Start Up No.1,141: Facebook’s scammy fact-checker, Apple’s App Store bias, 11 myths about USB-C, the NOAA debacle deepens, and more


Hi there! It looks like I might be coming to the Mac through the power of Github. CC-licensed photo by on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. If you need help… I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook giving massive distribution to dangerous misinformation about diabetes • Popular Info

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Facebook is giving a page featuring incendiary right-wing memes and dangerous misinformation about diabetes massive distribution — reach that exceeds some of the nation’s largest news outlets. 

The Rowdy Republican page, which has over 780,000 followers, is run by an affiliate marketer with a history of legal problems and deceptive practices. He is seeking to drive people to a site about “The Big Diabetes Lie,” which tries to convince people to purchase a $55 paperback book. According to the website, if you have diabetes and don’t purchase this book, you will soon die…

One of the leading medical experts in treating diabetes, Dr. David Goldstein, an endocrinologist affiliated with the University of Missouri, reviewed the website and told Popular Information that the information was “ridiculous” and contained “dangerous misinformation.” 

The Daily Caller, a member of Facebook’s official fact-checking program, reviewed a post by Rowdy Republican that included a link to “The Big Diabetes Lie” and rated it “true.”

The runaway success of the Rowdy Republican page is a sign that Facebook’s efforts to reduce the spread of misinformation is failing. As a result, its users are being put in danger. 

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Yeah, having the Daily Caller – noted for its Pluto-like relationship with the truth – as a fact-checker is an evident error there.
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Conversations about mass shootings at an NRA expo in Texas • The New Yorker

Charles Bethea went to the NRA :

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Around the corner, a former park ranger in her forties, who now works as an accountant in oil and gas, introduced herself as Corey. She’d just concluded a seminar called Methods of Concealed Carry for Women. Corey was game to talk at length about the problem of mass shootings in America.

“I’m a Christian, and I just think there are evil people in the world and it’s gonna happen,” she told me. “If they didn’t have guns, it would be something else.” She mentioned “people in cars mowing people down in the streets,” and the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995. “He didn’t use a gun,” she said, of Timothy McVeigh. “He used fertilizer.”

I mentioned that it’s generally harder to obtain a driver’s license than a gun. “I don’t think so,” she replied.

I noted that you don’t need a background check to buy a gun from a stranger. The man who carried out the mass shooting in West Texas, in August, used what’s been described as an “AR-type” gun. He purchased the murder weapon in a person-to-person sale that did not require a background check—which he would have failed, because he was federally barred from purchasing a firearm.

Corey said that she’d never bought a gun from a stranger. “There are loopholes for everything, right?” she went on. “Drugs are illegal, but you can still buy them.”

Why did she think there were so many mass shootings in this country, compared to other countries? Does it have to do with the fact that we have so many guns?

“No,” Corey said.

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There’s such fun to be had in going around asking people to lay out their cognitive dissonances for you.
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Microsoft Clippy assistant comes to MacOS via GitHub • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

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Clippy, Microsoft’s love-it-or-hate-it virtual assistant that debuted in the 1990s, has come back to life as a free application for Apple’s MacOS.

The resuscitation capitalizes on people’s memories of bygone software from Microsoft, which last year recaptured the title of world’s most valuable public company as it becomes more centered on subscriptions and cloud services.

Devran “Cosmo” Ünal, senior product engineer at optics company Zeiss Group, released the software on the Microsoft-owned GitHub code-storage website last week, and it has drawn attention quickly.

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Hard pass.
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US charges Chinese professor in latest shot at Huawei • Reuters

Karen Freifeld:

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Bo Mao was arrested in Texas on Aug. 14 and released six days later on $100,000 bond after he consented to proceed with the case in New York, according to court documents.

He pleaded not guilty in US district court in Brooklyn on Aug. 28 to a charge of conspiring to commit wire fraud.

According to the criminal complaint, Mao entered into an agreement with the unnamed California tech company to obtain its circuit board, claiming it was for academic research.

The complaint, however, accuses an unidentified Chinese telecommunications conglomerate, which sources say is Huawei, of trying to steal the technology, and alleges Mao played a role in its alleged scheme. A court document also indicates the case is related to Huawei.

Mao, an associate professor at Xiamen University in China, became a visiting professor at a Texas university last fall. He first gained attention as part of a Texas civil case between Huawei and Silicon Valley startup CNEX Labs Inc.

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Huawei really has been given the role of evil supervillain lately. It’s still accused of stealing robot tech from T-Mobile.
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11 myths about USB Type-C • Electronic Design

Julie Stultz is a technical marketing manager for On Semiconductor, and offers the full 11, but let’s pick these two out:

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Myth 3. All Type-C ports have identical functionality.

Reality: Despite a common connector, the actual feature set of a USB-C port can vary significantly. Ports on travel adapters only charge devices. Ports on wearable devices typically only receive charge. Ports on dual-role devices such as laptops can still see variation in port features. Power levels for standard Type-C ports are limited to 15 W while ports that implement PD can negotiate power up to 100 W. In addition, some ports are capable of data communication up to USB SS Gen 2 speeds of 10 Gb/s. Other features may include DisplayPort or Thunderbolt support.

4. All Type-C cables are identical.

Reality: While all USB-C cables have identical paddles and can fit any USB-C port (Fig. 1), it doesn’t necessarily mean that their electrical characteristics and features are the same. Standard cables are rated for 3 A and length of ≤4 m. Cables that are ≤2 m or required to support between 3 to 5 A need an electrical marker IC known as an e-marker.

The USB-C form factor is much smaller than HDMI and USB 3. While the size is comparable to Lightning, USB-C will be universal, and it has the same connector on both ends.

Cables can also be “full featured” and, for example, support up to 4K high-definition video. As mentioned earlier, full-featured cables could actually have more wires to enable the additional bandwidth. The Type-C spec allows designers to utilize only what features they need on their ports, reducing complexity and cost. As the market has matured, more and more solutions have been optimized to meet demands.

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Commerce chief threatened firings at NOAA after Trump’s Dorian tweets, sources say • The New York Times

Christopher Flavelle, Lisa Friedman and Peter Baker:

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The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at NOAA on Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration disavowing the office’s own position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew criticism from the scientific community that NOAA, a division of the Commerce Department, had been bent to political purposes.

Officials at the White House and the Commerce Department declined to comment on administration involvement in the NOAA statement.

The actions by the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr., are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.”

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Trump was wrong, and has had a tantrum for a week that he was shown to be wrong. But Ross is meant to be an adult. This presidency is going to leave so, so many with their reputations shredded.

And also: the Washington Post says the director of the National Weather Service (part of the NOAA) is backing the Alabama forecasters. Who had “Trump’s presidency is upended by a weather forecast”?
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How Apple’s apps topped rivals in the App Store it controls • The New York Times

Jack Nicas and Keith Collins:

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Top spots in App Store search results are some of the most fought over real estate in the online economy. The store generated more than $50bn in sales last year, and the company said two-thirds of app downloads started with a search.

But as Apple has become one of the largest competitors on a platform that it controls, suspicions that the company has been tipping the scales in its own favor are at the heart of antitrust complaints in the United States, Europe and Russia.

Apple’s apps have ranked first recently for at least 700 search terms in the store, according to a New York Times analysis of six years of search results compiled by Sensor Tower, an app analytics firm. Some searches produced as many as 14 Apple apps before showing results from rivals, the analysis showed. (Though competitors could pay Apple to place ads above the Apple results.)

Presented with the results of the analysis, two senior Apple executives acknowledged in a recent interview that, for more than a year, the top results of many common searches in the iPhone App Store were packed with the company’s own apps. That was the case even when the Apple apps were less relevant and less popular than ones from its competitors. The executives said the company had since adjusted the algorithm so that fewer of its own apps appeared at the top of search results…

…Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president who oversees the App Store, and Eddy Cue, the senior vice president who oversees many of the Apple apps that benefited from the results, said there was nothing underhanded about the algorithm the company had built to display search results in the store.

The executives said the company did not manually alter search results to benefit itself. Instead, they said, Apple apps generally rank higher than competitors because of their popularity and because their generic names are often a close match to broad search terms.

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The scrolling presentation at the top of this piece is terrific. And Google? Rand Fishkin, an SEO expert, says that “Apple ranked first for an estimated 1.2% of all App Store searches. I can virtually guarantee Google ranks Alphabet-owned properties No.1 for more than that (in a clickstream analysis I did w/ @jumpshotinc in June, they got ~6% of all search clicks).”
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Apple, Foxconn broke a Chinese labour law for IPhone production • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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Apple Inc. and manufacturing partner Foxconn violated a Chinese labor rule by using too many temporary staff in the world’s largest iPhone factory, the companies confirmed following a report that also alleged harsh working conditions.

The claims came from China Labor Watch, which issued the report ahead of an Apple event on Tuesday to announce new iPhones. The non-profit advocacy group investigates conditions in Chinese factories, and says it has uncovered other alleged labor rights violations by Apple partners in the past.

For its latest report, CLW said undercover investigators worked in Foxconn’s Zhengzhou plant in China, including one who was employed there for four years. One of the main findings: temporary staff, known as dispatch workers, made up about 50% the workforce in August. Chinese labor law stipulates a maximum of 10%, CLW noted.

Apple said that, after conducting an investigation, it found the “percentage of dispatch workers exceeded our standards” and that it is “working closely with Foxconn to resolve this issue.”

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Ooh, now this is interesting. My hypothesis about Apple’s split beta is that it hurried to get as many iPhones built as it could, fearing that Trump would impose tariffs on Chinese-built electronics. Those tariffs were delayed, but Apple was committed to the hurried build.

And look, there’s Apple and Foxconn hurrying to get as many phones built as they could. Later today we’ll know which version of iOS 13 the new iPhones are running. My guess is it’s beta 8, near enough, of iOS 13.0.
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Billie Eilish In Oculus Venues was good social VR, but not a great event • UploadVR

Harry Baker:

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Upon viewing an Oculus Venues experience, you have two options: social or solo mode. Solo will put you in a seat by yourself, just watching alone, whereas social will place you in a virtual arena, laid out like stadium seating, where you can talk and interact with other Venues users around you.

I picked social from the get go, and felt no desire to go back and try solo mode. Sitting in the stadium-style seats, you’re presented with a 180-degree dome view in front of you showing the concert. While the seating arrangement makes it look like you’re up in the nosebleed section, the video feed in front of you doesn’t always display an image that matches that position. At times it did, with a view looking down on the stage and the mosh pit-goers in Madrid, but it would switch to a close-up feed of the stage frequently as well. Although this allowed you to see Billie up close, it also meant that the scale was completely off when up close. Instead of appearing human-sized, the gigantic screen meant that with certain close camera angles, Billie would appear literally larger than life.

The stream itself was of varying quality. The resolution was adequate, but not excellent, however it frustratingly featured heaps of mini stutters, pauses and moments where I could tell the feed was a few seconds out of sync from what everyone around me was watching. It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t horrendous. There’s definitely work to be done from Oculus on the backend for a smoother experience, but it serves for now.

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I was wondering how it would be for artists performing with more virtual viewers than are present, but of course that’s what happens with pretty much any event covered by TV. All that’s different here is you’re wearing a not-completely-functional goldfish bowl.
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Ring has given ‘active camera’ maps of its customers to police • VICE

Caroline Haskins:

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Ring, Amazon’s home surveillance company, has consistently told Motherboard and other reporters that it does not share maps showing the exact locations of camera-owners with police.

However, a map published by The Guardian last week reveals that Ring gave Georgia’s Gwinnett County Police Department, located just northeast of Atlanta, an “active camera” map that shows hundreds of dots representing the locations of Ring owners in the region.

Now, emails and documents obtained from the police department by Motherboard provide additional context. The emails reveal that the image was one of two maps showing active Ring cameras in Gwinnett County. (One of the maps is slightly more zoomed-in than the other.)

The maps were provided several months before Ring donated 80 video doorbells to the county worth a total of $15,920, according to documents reviewed by Motherboard. The emails reviewed by Motherboard show the maps were shared with Gwinnett County in order to show that a Ring partnership would give them possible access to a large amount of data.

“Gwinnett County has an incredible amount of Ring devices and neighbors using the Ring app,” a Ring representative told Gwinnett County police. “At no cost, the portal can be an incredible asset to your agency Please let me know what you think.”

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I think it’s the consumer-surveillance complex.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,141: Facebook’s scammy fact-checker, Apple’s App Store bias, 11 myths about USB-C, the NOAA debacle deepens, and more

  1. re. USB-C: They’re really compounding 2 issues here: a) changing connectors b) taking one away. Why OEMs aren’t putting 2 of those on phones ? That’d take care of about 50% of the complaints which are about charging vs headphones (a dongle isn’t user-friendly). And take care of a niggle: I’m having to buy L-shaped-connector USB-C cables because a charging phone in bed with a protruding I-shape cable sucks. If I could charge it up top, that’d be Yet Another Cable avoided, and a bit of money saved . I’m buying $3 crap this time around because there’s nothing better with a 90° connector, but overall I must be nearing $150 just in USB-C cables… and those have just been obsoleted by USB4…
    I’m running out of colors too. All my micro-USB cables are black, all my USB-C cables are non-black ie red or white… They don’t make’m in any other colors really, except for fashion-victim specialty stuff that’s overpriced and underspecced and flaky.

    Also, rebuttal of that piece:
    1- yes it’s complicated: you’ve got to read the manual to know what your port does. And to carry 2 types of cables during the transition, probably 3 if you need a USB-A to USB-C for the charger. And an audio jack dongle. And an audio splitter for charging+listening.
    2- Just look up the price for Anker batteries, the USB-C+PD ones are at least 50% more expensive. Hey, the cost isn’t the bare connector, but also the regulating circuitry. Whod have thunk ?
    3- so, not all identical, no distinguishing marks, but not complicated ? …. because we’re all psychics ?
    4- ditto. BTW your “USB 3” connector is “USB A” not 3.
    5- So… yes it is another cable I have to buy. And carry. And now all those I already bought are obsolete ?
    6- Work on it has stopped now because USB-C, but micro-USB can do everything USB-C can do. There are micro-USB ports that do more than 7.5W and 5gbps. And USB-C goes up to 40 now.
    7- Agreed. If only all USB-C cables could do that. BTW, how are we supposed to know which can, and can’t ?
    8- Audio over USB-C is a mess. There are 3 versions of the digital format, which requires a matched controller + a DAC in each peripheral so extra cost and obsolescence for each of your headsets, loudspeakers, TV… , and support for the analog output is optional, which means if you rely on it for one phone, your next phone might not have it, obsoleting all your stuff as hard as the appearance of the audio jack did.
    9- again, optional.
    10- So… I can’t unless I buy and carry and don’t forget extra stuff. This rate’s somewhere between a “meh” and a “WTF!”.
    11- Again, this keeps changing. up to and including USB3, the data rate was inferior to what could be had from a dedicated DP connector, so USB-C was indeed poorer. Not sure where we stand with USB4.

    Not saying USB-C is an abomination, but the least “they” could do is acknowledge it’s… complicated… and try to make users’ life easier by making more stuff baseline and color-coding ports (“baseline”, “PD”, “TB” would be good start, “Audio” and “Display” would be nice too)

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