Start Up No.1,124: Facebook and Aussie fake news, the motion smoothing problem (redux), America’s phone farmers, and more

He’s thinking that Van Diesel got an extra punch into the last scene. And that makes him mad! CC-licensed photo by Automotive Rhythms on Flickr.

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

Facebook says it was ‘not our role’ to remove fake news during Australian election • The Guardian

Katharine Murphy:


“We do not agree that is is our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false,” [Facebook VP for Asia, Simon] Milner says in the letter sent a month after election day.

The Facebook executive says the company invested significantly in an effort to support “the Australian government’s work to safeguard the 2019 election” and said the requirement for the social media giant was to “respect applicable law” and work with the Australian Electoral Commission by responding to queries or concerns.

The backwards and forwards between Labor and the social media behemoth comes as Facebook is firmly in the sights of Australia’s competition and consumer regulator as a consequence of its landmark review of digital platforms.

One of the recommendations of the ACCC review, released last week, was digital platforms be required to implement a code of conduct to govern how they handled complaints about the spread of inaccurate information, which would be registered and enforced by an independent regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

While Milner makes a rhetorical distinction in his letter to Carroll about content that one side of a political debate “considers to be false”, the Facebook executive also acknowledges in the same correspondence that the death tax material circulated on the social media platform during the campaign was, in fact, found to be false by the platform’s independent fact-checking procedures.

Milner says once the claims were found to be false on April 30, “we demoted the original posts and thousands of similar posts”. Posts were demoted in Facebook’s News Feed but not removed from the platform. Milner said that, on average, this practice reduces distribution by 80%.


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Sky, Netflix and software • Benedict Evans


Netflix isn’t using TV to leverage some other business – TV is the business. It’s a TV company. Amazon is using content as a way to leverage its subscription service, Prime, in much the same way to telcos buying cable companies or doing IPTV – it’s a way to stop churn. Amazon is using Lord of the Rings as leverage to get you to buy toilet paper through Prime. But Facebook and Google are not device businesses or subscription businesses. Facebook or Google won’t say ‘don’t cancel your subscription because you’ll lose this TV show’ – there is no subscription. That means the strategic value of TV or music is marginal: it’s marketing, not a lock-in.

Apple’s position in TV today is ambivalent. You can argue that the iPhone is a subscription business (spend $30 a month and get a phone every two years), and it certainly thinks about retention and renewals. The service subscriptions that it’s created recently (news, music, games) are all both incremental revenue leveraging a base of 1bn users and ways to lock those users in. But the only important question for the upcoming ‘TV Plus’ is whether Apple plans to spend $1bn a year buying content from people in LA, and produce another nice incremental service with some marketing and retention value, or spend $15bn buying content from people in LA, to take on Netflix. But of course, that’s a TV question, not a tech question.


Apple seems to be aiming at somewhere between the $1bn and $15bn, but closer to the $1bn.
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Motion smoothing is ruining cinema • Vulture

Bilge Ebiri:


even if motion smoothing worked perfectly, it would still present problems. Higher frame rates have a curious effect on how we process cinematic images. At the 2016 New York Film Festival, I attended the much-hyped world premiere of Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a supposedly revolutionary picture that had been shot at a frame rate of 120 fps, about a young soldier who relives the trauma of his Iraq deployment over the course of an NFL playoff halftime show during which his platoon’s feats are celebrated. The action was as smooth as it could be, and the 120 fps images did look hyperreal, as advertised — like we were in a limo with the characters as they joked around, or in combat as bullets whizzed past them. But the movie was in no way immersive. It was the exact opposite: The acting felt stiff, the story bogus, and the filmmaking amateurish.

A couple of months later, as it neared theatrical release, I saw Billy Lynn again, this time projected at a typical 24 fps. It’s not a great picture by any stretch of the imagination, but to my bewilderment, the performances were now engaging; the drama that had felt so unwieldy was now occasionally moving. No major cuts or additions had been made. I was watching the same movie, but this time, I was watching it at the frame rate at which movies are supposed to be experienced. And suddenly, it all kind of worked.

In part, there’s a scientific explanation for this: It’s possible that watching movies one way for so long has conditioned our brains. NYU psychology and neuroscience professor Pascal Wallisch, who studies cognition and perception, cites the phenomenon of “entrainment,” which posits that certain external stimuli, such as beats per minute in music or subtly flickering movie images, can actually affect the nervous system.


The weird thing is that we seem to be so used to 24fps.
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Smartphone shipments decline 2.3% in the second quarter on continued challenges across most major regions • IDC


IDC analyst Ryan Reith said: “When you look at the top of the market – Samsung, Huawei, and Apple – each vendor lost a bit of share from last quarter, and when you look down the list the next three – Xiaomi, OPPO, and vivo – all gained. Part of this is related to the timing of product launches, but it is hard not to assume this trend could continue.”

The vendor landscape at the top of the market continues to get stronger while the struggles for local OEMs and old school industry names got worse. In 2Q19, the top five vendors accounted for 69% of the total market volume, and the top 10 vendors accounted for 87%. This trend is making the vendor playing field for smartphones look more and more like the PC market. With 5G beginning to unfold in many markets around the world, the challenges are sure to increase for any vendors without strong consumer mindshare.

“Although the overall market remains in decline, the performance in the second quarter indicates that demand is starting to pick up as the market begins to stabilize again,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “A key driver in the second quarter was the availability of vastly improved mid-tier devices that offer premium designs and features while significantly undercutting the ultra-high-end in price. Combine this with intensified and generous trade-in programs across major markets and channels and upgrading now makes more sense to consumers.”


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Google is quietly testing ‘Play Pass’ app and game subscription, taking on Apple Arcade • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:


Earlier this year, Apple announced Apple Arcade, a monthly subscription service that gives you access to a library of mobile games (including some exclusive titles) on iOS devices. Apple Arcade isn’t live yet, but Google is already testing its own competing service, named Play Pass.

XDA Developers found evidence last year that Google was working on the Play Pass service, but now the company is starting to test it. We received screenshots from a reader [shown in the story], which show the signup page for Play Pass and the $4.99 monthly cost. Of course, the price could change before the final rollout.

An info page reads, “Explore a curated catalog spanning puzzle games to premium music apps and everything in between. From action hits to puzzles and fitness trackers, with Google Play Pass you unlock access to hundreds of premium apps and games without ads, download fees or in-app purchases.” Another screen shows Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball as some of the included games.


Our reader stormyparis reckons that if it could target 1 billion users, and get 5% of them, it could generate $3bn, but then you have to look at what people wouldn’t spend as a result of their subscription, so..

It’s probably only going to appeal to the whales who spend way more than $5 per month, though. And it doesn’t “take on” Apple Arcade. It’s entirely parallel and separate, and won’t mean Android gets the games sooner than iOS.
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How to pay for Medicare-for-all • The Week

Ryan Cooper:


the economist argument that fee-for-service must be juicing spending has not held up either. Maryland undertook a major reform to many of its hospitals, moving to a “global budget program” in which several hospitals were paid a lump sum for the whole year instead of per procedure. A study released this year found it “did not reduce hospital use or price-standardized spending as policymakers had anticipated.” Moreover, many other countries have used fee-for-service billing (both today and in the past) and have not experienced anything like America’s turbo-charged cost increases.

So what is going on? Returning to the Papanicolas study, two big, obvious things jump out: drug prices and administrative costs. America paid roughly twice the rich country median for drugs in 2015, at $1,443 per person, with $1,023 of that in the form of retail pharmaceuticals. France paid $697, while the Netherlands paid just $466. Secondly, fully 8% of American health-care spending goes to administration — as compared to Germany at 5%, Canada at 3%, or Sweden at 2%.

Thus the first priority for a Medicare-for-all bill must be to cut administration spending to the bone. Given that this is largely down to providers having to navigate the hellishly complex and fragmented status quo system, this should be quite easy…

…Across virtually all medical services, Americans are being radically overcharged.

Indeed, many hospitals don’t have the slightest idea of what their treatments really cost. As this Wall Street Journal report explains, when a Wisconsin hospital tried to figure out what it was clearing for a $50,000 knee replacement, after an 18-month investigation it found a mere $10,550 at most in overhead — and that’s including steep US doctor salaries. A roughly 80% profit margin on the most common non-childbirth surgical procedure is the kind of thing that could begin to explain the howling excess of US medical spending.


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Democrats are ignoring the power of the hospital industry • Prospect Magazine

David Dayen:


The [American] public interacts with [American] health care in two ways. Their doctor heals them, and their insurance company hassles them. They visit their doctor and pay their insurer. Their doctor wants to make them well, and their insurance company wants to restrict the care they receive. “Why is the spotlight on the intermediary in this industry when they’re a small fraction in terms of the revenues?” asks Leemore Dafny of Harvard Business School, referring to the insurance industry. “And it’s what you think it is. It’s really easy to hate the intermediary.”

But in the absence of political leaders telling the truth about who charges the prices and who gouges patients, the public has no alternative story. They’ll keep loving their doctor, and seek out other villains. That cuts against this truth: nobody has resisted changes to the broken health-care system more than the hospital industry.

Take “surprise billing,” as mentioned before one of the most outrageous scams in health care. Unknown to them, patients get out-of-network services from ambulance companies or radiologists or anesthesiologists, and are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in charges. You won’t be, well, surprised to learn that surprise billing is being driven by the private equity industry, which has recently upped its investments in hospitals.


It seems that there are lots of perverse incentives. Doctors don’t have any disincentive to order more and more expensive treatments; it just gets passed on to the insurer. But hospitals in the US do go bust, or close because they don’t get income. Certainly, there’s plenty of blame to go around the US healthcare “system”.
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‘Fast + Furious’ stars’ complicated demand: I never want to lose a fight • WSJ

Erich Schwartzel:


Vin Diesel didn’t want to look like a wimp.

The actor was in rehearsal for yet another fight in his seventh “Fast & Furious” movie when he started to sense his co-star and on-screen opponent, Jason Statham, was landing more blows than he was.

Mr. Diesel had an idea: Why not assign numerical values to every move—head butt, roundhouse kick, body slam—so he could calculate a total and determine if the two men were getting pummeled evenly?

In Hollywood, where sheltering the tender egos of action stars is increasingly a cost of doing business, no leading man is willing to look less macho than any other. Nowhere is that more apparent than the “Fast & Furious” franchise, where an arms race of machismo can break out between Mr. Diesel, Mr. Statham and their third beefy co-star, Dwayne Johnson…

…The “Fast & Furious” movies also star actresses like Michelle Rodriguez as ensemble players who are as tough as the men. People associated with the franchise said there are fewer concerns about scorekeeping in the women’s fights.


Diesel is 52, Statham is 51, Johnson is 47. Who says ego is only for kids?
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America’s DIY phone farmers • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:


Last year, NBCUniversal launched an app called WatchBack, which gives users a chance to win $100 in exchange for watching TV shows, in hopes of creating new fans for its programming. Other apps like Perk give viewers points for watching trailers and shows which can be exchanged for more valuable goods. Roy Rosenfeld, Head of DoubleVerify’s Fraud Lab, a company which focuses on ad fraud, said DoubleVerify estimates in total these incentivized traffic “apps generate 100-300 [million] ad requests a month,” with the vast majority working with video.

The phone farmers Motherboard talked to aren’t responsible for many of those ad requests, but they still take advantage of this ecosystem. Rather than actually watch ads, these phone farmers use as many as a hundred phones and sometimes automate the process to make it seem like someone is watching the ads in order to generate income.

Joseph D’Alesandro, 20, made nearly $2,000 a month from phone farming back in 2017, he told Motherboard in a phone call. In eighth or ninth grade, D’Alesandro found one of the apps popular with farmers and started running it on his main phone. Slowly over a few years, he built up his farm, expanding to more and more devices. On his YouTube channel TheTechSlugs, D’Alesandro made videos explaining his progress along the way.

“You really can’t compare it to a job,” D’Alesandro said, because of how little he needed to interact with the phones.

Other phone farmers said they’ve made hundreds of dollars a month from passively running apps on their phones. Goat_City said they pulled in $700-800 a month recently; another farmer with the username CallMeDonCheadle said their farm made $7 a day, working out to more than $200 a month.


I have to admit that I repeatedly thought the people he was referring to in this story are actual farmers who were trying to supplement their income.
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Apple Maps in iOS 13: sights set on Google • MacStories

Ryan Christoffel:


Favorited locations are represented by an icon and color corresponding to their location type. Home and Work have house and briefcase icons in blue and brown, respectively, while restaurants will show a fork and knife on an orange background, bars a martini glass in purple, parks a tree in brown, and so on. Another important visual detail about favorites is that they each display your distance from them, or the time it would take to navigate to them. This further reinforces favorites’ design purpose: Apple intends that you use them for commonly visited locations. If you simply want to mark a spot to remember for later, that’s where collections shine.

Collections [new in iOS 13] are groups of locations you can save for accessing later. Like favorites, they have the benefit of being displayed more prominently on the map, so they’re easy to spot at a glance, but they also offer a lot of flexibility you won’t find with favorites. A collection is ultimately just a list of locations, so it can serve any purpose you need it to. You can use collections to plan upcoming vacations, keeping track of all the places you want to visit on your trip; you can also have collections dedicated to intriguing coffee shops, prospective date night spots, or restaurants that have been recommended to you. Every collection can have a name and even custom photo set by you, so you can truly make it your own.


The “ooh” feature for demos is Apple’s equivalent to Street View, which it calls Look Around. However, I can only find it for San Francisco at present, so the above features – which might be better for real usability – are what people will really use.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,124: Facebook and Aussie fake news, the motion smoothing problem (redux), America’s phone farmers, and more

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