Start Up No.1,102: Europe’s heatwave is climate-driven, will Loon balloon?, 4shared shares too much, Facebook and YouTube battle cancer junk, and more

What if Superhuman isn’t such a nice product when it comes to everyone else’s email? CC-licensed photo by elycefeliz on Flickr.

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

Google internet balloon spinoff Loon still looking for its wings • Reuters

Paresh Dave:


Google’s bet on balloons to deliver cell service soon faces a crucial test amid doubts about the viability of the technology by some potential customers.

The company behind the effort, Loon says its balloons will reach Kenya in the coming weeks for its first commercial trial. The test with Telkom Kenya, the nation’s No. 3 carrier, will let mountain villagers buy 4G service at market-rate prices for an undefined period. Kenya’s aviation authority said its final approval would be signed this month.

Hatched in 2011, Loon aims to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world by floating solar-powered networking gear over areas where cell towers would be too expensive to build.

Its tennis-court-sized helium balloons have demonstrated utility. Over the last three years, Loon successfully let wireless carriers in Peru and Puerto Rico use balloons for free to supplant cell phone towers downed by natural disasters.

Kenyan officials are enthusiastic as they try to bring more citizens online.


Loon is still going? Perhaps the last remaining bonkers moonshot thing around.
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File-storage app 4shared caught serving invisible ads and making purchases without consent • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


With more than 100 million installs, file-sharing service 4shared is one of the most popular apps in the Android app store.

But security researchers say the app is secretly displaying invisible ads and subscribes users to paid services, racking up charges without the user’s knowledge — or their permission — collectively costing millions of dollars.

“It all happens in the background… nothing appears on the screen,” said Guy Krief, chief executive of London-based Upstream, which shared its research exclusively with TechCrunch.

The researchers say the app contains suspicious third-party code that allowed the app to automate clicks and make fraudulent purchases. They said the component, built by Hong Kong-based Elephant Data, downloads code which is “directly responsible” for generating the automated clicks without the user’s knowledge. The code also sets a cookie to determine if a device has previously been used to make a purchase, likely as a way to hide the activity.


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Rapid results in on climate change and the European heat wave • Ars Technica

Scott Johnson:


A team of climate scientists with an established method of rapidly analyzing extreme weather events like this has already taken a look at this heat wave. (The study has yet to be peer-reviewed but follows a protocol which has.) The team’s results give a good idea of the role of climate change in this heat wave.

The first question is how to define this weather event. The scientists decided to go with a human-health-relevant definition of the three-day mean temperature rather than a single daily high. They focused on June temperatures for the whole of France, as well as performing a local-scale analysis for just the city of Toulouse—where much of the team coincidentally happened to be attending a conference on weather extremes at the time.

The analyses look at both changes in past weather data and a host of climate-model simulations. In this case, the data shows a very large increase in heatwaves since the start of the 20th century. Based on the most recent data, this heat wave looks like it is approximately a 30-year event (meaning it has a probability of about 1 in 30 of occurring in a given year).

Around 1900, however, this would have been a much rarer event. The difference means it’s now roughly 100 times more likely to happen in our current, warmer climate. Put another way, the current 30-year heat wave event is a whopping 4°C or so hotter than what would have been a 30-year heat wave at the start of last century. These numbers came out pretty much the same for Toulouse and for France as a whole.


Putting more heat into the atmosphere is like putting your chips onto more numbers when you spin the roulette wheel. Your number’s more likely to come up. Not in a good way, though.
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Facebook, YouTube overrun with bogus cancer-treatment claims • WSJ

Daniela Hernandez and Robert McMillan:


Now, the companies say they are taking steps to curb such accounts. Facebook last month changed its News Feed algorithms to reduce promotion of posts promising miracle cures or flogging health services, a move that will reduce the number of times they pop up in user feeds, the company says. Some of the affected posts involve a supplement salesman who promotes baking-soda injections as part of cancer treatment.

“Misleading health content is particularly bad for our community,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the moves.

Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube has been cutting off advertising for bogus cancer-treatment channels, a spokesman said. It is working with medical doctors to identify content promoting unproven claims and medical conspiracy theories and has tweaked its algorithms to reduce the number of times these dubious videos are presented to users.

Facebook and YouTube detailed their recent actions on cancer-related content after the Journal presented them with its findings. Widespread misinformation sometimes appeared alongside ads, videos or pages for proven treatments, the Journal found.


Once again, news organisations have to function as the moderator for these networks. It repeats and repeats and repeats.
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Apple to launch tailored iPhone for China: report • Global Times

Huang Ge:


Apple Inc will launch a new iPhone tailored for Chinese consumers, media reports said on Monday, a move that industry insiders said showed the US technology giant’s urgency to arrest a sales decline in the domestic market due to mounting cost pressure from the China-US trade war.

The new phone will reportedly remove Face ID, the facial recognition system for the iPhone, and instead employ an under-display fingerprint function, news site reported, citing sources on the upstream industry supply chain. An industry insider revealed that this is likely to “save on costs.” 

A structured light laser emitter, the major component of Face ID, would cost several hundred yuan, said a Beijing-based representative who preferred to be anonymous. He told the Global Times on Monday that “only Apple can afford it but that would also affect its sales.”

Apple declined to comment when reached by the Global Times on Monday.

Apple has lost many Chinese users who prefer smartphones priced at around 5,000 yuan ($731), indicated by an increase in purchases of local brands including Huawei, OPPO and Vivo.

Huawei shipped the largest number of phones in the Chinese market with a 34% share in the first quarter, followed by Vivo with 19%, OPPO with 18%, Xiaomi with 12% and Apple with 9%, showed data from the global industry consultancy Counterpoint Research. 


First time I’ve heard this rumour. It would be a break from using FaceID, but the price difference might be attractive for Apple and for users. And under-screen fingerprint readers are popular in China.
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Superhuman is Spying on You » Mike Industries

Mike Davidson has been using Superhuman – you know, the $30 per month email service that does it all for you – for a while:


when I see great design, I proactively try to spread it as far and wide as possible.

What I see in Superhuman though is a company that has mistaken taking advantage of people for good design. They’ve identified a feature that provides value to some of their customers (i.e. seeing if someone has opened your email yet) and they’ve trampled the privacy of every single person they send email to in order to achieve that. Superhuman never asks the person on the other end if they are OK with sending a read receipt (complete with timestamp and geolocation). Superhuman never offers a way to opt out. Just as troublingly, Superhuman teaches its user to surveil by default. I imagine many users sign up for this, see the feature, and say to themselves “Cool! Read receipts! I guess that’s one of the things my $30 a month buys me.”

When products are introduced into the market with behaviors like this, customers are trained to think they are not just legal but also ethical. They don’t always take the next step and ask themselves “wait, should I be doing this?” It’s kind of like if you walked by someone’s window at night and saw them naked. You could do one of two things: a) look away and get out of there, realizing you saw something that person wouldn’t want you to see, or b) keep staring, because if they really didn’t want anyone to see them, they should have closed their blinds. It’s two ways of looking at the world, and Superhuman is not just allowing for option B but actively causing it to happen.


Tracking pixels like that aren’t unique to Superhuman; PR companies use them all the time, and others too. But that’s different, as Davidson explains. He deals with peoples’ responses in his blogpost (including one from an investor in Superhuman), and its legal boilerplate. In short: Superhuman has been milkshake ducked.
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Chinese border guards put secret surveillance app on tourists’ phones • The Guardian

Hilary Osborne:


The Chinese government has curbed freedoms in the province for the local Muslim population, installing facial recognition cameras on streets and in mosques and reportedly forcing residents to download software that searches their phones.

An investigation by the Guardian and international partners has found that travellers are being targeted when they attempt to enter the region from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

Border guards are taking their phones and secretly installing an app that extracts emails, texts and contacts, as well as information about the handset itself.

Tourists say they have not been warned by authorities in advance or told about what the software is looking for, or that their information is being taken.

The investigation, with partners including Süddeutsche Zeitung and the New York Times, has found that people using the remote Irkeshtam border crossing into the country are routinely having their phones screened by guards.

Edin Omanović, of the campaign group Privacy International, described the findings as “highly alarming in a country where downloading the wrong app or news article could land you in a detention camp”.

Analysis by the Guardian, academics and cybersecurity experts suggests the app, designed by a Chinese company, searches Android phones against a huge list of content that the authorities view as problematic.


For iPhones, they’re plugged into a reader which scans them. On Android, the app is removed before the phone is given back – but not always. A pervasive connected device means pervasive surveillance.
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China silences podcast and music apps as online crackdown widens • TechCrunch

Rita Liao:


Audio apps are flying high in China. In 2018, online listeners in the country grew 22.1% to surpass 400 million, at a rate far exceeding that of the mobile video and e-reading populations, according to market researcher iiMedia.

But the fledgling sector is taking a hit. On Friday, a total of 26 audio-focused apps were ordered to terminate, suspend services, or have talks with regulators as they were investigated and deemed to have spread “historical nihilism” and “pornography,” according to a notice posted by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The clampdown has, in a way, been foreshadowed by a recent attack of user-generated audio content. Last month, Apple restricted Chinese users from accessing podcasts that aren’t hosted by its local partners, effectively preventing those with a Chinese Apple account from consuming content unchecked by Chinese censors.


Easy to forget this is happening all the time too.
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Endless AI-generated spam risks clogging up Google’s search results • The Verge

James Vincent:


Just take a look at this blog post answering the question: “What Photo Filters are Best for Instagram Marketing?” At first glance it seems legitimate, with a bland introduction followed by quotes from various marketing types. But read a little more closely and you realize it references magazines, people, and — crucially — Instagram filters that don’t exist:


You might not think that a mumford brush would be a good filter for an Insta story. Not so, said Amy Freeborn, the director of communications at National Recording Technician magazine. Freeborn’s picks include Finder (a blue stripe that makes her account look like an older block of pixels), Plus and Cartwheel (which she says makes your picture look like a topographical map of a town.


The rest of the site is full of similar posts, covering topics like “How to Write Clickbait Headlines” and “Why is Content Strategy Important?” But every post is AI-generated, right down to the authors’ profile pictures. It’s all the creation of content marketing agency Fractl, who says it’s a demonstration of the “massive implications” AI text generation has for the business of search engine optimization, or SEO.

“Because [AI systems] enable content creation at essentially unlimited scale, and content that humans and search engines alike will have difficulty discerning […] we feel it is an incredibly important topic with far too little discussion currently,” Fractl partner Kristin Tynski tells The Verge.

To write the blog posts, Fractl used an open source tool named Grover, made by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence. Tynski says the company is not using AI to generate posts for clients, but that this doesn’t mean others won’t.


I’m only slightly surprised nobody has realised this earlier. (Of course the AI-generated blogpost has an AI-generated author pic.) Google must be having meetings about how to tackle it, because it’s surely only a few months away. Philip K Dick’s world of computer-written newspapers feels very close.
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We’re closing the upload beta program. Here’s what artists need to know • Spotify


Almost a year ago, we started to beta test a feature that lets independent artists upload their music directly to Spotify. Today, we notified participating artists about our decision to close the beta program, along with how we can help them migrate their music to other distributors over the next month.

The insights and feedback we received from artists in the beta led us to believe:

The most impactful way we can improve the experience of delivering music to Spotify for as many artists and labels as possible is to lean into the great work our distribution partners are already doing to serve the artist community. Over the past year, we’ve vastly improved our work with distribution partners to ensure metadata quality, protect artists from infringement, provide their users with instant access to Spotify for Artists, and more.

The best way for us to serve artists and labels is to focus our resources on developing tools in areas where Spotify can uniquely benefit them — like Spotify for Artists (which more than 300,000 creators use to gain new insight into their audience) and our playlist submission tool (which more than 36,000 artists have used to get playlisted for the very first time since it launched a year ago). We have a lot more planned here in the coming months.


Two possible reasons why: 1) it was being used to scam Spotify through songs of minimal length which were then farmed out to bots to “listen” to, thus earning scammers money; 2) record labels didn’t like the idea of being cut out of their normal business. Preventing 1) while trying to make the people in 2) happy probably made Spotify decide that junking it altogether was simpler.

Side note: the URL for this blogpost is the first I recall encountering with an apostrophe. (Take a look.) They’re pretty uncommon in English-language (and for all I know all ASCII) sites.
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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.1,101: Evernote’s long goodbye, climate change 30 years on, the racists in the CBP, Cue and Ive and Apple, and more

The current Mac Pro (the new one isn’t on sale yet): a Jony Ive design, or his team? CC-licensed photo by Steve Garfield 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. There you go. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A unicorn lost in the Valley, Evernote blows up the ‘fail fast’ gospel • The New York Times

Erin Griffith:


In Silicon Valley, the idea that most start-ups won’t make it to a splashy public offering or acquisition is not just understood, but embraced. “Fail fast, fail often” is one of the region’s earliest and best-recognized catchphrases. The implication is that people and companies that don’t find success can transition, efficiently and without stigma, to more promising ventures. But Evernote’s struggles illustrate a harsher truth: For many start-ups of a certain size, failure rarely happens abruptly.

More often, after early momentum wanes, the missteps and bad press accumulate until a company enters a slow, difficult rehabilitation that stretches on for years. But in and around San Francisco, no one likes to talk about getting stuck in start-up purgatory. Once venture capital investors have sunk in considerable sums, they’re willing to let struggling companies flounder for years on the off chance they hit on something big. “They’re not in it for a break-even or a slight loss or a slight gain,” said Jeffrey Cohen, a bankruptcy lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler. “They’re willing to let it ride a little longer to see whether it explodes.”

It’s a common trap for the most recent generation of start-ups, which has been marked by the proliferation of “unicorns” worth $1bn or more. For fledgling companies, taking enough investor money to become one of these magical ungulates was supposed to show customers, employees and the world that they were sure bets — that they were too special and big and valuable to fail. But many companies that chased three-comma valuations are now stuck trying to live up to almost impossible expectations.


Marvellous depiction of the slow slide into obscurity. Everything dies, even startups.
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Microsoft’s Ebook apocalypse shows the dark side of DRM • WIRED

Brian Barrett:


Microsoft made the announcement in April that it would shutter the Microsoft Store’s books section for good. The company had made its foray into ebooks in 2017, as part of a Windows 10 Creators Update that sought to round out the software available to its Surface line. Relegated to Microsoft’s Edge browser, the digital bookstore never took off. As of April 2, it halted all ebook sales. And starting as soon as this week, it’s going to remove all purchased books from the libraries of those who bought them…

Microsoft will refund customers in full for what they paid, plus an extra $25 if they made annotations or markups. But that provides only the coldest comfort.

“On the one hand, at least people aren’t out the money that they paid for these books. But consumers exchange money for goods because they preferred the goods to the money. That’s what happens when you buy something,” says Aaron Perzanowski, professor at the Case Western University School of Law and coauthor of The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to cover the harm that’s been done to consumers.”

Presumably not many people purchased ebooks from Microsoft; that’s why it’s pulling the plug in the first place. But anyone who did now potentially has to go find those same books again on a new platform, buy them again, and maybe even find a new device to read them on. For certain types of readers, particularly lawyers and academics, markups and annotations can be worth far more than $25. And even if none of that were the case, the move rankles on principle alone.


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Electric cars grab almost half of sales in oil-producing Norway • Reuters


Almost half of new cars sold in Norway in the first six months of 2019 were powered by fully electric engines, up from just over a quarter in the same period last year, ensuring the Nordic nation retains its top global ranking in electric vehicle sales.

Tesla’s Model 3 was Norway’s top-selling vehicle, the Norwegian Road Federation (NRF) said when announcing the latest sales data on Monday.

In total, 48.4% of all new cars sold from January to June were electric, surpassing the 31.2% seen for the full year 2018, and making oil-producing Norway the global leader in per-capita electric car sales by a wide margin.


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California was warned about climate change 30 years ago. Now it’s feeling the effects • Los Angeles Times

Julia Rosen:


Back in 1989, Californians received a sobering warning: The accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere would likely bring more droughts, floods, fires, and heat waves to the state.

In the thirty years since, those projections of what would happen in a warming world have proven to be remarkably prescient.

“We’ve already observed some of the things we expected in 1989,” said Susan Fischer Wilhelm, a research manager at the California Energy Commission, the agency that compiled the report.

The assessment laid the groundwork for what has arguably become the country’s most ambitious effort to address global warming.

But to many who worked on the report, looking back on it now only underscores how long we’ve waited to act — and how much time has been wasted.

“I felt a sense of pride of being able to participate in something like this, but also a sense of regret for us as a society,” said Les Baxter, who worked on the report as a policy analyst at the CEC and is now vice president of program strategy for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

“We’ve known what we need to do and we just keep refusing to do it.”

The report might have remained lost to history if Gary Estes hadn’t been going through boxes in his garage last year and stumbled upon a copy.


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Huawei reprieve: what happens next? • CNBC

Kate Fazzini:


The White House and Commerce Department haven’t yet clarified whether the policy will affect Huawei’s use of Google’s Android operating system on many of its mobile devices, or Microsoft’s Windows operating system on its computers.

But a Microsoft spokesperson said the company made “an initial evaluation” of the Commerce Department decision on Huawei and will “to continue to offer Microsoft software updates to customers with Huawei devices.”

“We’re still providing Windows software updates to customers with Huawei laptops,” the spokesperson said.

Google did not immediately respond to comment, and a Huawei spokesperson said the company “had no further details at this time.”


OK fine so you’re all as confused as the rest of us. Good to know.
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Inside the secret Border Patrol Facebook group where agents joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes • ProPublica

A.C. Thompson:


ProPublica received images of several recent discussions in the 10-15 Facebook group and was able to link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas. ProPublica has so far been unable to reach the group members who made the postings.

ProPublica contacted three spokespeople for CBP in regard to the Facebook group and provided the names of three agents who appear to have participated in the online chats. CBP hasn’t yet responded.

“These comments and memes are extremely troubling,” said Daniel Martinez, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who studies the border. “They’re clearly xenophobic and sexist.”

The postings, in his view, reflect what “seems to be a pervasive culture of cruelty aimed at immigrants within CBP. This isn’t just a few rogue agents or ‘bad apples.’”


In Trump’s administration, that sort of thing will make them more, not less, employable. A reminder: dehumanising fellow human beings is a key step towards fascism.
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Jony Ive is leaving Apple, but his departure started long ago • WSJ

Tripp Mickle says that this story follows conversations over “more than a year” with people who worked with Ive and “people close to” Apple’s leadership:


Mr. Ive had been growing more distant from Apple’s leadership, say people close to the company. Mr. Jobs’s protégé—and Apple’s closest thing to a living embodiment of his spirit—grew frustrated inside a more operations-focused company led by Chief Executive Tim Cook.

Mr. Ive, 52, withdrew from routine management of Apple’s elite design team, leaving it rudderless, increasingly inefficient, and ultimately weakened by a string of departures, people close to the company say.

The internal drama explains a lot about Apple’s dilemma. Its one major new product of the post-Jobs era, the Apple Watch, made its debut five years ago. Its iPhone business is faltering, and more recent releases like its wireless AirPods haven’t been enough to shore up falling sales. It hasn’t had a megahit new product since the iPad that started selling in 2010…

…At a meeting with members of the watch team, [Ive] thanked them for their work, and said 2014 had been one of his most challenging years at Apple. The company sold about 10 million units in the first year, a quarter of what Apple forecast, a person familiar with the matter said. Thousands of the gold [Edition] version went unsold.


There’s a terrific podcast hosted by John Gruber, guest Ben Thompson, which runs over Ive’s importance and the questions that arise over his leaving. Gruber has the contacts, Thompson has the insight. (Hardware matters less at the modern Apple than in the past, for example.) The feeling is that Ive, like Jobs, wants to leave a permanent mark on the world. Apple Park – his last design job at Apple – is definitely a start.

What’s odd is if Mickle had been talking to people for a year, why he didn’t write it a week ago, before the announcement? Though sometimes the story only emerges in retrospect. But such fascinating questions: did Ive drive the design of the “trashcan” Mac Pro? Of the AirPods? Of the new Mac Pro? (Probably not.) The butterfly keyboard? Where do we discern the end of his reign?
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Can Apple hack it in Hollywood? We talk to the man behind Apple TV+ • British GQ

Stuart McGurk:


Cue himself is something of an Apple lifer, having joined the company in 1989. It was Steve Jobs who spotted his potential and over the years Cue has been responsible for everything from creating the App Store to the acquisition of Beats Audio.

What are his main memories of Jobs?

“Someone I loved dearly as a friend. So when you ask that question to me it’s a personal question. He was obviously an incredible boss. I had the greatest mentor in the world.”

Cue says he didn’t realise it at the time – “I was young” – but that one of the greatest things to happen to Apple was Jobs getting fired in 1985 by then-CEO John Sculley.

“Because when he came back, one of the things that he wanted to do is create a company that would outlast him and could live for hundreds of years.”

He was really thinking in terms of centuries?

“He absolutely was. And he put people in place and created a culture that he thought would do that. But obviously he was taken way too early. I figured I’d be walking out of Apple the same day he was walking out of Apple.”

He does not much rate the portraits of Jobs that have appeared since, not least the biography by Walter Isaacson and the film, Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin.

“No. Terrible. They’re not true. Most of the stories are just not accurate. They’re just not accurate. And I think they missed the boat on Steve. They don’t capture in my mind the real Steve. There’s a good book called Becoming Steve Jobs, which I think is the best book. It captures good, bad, fun, pain, emotions, all of it. That’s better than anything I’ve seen. So I’d encourage you to read that.”


Lots of good stuff in this interview; Cue denies the story that Cook (or he) passed “notes” on the content of the proposed TV dramas. Doesn’t deny he might have fallen asleep in a meeting. And more.
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The Pentagon has a laser that can identify people from a distance—by their heartbeat • MIT Technology Review

David Hambling:


A new device, developed for the Pentagon after US Special Forces requested it, can identify people without seeing their face: instead it detects their unique cardiac signature with an infrared laser. While it works at 200 meters (219 yards), longer distances could be possible with a better laser. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space,” says Steward Remaly, of the Pentagon’s Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office, “but longer ranges should be possible.”

Contact infrared sensors are often used to automatically record a patient’s pulse. They work by detecting the changes in reflection of infrared light caused by blood flow. By contrast, the new device, called Jetson, uses a technique known as laser vibrometry to detect the surface movement caused by the heartbeat. This works though typical clothing like a shirt and a jacket (though not thicker clothing such as a winter coat)…

…Cardiac signatures are already used for security identification. The Canadian company Nymi has developed a wrist-worn pulse sensor as an alternative to fingerprint identification. The technology has been trialed by the Halifax building society in the UK.


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America’s teenagers skew a lot more conservative than most people realize, and they get most of their news from Instagram • Business Insider

Kate Taylor:


It is tempting to see the teens and young 20-somethings of Generation Z as a united, progressive force, rising up to challenge a divided country. The reality is more complicated.

While Gen Z is united on some issues, including climate change and legalizing marijuana, political rifts remain.

Social media, including Instagram, one of the most popular places for Gen Z to get political news, is helping deepen and amplify these divisions, sparking concerns in some young Americans that the country is simply entering a new era of political strife.

One of the biggest differences about Gen Z, according to experts and members of the generation, is the role social media plays in shaping beliefs.

Social media is the top way Gen Z finds out about news, with 59% of respondents listing it as a top news source in Business Insider’s poll of more than 1,800 people between the ages of 13 and 21. The national poll was conducted with SurveyMonkey Audience partner Cint on behalf of Business Insider. It ran January 11-14.

More than half the people surveyed said they checked Snap, YouTube, or Instagram daily.

Parkland survivors, for example, organized and amplified their message on social media. Gonzales has more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter, while a Twitter campaign by Parkland survivor David Hogg helped persuade more than a dozen advertisers to slash ties with Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

But for most Gen Zers, Instagram, not Twitter, reigns supreme. About 65% of respondents said they checked it daily, with many Gen Zers citing it as a major source for political news specifically.


Political news from Instagram? This is one of those moments when you suddenly think you’ve woken up in someone else’s novel. (“Gen Z” are those born in this century.)
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How Amazon and the cops set up an elaborate sting operation that accomplished nothing • VICE

Caroline Haskins:


For Amazon, fear is good for business.

If customers fear their neighbors, and fear they might steal a package, customers are less likely to be mad at Amazon if they don’t get a package they ordered. They’re also more likely to buy an Amazon-owned Ring doorbell camera, which is marketed as way of surveilling your stoop for package deliveries and package thieves—especially on Neighbors, the Ring-owned “neighborhood watch” app.

New documents obtained by Motherboard using a Freedom of Information request show how Amazon, Ring, a GPS tracking company, and the US Postal Inspection Service collaborated on a package sting operation with the Aurora, Colorado Police Department in December. The operation involved equipping fake Amazon packages with GPS trackers, and surveilling doorsteps with Ring doorbell cameras in an effort to catch someone stealing a package on tape.

The documents show the design and implementation of a highly elaborate public relations stunt, which was designed both to endear Amazon and Ring with local law enforcement, and to make local residents fear the place they live. The parties were disappointed when the operation didn’t result in any arrests.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,100: the Huawei un-ban puzzle, 5G’s infrastructure problem, how Uber worsens congestion and pollution, ‘kayfabe’ and Trump, and more

A new research technique uses pixel differences to detect or prevent deepfakes. CC-licensed photo by Dorian 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. Maybe it’s your eyesight? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Detecting deepfakes by looking closely reveals a way to protect against them • The Conversation

Siwei Lyu is Professor of Computer Science and the director of the Computer Vision and Machine Learning Lab at the University at Albany, State University of New York:


Some of my research group’s earlier work allowed us to detect deepfake videos that did not include a person’s normal amount of eye blinking – but the latest generation of deepfakes has adapted, so our research has continued to advance.

Now, our research can identify the manipulation of a video by looking closely at the pixels of specific frames. Taking one step further, we also developed an active measure to protect individuals from becoming victims of deepfakes.

In two recent (1) research papers (2), we described ways to detect deepfakes with flaws that can’t be fixed easily by the fakers.

When a deepfake video synthesis algorithm generates new facial expressions, the new images don’t always match the exact positioning of the person’s head, or the lighting conditions, or the distance to the camera. To make the fake faces blend into the surroundings, they have to be geometrically transformed – rotated, resized or otherwise distorted. This process leaves digital artifacts in the resulting image.

You may have noticed some artifacts from particularly severe transformations. These can make a photo look obviously doctored, like blurry borders and artificially smooth skin. More subtle transformations still leave evidence, and we have taught an algorithm to detect it, even when people can’t see the differences…

…As we develop this algorithm, we hope to be able to apply it to any images that someone is uploading to social media or another online site. During the upload process, perhaps, they might be asked, “Do you want to protect the faces in this video or image against being used in deepfakes?” If the user chooses yes, then the algorithm could add the digital noise, letting people online see the faces but effectively hiding them from algorithms that might seek to impersonate them.


Explained, of course, with videos.
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Kudlow: US sales to Huawei won’t imperil national security • The New York Times

Associated Press:


[White House economics adviser Larry] Kudlow told “Fox News Sunday” and CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Huawei will remain on an American blacklist as a potential security threat. He stressed that additional US licensing “will be for what we call general merchandise, not national security sensitive,” such as chips and software generally available around the world.

“What’s happening now is simply a loosening up for general merchandise,” Kudlow said. “This is not a general amnesty.”

Trump made the announcement Saturday after meeting with China’s Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Japan. Trump said US companies could make the sales if the transactions don’t present a “great, national emergency problem.”

Several Republican senators immediately expressed concerns. In a tweet Saturday, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called the decision a “catastrophic mistake.” Sen. Lindsey Graham [Republican, South Carolina], told CBS that Trump’s agreement was “clearly a concession,” and also said it would be a mistake if sales to Huawei involved “major technology.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., described the Chinese company as a clear threat to US national security. “To me, Huawei in the United States would be like a Trojan horse ready to steal more information from us,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”


The reversal on Huawei was predictable enough – Trump doesn’t do anything on principle, even when everyone around him knows that something should be done on principle – but this is just baffling. American companies were banned from selling to Huawei, and it looked like it would cripple the Chinese company. So is Google still on the banned list, given that its products aren’t generally available?
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The downside of 5G: overwhelmed cities, torn-up streets, a decade until completion • WSJ

Christopher Mims:


5G networks don’t work like previous wireless cellular networks. Where 2G, 3G and even 4G rely on large towers with powerful antennas that can cover many square miles, the shorter-range, higher-frequency radio waves used by 5G networks—essential to their ability to deliver the 10- to 100-times faster speeds they promise—mean that 5G networks must have small cells placed much closer together.

Typically these small cells must be placed about 800 to 1,000 feet apart, says AT+T’s Ms. Knight. Small-cell antennas are typically the size of a pizza box, but can be much larger, and require both a fiber-optic connection to the internet and access to power. They go wherever there’s space: on buildings, new 5G-ready telephone poles and, often, retrofitted lampposts.

In 2018, the US had 349,344 cell sites, according to CTIA, a wireless industry trade organization. The organization estimates that—to achieve full 5G coverage—carriers will have to roll out an additional 769,000 small cells by 2026.

This rollout could mean three or four different carriers will be arriving at your street, each trying separately to dig to bury fiber. (And yes, fiber-optic cable almost always has to be buried.)


Terrific piece about the real-world implications of getting this done. The implication (to me at least) is that rural areas will be unlikely to see 5G: its range is too short and the cost disproportionate to the benefits it can provide compared to 4G, with its greater range.
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GrubHub is buying up thousands of restaurant web addresses. That means Mom and Pop can’t own their slice of the internet • New Food Economy

H. Claire Brown:


Grubhub purchased three different domains containing versions of Shivane’s restaurant’s name—in 2012, 2013, and 2014. “I never gave them permission to do that,” she says. 

Shivane believes GrubHub purchased her restaurant’s web domain to prevent her from building her own online presence. She also believes the company may have had a special interest in owning her name because she processes a high volume of orders. She rattles off a list of names of local restaurants that she suspects may be in the same predicament. I find versions of about half those names on the list of GrubHub-owned domains. 

Additionally, it appears GrubHub has set up several generic, templated pages that look like real restaurant websites but in fact link only to GrubHub. These pages also display phone numbers that GrubHub controls. The calls are forwarded to the restaurant, but the platform records each one and charges the restaurant a commission fee for every order, according to testimony from GrubHub executives at a hearing at New York City Hall on Thursday. This happens on the GrubHub platform itself, too. The phone numbers you see displayed in the app typically aren’t a restaurant’s actual phone number, they’re the numbers that GrubHub uses to make sure it’s getting its commission. 


GrubHub says it’s doing it as a service to restaurants: “we have created microsites for them as another source of orders and to increase their online brand presence. Additionally, we have registered domains on their behalf, consistent with our restaurant contracts.” But now has stopped doing it. Odd.
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‘Empty’ Uber cabs driving pollution and congestion • The Sunday Times

Nicholas Hellen:


Uber was launched in Britain with a promise that its smart technology, which matches passengers with the nearest vehicle for hire, would reduce traffic.

In 2014 Travis Kalanick, then its chief executive, told the Institute of Directors: “In our current model here in London there are 7½ cars taken off the road for every fully utilised Uber that is on the road.”

But James Farrar, a former Uber driver who obtained the figures after a two-year legal battle, said they provided hard evidence that the company’s approach added to congestion.

“They are competing on immediacy and availability and they do not carry any of the costs [of buying the cars]. That is going to lead to oversupply. You will cause congestion and these drivers will not have enough work.”

The figures, which tracked three drivers for a combined 7,500 hours, confirm that when they are looking for their next job they do not park, but typically spend 94% of their time cruising the streets, to maximise their chances of being offered another passenger.

David Dunn, 58, one of the three drivers, said he quit driving for Uber in Glasgow because he was having to work 80-hour weeks to recoup the £37,000 that he had spent on a car.


This doesn’t of course show how much of the time non-Uber taxis spend noodling around looking for trade, but it seems reasonable to think that if there are fewer taxis available, they spend less time not carrying passengers. Given that, maybe you’d want a licensing authority to mandate a maximum number of cars at some times, or that a certain proportion be electric (though that won’t help congestion), or similar. It’s the same story in the US.
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Inside Apple’s long goodbye to design chief Jony Ive • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


He was in charge of a roughly two-dozen person design team that included artists whose passions extended to the development of surfboards, cars, and even DJing on weekends. Many of their spouses worked as designers, too…

…some people familiar with Apple are already worried about the new design leadership. Now that Ive is officially leaving, longtime studio manager Evans Hankey will run the hardware design group, Apple said. Hankey is a great team leader, but Apple now lacks a true design brain on its executive team, which is a concern, a person familiar with the design team said.

Hankey and Dye will report to Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. While Williams is a talented executive, some people familiar with matter believe the shift is another sign of Apple becoming more of an operations company. Apple declined to comment.

“The design team is made up of the most creative people, but now there is an operations barrier that wasn’t there before,” one former Apple executive said. “People are scared to be innovative.”

…The design team is taking on this challenge without veteran members. Christopher Stringer and Daniele De Iuliis, a pair of key Ive lieutenants, kicked off the departures a few years ago, with Daniel Coster leaving to lead design at GoPro in 2016. The team lost three members in the past six months: Julian Hoenig, Rico Zorkendorfer and Miklu Silvanto.

While each Apple designer specializes in specific product lines, they all contribute to each other’s products and plans. That means losing an individual designer is still a big deal, a former Apple executive said. “The design studio has no secrets,” this person said. “They all know what each other is working on.”


It’s definitely worth re-reading the New Yorker article from 2015 about Ive in the light of this announcement. It makes it feel a lot different. I didn’t think that Steve Jobs leaving Apple was the catastrophe some did. But Apple without Jobs and Ive isn’t the same beast.
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Publishers says Apple is changing Apple News Plus, its subscription bundle • Business Insider

Lucia Moses:


publishers have had mixed views on Plus so far. Some saw it as a way to reap revenue from Apple’s massive customer base as many of them struggle to grow ad revenue. (Apple is sharing half of the revenue with publishers based on how much time users spend with the given publishers’ content, knowledgeable sources said.) The Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Vox, and TheSkimm, opted in, as did Business Insider. Big magazine chains including Hearst, Meredith, and Condé Nast are also participating in the bundle, but are contractually obligated to do so as former owners of the app, according to sources.

Some publishers had concerns that the bundle would not produce meaningful revenue and that it would cannibalize their own subscription businesses, though. Major subscription publications The New York Times and Washington Post opted out of the bundle.

Apple gave away Plus for free for the first month, and in its first two days, it reportedly had about 200,000 subscribers, which is about what Texture had. But three months in, publishing execs who spoke for this article said the subscription revenue they’d gotten from the service was underwhelming based on two months of data after the trial ended.

One publishing exec said Apple projected publishers would get 10 times the revenue they made from Texture at the end of Apple News Plus’ first year. “It’s one twentieth of what they said,” the exec said. “It isn’t coming true.”


Got to admit, I don’t open Apple News (the app) from one month’s end to the next. The fact that it defines links using its own URL schema is almost worse than Google’s AMP. There are better news aggregators.
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April 2017: How wrestling explains Alex Jones and Donald Trump • The New York Times

Nick Rogers, in April 2017:


Although the etymology of the word is a matter of debate, for at least 50 years “kayfabe” has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined.

To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage brawl was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. You may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast whether he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car. The artifice is not only understood but appreciated: The performer cares enough about the viewer’s emotions to want to influence them. Kayfabe isn’t about factual verifiability; it’s about emotional fidelity.

Although their athleticism is impressive, skilled wrestlers captivate because they do what sociologists call “emotional labor” — the professional management of other people’s feelings. Diners expect emotional labor from their servers, Hulkamaniacs demand it from their favorite performer, and a whole lot of voters desire it from their leaders.

The aesthetic of World Wrestling Entertainment seems to be spreading from the ring to the world stage. Ask an average Trump supporter whether he or she thinks the president actually plans to build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it, and you might get an answer that boils down to, “I don’t think so, but I believe so.” That’s kayfabe. Chants of “Build the Wall” aren’t about erecting a structure; they’re about how cathartic it feels, in the moment, to yell with venom against a common enemy.


“Kayfabe” feels as though it describes quite a lot of politics right now. But definitely Trump.
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Boeing’s 737 Max software outsourced to $9-an-hour engineers • Bloomberg

Peter Robison:


Increasingly, the iconic American planemaker and its subcontractors have relied on temporary workers making as little as $9 an hour to develop and test software, often from countries lacking a deep background in aerospace – notably India.

In offices across from Seattle’s Boeing Field, recent college graduates employed by the Indian software developer HCL Technologies Ltd. occupied several rows of desks, said Mark Rabin, a former Boeing software engineer who worked in a flight-test group that supported the Max.

The coders from HCL were typically designing to specifications set by Boeing. Still, “it was controversial because it was far less efficient than Boeing engineers just writing the code,” Rabin said. Frequently, he recalled, “it took many rounds going back and forth because the code was not done correctly.”

Boeing’s cultivation of Indian companies appeared to pay other dividends. In recent years, it has won several orders for Indian military and commercial aircraft, such as a $22bn one in January 2017 to supply SpiceJet Ltd. That order included 100 737-Max 8 jets and represented Boeing’s largest order ever from an Indian airline, a coup in a country dominated by Airbus.

Based on resumes posted on social media, HCL engineers helped develop and test the Max’s flight-display software, while employees from another Indian company, Cyient Ltd., handled software for flight-test equipment.

In one post, an HCL employee summarized his duties with a reference to the now-infamous model, which started flight tests in January 2016: “Provided quick workaround to resolve production issue which resulted in not delaying flight test of 737-Max (delay in each flight test will cost very big amount for Boeing).”


Boeing says those programmers didn’t do the MCAS software that’s blamed for the crashes. There seems to be a deeper problem at Boeing, dumping its institutional memory (experienced staff) on the basis that its products are “mature”.
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Amazon’s facial recognition creates dystopic future for trans and nonbinary people • Jezebel

Dhruv Mehrotra and Anna Merlan:


We reached out to all the companies using Rekognition for facial analysis as listed on Amazon’s information page for the product. Only two got back to us in a meaningful way. One was Limbik, a startup that uses machine learning to help companies understand whether their videos are being watched, and by who. They told us that Amazon’s binary gender settings posed a problem for them: “We have noticed this as an issue for us, as the better we can tag videos with proper tags the more accurate we can be with predictions and improvement recommendations. It would be best if we could get this type of information as it would help us categorize videos better and help with prediction.”

Without that information, Limbik added, they have to specify to customers what their analysis, using Rekognition, does and doesn’t do. “Since Rekognition only returns a binary value for gender, we have to make sure that, to customers, we specify that it is biological sex that is examined and not gender specifically and that it isn’t perfect. We have internal conversations about this issue and have discussed remedies but as we can have upwords of 1000 tags connected to a video coming from other Rekognition services, our internal tagging methods, manual human tagging and other methods, we haven’t found a good way to address this.”


Umm. The thing is, the recognition system is making determinations based on the shape of the face, which is sex-chromosome-determined, not gender-determined. To use a broad metaphor, it’s about where you were born, not what town you live in now. Nowhere in the story is this acknowledged, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified