Start Up No.1,116: how Google crushed a celeb site, carbon costing air travel, waiting for smart thermostats to warm up, Korea gets hot about 5G tests, and more


Those pesky middle seats! But there turns out to be a simple solution to make them tolerable to everyone. CC-licensed photo by abdallahh on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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

Celebritynetworth’s statement submitted to the US House Subcommittee on Antitrust • Medium

Brian Warner set up a site called CelebrityNetWorth – and then Google noticed it:

»

By 2014 we had a staff of 12 writers, developers and designers. We were thriving and even entertaining acquisition offers. At the time, I thought of our site as one of Google’s best partners and that we had limitless potential. I could never have imagined that within three very painful years CelebrityNetWorth would be brought to the brink of insolvency. And the culprit wouldn’t be shifting user tastes or a technological change. The culprit was Google.

On April 23, 2014, I received an email from a Data Researcher at Google. In subsequent calls and emails the Data Researcher explained that net worth queries were one of Google’s most consistently popular categories of search. As such, she was tasked with finding an API or dataset from our site that would help “enhance user experience at Google Search”. If we granted Google access to an API, any user who searched for a celebrity’s net worth would be shown a large box with our answer at the top of the search result page.

I asked the Data Researcher why we would ever allow this. What benefit could giving away our most valuable asset possibly create for CNW? Clearly this would cause a catastrophic drop in traffic since users would no longer need to visit our site and therefore would no longer generate ad revenue. When pressed, the Google team said it would be good exposure for our brand. What they left unsaid was that the implementation of such a scheme would have accelerated our demise. Google’s diminutive (and sometimes non-existent) attribution to original content creators means fewer clicks and eyeballs to the web. The nebulous suggestion that “exposure” would make up for this somehow demonstrates how starkly different Google’s motives are today.

On this same call I asked if we could be paid a flat fee or a royalty for providing an API. I was told they would not pay a fee and if we did not agree to give them an API they would either make one on their own or scrape one together from other sources.
I declined Google’s request to provide an API to our data.

«

Things didn’t go well subsequently.
unique link to this extract


Air travellers may have to pay carbon charge to offset emissions • The Guardian

Latifa Yedroudji:

»

Passengers could choose to pay more for travel tickets, which would then be used to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Or the scheme could work on an “opt-out” basis and also be applied to trains, buses and ferries.

Ministers hope the plans will raise awareness about the effects of public transport on the environment. The extra funds could be used to spearhead eco-friendly projects such as planting trees to reduce the carbon footprint.

The government said it hoped the initiative would “drive consumer choices towards less polluting journey options”.

However, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has launched a call for evidence on offsetting carbon emissions produced by public transport. In addition, the government has expressed concerns consumers may not trust that their payments are supporting worthwhile causes.

«

This is an overdue move, but Grayling is (amazingly) correct: people will want to see a link between their payment and amelioration efforts.
unique link to this extract


The best algorithms struggle to recognize black faces equally • Wired

Tom Simonite:

»

Idemia’s algorithms don’t always see all faces equally clearly. July test results from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicated that two of Idemia’s latest algorithms were significantly more likely to mix up black women’s faces than those of white women, or black or white men.

The NIST test challenged algorithms to verify that two photos showed the same face, similar to how a border agent would check passports. At sensitivity settings where Idemia’s algorithms falsely matched different white women’s faces at a rate of one in 10,000, it falsely matched black women’s faces about once in 1,000—10 times more frequently. A one in 10,000 false match rate is often used to evaluate facial recognition systems.

Donnie Scott, who leads the US public security division at Idemia, previously known as Morpho, says the algorithms tested by NIST have not been released commercially, and that the company checks for demographic differences during product development. He says the differing results likely came from engineers pushing their technology to get the best overall accuracy on NIST’s closely watched tests.

«

unique link to this extract


Smart thermostats • AVC

Fred Wilson was sent this graph by one of his colleagues:

»

I believe this is more or less a proxy for smart wifi-enabled thermostats in the US.

Those would be Nest, Honeywell Lyric, Hive thermostats and a lot of others too.

Those are pretty big jumps from 6.5% to 8.9% to 11.4% given that people don’t generally swap out thermostats unless they are doing a renovation or building a new home. Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.

In a few years, more than 20% of homes will have heating and cooling systems that can be “managed” by software, either on-premises or, more likely, in the cloud.

That is pretty exciting.

I wonder what level of adoption is “critical mass” or “escape velocity” ?

Certainly 50% would be, maybe 25% will be.

«

The straight line suggests it’s still in the early adopter phase. Anyone’s guess where the hockey stick number is.
unique link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone mocked by WSJ • Korea Times

Baek Byung-yeul:

»

Regarding the report [by Joanna Stern testing the Galaxy S10 and others on 5G], Samsung said that there is no malfunction on the devices and they are designed to switch back to LTE network when they reach a certain temperature.

“With 5G, data is transmitted at higher quantities and speeds, which causes the processor to consume more energy. While Samsung provides a variety of thermal management technologies, the phone will switch back to 4G when the device temperature reaches a certain threshold,” a Samsung official said. “This is not new, and it is by design to minimize energy usage and optimize battery performance so consumers can stay connected.”

The company added its 5G smartphone comes with “its latest vapor chamber cooling technology and AI software that continuously optimized battery, CPU, RAM and even device temperature based on how people use their phones.”

An IT industry official here criticized the article saying it is inequitable only to blame the device.

“At a time when the 5G network coverage is still limited, the issues regarding overheating can happen, but the story is mainly focusing on making a fool of the device,” said the official, who wanted to remain anonymous.

“The overheating issue happens because there is not enough network coverage for the 5G service. We saw the same issue when 4G service was launched. When there is not enough network coverage for the latest network service, these kinds of issues always happen.”

«

There’s an equally offended, and hilarious, article at the Korea IT Times. Notice how neatly they avoid the issue of “these things get damn hot when they’re on 5G.”
unique link to this extract


Britain delays decision on Huawei’s role in 5G networks • Reuters

Paul Sandle and Kylie MacLellan:

»

Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, discussed the issue in April and decided in principle to block Huawei from critical parts of the 5G network but give it limited access to less sensitive parts.

A final decision was supposed to have been included in a telecoms supply chain review published by Wright on Monday, but May’s resignation has stalled the process. She is due to hand over to her successor on Wednesday.

Wright said Britain could decide to ban Huawei from the 5G network completely, a move telecom operators have said would delay the roll out of services and significantly add to costs.

EE, the BT-owned market leader, launched its 5G network, which relies in part on Huawei’s equipment, in May. Vodafone has also started UK 5G services, which offer speeds around 20 times faster than 4G and a leap in capacity that will allow millions more devices to be connected.

“It is of course a possibility and remains so that the government may decide that an outright ban on Huawei equipment in the 5G network is the appropriate course of action,” Wright said.

“All that I say today is that we are not yet in a position to make a comprehensive decision about that and as soon as we are then we will.”

The opposition Labour Party’s digital spokesman Tom Watson said a ban on Huawei products could “significantly delay the roll out of 5G technology that will underpin tomorrow’s economy”.

«

unique link to this extract


Airlines are finally fixing the middle seat • Fast Company

Mark Wilson:

»

Designed for commuter flights of only a few hours max, the S1 moves the middle seat a few inches lower than, and back from, the aisle and window seat. It also widens the seat by about three inches. This allows your arms, shoulders, thighs, and elbows to spread just a bit more than they otherwise could, without giving the seat more legroom or reducing a plane’s seating capacity (which translates to profit margins for airlines).

“We have discovered that what looks like a small stagger actually makes a huge difference. The trick is to actually sit in the seat. In fact our main sales tool is to ship seats to airlines so they can sit in them,” says Molon Labe founder Hank Scott. “I have watched this several times—airline executives see the seat, nod their head and then say they get it. Then we ask them to actually sit down, next to a big fella like our head sales guy Thomas [6-foot-6, 250 pounds]. Within a few seconds they [really] get it—they stop being an airline executive and switch into passenger modes.”


[Photo: courtesy Molon Labe Seating]

The seat pairs this staggering effect with a two-level armrest design to eliminate the inevitable elbow fights that happen when six arms battle over four armrests. This approach works better in visuals than explained, but basically, the aisle and window passengers end up using the front ledge of the rest, and the middle passenger uses the rear portion.

«

Why not for long-haul flights? Seems like it would make it much nicer for the window seat to get in and out too.
unique link to this extract


Leaked documents reveal Huawei’s secret operations to build North Korea’s wireless network • Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima, Gerry Shih and John Hudson:

»

Huawei Technologies, the Chinese tech giant embroiled in President Trump’s trade war with China and blacklisted as a national security threat, secretly helped the North Korean government build and maintain the country’s commercial wireless network, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post and people familiar with the arrangement.

Huawei partnered with a Chinese state-owned firm, Panda International Information Technology Co., on a variety of projects there spanning at least eight years, according to past work orders, contracts and detailed spreadsheets taken from a database that charts the company’s telecom operations worldwide. The arrangement made it difficult to discern Huawei’s involvement.

The spreadsheets were provided to The Post by a former Huawei employee who considered the information to be of public interest. The former employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of retribution. Two additional sets of documents were shared by others with a desire to see the material made public. They also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Taken together, the revelations raise questions about whether Huawei, which has used American technology in its components, violated US export controls to furnish equipment to North Korea…

«

Shocking! From… 2008. I’ve no doubt that Huawei did this; it did much the same with Iran more recently. John Hudson, one of the co-authors, has a long Twitter thread about the documents. Still feels like ancient history. More to the point: have the sanctions against North Korea had any effect in the past three years? Are they even in place?
unique link to this extract


Equifax to pay up to $700m in data breach settlement • NPR

Avie Schneider and Chris Arnold:

»

Equifax will pay up to $700m in fines and monetary relief to consumers over a 2017 data breach at the credit reporting bureau that affected nearly 150m people.

The proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal court, was announced Monday by the company, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The consumer data exposed in the breach included Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger said the settlement includes $425m to cover the “time and money [people affected by the breach] spent to protect themselves from potential threats of identity theft or addressing incidents of identity theft as a result of the breach.”

Equifax also agreed to pay $175m to the states and $100m to the CFPB in civil penalties.

And, starting in January, Equifax “will provide all US consumers with six free credit reports each year for seven years,” the FTC said. That’s in addition to the free annual credit reports that Equifax, and the two other nationwide credit reporting agencies — Experian and TransUnion — currently provide.

«

But the problem is that the “free” will turn into “paid for”, and so Equifax wins for being crap.
unique link to this extract


£50bn question: do we want faster trains or limitless clean energy? • The Guardian

Andrew Steele:

»

Among a raft of new infrastructure spending announced by the UK government in the wake of last week’s spending review, it was revealed that the cost estimates for the HS2 high-speed train line had been revised significantly upward. According to the new projections, HS2 will be completed in 2033 at a total cost of £42.6bn for construction and £7.5bn for trains – a total of just over £50bn.

What is immediately striking about this figure is that it’s about the same as estimates of how much it will cost to develop nuclear fusion to the point at which it could supply affordable electricity to the grid.

Fusion power has the potential to revolutionise the entire world’s energy production. It could dramatically reduce the world’s carbon emissions (a fusion reactor emits no carbon dioxide), provide energy independence to any nation with access to a coastline (since there is millions of years’ worth of fusion fuel in the world’s oceans), and do all this with no danger of meltdown or long-lived radioactive waste.

Alternatively, we could use our £50bn to shave 35 minutes off the journey time between London and Birmingham.

«

The terrifying thing about this is that Steele wrote this in 2013, when the HS2 budget had just gone up by £10bn. Over the weekend it emerged that it will go up by another £30bn. That’s a lot of foregone fusion – which could, who knows, make us a world leader.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.+++Google-celebrity-networth-crushed-start-up-1116

Start Up No.1,115: FT’s lost pages, less dark matter, FaceApp and privacy, the iPad future?, and more


Tinder doesn’t love paying 30% to Google – so it’s bypassing Google Play. But can it do it to Apple’s App Store? CC-licensed photo by Jeremy Bank on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Tinder bypasses Google Play, joining revolt against App Store fee • Bloomberg

Olivia Carville:

»

Tinder joined a growing backlash against app store taxes by bypassing Google Play in a move that could shake up the billion-dollar industry dominated by Google and Apple Inc.

The online dating site launched a new default payment process that skips Google Play and forces users to enter their credit card details straight into Tinder’s app, according to new research by Macquarie analyst Ben Schachter. Once a user has entered their payment information, the app not only remembers it, but also removes the choice to swap back to Google Play for future purchases, he wrote.

“This is a huge difference,” Schachter said in an interview. “It’s an incredibly high-margin business for Google bringing in billions of dollars,” he said.

The shares of Tinder’s parent company, Match Group Inc., spiked 5% when Schachter’s note was published on Thursday. Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. were little changed…

…Match declined to answer questions about whether the company was also investigating bypassing Apple’s App Store. Match is expected to discuss the payment flow change with analysts and investors during its next earnings call on Aug. 6.

«

Haven’t people always been able to bypass Google’s app store fees? It’s just that getting them to pay in the app is more convenient for them, as it’s all entered there. Bypassing Apple is much harder, and a hassle for the customer.
unique link to this extract


404 • FT.com

:

»

Why wasn’t this page found?

We asked some leading economists.

Stagflation: The cost of pages rose drastically, while the page production rate slowed down.

General economics: There was no market for it.

Liquidity traps: We injected some extra money into the technology team but there was little or no interest so they simply kept it, thus failing to stimulate the page economy.

Pareto inefficiency: There exists another page that will make everyone better off without making anyone worse off.

Supply and demand: Demand increased and a shortage occurred.

Classical economics: There is no such page. We are not going to interfere.

Keynesian economics: Aggregate demand for this page did not necessarily equal the productive capacity of the website.

Malthusianism: Unchecked, exponential page growth outstripped the pixel supply. There was a catastrophe, and now the population is at a lower, more sustainable level.

«

And there are many more. The FT’s 404 page now rules the internet.
unique link to this extract


If this type of dark matter existed, people would be dying of unexplained ‘gunshot’ wounds • Science

Juanita Bawagan:

»

Dark matter makes up about 85% of the mass of the universe, but the substance itself remains a mystery. One theory posits that it consists of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). These particles would be abundant, but so shy about interacting with ordinary matter that only very sensitive detectors would have a crack at catching them. So far, they’ve evaded detection in large tanks of liquid xenon and argon; kept in underground laboratories, these tanks would be able to sense the signals from WIMPs without interference from sources such as cosmic rays.

A less mainstream dark matter candidate, known as macros, would form heavier particles. While macros would be much rarer than WIMPs, any collisions with ordinary matter would be violent, leaving an obvious trace. The new study explores what those traces might look like if the macros hit people.

Glenn Starkman and Jagjit Singh Sidhu, theoretical physicists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, were originally searching for traces of macros in granite slabs when a colleague made a suggestion. “Why can’t you just use humans as a detector?” they recall Robert Scherrer, a co-author and theoretical physicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville saying. “The energies you’re talking about, these things would probably at best maim a person, at worst kill a person.”

The team forged ahead with the idea and modeled macros that would have a similar effect to a fatal shot from a .22 caliber rifle. Such particles would be minuscule, but very heavy, and thus release the same amount of energy as a bullet as it passes through a person.

«

Hoo..ray?
unique link to this extract


FaceApp reveals huge holes in today’s privacy laws • The Atlantic

Tiffany C. Li:

»

Regardless of origin, tech companies need to do better to protect the privacy of their consumers. Part of this is simply making users more aware of how data are being used. This is the rationale behind privacy policies. However, many users don’t read those policies. Developers need to go further and build actual privacy protections into their apps. These can include notifications on how data (or photos) are being used, clear internal policies on data retention and deletion, and easy workflows for users to request data correction and deletion. Additionally, app providers and platforms such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook should build in more safeguards for third-party apps.

But asking tech companies to make a few fixes will not be enough to solve the larger systemic problem, which is simply that our society hasn’t figured out how to deal with privacy in a way that actually protects individuals. The way we conceptualize privacy—by focusing, for instance, on the point at which a user decides to enter personal data into a website—is inadequate for the realities of today’s technology. Data are being collected all the time, often in ways that are all but impossible for consumers to know about. You cannot expect every traffic camera to include a privacy policy. Meanwhile, data sets are often sold, bought, aggregated, and transformed by third-party data brokers in ways unimaginable to consumers.

«

unique link to this extract


Does Russia want more than your old face? • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:

»

Another interesting idea is the possible emergence of “sovereign clouds,” storage limited to a specific group of users, that would create strong borders of digital participation, not just among and between countries but also among and between companies.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of more tech fences, because they feel like a backtracking of the core idea of open global networks, which have transformed the world and created huge wealth and societal transformation.

Of course, despite the focus on Russia’s FaceApp, the real game afoot, as most here at the forum agreed, is the race between the United States and China for global tech dominance. That’s been most clear in the efforts by American officials to throttle back the Chinese tech-giant Huawei from being the one to build next-generation 5G cellphone networks across the world.

That theme was one of the overall points made by Adm. Philip Davidson, head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, in a talk titled “Military Competition with China: Maintaining America’s Edge.” The admiral noted that keeping up is a matter of national security, as China could surpass American capabilities in the region by 2050, especially technologically.

«

2050? That’s a pretty pessimistic view of China’s capabilities, unless the admiral was using the 24-hour clock, in which case carry on.
unique link to this extract


My frantic life as a cab-dodging, tip-chasing food app deliveryman • The New York Times

Andy Newman:

»

The riders, once you’re tuned in to them, are everywhere, gliding by stoically, usually on electric bikes, wearing their precious cargo on their backs: the silent swarm of tens of thousands of workers for apps like Seamless and GrubHub and Uber Eats and Caviar and DoorDash and Postmates, crisscrossing the city to gratify New Yorkers’ insatiable need for burgers and pad thai and chicken tikka masala delivered in minutes.

For a few days this spring, I was one of them. Not a good one, but a deliveryman nevertheless. I learned up close how the high-tech era of on-demand everything is transforming some of the lowest-tech, lowest-status, low-wage occupations — creating both new opportunities and new forms of exploitation.

The riders are the street-level manifestation of an overturned industry, as restaurants are forced to become e-commerce businesses, outsourcing delivery to the apps who outsource it to a fleet of freelancers.

Mindless as the job may seem, it is often like a game of real-life speed chess played across the treacherous grid of the city, as riders juggle orders from competing apps and scramble for elusive bonuses.

And there are risks. Nearly a third of delivery cyclists missed work because of on-the-job injuries last year, one survey found, and at least four delivery riders or bike messengers have been killed in crashes with cars this year. Riders on electric bikes face fines and confiscation, though that may change.

«

It’s a good piece, though it isn’t that dissimilar from the people who used to be motorbike couriers in London – and who still are. It’s hardly a secure profession, in any sense.
unique link to this extract


Apple: no Macintosh forks. But the iPad… • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

»

another question emerges: By letting PC-like features emanate from the bowels of iPadOS, has Apple decided that the more PC-like iPads ought to openly compete with the Mac? Owing to Catalyst, Macs will get more — and more interesting — apps from the iOS world. And iPads present and future will have a dual personality: As “pure” tablets that provide an enriched touch interface, and as laptop-like alternatives, especially if keyboards and pointing devices keep maturing.

After arguing the two sides of the “to Axx or not to Axx” case, I think a simpler Mac evolution — no forks, stay the course with x86 processors — is the likely future.

Speaking of forks, yes, there clearly is one in the iOS world. In contrast to last week’s putative dual hardware and OS Mac transition, the fork I’m speaking of is a software-only divergence: As iPadOS lets iPads gain more use cases, especially in the realm of productivity, iPhones and their immensely larger number of devices will stay in the mainstream of iOS development. Undoubtedly, there will be unanticipated complications in some iPad uses, but the scheme feels more natural than last week’s convoluted formula.

«

Gassée’s argument is that Apple won’t introduce ARM processors in its laptop line because that would create a dichotomy in its products – some would be Intel, some would be ARM. (He’d argued the opposing point, that Apple would fork them, last week. Cakeism!) But that overlooks the fact that that’s what happened back in 2005, when Apple made the reverse shift (from RISC chips made by Motorola) to Intel. That wasn’t instantaneous either.

But Apple could leave the desktop (or pro desktops) as Intel, for the software, and power lower-end devices with ARM chips for the battery life. That seems the most likely scenario.
unique link to this extract


Apple’s Touch Bar doesn’t have to be so terrible • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

»

Occasionally you see a good use, like QuickTime’s ability to scrub through a video file to find the exact frame you need. But the useful Touch Bars are just reminders of how pointless others are, like the blank Touch Bar you find in Sonos, Slack, and even Apple’s Voice Memo app.

Even the really good implementations of the Touch Bar, such as the ones used by Photoshop, Ulysses, and AirMail, aren’t sufficiently customizable. You get the options suggested by the app maker, and that’s it.

While I won’t fault an indie app maker, or even Google, for failing to do better with the Touch Bar, I can lay blame at Apple’s feet. The company introduced a cool new feature and then has just let it sit there. It has provided no incentives nor has it led by example with the Touch Bar. Beyond some useful implementations in Apple-built apps right at launch, Apple has done nothing with the Touch Bar.

So yeah, of course, it makes sense my coworkers hate it. Mercifully, you don’t have to be like Apple or all my co-workers. There’s handy software [BetterTouchTool, TouchSwitcher] that lets you better take advantage of the Touch Bar right now.

«

As Cranz and others point out, what people want is to be able to call functions from outside the program they’re in to affect the stuff on the screen. But the TouchBar, as currently set up, doesn’t provide for that – so it just repeats what’s on the screen, which is little use. Apple could fix this; the APIs are there, as BetterTouchTool shows.
unique link to this extract


Fired Microsoft geek allegedly stole $10m with a bitcoin mixer • CCN

Ryan Smith:

»

Ex Microsoft employee Volodymyr Kvashuk was arrested this week amid allegations of digital currency theft to the tune of $10m. U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Washington suspect the Ukrainian-born resident used a Bitcoin mixer to cover up his tracks.

Kvashuk, who was in charge of the companies online sales platform, was entrusted to test customer purchases in a simulated environment. The test environment only blocked physical deliveries, however, and the security team failed to prevent purchases of gift cards.

The talented engineer quickly took advantage of this flaw using company funds to buy Bitcoin-denominated gift cards. He subsequently resold them online to fund an extravagant lifestyle:

The complaint alleges KVASHUK resold the value on the internet, using the proceeds to purchase a $160,000 Tesla vehicle and a $1.6m dollar lakefront home.

«

Going to love hearing the explanation for how he got the money by legal means.
unique link to this extract


Trump’s EPA just made its final decision not to ban a pesticide that hurts kids’ brains • Mother Jones

Tom Philpott:

»

Under pressure from a looming court-ordered deadline, the EPA reaffirmed its 2017 decision to reject a proposal from the agency’s own scientists to ban an insecticide called chlorpyrifos that farmers use on a wide variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. 

Here’s background from my piece in 2017:

»

The pesticide in question, chlorpyrifos, is a nasty piece of work. It’s an organophosphate, a class of bug killers that work by “interrupting the electrochemical processes that nerves use to communicate with muscles and other nerves,” as the Pesticide Encyclopedia puts it. Chlorpyrifos is also an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can cause “adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Major studies from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of California-Davis, and Columbia University have found strong evidence that low doses of chlorpyrifos inhibits kids’ brain development, including when exposure occurs in the womb, with effects ranging from lower IQ to higher rates of autism. Several studies—examples here, here, and here—have found it in the urine of kids who live near treated fields. In 2000, the EPA banned most home uses of the chemical, citing risks to children.

«

And here’s the dirt on the relationship between President Donald Trump and the company that markets the chemical:

»

Dow AgroSciences’ parent company, Dow Chemical, has also been buttering up Trump. The company contributed $1m to the president’s inaugural committee, the Center for Public Integrity notes. In December, Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris attended a post-election Trump rally in the company’s home state of Michigan, and used the occasion to announce plans to create 100 new jobs and bring back another 100 more from foreign subsidiaries.

«

«

For sale: presidential integrity, never used.
unique link to this extract


What the Slack security incident meant for me, the Keybase CEO • Keybase

Max Krohn was packing for a holiday in January when he got a Slack notification that he had logged in from the Netherlands:

»

My immediate thoughts, in order:

• Thankfully we don’t put sensitive communications (from financials to hiring to shit-talkin’) into Slack. We basically just use a #breaking channel in there in case we have Keybase downtime. Phew. I didn’t have to worry about being extorted or embarrassed. And Keybase as a company would almost certainly emerge unscathed.
• WAIT A SEC. How did this happen? I use strong, secure, distinct, random passwords for all services I log into. Either Slack itself was compromised, my password manager was compromised, or my computers were “rooted” by an attacker.
• Our weekend was hosed.

At risk of getting the car towed, I dashed an email off to Slack’s security team, and after a few back-and-forths, received the standard fare. They did not inform me of the directly related 2015 Security Incident but instead implied that I was messy with my security practices and was to blame.

Though I was more than 90% convinced that Slack had been compromised, as the CEO of a security-focused company, I couldn’t take any risks. I had to assume the worst, that my computers were compromised.

In the subsequent days and weeks, I reset all of my passwords, threw away all my computers, bought new computers, factory-reset my phone, rotated all of my Keybase devices (i.e., rotated my “keys”), and reestablished everything from the ground up.

«

Turned out he hadn’t been keylogged, but Slack had really screwed up in 2015. Four years ago.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,114: 5G can’t stand the heat, your spying browser (extensions), Libra backpedalling begins, the plan to mine science, and more


Properly measuring your quality of sleep takes more than an app and a smartwatch. CC-licensed photo by Woody Thrower on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. No more sleeps till the weekend. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The sad truth about sleep-tracking devices and apps • The New York Times

Brian Chen:

»

I wore an Apple Watch, since it is one of the most popular health-tracking devices. I also downloaded a top-rated app called AutoSleep, which uses the Apple Watch’s sensors to follow my movements and determine when I fell asleep and woke up. (The Apple Watch lacks a built-in sleep tracker.) Here’s what AutoSleep gathered on my sleep habits.

But the excitement ended there. Ultimately, the technology did not help me sleep more. It didn’t reveal anything that I didn’t already know, which is that I average about five and a half hours of slumber a night. And the data did not help me answer what I should do about my particular sleep problems. In fact, I’ve felt grumpier since I started these tests.

That mirrored the conclusions of a recent study from Rush University Medical College and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Researchers there noticed patients complaining about sleep data collected by apps and devices from Nike, Apple, Fitbit and others.

In their study, the researchers warned that sleep-tracking tech could provide inaccurate data and worsen insomnia by making people obsessed with achieving perfect slumber, a condition they called orthosomnia. It was one of the latest pieces of research supporting the idea that health apps don’t necessarily make people healthier.

«

I’ve never quite understood what the sleep apps are meant to be tracking, because as he says, what can you do about it? Nobody really knows.
unique link to this extract


Facebook is backpedaling from its ambitious vision for Libra • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

Facebook now seems to recognize its original vision was a non-starter with regulators. So this week Marcus sketched out a new vision for Libra—one in which the Libra Association will shoulder significant responsibility for ensuring compliance with laws relating to money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes.

Facebook’s new stance addresses some of the questions I raised in last week’s Libra feature. But it also raises new questions that Facebook will need to answer in the coming months. Marcus said Wednesday that the Libra Association will require regulatory compliance by Libra-based service providers, but he didn’t explain how it will do so. However it’s done, there’s likely to be an inherent tension between improving regulatory compliance and Facebook’s other goals to build an open network and make it accessible to marginalized people around the world.

«

unique link to this extract


What a very bad day at work taught me about building Stack Overflow’s community • Stack Overflow Blog

Sara Chipps:

»

About three months in, on a Friday afternoon, we introduced a new company-wide policy that I felt was relatively benign. What happened next was that, from my point of view, the engineering team completely lost it. No one agreed with this policy, and they made it known over seemingly hundreds of Slack pings. After an afternoon of going back and forth, I walked away feeling emotionally drained. What had happened to my amazing coworkers that were so kind and wonderful? I felt attacked and diminished. It seemed people weren’t valuing my work or my judgment.

I went home for the weekend and stewed in my frustration. I replayed everything that happened in my head and each time got more frustrated with the way people reacted. When Sunday rolled around, I decided I wanted to look back at our Slack conversations and see which one of my coworkers was being the rudest and the most unreasonable. I wanted to give them direct feedback that they had hurt my feelings.

As I went back through that Friday afternoon chat log, I was shocked to see that no one had been hurling insults. There was no one saying mean things about me or attacking my efficacy directly. In fact, what I found was that people had some well put together arguments about why they felt this policy was a bad idea. The entire engineering department definitely made their criticisms known, but I didn’t find people questioning my ability as a manager, throwing around insults, or saying anything that that illustrated why I was feeling so targeted.

That was when something became crystal clear: my coworkers hadn’t become monsters, they were still the kind and caring people I thought they were. The monster in this case is not one person, it was created when lots of people, even with great intentions, publicly disagreed with you at the same time. Even kind feedback can come off as caustic and mean when there is a mob of people behind it. No matter how nicely they say it, when a large group of people you really respect publicly challenge something you’ve done it can feel like a personal attack.

«

unique link to this extract


The plan to mine the world’s research papers • Nature

Priyanka Pulla:

»

Over the past year, [American technologist Carl] Malamud has — without asking publishers — teamed up with Indian researchers to build a gigantic store of text and images extracted from 73 million journal articles dating from 1847 up to the present day. The cache, which is still being created, will be kept on a 576-terabyte storage facility at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi. “This is not every journal article ever written, but it’s a lot,” Malamud says. It’s comparable to the size of the core collection in the Web of Science database, for instance. Malamud and his JNU collaborator, bioinformatician Andrew Lynn, call their facility the JNU data depot.

No one will be allowed to read or download work from the repository, because that would breach publishers’ copyright. Instead, Malamud envisages, researchers could crawl over its text and data with computer software, scanning through the world’s scientific literature to pull out insights without actually reading the text.

The unprecedented project is generating much excitement because it could, for the first time, open up vast swathes of the paywalled literature for easy computerized analysis. Dozens of research groups already mine papers to build databases of genes and chemicals, map associations between proteins and diseases, and generate useful scientific hypotheses. But publishers control — and often limit — the speed and scope of such projects, which typically confine themselves to abstracts, not full text. Researchers in India, the United States and the United Kingdom are already making plans to use the JNU store instead.

«

unique link to this extract


WeWork co-founder has cashed out at least $700m via sales, loans • WSJ

Eliot Brown, Maureen Farrell and Anupreeta Das:

»

WeWork Cos. co-founder Adam Neumann has cashed out more than $700 million from the company ahead of its initial public offering through a mix of stock sales and debt, people familiar with the matter said—an unusually large sum given that startup founders typically wait for the IPO to monetize their holdings.

Mr. Neumann, who is chief executive of the shared office-space giant and remains its single largest shareholder, over several years has sold some of his stake in the company and borrowed against some of his holdings, the people said.

The exact size of Mr. Neumann’s current ownership in WeWork couldn’t be learned. He recently set up a family office to invest the proceeds and has begun to hire financial professionals to run it, they said.

Investors in startups have generally frowned upon founders who cash out large chunks of shares ahead of a public-markets debut, because it raises questions about their confidence in the company. On the other hand, people close to Mr. Neumann say, his borrowings against some of his WeWork shares indicate that he is bullish on the company’s long-term prospects.

«

It also indicates that the people who lent him the money won’t have any collateral to recall their loan against if WeWork turns to crap.
unique link to this extract


We tested 5G across America. It’s crazy fast—and a hot mess • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

»

Eager to test out a technology that’s been more hyped than flavored sparkling water, I embarked on a 5G expedition from Denver to Atlanta to Chicago to Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I mostly used the new, $1,300 Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, one of the first 5G phones and the only one available across all the carriers. I also tested the LG V50 ThinQ 5G on Sprint’s network; Verizon has a version but I didn’t test it.

After nearly 120 tests, more than 12 city miles walked and a couple of big blisters, I can report that 5G is fasten-your-seat-belt fast…when you can find it. And you’re standing outdoors. And the temperature is just right.

As my findings show, 5G is absolutely not ready for you. But like any brand new network technology, it provides a glimpse of the future…

…In Atlanta, where it was 90ºF the day I visited, I could run only one or two 5G download tests before the phone would overheat and switch to 4G. When that happened, I’d head back to the car and hold the phone to the air vent. In Chicago, another day in the 90s, I had to wait until the sun went down to finish my Netflix download tests. In New York on an 83-degree day, I went with the ice-cooler trick: a minute or two in the cooler, and 5G switches back on.

At times when the 5G would stop working, my infrared thermometer showed the back surface of the phone was over 100ºF.

“With 5G, data is transmitted at higher quantities and speeds, which causes the processor to consume more energy,” the Samsung spokeswoman said.

It isn’t atypical for a phone’s processors or modems to reduce functionality when they are heavily taxed or overheated. I put the phone through some intensive tests—although nothing I couldn’t imagine any power user doing. I was surprised, though, when in my tests even a simple download on a normal summer day could overheat the phone and sever the 5G connection.

«

unique link to this extract


Grindr wanted to change the queer world. What went wrong? • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Mac:

»

Among the most frustrating things about [new Chinese owner Scott] Chen, according to three former employees, was his seeming lack of interest in anything beyond Grindr’s main app. Although the company had made strides since 2017 to develop a media brand and a wider audience than just gay men, he seemed monomaniacally focused on numbers and was hell-bent on attaining 4 million daily active users.

Former Grindr employees told BuzzFeed News that Chen spent a lot of his time working with the company’s Beijing engineers developing small features and changes to the app that he hoped would drive more engagement, and that he often failed to communicate them to the LA team. Two former employees said Chen also seemed to have little desire to fix the toxicity and harassment problems that plagued the app; he didn’t want to touch things that seemed to be working. “His archaic view of things is that sex sells,” said one, noting that anything that detracted from encouraging hookups was seen as a distraction.

“He thought [Grindr’s in-house digital magazine] Into was a social media play and didn’t realize it was an independent news outlet,” one former employee said. Another recalled trying to explain to Chen that media businesses take time to develop audiences and revenue streams and that there would be no quick and easy way to make Into profitable. Chen didn’t seem to listen, they said.

Former Grindr employees said this lack of interest manifested itself in other ways as well, often in decision-making that came off as callous or inappropriate. After a round of layoffs last year, former employees said, Chen removed a cluster of desks in the company’s cavernous office to install his own fitness center. A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that anyone could use the gym, but two former employees said no one did and it was widely understood to be for his use.

«

unique link to this extract


My browser, the spy: how extensions slurped up browsing histories from 4m users • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

DataSpii begins with browser extensions—available mostly for Chrome but in more limited cases for Firefox as well—that, by Google’s account, had as many as 4.1 million users. These extensions collected the URLs, webpage titles, and in some cases the embedded hyperlinks of every page that the browser user visited. Most of these collected Web histories were then published by a fee-based service called Nacho Analytics, which markets itself as “God mode for the Internet” and uses the tag line “See Anyone’s Analytics Account.”

Web histories may not sound especially sensitive, but a subset of the published links led to pages that are not protected by passwords—but only by a hard-to-guess sequence of characters (called tokens) included in the URL. Thus, the published links could allow viewers to access the content at these pages. (Security practitioners have long discouraged the publishing of sensitive information on pages that aren’t password protected, but the practice remains widespread.)

According to the researcher who discovered and extensively documented the problem, this non-stop flow of sensitive data over the past seven months has resulted in the publication of links to:

• Home and business surveillance videos hosted on Nest and other security services
• Tax returns, billing invoices, business documents, and presentation slides posted to, or hosted on, Microsoft OneDrive, Intuit.com, and other online services
• Vehicle identification numbers of recently bought automobiles, along with the names and addresses of the buyers
• Patient names, the doctors they visited, and other details listed by DrChrono, a patient care cloud platform that contracts with medical services
• Travel itineraries hosted on Priceline, Booking.com, and airline websites
• Facebook Messenger attachments and Facebook photos, even when the photos were set to be private.

«

Nacho Analytics turns out to have been grabbing data from tons of extensions, listed in the story.
unique link to this extract


The challenges with single toggle buttons • UX Movement

Anthony Tseng:

»

Many single toggle buttons fail at either showing the current state or making the unselected option visible. They’re challenging to get right because users only have one button to switch states. Should a single toggle button display the state or the second option?

Many designers make the mistake of displaying the state on the toggle button. This practice is terrible because it hides the second option from users. They have no way of knowing that it’s combined with the state.

In the example above, the action to follow someone combines the state and the second option into a single toggle button. When users press “follow,” the button turns into “following,” but the unfollow option isn’t visible. The user has to press the “following” button to unfollow someone, which isn’t clear.

Sometimes users won’t see “following.” Instead, they’ll only see the “unfollow” option. Now the user isn’t sure whether they’re following this person or not. They have to assume that the unfollow state means they’re “following” that person.

«

Really good points, which aren’t obvious until you start looking around and noticing them.
unique link to this extract


Being a woman online isn’t just surviving the abuse, it’s fielding the reply guys • HuffPost UK

Jess Brammar:

»

Recently, a colleague of mine, Chris, tweeted an innocuous comment about one of those niggly irritants of modern life. “We need to have a national conversation about the lack of plug sockets on trains,” he wrote. He received one reply, four ‘likes’ and no one else was interested.

Chris doesn’t really feel that strongly about plug sockets on trains – or, if he does, he’s never mentioned it to me. But I’d asked him to tweet that pretty inoffensive statement as a form of social experiment, because those were the exact words I had tweeted a few weeks before on a 7am train from London to Salford. But unlike Chris, I received a flood of replies. 

If you’re a woman, you’ll probably get what I’m talking about immediately. If you’re a man, you probably won’t. I’ve tried to explain this phenomenon to male colleagues and friends countless times, but, like so many things, it’s hard to see it, let alone understand it, unless it happens to you…

…alongside the straightforward abuse that is by now publicly acknowledged – and to the majority of the population, wholly unacceptable – there is something more complex, less offensive, but incredibly exhausting nonetheless. Sometimes it’s so subtle you barely notice it but it’s always there, always wearing, and just reserved for us women.

It is, broadly, the general sense that men have the right to weigh in on any statement made by a woman, because their opinion is as welcome, relevant and wanted as the original point, something Mashable has termed “the curse of the reply guy”. A non-stop unsolicited stream of pedantry and condescension.

«

And wow, it really is.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,113: Bezos’s space plan, EU goes after Amazon, Apple’s anti-theft team, FaceApp’s privacy problem, and more


Pearson is aiming to phase out printed textbooks for digital ones. Want to guess what’ll happen to prices? CC-licensed photo by zaveqna on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Why Jeff Bezos spends billions on space technology • CNBC

Catherine Clifford:

»

developing space technologies is critical for human beings to have a long future, Bezos says.

“We humans have to go to space if we are going to continue to have a thriving civilization,” Bezos says. “We have become big as a population, as a species, and this planet is relatively small. We see it in things like climate change and pollution and heavy industry. We are in the process of destroying this planet. And we have sent robotic probes to every planet in the solar system — this is the good one. So, we have to preserve this planet.”

To do that will require being able to live and work in space, says Bezos.

“We send things up into space, but they are all made on Earth. Eventually it will be much cheaper and simpler to make really complicated things, like microprocessors and everything, in space and then send those highly complex manufactured objects back down to earth, so that we don’t have the big factories and pollution generating industries that make those things now on Earth,” Bezos says. “And Earth can be zoned residential.”

«

Oh but ‘It will be “multiple generations” and “hundreds of years” before this is a reality, Bezos said’. Not sure we have that much time.
unique link to this extract


EU opens Amazon antitrust investigation • The Verge

Jon Porter:

»

The EU’s Competition Commission has opened a formal antitrust investigation into Amazon to investigate whether the company is using sales data to gain an unfair advantage over smaller sellers on the Marketplace platform. The Commission says it will look into Amazon’s agreements with marketplace sellers, as well as how Amazon uses data to choose which retailer to link to using the “Buy Box” on its site. The announcement comes on the same day that Amazon announced changes to its third-party seller service agreement in response to a separate antitrust investigation by German regulators.

“E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices,” said the EU’s Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. “We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behavior. I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

Responding to the news, Amazon told The Verge that it “will cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow.”

«

Hmm. Tesco, Sainsbury and other supermarkets sell their own-brand products in their supermarkets while selling third party products at the same time. What’s the difference, exactly? That Amazon can reorganise its store on the fly, where a supermarket can’t?
unique link to this extract


Firefox to warn when saved logins are found in data breaches • Bleeping Computer

Lawrence Abrams:

»

Starting in Firefox 70, Mozilla aims to have the browser report when any of your saved logins were found in data breaches. This will be done through their partnership with the Have I Been Pwned data breach site.

Mozilla is slowly integrating their independent Firefox Monitor service and the new Firefox Lockwise password manager directly into Firefox.  Mozilla is also considering premium services based around these features in the future.

As part of this integration, Firefox will scan the saved login names and passwords and see if they were exposed in a data breach listed on Have I been Pwned. If one is found, Firefox will alert the user and prompt them to change their password.

«

Neat. Wonder how long it will take for the other major browsers to incorporate this.
unique link to this extract


Inside Apple factory thefts: secret tunnels, hidden crawl spaces • The Information

Wayne Ma:

»

Some factory workers have hidden sensitive parts in crawl spaces and later returned to retrieve them when security guards aren’t looking. Employees have hidden parts in used mop water, tissue boxes, shoes and under discarded metal shavings. A factory worker was once caught hiding parts inside his belt buckle, hoping security guards wouldn’t pat down that area. 

A woman at Jabil once hid dozens of glass screens in her bra but was caught by security guards after they noticed her unusual style of walking. Apple once caught factory workers digging a small tunnel in a corner of a room behind a large piece of machinery, hoping to use it to ferry stolen parts to the outside world. “People were chipping away little by little at the wall ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style,” the person said. 

“Scrapping” companies, which help Apple suppliers destroy prototypes and defective parts, have also been a source of leaks. Apple once traced leaked enclosures to a major scrapping vendor, Singapore’s Tes-Amm. Apple removed the company from its approved list of vendors for a year but was forced to restore it because its options were limited, a person familiar with the matter said. Tes-Amm didn’t reply to a request for comment. Apple’s supplier security policies require an Apple employee or an Apple-approved contractor to be physically present when scrap is destroyed. 

Leaks also can come from Apple’s packaging and printing contractors. One worker snuck a smartphone into a printing factory in 2017 and was able to take photos of an instruction manual for the iPhone X before its release.

«

unique link to this extract


Education publisher Pearson to phase out print textbooks • BBC News

»

The world’s largest education publisher has taken the first step towards phasing out print books by making all its learning resources “digital first”.

Pearson said students would only be able to rent physical textbooks from now on, and they would be updated much less frequently.

The British firm hopes the move will make more students buy its e-textbooks which are updated continually.

“We are now over the digital tipping point,” boss John Fallon told the BBC.

“Over half our annual revenues come from digital sales, so we’ve decided a little bit like in other industries like newspapers or music or in broadcast that it is time to flick the switch in how we primarily make and create our products.”

The firm currently makes 20% of its revenues from US courseware, but has been struggling as students increasingly opt to rent second-hand print textbooks to save money.

To counter this Mr Fallon said Pearson would stop revising print books every three years, a model that has dominated the industry for 40 years.

«

Despite Pearson’s protests, it’s obvious that it’s looking to move to a subscription model, and that it will jack up prices. Perhaps they could use themselves in an economics textbook as an example of “rent-seeking“.

Corollary: prices of secondhand textbooks are going to rocket in the next year or two. If you’ve got university-age kids, get their textbooks purchased soon.
unique link to this extract


How to end Asia’s plastic waste war • Nikkei Asian Review

James Crabtree:

»

The world churned out around 300 million tons of plastic waste in 2015, a figure academic estimates suggest has roughly doubled in the last two decades. Environmental groups fear it could double again by 2030, clogging up oceans and toxic landfills alike…

…Governments in countries including Canada and Australia have traditionally taken little care over the waste they send abroad. Recycled materials are traded via complex chains of middlemen, and often mislabeled and poorly regulated. Southeast Asian governments say they have little control over what they receive. Rather than clean recyclable material, Indonesia said the shipments it sent back to Australia in mid-July were actually filled with electronic waste and other toxic kinds of junk.

These clashes over plastics might soon get worse. Other countries want to join China in banning imports, including Thailand and Vietnam, both of whom plan to phase the trade out. Even those who do not go for outright prohibition are likely to reduce their intake. New global rules on plastics were recently agreed under the United Nation’s Basel Convention, a treaty governing the world’s waste system ratified by close to 200 countries, although not the United States. Coming into force in 2021, these will give recipient nations more control over the waste they receive.

Environmental campaigners back further import bans in the hope of forcing governments in richer countries to act and pushing companies in plastic-heavy sectors like food and consumer goods to find alternatives. Such shock treatment might be needed, but it is far from clear that more bans alone, and with them a further deglobalization of the world’s recycling system, would in fact be the best outcome.

«

And yet when a member of Extinction Rebellion was on the BBC’s Today show, he was interrogated on why he “wanted a recession”.
unique link to this extract


FaceApp responds to privacy concerns • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

The tl;dr here is that concerns had been raised that FaceApp, a Russian startup, uploads users’ photos to the cloud — without making it clear to them that processing is not going on locally on their device.

Another issue raised by FaceApp users was that the iOS app appears to be overriding settings if a user had denied access to their camera roll, after people reported they could still select and upload a photo — i.e. despite the app not having permission to access their photos.

As we reported earlier, the latter is actually allowed behavior in iOS — which gives users the power to choose to block an app from full camera roll access but select individual photos to upload if they so wish.

This isn’t a conspiracy, though Apple could probably come up with a better way of describing the permission, as we suggested earlier.

On the wider matter of cloud processing of what is, after all, facial data, FaceApp confirms that most of the processing needed to power its app’s beautifying/gender-bending/age-accerating/-defying effects are done in the cloud.

Though it claims it only uploads photos users have specifically selected for editing. Security tests have also not found evidence the app uploads a user’s entire camera roll.

«

The app first surfaced two years ago, so that’s a pretty tenacious startup.
unique link to this extract


Tech journalism’s ‘on background’ scourge • Columbia Journalism Review

Brian Merchant:

»

I’ve been a tech journalist for a decade. I was a senior editor at Motherboard for about four years, and have written and edited stories for outlets including Wired, The Atlantic, and Gizmodo. “On background” has been a scourge throughout my career. Every single conversation I have had with a big-five tech company representative this year has been on background. It has become the default method by which Silicon Valley disseminates information to reporters. 

This is a toxic arrangement. The tactic shields tech companies from accountability. It allows giants like Amazon and Tesla an opportunity to transmit their preferred message, free of risk, in the voice of a given publication. It leaves no trace of policy that might later be criticized—that could form part of the public record to be scrutinized by regulators, lawyers, or investors. If the company later reverses course or modifies its position, the egg is on the reporter’s face, not the company’s. 

Corporations such as Apple, Google, and Uber have become infamous for their secrecy and unwillingness to comment on most matters on the record. And tech reporters, myself very much included, have not done enough to push them to do otherwise.

«

Definition: ‘According to the Associated Press, an on background arrangement with a reporter means that “information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position.”’

I agree with Merchant; like him I’ve had to take “on background” briefings from many companies, and wondered why they didn’t have the courage just to say it. As Merchant says, Nilay Patel at The Verge decided not to take it from YouTube in a recent controversy. More could do the same: just refuse to take “on background”. It’s either no quote, or attributed-to-company quote.
unique link to this extract


iOS and iPadOS 13 beta 4 signals death of 3D Touch, rise of Context Menu • VentureBeat

Jeremy Horwitz:

»

If you aren’t already familiar with 3D Touch, the concept was simple: slight, medium, and heavy pressure on an iPhone’s screen could be recognized differently, such that a light press would open an app while a firm press in the same spot would instead conjure up a contextual menu. Apple sometimes nested additional “peek and pop” features within iPhone apps using the same pressure sensitivity, giving users extra options if they pressed down more on the screen.

Over the last few beta releases of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, Apple has been rolling out a replacement called Context Menus — a change it set the stage for last year, by releasing the iPhone XR without 3D Touch hardware. Back then, Apple said it was giving the XR an alternative called “Haptic Touch” that pulled up the same sort of contextual menus as earlier iPhones, but did so using two tricks: instead of pressure, it sensed button press time, counting an extra split-second as a stronger button press, confirming the different intent with a “thump” from the phone’s vibration feature.

Now iPad users will get a version of Haptic Touch minus the haptics. The “hold slightly longer” feature works the exact same way as on the iPhone XR, but there’s no confirming thump because iPads don’t have vibration actuators inside. (Presumably, the feature will work the same way on the seventh-generation iPod touch, the only iPod that supports iOS 13, while similarly lacking vibration hardware.)

The key change in iOS/iPadOS 13 beta 4 is that the timing for the Context Menus and a related UI feature — Home screen icon rearrangement — has been tightened to perfection. Hold down on an app icon for just under two seconds, or long enough to be “holding down” rather than tapping for selection, and a Context Menu pops up, as shown above. Hold an additional second or so and icons begin to shake to indicate they can be arranged.

«

It had a good run, but was mostly used only by Apple; hardly any third-party apps did. It’s got to be expensive to implement, and the challenge of “force touch” v “just press it” could be tricky. Unusual for Apple to dump a feature from its phones, though.
unique link to this extract


I wish Google’s Smart Displays were the kitchen companions they promised to be • Android Police

David Ruddock:

»

The first fundamental flaw of using a smart display as a recipe canvas is that the display can only access a limited subset of recipes available online. These recipes must either have schema formatting that Google recognizes in its search platform and then displays in a cookie cutter style on the display, or algorithmically be flagged as a recipe and render as a desktop web page (often in barely readable, tiny font). For now, only the largest recipe repositories online use the dedicated markup formatting, and mostly because they received early access to this tool from Google. Ordinary sites are able to do it as well, but many simply haven’t – and some websites have such heavily customized recipe formatting that Google’s one-size-fits-all approach simply wouldn’t make sense for them.

This means that when you search for a recipe, you’re only getting a curated selection of the total search results for that recipe on the web. And oftentimes, I dig through a half dozen or more recipes before deciding on the one that sounds best or provides the most information on the processes and techniques involved. Searching “red pepper soup” on a smart display will yield results, but it won’t yield the one I settled on after doing a search on my phone last week, because apparently Google doesn’t think that page contains a recipe.

When I do find a recipe I want, I should be able to just push that recipe from my laptop, phone, or tablet to the smart display – at the very least it could give me a web browser view. But it can’t. There is no way to push web content to the smart display, it can only show you pages in the results of a voice search query. This, frankly, makes no sense: the screen is clearly capable of and does display web pages, it just won’t let you display any page you want.

«

So he says it ends up being what most people use these devices for – a music player, and a timer.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,112: the UK’s diptel problem, how many USB-C cables?, TurboTax screws the poor for more, Apple seeks exclusive podcasts, and more


Yes, how did people manage before Visicalc, the first “killer app”? CC-licensed photo by Betsy Weber on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Timing OK, Jason? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How tech firms make us feel like we own their apps – and how that benefits them • The Conversation

Melody Zou:

»

People who become heavy users of the apps they download can develop deep relationships with these services, so deep that they take on what we call “psychological ownership” of them. This means they perceive each app as something that belongs just to them and has effectively become an extension of themselves. After using it frequently and adjusting the settings to their liking, it becomes “my app”, even though their rights to use the service and transfer their data are actually restricted and their accounts can be terminated at any time.

Psychological ownership can benefit the companies because it leads users to take on valuable extra roles. In the real world, companies have long pushed for shoppers to give feedback, recommend their products and help other shoppers. App “owners” are willingly doing all of this in the digital sphere and often with more expertise and commitment than traditional consumers.

My colleagues and I studied this phenomenon for users of music streaming apps such as Spotify and QQ Music and found that they went the extra mile in four ways. They provided services such as answering the queries of other users on internet forums or offering other information that would enrich the experience of users. They improved the app by giving the company feedback or taking part in the app’s governance. They advocated for the app by championing it in public or defending it against critics. And they financed the service by paying a premium fee or even donating money.

«

(Zou is assistant professor of Information Systems and Management at Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick.)
unique link to this extract


40 years later, lessons from the rise and quick decline of the first ‘killer app’ • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

»

VisiCalc was the first piece of software that was so popular that it drove people to buy computers just to run it. A 1984 article for PC Magazine noted: “People entered computer stores to purchase VisiCalc and something to run it on.” At the time, VisiCalc cost $100, but the Apple II to run it could set you back $2,000 or more—much more. The revenue of VisiCalc’s publisher, which was almost entirely attributable to VisiCalc itself, mushroomed from virtually nothing in 1979 to more than $40 million in 1983, says Edward Esber, who was VP of marketing at the company.

This was the first lesson of VisiCalc—that the dawn of a new platform is when empires are built. In this case, the shift was from the paper ledgers that accountants had used for centuries, to their digital equivalent on the PC.

The PC was arguably the first modern tech platform—that is, a thing that had value because it enabled many different types of software and services—and much of what happened next became typical of every computing platform that has come since.

Unfortunately for Messrs. Bricklin and Frankston, the second lesson of VisiCalc was that a killer app doesn’t guarantee enduring success. The software might have been the first tech victim of what academic Clayton Christensen would later call “disruptive innovation”—when a smaller company outflanks an incumbent by targeting an overlooked market.

Mitch Kapor, who worked for VisiCalc’s publisher as a product manager, left the company and began working on his own spreadsheet program. Instead of creating it for the Apple II, Mr. Kapor put his money on another horse: the brand-new IBM PC. Released in 1983, his software—Lotus 1-2-3—took the world by storm on a scale that even VisiCalc’s success couldn’t have foretold.

«

Terrific piece.
unique link to this extract


Kim Darroch was a victim of the UK government’s huge email problem • WIRED UK

Chris Stokel-Walker:

»

Intelligent Protection International Limited, a private security firm, was asked to conduct an investigation to pinpoint the source of a leak of commercial information – allegedly perpetrated by a staff member– to a company working with the [unnamed UK government] department. “We were gobsmacked when we did our investigation,” says Alex Bomberg, chief executive officer of Intelligent Protection International.

Bomberg’s company produced a 300-page report – a redacted version of the recommendations of which we have seen – laying bare the issues with how the civil service handles sensitive data such as diplomatic briefings and cables. All routine public service information is classed as “Official” – one of three security classifications set out by the government. Official documents can include “routine international relations and diplomatic activities.

However, particularly delicate information can be labelled “Official – Sensitive”, which is meant to involve additional measures to limit the “need to know”. That additional marking is deployed to head off the risk of such information being stolen, lost or published by journalists because it “could have more damaging consequences,” official advice on classification explains.

According to The Mail on Sunday, which first reported the contents of Darroch’s diplomatic cables, the documents leaked last week were labelled “Official – Sensitive”.

It turns out that these labels are expected to do a lot of work. One of the main concerns Intelligent Protection International raised in its report was the principle of “delegated access” to email accounts of the highest-ranking officials in the civil service.

In short, that means that staff would be allowed to access an official’s inbox in order to triage emails and deal with problems.

«

I thought that diplomatic cables were classified as “Eyes Only” rather than “Official – Sensitive“. But email, and the need to triage it, makes a mockery of that.
unique link to this extract


How many kinds of USB-C™ to USB-C™ cables are there? • Benson Leung

»

tl;dr: There are six. Unfortunately it’s very confusing to the end user.

Classic USB from the 1.1, 2.0, to 3.0 generations using USB-A and USB-B connectors have a really nice property in that cables were directional and plugs and receptacles were physically distinct to specify a different capability. A USB 3.0 capable USB-B plug was physically larger than a 2.0 plug and would not fit into a USB 2.0-only receptacle. For the end user, this meant that as long as they have a cable that would physically connect to both the host and the device, the system would function properly, as there is only ever one kind of cable that goes from one A plug to a particular flavor of B plug.

Does the same hold for USB-C™?

Sadly, the answer is no.

«

Oh, USB-C. The solution: clearer labelling. The problem: cable manufacturers aren’t interested in better labelling.
unique link to this extract


Trump’s tax law threatened TurboTax’s profits, so the company started charging the disabled, the unemployed and students • ProPublica

Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel:

»

The 2017 tax overhaul vastly expanded the number of people who could file simplified tax returns, a boon to millions of Americans.

But the new law directly threatened the lucrative business of Intuit, the maker of TurboTax.

Although the company draws in customers with the promise of a “free” product, its fortunes depend on getting as many customers as possible to pay. It had been regularly charging $100 or more for returns that included itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations. Under the new law, many wealthier taxpayers would no longer be filing that form, qualifying them to use the company’s free software.

Intuit executives came up with a way to preserve the company’s hefty profit margins: It began charging more low-income people. Which ones? Individuals with disabilities, the unemployed and people who owe money on student loans, all of whom use tax forms that TurboTax previously included for free. The shift was described to ProPublica by two people familiar with the process…

…Under a 2002 deal with the government, most Americans are supposed to be able to file their taxes for free as long as they make under $66,000 a year. In return, the IRS has agreed not to offer its own free service.

But, as ProPublica has been reporting, Intuit has steered eligible customers away from the truly free version, aggressively marketing products that are called “free” even though many customers end up paying.

«

An unusual case of regulatory capture: Intuit squirms away from any attempt to lock down what it does. It really is past time for the US government to take over the process.
unique link to this extract


‘Just a matter of when’: the $20bn plan to power Singapore with Australian solar • The Guardian

Adam Morton:

»

Known as Sun Cable, it is promised to be the world’s largest solar farm. If developed as planned, a 10-gigawatt-capacity array of panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares and be backed by battery storage to ensure it can supply power around the clock.

Overhead transmission lines will send electricity to Darwin and plug into the NT grid. But the bulk would be exported via a high-voltage direct-current submarine cable snaking through the Indonesian archipelago to Singapore. The developers say it will be able to provide one-fifth of the island city-state’s electricity needs, replacing its increasingly expensive gas-fired power.

After 18 months in development, the $20bn Sun Cable development had a quiet coming out party in the Top End three weeks ago at a series of events held to highlight the NT’s solar potential. The idea has been embraced by the NT government and attracted the attention of the software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who is considering involvement through his Grok Ventures private investment firm.

The NT plan follows a similarly ambitious proposal for the Pilbara, where another group of developers are working on an even bigger wind and solar hybrid plant to power local industry and develop a green hydrogen manufacturing hub. On Friday, project developer Andrew Dickson announced the scale of the proposed Asian Renewable Energy Hub had grown by more than a third, from 11GW to 15GW. “To our knowledge, it’s the largest wind-solar hybrid in the world,” he says.

«

Would be good if Australia shift from exporting coal to exporting solar energy. I thought DC was a bad idea for long-distance power transmission, but apparently not. Singapore generates all its own electricity at present – but 98% of that is from fossil fuels.
unique link to this extract


Apple plans to bankroll original podcasts to fend off rivals • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw and Mark Gurman:

»

Executives at the company have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are preliminary. Apple has yet to outline a clear strategy, but has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn’t make before.

Apple all but invented the podcasting business with the creation of a network that collects thousands of podcasts from across the internet in a feed on people’s phones, smartwatches and computers. The Apple Podcast app still accounts for anywhere from 50% to 70% of listening for most podcasts, according to industry executives.

The news sent shares of Spotify down as much as 2.7% to $150.09 in New York on Tuesday, marking the biggest intraday decline in three weeks. The stock had been up 36% this year through Monday’s close.

After years without making substantial changes to its podcasting business, which first launched in 2005, Apple has recently focused on upgrading its app and has added new tools for podcast makers.

«

Going to be a challenge for Spotify. Apple-only podcasts will have a lot more reach than Spotify-only podcasts, as the data suggests. Then the problem is how you get people to see them.
unique link to this extract


Measles is killing more people in the DRC than Ebola—and faster • Ars Technica

Beth Mole:

»

Since January 2019, officials have recorded over 100,000 measles cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mostly in children, and nearly 2,000 have died. The figures surpass those of the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, which has tallied not quite 2,500 cases and 1,665 deaths since August 2018. The totals were noted by World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a speech today, July 15, at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Frankly, I am embarrassed to talk only about Ebola,” Dr. Tedros said (he goes by his first name). He gave the speech in response to two new developments in the Ebola outbreak. That is that two Ebola responders were murdered in their home in the DRC city of Beni and that officials on Sunday had identified the first case of Ebola in Goma, a DRC city of over one million at the border with Rwanda.

«

In case there’s anyone around who thought measles wasn’t deadly.
unique link to this extract


Delta, Alaska, and American Airlines have all been sued over their cabin crew uniforms • Vox

Rae Nudson:

»

Delta is the latest airline to have flight attendants report health issues possibly related to their uniforms, and employees at the airline filed a lawsuit in May against the manufacturer, Lands’ End. But flight attendants have been battling health issues that have appeared after an airline instituted new uniforms for years. And for years, airlines have said their uniforms are safe.

Meanwhile, flight attendants and others are working to discover the cause of their symptoms and the identity and total number of chemicals present in their uniforms, all of which can be difficult to ascertain. Until the cause can be identified — or until airlines start listening to employees and moving quickly after their complaints — it’s likely employees will continue to face symptoms. And it’s likely that flight attendants will keep heading to court, where they’ve historically needed to go to get policy changed by their employers.

The problem was first reported after employees at Alaska Airlines got new uniforms toward the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011. Flight attendants began to report rashes and eye irritation, and documented hives, blisters, and scaly patches, according to a 2012 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report looking into the issue. In 2013, flight attendants at Alaska Airlines filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the uniforms, Twin Hill, and the airline recalled the uniforms in 2014. In October 2016, Twin Hill won the lawsuit, with the court claiming there was no reliable evidence the injuries were caused by the uniforms.

Then in 2016, shortly after flight attendants at American Airlines got new uniforms, also manufactured by Twin Hill, they began to show symptoms as well. Flight attendants reported rashes, blisters, open sores, and swelling.

«

I thought I had linked to this before, but couldn’t find any trace. This is a weird one; the link between uniform and illness seems undeniable, yet the cause evades discovery.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,111: will Europe ban data export to US?, Germany’s privacy watchdog nixes Office 365, Twitter dithers on Trump, and more


Protests on 14 July in Hong Kong: why is YouTube limiting ads on their videos? CC-licensed photo by Studio Incendo on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so there’s no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Still here, then. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why YouTube keeps demonetizing videos of the Hong Kong protests • OneZero

Will Oremus:

»

the company’s guidelines would seem to rule out ads on huge swaths of what is generally considered mainstream news coverage. Imagine your evening newscast stripped of any story whose topic includes “violence,” “harmful or dangerous acts,” “tobacco,” “firearms,” or “controversial issues and sensitive events.” Note further that YouTube’s explanation of that last category includes “war,” “death and tragedies,” “political conflicts,” “terrorism or extremism,” and “sexual abuse.” You’d be left with the local sports roundup, the winning lotto numbers, and weather report — assuming, one supposes, the weather isn’t causing any deaths or tragedies.

In practice, it’s clear that YouTube makes plenty of exceptions for news coverage. You can find ads on segments about ethnic cleansing in Myanmar to clashes between Israel and Hamas in the West Bank. But when pressed by OneZero to explain on what basis it makes those exceptions, YouTube declined to elaborate, except to clarify that videos of political protests are eligible for ads unless those protests include violence. That’s a tricky stance, given that many protest movements start off peaceful but escalate to include incidents of violence — as has happened in Hong Kong.

On June 16, China Uncensored posted a video called “Biggest Protest in Hong Kong’s History,” chronicling the massive demonstrations of the day before. It was quickly marked by YouTube with a yellow monetization icon, indicating that it was eligible for “limited or no ads.”

«

The problem with an unaccountable, inexplicable paymaster.
unique link to this extract


A layer of ‘aerogel’ could make Mars habitable and even enable life to develop there – but here’s why we should wait

Andrew Coates:

»

Ideas for changing or “terraforming” Mars, by introducing an atmospheric greenhouse effect to warm it, have been around for a long time. Recently it was shown that the carbon inventory on Mars is insufficient to do this, apparently killing off these ideas for now.

But the new study suggests a different approach – that smaller areas of Mars could be covered by a thin (2-3cm) covering of aerogel, providing a greenhouse effect by locking in heat. Using lab experiments, the researchers showed that this could increase the surface temperature by 50°C. The authors then used a climate model of Mars to confirm that the gel would be able to keep the water below it liquid up to a depth of several metres. It would also protect against harmful radiation by absorbing the radiation at UV wavelengths, while still allowing enough light for photosynthesis.

This suggests that a habitable region could be produced, enough even to grow some plants to fuel eventual human exploration. The idea is certainly interesting, and according to the experiments potentially plausible. But it ignores the other key issue affecting life on Mars – cosmic radiation. Silica aerogel, the proposed material, is sometimes called “frozen smoke” due to its low density. But because it is so low density, cosmic radiation of higher energy than ultraviolet light can pass through it almost unscathed. Without magnetic protection, this radiation threatens any life on the Martian surface, just as it does today.

«

(An aerogel is “a synthetic and ultralight material made by taking a gel and replacing the liquid component with a gas.”)
unique link to this extract


The Metamorphosis • The Atlantic

Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher:

»

In the nuclear age, strategy evolved around the concept of deterrence. Deterrence is predicated on the rationality of parties, and the premise that stability can be ensured by nuclear and other military deployments that can be neutralized only by deliberate acts leading to self-destruction; the likelihood of retaliation deters attack. Arms-control agreements with monitoring systems were developed in large part to avoid challenges from rogue states or false signals that might trigger a catastrophic response.

Hardly any of these strategic verities can be applied to a world in which AI plays a significant role in national security. If AI develops new weapons, strategies, and tactics by simulation and other clandestine methods, control becomes elusive, if not impossible. The premises of arms control based on disclosure will alter: Adversaries’ ignorance of AI-developed configurations will become a strategic advantage—an advantage that would be sacrificed at a negotiating table where transparency as to capabilities is a prerequisite. The opacity (and also the speed) of the cyberworld may overwhelm current planning models.

The evolution of the arms-control regime taught us that grand strategy requires an understanding of the capabilities and military deployments of potential adversaries. But if more and more intelligence becomes opaque, how will policy makers understand the views and abilities of their adversaries and perhaps even allies?

«

Yes, it really is that unindicted war criminal Henry Kissinger (age 96), ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt (64), American academic Daniel Huttenlocher (59). The article’s full of vagueisms – unsurprisingly – but the idea of nation states using AI for their defence/attack strategies is quite worrying.
unique link to this extract


The US, China, and case 311/18 on Standard Contractual Clauses • European Law Blog

Peter Swire:

»

In the aftermath of the 2015 case [on Facebook transferring data to the US, which found against Facebook and invalidated those transfers], most companies that transfer data from the EU were left to rely on contract standards promulgated by the European Commission, called Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC).  The SCCs set strict requirements for handling personal data by the company that transfers the data.

The legality of SCCs is now before the CJEU, with a similar challenge to Privacy Shield awaiting the outcome of the first case.

A CJEU decision that invalidates SCCs would result in the prohibition of most transfers of personal data from the EU to the US. The case primarily concerns the quality of legal safeguards in the United States for government surveillance, especially by the NSA. (Note – I was selected to provide independent expert testimony on US law by Facebook; under Irish law, I was prohibited from contact with Facebook while serving as an expert, and I have played no further role in the litigation.)

A decision invalidating SCCs, however, would pose a terrible dilemma to EU courts and decisionmakers.

At a minimum, the CJEU might “merely” prohibit data flows to the US due to a finding of lack of sufficient safeguards, notably an insufficient remedy for an EU data subject who makes a subject access request to the NSA. The EU on this approach would continue to authorize the transfer of personal data to countries not directly covered by the Court decision, such as, for example, China.  This approach would be completely unjustified: it would prohibit transfers of data to the US, which has numerous legal safeguards characteristic of a state under the rule of law, while allowing such transfers toward China, where the protection of personal data vis-à-vis the government is essentially non-existent.

«

unique link to this extract


German privacy watchdog: Microsoft’s Office 365 cannot be used in public schools • WinBuzzer

Luke Jones:

»

A data authority in the German State of Hesse has warned Microsoft’s Office 365 cannot be used in schools. Michael Ronellenfitsch, Hesse’s data protection commissioner, says the standard Office 365 configuration creates privacy issues.

He warned this week that data stored in the cloud by the productivity suite could be accessed in the United States. Specifically, personal information from teachers and students would be in the cloud. Ronellenfitsch says even if the data was held in centers in Europe, it is still “exposed to possible access by US authorities”.

The commissioner says public intuitions in Hesse and across Germany “have a special responsibility with regard to the permissibility and traceability of the processing of personal data.”…

…It is worth noting that Ronellenfitsch previously endorsed the use of Office 365 in schools. Back in 2017, he said schools can use the suite under certain conditions that match Germany’s data protection compliancy laws. At the time, Microsoft was partnered with Deutsche Telekom and offering the “Germany Cloud” initiative that is now depreciated.

«

This isn’t an opportunity for Google or Apple: they don’t meet the authority’s criteria on privacy and data either.
unique link to this extract


Trump’s racist tweets aren’t racist, Twitter decides • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron:

»

Last month, Twitter announced that while the president will continue to remain exempt from the consequences of violating its policies, it would downrank and flag any “public interest” tweets that violate its rules.

“We may allow controversial content or behavior which may otherwise violate our rules to remain on our service because we believe there is a legitimate public interest in its availability,” the company stated. “When this happens, we add a notice to clarify that the Tweet violates our rules, but we believe it should be left up to serve this purpose.”

Noticeably, Trump’s go-back-to-your-country tweets remain unflagged.

“The plain reading of Twitter’s policies against repeated targeting and bullying of individuals using racist slurs and tropes makes clear that the president’s latest rant against Rep. Ilhan Omar and other congresswomen of color goes too far,” said Madihha Ahussain, a special counsel for Muslim Advocates, one of many civil rights groups working to persuade Twitter and other social networks to take meaningful action to address racist and extremist content.

Twitter declined to comment on the record about its decision, pointing instead to its policy of adding a “notice” to any “public interest” tweet that violates its rules.

«

Twitter then contacted Cameron and complained about the headline. The sheer display of pusillanimity in the US media, and social networks, over the weekend has been astonishing. If Twitter bans anyone for anything after this, it’s rank hypocrisy.
unique link to this extract


Award-winning reporter to counter-sue man who bankrolled Brexit for ‘harassment’ • Daily Beast

Nico Hines:

»

The award-winning journalist whose investigations led to the collapse of Donald Trump’s campaign data gurus Cambridge Analytica and a record $5bn fine for Facebook has launched a lawsuit for harassment against the man who bankrolled Brexit.

Carole Cadwalladr, a freelance investigative reporter, served the papers Monday against Arron Banks, the largest Brexit campaign donor. Solicitors acting on her behalf say a campaign of harassment, trolling and threats of violence culminated Friday with a libel suit filed at the High Court against Cadwalladr for remarks she made during a TED talk, at a convention in London, and in a tweet.

“This is such an abuse of the law by Arron Banks. He’s not suing TED. He’s not suing the Observer or the Guardian. He’s a bully who’s targeting me as an individual to harass and intimidate me and prevent me from doing journalism, a course of behavior that has been going on for more than two years,” Cadwalladr told The Daily Beast.

«

I hope Carole wins this, and the libel case, and gets gigantic personal damages for both. She deserves it, and Banks’s behaviour deserves to be spotlighted for what it is.
unique link to this extract


There’s a big problem with Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency • Ars Technica

Timothy B. Lee:

»

Facebook envisions a Libra ecosystem that looks a lot like the existing bitcoin ecosystem. Just as people use intermediaries like Coinbase to acquire and manage their bitcoins, Facebook envisions users interacting with the Libra network via exchanges and user-friendly apps—including Facebook’s own app called Calibra. Each company building a Libra payment service will need to hire its own lawyers to make sure it’s complying with all applicable laws.

A key assumption behind this plan is that the Libra network itself will operate beyond the reach of any country’s regulatory regime in the same way that bitcoin does. A Libra Association representative, Dante Disparte, articulated this principle in a recent interview with blockchain podcaster Laura Shin. Shin asked Disparte what would happen if a government like the United States demanded that the Libra Association blacklist certain Libra addresses in order to comply with sanctions laws—something that’s required of most conventional payment networks.

“The Association won’t interact with any jurisdiction,” Disparte said. “The Association has three macro-level functions: governance, management of a reserve, management of an open-source technology. The companies that offer consumers and citizens in different jurisdictions around the world are the regulated entities that provide an on- and off-ramp to Libra the currency.”

But this position has a fair number of skeptics. One of them is Jerry Brito, a lawyer who runs a blockchain-focused think tank called the Coin Center.

“I don’t understand how this is possible,” Brito tweeted. If the US government asked the Libra Association to block a list of Libra addresses, the Association’s members—big companies like Facebook, Mastercard, Visa, and Uber—would have little choice to comply, he argued.

«

See for comparison: Amazon’s hosting, briefly, of Wikileaks during the US diplomatic cables leak; Paypal and Visa denying payments to Wikileaks subsequently.
unique link to this extract


Florida DMV sells your personal information to private companies, marketing firms • ABC Action News

Adam Walser:

»

In Idaho, [Tonia] Batson lived in a group home where someone else handled her finances, daily living and healthcare arrangements. She had no digital footprint because she can’t read or write.

That’s why [Batson’s sister and legal guardian Sonia] Arvin wanted to know how marketers got Batson’s personal information.

“The only one that had it was the DMV,” said Arvin. “Even if it’s a public record in Florida – if we tell them we want it private, it should be kept private.”

The state opened an investigation into Batson’s case after ABC alerted FHSMV officials.

That’s because Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV) said companies buying data on Floridians are not allowed to use that information for marketing.

But not every company plays by the rules.

The state told ABC it has banned data sales to three companies since 2017 for misusing driver and ID cardholder information.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles told ABC that under the law, it must provide driver information but said federal privacy laws and its own rules limit how outside companies can access Floridian’s personal information.

One of the data brokers accessing Florida DMV information is Arkansas-based marketing firm Acxiom, which has an agreement with the state to buy driver and ID cardholder data for a penny a record.

On its website, Acxiom claims it has collected information from almost every adult in the United States.

«

A penny per record. The incentive for flouting that is far higher, and the fines probably much lower – if fines are handed out (none are mentioned in the story).

US data privacy? It would be a nice idea. But if even the government is selling your data, people like Facebook could legitimately claim, Catch-22 style, that “everyone’s doing it, so I’d be a fool not to”.
unique link to this extract


Huawei plans extensive layoffs in the US • WSJ

Dan Strumpf:

»

Huawei Technologies is planning extensive layoffs at its US operations, according to people familiar with the matter, as the Chinese technology giant continues to struggle with its American blacklisting.

The layoffs are expected to affect workers at Huawei’s US-based research and development subsidiary, Futurewei Technologies, according to these people. The unit employs about 850 people in research labs across the US, including in Texas, California and Washington state.

Huawei declined to comment. The exact number of layoffs couldn’t be determined, but people familiar with the matter said they were expected to be in the hundreds. Some of Huawei’s Chinese employees in the US were being given the option of returning home and staying with the company, another person said.

Futurewei employees have faced restrictions communicating with colleagues in Huawei’s home offices in China following the May 16 Commerce Department decision to put Huawei on its so-called entity list, which blocked companies from supplying US-sourced technology to Huawei without a license, according to these people.

«

I saw this division referred to by one person on Twitter as the “Thievery Division”. Ouch. Though he’s a hedge fund manager, so make your own jokes.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,110: Facebook gets off lightly, solar cheaper as coal goes bankrupt, TikTok is coming!, Jony Ive and his designs, and more


Turns out the “anything” you can organise with it includes families. CC-licensed photo by Brian Dys on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Two match points, though. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The families who use Slack, Asana, Trello, and Jira • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz, Joe Pinsker:

»

Children’s free-play time has been on the decline for more than 50 years, and their participation in extracurricular activities has led to more schedule-juggling for parents. Parents are busier too, especially those whose jobs demand ever more attention after hours: 65% of parents with a college degree have trouble balancing work and family, a 2015 Pew Research Center report found, compared with about half of those without a college degree. In an effort to cope, some families are turning to software designed for offices. Parents are finding project-management platforms such as Trello, Asana, and Jira, in addition to Slack, a workplace communication tool (its slogan is “Where work happens”), particularly useful in their personal lives. In other words, confronted with relentless busyness, some modern households are starting to run more like offices.

Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum, a mom of three children ages 8 to 12, uses Google Calendar to manage her children’s time and Jira to keep track of home projects. Ryan Florence, a dad in Seattle, set up a family Slack account for his immediate and extended family to communicate more easily. And Melanie Platte, a mom in Utah, says Trello has transformed her family life. After using it at work, she implemented it at home in 2016. “We do family meetings every Sunday where we review goals for the week, our to-do list, and activities coming up,” she says. “I track notes for the meeting [in Trello]. I have different sections, goals for the week, a to-do list.” Her oldest son started high school last year, and Platte says that without productivity and task-management software, she doesn’t know how he could manage it all.

«

unique link to this extract


Giant batteries and cheap solar power are shoving fossil fuels off the grid • Science

Robert Service:

»

This month, officials in Los Angeles, California, are expected to approve a deal that would make solar power cheaper than ever while also addressing its chief flaw: It works only when the sun shines. The deal calls for a huge solar farm backed up by one of the world’s largest batteries. It would provide 7% of the city’s electricity beginning in 2023 at a cost of 1.997 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the solar power and 1.3 cents per kWh for the battery. That’s cheaper than any power generated with fossil fuel.

“Goodnight #naturalgas, goodnight #coal, goodnight #nuclear,” Mark Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, tweeted after news of the deal surfaced late last month. “Because of growing economies of scale, prices for renewables and batteries keep coming down,” adds Jacobson, who has advised countries around the world on how to shift to 100% renewable electricity. As if on cue, last week a major U.S. coal company—West Virginia–based Revelation Energy LLC—filed for bankruptcy, the second in as many weeks…

…Precipitous price declines have already driven a shift toward renewables backed by battery storage. In March, an analysis of more than 7000 global storage projects by Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that the cost of utility-scale lithium-ion batteries had fallen by 76% since 2012, and by 35% in just the past 18 months, to $187 per MWh. Another market watch firm, Navigant, predicts a further halving by 2030, to a price well below what 8minute has committed to.

«

unique link to this extract


FTC approves roughly $5 billion Facebook settlement • WSJ

Emily Glazer, Ryan Tracy and Jeff Horwitz:

»

Facebook said in April that to settle the probe it was expecting to pay up to $5bn. A resolution was bogged down by the party-line split on the FTC, with the Democrats pushing for tougher oversight of the social-media giant.

One point of disagreement was the extent to which Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg should be held responsible or be made accountable for future missteps.

The FTC investigation began more than a year ago after reports that personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users improperly wound up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked on President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The FTC investigation centered on whether that lapse violated a 2012 consent decree with the agency under which Facebook agreed to better protect user privacy.

Cambridge Analytica shut down in 2018 after the allegations surrounding Facebook data and other questions about its political tactics. The company had won political consulting work in the US by promising to use data to profile and influence voters with political messages. It contracted for several Republican presidential candidates ahead of the 2016 election, including Mr. Trump’s campaign.

«

So the decision split along party lines, in the bizarre way that everything in the US must be politicised. The question about Zuckerberg isn’t resolved anywhere in the story: guess we’ll have to wait for the official FTC announcement.
unique link to this extract


The biggest star at VidCon 2019 is TikTok • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:

»

TikTok, which boomed in China before entering the US market in August, allows users to upload and edit 15-second videos, usually set to catchy music or voice-overs. The videos are fun and silly, and watching them feels like taking a break from the broader, toxic world of social media. In one video, a teen does a viral dance with traffic cones fitted to his legs. In another, a stream of puppies tumble over one another to the beat of an EDM song. Less than a year after its US launch, the platform is poised to dominate the American social-media landscape and upend the creator ecosystem.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at VidCon. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager for TikTok, spoke with industry executives at a fireside chat yesterday that was so popular, many people couldn’t get in; later, big TikTok stars held a meet and greet that was packed to capacity. Outside the primary entrance to the convention center, teenagers swarmed TikTok creators, shouting their names as they shot dance videos.

None of this is by accident. All those mozzarella sticks and gummy bears didn’t come from nowhere: TikTok reportedly spent nearly $1bn on advertising alone last year, and has aggressively courted YouTube’s biggest creators. According to The Wall Street Journal, TikTok paid one influencer $1m for a single 15-second video. TikTok was the third-most-installed app worldwide in the first quarter of 2019, behind WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. It boasts 1.2bn monthly users globally, making it potentially bigger than Instagram, which reported 1bn monthly users in 2018, and a viable competitor to YouTube (1.9bn monthly users) and Facebook (more than 2bn).

«

unique link to this extract


On TikTok, teens meme Life360, the safety app ruining their summer • WIRED

Louise Matsakis:

»

Apps like Life360 can give kids and parents a sense of security, but they also raise questions about privacy and children’s autonomy. And on TikTok, teenagers are discussing and debating them. Videos with the hashtag #Life360 have been viewed there over 13 million times. In some of the most popular clips, teens share with each other strategies for circumventing the app, usually by turning off various phone settings. Other videos are less practical and serve more as a form of venting. In one recording with more than 30,000 likes, a photo of Life360’s founder and CEO Chris Hulls appears onscreen, while a rap song with the lyrics “Snitch, snitch, the snitch, the snitch, snitch” plays.

“I think it’s completely unfair and detrimental to teenagers if their parents use this app on them regularly,” said a 16-year-old boy from Texas who, like all the young people in this story, was contacted via social media and requested anonymity to talk freely about his family. “I spend most of my time texting my parents about what’s going on rather than spending time with my friends.”

Other teens are more understanding of their parents’ use of the app but think Life360 is too invasive. “If I am going a little over the speed limit on the freeway just to keep up with traffic, my parents freak out,” said a 16-year-old girl from California. “I understand where my parents are coming from, but I believe that the app has too many features that make it over the top.”

«

Gives a new meaning to helicopter parenting.
unique link to this extract


Gartner, IDC agree that PC sales are up—but they don’t agree what a PC is • Ars Technica

:

»

We’ve been hearing for quite some time that the traditional PC is dying, but it’s not quite dead yet. Business analyst firms Gartner and IDC tackle the numbers differently, but both agree that sales of traditional PCs were up—in some regions, way up—in Q2 2019.

While both firms reported market growth in year-on-year PC sales, their actual figures differed. IDC reported a 4.7% growth in Q2 sales, where Gartner only reported 1.5%. The two firms’ numbers for US regional sales differed even more sharply, with Gartner claiming a 0.4% loss and IDC claiming a “high single digit gain.”

We spoke to IDC’s Jitesh Ubrani about the difference, and it turns out the two companies don’t quite agree on what is or is not a traditional PC. IDC counts Chromebooks as traditional PCs but doesn’t count Microsoft Surface tablets; Gartner does count Surface but doesn’t count Chromebooks. The higher numbers from IDC indicate a stronger market for Chromebooks than Surface, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with children in North American schools, where the inexpensive and easily locked-down Chromebooks are ubiquitous.

«

Should be pretty easy to get the Chromebook number: estimating the number of Surfaces sold isn’t hard (it’s typically about a million per quarter, tops). Subtract and there you go.
unique link to this extract


MMFixed: your Magic Mouse, but comfortable

Speaking of design:

»

The Magic Mouse Fix is a quick and comfortable solution to the poor ergonomics of the Magic Mouse. If you plan on using your magic mouse for more than thirty minutes a day, this product will reduce stress on your wrist and improve the ergonomics of what is otherwise an amazing mouse. In the past 10 years we’ve sold the Magic Mouse Fix to many thousands of satisfied customers and believe you’ll love the Magic Mouse Fix! 

«

unique link to this extract


Jony Ive’s mistakes: when beautiful design is bad design • OneZero

I wrote about the design of objects which are intended to be used:

»

All of the plaudits for Jony Ive begin with how he and Steve Jobs saved Apple with the iMac. No doubt about it: that instantly recognizable shape became an icon, and led to thousands of imitations using translucent colored plastic, often in that same Bondi Blue, to show that they were part of the late-90s vibe. In a sense, the iMac was a triumph of packaging: the components inside were pretty straightforward. If Apple had put them into a beige box, the company would now be a historical footnote.

Yet what’s almost universally overlooked in the paeans to Ive’s design legacy is that the fabulous iMac design also included one of his worst mistakes: the “hockey puck” mouse, whose round shape was so unfriendly to the human hand that it effectively kickstarted the market for third-party USB mice out of thin air.

«

There’s more (including the Apple TV remote, aka the “Siri remote”), the “trashcan” Mac Pro v the cheesegrater, butterfly keyboard and others.
unique link to this extract


How US tech giants are helping to build China’s surveillance state • The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher:

»

The OpenPower Foundation — a nonprofit led by Google and IBM executives with the aim of trying to “drive innovation” — has set up a collaboration between IBM, Chinese company Semptian, and US chip manufacturer Xilinx. Together, they have worked to advance a breed of microprocessors that enable computers to analyze vast amounts of data more efficiently.

Shenzhen-based Semptian is using the devices to enhance the capabilities of internet surveillance and censorship technology it provides to human rights-abusing security agencies in China, according to sources and documents. A company employee said that its technology is being used to covertly monitor the internet activity of 200 million people…

…Anna Bacciarelli, a researcher at Amnesty International, said that the OpenPower Foundation’s decision to work with Semptian raises questions about its adherence to international human rights standards. “All companies have a responsibility to conduct human rights due diligence throughout their operations and supply chains,” Bacciarelli said, “including through partnerships and collaborations.”

Semptian presents itself publicly as a “big data” analysis company that works with internet providers and educational institutes. However, a substantial portion of the Chinese firm’s business is in fact generated through a front company named iNext, which sells the internet surveillance and censorship tools to governments.

«

unique link to this extract


Malicious apps infect 25 million Android devices with ‘Agent Smith’ malware • Phys.org

Cat Ferguson:

»

The apps, most of them games, were distributed through third-party app stores by a Chinese group with a legitimate business helping Chinese developers promote their apps on outside platforms. Check Point is not identifying the company, because they are working with local law enforcement. About 300,000 devices were infected in the US.

The malware was able to copy popular apps on the phone, including WhatsApp and the web browser Opera, inject its own malicious code and replace the original app with the weaponized version, using a vulnerability in the way Google apps are updated. The hijacked apps would still work just fine, which hid the malware from users.

Armed with all the permissions users had granted to the real apps, “Agent Smith” was able to hijack other apps on the phone to display unwanted ads to users. That might not seem like a significant problem, but the same security flaws could be used to hijack banking, shopping and other sensitive apps, according to Aviran Hazum, head of Check Point’s analysis and response team for mobile devices.

“Hypothetically, nothing is stopping them from targeting bank apps, changing the functionality to send your bank credentials” to a third party, Hazum said. “The user wouldn’t be able to see any difference, but the attacker could connect to your bank account remotely.”

«

unique link to this extract


Atlantic League introduces ‘robot umpires’ to baseball • The Washington Post

Jacob Bogage:

»

The either long-dreaded or long-awaited arrival of digitally rendered ballpark justice has come to professional baseball. Robot umpires have arrived.

Except, they’re not really robots. They’re human umpires wearing a Bluetooth-connected earpiece, connected to an iPhone, connected to a software program in the press box. The software doesn’t make every call, just balls and strikes. And if it’s wrong, the human umpire can step in to overrule the program, and his decision, not the software’s, is final.

The Atlantic League, an independent circuit with seven teams on the East Coast and one in Texas, became the first American professional baseball league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on Wednesday night.

“It’s amazing how good these robots look. They look just like the actual umpires,” league president Rick White joked in a phone interview before the game. “Once people actually see this happening, they’re going to realize it’s not that big a deal.”

And during the game, it wasn’t. Home plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an Apple AirPod in his right ear, which connected to an iPhone in his back pocket. That communicated ball or strike calls from a computer in the press box.

Players shook their heads at a couple of pitches each inning and acknowledged the system’s general criticism — it awards higher and lower strikes that human umpires generally do not — but overall they didn’t have any major qualms with the electronically enabled strike zone.

«

Next step, umpires wearing AR glasses showing the strike zone and the ball? So cricket, tennis, football, rugby, baseball all now have computer-aided review. Any major sports that need it which don’t have it? (Side note: observe the assumption in the story that baseball umpires are always male.)
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,109: AI poker bot beats pros at no-limit, how to make money podcasting, Apple crunches Zoom, people eavesdrop on Google Assistant too, and more


Bird, the scooter business, lost an amazing $100m on revenue of $15m in the first quarter. Is this viable? CC-licensed photo by Anthony Quintano on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Please note that due to circumstances wayyy beyond my control, the “link to this extract” won’t work for sharing today. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

We analyzed more than 1 million comments on 4chan. Hate speech there has spiked by 40% since 2015 • VICE News

Rob Arthur [no relation]:

»

On 4chan you’ll find anime, porn, and sports chatter. You’ll also find an endless stream of racist threats, stomach-churning memes, and misogynistic vitriol — and it’s getting worse, according to a VICE analysis of more than 1 million comments on one of the site’s most popular message boards.

On the heavily trafficked “politically incorrect” board, slurs against racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual or gender minorities have increased by 40% since 2015, while neo-Nazi propaganda has proliferated. And users on the forum are increasingly making violent threats against minority groups: Comments that include both hate speech and violent language have increased by 25% over the same period.

After a wave of recent attacks by white nationalists across the world, social media platforms have begun cracking down on hate speech. But anonymous online forums like 4chan — a comment board designed to facilitate discussions between users posting threads of text, images, and memes — have remained a toxic, anonymous mixture of hate, bigotry, and misogyny, and have given violent extremists a kind of digital safe space…

…The rise in that language began in the summer of 2016, increasing in tandem with the presidential election and only beginning to abate in 2018. Comments mentioning now-President Donald Trump or his catchphrase “Make America Great Again” were about 10% more likely to also contain a Nazi slogan. The total volume of Nazi watchwords has since declined but is still about 40% higher than before the 2016 election. They appear in about one in every 100 comments.

«

They don’t cite who did the research or what it consisted of, but otherwise it all sounds like you’d expect: bad, and getting worse.
link to this extract


Hit by big loss, Bird seeks $300m in new funds • The Information

Cory Weinberg and Amir Efrati:

»

The wintertime was bleak for Bird. In this year’s first quarter, the electric scooter operator lost nearly $100m while revenue shrank sharply to only about $15m, people familiar with the matter said. In the spring, it told people it was down to about $100m in cash, even after raising more than $700m over a year and a half.

It’s well known that scooter companies struggled in the colder months of the year, but the depth of Bird’s problems hasn’t been previously reported. Now, the company that unleashed the global scooter craze is trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars more in venture capital by convincing investors that it has started to turn around, recording what one person familiar with the figures said was double-digit revenue growth each month since February. Prominent in its pitch is previously unreported internal data, obtained by The Information, that aims to show Bird’s new scooters are durable enough so that each ride makes money.

«

It lost $100m on revenues of $15m? And that revenue is “sharply down” from $40m in the fourth quarter. Unless they can get things in line, they’ll be a footnote, very soon.
link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy Note 10 photos leaked • CNBC

Kif Leswing:

»

The images reveal that the Galaxy Note 10 will not include a headphone jack, following a trend set by Apple in 2017, when it removed headphone jacks from its “X” line of iPhones.

It will include a triple-lens camera, according to the photos. The documents indicate that this specific model will not support 5G, but Samsung is expected to release multiple models of this device.

Samsung didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

The Galaxy Note is positioned by Samsung to compete directly against Apple’s iPhones in the United States in the premium smartphone market. Its distinguishing feature is a stylus that Samsung calls “S-Pen” and a large screen. It’s typically released in the late summer.

Last year’s model, the Galaxy Note 9, sported a starting price of $999 when it was released last August.

Samsung shipped more smartphones than any other company in 2018, beating Apple and Huawei, according to data from research firm IDC.

It appears that either the FCC or Samsung made a mistake when uploading the document with the photos. The photos are no longer available on the FCC website but have been saved on sites that mirror the database.

«

Shock news: it’s a not particularly elegant black slab. The triple cameras are arranged in a vertical line on the back. Release on August 7.
link to this extract


Why the US Federal Reserve should oversee Facebook’s Libra • Yahoo Finance

Sheila Bair:

»

Let’s say you still want to buy this hip new digital coin, regardless of the foreign exchange risk. Where do you get the money? For citizens in the U.S. and other developed countries, the money will probably come from your bank account. It’s not going to hurt the banking system if you withdraw a few hundred a month for Libra transactions. But what if everyone decides they want to replace their bank accounts with Libra? After all, this would be a great way to avoid checking account fees. Retailers will love Libra as a way to avoid paying network fees on debit and credit card transactions. All of a sudden, that giant sucking sound is money coming out of the banks and into Libra’s kitty.

You may think, “Fine. Let’s stick it to the banks. Look what they did to the economy in 2008.” But most of that money you withdraw from the banks is money they will no longer have to lend to the economy. So as Libra captures your cash, banks have less to make loans. With a run on the banks, we also get a credit contraction.

Now Libra has your money (not the banks) and you have your digital coins. What will Libra do with your money? …there is no regulatory body to ensure that it does so, nor to require that Libra’s sponsors put up any of their own capital or reserves to backstop those investments if they go sour.

«

There are two big things to worry about with Libra: if it’s really successful, or something goes badly wrong. Either could be global-financial-scale catastrophic, and it’s hard to say which might lead to the worse scenario.
link to this extract


No limit: AI poker bot is first to beat professionals at multiplayer game • Nature

Douglas Heaven:

»

Machines have raised the stakes once again. A superhuman poker-playing bot called Pluribus has beaten top human professionals at six-player no-limit Texas hold’em poker, the most popular variant of the game. It is the first time that an artificial-intelligence (AI) program has beaten elite human players at a game with more than two players1.

“While going from two to six players might seem incremental, it’s actually a big deal,” says Julian Togelius at New York University, who studies games and AI. “The multiplayer aspect is something that is not present at all in other games that are currently studied.”

The team behind Pluribus had already built an AI, called Libratus, that had beaten professionals at two-player poker. It built Pluribus by updating Libratus and created a bot that needs much less computing power to play matches. In a 12-day session with more than 10,000 hands, it beat 15 top human players. “A lot of AI researchers didn’t think it was possible to do this” with our techniques, says Noam Brown at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Facebook AI Research in New York, who developed Pluribus with his Carnegie colleague Tuomas Sandholm.

Other AIs that have mastered human games — such as Libratus and DeepMind’s Go-playing bots — have shown that they are unbeatable in two-player zero-sum matches. In these scenarios, there is always one winner and one loser, and game theory offers a well-defined best strategy.

But game theory is less helpful for scenarios involving multiple parties with competing interests and no clear win–lose conditions — which reflect most real-life challenges.

«

Will they get kicked out of casinos for card-counting?
link to this extract


How I made $8,000 per month podcasting, and why you probably don’t want to • Usejournal

Tim Romero:

»

The most effective way I found to grow my audience with was via interaction.

Online, this meant finding the handful of Facebook and LinkedIn groups interested in Japanese startups and then joining the discussions. Most groups welcomed my contribution.

However, it was my offline efforts that made the biggest impact. I sought out any event or seminar where I could speak about Japanese startups and innovation. Every time I spoke, I saw a small uptick in listeners and email subscriptions.

That email list turned out to be more important than I expected for two reasons. First, casual surveys indicated that about 25% of Disrupting Japan fans were not subscribing to the podcast, but going to the site and listening from the browser or simply reading the transcript. Second, people seem far more willing to engage over email. Even today, when an episode is released, one or two people may comment on the site, but around 20 will reply to the email announcement.

Disrupting Japan fans were, and still are, extremely engaged. Most guests tell me that they receive a lot of positive feedback about their appearance. September of 2015 was the show’s first anniversary, and 120 Disrupting Japan fans paid a $20 cover charge to watch a live podcast and to meet and hang out with each other…

…The secret to making real money with a small podcast is helping companies build their brand.

«

And that’s pretty much it. As he says, simply chasing advertisers is madness: there’s limited money, and near-infinite podcast hours, so your return is zero.
link to this extract


Apple has pushed a silent Mac update to remove hidden Zoom web server • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

»

Apple has released a silent update for Mac users removing a vulnerable component in Zoom, the popular video conferencing app, which allowed websites to automatically add a user to a video call without their permission.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant told TechCrunch that the update — now released — removes the hidden web server, which Zoom quietly installed on users’ Macs when they installed the app.

Apple said the update does not require any user interaction and is deployed automatically.

The video conferencing giant took flack from users following a public vulnerability disclosure on Monday by Jonathan Leitschuh, in which he described how “any website [could] forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission.” The undocumented web server remained installed even if a user uninstalled Zoom. Leitschuh said this allowed Zoom to reinstall the app without requiring any user interaction…

…The update will now prompt users if they want to open the app, whereas before it would open automatically.

«

link to this extract


Yep, human workers are listening to recordings from Google Assistant, too • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

In the story by VRT NWS, which focuses on Dutch and Flemish speaking Google Assistant users, the broadcaster reviewed a thousand or so recordings, 153 of which had been captured accidentally. A contractor told the publication that he transcribes around 1,000 audio clips from Google Assistant every week. In one of the clips he reviewed he heard a female voice in distress and said he felt that “physical violence” had been involved. “And then it becomes real people you’re listening to, not just voices,” said the contractor.

Tech companies say that sending audio clips to humans to be transcribed is an essential process for improving their speech recognition technology. They also stress that only a small percentage of recordings are shared in this way. A spokesperson for Google told Wired that just 0.2% of all recordings are transcribed by humans, and that these audio clips are never presented with identifying information about the user.

However, that doesn’t stop individuals revealing sensitive information in the recording themselves. And companies are certainly not upfront about this transcription process. The privacy policy page for Google Home, for example, does not mention the company’s use of human contractors, or the possibility that Home might mistakenly record users.

These obfuscations could cause legal trouble for the company, says Michael Veale, a technology privacy researcher at the Alan Turing Institute in London. He told Wired that this level of disclosure might not meet the standards set by the EU’s GDPR regulations. “You have to be very specific on what you’re implementing and how,” said Veale. “I think Google hasn’t done that because it would look creepy.”

«

Guess it’s time for Apple to say yes or no to this question, just for completeness. But this certainly backs up why I don’t activate any Google Assistant or Alexa devices. Google has a blogpost about this, complaining about the worker “leaking confidential Dutch audio data”. Sure, but if the data hadn’t been there in the first place…
link to this extract


Apple disables Walkie Talkie app due to vulnerability that could allow iPhone eavesdropping • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

»

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple has apologized for the bug and for the inconvenience of being unable to use the feature while a fix is made.

The Walkie Talkie app on Apple Watch allows two users who have accepted an invite from each other to receive audio chats via a “push to talk” interface reminiscent of the PTT buttons on older cell phones.

«

People use the Walkie Talkie app? Amazing.
link to this extract


Google’s 4,000-word privacy policy is a secret history of the internet • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

»

The late 1990s was a simpler time for Google. The nascent company was merely a search engine, and Gmail, Android and YouTube were but glimmers in the startup’s eye. Google’s first privacy policy reflected that simplicity. It was short and earnest, a quaint artifact of a different time in Silicon Valley, when Google offered 600 words to explain how it was collecting and using personal information.

That version of the internet (and Google) is gone. Over the past 20 years, that same privacy policy has been rewritten into a sprawling 4,000-word explanation of the company’s data practices.

This evolution, across two decades and 30 versions, is the story of the internet’s transformation through the eyes of one of its most crucial entities. The web is now terribly complex, and Google has a privacy policy to match.

«

The visuals for this – because it is done through visuals – are lovely, but also telling. The longer the privacy policy, the less private you are to the company.
link to this extract


Huawei founder says his new OS is faster than Android, but that’s still not good enough • BGR

Chris Smith:

»

Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei said in an interview that the new operating system, which is based on Android, is even faster than Google’s mobile OS. He also confirmed what previous reports noted about the new platform, codenamed Hongmeng for the time being: that it’ll work on a variety of devices including laptops. In fact, he said it might be even faster than macOS. That said, it doesn’t matter how fast Hongmeng will be, because Huawei will have a tough time selling it in western countries.

In an interview with French periodical Le Point (via Sina Technology), Ren said that Hongmeng is meant to also work on network switches, routers, servers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices. If that sounds familiar, that’s because Google’s new Fuchsia OS is also meant to run on a plethora of devices, not just smartphones and tablets.

Ren also said that Huawei’s OS has a processing delay of just five milliseconds, which makes it faster than both Android and macOS, with particular emphasis on the former. The inclusion of macOS here is an indication that Hongmeng will be an alternative to desktop operating systems like macOS and Windows 10.

The exec admitted that Huawei’s main problem with this product is the lack of an application store, so competing against the iPhone and Android will be difficult. But the company is developing its own app store, which is what Amazon does for its Android fork. But that’s still the main reason why hardcore Android users won’t care that Huawei has an Android-based OS that’s faster than Google’s.

«

Most of this is nonsense – being “fast” is nice but isn’t a specific necessity for a mobile OS. It’s the app store that matters, as we all know.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,108: Instagram’s influencers’ waning numbers, AT+T blocks robocalls, China’s coal blights solar, and more


Subscribe? There are a number of dubious apps scamming people with pricey subscriptions that aren’t worth it on the App Store. CC-licensed photo by Dominic Smith on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 13 links for you. Go on then. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Investigating some subscription scam iOS apps • Ivan Rodriguez’s blog

»

For some reason Apple allows “subscription scam” apps on the App Store. These are apps that are free to download and then ask you to subscribe right on launch. It’s called the freemium business model, except these apps ask you to subscribe for “X” feature(s) immediately when you launch them, and keep doing so, annoyingly, over and over until you finally subscribe. By subscribing you get a number of “free days” (trial) and then they charge you weekly/monthly/yearly for very basic features like scanning QR Codes.

I’ve been trying to monitor apps that have these characteristics:
– They have In-App purchases for their subscriptions
– They have bad reviews, specially with words like “scam” or “fraud”
– Their “good” reviews are generic, potentially bot-generated.

This weekend I focused on five apps from two different developers and to my surprise they are very similar, not only their UI/UX but also their code is shared and their patterns are absolutely the same. A side from being classic subscription scam apps, I wanted to examine how they work internally and how they communicate with their servers and what type of information are they sending.

«

There’s nothing fishy in the actual code – all the bad behaviour is right there in front of you, with the scammy subscription stuff. Apps like this are skimming millions every year – probably every month – from Apple users, and Apple could, if it wanted, stop it in a couple of weeks. There’s the nanny state, and then there’s protecting people from exploitation. This is the latter.
unique link to this extract


Google shuts down Nest app for Apple Watch and Wear OS • The Verge

Chris Welch:

»

People take control of their smart thermostat from their wrist so infrequently that Google has decided to completely scrap its Nest app for both Apple Watch and the company’s own Wear OS platform. The smartwatch Nest app offered a quick way to adjust the thermostat’s target temperature or operating mode. But now it simply displays a “Nest is no longer supported on Wear OS” message when opened and instructs customers to uninstall it.

“We took a look at Nest app users on smartwatches and found that only a small number of people were using it,” a Google spokesperson told 9to5Google. “Moving forward our team will spend more time focusing on delivering high quality experiences through mobile apps and voice interactions.”

Is this some monumental loss? No, not really. You can still just pull out your phone and do those same things (and more) with the Nest mobile app on Android and iOS. Notifications from the Nest smartphone app will continue to show up on your watch.

«

No surprise. There are very few things you can usefully control from your wrist. It’s fine for receiving notifications, dictating short notes, starting exercise apps. But really, isn’t the idea of the Nest that you don’t need to control it?
unique link to this extract


What if life did not originate on Earth? • The New Yorker

Isaac Chotiner:

»

For almost seven years, Nasa’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the terrain of Mars. Two weeks ago, it made a stunning discovery: relatively large concentrations of methane gas. The rover also found methane in 2013, but the readings recorded this month—approximately twenty-one parts per billion—were about three times as concentrated. The reason this news registered among scientists is that methane is often a sign of life; although the gas can be produced by various chemical reactions, most of it comes from animate beings. Does this mean that we are on the verge of discovering life on Mars, and, if so, what kind of life is it likely to be?

To discuss these questions, I spoke by phone with Gary Ruvkun, a molecular biologist and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Ruvkun has what he admits are somewhat unusual opinions about life’s origins, and about the possibility of finding life elsewhere. In short, he questions the common assumption that our form of DNA-based life began on Earth. What began as an interview about the methane discovery turned into a discussion about why he wants to send something called a DNA sequencer to Mars. (After our conversation, NASA announced that the methane concentrations had descended back to their usual levels, further confounding scientists.) During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed the ways in which scientific debates about the origins of life intersect with religious ones, the reasons he might be dead wrong, and what it feels like to hold a minority opinion in the scientific community.

«

Chotiner’s interviews are always worth reading: he has an exceptional ability to ask the right questions, and knowledge of the topic that helps to get deeper into it than the standard Q+A.
unique link to this extract


I Can’t Stop Winning! • Pinboard

Maciej Cieglowski:

»

Pinboard is ten years old! I launched the site in July 9, 2009 from a small kitchen in Botoșani, Romania. My very first support email angrily demanded a refund, setting the tone for the next ten years.

The Internet back then was different. HTTPS was a luxury good. You could buy products and services with Bitcoin. Things in the tech industry hadn’t consolidated down to an oligopoly—Yahoo was still a going concern, as was AOL and LiveJournal. The ‘big 3’ in tech were HP, IBM, and Motorola, with Microsoft the only software company in the top 10. Pillows were fluffier. Food tasted better.

Now that a decade has passed, I thought I would have some Yoda-like business wisdom to impart, but I don’t. It feels just like last year. The journey of 10,000 steps begins with 9,999 steps!

My grandpa sometimes said “you have to help your fate along,” and I always liked this worldview very much, for the way it bolted a work ethic onto fatalism. Things happen, but you can always take credit for tenacity.

A one-person business is an exercise in long-term anxiety management, so I would say if you are already an anxious person, go ahead and start a business. You’re not going to feel any worse. You’ve already got the main skill set of staying up and worrying, so you might as well make some money.

«

Cieglowski is definitely a force for good – especially in the way he helped fundraise for liberal causes, and secure politicians’ systems. If you could power servers with sardonic humour, he’d be set.
unique link to this extract


Instagram influencer engagement hovers near all-time lows, study says • Mobile Marketer

Robert Williams:

»

Instagram influencers have seen their engagement rates hover near all-time lows as the Facebook-owned app becomes over-crowded with sponsored posts, per a study that analytics firm InfluencerDB shared with Mobile Marketer. The engagement rate for sponsored posts fell to 2.4% in Q1 2019 from 4% three years earlier, while the rate for non-sponsored posts slid to 1.9% from 4.5% for the comparable periods.

The engagement rate for Instagram influencers with at least 10,000 followers is steady at about 3.6% worldwide. Influencers with 5,000 to 10,000 followers have an engagement rate of 6.3% and those with a following of 1,000 to 5,000 have the highest rate at 8.8%, per InfluencerDB.

The engagement rate for every industry category of influencer has declined in the past year. Travel influencers, who typically have the highest engagement rates, have seen an average drop to 4.5% this year from 8% in 2018. InfluencerDB also observed declines for influencers in beauty, fashion, food, lifestyle and sports and fitness.

«

A business in decline, feels like.
unique link to this extract


The lifetime of an Android API vulnerability • Light Blue Touchpaper

Daniel Carter, Daniel Thomas, and Alastair Beresford:

»

The specific vulnerability (CVE-2012-6636) affected Android devices and allowed JavaScript running inside a WebView of an app (e.g. an advert) to run arbitrary code inside the app itself, with all the permissions of app. The vulnerability could be exploited remotely by an attacker who bought ads which supported JavaScript. In addition, since most ads at the time were served over HTTP, the vulnerability could also be exploited if an attacker controlled a network used by the Android device (e.g. WiFi in a coffee shop). The fix required both the Android operating system, and all apps installed on the handset, to support at least Android API Level 17. Thus, the deployment of an effective solution for users was especially challenging.

When we published our paper in 2015, we predicted that this vulnerability would not be patched on 95% of devices in the Android ecosystem until January 2018 (plus or minus a standard deviation of 1.23 years). Since this date has now passed, we decided to check whether our prediction was correct.

«

LBT is the security team at Cambridge University’s computer lab. This vulnerability seems quite serious, doesn’t it? Took a while – as in years – to get fixed, though.
unique link to this extract


AT+T starts blocking robocalls automatically, no opt-in required • Android Police

Manuel Vonau:

»

Robocalls are a problem almost everyone in the US can relate to, and the fact that carriers weren’t allowed to block suspected spam calls without the explicit opt-in from customers for a long time hasn’t exactly improved the issue. An FCC ruling in June changed legislation around that, and AT+T was quick to act on it. The company is now automatically blocking calls it suspects as spam or fraud.

The service will be enabled for new customers right away and will roll out to existing lines “over the coming months.” In contrast to AT+T’s current Call Protect app, this upcoming blocking method doesn’t require you to install anything on your phone and will be provided on an opt-out basis, meaning users of the network should see a significant drop in spam calls going forward without having to take any action themselves.

«

Be interested to know how they identify the spam calls. There’s definitely a story to be written there, and in (in the UK) British Telecom’s efforts on this, because it seems to have made some progress in recent months preventing nuisance and spam calls.

unique link to this extract


Chinese air pollution dimmed sunlight enough to impact solar panels • Ars Technica

Scott Johnson:

»

China is easily number one in terms of new solar construction right now, accounting for over half of the world’s installs in 2017, for example. Between 2010 and 2017, China went from having less than 1 gigawatt of solar capacity to 130 gigawatts, and the country is headed for around 400 gigawatts by 2030. After a run of transformative economic growth powered by coal and other fossil fuels, China is dealing with choking air pollution that is a major driving factor in this solar push.

Recent research has compiled a record of solar radiation measurements around China going back to the late 1950s. The research shows a declining trend in solar radiation until about 2005, when it leveled off and began to tick back upward. That tracks the increasing particulate air pollution due to coal-burning power plants and manufacturing—as well as biomass burning—that has only recently been addressed.

A team led by Bart Sweerts at ETH Zürich took that record and fed it into generation models for China’s solar installations to calculate how much generation has been lost—and how much would be gained by cleaning up the air.

The researchers found that, over the entire record between about 1960 and 2015, the average potential solar generation declined by about 13%.

«

unique link to this extract


Huawei gets its breather, sort of • The New York Times

:

»

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council, said that the U.S. had “relaxed a bit” the licensing requirements from the Commerce Department for companies that sell to Huawei.

Another top official suggested the move would allow chip makers to continue selling certain technology to Huawei.

That could be good news for some U.S. tech companies, including Broadcom, Intel and Qualcomm, who all sell microchips to Huawei. American businesses “have lobbied the administration, saying that the ban will cut them off from a major source of revenue, while doing little to hold back Huawei’s technological advancement,” Mr. Tankersley and Ms. Swanson write.

But the reprieve is not a broad amnesty. Mr. Ross, speaking at an export-control conference in Washington, said the administration would continue efforts to protect America’s advanced technologies. “It is wrong to trade sensitive I.P. or source codes for access to a foreign market,” he said, “no matter how lucrative that market might be.”

«

This sounds then like they’ll allow sales of smartphone components. But what about parts that go into networking gear? Are those OK if the gear isn’t sold in the US? I don’t think the US knows what its policy is in any detail.
unique link to this extract


Man’s DNA test helped police arrest his relative for UCF student’s death • ClickOrlando

Mike DeForest:

»

John Hogan had never heard of Christine Franke nor had he seen news reports detailing law enforcement’s inability to figure out who fatally shot the 25-year-old University of Central Florida student in her Orlando apartment in 2001.

But by submitting his DNA to a genealogy database, Hogan unwittingly helped detectives identify and arrest the killer, according to newly released police records obtained by News 6.

“When you told me that my DNA helped solve a 17-year cold case murder, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Hogan, who recently learned of his role in the homicide investigation when he was contacted by a News 6 reporter.

Using DNA extracted from semen found at the crime scene, detectives uploaded the suspected killer’s genetic data to GEDmatch, a free online database used by genealogists and amateur researchers to identify potential relatives.

Investigators soon discovered the suspect was genetically related to Hogan, police records show.

«

This is going to become completely commonplace in a year or so, and if people put information onto public databases then how do you stop the police using them too? It’s as if people were storing their CCTV camera data on publicly accessible sites.
unique link to this extract


Is Firefox better than Chrome? It comes down to privacy • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

Seen from the inside, [Google’s] Chrome browser looks a lot like surveillance software.

Lately I’ve been investigating the secret life of my data, running experiments to see what technology really gets up to under the cover of privacy policies that nobody reads. It turns out, having the world’s biggest advertising company make the most popular Web browser was about as smart as letting kids run a candy shop.

It made me decide to ditch Chrome for a new version of nonprofit Mozilla’s Firefox, which has default privacy protections. Switching involved less inconvenience than you might imagine.

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s login pages.

«

unique link to this extract


Inside Facebook’s information warfare team • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy:

»

Staff are quick to point to efforts to address these issues: Facebook has developed technology to better weed out fake accounts and it works with third-party fact-checkers. It also ran a pilot ahead of the US midterms to better secure the Facebook accounts of staff working on campaigns.

Meanwhile, the introduction of more transparency around political adverts has made it more arduous and expensive for bad actors to interfere. 

But the team faces new challenges. One is the commercialisation of the space: organised and government-backed troll farms are now being replaced by marketing and PR companies offering manipulation-for-hire.

While the tactics used by these private companies are similar, their motivations — and the actual source of the campaign — are now harder to track.

One non-government domestic campaign in the Philippines, taken down by Facebook, was led by a marketing company with 45m followers. Ahead of the Brazilian elections, several social media marketing companies were behind campaigns, he added. 

“The services they were offering were things like, ‘We will organise people and pay them to post . . . on your behalf, or we have a network of fake accounts, you pay us and then we’re going to use that network to go and comment on your behalf’,” he said. 

“They’re doing it as a service and that in a way disperses the breadth of these type of activities, both geographically and the type of actors that are involved,” [David] Agranovich [who heads the threat review process] said. 

«

unique link to this extract


Majority of UK Instagram influencers engage in fakery, says landmark new study • PR Week

Arvind Hickman:

»

More than half of UK Instagram accounts have been found to engage some form of fraudulent activity, including buying mass followers, likes or inauthentic comments and using engagement bots, a comprehensive global study has found.

The research, by Swedish e-commerce start-up A Good Company and analytics firm HypeAuditor, assessed 1.84 million Instagram accounts across 82 countries. 

It exposes a platform where the majority of influencers artificially boost vanity metrics that marketers often use when choosing influencers, including followers and engagement. The Insta fraud is estimated to cost marketers close to $750m globally in wastage in a market now worth about $1.7bn.

In the UK, the study found nearly 10 million accounts are fake. The three markets with the most fakes are the US (49 million), Brazil (27 million) and India (16 million).

The proportion of accounts in the UK that have either bought followers, comments or used engagement bots is 54%, below the US (60%) and the world average (57%).

In addition to the quantitative analysis, the study carried out an anonymous survey of about 400 influencers to find out if the figures matched up with what influencers admit to doing. 

These results showed that more than 60% admit to either using engagement pods, bought followers, likes or comments at some point, and that one in five intend to continue doing so.

A Good Company CEO and co-founder Anders Ankarlid told PRWeek: “Our numbers show that in the UK, as many as 10 million accounts are fake. This has significant implications on the de facto market value.”

«

That old saying about advertising – “half the money is wasted, we just don’t know which half” – remains true.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,107: Zoom’s bad video plan, Marriott cops GDPR fine, Hollywood v Netflix, will Google’s Pixel survive?, and more


Roger Federer at Wimbledon: does data give him an advantage? CC-licensed photo by Roo Reynolds on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Brain, set and match! How Novak Djokovic and Co invest in intelligence to get edge over Wimbledon rivals • London Evening Standard

Matt Majendie:

»

In some ways, [Craig] O’Shannessy [head of analysis company Golden Set Analytics] is like David up against Goliath. Golden Set Analytics, which came into being in 2012, is made up of economists, statisticians and mathematicians hailing from Harvard, Yale and Stanford. They are notoriously secretive, with company policy being “not to provide information about current clients or our services to them”.  In contrast, O’Shannessy, also the architect for Wimbledon quarter-finalist Alison Riske’s dismantling of his fellow Australian and world No1 Ashleigh Barty yesterday, said: “I failed maths in high school!”

But he understands percentages and has been a pioneer in research on rally length and the fact that 70% of points are won in rallies of up to four shots, 20% in five to eight and just 10% in nine shots or above. “The implications for the practice court are massive,” he said. “Why grind it out spending 90% of your time on something that only happens 10% of the match? That’s ludicrous. Analytics debunk the old theories of coaching. It’s like players never used to have a fitness coach, right now you don’t see that many players sitting around computers analysing their game and that of opponents. You’re in the job of winning matches and the Grand Slam prize money is massive so why wouldn’t you want to know an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses?

“And for me, I won’t always watch live. In the movie Moneyball, the manager doesn’t watch a lot live. I’ll watch in granular detail after and anyway, when the match is on I’m already looking at the opponent.”

«

Hmm. When I was spending a lot of time reporting on tennis – which is about 30 years ago – analytics were already growing: forehand winners, backhand winners, and so on. But a single statistic will almost always predict the winner of a match: how many second serve points they win (whether serving or receiving). But how do you train to do that, exactly?

O’Shannessy’s description sounds too simplistic; there’s got to be a lot more to it than that. (A “golden set”, by the way, is one you win without losing a point – 24 straight.) This company, which GSA bought, is clearly doing interesting stuff.
unique link to this extract


DC Attorney General Karl Racine sues Marriott for charging deceptive resort fees and misleading tens of thousands of district consumers • DC OAG

»

Marriott has charged “resort fees” to tens of thousands of District consumers over the years, totaling millions of dollars. OAG alleges that over the past decade, Marriott has violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act and harmed District consumers by:

• Hiding the true price of hotel rooms: Marriott conceals the true total price of hotel rooms by advertising one rate, then charging mandatory “resort fees,” “amenity fees,” or “destination fees” on top of the advertised price. At least 189 Marriott properties worldwide charge these hidden fees, which range from $9 to as much as $95 per room per day, and consumers only find out about these fees after they begin to book a room.
 
• Failing to clearly disclose all booking fees: The room prices Marriott lists on its own website and on third-party hotel-booking sites do not include mandatory resort fees and these fees are not disclosed up front. Consumers do not learn the total price of their hotel rooms until they begin the booking process, and resort fee disclosures are often hidden in obscure areas, confusingly worded, or presented in smaller print than the advertised rates. This leads consumers to believe they will be paying less for a hotel room than the true total cost. It also makes it extremely difficult for consumers to gather all the information they need to compare prices and make informed choices.
 
• Misrepresenting that resort fees are imposed by the government: In many instances, Marriott includes resort fees near the end of a hotel-booking transaction under the heading “Taxes and Fees.” By combining the amounts that consumers were asked to pay for resort fees with their tax payments under a generic heading, Marriott leads consumers to believe the resort fees were government-imposed charges, rather than additional daily charges paid to Marriott.
 
• Misleading consumers about what resort fees actually pay for: In some instances, Marriott makes confusing or contradictory representations about why they are charging resort fees and what services or amenities consumers are actually paying for.

«

Let’s hope they get a huge fine. Speaking of which…
unique link to this extract


Marriott to face £99m GDPR fine from ICO over November 2018 data breach • Computing

Graeme Burton:

»

The breach revealed in November 2018 involved the leak of 500 million customer records from the guest reservation database of Marriott’s Starwood Hotels and Resorts division. The attackers – who are unknown but believed to have links with China’s Ministry of State Security – appear to have had access to the system since 2014.

The organisation only became aware of the compromise in September 2018 following an alert from an internal security tool over an attempt to gain access to the reservation system. The company claims that it “quickly engaged” a group of security experts to investigate the apparent attack and “learned during the investigation that there had been unauthorised access to the Starwood network since 2014”.

Logs of encrypted communications were uncovered and, when decrypted on 19 November 2018, it was found to contain the contents of the Starwood guest reservation database – 500 million records in total. The compromised customer records included mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and passport numbers. Payment card details were also found, but these, the organisation claimed, had been encrypted with AES-128 encryption.

«

Hotels are terrible hoarders of data, and they’re so remiss with it, and they have security that doesn’t expect they’ll face aggressive hackers. Perhaps they will now: that size of fine is sure to concentrate minds, and it wouldn’t cost £99m to install good security.

GDPR’s a year old, and now its teeth are showing.
unique link to this extract


The slow death of Hollywood • Substack

Matthew Stoller:

»

In the old system, studios sold content, often over-priced, often shoddy, but they sold it to people who bought it. The end network, either theaters or TV stations, had to choose from distributors what content to offer to customers. They had to make money to say alive. They have to follow one of the basic rules of pre-1981 American competition policy, which is that combining inputs into a final output should create a profit, an indication that the business agent has in some way generated something of value. This means that if you build a better mouse trap, or in this case, a movie or show people want to see, you can get it to market and sell it.

But Netflix violates this rule. Despite its claims of accounting profits, Netflix is a massive money-loser, projecting it will burn through $3.5bn in cash just this year. Netflix is taking inputs and combining them into something that is of less value than those original inputs. But the company doesn’t really care if people watch its content, because it doesn’t sell content. The company is selling a story to Wall Street, that, like Amazon, it will achieve dominant market power. The story is that users will buy Netflix streaming services and it will be too much trouble to switch to a different service, which is a variant of a phenomenon called “lock-in.” So no one will be able to compete, the company will be able to raise prices and lower costs, and voila, another Amazon-style monopoly. It will be one of the few left standing after the inevitable shake-out.

«

Stoller tells this tale via comparison with old successes such as Back To The Future and The Hangover. Certainly, Hollywood is struggling – because as he says (higher in the essay) the distribution system chokes films more tightly.

And yes, the funding bubble has to burst at some point. Quite how close that point is? That’s tougher.
unique link to this extract


Teen hate crime: Swatiskas, racist graffiti divide a Maryland high school • Washington Post

Jessica Contrera on a night that got boozily out of hand for some American kids:

»

It took only one question: “What happened?”

“Things got out of hand,” Seth recalls telling him. “I was under the impression we were going to do a prank, and it got bad.”

He started to cry. He would be the only one who immediately admitted what they did. The others, court records show, would deny it. Tyler wished Willingham good luck in finding out who did it.

Eventually they were told: The school’s WiFi system requires students to use individual IDs to get online. After they log in once, their phones automatically connect whenever they are on campus.

At 11:35 p.m. on May 23, the students’ IDs began auto-connecting to the Wi-Fi. It took only a few clicks to find out exactly who was beneath those T-shirt masks.

“You have the right to remain silent,” an officer said to Seth before long. “Anything you say or do . . . “

They told him to remove his graduation cap and gown. They cuffed his arms behind his back.

Seth realized they were about to march him outside, past the windows of the cafeteria. By now it would be filled with students eating lunch.

“Can you cover my face so that the kids don’t videotape me?” he asked.

“No,” an officer replied. “You deserve this.”

«

The passive surveillance society; sometimes a benefit.
unique link to this extract


Samsung shuts down its AI-powered Mall shopping app in India • TechCrunch

Manish Singh:

»

Samsung has quietly discontinued an app that it built specifically for India, one of its largest markets and where it houses a humongous research and development team. The AI-powered Android app, called Samsung Mall, was positioned to help users identify objects around them and locate them on shopping sites to make a purchase.

The company has shut down the app a year and a half after its launch. Samsung Mall was exclusively available for select company handsets and was launched alongside the Galaxy On7 Prime smartphone. News blog TizenHelp was first to report the development.

At the time of launch, Samsung said the Mall app would complement features of Bixby, the company’s virtual assistant. Bixby already offers a functionality that allows users to identify objects through photos — but does not let them make the purchase.

«

Amazon had something similar on the Fire Phone. Strange, because it seems like a useful app, yet keeps dying a death.
unique link to this extract


Google hardware: paging Dr. Porat • Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor thinks Ruth Porat, Google’s CFO, is going to run her knife over its hardware division, particularly for the Pixel phones:

»

Samsung has done a much better job at taking on Apple given its scale, brand, distribution and the fact that its core competence is to take the innovations of others and make them smaller, better and cheaper.

In exactly the same vein, I have also argued that Samsung’s investments in Bixby and software and services represent different symptoms of the same affliction.

This is why I have argued that Samsung and Google should stop wasting money on each other’s core competence and throw their lot in together.

The problem for Google hardware is that the days of underperforming businesses hiding under the skirts of the giant search cash machine are coming to an end. We have already seen this as in March, the Pixel Slate and Pixelbook team was cut back due to the lacklustre sales of the product. The three versions of the Google Pixel have sold in paltry volumes with market share never reliably exceeding 0.3% with 4.5m units sold in 2018.

Given the low volume, I would estimate the gross margin of this product is around 20% in the best instance which after product development costs and marketing leaves very little if anything left over.

This is not the kind of performance that Google is used to which combined with an apparent inability to really get the hardware right means that Dr. Porat will be asking some very hard questions of this division this year. Consequently, I think that Google needs to see a significant step up in performance with the Pixel 4, otherwise, it too may fall under the surgeon’s knife.

«

Remember, you heard it here first. Unless you get his newsletter, which is often provocative.
unique link to this extract


Superhuman’s superficial privacy fixes do not prevent it from spying on you • Mike Industries

Mike Davidson:

»

[Rahul Vohra’s response to last week’s criticisms] also establishes that Superhuman is keeping the feature working almost exactly as-is, with the exception of not collecting or displaying actual locations. I’ve spoken with several people about how they interpreted Rahul’s post on this particular detail. Some believed the whole log of timestamped read events was going away and were happy about that. Others read it the way Walt, Josh, and I did: you can still see exactly when and how many times someone has opened your email, complete with multiple timestamps — you just can’t see the location anymore. That, to me, is not sufficient. “A little less creepy” is still creepy.

Also worth noting, “turning receipts off by default” does nothing to educate customers about the undisclosed surveillance they are enabling if they flip that switch. If they’ve used read receipts at all in the past, they will probably assume it works just like Outlook. At the very least, Superhuman should display a message when you flip that switch saying something like “by turning on Read Receipts, you are monitoring your recipients’ actions without their knowledge or permission. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Rahul’s fifth and final fix [building an option to disable remote image loading in Superhuman users’ emails] is also good in that they now realize pixel spying is a threat that they need to protect their own users from. This introduces a moral paradox, however: if the technology you are using on others is something you need to protect your own users from, then why are you using it on others in the first place? These are all questions I’ve asked Rahul publicly in this series of tweets, which I’m still waiting for a response on, four days later:

«

unique link to this extract


Zoom Zero Day: 4+ Million Webcams + maybe an RCE? Just get them to visit your website! • Medium

Jonathan Leitschuh:

»

This vulnerability allows any website to forcibly join a user to a Zoom call, with their video camera activated, without the user’s permission. On top of this, this vulnerability would have allowed any webpage to DOS (Denial of Service) a Mac by repeatedly joining a user to an invalid call.

Additionally, if you’ve ever installed the Zoom client and then uninstalled it, you still have a localhost web server on your machine that will happily re-install the Zoom client for you, without requiring any user interaction on your behalf besides visiting a webpage. This re-install ‘feature’ continues to work to this day.

«

Zoom puts a server with an open port on your machine, and doesn’t wipe it if the app is deleted, all so you won’t have to click “OK” to access your camera. It can re-download the app if you delete; a host can force your video camera on when you join a meeting. It’s an unbelievable hot mess of security vulnerabilities, to which it responded with a mea not so much culpa (“There is only one scenario where a Zoom user’s video is automatically enabled upon joining a meeting. Two conditions must be met: 1) The meeting creator (host) has set their participants’ video to be on AND 2) The user has not checked the box to turn their video off” 🙄). Zoom really doesn’t understand it. But it’s a publicly traded company whose mission is “make video communications frictionless”; notice that “frictionless” doesn’t have to mean “secure”, nor does it contain any concern about collateral damage in getting rid of friction.

unique link to this extract


Pi4 not working with some chargers (or why you need two cc resistors) • The blog of Tyler Ward (aka scorpia)

The aforesaid Ward:

»

The new Raspberry Pi has been released and it has a USB Type-C connector for power however people are finding some chargers are not working with it (notably macbook chargers). Some have speculated that this is due to a manufacturer limitation on the power supplies however it is actually due to the incorrect detection circuitry on the Pi end of the USB connection.

For those looking for a solution for the problem and and aren’t interested in the technical details a set of potential solutions are given at the end of this post

The root cause of the problem is the shared cc pull down resistor on the USB Type-C connector. looking at the reduced pi schematics we can see it as R79 which connects to both the CC lines in the connector.

«

The RPi’s schematics are available, which means people can point out what they’ve got wrong. USB-C remains a thicket, and lots of people get tripped up.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified