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.

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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:

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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.

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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.
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404 • FT.com

:

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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.

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And there are many more. The FT’s 404 page now rules the internet.
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If this type of dark matter existed, people would be dying of unexplained ‘gunshot’ wounds • Science

Juanita Bawagan:

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

Tiffany C. Li:

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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.

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

Kara Swisher:

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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.

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

Andy Newman:

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

Alex Cranz:

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

Ryan Smith:

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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.

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Going to love hearing the explanation for how he got the money by legal means.
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Trump’s EPA just made its final decision not to ban a pesticide that hurts kids’ brains • Mother Jones

Tom Philpott:

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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For sale: presidential integrity, never used.
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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:

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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.

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Turned out he hadn’t been keylogged, but Slack had really screwed up in 2015. Four years ago.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

  1. Again, I want a MacPad and a PowerPad, desktop and laptop incarnations of an iPad. iPadOS + iOS apps that offer a touchless, desktop-oriented UI initially targeted at x86 Macs makes this even closer to possible. It’s only missing a few easy things (baseline USB peripherals supports ie webcams, storage, printers, keyboard/pointers/gamepads, and more I/O ?).

    Forcing low-needs users to learn a whole new (and expensive !) OS, apps, ecosystem just because they want a big screen, keyboard, mouse webcam and printer, and then cut them off from the apps and UI they know, is criminal.

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