Start Up No.1,164: Apple and Google draw fire over Hong Kong, Facebook finds gambling kids, movie poster cliches, Dyson dumps electric car, and more

Your computer vision system maybe didn’t expect this. CC-licensed photo by Evan on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. That wasn’t so hard, was it? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, Google pull Hong Kong protest apps after China uproar • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Jeff Horwitz and Yoko Kubota:


Apple and Google both removed apps associated with Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests from their digital stores in recent days, thrusting the two Silicon Valley giants into the controversy engulfing US companies related to the unrest.

Apple removed from its App Store a crowdsourced map service that allows Hong Kong protesters to track police activity, one day after the Chinese Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper lashed out at the iPhone maker, calling the app “toxic software.”

Apple said it pulled the app, called, because of concerns it endangered law enforcement and residents.

Separately, Alphabet’s Google unit removed from its Google Play store a mobile game that allowed players to role-play as a Hong Kong protester. According to the developer, Google said the app, called “The Revolution of Our Times,” violated rules related to “sensitive events.”

Google pulled the app after a request from the Hong Kong police, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A Google spokesman said that the company has a policy that prohibits developers from “capitalizing on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game”, and that it found the app to be in violation of this policy.


Maciej Cieglowski, who is in Hong Kong, calls bullshit on Tim Cook’s claims (in a verified internal email) that the HKLive app has been used maliciously to target police officers for violence. The site is still available as far as we know as a web app (which certainly proves that there are situations where the web thoroughly trumps apps).

Google’s position – only the WSJ seems to have reported it – seems defensible, at least given that you can call what’s going on there “serious ongoing conflict”.
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Dyson has scrapped its electric car project • BBC News


Dyson, the UK-based company best known for its vacuum cleaners, has scrapped a project to build electric cars.

The firm, headed by inventor Sir James Dyson, said its engineers had developed a “fantastic electric car” but that it would not hit the roads because it was not “commercially viable”.

In an email sent to all employees, Sir James said the company had unsuccessfully tried to find a buyer for the project. The division employs 500 UK workers.

Dyson had planned to invest more than £2bn in developing a “radical and different” electric vehicle, a project it launched in 2016. It said the car would not be aimed at the mass market. Half of the funds would go towards building the car, half towards developing electric batteries.

In October 2018 Dyson revealed plans to build the car at a new plant in Singapore. It was expected to be completed next year with the first vehicles due to roll off the production line in 2021.

The company also planned to invest £200m in the UK in research and development and test track facilities. Much of that money has already been spent and Dyson said it would use the site for other projects.


Not commercially viable. Too early? Or too much of a cash guzzler?
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The dumb reason your fancy computer vision app isn’t working: Exif Orientation • Medium

Adam Geitgey:


Exif metadata is not a native part of the Jpeg file format. It was an afterthought taken from the TIFF file format and tacked onto the Jpeg file format much later. This maintained backwards compatibility with old image viewers, but it meant that some programs never bothered to parse Exif data.

Most Python libraries for working with image data like numpy, scipy, TensorFlow, Keras, etc, think of themselves as scientific tools for serious people who work with generic arrays of data. They don’t concern themselves with consumer-level problems like automatic image rotation — even though basically every image in the world captured with a modern camera needs it.

This means that when you load an image with almost any Python library, you get the original, unrotated image data. And guess what happens when you try to feed a sideways or upside-down image into a face detection or object detection model? The detector fails because you gave it bad data.

You might think this problem is limited to Python scripts written by beginners and students, but that’s not the case! Even Google’s flagship Vision API demo doesn’t handle Exif orientation correctly.


Turns out there is code that can do it. But you have to know that you need it.
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Newsrooms, let’s talk about G Suite • Freedom Of The Press Foundation

Martin Shelton:


If you work in a newsroom, there’s a good chance you work with colleagues on Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and more. G Suite software is simple and powerful. In fact, here at Freedom of the Press Foundation, we use it too. But we also lack viable alternatives with the flexibility needed in modern newsrooms, and anyone working in a newsroom has probably asked themselves: What can Google see? What about our most sensitive conversations and documents? What about documents that concern our own unreleased reporting, or information on our sources?

(Full disclosure: I previously worked at Google, and for a long time, even I didn’t know.)

Documents within your G Suite domain are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning that Google has everything they need to read your data. This insight into user data means that U.S. agencies have the ability to compel Google to hand over relevant user data to aid in investigations. G Suite also offers organizations powerful tools to monitor and retain information about their employees’ activities.

In our ideal world, Google would provide end-to-end encrypted G Suite services, allowing media and civil society organizations to collaborate on their work in a secure and private environment whenever possible. Until we have a way to do that, journalists should understand the risks alongside the benefits of using G Suite, and how to be mindful when using it.


Encrypting documents like this would be slightly tricky, and would lead to a ton of stories about terrorists.
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Americans and digital knowledge • Pew Research Center

Emily Vogels and Monica Anderson:


A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues varies greatly depending on the topic, term or concept. While a majority of US adults can correctly answer questions about phishing scams or website cookies, other items are more challenging. For example, just 28% of adults can identify an example of two-factor authentication – one of the most important ways experts say people can protect their personal information on sensitive accounts. Additionally, about one-quarter of Americans (24%) know that private browsing only hides browser history from other users of that computer, while roughly half (49%) say they are unsure what private browsing does.

This survey consisted of 10 questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge of a range of digital topics, such as cybersecurity or the business side of social media companies. The median number of correct answers was four. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2% got all 10 questions correct.


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The 18 movie poster cliches – and what they tell you about the film • The Poke


This is brilliantly done by LamerisiremaL who has identified a whole bunch of movie poster cliches and exactly what they tell us about the film we’re about to watch.


It truly is. “Back to back” (think: Mr + Mrs Smith), all yellow, disembodied eye, loner seen from behind… you’ll recognise these. (Thanks Geraint Preston for the link.)
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Kicking off transformation in Madagascar • Public Digital

Emily Middleton:


the challenges Madagascar faces are stark: in a country of 25.5 million people, around 19 million live on less than $1.90 a day. Around one third of adults are illiterate, and educational outcomes are low. Infrastructure is an enormous challenge: only 13% have access to electricity, for example.

Yet Madagascar also has enormous potential. There is a large pool of software developer talent, evidenced by a burgeoning tech industry of more than 230 firms employing around 15,000 people. Broadband speeds in Madagascar are the fastest in Africa, and ahead of many other countries – including the UK and France. There are 9.7 million mobile subscriptions, and the number of internet users grew by 37% between 2018 and 2019. Madagascar’s youthful population – more than 40% are aged 14 or under – also leads many to speculate that these trends are likely to continue.

As outlined in the President’s programme, transformation of public services is a major priority for the government.

Digital technology will not address Madagascar’s challenges alone. But we think there’s an opportunity to use agile, user-centred approaches to improve the way existing public services are delivered – even where those services are mostly or wholly offline for the moment. Simplifying processes and improving design brings its own benefits, as well as preparing for future digitisation.


Amazing stats on Madagascar. (Public Digital is a “digital transformation consultancy”.)
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It’s easy to despair and do nothing after the Halle synagogue shooting. But we shouldn’t • Fast Forward

Becca Lewis:


When features get exploited by bad actors, tech platforms eschew responsibility and claim it is beyond their control. Or they assure the public they are doing everything in their power to stop the spread of harm. (Twitch, in the aftermath of Halle, said they were “ shocked and saddened” by the gunman’s actions, and that “Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct, and any act of violence is taken extremely seriously. We are working with urgency to remove this content and permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act.”)

Perhaps there is some truth to this, but it seems a weak defense; it simply reinforces the fact that companies are proactive and fast when it comes to releasing new revenue streams, but reactive and slow when minimizing harms. The platforms build Pandora’s boxes with little concern to what’s inside, and then they sell them to the public and tell us to open them.

In any case, we can’t go back in time and ask Facebook or any other companies to make different, more ethical choices. If live streaming is around to stay, we have to move forward in the world as it currently exists. Despite all this — my momentary losses of words and my pessimism about big technology firms and the features they build — I know the most important thing in these moments is resisting apathy and despair. One of the goals of the live streamed shootings is to normalize this kind of violence and weaken responses against it. Apathy and despair is exactly what the shooters want.


So she’s saying we can do nothing… but not to despair. Yet of course we can stop people livestreaming. You just make it harder, or only allow verified people to do it. It’s how TV stations have worked. It’s hardly rocket science.
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Children ‘interested in’ gambling and alcohol, according to Facebook • The Guardian

Alex Hern and Frederik Hugo Ledegaard:


Facebook has marked hundreds of thousands of children as “interested in” adverts about gambling and alcohol, a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found.

The social network’s advertising tools reveal 740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged as being interested in gambling, including 130,000 in the UK. Some 940,000 minors – 150,000 of whom are British – are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages.

These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.”

The company does allow advertisers to specifically target messages to children based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. A Facebook insider gave the example of an anti-gambling service that may want to reach out to children who potentially have a gambling problem and offer them help and support.


*golf clap* Well played, Facebook insider. Well played indeed.
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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: ‘good’ is as good as it gets • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


the software works by presenting you with a lot of screens you can quickly scroll through. In one direction, you have notifications. In the other, there are a bunch of widgets with discrete pieces of information. I enjoy jamming through these screens more with a physical bezel, but the touch-sensitive one isn’t terrible and much better than not having this kind of control at all.

One of the reasons this interface works is that it’s fast. Especially if you go with a simple watchface that doesn’t have a bunch of information in complications, it’s convenient to just rotate through your weather, calendar, and fitness. (It’s such a good idea that Google lifted it wholesale for Wear OS.) That would never work if the watch were slow. You will have some delays when launching full apps, but the widget system means you don’t have to that often.

I also like that it has Spotify on it, and it’s relatively easy to download Spotify playlists directly to the watch. But the quality of third-party apps drops off steeply from there. There’s no built-in mapping or directions app, and the app store doesn’t have anything good to fill the gap. The third-party app situation isn’t very good at all, but then again, it’s not great on any platform…

…it has an always-on screen option, as all watches should. The screen looks great to me, even when viewing it outdoors in bright sunlight. I left it on and regularly got two full days of battery life, sometimes a little more if I didn’t exercise.

Speaking of exercise, you should think of this as a smartwatch first and a fitness tracker second. Samsung does have a lot of tracking options and Samsung Health is actually better than you might expect, but overall accuracy in terms of steps and distance has been problematic.


No inbuilt mapping/directions app? Poor fitness tracking? You might as well just buy a watch.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,164: Apple and Google draw fire over Hong Kong, Facebook finds gambling kids, movie poster cliches, Dyson dumps electric car, and more

  1. Putting side by side Apple’s and Google’s HK stories is a bit much.

    Google is banning a monetized game that plays on people’s suffering. It’s still distributing the free map app designed to help people avoid hotspots. And if it ever bans it, Android allows sideloads.

    Apple is banning that very app under several false pretenses (no cop has been individually targeted, they’re not obligated by law to do so,…), thus fully cutting off users (no sideloads).

    Trying to present the two as even remotely equivalent is not only baseless but utterly wrong. At some point, Apple must be treated fairly, on its own, with no whataboutism.

  2. Interesting tidbit on app spend:

    If we complete the data assuming Chinese app stores have stayed about level with Google’s PlayStore (they’ve been that way for years), that’s $30b, of which $22b on games. Assuming 3b users of which 1/3rd spend money on games, that’s a neat $7 per month per active spender.

    It’d be nice to know what of that is buying games, and what is in-game spend. I’m curious if the game subscriptions will raise spend from already-spenders or recruit new spnders. And what part will be additional vs substitutive. ie someone who was buying a lot of games will save money, someone spending a lot on IAP won’t but might still subscribe, low-spenders might graduate to $5/mo which is way above average ($22 per quarter / 3 months /3b users = $2.5 /month/user average, again huge variance certainly).

    It will also be interesting to see if some IAP games try to figure out a non-IAP mode. I can’t imagine anything for most games I’m familier with, their monetizing is deeply embedded in the gameplay.

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