Start Up No.1,118: Facebook gets around the FTC, how Russia split search, Plex and the pirates, NYT goes for.. blockchain?, and more

Doordash says it’s going to change its tipping policy so that workers receive them. Radical, huh? CC-licensed photo by Jerzy Durczak on Flickr.

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

Plex makes piracy just another streaming service • The Verge

Bijan Stephen:


Because of the convoluted nature of licensing agreements and the vagaries of corporate competition, what’s on Netflix is substantively different than what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. Different still are the network-specific streamers, like the up-and-comers HBO Max and Disney+, and the more niche offerings, like Shudder, Kanopy, Mubi, and Criterion. All of them have the same aim, which is to lock up intellectual property to keep people streaming. It’s a lot!

Plex, a company that sells media server software, has found itself in the strange position of being the answer to that problem. It has two components: the piece of software that organizes media on your computer’s hard drive and the client-side program that lets you and your friends and family stream that content from wherever you are on just about any device. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. It is extraordinarily simple to use. It looks a little like Netflix. Except, all of the content is custom, tailored by the person running the server. In the company’s words, both pieces of its software are “the key to personal media bliss.”

What Plex doesn’t say, however, is how that bliss is achieved. Because what’s on Plex servers is populated by people, most of the commercial content you’d find there is probably pirated. And this is the main tension of using Plex: while the software itself is explicitly legal, the media that populates its customer-run servers is not — at least the stuff protected by copyright law. The company, of course, doesn’t condone this particular use of its software.


Everything old is new again: piracy used to be a huge problem, then it went away (more or less). The fragmentation of content to multiple services is creating the opportunity for piracy.
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FTC hits Facebook with $5bn fine and new privacy checks • The Verge

Makena Kelly:


In the agreement filed today, the FTC alleges that Facebook violated the law by failing to protect data from third parties, serving ads through the use of phone numbers provided for security, and lying to users that its facial recognition software was turned off by default. In order to settle those charges, Facebook will pay $5 billion — the second-largest fine ever levied by the FTC — and agree to a series of new restrictions on its business.

Aside from the multibillion-dollar fine, Facebook will be required to conduct a privacy review of every new product or service that it develops, and these reviews must be submitted to the CEO and a third-party assessor every quarter. As it directly relates to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook will now be required to obtain purpose and use certifications from apps and third-party developers that want to use Facebook user data. However, there are no limits on what data access the company can authorize to those groups once the disclosure is made.

“The Order imposes a privacy regime that includes a new corporate governance structure, with corporate and individual accountability and more rigorous compliance monitoring,” the three supporting FTC commissioners wrote in a statement. “This approach dramatically increases the likelihood that Facebook will be compliant with the Order; if there are any deviations, they likely will be detected and remedied quickly.”


Apparently the 3-2 vote was on party lines – Republicans 3, Democrats 2. It’s absurdly weak. The FTC writing of it naturally suggests that it is going to tamp down everything that Facebook wants to do. It won’t. Rohit Chopra, one of the FTC commissioners (who voted against) has a Twitter thread explaining why he thinks it’s a bad settlement.
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AI is supercharging the creation of maps around the world • Facebook

Xiaoming Gao, Christopher Klaiber, Drishtie Patel and Jeff Underwood:


For more than 10 years, volunteers with the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project have worked to address that gap by meticulously adding data on the ground and reviewing public satellite images by hand and annotating features like roads, highways, and bridges. It’s a painstaking manual task. But, thanks to AI, there is now an easier way to cover more areas in less time.

With assistance from Map With AI (a new service that Facebook AI researchers and engineers created) a team of Facebook mappers has recently cataloged all the missing roads in Thailand and more than 90% of missing roads in Indonesia. Map With AI enabled them to map more than 300,000 miles of roads in Thailand in only 18 months, going from a road network that covered 280,000 miles before they began to 600,000 miles after. Doing it the traditional way — without AI — would have taken another three to five years, estimates Xiaoming Gao, a Facebook research scientist who helped lead the project.

“We were really excited about this achievement because it has proven Map With AI works at a large scale,” Gao says.

Starting today, anyone will be able to use the Map With AI service, which includes access to AI-generated road mappings in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, with more countries rolling out over time. As part of Map With AI, Facebook is releasing our AI-powered mapping tool, called RapiD, to the OSM community.


This, at least, is good. Though it’s a repetition of what undoubtedly already exists at Google and other mapping companies. The benefit is that this is open data.
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Border Patrol admits being member of controversial Facebook group • CNNPolitics

Geneva Sands and Kate Sullivan:


US Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said on Wednesday that she was a member of a secret Facebook group that reportedly contains vulgar and offensive posts, adding that she told internal investigators once she realized her involvement.

“Not only did I self-report, I turned my entire Facebook account over,” she said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “I gave them my log-in and my password.”

Provost denied knowing of the “highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable posts” ahead of the ProPublica investigative report that first exposed the Facebook group dubbed “I’m 10-15.” The name refers to Border Patrol code 10-15 for “aliens in custody.” Earlier this month, The Intercept reported Provost was a member of the Facebook group.


You’re in a group but you don’t realise you’re in the group? Then again, you can be coopted into a group without your knowledge, or can join one when it’s relatively peaceful (Provost says she was invited to join it in 2017, when it may have been very different in character) and then find it change under you. The problem, fundamentally, is Facebook.
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Facebook’s Libra currency spawns a wave of fakes, including on Facebook itself • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell, Tony Romm and Cat Zakrzewski:


A wave of fakes purporting to sell or represent Facebook’s not-yet-available Libra currency have swept onto the social-media giant’s platforms, highlighting how the tech firm is struggling to rebuild trust and fight the fraud likely to surround the new financial system.

Roughly a dozen fake accounts, pages and groups scattered across Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram present themselves as official hubs for the digital currency, in some cases offering to sell Libra at a discount if viewers visit potentially fraudulent, third-party websites.

A number of fake Facebook and Instagram accounts were removed Monday after The Washington Post alerted Facebook to their spread.

The spread of fakes — and Facebook’s inability to detect them on its own — could undermine Facebook-backed efforts to inspire confidence and satisfy the regulators now scrutinizing the newly proposed global currency. Many of the fakes included Facebook’s logo, photos of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg or Libra’s official marketing imagery.


Totally predictable, and depressing. Everything can be copied.
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How Russian antitrust enforcers defeated Google’s monopoly • Matt Stoller’s Substack

Matt Stoller:


In Russia, the anti-monopoly case played out quite differently [from that in Europe on the tying of Android to mobile default search for Google]. The Russians were not intimidated by American technology companies, not only because of residual bitterness over the end of the Cold War and a hostile geopolitical relationship with America, but because they had Yandex. Russian engineers and scientists were just as innovative as those in Silicon Valley, and they had their own search giant to prove it.

The FAS [Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service] was also hostile to Google because of a very basic problem that the company brought upon itself. Google did not take the FAS as seriously as it should have, under the assumption the FAS would rule for Yandex for protectionist reasons. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, to believe a Russian government agency would find for a Russian company. But Google never acknowledged Yandex had a serious argument, even though a respected economic consulting firm, the European arm of Charles River Associates, had done the economic analysis underpinning Yandex’s complaint.

The Russians ruled in 2015, and again in late 2016, roughly a year and a half after the start of the case and far faster than that of the EU. In 2017, Google settled, agreeing to present a “choice screen” to all Android phone users letting the user pick in a neutral manner which search engine to use. Immediately upon implementing the choice screen, Yandex recaptured a chunk of market share from Google. And its market share then stabilized.


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New York Times to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain tech • The Block


The New York Times Company has announced a new project, aiming to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain technology.

Initiated by the publisher’s research and development team, “The News Provenance Project,” will first focus on photojournalism as photos can be “easily manipulated” and can have “serious” effects, according to a blog post published Tuesday.

The first phase of the project will run through late 2019 to design a proof-of-concept (PoC) using Hyperledger Fabric, a permissioned and private blockchain network, in collaboration with IBM Garage. The PoC aims to provide readers with a way to determine the source of a photo or whether it had been edited after it was published, per the blog post.

After its learnings from the first phase, The New York Times said it will later explore the technology for journalism as a whole. The publisher has also invited other news organizations to join its initiative.


This is mildly bonkers. And unnecessary.
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After outcry, DoorDash promises workers will get 100% of tips • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


A recent New York Times story explained how the DoorDash’s current system works:


For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85. If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.


Now Xu says DoorDash is going to revamp its pay system to ensure that every dollar of tip goes to drivers. “We’ll have specific details in the coming days,” he tweeted.

There’s no guarantee that the new formula will be better for workers. After Instacart changed its formula earlier this year, some shoppers complained that their average compensation per job fell as a result. Ultimately, the specific compensation formula probably matters less than how much DoorDash chooses to pay its workers, on average.

DoorDash isn’t the only company to face a backlash over this issue. Instacart was featured alongside DoorDash in a February piece by NBC’s Olivia Solon. Instacart changed its policy days later, while it took months of additional criticism from The New York Times and others before DoorDash changed its approach.


The idea that these companies and particularly their bosses are Really Nice People is a myth. They’re rapacious and they’ll screw anyone, including their own workers, in the pursuit of getting rich. And they won’t listen to anyone, or their ideas about fairness or equality. They’re utterly amoral.
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The Internet that wasn’t – Net.Wars by Wendy Grossman • Cybersalon



This week on Twitter, writer and Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost asked this: “There’s a belief that the internet was once great but then we ruined it, but I’m struggling to remember the era of incontrovertible greatness. Lots of arguing from the start. Software piracy. Barnfuls of pornography. Why is the fall from grace story so persistent and credible?”

My reply: “Mostly because most of the people who are all nostalgic either weren’t there, have bad memories, or were comfortable with it. Flaming has existed in every online medium that’s ever been invented. The big difference: GAFA [Google Amazon Facebook Apple] weren’t profiting from it.”

Let’s expand on that here. Not only was there never a period of peace and tranquility on the Internet, there was never a period of peace and tranquility on the older, smaller, more contained systems that proliferated in the period when you had to dial up and wait through the modems’ mating calls. I only got online in 1991, but those 1980s systems – primarily CIX (still going), the WELL (still going), and CompuServe (bought by AOL) – hosted myriad “flame wars”. The small CompuServe UK journalism forum I co-managed had to repeatedly eject a highly abusive real-life Fleet Street photographer who obsessively returned with new name, same behavior. CompuServe finally blocked his credit card, an option unavailable to pay-with-data TWIFYS (Twitter-WhatsApp-Instagram-Facebook-YouTube-Snapchat). The only real answer to containing abuse and abusers was and is human moderators.

The quick-trigger abuse endemic on Twitter has persisted since the beginning, as Sara Kiesler and Lee Sproull documented in their 1992 book, Connections, based on years of studies of mailing lists within large organizations.


This is a wonderful piece, and so true. “Anyone under 35 probably wasn’t there.”
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Rumor: Samsung may drop initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:


Rumour has it that Samsung has decided to drop the initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets. The company was previously testing the latest firmware for all markets where the Galaxy Fold was going to be released. It suggested that Samsung would make the device available in quite a few markets at the same time. That would have certainly made sense.

Fans have already been made to wait for a long time. They were really looking forward to the company’s foldable smartphone but have been unable to even get their hands on a demo unit. However, it’s possible that Samsung may only launch the Galaxy Fold in a limited number of markets at first.

Some of the markets where firmware testing has been scaled back include countries like Italy and the Netherlands. The latest firmware is currently being tested for major markets like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and India (where we recently spotted the Galaxy Fold being tested out in the wild). This is different to how Samsung normally tests firmware for new flagship devices. For example, the latest Galaxy Note 10 firmware is being tested across all markets. This suggests that there won’t be any unnecessary launch delays in some markets.


“Fans have already been made to wait for a long time”?? It’s been three months, tops. I think the Note will come out first.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,118: Facebook gets around the FTC, how Russia split search, Plex and the pirates, NYT goes for.. blockchain?, and more

  1. Stumbled upon a nice analogy while reading about the new batch of “need backdoor” news: Counting on tech to solve political problems is like counting on religion to solve social problems is like counting on a hammer to place a screw. You’ll get some results, but also lots of side effects.

    I think there’s abusive amalgation of 2 distinct issues about the “backdoor” issue:
    1- whether the gov should have the ability to decrypt stuff. I think it should, and if you don’t your issue is with your government, not with the decryption: they can also bash your door in, lock you up, seize your assets, discriminate in endless ways… decryption is a detail in that context.
    2- whether that decryption can be implemented w/o opening the door to all hackers (private on top of public, foreign on top of own gov, exes on top of James Bond… ). I’m seeing precious little of that discussion, in particular I’m wondering if a local-only, canaried (or destructive) procedure can be set up and would be an acceptable compromise. ie, if you can get at my phone’s data by drilling a hole in the middle of its screen to get at the “dump data” connector and a built-in security chip prevents it from normal operation once that happened… I’m Ok with that, and I don’t think there’ll be many side effects, certainly not thieves, probably not exes nor employers, and if foreign spies are a concern, we can probably have a separate line of antispy phones (which also explode after 10 seconds, include a parachute, and shake Martinis) for high-value targets.

    • Also, in that analogy, Apple is indeed the catholic church: looks good from afar is you don’t go past the PR, is financially corrupt and morally bankrupt once you get closer into facts.

      Latest in Apple “Really ? Really !”:

      1- design a bad computer that fails a lot
      2- loudly announce an extended warranty
      3- deny that warranty in individual cases because one of ten+ overly sensitive, unreliable water sensor got triggered in an unrelated part of the computer
      4- lose the court case, but how many victims will bother ?
      5- this in the context of preventing 3rd-party repairs, rising 1st party repair prices, and low 1st-party repair quality.

      1- launch new services and apps
      2- remove your 1st-party apps dismal ratings because… users are not allowed to rate 1st-party apps ? They’re probably holding them wrong.
      3- make your your apps pop up first on searches, because algorithm (which uses ratings… for others’ apps).

      The delights of being judge, jury and executioner.

  2. Sigh. I most strongly disagree with the recent contrarian takes on the idea of the Net “Golden Age”. I *was* there. These are vigorously knocking down strawmen, rebutting an extreme version of an argument that all was sweetness and light in the Old Days. It wasn’t perfection, but that’s a ridiculous standard to apply. For example, once upon a time, there was no spam. Zero. It didn’t exist. That’s a major difference.

    I feel like I’m reading metaphorically about a person (let’s call them Oldnet) who now has a host of chronic diseases barely kept in check by a regime of expensive medication with severe side effects – e.g. they have crippling arthritis, advanced diabetes, liver almost in failure, emphysema, and so on. Someone says “How sad it is to see what’s become of Oldnet. I knew them 25 years ago, they were so much healthier back then.”
    And the contrarian replies: “No, Oldnet was never in absolutely perfect health. Oldnet got many coughs and colds and flu, went on drinking binges, was overweight from lots of junk food and lack of exercise. Anyone who says Oldnet never was sick at all is misremembering through nostalgia.”
    There’s ranges, like “knocking on death’s door” is different from “not at Olympic fitness”.

    • Spam got there fairly quickly though. I’m old enough to have experienced BBSes before the ‘net, I remember having to use spam-filtering clients before it got done server-side, and a few painful months before that, probably early aughts ?
      I think the big change is scams not spam. Spam is a nuisance but an easily identifiable one. There were 2 extra degrees: in remember once being unable to complete a PC’s install because it was being remotely powned before Windows’ setup even completed, and nowadays I receive fairly credible scam emails from my bank/utilities/ISP/carrier at least once a month. And that’s before ransomware.

      It seems the dangers have developed a bit faster than the ‘net, but the biggest issue in the end is that now my mom and my City Hall are exposed to them, and utterly inept. Regular Joes have gone from not being open to the ‘net’s dangers to being assaulted from all sides. That skews perception.

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