Start Up No.1,123: Greenland’s dangerous melt, wanting a WhatsApp black door, Chrome breaks the paywalls, Samsung stays big, and more


Fitbit’s smartwatch isn’t helping the company out of its pit. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr

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A selection of 9 links for you. 👋🥂👍🏻. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Greenland is melting away before our eyes • Rolling Stone

Eric Holthaus:

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Even just a few decades ago, an event like this would have been unthinkable. Now, island-wide meltdown days like this are becoming increasingly routine. The ongoing melt event is the second time in seven years that virtually the entire ice sheet simultaneously experienced at least some melt. The last was in July 2012, where 97% of the ice sheet simultaneously melted.

In the 1980s, wintertime snows in Greenland roughly balanced summertime melt from the ice sheet, and the conventional wisdom among scientists was that it might take thousands of years for the ice to completely melt under pressure from global warming.

That’s all changed now.

With a decade or two of hindsight, scientists now believe Greenland passed an important tipping point around 2003, and since then its melt rate has more than quadrupled.

This week alone, Greenland will lose about 50 billion tons of ice, enough for a permanent rise in global sea levels by about 0.1mm. So far in July, the Greenland ice sheet has lost 160 billion tons of ice — enough to cover Florida in about six feet of water. According to IPCC estimates, that’s roughly the level of melt a typical summer will have in 2050 under the worst-case warming scenario if we don’t take meaningful action to address climate change. Under that same scenario, this week’s brutal, deadly heat wave would be normal weather in the 2070s.

Xavier Fettweis, a polar scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who tracks meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet, told Rolling Stone in an email that the recent acceleration of these melt events means the IPCC scenarios “clearly underestimate what we currently observe over the Greenland ice sheet” and should revisit their projections for the future.

“This melt event is a good alarm signal that we urgently need change our way of
living,” said Fettweis. “It is more and more likely that the IPCC projections are too optimistic in the Arctic.”

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Apple and Fitbit numbers show smartwatches turning into a winner-take-all market • CNBC

Ari Levy:

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At the end of 2018, Apple controlled 50% of the global smartwatch market in terms of units shipped, according to Strategy Analytics. Fitbit was second at 12.2%, followed by Samsung, which sells Android-powered devices, at 11.8%.

In its effort to stay competitive, Fitbit has been slashing prices, which resulted in a shrinking of its gross margin, or the profit left after subtracting costs of goods sold, to 34.5% from 39.8%.

Fitbit cited weaker-than-expected sales of its Versa Lite device, a lightweight smartwatch that it introduced earlier this year, for its disappointing numbers and lowered the midpoint of its revenue guidance for 2019 to $1.46bn from $1.56bn.

Following its after-hours plunge, Fitbit is now worth less than $1bn. It has lost 82% of its value since its IPO in 2015.

Park is trying to reduce his company’s reliance on device sales and focus more on premium services, which will create a “longer lasting relationship with users while changing perception of products and services from a nice to have to need to have,” the Fitbit CEO said on Wednesday’s earnings call.

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Fitbit’s full-year revenue is about what Apple sells in wearables in a month. Now imagine that Samsung sells even less, and that other Android Wear companies sell less than that. Who’s really making profit in wearables?
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Calls for backdoor access to WhatsApp as Five Eyes nations meet • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh:

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The meeting of the “Five Eyes” nations – the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – was hosted by new home secretary, Priti Patel, in an effort to coordinate efforts to combat terrorism and child abuse.

Dealing with the challenge faced by increasingly effective encryption was one of the main topics at the summit, officials said, at a time when technology companies want to make their services more secure after a range of security breaches.

The meetings, however, were held in private with no agenda being made public, making it difficult to conclude exactly what had been discussed by the ministers, officials and intelligence agencies from the countries involved.

However, British ministers have privately voiced particular concerns about WhatsApp, the widely used Facebook-owned messenger service, which was used by, among others, the three plotters in the London Bridge terror attack.

“We need to ensure that our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies are able to gain lawful and exceptional access to the information they need,” the Home Office said in a statement.

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In a discussion last night with some technology journalists, we wondered why GCHQ and the rest haven’t stockpiled exploits to be used for targeting people whose messages they want to read. But maybe they have, and this is just noise.

Meanwhile on Patel, treat her like Trump: ignore everything she says, and wait for what someone better-informed and in power says or does.
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Google unlocks 33% of publisher paywalls on July 30. This is what happens next • What’s New In Publishing

Monojoy Bhattacharjee:

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A number of major publishers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Medium, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News have safeguards in place to stop users from accessing paywalled content using Incognito Mode.

We tested the beta version of Chrome’s next update to gauge the extent of damage that will be inflicted on publisher paywalls. To cut a long story short, things aren’t looking good.

We tried to breach the paywalls of the publishers listed using Chrome’s current browser (v. 75), in Incognito Mode. Without fail, the websites detected the intrusion attempt and prevented access to the content. 

Using v.76 (beta), each and every one of the paywalls got unlocked without any difficulty whatsoever. 

Take a look at the screenshots below [in the story]. In each case, we tried opening the exact same page using the current version and the upcoming one. [The upcoming one gets past the paywall.]

No further explanations necessary.

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Maybe leaky paywalls have had their day.
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Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 is its latest volley against the iPad Pro • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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For software, the Tab S6 runs Android 9 Pie with version 1.5 of Samsung’s OneUI interface. It also has support for Samsung’s DeX interface, which provides a more desktop-like experience when using the tablet with a keyboard. The new keyboard attachment has a function key to launch DeX quickly. DeX can also be outputted to an external display using the Tab S6’s USB Type-C port.

In terms of size and features, the Tab S6 compares closer to Apple’s most recent iPad Air than the more expensive iPad Pro. But the Air starts at a lower price and has a much more developed operating system and app ecosystem than the Tab S6. As with most of Samsung’s high-end tablet efforts for the past few years, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose the Tab S6 over Apple’s options. We’ll have a better idea of how well the Tab S6 stacks up against Apple and Microsoft’s tablets once we’ve had a chance to put it through a full review, so stay tuned for that.

«

External display likely coming to the iPad Pro in September with iOS 13, and filesystem access certainly, so not an advantage for long.
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Chinese vlogger who used filter to look younger caught in live-stream glitch • BBC

Dhruti Shah and Kerry Allen:

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The blogger, who initially boasted a follower count of more than 100,000 on Douyu, is believed to have used a filter on her face during her appearances, and had been renowned for her “sweet and healing voice”.

China’s Global Times said she had been “worshipped” as a “cute goddess” by some members of her loyal audience with some fans even giving her more than 100,000 yuan ($14,533, £11,950).

However, live-streaming platform Lychee News says the incident happened on 25 July, during a joint live-stream with another user, Qingzi on the Douyu platform.

The Global Times reports that all was as normal and that her fans urged her to show her face and remove her filter but she refused, instead apparently saying: “I can’t show my face until I receive gifts worth 100,000 yuan ($11,950). After all, I’m a good-looking host.”

Followers began to send her donations with the largest reported to be 40,000 yuan ($5,813, £4,780) during the session.

However, at some point, it seems the filter being used by the vlogger stopped working and her real face became visible to her viewers.

She is reported to have noticed only when people who had signed up to her VIP access room started exiting en masse.

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This is quite a “beauty filter”, though – it makes her look like an entirely different person. That’s some real-time deepfakery there.
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Millions in crypto is crossing the Russia-China border daily – and Tether is king • Coindesk

Anna Baydakova:

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“Hear that sound?” asked the head of an over-the-counter (OTC) cryptocurrency trading desk — let’s call him ‘Oleg’ — who requested his real name and company be withheld. “You can hear it 24/7 in here.”

Business is brisk thanks to a constant flow of Chinese merchants who come in daily with heavy bags of cash. Oleg said his OTC desk sells about $3m worth of crypto every day. Most of it usually goes to China. But what’s perhaps most surprising is which crypto.

Only 20% of Oleg’s sales are in bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency with the largest market capitalization. The other 80% is in the dollar-pegged token known as tether, or USDT.

Tether’s best-known application is allowing crypto traders to move money between exchanges quickly to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities. But according to several Moscow OTC traders, it has at least one real-world use case – as the go-to remittance service for local Chinese importers.

The total volume of USDT purchased by Chinese businesses can reach $10m to $30m daily, these traders said.

“They accumulate a lot of cash in Moscow and need tether to transfer it to China,” said Maya Shakhnazarova, head of OTC trading at Huobi Russia, the Moscow office serving high-roller clients of Singapore-based exchange Huobi Global.

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Gambling? Something.. else? Though the use of Tether completely makes sense: bitcoin can take ages and transactions can be super-expensive. Tether doesn’t have the same problem and huge amounts are washing around.
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Trueface raises $3.7m to recognise that gun, as it’s being pulled, in real time • Techcrunch

Mike Butcher:

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Trueface is a US-based computer vision company that turns camera data into so-called ‘actionable data’ using machine learning and AI by employing partners who can perform facial recognition, threat detection, age and ethnicity detection, license plate recognition, emotion analysis as well as object detection. That means, for instance, recognising a gun, as it’s pulled in a dime store. Yes folks, welcome to your brave new world.

The company has now raised $3.7m from Lavrock Ventures, Scout Ventures, and Advantage Ventures to scale the team growing partnerships and market share.

Trueface claims it can identify enterprises’ employees for access to a building, detect a weapon as it’s being wielded, or stop fraudulent spoofing attempts. Quite some claims.

However, it’s good enough for the US Air Force as it recently partnered with them to enhance base security.

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These could be famous last words which folk will laugh at in 20 years, but I think this is not going to go well.
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Report: Samsung extends shipments lead as Realme enters top ten • Android Authority

:

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According to the tracking firm, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series and rejuvenated mid-range smartphones have resulted in a 7.1% year-on-year boost. The Korean manufacturer hit 76.6m smartphones shipped in the quarter, compared to 71.5m devices a year ago. In fact, the firm reportedly accounted for roughly a fifth of all smartphone shipments in this quarter.

Second-placed Huawei didn’t see quite the same level of growth, but it still managed to achieve a 4.6% boost over last year. The Chinese colossus reportedly shipped 56.7m smartphones in Q2 2019, compared to 54.2m in Q2 2018. Counterpoint notes that the effects of the U.S. trade ban weren’t fully experienced in this quarter, but that it expects a steep drop in performance come Q3.


Source: Counterpoint Research

Apple may have been in third place, but it saw a rather big 11.9% drop in shipments compared to Q2 2018. The firm shipped 36.4m phones in this quarter, as opposed to 41.3m a year ago. This performance means Xiaomi is roughly one percentage point away from passing Apple in terms of market-share, according to Counterpoint. Then again, Q2 isn’t traditionally Apple’s best quarter, as it launches its iPhone series in Q3 or Q4 anyway.

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Samsung’s financials show its mobile revenue grew by 7%, but profits dropped by 11%; it blamed this on sluggish demand in the premium market and “intensifying competition in the low- to mid-range market”, plus the expense of clearing inventory of old models. Not seen it blame the latter before. Huawei’s problems lie ahead, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,123: Greenland’s dangerous melt, wanting a WhatsApp black door, Chrome breaks the paywalls, Samsung stays big, and more

  1. “External display likely coming to the iPad Pro in September with iOS 13, and filesystem access certainly, so not an advantage for long.”.

    Why are you so partisan ? These 2 things ave been available for years on Android (along with homescreen widgets, support for standard USB devices ie storage mice gamepads webcams DACs, a Real Browser w/ addons, …)? They’ll be duly fêted when partially arriving on iOS, after having gone unmentionned for years on Android. So.. “not for long”… mostly because you didn’t know/care/want to learn they’ve been there for ages, and now feel the need to be dismissive.

    Meh.

  2. Google preparing a cheap Apps subscription. https://9to5google.com/2019/07/31/google-play-pass-details/

    I’m not sure what the average spend is, $5/mo would probably be huge even at 5% uptake.

    PlayStore = $25B in 2018.
    Android devices = 2.3B, let’s say half are not mostly or at all PlayStore, and round down to 1B to be safe.
    5% would be 50M x $5= $250M/mo = $3B/y, minus maybe 50% for cannibalization of $$ users would have spent anyway, so $1.5B/y incremental.

    I take that back: not “huge”, unless they get significantly more than 5% adoption.
    Might help move away from scams and bad games with a IAP-focused mechanics though.
    There’s a nice (for Google) side-effect of increasing PlayStore lock-in though.

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