Start Up No.1,170: Trump ads swamp Facebook, Tinder on the species future, HuffPost for sale?, 16in MacBook Pro breaks cover, and more


Never mind Jennifer Arcuri; what about her mysterious “media manager” Annie Tacker? CC-licensed photo by Innotech Summit on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Status quo ante. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Trump campaign floods web with ads, raking in cash as Democrats struggle • The New York Times

Matthew Rosenberg and Kevin Roose:

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Far more than any other platform, Facebook is the focus for digital campaign spending, and it is in many ways even friendlier turf for Mr. Trump’s campaign than in 2016.

Since then, many younger, more liberal users have abandoned the platform in favor of Instagram, Snapchat and various private messaging apps, while older users — the type most likely to vote Republican — are still flocking to Facebook in droves. People over 65 now make up Facebook’s fastest-growing population in the United States, doubling their use of the platform since 2011, according to Gallup.

In a speech this year in Romania, Mr. Parscale recalled telling his team before the 2016 election that Facebook would allow the campaign to reach the “lost, forgotten people of America” with messages tailored to their interests.

“Millions of Americans, older people, are on the internet, watching pictures of their kids because they all moved to cities,” Mr. Parscale said. “If we can connect to them, we can change this election.”

Facebook also favors the kind of emotionally charged content that Mr. Trump’s campaign has proved adept at creating. Campaigns buy Facebook ads through an automated auction system, with each ad receiving an “engagement rate ranking” based on its predicted likelihood of being clicked, shared or commented on. The divisive themes of Mr. Trump’s campaign tend to generate more engagement than Democrats’ calmer, more policy-focused appeals. Often, the more incendiary the campaign, the further its dollars go.

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There’s an excellent story further down which describes the Democrats screwing up their approach by failing to go for the outrage approach. And losing, of course.
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Tinder boss Elie Seidman: ‘If you behave badly, we want you out’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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if Tinder is getting better at spotting abusive behaviour, and turfing perpetrators off the platform, what about the other side: are people learning to behave better in the first place? “What’s clear is that if you grow up in a world where you are accustomed to digital social – you were on Fortnite with your friends or your friends of friends, or you did FaceTime with your aunt or your grandmother when you were a kid – you don’t think of the digital world as a different world, one where the rules of decorum and the norms of behaviour that we take for granted in a bar or a restaurant just go out the window. It’s not an alternate universe. It’s a part of real life. Every next set of 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who join Tinder have grown up in a different environment in terms of digital social life.”

That generational shift, Seidman says, is crucial to understanding Tinder’s very visual skew, which differentiates it from older services such as OkCupid and has been blamed for the “shallow” nature of the connections it leads to. On OkCupid, when Seidman started, users were asked to fill in enormous questionnaires. An algorithm then purported to match them to those most compatible based on anything from big life choices to opinions on blockbuster movies. On Tinder, by contrast, the basic question is simpler: “Is this person hot?”

Seidman argues that this shift is, in part, just a reflection of the changing nature of technology. “The internet has become vastly more visual over the past 20 years, right?” Smartphones played a big part in this because they made it so much easier to upload photos. In fact, if you can remember the net before smartphones, Tinder may well not be for you. Half of the app’s users are under 25 (and, Seidman emphasises, over 18), and signing up for an account as you arrive at university is virtually a rite of passage for Gen Z. With that comes new ambitions.

The core of the Tinder interface, with its pictures and swiping, is, Seidman says, designed to replicate the “click” that two people get when they lock eyes for the first time, only in a way that works for a generation that has already used to the idea of socialising online.

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Notable link: couples who meet online have “happier, longer marriages”, according to a 2013 study.
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Facebook looks to improve child protection over fears encryption will raise risks • Financial Times

Madhumita Murgia:

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Facebook has revealed a two-year project to work out how to prevent minors from being groomed and exploited on its platforms after it introduces encryption, as politicians in the US, UK and Australia warned that the move threatens the safety of children.

In March, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, outlined how he planned to put privacy at the heart of the social network, encrypting all messages on Facebook Messenger and Instagram, as well as WhatsApp, to give people the “freedom to be themselves.”

But last month, US attorney-general William Barr, together with the US, UK and Australian home affairs ministers, warned Facebook that the move would allow sex offenders to freely target children and impede law enforcement’s ability to investigate such crimes by denying them access to the content of messages.

Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, said the company was looking at how to ensure the safety of children while pressing ahead with the move to encryption.

She said Facebook’s goal was to shift from flagging and removing illegal content to preventing abusers from contacting potential victims in the first place.

“When you find content, the problem with that is the harm has already been done. Ultimately you want to prevent that content from being shared in the first place, or from being created,” Ms Davis said. “So the way we are thinking about it is, how can we stop these connections?”

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Feels as though the answer many will come up with is “don’t encrypt?”
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Verizon seeks buyer for HuffPost website • Financial Times

Alex Barker, Anna Nicolaou and Eric Platt:

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Verizon is sounding out potential buyers for the HuffPost website, in the latest phase of the US telecoms group’s retreat from the digital media business.

In recent weeks Verizon has raised a HuffPost sale with potential acquirers, according to two people familiar with the discussions. No formal sale process has been launched and talks remain at an early stage.

A spokesperson for Verizon said: “We don’t comment on rumours and speculation.”

The attempt to sell the progressive news site is a sign of how Verizon is continuing to slim down the family of dotcom businesses it amassed with the costly acquisition of Yahoo and AOL, assets it wrote down by almost $5bn earlier this year. Last month Verizon sold Tumblr for a reported “nominal” amount, after buying the social network for $1.1bn in 2013. 

Verizon formed its media division from the merger of AOL, which Verizon bought for $4.4bn in 2015, and Yahoo, which it paid $4.5bn in 2017. At the time Tim Armstrong, the former AOL chief executive who pioneered the digital strategy, said the tie-up would create “the best company for consumer media”.

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Tim Armstrong strikes again. (Remember the fabulous AOL-Time Warner tieup, which destroyed billions in shareholder value?) I wonder though who would buy HuffPo. Can it really be so expensive to run? If HuffPo is on the block, then Techcrunch must be as well.
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Can scientists reverse time with a quantum computer? • Astronomy.com

Korey Haynes:

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For their experiment, the scientists used IBM‘s simple public quantum computer program, which uses two qubits – two units that, like a regular computer bit, can be a one or a zero. But unlike regular computer bits, qubits can also take a form called superposition, where they are both one and zero at the same time. In this way, they follow the laws of quantum mechanics, which are less clear-cut than the classical world humans inhabit.

The scientists set up the computer so that both qubits are zeros. According to quantum laws, the simple passage of time will cause the computer to fall out of this order, so that the qubits are soon in a random assortment of ones, zeros, or both. But scientists can also cause this to happen by running a program on their simple, 2-qubit computer.

The scientists then ran a different program, which tells the computer to run “backward.” They then ran the first program again, and were able to recover their original, zero-zero state about 85% of the time. They published their results March 13 in Scientific Reports.

The tricky part of the program is telling the computer to run backward, effectively making time run backward. Scientists investigated this “in the wild,” by isolating a single electron and calculating how long it would take for random perturbations in the universe to cause such an effect. They found that even if they studied 10 billion electrons every second, it would take the lifetime of the universe for such a phenomenon to happen just one time.

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Thus confirming another iron law of the universe: headlines that end with a questionmark can be completely answered with the word “No”.
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Boris Johnson, Jennifer Arcuri, and the mysterious Annie Tacker • BBC News

Phil Kemp:

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At a hearing of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Wednesday, Paul Farrelly, a Labour MP on the committee, said that according to the professional networking website LinkedIn the company’s media manager was someone called “Annie T”.

But he said that after investigating, it appeared that Annie’s profile picture was actually a stock image from a Pinterest page offering business women ideas for headshots. Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said the review would look at the evidence “with interest”.

Shortly after the session I sent Annie a message asking for an interview. I did not hear back. But I did soon receive a request to connect with someone called “Annie Tacker” on LinkedIn.

Now I had a surname. But a search of various databases showed no one by that name resident in the UK, despite her profile stating she lived in Cheshire. A short while later, Annie published a bizarre post on Linkedin claiming that she’d been “outed” in the House of Commons. “As a transitioning woman it’s nobodies (sic) business but mine what I put on the Internet,” she wrote. “The homophobic UK government should be discussing important topics instead of questioning my gender and identity!”

The post was later deleted and replaced with one including the line: “I am totally real, more real than you’ll ever be and more woman than he’ll ever have!”

I had noticed that by now her profile picture had changed – but something about the photo was still not right.

A colleague tipped me off that it may be worth exploring if the photo was artificially generated online. These work by bringing together different elements from a large database of different faces to create completely new, artificially created photos.

I wrote to the computer science expert Prof Hany Farid at University of California, Berkeley, who specialises in the analysis of digital images. He said the image in Annie T’s LinkedIn profile contained “some tell-tale signs” of being synthesised. The jewellery on her right ear seemed to be “misformed” and there was no jewellery on her left ear.

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Come on, this person is as fake as an eleven-pound note.
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Who benefited from the creation of the lopsided Eurasian Union? Its very largest member • Eurasianet

Sam Bhutia:

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A customs union is intended to boost trade. Members do not set import tariffs on each other’s goods, and goods coming from outside the bloc are taxed at the same rates. These rules protect members from outside competition and encourage trade within the group.

But what happens when one member is vastly larger than all the others combined?

That’s the case in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which was formed in 2015. Though there was never any doubt the bloc would primarily advantage Russia, with the benefit of a few years’ worth of IMF trade data we can now determine how much the EAEU has shifted trade patterns among the five members, which include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. As it turns out, one small, isolated country has made out better than some expected.

In 2018 trade with Russia accounted for 96.9% of all trade within the Eurasian Union; trade among the four smaller countries accounted for the remaining 3.1%.

«

More significantly, trade between the other four hasn’t hit its previous peak. Gives one an idea of why the members of EFTA (the European Free Trade Association: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) haven’t been eager to see the UK join it: the UK’s economy is presently about nine times bigger than the biggest, Switzerland.
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Kik is here to stay! • Kik

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MediaLab is a holding company that owns great internet brands like Whisper, Datpiff and others. We are a team of technologists, product managers, designers, and community builders who geek out over building cool stuff for large scale audiences. We believe that simplicity is the greatest form of sophistication, and that creating great products means maintaining great focus. 

Q: Why did we buy Kik? 
Ted Livingston and the rest of the team at Kik have spent the last 9 years building something truly special. At the risk of sounding cheesy we are still passionate believers in what the internet promised to bring in its early days – a connected and shared experience amongst people regardless of geography or time zone. Kik is one of those amazing places that brings us back to those early aspirations. One where you can instantly connect with someone from halfway around the world and forge a connection through common interest.

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You might recall that Kik cocked it up by picking blockchain over messaging, and was knocked back by the SEC. Now someone else has got the useful not-encumbered-by-lawsuits bit.
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16-Inch MacBook Pro possibly referenced in macOS Catalina 10.15.1 Beta • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Icons possibly depicting the widely rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro have been uncovered by French blog MacGeneration in the first two betas of macOS Catalina version 10.15.1, which has been in testing since last week.

The icon looks similar to the 15-inch MacBook Pro asset that is included in previous versions of macOS, but with slightly thinner bezels. The notebook is depicted in both Silver and Space Gray, with “16” in both filenames presumably referring to the larger 16-inch display expected for the rumored machine.

MacRumors can confirm the files exist in the second beta of macOS Catalina 10.15.1:

The icons also have a corresponding MacBookPro16,1 model identifier that Apple has never used. The latest 15-inch MacBook Pro has a MacBookPro15,1 identifier, according to a support document on Apple’s website.

«

This seems like a clever way to announce things without really announcing them. Apple must – surely, by now – know that every beta release will be filleted for details of rumoured or upcoming products. And this thread by Michael Love suggests Apple won’t hold an event, but just put out a stack of press releases to introduce the new products. Seems a bit low-key, but they’re all products that people in the know have expected for ages, particularly the pro devices, so the press releases would do the work.
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Monica Lewinsky’s new PSA explores a lethal, silent epidemic. Would you recognize the signs? • Glamour

Mattie Kahn:

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Children around the world are getting sick, doctors are confounded, and parents are at a loss. No, it’s not some new strain of swine flu. But it is the subject of a new PSA from Monica Lewinsky in partnership with BBDO New York and Dini von Mueffling Communications.

“Epidemic” is her latest campaign, the third in a powerful series of ads designed to raise awareness about a silent and lethal epidemic. The video introduces audiences to a teen girl whose health deteriorates at a rapid clip over the course of film. First she’s home from school, then she can’t eat or sleep. In a panic, she reaches for a bottle of pills. In under two minutes, viewers see her go from normal, robust teen to unconscious girl in the E.R. Picture an episode of House or Grey’s Anatomy. A patient presents with a near-fatal illness, but doctors feel like there must be some essential information missing. The right blood work, some specific test. It’s obvious this person is sick, but what’s the pathogen?

In the video, words flash across the screen and offer a clue. “This story is not what it seems. Go to the-epidemic.com/realstory to get the message.”

Follow that link, and a new screen prompts viewers to enter their phone number. Then the video starts over, except this time the person watching it receives the same texts that the girl in the campaign does. The messages are devastating—a deluge of threats, harassment, and abuse. Viewers don’t just watch it unfold; we experience it. “It’s like the difference between seeing something in 3D and seeing something in VR,” Lewinsky tells Glamour of the campaign’s interactive elements. It makes the abuse that people face on the internet, through their phones, and IRL feel real, immediate, and dangerous.

It also made the project a challenge for Lewinsky to work on, given how well she knows the issue.

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She’s a remarkable person; the resilience that it takes to survive what she’s gone through is beyond exceptional. And now she’s using it to help others. Even more remarkable.
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Is the Pixel 4’s most revolutionary new feature just a huge waste of time? • BGR

Zach Epstein:

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Motion Sense radar has three main functions on the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. First, it allows you to perform swipe gestures in front of the phone to skip songs, dismiss calls, and snooze and alarm. That’s pretty nifty, but it can also easily be accomplished by activating the front-facing camera in each of those scenarios. Google’s radar chip uses slightly less power than the front-facing camera would, but the difference isn’t anywhere close to being significant enough to impact overall battery life.

Second, the Motion Sense radar chip detects presence. It knows if you’re close to your phone — within a foot or two — and it actives the Pixel 4’s always-on display when you’re nearby if that feature is enabled. If you walk away from your phone, it turns the always-on display off. Again, the amount of battery life this feature will save is insignificant thanks to OLED screen technology.

Finally, the radar chip in the Pixel 4 detects when you reach for the phone. If the phone is idle, it will turn the display on and ready face unlock. If an alarm is sounding or the phone is ringing, it will lower the volume a bit as you reach for the phone. The first function is just silly — like Apple, Google can use the accelerometer to detect when the phone is picked up and activated face unlock. It’ll be just as fast. As for quieting alerts, this is also a nifty feature but other phones use the accelerometer to detect a touch before quieting or muting. Is there any meaningful benefit in quieting the alert a fraction of a second sooner? No, there’s not.

As we said earlier, Project Soli is indeed very cool tech and we’ve never seen anything like it on a smartphone. Unfortunately, the reason we haven’t seen radar on a smartphone before could be the simple fact that it doesn’t enable any features that are truly new and worthwhile.

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Epstein points out the resemblance to Apple’s 3D Touch – killed after four years, “longer than it took to create”, because you could accomplish the same with a long press. Like Project Ara, I think this is solving a problem nobody has but which interviews well.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1,170: Trump ads swamp Facebook, Tinder on the species future, HuffPost for sale?, 16in MacBook Pro breaks cover, and more

  1. Wow, a second piece on how useless the Pixel’s motion sensor is. One would believe nothing but arguable stuff ever happens on the Android side. 2 things.

    1- I’m not that sure about the sensor. Needs more tests, might come into its own only when on a stand, might not be more than niche à la DeX and Pen. I for one would love not having to touch my phone when it’s on its stand at my desk. And it doesn’t really need 3rd-party support à la force touch, OS-only gestures are enough.

    2- Other stuff of import in the Android world last week:
    – Samsung cutting Linux support out of DeX. I’m of 2 minds about it: one the one hand, it’s always sad to see a feature go, on the other hand except for very specific cases Android apps are wildly superior to Linux apps.
    – Xiaomi Redmi 8 released, will probably replace the Redmi Note as my base recommendation for average users. Also its bit-cheaper, way-downspecced sibling the 8A. $100 now gets you something modern and delightful. 2 main drawbacks are a camera that’s only good enough in daylight (useless as soon as lumens drop), and iffy mic for shooting video/Skyping. Everything else is delightful: touchID, SD slot, Audio jack, nice screen, same Antutu as iPhone 6S still, better pics at all times, huge battery (5.000 vs the Note’s already-huge 4,000), plenty of GBs (starts at 3+32+SD, ends at 4+64+SD)… The main complaint I anticipate is : Too big ! (6.2″ screen, 2cm longer 8mm wider than the iP6S, like the Note)
    – Samsung forgot to teach its S11 fingerprint reader to not only match prints, but also count not-matches, resulting in false positives when using a screen protection that saturates positive matches. Patch on the way.
    – Even very old Google apps are getting a dark mode. Rollout almost complete. Some weirdness though (I can’t get a dark gCal widget because I’m on Android 9 ??)
    – Xiaomi released the list of MIUI 11 releases (add the Mi Ax to that). I’m counting 30-35 phones before the end of the year, which is both huge and not-so huge (only models less than 2 years old, but almost all of them).
    – Everything has been deathly quiet on the Fuchsia front for a few months, last big news was that ex-Appler OS launch specialist hire. Not much about Flutter either, I’m curious how that’s faring.
    – Oh, Google launched a not-ridiculously-priced ChromeBook. Chromebooks in general are a wise choice for users overwhelmed by Windows/MacOS, that’s a lot of them. Probably not Google’s ChromeBook though.

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