Start Up No.1,166: Apple defends Tencent connection, Zuckerberg’s right-wing meetups, PC market grows (sorta), what’s next for Fortnite, Sully on MCAS, and more


Pinterest has intentionally suppressed the ability to discover certain content on its site. CC-licensed photo by Lawrence G. Miller on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Just read what it says on the cards. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Pinterest built one of Silicon Valley’s most successful algorithms • OneZero

Will Oremus:

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[In 2017] Mike Caulfield, a media literacy and online communications expert at Washington State University Vancouver… went looking for political culture on Pinterest, and what he found was just about as ugly as what you’d expect on any other social platform. There were boards full of fake news, ethnic stereotypes, and QAnon conspiracy theories.

Caulfield argued that Pinterest’s aggressive recommendation algorithm, coupled with its reliance on user-created “boards” of related images, can turn a user’s feed into a hate-filled cesspool within minutes. “After just 14 minutes of browsing, a new user with some questions about vaccines could move from pins on ‘How to Make the Perfect Egg’ to something out of the Infowarverse,” Caulfield wrote.

Part of the problem, as explained by Middlebury College’s Amy Collier, is that spammers game Pinterest’s algorithm by putting viral political memes on the same board as, say, T-shirts they want to sell. When users engage with the memes, the algorithm shows them other items from the same board, on the theory that they might also be of interest. Eventually, it shows them the T-shirts, some fraction of them buys one, and the spammer profits.

Caulfield says he’s accustomed to tech companies ignoring his critiques or getting defensive. So Pinterest’s reaction surprised him: They thanked him for highlighting the problem and invited him to meet with company executives and share ideas for how to solve it. And then, at least on the anti-vaxx issue, they followed through.

In August, Pinterest changed how its search engine treats queries about vaccines. Rather than surfacing the most popular vaccine-related pins, Pinterest said it would now show only pins from major health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the CDC.

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So unusual it merits being written about.
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Huawei Mate X is supposedly being released in China this month • Android Police

Manuel Vonau:

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the company has confirmed that it’s launching its own take on foldables in China this month, while a video showing off the device and its retail box has been making its rounds on Twitter.

Chinese outlet cnBeta says the phone is slated to be released in China by the end of this month, though it warns that initial supply will likely not last too long due to low production yield. The Mate X was previously scheduled for June, but following the Galaxy Fold debacle revolving around dirt and dust entering the device’s hinge and display, Huawei has apparently decided to redesign vital parts of its product as well to ensure it won’t face the same issues Samsung already had to work through.

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Outward folding screen, and the Google ban almost surely means no Google apps. China-only, which is probably going to be fortunate, because I can’t see an outward-folding plastic screen surviving very long in the real user world.
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Why you should care about ultra-wideband (UWB): fine-grained location sensing isn’t just for lost luggage • Diginomica

Kurt Marko goes into some of the technical details about UWB, and its potential uses by car makers and others:

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Apple doesn’t go to the expense of developing and embedding a new component in hundreds of millions of iPhones without some significant plans that justify the space in those space-starved devices. Earlier this year, there were abundant rumors of Apple using UWB in a Tile-like ID tag for highly accurate location tracking, however, there are several other applications in the FiRa taxonomy above that would be even more compelling in a phone, including:

• Indoor mapping and navigation with much greater precision than GPS- or Bluetooth LE-based systems
• Smart home and vehicle access and control using a phone or Apple Watch (if, when Apple adds UWB to its Watch) to replace a key fob
• Augmented Reality that uses precise location and movement information in apps
• Mobile payments that are more secure than NFC by being resistant to eavesdropping attacks and able to define a precise, limited bubble around the payer’s location.

Whatever Apple ends up introducing, you can bet it will unleash a torrent of copycats jumping on the UWB bandwagon.

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The rest is a really good primer on UWB.
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Apple defends the way it shares Safari browser data with Google or Tencent • CNET

Ian Sherr:

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Apple is refuting press reports that it sends some users’ private browsing data to Google and the Chinese tech company Tencent, saying it safeguards people’s information in its own systems and doesn’t send most easily identifiable website information to other companies…

…In Apple’s documentation, the iPhone maker said its Safari browser “may send information calculated from the website address to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing to check if the website is fraudulent. These browsing providers may also log your IP address.”

But in a statement, Apple said it actually doesn’t send information to Google or Tencent. Instead, it receives a list of bad websites from both companies and then uses it to protect people as they surf the web. Apple sometimes obscures the information about the website people visit if it requests more information to check if a questionable website is malicious. The URL, or website address being checked, “is never shared with a safe browsing provider,” Apple said in the statement, originally provided to Bloomberg.

But, Apple said, the internet or IP address of the person’s browser may be shared with Google or Tencent. For people concerned about their privacy, the service can be turned off in Safari preferences on the iPhone or Mac.

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Took 24 hours to get there, so Apple’s improving on this.
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Chinese propaganda app doubles as new spying tool for authorities, report says • The Washington Post

Anna Fifield:

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The Chinese Communist Party appears to have “superuser” access to the entire data on more than 100 million Android-based cellphones through a back door in a propaganda app that the government has been promoting aggressively this year.

 An examination of the coding of the app used by phones running the Android operating system shows it enables authorities to retrieve messages and photos from users’ phones, browse their contacts and Internet history, and activate an audio recorder inside the devices.

“The [Chinese Communist Party] essentially has access to over 100 million users’ data,” said Sarah Aoun, director of technology at the Open Technology Fund, an initiative funded by the U.S. government under Radio Free Asia. “That’s coming from the top of a government that is expanding its surveillance into citizens’ day-to-day lives.”…

…The Open Technology Fund contracted Cure53, a German cybersecurity firm, to break apart the app and determine its exact capabilities.

The Cure53 researchers investigated the Android version of the app, which is used in smartphones made by Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, but did not look into the version available on Apple’s iOS. Android-based phones account for the vast majority of smartphones in China, with Apple making up only 6% of the market as of June, according to Counterpoint, a research consulting firm based in Hong Kong.

Apple said that, while the app could be downloaded on its devices, this type of “superuser” surveillance could not be conducted on Apple’s operating system.

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Traditional PC market continues to grow despite issues in the supply chain • IDC

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Worldwide shipments of traditional PCs, comprised of desktops, notebooks, and workstations, reached 70.4m units in the third quarter of 2019 (3Q19), according to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. Demand in the commercial segment combined with trade tensions between the United States and China to drive the market forward, resulting in a second consecutive quarter of growth with shipments increasing by 3% over the third quarter of 2018.

“With higher tariffs on the horizon PC makers once again began to push additional inventory during the quarter though the process was a bit more difficult as many faced supply constraints from Intel, leaving AMD with more room to grow,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers. “The trade tensions are also leading to changes in the supply chain as most notebook manufacturers are now prepared to move production to other countries in Asia, such as Taiwan and Vietnam.”

“Commercial demand should accelerate as enterprises work through the remainder of their Windows 10 migration,” added Linn Huang, research vice president, Devices & Displays. “The number of months until the end of service (EOS) date of Windows 7 can be counted on one hand. With January 14, 2020 drawing nigh, the commercial market should be able to digest the extra inventory over the next several quarters. Supply constraints may loom in subsequent quarters, so excess may not be a bad position for channel inventory through the remainder of the year.”

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Basically, growth driven by fear that prices will hike up next quarter (which they will). The top five companies now have just under 80% of the whole market; they’re tightening their grip.
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Domino’s turns Pizza Checker AI into workplace surveillance tool • iTnews Australia

Julian Bajkowski:

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Australian pizza empire Domino’s might tout its AI driven “pizza checker” as a big win for customers, but on the floor of the kitchen the device that scans toppings and matches them to orders has become a powerful surveillance tool to keep staff and product on spec.

After a rough start out of the gates thanks to teething issues, Domino’s on Thursday revealed progress on deploying the mighty food scanner which is being pushed to investors as a major competitive edge over junk food rivals in terms of efficiency and consistency.

Having spent more than a year talking up the product-enhancing potential of the Pizza Checker, Domino’s on Thursday updated impatient shareholders on the rollout and performance of the device, including how it’s being used to assist underperforming franchisees.

In a 91 slide deck delivered at Domino’s investor day, chief executive Don Meij and Australian head Nick Knight revealed the automated checker was now being used for “franchisee and operations team alignment” with the head office now “incorporating pizza checker for ‘scorecard’ bonus system”.

However company insists the technology isn’t being used as a basis to select or initiate store buybacks, telling iTnews that neither franchise profitability nor pizza quality data was not a factor in such discussions.

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Except it does send data back to a “central data lake”, which is a fabulous phrase. And it does prod stores that are underperforming. Congratulations! AI is running the business.
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Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s private meetings with conservative pundits • POLITICO

Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman:

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been hosting informal talks and small, off-the-record dinners with conservative journalists, commentators and at least one Republican lawmaker in recent months to discuss issues like free speech and discuss partnerships.

The dinners, which began in July, are part of Zuckerberg’s broader effort to cultivate friends on the right amid outrage by President Donald Trump and his allies over alleged “bias” against conservatives at Facebook and other major social media companies. “I’m under no illusions that he’s a conservative but I think he does care about some of our concerns,” said one person familiar with the gatherings, which multiple sources have confirmed.

News of the outreach is likely to further fuel suspicions on the left that Zuckerberg is trying to appease the White House and stay out of Trump’s crosshairs. The president threatened to sue Facebook and Google in June and has in the past pressured the Justice Department to take action against his perceived foes.

“The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about the Justice Department, under Bill Barr, bringing an enforcement action to break up the company,” said one cybersecurity researcher and former government official based in Silicon Valley.

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Zuckerberg is no fool, and covering himself in case the Republicans get in again (or even hold some balance of power post-2020) is sensible. Reprehensibly sensible: they’re trying to yank him as far right as they possibly can, which is a long way as they’re basically the most right-wing politicians in the elected world.
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Fortnite Chapter 2 trailer leaks, and it has boats on a new map • VentureBeat

Jeff Grubb:

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Fortnite isn’t over quite yet. Epic Games is about to bring the game back with Chapter 2 – Season 1, according to a leaked trailer. Twitter account SkinTrackerCom tweeted the 30-second promo for Fortnite’s latest Battle Pass. That tweet is now gone, but I captured the video. You can watch it.

The clip shows off a collection of new skins you can acquire for your character in the battle pass. But it also confirms that a new map is on the way. This environment features rivers and boats, which should shake up gameplay for long-time players.

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So that’s your breakfast/lunch/dinner conversation sorted out.
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My letter to the editor of New York Times Magazine • Sully Sullenberger

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In “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?” William Langewiesche draws the conclusion that the pilots are primarily to blame for the fatal crashes of Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian 302. In resurrecting this age-old aviation canard, Langewiesche minimizes the fatal design flaws and certification failures that precipitated those tragedies, and still pose a threat to the flying public. I have long stated, as he does note, that pilots must be capable of absolute mastery of the aircraft and the situation at all times, a concept pilots call airmanship. Inadequate pilot training and insufficient pilot experience are problems worldwide, but they do not excuse the fatally flawed design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was a death trap. As one of the few pilots who have lived to tell about being in the left seat of an airliner when things went horribly wrong, with seconds to react, I know a thing or two about overcoming an unimagined crisis. I am also one of the few who have flown a Boeing 737 MAX Level D full motion simulator, replicating both accident flights multiple times

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When you’re being told off by Sully (you’ll recall he successfully ditched his plane with no loss of life in the Hudson river after a bird strike took out both engines), you know you got something wildly wrong. He’s really down on MCAS and says it shouldn’t have been approved by Boeing or the FAA.

Boeing’s problems are only getting bigger.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,166: Apple defends Tencent connection, Zuckerberg’s right-wing meetups, PC market grows (sorta), what’s next for Fortnite, Sully on MCAS, and more

  1. One possible use for UWB would be to end the stream of notifications for the same information on multiple synced devices. If the devices are aware they are next to one another the notification can be served to only one. Thus ending a minor but persistent 1st World annoyance.

  2. “Took 24 hours to get there, so Apple’s improving on this.”. Not quite, there’s a bit of unwrapping to do here:

    1- On the previous issue (the Map thing), AFAIK the only answer has been an hypocritical internal memo destined to be leaked and full on untruths. So the basic issue is not how fast we got an answer, but that we got one at all.

    2- We got that answer because it’s based on a Google service, and Google is transparent. On the Apple side, it took disassembling Safari code to understand what Apple was doing; on the Google side, it took… reading Google’s official docs and statements. Once that was done, Apple directed us to Google’s explanations and confirmed the disassembly was correct. Thank you, I guess ?

    BTW, in passing, a quick remark. It would be nice if sites/writers who delight in advertising, mocking, and blaming Google for every marginal service’s discontinuation (reminds you of anyone ?) would, from time to time, acknowledge when Google provides a free service to the community, such as this blacklist of bad sites. I’m sure we’ll hear no end of “bad Google !” if Google ever discontinues it; maybe a “good Google !” from time to time while it *is* up would be… fair. I’m unaware of Apple providing any such public service ?

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