Start Up No.1,093: YouTube thinks of the kids, more deepfakery, the antivax funders, GDPR by the numbers, views on Libra, and more


Behold the last redoubt (probably) of IBM’s OS/2. CC-licensed photo by Arun D on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Completely immune. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement • The Washington Post

Lena Sun and Amy Brittain:

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A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3m in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots. As a result, health officials have said, the potentially deadly disease has surged to at least 1,044 cases this year, the highest number in nearly three decades.

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“Hedge fund manager and philanthropist” is a job title to conjure with. It’s like “TV presenter and barman”, which appeared on a UK reality show recently. O tempora, o mores.
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YouTube weighs major changes to kids’ content amid FTC probe • WSJ

Rob Copeland:

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Executives at the Google unit are debating moving all children’s content into a separate product, the stand-alone YouTube Kids app, to better protect young viewers from objectionable videos, say people briefed on the discussions. That would be a seismic and risky switch, as children’s videos are among the most popular on the platform and carry millions of dollars in advertising.

Some YouTube employees are pushing for another significant modification. They are encouraging the company to switch off for children’s programming a feature that automatically plays a new video after one has been completed, according to the people briefed. While that default setting—known as YouTube’s recommendation system—has helped boost audience hours to new heights, it has also opened the company up to criticism that children and parents can select innocuous videos only to be automatically transitioned into inappropriate fare.

The proposed changes are motivated in part by a continuing investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, according to people familiar with the matter. The probe was initiated by a complaint last year from consumer groups that accused Google of exploiting YouTube’s popularity with children to illegally amass data on minors under 13 without parental consent, the people said. The groups also alleged the site subjected children to inappropriate content.

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Can we have “no autoplay” for adults too? As a personal setting? The above would be a good first step, though; YouTube needs to take more responsibility for the children who use it all the time. TV was regulated. YouTube isn’t.
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GDPR Enforcement Tracker: a list of GDPR fines

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This website contains a list and overview of fines and penalties which data protection authorities within the EU have imposed under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, DSGVO). Our aim is to keep this list as up-to-date as possible. Since not all fines are made public, this list can of course never be complete, which is why we appreciate any indication of further GDPR fines and penalties.

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Google’s well out in front, but there’s a hospital too which is not far behind with a €400,000 fine for unauthorised access by doctors to patient records.
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Facebook’s Libra will not help the unbanked • FT Alphaville

Brendan Greeley has an alternative view:

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The organisations that actually work on getting people into this banking system, most significantly Bank On in the United States, have identified two hurdles. First, existing consumer banks need to offer entry-level, low-fee checking accounts. Bank On has developed a list of standards for these accounts, and leans on banks, city by city, to offer them. And that’s the easy part.

The hard part is that, city by city, Bank On creates local coalitions of city governments, regional banks, and local nonprofits and social services. Actual people, following best practices that have been developed through experience in other cities, find locals where they are — kids at summer jobs, parolees at halfway houses, people receiving public benefits at the benefit offices — and work with them, over time, to walk through the sociological and administrative hurdles to getting a basic checking account.

“I don’t have enough money to open a bank account” isn’t a problem that can be solved by putting a bank account on the internet. It takes a lot of face-to-face conversations about what banking is, how it works, and why it’s an important tool for every household. For example, a recent pilot in New York City (paid for by Michael Bloomberg, that other billionaire) found some success in offering a series of personal financial inclusion counselling sessions, almost like therapy.

This is personal, detailed, local work. It does not scale. It requires trust, and good relationships with civic authorities. To start with, there’s not much in our recent experience with Facebook that suggests they’d flourish as the senior partner in any initiative that demands personal, detailed, local work that requires civic trust. Let us also point out, though, that nowhere, in any research on the unbanked, does it state that the US dollar is unsuited to the task of moving people into the formal financial system.

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Deepfake 3.0 (beta), the bad news: This AI can turn ONE photo of you into a talking head. There’s no good news • The Register

Katyanna Quach:

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The internet freaked out over portraits of Mona Lisa and photos of dead celebrities like Marilyn Monroe suddenly coming to life, reanimated by the cold clammy hands of neural networks and code. Their eyes blinked, and their mouths moved, but no sound came out.

Now, researchers at the Samsung AI Center, and Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, have gone one step further. They have created fake talking heads that really can speak. Listen to Einstein discussing the wonders of science below. Yes, it’s his face and his voice, but it’s still fake, and clearly fake, nevertheless.

The audio was sourced from a recording of a speech by the E-mc2 super-boffin, and his face is from a photograph. Here’s one that’s more obviously bogus: it’s a photograph of Grigori Rasputin singing popstar Beyonce’s smash hit Halo…

The images are pretty grainy, obviously manipulated in some way, and they’re amusing enough to not really be taken seriously. However, here’s another clip that shows why this type of technology is potentially dangerous:

Normal people like you or me can therefore be visually manipulated, and the doctoring is not always obvious.

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Subway history: how OS/2 powered the NYC subway for decades • Tedium

Andrew Egan:

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Despite the failure of [IBM’s PC operating system from the late 1980s] OS/2 in the consumer market, it was hilariously robust, leading to a long life in industrial and enterprise systems—with one other famous example being ATMs. Waldhauer said, “Thinking about all the operating systems in use [in the NY Metropolitan Transit Authority, MTA], I’d have to say that OS/2 is probably the most robust part of the system, except for the mainframe.”

It’s still in use in the NYC subway system in 2019. IBM had long given up on it, even allowing another company to maintain the software in 2001. (These days, a firm named Arca Noae sells an officially supported version of OS/2, ArcaOS, though most of its users are in similar situations to the MTA.)

The role of OS/2 in the NYC subway system is more of a conduit. It helps connect the various parts that people use with the parts they don’t. Waldhauer notes, “There are no user-facing applications for OS/2 anywhere in the system. OS/2 is mainly used as the interface between a sophisticated mainframe database and the simple computers used in subway and bus equipment for everyday use. As such, the OS/2 computers are just about everywhere in the system.”

At this point, we’re talking about an OS designed in the late 80s, released in the early 90s, as part of a difficult relationship between two tech giants. The MTA had to ignore most of this because it had already made its decision and changing course would cost a lot of money.

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This is quite the horror story. No wonder New Yorkers are thrilled when they can pay by contactless, five years after it became standard all over London’s underground network.
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Alarming and unnecessary: Facebook’s new cryptocurrency must be resisted • The Guardian

I opined over at The Guardian:

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Have you heard about Facebook’s new “cryptocurrency”, called Libra? Its basic pitch boils down to “we messed up your privacy and gave your data to all sorts, and let foreign actors screw up your elections – now let’s see what we can do with banking!”…

…Facebook insists that 1.7 billion people without bank accounts in developing countries need it; strange they can’t see that M-Pesa [the phone-based non-bank money transfer system used in Africa and India] fits the bill already.

Overall, it’s not reassuring that Facebook is doing this. First, it has a track record of screwing up when it comes to looking after or respecting your data – Cambridge Analytica and the Onavo VPN that spied on users being just two obvious examples. Second, it has problems being consistent in how it applies its rules: see the many, many rows over content. It’s ignorant of its naivete, and so big it repeatedly causes huge problems.

Third, its size and US-centredness means that the new currency could gain critical mass, and take on a life of its own. And that carries gigantic risks. Lana Swartz, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, put it succinctly: “Facebook wants to be/is now a government.” But have Marcus and Zuckerberg thought of the inevitable problems that will emerge? What if other governments don’t like what Libra does to their local currency, perhaps by undermining financial export rules? If they block Facebook, what happens to citizens’ money tied up in Libra?

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I wish I felt confident that they’d wargamed the possible downsides of this, but I suspect they haven’t.
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2017: The CIA spied on people through their smart TVs, leaked documents reveal • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, in March 2017:

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The CIA and MI5 called the project to spy on Samsung Smart TVs “Weeping Angel,” perhaps a reference to Doctor Who, where weeping angels are “the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent life-form ever produced.” The malware was designed to keep the smart TVs on even when they were turned off. This was dubbed “Fake-Off mode,” according to the documents. The CIA hackers even developed a way to “suppress” the TVs LED indicators to improve the “Fake-Off” mode.

“Weeping Angel already hooks key presses from the remote (or TV goes to sleep) to cause the system to enter Fake-Off rather than Off,” one of the leaked document reads. “Since the implant is already hooking these events, the implant knows when the TV will be entering Fake-Off mode.”

After this article was published, Samsung reacted with a statement. 

“Protecting consumers’ privacy and the security of our devices is a top priority at Samsung,” read the statement sent via email. “We are aware of the report in question and are urgently looking into the matter.”

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This precedes, of course, Samsung’s bizarre tweet (since deleted) earlier this week about scanning your TV for malware. Maybe just unplug it?
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Samsung Galaxy Fold is now ready for launch: Samsung Display exec • Korean Investor

Kim Young-won:

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Samsung Electronics’ first foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, will launch soon, as “most” issues linked to the screen have been solved, a Samsung Display executive has revealed.

“Most of the display problems have been ironed out, and the Galaxy Fold is ready to hit the market,” said Samsung Display Vice President Kim Seong-cheol in his speech at a conference held by industry organization The Korean Information Display Society on June 18 in Seoul.

Samsung Display, a subsidiary of Samsung Electronics, is the main supplier of the folding screen.

The Fold was initially scheduled to hit the shelves in April in the US and in May in Korea, but the launch has been delayed after reviewers complained of flickering screens and creases in the middle of the screen made after repeated folds.

It is rumored that the launch will take place in July before the tech giant unveils its flagship for the latter half, Galaxy Note 10, but the tech giant has denied the rumor.

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Most of the display problems. Most of them. OK, not all of them. Quite a lot of them. Nearly all. Most of the problems with the thing that is what you look at and manipulate every moment you’re using it. Yeah, those problems? Most of them are gone.

I’m trying to imagine what sort of mindset you need to go onto a stage and say those words. To be quite truthful, I’m finding it difficult.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

7 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,093: YouTube thinks of the kids, more deepfakery, the antivax funders, GDPR by the numbers, views on Libra, and more

  1. Re. Youtube: there is an autoplay toggle next to the “up next” header. It’s right there on each video’s page. Also, there’s a general settings and addons in Firefox that stop all autoplaying vids (though not “next” autoplaying in Youtube if you’ve left it on).

  2. re. OS/2: it could be worse, they could have standardized on Mac servers (remember those ? ) ;-p
    In the end, tool for the job. I have several horror stories of customers committed to obsolete Windows versions for verticals or even servers. I’d like to say FOSS (Linux) solves the security/update issue, but industrial users work on such time scales that even LTS Linux falls into no-support while still being not only used but used in new deployments, and certification of new OS versions is very expensive. I’ve got a cousin working IT for nuclear power generators who is spending way too much time making sure production stuff cannot possibly be connected to the Internet or even take a casual USB key. This is not your typical white-collar office/Office or even Web server setup.

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