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

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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.
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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.
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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.


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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.
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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.”
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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”.


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

3 thoughts on “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

  1. Dang, at 7AM French time, wasn’t even back from the croissant run. Are you trying to say there’s a Summer Time in Great Britain, Don’t you need an actual summer to get that ?

  2. Re exposure from Google: i’m starting to sense a trend, is this Music Tuesday or something ? Hoping there’s a “don’t give up” further down…

  3. Re voluntary carbon tax: it would be extremely weird to apply it to buses trains and ferries since those are the most eco-friendly ways to travel, contrary to planes which are the worst.

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