the company publicly tweeted at Maza, saying it had decided to suspend Crowder’s monetization after all.

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Complete and utter mess which demonstrates that YouTube doesn’t have any consistent application of whatever its rules are; the only things that makes it take notice are huge amounts of press coverage, or advertisers pulling out. This can’t go on.
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Youtube bans videos promoting Nazi ideology • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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The company confirmed it would no longer host videos that glorified fascist views or material that denied the existence of the Holocaust, following years of criticism over its role in spreading far-right hate and conspiracy theories.

The video-sharing website, which is owned by Google, said on Wednesday it would ban any videos “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status”.

This would include “inherently discriminatory” videos promoting Nazi ideology or content denying that well-documented violent events took place, such as the deaths of millions of Jews in the second world war or the Sandy Hook school shooting in the US.

Platforms such as YouTube have traditionally taken a light-touch approach to hosted material, adopting a broad defence of free speech to justify the extremist views users post.

This has become increasingly untenable under relentless media and public scrutiny, and pressure from advertisers. YouTube banned a handful of high-profile extremists, including Alex Jones of Infowars, in the last year.

Much of the criticism has been aimed at YouTube’s algorithm-driven recommendation system, which helps keep people on the site by suggesting new videos they might be interested in. Critics have said it leads people towards more and more extreme and conspiratorial videos, and that this can incentivise users to produce more extreme material to try to drive up view counts and earn a larger slice of the ad revenue.

YouTube said changes to its algorithm introduced in the US in January had more than halved the number of views that “borderline content and harmful misinformation” receives from recommendations.

«

So the question is, does this fit in with its reversal over the complaint by Carlos Maza about Steve Crowder, or is it separate? The “exclusion based on… sexual orientation” would certainly apply to what Crowder said.

It’s happening slowly, but the supertanker is turning and heading for the port marked “publisher”. However there is collateral damage – such as the independent publisher who uses YT to publish (and monetise) documentaries about hate speech.
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iOS 13 introduces new ‘optimized battery charging’ feature • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

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For example, if you often charge your phone up at night while you sleep, Apple might charge it to 80% right away, but wait until an hour or so before you wake up to charge the remaining 20%.

That keeps your iPhone at an optimal capacity for battery health, rather than keeping it close to 100% on the charger.

Avoiding topping up the battery continually while it sits on the charger reduces the amount of time that your device spends at maximum capacity, and over time, this could extend the life of your battery.

Battery health has been a hot topic over the course of the last year, after Apple was found throttling the processor speeds of iOS devices with degraded batteries to prolong device life as long as possible.

That issue spurred Apple to be more forthcoming about overall battery health, providing details about capacity and performance in the Battery portion of Settings.

«

Clever move. Wonder if it notices when your alarms are on, or whether it just notices what time in the morning you tend first to pick it up?
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Ambulance chasers are readying themselves for GDPR assault • Telecoms.com

Jamie Davis:

»

Although it is not necessarily the most flattering of terms, the ambulance chasers are readying themselves for an assault on the GDPR negligent.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has set a deadline of August 29 for consumers to complain about the sale of PPI products in the UK. This effectively means all the firms set-up to manage the complaints on behalf of consumers will become redundant. Most will evolve however, the legal world is simply too profitable, and GDPR seems a prime opportunity.

While it might not be the most common practice for the moment, there are certainly examples. Numerous law firms, Hayes Connor Solicitors for example, are already advertising their services for the British Airways data breach, impacting roughly 400,000 people. This is an on-going investigation, though the financial penalty for this breach could be as much as €918 million.

As more PPI lawyers find themselves at the mercy of free time, more will turn their attentions to new fields of expertise. Due to the headline-worth nature of data breaches and privacy violations, as well as the potential consequence to the individual, this is an area which is primed for the legal buzz.

Big fines have been promised

So far, there is only one example of a Data Protection Authority (DPA) swinging the heavy stick of GDPR at a major firm. France’s watchdog fined Google €50 million for numerous offenses, and while there have been other significant breaches over the last few years, most occurred at a time prior to the heavy fines of GDPR.

“Serious fines are coming in the summer, including to some of the big companies,” said Paul Breitbarth, Director of Strategic Research and Regulator Outreach at Nymity. “The DPAs [Data Protection Authorities] are taking this very seriously and so should we.”

«

Just waiting for the automated phone calls asking “Have you been mis-sold GDPR advice?” And then all the GDPR-chasing companies being forced to sue each other for using phone numbers without opt-in consent.
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Amazon is (unwittingly?) helping police build a surveillance network with Ring doorbells • CNET

Alfred Ng:

»

If you’re walking in Bloomfield, New Jersey, there’s a good chance you’re being recorded. But it’s not a corporate office or warehouse security camera capturing the footage – it’s likely a Ring doorbell made by Amazon. 

While residential neighborhoods aren’t usually lined with security cameras, the smart doorbell’s popularity has essentially created private surveillance networks powered by Amazon and promoted by police departments.

Police departments across the country, from major cities like Houston to towns with fewer than 30,000 people, have offered free or discounted Ring doorbells to citizens, sometimes using taxpayer funds to pay for Amazon’s products. While Ring owners are supposed to have a choice on providing police footage, in some giveaways, police require recipients to turn over footage when requested.

Ring said it would start cracking down on those strings attached.

“Ring customers are in control of their videos, when they decide to share them and whether or not they want to purchase a recording plan. Ring has donated devices to Neighbor’s Law Enforcement partners for them to provide to members of their communities,” Ring said in a statement. “Ring does not support programs that require recipients to subscribe to a recording plan or that footage from Ring devices be shared as a condition for receiving a donated device…”

…”Our township is now entirely covered by cameras,” said Captain Vincent Kerney, detective bureau commander of the Bloomfield Police Department. “Every area of town we have, there are some Ring cameras.”

«

CCTV, privatised and – that unique American touch – monopolised.
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The Apple Watch is now the control center for your health • WIRED

Robbie Gonzalez:

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Unlike Garmin and FitBit, which distribute features across a wide range of devices (the former sells no fewer than five unique fitness trackers, the latter more than a dozen), Apple packs its few products with as many features as it can. Sure, you can have your pick of colors and bands, and you can pay extra for LTE connectivity, but functionally speaking, each new generation of Apple Watch is identical. Like the iPhone before it, Apple’s wearable is designed to appeal to as many people as possible, by being whatever those people want or need it to be.

With these latest updates, opting into Apple’s jack-of-all trades approach no longer means sacrificing on specialized features. For consumers who wanted to track their menstrual cycles, Fitbit had been an obvious choice. To monitor long-term trends in their fitness, Garmin was the clear option. But later this year, when a software update enables the Apple Watch to do both, that decision will become more difficult.

This is how Apple eats its competition’s lunch: one bite at a time. Personal health, as the phrase suggests, means different things to different people. The most effective, individualized devices will need to meet users where they are, no matter where that is. By covering as many bases as possible, Apple is positioning itself to do exactly that.

“Apple is taking steps in the right direction on multiple fronts, simultaneously,” says Mitesh Patel, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies whether and how wearable devices can facilitate improvements in health. “It’s clear they’re trying to democratize access to managing your own health, whether it’s by monitoring your biometrics, your activity, your menstrual cycle, your hearing health, or whatever.” Those are all things you once had to track actively, or visit a doctor to assess. Now, you can monitor them anytime, anywhere, passively, simply by wearing a device on your wrist.

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The only remaining question is whether Apple is prepared to let the Watch function with Android phones (or at least, be set up without an iPhone) in order to grow Watch sales. It’s an idea that worked when it had a product called the iPod and an older, better-selling one called the Mac.
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Developers sue Apple over App Store practices • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

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Two app developers on Tuesday sued Apple Inc over its App Store practices, making claims similar to those in a lawsuit brought by consumers that the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed to proceed.

California-based app developer Donald R. Cameron and Illinois Pure Sweat Basketball alleged in federal court in San Jose, California that Apple engaged in anticompetitive conduct by only allowing the downloading of iPhone apps through Apple’s official App Store. Apple also requires developers to price their apps in tiers ending in 99 cents and takes up to a 30% commission from developers on the sale of apps.

“This practice is analogous to a monopsonist retailer paying artificially low wholesale prices to its suppliers,” the developers said in their suit. “In both paradigms a competitive market would yield better post-commission or wholesale prices, and fairer profit, for developers’ digital products.”

The claims center on the same Apple practices highlighted in a lawsuit brought by consumers, arguing that Apple’s practices have artificially inflated the price of software in the App Store.

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So Apple is being sued by both consumers (which is what the recent Supreme Court decision allowed) and developers? As Ben Thompson notes in his Stratechery newsletter, this doesn’t really make sense, legally speaking, because it creates a sort of double jeopardy – as though a store were being sued both by its customers and its suppliers. If the monopsonist retailer is paying artificially low wholesale prices, then customers must be benefiting from lower prices. If the developers’ argument is that Apple kept prices high, then developers are getting more money, so what’s the beef?
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Foxconn’s delays might finally give Wisconsin the upper hand • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:

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Even if Foxconn fails to hit its subsidy targets, Wisconsin taxpayers will be out a lot of money. The state has already spent hundreds of millions on land and infrastructure for the project, costs that go to waste if the company simply walks away. Furthermore, the way the contract is structured means Wisconsin could end up paying more per job if Foxconn hires fewer people.

The capital investment portion of the subsidy package is pegged to hiring, but not in the same way as the jobs subsidies. While Foxconn doesn’t get any hiring subsidies if it fails to meet employment thresholds, it can still get subsidies for its investments in buildings and equipment, minus whatever percentage it missed its job target by. [It was contractually obliged to have a certain number of people employed by the end of 2018 to qualify for subsidies.]

For example, if Foxconn only employs 260 people at the end of this year, half its minimum target, but invests $1bn in construction, Wisconsin could end up paying Foxconn almost $300,000 per job. Other scenarios take the cost per job above $500,000.

Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, worries that the relative ease of getting investment subsidies encourages Foxconn to build a highly automated factory rather than something employing the blue collar manufacturing workers who had featured prominently in President Donald Trump and former Governor Walker’s pitch for the deal. (It’s worth noting that Foxconn is aggressively pursuing automation in its other facilities as labor costs rise.) “I think one of the problems with the contract right now is that it makes it much easier to qualify for investment credits than job credits and that we might be incentivizing robots,” Peacock says.

Which brings up the second reason Foxconn might want to revisit the contract: it might not be eligible for the capital investment credits at all.

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Still one of the most amazing boondoggles actually backed by Trump; clearly now running into the sand, and the new Democratic leaders in the state are sharpening their knives.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,083: YouTube dithers and then decides, Apple’s healthy Watch, the GDPR ambulance chasers?, surveillance by Ring, and more

  1. YouTube doing a little bit helps. But in the long run, there’ll just be a separate HateTube ( there’s already a PornTube or ten) and what then ? Maybe we’ll have won a little, about innocent bystanders being semi-randimly exposed to slimy stuff on YouTube, but at the cost of total loss of contact with the already hateful who migrated to HateTube, and certainly some attrition from sensible people being lured astray once and sticking around.

    What’s needed is public rules, not at-will private rules. I think the main issue with that is that the bible would get banned.

  2. Re flip flops, yesterday Apple also flip-flopped about allowing 3rd-party kid supervision apps to use Entreprise certificates. I guess *that* capriciousness can go on.

  3. The ring thing is another example of the fastidiousness of relying on private companies to enforce community rules. Let’s say Ring utterly bans sharing. Police will just get some supplier to make a substitute (presumably much more expensive because public-market, not consumer-).
    What’s needed is rules and regulations on how police can acquire and use footage, not some voluntary half-assed PR-driven short-term position by one supplier.

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