Start Up No.1,167: Twitter warns Trump (subtly), WeWork squeezes Meetup, Google Pixel 4 kills Daydream, and more


California’s natural wildfires are being made worse by climate change. CC-licensed photo by Daria Devyatkina on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Testify! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

World leaders on Twitter: principles & approach • Twitter blog

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We want to make it clear today that the accounts of world leaders are not above our policies entirely. The below areas will result in enforcement action for any account on our service (without consideration of the potential public interest value in allowing the Tweet to remain visible behind a notice):

• Promotion of terrorism
• Clear and direct threats of violence against an individual (context matters: as noted above, direct interactions with fellow public figures and/or commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement)
• Posting private information, such as a home address or non-public personal phone number
• Posting or sharing intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent
• Engaging in behaviors relating to child sexual exploitation; and
• Encouraging or promoting self-harm.

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Basically, a new rule for Donald Trump. You’re not allowed to retweet such tweets, but you can quote-tweet them to point out that they’re awful.
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WeWork is desperately squeezing cash out of Meetup.com by taxing 225,000 communities • FreeCodeCamp

Quincy Larson, founder of FreeCodeCamp:

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Last night Meetup.com quietly rolled out a new pricing structure.

Effective “October”, Meetup is reducing the amount of money event organizers have to pay each month from $20 per month to $2 a month.

Wow – that sounds great. Group organizers don’t have to pay as much? So why is everyone so mad? Well, Meetup is also adding a new $2 fee every time a person RSVPs for a meetup. Every. Single. Time.

Let’s do some quick math. Before, it cost a group of people $20 per month to use Meetup.com to organize their events. With this new pricing, let’s assume you have a medium-sized meetup group that meets once a week and has 30 RSVPs each time. The group’s total collective Meetup.com fees will now go from $20 per month to: ($2 * 30 RSVPs * 4 events per month) = $240

Oh, wait – I forgot to add that Meetup.com will still charge group organizers $2 per month on top of this. So $242. That’s a 1,210% increase in cost.

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Estimated number of groups: 225,000. WeWork bought Meetup in 2017 for an estimated $200m. Going premium like this will probably kill 90% of those groups, but that’s 22,000 generating $240 every time they have a meetup.

Larson reckons it’s going to turn into a wasteland very soon.
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California’s PG&E blackouts are a climate warning • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

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Millions of people across California lost their power this week, after the local utility Pacific Gas and Electric intentionally shut off electrical lines to avoid starting wildfires in dangerously dry and windy conditions. The outage—termed a “public-safety power shutoff”—stretched hundreds of miles across the state’s northern half, dousing the lights in affluent Bay Area suburbs, on Sacramento Valley ranches, and in large coastal cities such as Eureka.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 600,000 customers faced a blackout, including hundreds of hospitals, the utility said. But that number belies the scale of the shutoff: An entire apartment building can count as a single “customer,” according to The New York Times.

In one sense, the blackout was caused by an overlapping set of crises—legal, financial, and ecological—that now confronts the state. But in a larger sense, it looked like a preview of mid-21st-century governance. When political leaders envision the century of climate change to come, they often speak of massive floods and dangerous droughts. But the experience of Californians this week—frustrated, needlessly inconvenienced, and saddled with aging infrastructure built for the wrong century—will define the mass experience of climate change as much as any deluge or inferno.

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PG+E cut off the power so that sparks from lines wouldn’t ignite wildfires like the ones earlier this year (where it was at fault). The cost of paying for those fires was colossal; it declared bankruptcy. The costs are billions, and all down to climate change.
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Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science • The Conversation

Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann:

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Industrial civilization must become technologically, economically, politically, and morally sustainable to hold the earth’s temperature below 2°C (3.6°F) higher than its preindustrial average. The problem is not insurmountable. It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically.

As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism. Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse.

At our present pace of fossil fuel burning we will, by 2036, exceed the 2°C limit (using the Northern Hemisphere mean temperature on a true pre-industrial (1750-1849) baseline under the assumption of a mid-range (3°C) equilibrium climate sensitivity). And if we reach 2°C warming, then natural feedback could threaten to drive further warming, making it possible for warming in the range of 3°C or more to occur. If temperatures warm 3°C (5.4°F) or more, we may simply be unable to cope with the consequences.

In short, our current model of development could prove catastrophic for human civilization and the natural world.

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Just something to consider on a Wednesday morning.
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Google’s Project Soli: the tech behind Pixel 4’s Motion Sense radar • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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By now, you’ve heard: the new Google Pixel 4 has a tiny radar chip inside it, which allows you to swipe or wave your hand to do a few things. More importantly, Motion Sense (as Google has branded it) is designed to detect your presence. It knows if you’re there. The technology comes from Project Soli, which was first demonstrated publicly in 2015 and is now inside the Pixel 4 as its first major commercial implementation. Responding to a few air gestures is fairly minor, but Google sees the potential for it to eventually become much more.

That’s always the way with new computing interfaces. The mouse and the touchscreen led to giant revolutions in computing, so you see the potential for a new one to do the same thing. It’s a trap Apple CEO Tim Cook himself fell into when he introduced the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch, saying it was as important as the mouse. (It wasn’t.)

Luckily, Google isn’t claiming quite so much for Motion Sense, but it does have a similar problem. The gap between things that Motion Sense could do and what it actually does in this first version is huge. In theory, putting radar on a phone is a revolution. In practice, it could be seen as just a gimmick.

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Bohn makes it pretty clear that he thinks it’s a gimmick:

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Do I really need my phone to wake up a half-second before I touch it, saving me a tap on the screen? Is it really that difficult to hit the snooze button?

It’s not. But then again, Google isn’t promising the world here. It’s just promising a slightly nicer, more seamless experience. Poupyrev points out that lots of people use the little autoreply buttons instead of just typing out “yes” manually. “At the end of the day, the technology that wins is what’s easy to use,” he argues. “It’s just as simple as that. And removing a small amount of friction is what gets people more and more adapted to the technology.”

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Nope. Google’s been working on this since 2015 (as Project Soli in ATAP). Notice how Apple just dumped its essentially undiscoverable 3D Touch from its phones. This is the same.
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Google discontinues Daydream VR • Venturebeat

Emil Protalinski:

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Google’s Daydream, Android’s built-in virtual reality platform, is as good as dead. Following the company’s annual hardware event today, Google confirmed to VentureBeat that the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL do not support the VR platform. Furthermore, Google stopped selling the Daydream View headset today. There are also no plans to support Daydream in future Android devices, Pixel or otherwise. “We are no longer certifying new devices,” a Google spokesperson confirmed. The Daydream app and store will continue to function for now.

A Google spokesperson shared the following statement with VentureBeat:

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We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR — being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution. Most notably, asking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps they use throughout the day causes immense friction.

There also hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset. So while we are no longer selling Daydream View or supporting Daydream on Pixel 4, the Daydream app and store will remain available for existing users.

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You’d have thought the tiniest bit of normal-person testing would have shown them that the idea of putting your smartphone into something you then put over your head is an utter non-starter. The lack of developer adoption probably reflects there being more rational people there. True, you have to try; but you don’t have to splurge a lot of money on it for years.

And so the future of virtual reality heads towards another choke point.
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Google Pixel 4 buyers won’t get unlimited photo uploads at original quality • The Verge

Chris Welch:

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The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will launch without one of the original great reasons for owning a Pixel phone: free unlimited photo backups to Google Photos at full resolution. Google’s website for the new devices only notes that they’re eligible for the same storage option as any other phone, which is unlimited backups at “high quality.” This option compresses your images when they’re uploaded to the cloud, which is why Google is able to offer it so freely.

Nowhere on the Pixel 4 site does it mention free storage at original quality, which was a major incentive for purchasing the original Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3. iPhone owners had to keep an eye on their iCloud storage, but Pixel users could always snap away care free. Not anymore. Google didn’t extend it to the Pixel 3A and 3A XL, but that was understandable due to their much lower price point. The Pixel 4 starts at $799, and the XL version is $899. These aren’t cheap phones.

Pixel 3 owners get free storage for their original-quality photos and videos until January 31st, 2022. So they’re in the clear for a long time before having to worry about paying anything. But the Pixel 4 won’t get you special treatment anymore. Google has confirmed directly to The Verge that the deal isn’t on offer this time around.

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Odd thing to leave off; you’d think that storage costs have continued to fall in the year since the 3 was sold. Maybe Google’s expecting to sell a ton more of these, as it has better distribution. Even so, seems like a strange thing to nickel-and-dime people on.
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Google can’t fix the Android update problem • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

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Take the recent report from Counterpoint Research, which points out that Nokia is far and away the best manufacturer when it comes to issuing major OS updates (after Google and Essential, both of which have far fewer devices to support). It includes this revealing chart, which plots out the percentage of a company’s “portfolio” adoption of Android 9 Pie in the year since it’s been released.


Source: Counterpoint Research White Paper: “Software and Security Updates: The Missing Link for Smartphones” Counterpoint Research

The thing that jumps out at you in this chart is how far ahead Nokia is! But this is actually a chart about failure. Here, let me highlight the most important quadrants:


Six months after release, only one manufacturer managed to get half of its portfolio updated, and only two managed over a quarter. A full year after release, only three managed to break the 50% mark! And the two most important and largest manufacturers — Samsung and Huawei — ended up at around 30 and 40 percent, respectively.

The lion’s share of phones sold during that period were running the latest version, but very few existing phones were upgraded to 9.

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That colouring of the quadrants – here’s the fast and thorough (empty), here’s the slow and incomplete (almost all of them) – is very perceptive. Of course, you say, the important thing is that Google Play and its APIs get updated independently of the underlying OS, so everyone’s happy, right? But developers in the comments say it’s a costly pain, and that’s important – and surely the reason why iOS still tends to get the first bite at new apps.
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EU warns of 5G risks amid scrutiny of Huawei • WSJ

Anna Isaac and Parmy Olson:

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The European Union has identified a series of specific security threats posed by foreign vendors of telecommunications equipment, significantly heightening the bloc’s scrutiny of suppliers like Huawei Technologies Co., according to officials familiar with the matter and a privately circulated risk assessment prepared by European governments.

Earlier in the week, the EU released a public report warning that hostile states or state-backed actors posed a security threat to new 5G mobile networks being rolled out around the world. 5G promises faster connection speeds and the ability to link lots of devices—from cars to pacemakers—to the internet.

Separately, in a nonpublic risk analysis that EU member states have recently circulated, governments raise specific security threats posed by telecom-equipment suppliers, particularly from countries with “no democratic and legal restrictions in place.” A draft of the analysis, which hasn’t been previously reported, was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The new assessment has raised alarm among officials in European capitals over Huawei, in particular, according to officials familiar with the report. Huawei has been a big supplier of network gear in large European economies like the U.K. and Germany. European leaders will lay out specific guidelines for member states on how best to approach issues of security within 5G networks later this year.

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Will the UK, which might have left the EU by then, pay any attention? Huawei kit is deeply embedded in BT’s systems.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

5 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,167: Twitter warns Trump (subtly), WeWork squeezes Meetup, Google Pixel 4 kills Daydream, and more

  1. Re. Google’s Soli. I wouldn’t put it quite in the same garbage bin a force touch:
    1- I was never clear what force touch did that a long press couldn’t. Apparently neither was Apple. There’s a special case on the home screen, but that’s really a UI/UX fail: the home screen should not be editable by default, so long press on an icon/widget should be available for right-click-like stuff.
    2- force touch needed buy-in from devs. Soli can be nice just handling the OS gestures (back, home, multitask, wake up, go to sleep, dismiss notif, snooze notif, maybe even answer notif or launch its app).
    3- I don’t think I’d use it in the wild, but I’ve taken to putting my phone on a stand on my desk. I’d appreciate not having to extend my arm all the time. Soli might tie in nicely with Assistant for remote-ish use.

    I won’t be getting a Pixel, and if I did it’d be for updates and camera, not for Soli. But I’m intrigued. I’d put its usefulness above a DeX or a pen; and those have found their niches.

  2. Re. Android updates. OK, let’s tackle that canard again:
    0- It’d be nice if all Android got all updates very fast, and for a long time. They don’t, iOS does, and that point has been seized energetically to push a narrative that’s not quite true.
    1- Again, Android updates are nowhere near as important as iOS updates. First-party apps (Mail, Browser, …), ecosystem services (Pay, Car, Fit…), security updates (not all, probably half), APIs and services, 3rd-party apps on the Android side all don’t need OS updates, but do need iOS updates. I’d say Android updates do about 1/4th the work vs 100% of the work on iOS.
    2- For people who want updates, there are Android options available, and not that expensive: a ONE phone (starts <$200), a Pixel (from $350), a Nokia or Essential (starts $100). People are exercising their choice to value something else over updates; it's maybe a bit sad, maybe a bit irresponsible, but they do have a choice and are making it.
    3- For all the talk about OS updates, features-wise they're not that important because a) most features aren't in OS updates but in separate apps updates b) 3rd-party apps can often bring new features to older OS versions and c) innovation in Mobile has slowed down a whole lot, I'm unsure what user-facing feature of 10 I really want, if any.
    4- re. Security, Google is on the record saying Androids version 8+, PlayStore-only, non-rooted, have a 0.01% chance of getting an actual (not ad-clicker) malware app, and then Android includes an antivirus to take it off once spotted. That's fine for anyone not worth targeting individually, nor an oppressed minority or in an authoritarian state. For all the talk, the biggest ever mobile malware event was on iOS, and it too keeps getting regular 0-days, now even an undetectable rootkit… – so even as a targeted individual, I'd be unsure about iOS vs a Pixel/ONE.

    In the end, it's clear the update situation doesn't matter to users because it's solved for them and they choose other stuff; it only matters to a rather specific part of the commentariat. It's been over 2 years since an actual user has asked me about OS updates; now I'm the one having to push a few of them to actually apply them when they're available, because "but it works fine ? why fix it ?"

  3. First Iphone vs Pixel photo compare: https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/15/20915462/google-pixel-4-xl-iphone-11-pro-camera-comparison-test-photos-specs

    Iphone looks better at first sight (more vivid colors, more light) but the Pixel seems to capture more details more often (and maybe the colors are more “true” ?), especially in grass/trees; does less face smoothing too, which is a plus or a minus depending on your taste – there should be a setting for that.

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