Start Up No.1,176: Facebook’s worsening political ad mess, China’s cryptocurrency?, AirPods Pro!, how to get RCS, and more


Google probably offered a bit more money than this for Fitbit. Though, who knows? CC-licensed photo by Jason Coleman on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Situation: roomy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook removes pro-Trump ads it said violated its policies • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Isaac Stanley-Becker :

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Thousands of Facebook users in Arizona may have been startled to see a strange warning appear in their social feeds earlier this month.

“Official records show that your voter registration is incomplete,” began the post. “Follow the link below to complete your voter registration NOW!”

But the message didn’t come from local government officials or civic groups that encourage people to vote. Rather, it was an ad from a super PAC supporting President Trump — part of an effort by allies of the Trump White House to mobilize users on Facebook and harness their personal data, in a way that’s left some experts and voting-rights advocates spooked.

The Arizona ad, paid for by The Committee to Defend the President, is one of roughly two dozen such ads that two pro-Trump super PACs have purchased on Facebook over the past five months, according to an analysis of Facebook’s advertising archive by The Washington Post. Some of the ads falsely suggest that Democrats are purging voter rolls; others direct viewers to some version of a voter-registration form, but only after they submit information, such as their names, email addresses and political affiliations.

Responding to an inquiry from The Post, Facebook said this weekend that it was removing four of the voting-related ads for violating its policies. A spokesperson for the tech giant said it would send other ads purchased by another pro-Trump group, Great America PAC, to third-party fact-checkers to verify their assertions about states purging voter rolls.

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So Facebook won’t allow ads that might lead to voter suppression. Apart from the ones it allows. It’s exhausting; Facebook says it won’t allow something, journalists find multiple examples of it allowing something, repeat. The simple solution would be to ban political ads.
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CCIEE Vice Chairman says People’s Bank of China will be first to roll out digital currency • Pandaily

David Lee:

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Huang Qifan, vice chairman of CCIEE (China Center for International Economic Exchanges), has expressly stated that he does not believe Facebook’s digital currency Libra will be successful. He firmly holds that China’s central bank is close to developing its blockchain-based financial technology and will be the first in the world to officially roll out a usable digital currency.

Huang spoke at the Inaugural Bund Financial Summit of 2019 in Shanghai where financial leaders across the world gathered between October 27 – 29 and discussed a wide variety of issues focused on financial inclusion, fintech and wealth management.

Huang pointed out in his speech that in the current digital age, the payment and settlement methods between enterprises and countries need to be reshaped.

He stressed that the cross-border liquidation of China’s renminbi (RMB) is highly dependent on the US SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system and CHIPS (Clearing House Interbank Payments System). He added that the two financial instruments that are gradually becoming effective tools for the US to exercise global hegemony and carry out widespread jurisdiction control.

“SWIFT is an outdated, inefficient and costly payment system. Since the establishment of SWIFT 46 years ago, the technology has been updated slowly and the efficiency has been relatively low. International wire transfers usually take 3-5 business days to arrive. Large remittances usually require paper documents, which presents additional difficulty for processing large-scale transactions effectively,” Huang expressed throughout his speech. “At the same time, SWIFT usually charges a fee of one ten-thousandth of the settlement amount, and has obtained huge profits by virtue of the monopoly platform.”

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Hmm. A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand. If the Chinese state launches a cryptocurrency…
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Parts suppliers fear about Samsung’s phone production outsourcing to China • Korea Times

Nam Hyun-woo:

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Small- and medium-sized enterprises supplying smartphone parts to Samsung Electronics are increasingly concerned about the firm’s accelerating moves to hire Chinese manufacturers to produce its phones, according to industry officials Monday.

Outsourcing the production of 60 million phones to Chinese makers is seen as a move to lower productions costs and more effectively compete with Chinese smartphone makers in emerging markets, they said.

According to industry sources, Samsung Electronics will outsource the manufacturing of more than 60 million Galaxy M and Galaxy A series smartphones to Chinese original design manufacturers (ODMs) next year. This will account for 20% of the company’s annual smartphone delivery of 300 million.

ODM refers to a company that designs and manufactures a product, to be rebranded and sold by another company. Unlike original equipment manufacturers, which manufacture products based on the ordering firm’s design and specifications, ODMs design the products to be manufactured.

Samsung Electronics has been expanding its ODM smartphone business in recent years. Last year, the company outsourced 3 million smartphones including the Galaxy A6s to Chinese ODMs and is expanding the volume to anywhere between 30 million and 40 million this year, the sources said

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I’m confused by this. Samsung shut down its factories in China at the end of September. Now it’s effectively reopening them?
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Apple announces AirPods Pro • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

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AirPods Pro will sync with Apple devices in exactly the same way as AirPods, and they will use the H1 chip found in the second-generation AirPods and some Beats headphones. The H1 is a successor to the W1, a chip that allowed for some creative workarounds for the limitations of Bluetooth for easier syncing with devices. H1 moves from Bluetooth 4.2 to Bluetooth 5, and it enables “Hey Siri” hands-free voice commands.

The new headphones will include an additional feature called “Adaptive EQ,” which will tune low and mid frequencies to match the shape of your ear—similar to how speakers like the Sonos One scan the room and adapt their output accordingly.

Whereas AirPods were external earbuds, AirPods Pro will be in-ear headphones. They will come with interchangeable tips in three sizes: large, medium, and small. Apple will include an audio-testing tool to help users determine which size is best for them. And the headphones will use a “vent system” to “equalize pressure” and “minimize discomfort,” Apple’s release claims.
The key pitch, though, is active noise cancelation. Previously a feature of expensive, over-ear headphones, noise cancelation has been getting into in-ear headphones more recently. The microphones in AirPods Pro will listen to external sound and work to block it in the user’s ear, updating up to 200 times per second.

Users will be able to swap between this active noise cancelation and a “Transparency” mode, which allows more external sound, either with a new force sensor on the hardware itself or by bringing up a software menu on the iOS, watchOS, or iPadOS device with which the AirPods Pro are synced.

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Pricey at $249/£249, though that includes the wireless charging case which costs $40/£40. So Apple now has a stratification – these at the top end, ordinary AirPods with wireless charging at $199, ordinary AirPods without wireless charging at $159.

The rumours of lots of different colours came to nothing. Can’t see that happening. But might Apple release/announce its new MacBook Pro and pricing for the Mac Pro in the same way over the next two days?
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Exclusive: Google owner Alphabet in bid to buy Fitbit • Reuters

Greg Roumeliotis and Paresh Dave:

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While Google has joined other major technology companies such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in developing smart phones, it has yet to develop any wearable offerings.

There is no certainty that the negotiations between Google and Fitbit will lead to any deal, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential. The exact price that Google has [formally] offered for Fitbit could not be learned.

Google and Fitbit declined to comment. Fitbit shares rose 27% on the news, giving the company a market capitalization of $1.4bn. Alphabet shares rose 2% to $1,293.49.

A deal for Fitbit would come as its dominant share of the fitness tracking sector continues to be chipped away by cheaper offerings from companies such as China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and Xiaomi Corp.

Fitbit’s fitness trackers monitor users’ daily steps, calories burned and distance traveled. They also measure floors climbed, sleep duration and quality, and heart rate.

Fitbit, which helped pioneer the wearable devices craze, has been partnering with health insurers and has been making tuck-in acquisitions in the healthcare market, as part of efforts to diversify its revenue stream. Analysts have said that much of the company’s value may now lie in its health data.

Fitbit cut its 2019 revenue forecast in July, blaming disappointing sales of its newly launched cheapest smartwatch Versa Lite. The watch is priced at $160, compared with $200 for the full version. It can track workouts and heart rate but lacks features such as the ability to store music directly.

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Google beat Apple to the wearable space with Android Wear – five years ago now! – but thought the Android model of leaving it to OEMs would work as it did with phones. It didn’t. So now it’s putting all the pieces together to do it properly.
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Update your iPhone 5 to continue using App Store, iCloud, email, web, and other services • Apple Support

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Starting just before 12:00 a.m. UTC on November 3, 2019,* iPhone 5 will require an iOS update to maintain accurate GPS location and to continue to use functions that rely on correct date and time including App Store, iCloud, email, and web browsing. This is due to the GPS time rollover issue that began affecting GPS-enabled products from other manufacturers on April 6, 2019. Affected Apple devices are not impacted until just before 12:00 a.m. UTC on November 3, 2019.

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At a guess, the iPhone 5 used a different timing and GPS chip from every other model, which somehow doesn’t allow for the rollover. (The support note seems to suggest there’s a timing issue too.) The iFixit teardown doesn’t name any GPS chip, but perhaps a differential between the chips used in the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S would highlight it. (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
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Space satellite crashes in front yard of Michigan home • ABC News

Libby Cathey:

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A Samsung pseudo space satellite parachuted from the sky and fell to the ground on a farm in Merrill, Michigan, on Saturday morning.

Nancy Welke of Merrill told the Gratiot County Herald that she and her husband, Dan, were preparing to let their horses out around 8:45 a.m. when they heard a loud crash in their front yard. Welke looked out the window and couldn’t recognize what she was seeing – but some might have characterized it as out of this world.

Outside, Welke found a four-legged object with an aluminum foil-wrapped box and solar panels attached to the top of it. Inside the box were two large cameras and one Samsung cellphone, according to Welke. The contraption had several Samsung plaques on it and wording on the sides of the box read “Space Selfie.” It was still humming and flashing when Welke decided to share the strange event on Facebook.

“Unbelievalbe [Unbelievable],” she wrote. “Look what just fell out of the sky and 911 is baffled and it’s caught up in our tree.”

Around the same time, Gratiot Central Dispatch warned motorists to avoid a nearby area in Wheeler, Michigan, where the “fire department has (the) roadway closed due to a large object caught in live power lines.” Some local residents including Welke had their power cut off for a couple of hours while crews removed the large, deflated balloon.

The split space contraction turned out to be a high altitude balloon system – officially known as a pseudo satellite.

A Samsung spokesperson released a statement Saturday to explain the incident: “Earlier today, Samsung Europe’s SpaceSelfie balloon came back down to earth,” the statement read. “During this planned descent of the balloon to land in the US, weather conditions resulted in an early soft landing in a selected rural area. No injuries occurred and the balloon was subsequently retrieved. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.”

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Could easily have landed on the house, or an animal. Samsung might want to think about how close this PR stunt came to being properly disastrous, in a way that would have made the Note 7’s inflammability look like a tea party.
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How to enable RCS messaging on your phone, regardless of carrier • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:

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RCS messaging is meant to be the next evolution of SMS, bringing a variety of nifty features to the table to rival Apple’s iMessage. But the truth is that many carriers around the world are dragging their feet in implementing the feature.

Now, a tutorial on reddit has shown users how to enable RCS on almost any smartphone, regardless of carrier. It’s worth noting however that RCS doesn’t apparently support dual-SIM phones though.

In any event, the solution requires the Android Messages beta, and Activity Launcher app. Once you’ve got those apps, you should then turn off Wi-Fi and follow the reported steps listed below.

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Use at own risk, etc, and doesn’t seem to work for some people in some places on some phones. (And here’s a reminder of what RCS is: basically, WhatsApp but without the Facebook ownership.)
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The Trump Vs. Obama situation room photos • Reading The Pictures

Michael Shaw compares those two:

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At this point, it remains unclear when during the raid this [Trump] photograph was taken. It’s important to emphasize however that the way the White House is compelled to pose and perform everything largely minimizes the difference.

For example, it’s incredible they would even think to turn this into a portrait, especially at or near the moment when Bagdadi blew himself up.

As we discussed above, the photo — as compared to the bin Laden raid photo — is about the team and the act of management and witnessing. But there are clearly two or three more people at the table. There seems to be someone on the near right. And there are at least two more near left, based on the papers and notepads, a hand, and then someone reflected in the monitor. So this photo is also weird for cutting off those other participants.

I’m also concerned about the expression of Joint Chiefs Chair General Milley (middle right). He doesn’t show the typical serious/concerned frown of the others. Those eyes make me think something else is going on. If the photo wasn’t staged in the formal way we tend to understand that term, his discomfort in (or with?) the portrait is also troubling.

And finally, why would they bother to set up nameplates?

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The latter photo is utterly devoid of the intensity and dynamism of the Obama sitroom photo – even if you only look at the seated people, there’s far more emotion on show (particularly through Hillary Clinton’s hand over her mouth). The newer one is so, so strange.

The overall site itself is certainly worth keeping tabs on.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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