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.

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(Zou is assistant professor of Information Systems and Management at Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick.)
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40 years later, lessons from the rise and quick decline of the first ‘killer app’ • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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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.

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

Chris Stokel-Walker:

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

Adam Morton:

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

Lucas Shaw and Mark Gurman:

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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.

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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.
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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.

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In case there’s anyone around who thought measles wasn’t deadly.
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Delta, Alaska, and American Airlines have all been sued over their cabin crew uniforms • Vox

Rae Nudson:

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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.

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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.
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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.”

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The problem with an unaccountable, inexplicable paymaster.
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A layer of ‘aerogel’ could make Mars habitable and even enable life to develop there – but here’s why we should wait

Andrew Coates:

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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.

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(An aerogel is “a synthetic and ultralight material made by taking a gel and replacing the liquid component with a gas.”)
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The Metamorphosis • The Atlantic

Henry A. Kissinger, Eric Schmidt, Daniel Huttenlocher:

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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?

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

Peter Swire:

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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.

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

Luke Jones:

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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.

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This isn’t an opportunity for Google or Apple: they don’t meet the authority’s criteria on privacy and data either.
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Trump’s racist tweets aren’t racist, Twitter decides • Gizmodo

Dell Cameron:

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

Nico Hines:

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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.

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

Timothy B. Lee:

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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.

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See for comparison: Amazon’s hosting, briefly, of Wikileaks during the US diplomatic cables leak; Paypal and Visa denying payments to Wikileaks subsequently.
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Florida DMV sells your personal information to private companies, marketing firms • ABC Action News

Adam Walser:

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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.

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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”.
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Huawei plans extensive layoffs in the US • WSJ

Dan Strumpf:

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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).

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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.”

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Gives a new meaning to helicopter parenting.
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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.

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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.”

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Will they get kicked out of casinos for card-counting?
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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.
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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.

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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…
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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%.

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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.
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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.
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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.

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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. 

«

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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.
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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.
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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…
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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.
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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.
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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.”

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The passive surveillance society; sometimes a benefit.
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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.
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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.
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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:

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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.

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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.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,106: the apps exploiting children, social ads for good, YouTube’s febrile phase, what climate scientists do (and don’t) do, and more


The BBC’s got a plan which would automatically tailor iPlayer content to users – and much more. CC-licensed photo by Barnaby_S on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Finally up to speed. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

I used Google ads for social engineering. It worked • The New York Times

Patrick Berlinquette:

»

You don’t have to be a marketer with years of experience to do this. You just need to follow the instructions and put up a credit card (a few hundred bucks will suffice).

Recently, I followed the [Google] blueprint [used against people searching for Isis propaganda] and created a redirect campaign of my own.

The first step was to identify the problem I wanted to address. I thought about Kevin Hines and how his fate might have changed if cellphones with Google had existed back in 2000 when he tried to take his own life.

Could Kevin [Hines, who tried to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge] have been redirected? Could he have been persuaded — by a few lines of ad copy and a persuasive landing page — not to jump? I wondered if I could redirect the next Kevin Hines. The goal of my first redirect campaign was to sway the ideology of suicidal people.

The problem my campaign addressed: Suicidal people are underserved on Google. In 2010, Google started making the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline the top result of certain searches relating to suicide. It also forced autocomplete not to finish such searches.

The weakness of Google’s initiative is that not enough variations of searches trigger the hotline. A search for “I am suicidal” will result in the hotline. But a search for “I’m going to end it” won’t always. “I intend to die” won’t ever. A lot of “higher-funnel” searches don’t trigger the hotline.

I hoped my redirect campaign would fill the gap in Google’s suicide algorithm. I would measure my campaign’s success by how many suicidal searchers clicked my ad and then called the number on my website, which forwarded to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

«

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Object-Based Media • BBC R&D

»

Object-based media allows the content of programmes to change according to the requirements of each individual audience member.

The ‘objects’ refer to the different assets that are used to make a piece of content. These could be large objects: the audio and video used for a scene in a drama – or small objects, like an individual frame of video, a caption, or a signer.

By breaking down a piece of media into separate objects, attaching meaning to them, and describing how they can be rearranged, a programme can change to reflect the context of an individual viewer.

We think this approach has potential to transform the way content is created and consumed: bringing efficiencies and creative flexibility to production teams, enabling them to deliver a personalised BBC to every member of our audience…

My Forecast
When I watch the weather forecast on iPlayer, I can choose to replace the speaking presenter with a signing one. Because it knows me, iPlayer gives me a signer as default. It syncs with my calendar, knows where I’m planning to go in the next week, and gives me hyper-local forecasts. Ideal for planning my festival wardrobe for Radio 1’s Big Weekend!

Eastenders Catch-up
I love EastEnders but with four episodes a week there’s a lot to catch up on after a fortnight in the sun. iPlayer knows what I’ve missed and it creates a catch-up episode of Enders just for me. All the juicy bits are there and I’m up to speed in 30 minutes instead of two hours.

«

Those are just two – the article points to plenty more things they can do. This is hugely ambitious, and they’re envisaging doing them within three years. Amazing if they can.
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Kids’ apps are filled with manipulative ads, according to a new study • Vox

Chavie Lieber:

»

suddenly, the game is interrupted. A bubble pops up with a new mini game idea, and when a child clicks on the bubble, they are invited to purchase it for $1.99, or unlock all new games for $3.99. There’s a red X button to cancel the pop-up, but if the child clicks on it, the character on the screen shakes its head, looks sad, and even begins to cry.

The game, developed by the Slovenian software company Bubadu and intended for kids as young as 6, is marketed as “educational” because it teaches kids about different types of medical treatments.

But it’s structured so that the decision to not buy anything from the game is wrong; the child is shamed into thinking they’ve done something wrong. Pulling such a move on a young gamer raises troubling ethical questions, especially as children’s gaming apps — and advertising within them — have become increasingly popular.

On Tuesday, a group of 22 consumer and public health advocacy groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling on the organization to look into the questionable practices of the children’s app market. The letter asks the FTC to investigate apps that “routinely lure young children to make purchases and watch ads” and hold the developers of these games accountable.

«

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Mozilla: No plans to enable DNS-over-HTTPS by default in the UK • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

After the UK’s leading industry group of internet service providers named Mozilla an “Internet Villain” because of its intentions to support a new DNS security protocol named DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) inside Firefox, the browser maker told ZDNet that such plans don’t currently exist.

“We have no current plans to enable DoH by default in the UK,” a spokesperson ZDNet last night.

The browser maker’s decision comes after both ISPs and the UK government, through MPs and GCHQ have criticized Mozilla and fellow browser maker Google during the last two months for their plans to support DNS-over-HTTPS.

The technology, if enabled, would thwart the ability of some internet service providers to sniff customer traffic in order to block users from accessing bad sites, such as those hosting copyright-infringing materials, child abuse images, and extremist material.

UK ISPs block websites at the government requests; they also block other sites voluntarily at the request of various child protection groups, and they block adult sites as part of parental controls options they provide to their customers.

Not all UK ISPs will be impacted by Mozilla and Google supporting DNS-over-HTTPS, as some use different technologies to filter customers’ traffic…

«

This is the story which came out horrendously confused in the Sunday Times about three months ago, talking about “plans to encrypt Chrome”, which left everyone who understands what the words actually mean puzzled.
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The fight for the future of YouTube • The New Yorker

Neima Jahromi:

»

Francesca Tripodi, a media scholar at James Madison University, has studied how right-wing conspiracy theorists perpetuate false ideas online. Essentially, they find unfilled rabbit holes and then create content to fill them. “When there is limited or no metadata matching a particular topic,” she told a Senate committee in April, “it is easy to coördinate around keywords to guarantee the kind of information Google will return.” Political provocateurs can take advantage of data vacuums to increase the likelihood that legitimate news clips will be followed by their videos. And, because controversial or outlandish videos tend to be riveting, even for those who dislike them, they can register as “engaging” to a recommendation system, which would surface them more often. The many automated systems within a social platform can be co-opted and made to work at cross purposes.

Technological solutions are appealing, in part, because they are relatively unobtrusive. Programmers like the idea of solving thorny problems elegantly, behind the scenes. For users, meanwhile, the value of social-media platforms lies partly in their appearance of democratic openness. It’s nice to imagine that the content is made by the people, for the people, and that popularity flows from the grass roots.

In fact, the apparent democratic neutrality of social-media platforms has always been shaped by algorithms and managers. In its early days, YouTube staffers often cultivated popularity by hand, choosing trending videos to highlight on its home page; if the site gave a leg up to a promising YouTuber, that YouTuber’s audience grew. By spotlighting its most appealing users, the platform attracted new ones. It also shaped its identity: by featuring some kinds of content more than others, the company showed YouTubers what kind of videos it was willing to boost. “They had to be super family friendly, not copyright-infringing, and, at the same time, compelling,” Schaffer recalled, of the highlighted videos.

«

Long, and absorbing; with the telling phrase that one ex-YouTube staffer “told me that hate speech had been a problem on YouTube since its earliest days.”
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BA hit by biggest GDPR fine to date • Financial Times

Chris Nuttall:

»

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office says it intends to fine BA £183m (€204m, $229m) — 1.5% of BA’s worldwide turnover in 2017 — after it admitted that more than half a million customers’ data had been stolen by hackers last August from its website and mobile app.

Under pre-GDPR powers, the maximum penalty was £500,000 but this has now risen to up to 4% of turnover. In the first nine months of GDPR, national data protection agencies in 11 countries had levied a total of €56m in fines, made up mostly of a €50m fine that France’s CNIL imposed on Google in January.

The ICO said poor security arrangements at BA had given hackers access to personal data, including customer logins, payment card details, travel bookings and name and address information. BA will be able to make representations to the ICO over the finding and fine.

«

This, you’ll recall, was the remarkably clever Magecart scam, which replaced an innocent script from the BA baggage handling site to steal peoples’ credit card and other details when they paid for flights. Then BA found a second hacking script on the site, announced in October.
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Over 1,300 Android apps scrape personal data regardless of permissions • TechRadar

David Lumb:

»

Researchers at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) created a controlled environment to test 88,000 apps downloaded from the US Google Play Store. They peeked at what data the apps were sending back, compared it to what users were permitting and – surprise – 1,325 apps were forking over specific user data they shouldn’t have.

Among the test pool were “popular apps from all categories,” according to ICSI’s report. 

The researchers disclosed their findings to both the US Federal Trade Commission and Google (receiving a bug bounty for their efforts), though the latter stated a fix would only be coming in the full release of Android Q, according to CNET.

Before you get annoyed at yet another unforeseen loophole, those 1,325 apps didn’t exploit a lone security vulnerability – they used a variety of angles to circumvent permissions and get access to user data, including geolocation, emails, phone numbers, and device-identifying IMEI numbers.

One way apps determined user locations was to get the MAC addresses of connected WiFi base stations from the ARP cache, while another used picture metadata to discover specific location info even if a user didn’t grant the app location permissions. The latter is what the ICSI researchers described as a “side channel” – using a circuitous method to get data.

They also noticed apps using “covert channels” to snag info: third-party code libraries developed by a pair of Chinese companies secretly used the SD card as a storage point for the user’s IMEI number. If a user allowed a single app using either of those libraries access to the IMEI, it was automatically shared with other apps.

«

Android Q isn’t going to be universally adopted by any means. Data leaks are going to go on.
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No flights, a four-day week and living off-grid: what climate scientists do at home to save the planet • The Guardian

Alison Green is one of many academics interviewed for this piece:

»

In July 2018, I came across Prof Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper, which was going viral online. Here was someone with credibility and a good track record who, having studied the science, was saying that we’re no longer looking at mitigation, we’re looking at adaptation; that societal collapse is inevitable.

People are starting to talk about the kind of spiritual awakening you get in these situations: an “ecophany”. I concluded that banging on about climate change on social media was not enough, and became involved with grassroots activism. Being a vice-chancellor no longer meant anything to me. I gave up my career, and I’m so much happier as a result. Now I talk at conferences and events about the need for urgent action and I have taken part in direct actions with Extinction Rebellion, including the closing of five London bridges last November and speaking in Parliament Square during the April rebellion.

The science shows that societal collapse could be triggered by any one of a number of things, and once triggered, it could happen quite quickly. I suppose I’m being protective towards my four children, aged between 16 and 24, but in the event, I feel I need to be somewhere where I’m growing my own food, living in an eco-house, trying to live off-grid. It would give me some security; I don’t feel secure where I live in Cambridge at the moment – I’m concerned by thoughts like, “What would happen if I turned the tap on and there was no water?”. On our current trajectory, cities will not necessarily be safe places in the future – possibly within my own lifetime, certainly within my children’s.

«

Societal collapse. Just a phrase to roll around your head.
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Europe built a system to fight Russian meddling. It’s struggling • The New York Times

Matt Apuzzo:

»

Efforts to identify and counter disinformation have proven not only deeply complicated, but also politically charged.

The new Rapid Alert System — a highly touted network to notify governments about Russian efforts before they metastasized as they did during the 2016 American elections — is just the latest example.

Working out of a sixth-floor office suite in downtown Brussels this spring, for example, European analysts spotted suspicious Twitter accounts pushing disinformation about an Austrian political scandal. Just days before the European elections, the tweets showed the unmistakable signs of Russian political meddling.

So European officials prepared to blast a warning on the alert system. But they never did, as they debated whether it was serious enough to justify sounding an alarm. In fact, even though they now speak of spotting “continued and sustained disinformation activity from Russian sources,” they never issued any alerts at all.

«

“Struggling”, in the headline, is generous.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

Start Up No.1,105: Alaska overheats, machines search for new theories, Google ticked off in NZ, ransomware’s new targets, and more


Jony Ive’s designs have influenced a lot of others. What do we think? CC-licensed photo by Duncan Rawlinson – Duncan.co 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. Not speeded up. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

With little training, machine-learning algorithms can uncover hidden scientific knowledge • Techxplore

:

»

Sure, computers can be used to play grandmaster-level chess (chess_computer), but can they make scientific discoveries? Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that an algorithm with no training in materials science can scan the text of millions of papers and uncover new scientific knowledge.

A team led by Anubhav Jain, a scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage & Distributed Resources Division, collected 3.3 million abstracts of published materials science papers and fed them into an algorithm called Word2vec. By analyzing relationships between words the algorithm was able to predict discoveries of new thermoelectric materials years in advance and suggest as-yet unknown materials as candidates for thermoelectric materials.

“Without telling it anything about materials science, it learned concepts like the periodic table and the crystal structure of metals,” said Jain. “That hinted at the potential of the technique. But probably the most interesting thing we figured out is, you can use this algorithm to address gaps in materials research, things that people should study but haven’t studied so far.”

…”The paper establishes that text mining of scientific literature can uncover hidden knowledge, and that pure text-based extraction can establish basic scientific knowledge,” said [Gerbrand] Ceder, who also has an appointment at UC Berkeley’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering

«

What happens when the machines start finding out things that we can’t understand? What do we do with that discovered knowledge? Happened with Go, happening with chess.
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Google accused of ‘flipping the bird’ at New Zealand laws after Grace Millane murder • The Guardian

Charles Anderson:

»

Tech giant Google has been accused of “flipping the bird” at New Zealand laws by refusing to change company policy after it broke suppression orders related to the murder case of British backpacker Grace Millane.

Last December, a 27-year-old Auckland man appeared in the city’s high court charged with murdering Millane. His name was suppressed but it appeared in Google’s “what’s trending in New Zealand” email that went out to thousands of subscribers.

Millane, 22, from Essex, vanished in Auckland in December. Her body was later found in the Waitākere Ranges, west of the city.

Google executives met with New Zealand justice minister Andrew Little in Wellington to discuss the suppression breach, and assured the minister and prime minister Jacinda Ardern the issue would be dealt with.

However, when justice officials followed up with Google in March and again this week, the company said it had no plans to make changes. Little released an email from Google’s New Zealand government affairs manager Ross Young on Wednesday.

“We have looked at our systems and it appears that last year’s situation was relatively unique as it was a high-profile case involving a person from overseas, which was extensively reported by overseas media,” the email read…

…[Little said:] “In the end, Google is effectively acting as a publisher and publishing material that is under suppression orders in New Zealand, and they cannot and should not be allowed to get away with that.”

«

Interesting question. Google Alerts simply take a headline (and excerpt) of content that’s already around. Is that publishing? Of course it is: news organisations republish content from Reuters and Associated Press all the time. The difference is that news orgs take some care about what they put out. Google’s learning that the hard way.
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Google still keeps a list of everything you ever bought using Gmail, even if you delete all your emails • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

»

In May, I wrote up something weird I spotted on Google’s account management page. I noticed that Google uses Gmail to store a list of everything you’ve purchased, if you used Gmail or your Gmail address in any part of the transaction.

If you have a confirmation for a prescription you picked up at a pharmacy that went into your Gmail account, Google logs it. If you have a receipt from Macy’s, Google keeps it. If you bought food for delivery and the receipt went to your Gmail, Google stores that, too.

You get the idea, and you can see your own purchase history by going to Google’s Purchases page.

Google says it does this so you can use Google Assistant to track packages or reorder things, even if that’s not an option for some purchases that aren’t mailed or wouldn’t be reordered, like something you bought a store.

At the time of my original story, Google said users can delete everything by tapping into a purchase and removing the Gmail. It seemed to work if you did this for each purchase, one by one. This isn’t easy — for years worth of purchases, this would take hours or even days of time.

So, since Google doesn’t let you bulk-delete this purchases list, I decided to delete everything in my Gmail inbox. That meant removing every last message I’ve sent or received since I opened my Gmail account more than a decade ago.

Despite Google’s assurances, it didn’t work.

«

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Google begins showing British Android users rival search engines to appease EU regulators • Daily Telegraph

Margi Murphy:

»

Google has begun asking British smartphone users whether they would like to switch to rival search engines in a bid to appease European regulators.

Android users will now have the option to go online using search engines such as Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo or privacy-focused Google critic DuckDuckGo.

Google hopes the tactic will brush off any further advances from the European Commission, which delivered it a record €4.34bn fine (£3.9 bn) for being anticompetitive in July 2018. 

The European Commission’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said it was wrong for Google to require Android manufacturers to install Google’s search app and Chrome browser app as a condition for licensing Google’s app store.

 While she acknowledged that Google didn’t prevent customers from using other search engines, she said that only 1pc of Android users chose to do so…

…“Once you have it, it is working, very few are curious enough to look for another search app or browser,” said Vestager.

At the time, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said the decision rejected “the business model that supports Android, which has created more choice for everyone, not less”.

Google’s web browser Chrome has always appeared as the default. Now, Android users are being asked whether they would like to download one different apps offering the same service instead.

«

Hang on, though. Other browsers offer Google as the default search engine. What if people were assigned a search engine randomly?
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For better and worse, we live in Jony Ive’s world • The New Yorker

Nikil Saval:

»

The archetypal telephone, the Model 500, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, had a clunking rotary dial, a heavy base, and a coiled cord that connected to a curved handset. It had, surprisingly, some mobility: you could hold the base of the phone in one hand, ideally with your middle and ring fingers, while walking around a room to the extent that the connection to the copper-wire outlet would allow. But it was the handset that was the product’s masterpiece. Molding itself to your hand and also to the crook between your shoulder and ear, it was a perfect instantiation of how a designer could shape everyday technology to the form of the human body, while anticipating the instincts—such as the desire to speak hands-free—that would guide the use of that technology.

The Apple iPhone, in the various iterations that the industrial designer Jony Ive produced, is the opposite. Few objects so continuously in use by human beings are as hostile to the human body as this slim, black, fragile slab, recalcitrant to any curve of head or shoulder or even palm, where it usually rests. It is made for a world without liquids, secretions, or hard surfaces, all of which threaten its destruction. Except for the curve of the edges, where the bevel of the glass screen has been painstakingly fused to the phone’s body, it is the shape of a photo, not a face.

«

The extent to which Ive’s designs are anti-ergonomic is something that hasn’t been remarked on much, but it seems important. OK, the purpose of a smartphone isn’t to curve around your face; it’s to show you things at arm’s length. But the thrust of this article seems right, to me.
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Jony Ive’s fragmented legacy: unreliable, unrepairable, beautiful gadgets • iFixit

Kyle Wiens runs iFixit:

»

Ive succeeded at building on the concepts he celebrated in Rams’ work at a vastly greater scale than anything Braun ever produced. The iPod, the iPhone, the MacBook Air, the physical Apple Store, even the iconic packaging of Apple products—these products changed how we view and use their categories, or created new categories, and will be with us a long time. And Apple has made a lot of them—they’ve stamped out over one billion iPhones to date, with a current production rate north of 600,000 per day.

Rams loves durable products that are environmentally friendly. That’s one of his 10 principles for good design: “Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment.” But Ive has never publicly discussed the dissonance between his inspiration and Apple’s disposable, glued-together products. For years, Apple has openly combated green standards that would make products easier to repair and recycle, stating that they need “complete design flexibility” no matter the impact on the environment.

Gary Hustwit, the documentarian behind the design-focused films Objectified and Rams, understands Dieter Rams’ conflicted views on Apple’s products better than many alive. “He doesn’t feel like he’s responsible [for consumerism], but I think he definitely feels like he had a role in getting to where we are now…

…It’s a shame that Ive is leaving Apple without reconciling this. His iPod started the practice of gluing in batteries, a technique that initially brought scorn but has since become the industry norm. AirPods channel much of Rams’ design aesthetic, except they have a built-in death clock and stop working after a couple years. The last seven years of Apple laptop designs have pushed the envelope of thinness, sacrificing upgradeability, serviceability, external ports, and usable keyboards along the way.

«

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Hedge funds are tracking private jets to find the next megadeal • Bloomberg

Justin Bachman:

»

In April, a stock research firm told clients that a Gulfstream V owned by Houston-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. had been spotted at an Omaha airport. The immediate speculation was that Occidental executives were negotiating with Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. to get financial help in their $38bn offer for rival Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Two days later, Buffett announced a $10bn investment in Occidental.

Where there’s a jet, there’s a data trail, and several “alternative data” firms are keeping tabs on private aircraft for hedge funds and other investors. The data on the Occidental plane came from Quandl Inc., which was acquired by Nasdaq Inc. in December. (Bloomberg LP, which publishes Bloomberg Businessweek, provides clients with reports from another company called JetTrack.)
There’s some evidence that aircraft-tracking can be used to get an early read on corporate news. A 2018 paper from security researchers at the University of Oxford and Switzerland’s federal Science and Technology department, tracked aircraft from three dozen public companies and identified seven instances of mergers-and-acquisitions activity.

«

This uses planes’ ADS-B data, which as this other article explains, can be used to track dictators and arms embargo-busters too. (Also: here’s that 2018 paper.)

Should we call this “dark data” – info that’s available to some, but only at a price or to governments?
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Baked Alaska: record heat fuels wildfires and sparks personal fireworks ban • The Guardian

Susie Cagle:

»

Alaska is trapped in a kind of hot feedback loop, as the arctic is heating up much faster than the rest of the planet. Ocean surface temperatures upwards of 10F hotter than average have helped to warm up the state’s coasts. When Bering and Chukchi sea ice collapsed and melted months earlier than normal this spring, the University of Alaska climate specialist Rick Thoman characterized the water as “baking”.

“I intentionally try to not be hyperbolic, but what do you say when there’s 10- to 20- degree [ºF] ocean water temperature above normal?” Thoman told the Guardian. “How else do you describe that besides extraordinary?”

The hot water has affected sea birds and marine life, with mass mortality events becoming commonplace in the region. The National Park Service characterizes Alaska’s increasingly frequent sea bird die-offs, called “wrecks”, as “extreme”. “The folks in the communities are saying these animals look like they’ve starved to death,” said Thoman.

Accelerating ice melt stands to put the state’s coastal communities at risk, reshaping food sources the people rely on and the very land on which they live. Where there are no built roads, Alaskans rely on frozen ground as infrastructure for traveling. Less ice means less of the life that’s evolved to depend on that ice, both animal and human.

«

I was wondering earlier today what things might have been like if Al Gore had won the 2000 election outright, and begun making significant moves to act on climate. Would this still be happening? Would we feel it was all as impossible to shift as (I think) we do?
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A city paid a hefty ransom to hackers, but its pains are far from over • The New York Times

Frances Robles:

»

More than 100 years’ worth of municipal records, from ordinances to meeting minutes to resolutions and City Council agendas, have been locked in cyberspace for nearly a month, hijacked by unidentified hackers who encrypted [Florida’s Lake City] city’s computer systems and demanded more than $460,000 in ransom.

Weeks after the city’s insurer paid the ransom, the phones are back on and email is once again working, but the city has still not recovered all of its files. There is a possibility that thousands of pages of documents that had been painstakingly digitized by Ms. Sikes and her team will have to be manually scanned, again.

Lake City’s troubles are hardly unique. In the past month alone, at least three Florida cities have been victims of ransomware attacks, after intrusions on larger cities such as Atlanta, Dallas and Baltimore.

What sets the latest cyberattacks apart is the stunning size of their ransom demands. Riviera Beach, Fla., last month agreed to pay more than $600,000, several times what was asked of Baltimore, which did not have insurance and did not pay. The Village of Key Biscayne, near Miami, has not publicly disclosed whether it plans to pay the perpetrators of a recent ransomware attack. Earlier this year Jackson County, Ga., paid $400,000.

Atlanta’s mayor testified last week to Congress that an attack last year, when the city refused to pay $51,000 in extortion demands, has so far cost the city $7.2m.

«

After some years of random phishing, the criminals have figured out that cities have both the resources and the urgent need to pay a sizeable ransom.
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Fake Samsung firmware update app tricks more than 10 million Android users • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

Over ten million users have been duped in installing a fake Samsung app named “Updates for Samsung” that promises firmware updates, but, in reality, redirects users to an ad-filled website and charges for firmware downloads.

“I have contacted the Google Play Store and asked them to consider removing this app,” Aleksejs Kuprins, malware analyst at the CSIS Security Group, told ZDNet today in an interview, after publishing a report on the app’s shady behaviour earlier [on July 4].

The app takes advantage of the difficulty in getting firmware and operating system updates for Samsung phones, hence the high number of users who have installed it.

“It would be wrong to judge people for mistakenly going to the official application store for the firmware updates after buying a new Android device,” the security researcher said. “Vendors frequently bundle their Android OS builds with an intimidating number of software, and it can easily get confusing.”

«

Was still there on Friday evening. I think it might have been a mistake to publish his report on a huge public holiday in the US.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,104: Superhuman rows back, Samsung in hot (salt) water, Apple running with scissors?, India’s water problem, and more


A tiny number of YouTube videos get a huge number of views; in theory, it could dump most of them and barely notice the difference. CC-licensed photo by Manuel Cernuda 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. Who’s got the remote? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What content dominates on YouTube? • Pex.com

Rasty Turek:

»

Forget the Pareto principe (80/20 rule). YouTube’s distribution is significantly worse. Only 0.64% of all videos ever reach more than 100,000 views.

Why does it matter?


Distribution of views as % of total views on the platform

Because these 0.64% represent an incredible 81.6% of all views on the platform. You read it right. Should YouTube remove 99.36% of all underperforming videos, they would save an astounding amount of money and still retain most of the revenue (especially considering that most of the underperforming videos are on channels that don’t meet monetization criteria).


Distribution of views per category

Music is the only category that consistently attracts hundreds of millions of users to watch the same videos over and over. The first video that ever broke 1B view mark was a music video. The vast majority of videos with over 1B views are music videos.

Not all content is equal.

«

Just doing the numbers, 0.64% of all videos (5.2bn of them) is 33.3 million videos. They get 23.6 trillion views.

All the rest – 5.166bn videos – are getting 5.3 trillion views, or an average of a thousand views. And you can bet there’s a Pareto principle, or more, going on there. But of course it wouldn’t dump unwatched videos, and more than Google would limit itself to a single page of search results.
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Read statuses • Superhuman

Rahul Vohra is CEO of Superhuman, the pricey email app which has been getting dinged this week:

»

Over the last few days, we have seen four main criticisms of read statuses in Superhuman:

• Location data could be used in nefarious ways
• Read statuses are on by default
• Recipients of emails cannot opt out
• Superhuman users cannot disable remote image loading

On all these, we hear you loud and clear. We are making these changes:
• We have stopped logging location information for new email, effective immediately
• We are releasing new app versions today that no longer show location information
• We are deleting all historical location data from our apps
• We are keeping the read status feature, but turning it off by default. Users who want it will have to explicitly turn it on
• We are prioritizing building an option to disable remote image loading.

«

That was satisfactorily quick. Vohra seems sincere in his apology (though he also points out that other “prosumer” email apps use “read status on by default”.
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D-Link agrees to new security monitoring to settle FTC charges • Ars Technica

:

»

Tuesday’s agreement settles a 2017 complaint by the US Federal Trade Commission that alleged D-Link left thousands of customers open to potentially costly hack attacks. The hardware maker, the FTC said, failed to test its gear against security flaws ranked among the most critical and widespread by the Open Web Application Security Project. The 2017 suit also said that, despite the lack of testing and hardening of its products, D-Link misrepresented its security regimen as reasonable.
Specific shortcomings cited by the FTC included:

• hard-coded login credentials on its D-Link camera software that used easily guessed passwords
• storing mobile app login credentials in human-readable text on a user’s mobile device
• expressly or implicitly describing its hardware as being secure from unauthorized access
• repeatedly failing to take reasonable testing and remediation measures to protect hardware from well-known and easily preventable software security flaws

“We sued D-Link over the security of its routers and IP cameras, and these security flaws risked exposing users’ most sensitive personal information to prying eyes,” Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a release.

«

There are almost surely more egregious IoT flaws out there, but they simply haven’t come to the FTC’s notice. (Though my current router has had a firmware upgrade available for roughly two years, and I haven’t wanted to install it because, well, it works fine at the moment.)
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Samsung accused of false claims about smartphone water resistance • SamMobile

SamMobile:

»

an IP68 rating certifies that the device can be submerged in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. However, the official classification mentions that it must be fresh water since the tests for assigning these ratings are conducted in lab conditions. The devices are not tested in a swimming pool or the beach.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s issue is that Samsung’s advertisements show that the devices will be fine with exposure to all types of water, including ocean water and swimming pools, and that they “would not be affected by such exposure to water for the life of the phone.” The claim here is that Samsung showed people in its ads using the devices in pools and beaches even though the IP68 certification explicitly mentions fresh water. It has collected 300 examples of such ads.

The consumer watchdog adds that Samsung has denied warranty claims for customers whose phones were damaged after being used in water. It then points out that Samsung’s own website mentions that the new Galaxy S10 series is “not advised for beach or pool use.” Thus the ACCC is now initiating court action against Samsung and will be seeking penalties.

“Samsung stands by its marketing and advertising of the water resistancy of its smartphones,” the company said in a statement

«

Yeah, good luck with that. The ads are bad enough, but if it denied warranty claims, there’s no defence.
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User Inyerface – A worst-practice UI experiment

»

Hi and welcome to User Inyerface,
a challenging exploration of
user interactions and design patterns.

To play the game, simply fill in the form
as fast and accurate as possible.

«

You didn’t have anything planned for today, right?
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Kuo: Apple to include new scissor switch keyboard in 2019 MacBook Air and 2020 MacBook Pro • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo:

»

Apple is apparently set to ditch the butterfly mechanism used in MacBooks since 2015, which has been the root of reliability issues and its low-travel design has also not been popular with many Mac users.

In a report published today, Ming-Chi Kuo says that Apple will roll out a new keyboard design based on scissor switches, offering durability and longer key travel, starting with the 2019 MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro is also getting the new scissor switch keyboard, but not until 2020.

The new scissor switch keyboard is a whole new design than anything previously seen in a MacBook, purportedly featuring glass fiber to reinforce the keys. Apple fans who have bemoaned the butterfly keyboard should be optimistic about a return to scissor switches.

Kuo says that Apple’s butterfly design was expensive to manufacture due to low yields. The new keyboard is still expected to cost more than an average laptop keyboard, but it should be cheaper than the butterfly components.

Apple has introduced four generations of butterfly keyboards in as many years, attempting to address user complaints about stuck keys, repeated key inputs, and even the loud clackiness of typing when striking each keycap.

«

The butterfly keys have all these problems in use and they have low yields? Those things are Pelion piled on Ossa. (Though I’m hoping my ageing 2012 MacBook Pro will survive long enough to let me skip the whole butterfly age.) But what’s the thinking behind using glass fibre? Is anyone complaining that their keys are breaking?
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Google Translate: In the second half of 2018, Apple removed 517 applications at the request of the Chinese government • VOA China

»

US Apple released a transparency report for the second half of 2018 on Wednesday, revealing that Apple, at the request of the Chinese government, removed 517 applications from China’s “app store” in the second half of last year.

In the report, Apple pointed out that the Chinese government filed a total of 56 requests for Apple to remove applications in the second half of last year, involving 626 applications, and Apple removed 517 of them. In comparison, Apple’s total number of applications requested by the government in the rest of the world is only 117. Apple said that the vast majority of applications that were removed in China were “related to illegal gambling or pornography.”

The report also shows that the Chinese government’s request for Apple to provide personal device information has increased dramatically, including who owns the device and what it is purchased with. The Chinese government requested 137,595 Apple devices in the second half of last year, up from 30,764 in the previous six months, and China’s figure is more than seven times that of the US, far exceeding half of the global total. Apple said the high figure “is mainly due to tax fraud investigations by tax authorities.”

«

The transparency report is here, or just grab the full PDF. Biggest number of “device requests”? Germany. Largest number of “devices specified in requests”? China, by a factor of about 10.
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Why not to use two axes, and what to use instead • Chartable

Lisa Charlotte Rost:

»

We believe that charts with two different y-axes make it hard for most people to intuitively make right statements about two data series. We recommend two alternatives strongly: using two charts instead of one and using indexed charts.

From time to time we get an email asking if it’s possible in Datawrapper to create charts with two different y-axes (also called double Y charts, dual axis charts, dual-scale data charts or superimposed charts). It is not – and we won’t add it any time soon. We’re sorry if that makes our user’s life harder, but we agree with the many chart experts[1] who make cases against dual axis charts. We hope you’ll hear us out.

We will first look at situations when people want to use dual axis charts, then we explain their problems, and afterward we’ll look at four alternatives

«

This blogpost is referenced in the slightly wordier, but not less good (just harder to excerpt) blogpost from the Office for National Statistics on the same topic. When the ONS comes out against dual axis, you know it’s bad.
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India staring at a water apocalypse • Asia Times

Saikat Datta:

»

While the ICIMOD study used climate change data and thousands of reports, another study using spy satellite imagery confirms that the loss to the glaciers has already arrived at an alarming stage. The study, published in the journal Sciences Advance, says that the region is losing 8.3 billion tons of ice every year. The average annual loss of ice between 2000 and 2016 doubled due to climate change. “Himalayan glaciers supply meltwater to densely populated catchments in South Asia,” the study notes, painting a grim picture of the region’s ability to sustain habitats.

If glaciers melting by the year 2100 is bad news, the outlook is worse when it comes to ground water. Himanshu Thakkar, who leads the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) in New Delhi, has been tracking water policies for decades. “Every study on the availability of water has now confirmed that ground water is the biggest source of water in the subcontinent. However, most governments are refusing to accept this as a reality. As a result, we have seen a succession of bad policies that has made matters worse,” he said.

Thakkar was part of a government committee in 2012 set up under the central planning commission, which used to design and implement India’s five-year development plans. Another study headed by noted water and development expert Mihir Shah concluded in 2016 that two-thirds of India’s irrigation needs depended exclusively on ground water.”However, since most of the finances are geared towards surface irrigation methods such as dams and canals, government agencies refuse to accept a scientific fact. As a result we have a slew of bad policies that have no bearing on reality,” Thakkar said.

Ironically, while India is facing one of its worst water crises and the southwest monsoons continue to be delayed, lawmakers who were recently elected in the general election don’t seem concerned.

«

“Government agencies refuse to accept a scientific fact” is going to be written on humanity’s gravestone.
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Facebook resolves day-long outages across Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

The issues started around 8AM ET and began slowly clearing up after a couple hours, according to DownDetector, which monitors website and app issues. The errors aren’t affecting all images; many pictures on Facebook and Instagram still load, but others are appearing blank. DownDetector has also received reports of people being unable to load messages in Facebook Messenger.

The outage persisted through mid-day, with Facebook releasing a second statement, where it apologized “for any inconvenience.” Facebook’s platform status website still lists a “partial outage,” with a note saying that the company is “working on a fix that will go out shortly.”

Apps and websites are always going to experience occasional disruptions due to the complexity of services they’re offering. But even when they’re brief, they can become a real problem due to the huge number of users many of these services have. A Facebook outage affects a suite of popular apps, and those apps collectively have billions of users who rely on them.

«

Obviously, this wouldn’t be a problem once all your money and transactions were tied up in a digital currency which relied on Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp to validate and carry them out. Outages would be a thing of the past. Of course. (Interestingly, Apple had a two-hour outage on a number of its iCloud services and Apple Pay on Thursday. Linked to Amazon?)

Related: this week the Talking Politics podcast discusses Libra, Facebook’s digital currency (isn’t really a cryptocurrency). Always worth listening.
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UK regulator proposes ban on crypto-based derivatives • Financial Times

Philip Stafford, Cat Rutter Pooley and Martin Coulter:

»

UK market regulators are planning to ban derivatives on cryptocurrencies for retail investors, warning it is “impossible” to value them reliably, and that trading them is “akin to gambling”.

A paper by the Financial Conduct Authority on Wednesday set out plans to prohibit the sale or marketing of derivatives linked to cryptoassets such as bitcoin and ethereum from early next year.

An 18-month study of the market by the watchdog concluded that cryptocurrencies could not be valued as easily as other volatile assets such as gold or orange juice.

In one example, the FCA found that two analysts using the same pricing model arrived, separately, at bitcoin valuations of $20 and $8,000. “This makes it impossible to reliably value the derivatives contracts . . . linked to them,” the paper said.

The ban would cover futures, options and exchange-traded notes, as well as contracts for difference — seemingly simple products that allow users to bet on whether prices will rise or fall. Consumers would avoid losses of £75m to £234m a year under the ban, the FCA said.

«

That’s also £75m-£234m that the scammers are going to try to get by other means, so watch out.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,103: why San Francisco’s techies hate it, will Boeing need bailing out?, voice’s slow takeoff, iOS13 fixes your gaze, and more


The Met Police’s facial recognition system might struggle with this lineup – but it does with people too. CC-licensed photo by Jason Hickey 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. Rings a bell. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘We all suffer’: why San Francisco techies hate the city they transformed • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

»

A frequent refrain among the more than a dozen tech workers who spoke to the Guardian for this article was that it is not so much the presence of have-nots that is ruining their experience of San Francisco, but an overabundance of haves.

“The housing crisis has a huge negative impact on quality of life because of who it excludes from living near you,” said Simon Willison, a software developer who moved to San Francisco from London five years ago. “When I visit other cities I’m always jealous of their income diversity: that people who have jobs that don’t provide a six-digit salary can afford to live and work and be happy.”

“Even though people think there is diversity in the city, there isn’t really,” said Adrianna Tan, a senior product manager at a tech startup who moved to San Francisco from Singapore. “Sure, you get people from all over the world, but the only ones who can move here now come from the same socio-economic class.”

“I feel like San Francisco is between Seattle and New York, but rather than the best of both, it’s the worst of both,” said Beth, a 24-year-old product manager who asked not to be identified by her real name. Beth moved to the city directly after graduating from Stanford to work at a major tech company, but recently transferred to Seattle. “Everyone I met was only interested in their jobs, and their jobs weren’t very interesting,” she said of her time in San Francisco. “I get it, you’re a developer for Uber, I’ve met a million of you.”

«

Fantastic article. Read it all.
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81% of ‘suspects’ flagged by Met’s police facial recognition technology innocent, independent report says • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe and Alexander J Martin:

»

Four out of five people identified by the Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition technology as possible suspects are innocent, according to an independent report.

Researchers found that the controversial system is 81% inaccurate – meaning that, in the vast majority of cases, it flagged up faces to police when they were not on a wanted list.

The force maintains its technology only makes a mistake in one in 1,000 cases – but it uses a different measurement to arrive at this conclusion.

The report, exclusively revealed by Sky News and The Guardian, raises “significant concerns” about Scotland Yard’s use of the technology, and calls for the facial recognition programme to be halted.

Citing a range of technical, operational and legal issues, the report concludes that it is “highly possible” the Met’s usage of the system would be found unlawful if challenged in court.

«

If you feel like doing some reading, here’s the full report. From the descriptions in it, the police are clearly fudging their figures.
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The coming Boeing bailout? • Matt Stoller

Matt Stoller writes about monopolies and industrial concentration:

»

Bad procurement is one reason (aside from military officials going into defense contracting work) why military products are often poor quality or deficient. For instance, the incredibly expensive joint strike fighter F-35 is a mess, and the Navy’s most expensive aircraft carrier, costing $13bn, was recently delivered without critical elevators to lift bombs into fighter jets. Much of this dynamic exists because of a lack of competition in contracting for major systems, a result of the consolidation [DoD official Bill] Perry pushed [on military contractors] in the early 1990s. Monopolies don’t have to produce good quality products, and often don’t.

At any rate, when McDonnell Douglas took over Boeing, the military procurement guys took over aerospace production and design. The company began a radical outsourcing campaign, done for political purposes. In defense production, plants went to influence Senators and Congressmen; in civilian production, Boeing started moving production to different countries in return for airline purchases from the national airlines.

Engineers immediately recognized this offshoring as a disaster in the making. In 2001, a Boeing employee named L. Hart Smith published a paper criticizing the business strategy behind offshoring production, noting that vital engineering tasks were being done in ways that seemed less costly but would end up destroying the company. He was quickly proved right.

«

A good view on what’s been going on at Boeing to make the 737 Max calamity inevitable.
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Alexa, is voice still the next big thing after mobile? • The Information

Priya Anand:

»

“I haven’t heard a mass market groundswell of consumers saying, ‘I will not buy Product X if it doesn’t have “Works with Google” or Alexa integration.’ It’s a feature and nice to have for a% of people,” said Niccolo de Masi, the chief innovation officer of Resideo, a maker of connected thermostats, security systems and other products. “It hasn’t tipped into being a mass market thing.”

Some companies have put Alexa, including the microphones and speakers necessary to communicate with the assistant, directly into their products. In January, Kohler, the manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom fixtures, unveiled an Alexa-enabled toilet that starts at $8,000—which will be available for purchase in 2020—with speakers and lights that can be controlled by voice commands. It also put Alexa into a $1,465 mirror, allowing people to “ask to adjust the lights to the ideal brightness for any grooming activity, play music, get the weather, tell a joke, and more,” as it says in an online brochure for the product.

A person familiar with Kohler’s sales figures said early demand for the mirror was below its expectations. That may partly be due to the fact that Amazon’s least expensive Alexa device, the Echo Dot, sells for a tiny fraction of the mirror. “They’re competing with a $30 device that’s being sold at cost and that’s really hard to do unless there’s some killer use case,” the person familiar with Kohler’s efforts said.

«

As Benedict Evans said some while back, the problem with voice is that it’s like the terminal line: it doesn’t show you what the affordances of the interface are. What can you say? How do you have to say it? What feedback does it give you on errors? If you’ve never used a terminal line, you won’t know the stark horror of facing the implacable blinking cursor and trying to work out how to coax it into life. But just imagine trying to work out how to order something different by voice, and you can see it.
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Amazon confirms it keeps your Alexa recordings basically forever • Ars Technica

Kate Cox:

»

Amazon has confirmed it hangs on to every conversation you’ve ever had with an Alexa-enabled device until or unless you specifically delete them.

That confirmation comes as a response to a list of questions Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sent to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in May expressing “concerns” about how Amazon uses and retains customers’ Alexa voice assistant data.

Amazon’s response to Coons, as first reported by CNET, confirms that the company keeps your data as long as it wants unless you deliberately specify otherwise.

“We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them,” Amazon said—but even then there are exceptions.

Amazon, as well as third parties that deploy “skills” on the Alexa platform, keep records of interactions customers have with Alexa, the company said. If, for example, you order a pizza, purchase digital content, summon a car from a ride-hailing service, or place an Amazon order, “Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction,” Amazon said, without clarifying the specific kind of data that’s in that record.

«

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Samsung Galaxy Fold: the foldable phone is about to launch • Bloomberg

Sam Kim and Sohee Kim:

»

Samsung Electronics Co. has completed a two-month redesign of the Galaxy Fold to fix embarrassing screen failures that forced its delay, people familiar with the matter say, allowing the Korean giant to debut its marquee smartphone in time for the crucial holiday season.

The world’s largest smartphone maker is now in the final stages of producing a commercial version but can’t yet pin down a date to begin sales, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified describing an internal effort. Samsung pulled the device after several publications including Bloomberg News reported problems with test versions, such as screen malfunctions that emerged after a film on the display was peeled off.

Korea’s biggest company is trying to move past yet another product faux pas. It has now stretched the protective film to wrap around the entire screen and flow into the outer bezels so it would be impossible to peel off by hand, said the people, who have seen the latest versions. It re-engineered the hinge, pushing it slightly upward from the screen (it’s now flush with the display) to help stretch the film further when the phone opens.

«

So the first Galaxy Fold that people buy will be the Galaxy Fold 2. All the people whothumped their money down for the first, unreleased, one should count themselves lucky. And still no date. I wonder if Huawei’s problems have eased the pressure on Samsung to get this out of the door.
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Apple’s iOS 13 update will make FaceTime eye contact way easier • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»

Apple has added a feature called “FaceTime Attention Correction” to the latest iOS 13 Developer beta, and it looks like it could make a big difference when it comes to actually making FaceTime calls feel even more like talking to someone in person. The feature, spotted in the third beta of the new software update that went out this week, apparently does a terrific job of making it look like you’re looking directly into the camera even when you’re looking at the screen during a FaceTime call.

That’s actually a huge improvement, because when people FaceTime, most of the time they’re looking at the screen rather than the camera, since the whole point is to see the person or people you’re talking to, rather than the small black lens at the top of your device.

The catch so far seems to be that this FaceTime feature is only available on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which could mean it only works with the latest camera tech available on Apple hardware.

«

Well, when it’s introduced it will work with the latest *and* last year’s phones, but anyway. It’s optional (you choose whether your eyes are redirected) and works, it seems, by making an augmented reality depth map of your face and adjusting where it shows your eyes. Finally, a use for AR! Though I saw a discussion on Twitter of whether this would lead to strange effects because you’d seem to be gazing at the other person all the time, which we interpret differently depending on our gender.
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iOS 13 beta 3 suggests new wired method for transferring data between devices • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

While looking into the code changes between iOS 13 beta 2 and iOS 13 beta 3, we noticed some new assets in the Setup app – which runs when you set up a new device for the first time or after a reset. These new assets could suggest that Apple is working on a new way to transfer data between devices.

Currently, when you set up a new iOS device, you can restore it from an iTunes backup or from an iCloud backup. The second option can be sped up by having another iOS device next to the new one, logged in to your Apple ID account. This allows your data to be transferred wirelessly.

New assets and strings found in iOS 13 beta 3 suggest Apple is working on a way to transfer data from another iOS device directly, using a cable. One of assets shows an image of two iPhones connected to each other using a cable. It’s unclear how this could be achieved exactly given that current iPhones feature a Lightning port and Apple does not offer a Lightning-to-Lightning cable.

«

Surprised he didn’t say “but you could with a USB-C to USB-C…” Still hard to figure out whether Apple is ready to move to USB-C for its phones, though. The Lightning port has a gigantic installed base (nearly a billion devices?) which only grows with time; while USB-C remains a hot, if slowly improving, mess.
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House lawmakers officially ask Facebook to put Libra cryptocurrency project on hold • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

»

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, hinted at a move like this last month shortly after the project was announced. Waters’s letter today, sent to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, and Calibra CEO David Marcus, formalizes that request from a few weeks ago. Aside from Waters, the letter is signed by House Finance’s subcommittee leaders.

“If products and services like these are left improperly regulated and without sufficient oversight, they could pose systemic risks that endanger U.S. and global financial stability,” Water writes. “These vulnerabilities could be exploited and obscured by bad actors, as other cryptocurrencies, exchanges, and wallets have been in the past.”

Skepticism of the project isn’t only couched in the Democrat-controlled House, either. Senate Banking Chair Mike Crapo (R-ID) scheduled a hearing with Marcus for July 16th, citing concerns over the currency and the potential risks for data privacy it poses. The following day, Waters’s committee will also hold a hearing on the project.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers as this process moves forward, including answering their questions at the upcoming House Financial Services Committee hearing,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Verge Tuesday.

«

Facebook won’t be able to answer their questions, because they have no idea of what systemic risks are really posed by having a billion people swapping in and out of local currencies via bigger ones; if it becomes big enough Libra could be a currency basket with heft enough to dampen other forex markets, and so big enough to determine market rates. But we don’t know. Facebook doesn’t know. Nobody knows.
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Demand grows for tiny phone chargers using ‘new silicon’ • Financial Times

Louise Lucas:

»

A tiny phone, tablet and laptop charger, the first to use gallium nitride rather than silicon chips, has seen sales four times greater than predicted, prompting the Chinese company behind it to try to ramp up production.

Anker, a Shenzhen-based company that specialises in computer and mobile phone accessories, unveiled a line of chargers using gallium nitride (GaN), which conducts electrons 1,000 times faster than silicon, in January.

The use of GaN allowed Anker to virtually halve the size of its charger, while retaining full-speed charging. Another Chinese-owned company, RAVPower, has also started using GaN in its chargers…

Raytheon, the US defence group, said in 2017 that it had spent $300m researching GaN since 1999. Like some of its peers, it uses the material in its active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, which are able to detect stealth fighters at long range.

«

Shamefully, I hadn’t heard of gallium nitride; it seems like the coming thing for high-power applications. But then there’s this, further down the story:

»

Bankers familiar with the deals have said these military applications were at least partly behind Washington’s move to block two bids by Chinese buyers to acquire companies with the technology, Philips’ lighting business and Aixtron, in 2016.

GaN also featured in an official inquiry into the death of 31-year-old engineer Shane Todd, who was found dead in his flat two days after leaving a job at the Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore, where he had been working on the development of GaN.

Several IME employees told the inquiry that the US engineer had been involved in a “potential project” between the IME and Huawei for the development of a GaN amplifier.

«

Todd’s death was a huge topic in 2013; he died in June 2012. Huawei’s revenues really jumped in 2015, two years later.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified