Start Up No.1199: Twitter pauses account cull, bad bags for life, TikTok helping repression, Toshiba’s cancer blood drop test, and more

A reconstruction of Game 3 of the match between Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. (Go players will recognise it’s not exactly accurate.) Lee has now quit. CC-licensed photo by Alvin Trusty on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Try the turkey. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Go master Lee Sedol says he quits unable to win over AI Go players • Yonhap News Agency



South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol, who retired from professional Go competition last week after gaining worldwide fame in 2016 as the only human to defeat the artificial intelligence (AI) Go player AlphaGo, said his retirement was primarily motivated by the invincibility of AI Go programs.

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” said Lee.

“Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated,” he said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Monday.

AlphaGo, built by Google’s DeepMind Technologies, won four of its five matches against Lee in March 2016, but Lee’s sole win in Game 4 remains the only time a human has beaten the AI player.
Reflecting on the historic Game 4 on March 13, 2016, Lee attributed his win to a bug in the AlphaGo program.

In the game, Lee’s unexpected move at white 78 developed a white wedge between blacks at the center. The apparently embarrassed AlphaGo responded poorly on move 79, suddenly turning the game in Lee’s favor. AlphaGo then declared its surrender by displaying a “resign” message on the computer screen.
Lee’s white 78 is still praised as a “brilliant, divine” move that offered a ray of hope to humans frustrated by AIs.

But Lee said he managed to win Game 4 due to AlphaGo’s buggy response to his “tricky” moves. “My white 78 was not a move that should be countered straightforwardly. Such a bug still occurs in Fine Art (a Chinese Go-playing computer program). Fine Art can hardly be defeated even after accepting two stone handicaps against humans. But when it loses, it loses in a strange way. It’s due to a bug,” Lee said.


Watching the film of Lee’s match against AlphaGo, I thought that Lee had completely underestimated what it would be like to play against a computer that was as good as him. Against a human, you get tiny clues about anxiety or confidence after each move. The machine gives you nothing – it’s a brick wall against which you pound your head. That’s psychologically exhausting, and then destructive; you doubt everything, because you’re getting no feedback.

A lot of people are going to get that feeling as more machines begin to take over human jobs.
unique link to this extract

Twitter account deletions on ‘pause’ after outcry • BBC News

Dave Lee:


Twitter has said it will “pause” plans to disable inactive accounts following user backlash, a day after announcing plans for a huge cull of such accounts.

The social network said it now would not remove accounts until it had a process for “memorialising” dead users on the network. It admitted not having a policy in place was a “miss on our part”.

The firm said it was taking action on inactive accounts due to regulatory concerns. It said once it had a full process in place, account deactivations would occur in the EU first. This was in order, Twitter said, to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“We apologise for the confusion and will keep you all posted,” the company said in a series of tweets posted on Wednesday.

On Monday Twitter had begun contacting users who hadn’t logged in in the past six months, warning them that they would have their accounts deleted unless they signed in and agreed to the firm’s latest privacy policy.

After reporting from the BBC and others, the company admitted it had not considered the issue of the potential upset that would be caused by the removal of accounts belonging to users who had died.
Writing on TechCrunch, Drew Olanoff, a communications officer at investment firm Scaleworks, said his “heart sank” when he learned of Twitter’s plans, as he often checked in on his father’s account, several years after his death.

“It’s my way, odd or not, of remembering him. Keeping his spirit alive. His tweets are timestamped moments that he shared with the world,” Mr Olanoff wrote. “And Twitter is sweeping them up like crumpled-up paper and junk in a dustbin.”


unique link to this extract

‘Bags for life’ making plastic problem worse, say campaigners • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:


Plastic “bags for life” should be banned or raised in price, campaigners say, as new figures reveal a surge in the bags is fuelling a rise in the plastic packaging footprint of leading supermarkets.

Despite high profile promises by the country’s best known supermarkets to tackle the amount of plastic waste they create, their plastic footprint continues to rise, according to research from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace.

In 2018, supermarkets put an estimated 903,000 tonnes of plastic packaging onto the market, an increase of 17,000 tonnes on the 2017 footprint.

The surge is fuelled in part by a huge rise in the sale of “bags for life” by 26% to 1.5bn, or 54 bags per household.

Seven out of the top 10 supermarkets increased their plastic footprint year-on-year. Only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s achieved reductions, and those were marginal, the report said.

The report is calling for a ban on bags for life, or a rise in price to at least 70p to cut the plastic mountain which is fuelling pollution.


A radio discussion of this had a woman and a man on it. The man said that the problem was that people didn’t love their multi-use bags enough. The woman pointed out that the problem was that the bags for life she’d bought on the previous trip were never in the car when she next went to the shop.

I got the distinct impression that the man had never done the family shop.
unique link to this extract

TikTok’s owner is helping China’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang, report finds • The Washington Post



Chinese tech giants including ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Huawei Technologies are working closely with the Communist Party to censor and surveil Uighur Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang, according to a new report published Thursday.

New evidence of links between the security apparatus and China’s biggest tech companies comes just days after TikTok shut down the account of an American teenager who’d sought to highlight China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang during what began as a makeup video.

After widespread condemnation for censoring an American, TikTok backtracked and reactivated the account of Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old high school junior in New Jersey.

In a detailed new report, experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre concluded that many Chinese tech companies “are engaged in deeply unethical behaviour in Xinjiang, where their work directly supports and enables mass human rights abuses.”

…Since last year, ByteDance has flourished. Its TikTok app has been downloaded a billion times — nearly 100 million of which came from the United States — and it has a jaw-dropping valuation of $75bn.

ByteDance has also been working with Xinjiang authorities under a program called “Xinjiang Aid,” whereby Chinese companies open subsidiaries or factories in Xinjiang and employ locals who have been detained in the camps. Its operations are centered on Hotan, an area of Xinjiang considered backward by the Communist Party and where the repression has been among the most severe.


unique link to this extract

Cryptocurrency exchanges across China halt services amid crackdown • The Japan Times

Zheping Huang and Olga Kharif:


China’s latest crypto-crackdown is already claiming its first casualties.

At least five local exchanges have halted operations or announced they will no longer serve domestic users this month, after regulators issued a series of warnings and notices as part of a cleanup of digital currency trading.

China is stepping up scrutiny of its massive cryptocurrency industry just weeks after President Xi Jinping ignited a market frenzy by declaring Beijing’s support for the blockchain technology that underpins the sector. But financial watchdogs including the Chinese central bank have in past weeks ordered cryptocurrency firms to shutter and warned investors to be wary of digital currencies, seeking to rein in a market prone to excesses. Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like service, suspended accounts operated by major exchange Binance Holdings Ltd. and blockchain platform Tron.

Taken together, the latest wave of shutdowns and restrictions represent the biggest cleanup of the sector since an initial Chinese clampdown in September 2017. Although exchanges that allow users to buy Bitcoin and Ether with fiat money were banned, trading had remained rampant in China through over-the-counter platforms or services that deal with cryptocurrency assets only.


China squeezes and expands this field like it’s playing an accordion.
unique link to this extract

Machine learning has revealed exactly how much of a Shakespeare play was written by someone else • MIT Technology Review


Once the algorithm has learned the style in terms of the most commonly used words and rhythmic patterns, it is able to recognize it in texts it has never seen.

[Petr] Plecháč [at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague] follows exactly this technique. He first trains the algorithm to recognize Shakespeare’s style using other plays written at the same time as Henry VIII. These plays are The Tragedy of Coriolanus, The Tragedy of Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

He then trains the algorithm to recognize the work of John Fletcher using plays he wrote at this time—Valentinian, Monsieur Thomas, The Woman’s Prize, and Bonduca.

Finally, he lets the algorithm loose on Henry VIII and asks it to determine the author of the text, using a rolling window technique to scroll through the play.

The results are interesting. They tend to agree with [James] Spedding’s analysis [made in 1850] that Fletcher wrote scenes amounting to almost half the play. However, the algorithm allows a more fine-grained approach that reveals how the authorship sometimes changes not just for new scenes, but also towards the end of previous ones. For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, the model suggests a mixed authorship after line 2081 and finds that Shakespeare takes over completely at line 2200, before the start of Act 4, Scene 1.

Plecháč also trained his model to recognize the work of Philip Massinger but finds little evidence of his involvement. “The participation of Philip Massinger is rather unlikely,” he concludes.

That’s interesting work that shows how linguists and literary analysts are using machine learning to better understand our literary past.


unique link to this extract

Global smartphone demand was weak in third quarter of 2019 • Gartner


Global sales of smartphones to end users continued to decline in the third quarter of 2019, contracting by 0.4% compared with the third quarter of 2018, according to Gartner, Inc. Demand remained weak as consumers became more concerned about getting value for money.

“For the majority of smartphone users, desire has shifted away from owning the least expensive smartphone. Today’s smartphone user is opting for midtier smartphones over premium-tier ones because they offer better value for money,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “In addition, while waiting for 5G network coverage to increase to more countries, smartphone users are delaying their purchase decisions until 2020.”

This shift has led brands such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo to strengthen their entry-level and midtier portfolios. This strategy helped Huawei, Samsung and OPPO grow in the third quarter of 2019. By contrast, Apple recorded another double-digit decline in sales, year over year


Gartner puts the total at 387.5m: top five are Samsung (79m), Huawei (65.8m), Apple (40.8m), Xiaomi (32.3m), OPPO (30.8m). “Others” are just over a third of the market, down from 40% a year ago: it’s the smaller players who are getting squeezed, just as in the PC market. Earlier this month IDC said the top five were the same, in the same order, and “Others” below 30%, but that the world market grew by 0.8% year-on-year to 358.3m.

That’s quite a difference in the total, but in growth terms it’s a wash – the market’s flat. 8 more phones per thousand, or 4 fewer phones per thousand, it’s not a noticeable difference.
unique link to this extract

Toshiba says its device tests for 13 cancer types with 99% accuracy from a single drop of blood • The Japan Times


Toshiba Corp. has developed technology to detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99% accuracy, the company announced Monday.

Toshiba developed the diagnosis method together with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University, and hopes to commercialize it in “several years” after starting a trial next year.

The method could be used to treat cancer in its early stage, it said.

The method is designed to examine the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted in blood from cancer cells. Toray Industries Inc. and other companies have also developed technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample.

“Compared to other companies’ methods, we have an edge in the degree of accuracy in cancer detection, the time required for detection and the cost,” Koji Hashimoto, chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory, told a press briefing.

The test will be used to detect gastric, esophageal, lung, liver, biliary tract, pancreatic, bowel, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers as well as sarcoma and glioma.


“Hello, Toshiba headquarters, how may I direct your call? Oh. Elizabeth Holmes? Again? Sorry, but as we said, you can’t borrow our machine and write ‘THERANOS’ on the side.”
unique link to this extract

When Instagram killed the tabloid star • The New York Times

Amanda Hess:


Celebrity culture, in the first decade of this century, took the form of a kind of misogynistic death cult. Somewhere in Hollywood, Lindsay Lohan was falling out of an SUV. Tara Reid was falling out of a club nearby. It was open season on drunk girls. Flashbulbs alighted on their smeared mascara and slackened jaws. “Upskirt” photographs, in which a paparazzo literally stooped so low that he could snap under a woman’s skirt as she exited a car, were a genre unto themselves.

The strip of sidewalk between a chauffeured limousine and an unhooked velvet rope formed the line of scrimmage between the celebrities and the tabloid press. It was all motivated by an antagonistic but symbiotic relationship among the famous people, the paparazzi and the fans. We watched it all with a compulsive loathing.

Few could predict that, just a few years later, this era of Hollywood would inspire nostalgia. But it has. “Pop Culture Died in 2009,” curated by a young man who was in grade school when Britney Spears commandeered the clippers at a hair salon and shaved her head, resurrects the era’s Us Weekly spreads and pap shots on Tumblr, retelling old tabloid tales about Mischa Barton and Paris Hilton and the “Leave Britney Alone” guy. What happened in 2010? Instagram happened.

In October of that year, that free photo-sharing app with a hipster sheen hit the iPhone. Several months later, Justin Bieber — the biggest star to take to the platform — posted a moody shot of Los Angeles traffic, and suddenly, we weren’t snapping hungrily at the window of a famous person’s car anymore. We were in the passenger seat. As more celebrities signed up, we gained access to their kitchens and bedrooms and closets and bathrooms. Celebrity culture moved inside. It was domesticated. The paparazzi were left stranded on the pavement. Now Us Weekly just prints photographs that celebrities have uploaded to Instagram.


Ponder this for a moment: what if Princess Di(ana) had lived in the Instagram era? Would she have been able to prevent the paparazzi hounding her, by posting her own pictures for worldwide consumption, short-circuiting their endless efforts to picture her at every moment? (For younger readers: Princess Di, as she was known, was an early version of Kate Middleton, only less happy.)
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: The unique links should now actually link. Thanks Lila H for pointing out they didn’t (the result of code loss a little while back.)

Start Up No.1198: climate hits crisis, farewell Clive James, TikTok bends the truth, who’ll fire Zuck (or Zuck Jr)?, and more

iFixit has some strong views about Apple’s responses to the US Congress over repairing its devices. CC-licensed photo by Dunk %uD83D%uDC1D on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Climate emergency: world ‘may have crossed tipping points’ • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:


The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, according to a stark warning from scientists. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”.

Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5C was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1C and 2C.

The planet has already heated by 1C and the temperature is certain to rise further, due to past emissions and because greenhouse gas levels are still rising. The scientists further warn that one tipping point, such as the release of methane from thawing permafrost, may fuel others, leading to a cascade.

The researchers, writing in a commentary article in the journal Nature, acknowledge that the complex science of tipping points means great uncertainty remains. But they say the potential damage from the tipping points is so big and the time to act so short, that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option”. They call for urgent international action…

…Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article, said: “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points. The simple version is the schoolkids [striking for climate action] are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system under way, or very close.”


Remember Hemingway on bankruptcy – gradually, and then suddenly. But you can come back from bankruptcy. Earth won’t be so forgiving.
unique link to this extract

Clive James: ‘A wisecracking literary phenomenon who was on fire with life itself’ • The Guardian

Robert McCrum:


[in his TV criticism] he found a voice – a voice that he cherished, I suspect, to his penultimate breath. In its prime, there was nothing quite like it: who can forget his observation that Murray Walker, the motor racing commentator, always broadcast “as if his trousers were on fire”.

The best of Clive’s myriad and prodigal cracks – for instance that “Perry Como gave his usual impersonation of a man who has simultaneously been told to say ‘cheese’ and shot in the back by a poisoned arrow” or that Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron resembled “a brown condom filled with walnuts” – had an unequalled, surreal hilarity that disguised a ferociously determined Grub Street bruiser who wanted to compete in every literary Olympiad going.

This was the essential Clive James. Possibly it transformed his final years into a redemption that might otherwise have been a living hell. His injury time sponsored the indefatigable bibliography of a writer obsessed with Memento Mori (poetry, columns, an audacious new translation of The Divine Comedy, essays on Larkin and Game of Thrones, and ever more poetry).

On fire with life itself, he even began to outlive his own material. The Japanese maple that had inspired a globally viral poem in 2014 became first an embarrassment (the poet did not die), then a reproach (it grew into a sturdy sapling), and finally a black joke (it pegged out before him).


I’ve heard there was occasionally a ghostwriter for his TV column; the books of collected columns – Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued To The Box – were essential reading if you wanted to understand how a critical voice could develop, back in the days when shared cultural experiences frequently, rather than rarely, happened via TV.
unique link to this extract

Apple told Congress how repair should work. They were intentionally misleading • iFixit

Kevin Purdy of iFixit:


In addition to their questions, Congress’ antitrust subcommittee also subpoenaed emails from Apple, as well as from Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet (a.k.a. Google). The majority of the probe centers around software lock-in, market share, and app store practices. But the most interesting questions put to Apple are about subjects we’re pretty familiar with: batterygate, third-party repair and Apple’s new program for it, and their pact with Amazon to remove third-party refurbishers.

Apple’s on-the-record responses (PDF) were written by an attorney, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation, expert question-dodging, and at least one flat-out incorrect statement we can spot. Let’s dig in.

The first sixteen questions relate to software functions of mobile devices. The shortest summary of Apple’s responses is: We can’t offer our users much choice, because nobody designs their software as thoughtfully as we do, and some of our favorite features can’t be ported out to other browsers or apps. Questions 12 through 16 are odd and fun, if you want to witness Congress’ quixotic quest to get Apple to admit that Google Maps is better.

The good stuff, however, comes after that. We’ll hop around a bit, because some of the questions fit together in non-sequential groups.


It’s a pretty comprehensive takedown. Notably there’s a lot of doubt about “for each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs”.
unique link to this extract

You can’t fire Mark Zuckerberg’s kid’s kids • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:


No substantive laws govern tech. Most important, many leaders of these powerhouse companies are in effect unfireable: in order to get the boot, they essentially have to fire themselves. And guess how often that happens?

Welcome to the world of perpetual dual-class stock, an old finance trick that has been used — and now abused — with great enthusiasm by the tech giants.

The car-sharing firm Lyft has it. Dropbox has it. Snap has it. Google’s parent company Alphabet has it. WeWork’s co-founder and chief executive had so much control of the company that investors were forced to pay him a king’s ransom to go away in preparation of an IPO. (which was later abandoned). And, perhaps most important of all, Facebook has it.

In a dual-class stock structure, a company issues shares to some shareholders that give them more voting rights, and sometimes other powers. Most simply, the general public gets shares with less voting power, and sometimes with none at all (Snap made this famous). With perpetual dual-class stock, founders and their families, and perhaps other key executives, get shares with voting power that gives them control over a company forever.

Various versions of dual-class stocks have been around for a long time. The founders of the Ford Motor Company used them to protect their long-term vision against investor short-termism. It’s also been employed by family-owned media giants, like The New York Times Company, Viacom and News Corp, which arguably have mission-driven businesses.

But tech has taken the use of the dual-class stock organization to new heights. More than 50% of tech companies use it, and often from their very beginning as startups.


Always astonishing how these companies are able to go public with these skewed share structures.
unique link to this extract

A 17-year-old posted to TikTok about China’s detention camps. She was locked out of her account • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell and Tony Romm:


Feroza Aziz started her TikTok video like a typical makeup tutorial, telling viewers she would show them how to get long eyelashes. Then the 17-year-old stopped abruptly, calling instead on viewers to start researching the harrowing conditions facing Muslims in China’s detention camps.

The surprising bit of modern satire quickly went viral on TikTok, the short-video app and global phenomenon owned by a Beijing-based tech firm. But in the hours afterward, Aziz said her TikTok profile showed she was suspended. By Tuesday, she told The Washington Post, she remained unable to access her account.

The videos, and Aziz’s suspension, have quickly touched off a public debate about one of the world’s fastest-growing social apps, including over its approach to political issues and its support of free speech in countries outside China, where its parent company ByteDance is headquartered.

TikTok representatives said Tuesday that Aziz’s account was not suspended because of her criticism of China. “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities and did not do so in this case,” Eric Han, head of the company’s U.S. trust and safety team, said in a statement to The Post.
Instead, he said a previous account of hers had been banned because she had posted a video referencing Osama bin Laden that had violated rules about promoting terrorist content. TikTok officials said late Tuesday that Aziz’s current account was only affected because she had used a phone tied to a previous TikTok ban, and that she can use the account on other devices.


Nope. She got back into her account, and the video was gone. TikTok pushes stuff down, or out, when it wants to. This isn’t the first time that content uncomfortable to China has been driven down out of sight.
unique link to this extract

Xiaomi growth slows in third quarter as China smartphone demand wanes • Reuters

Josh Horwitz:


Demand for smartphones has eased in China as consumers hold on to devices for longer. Shoppers have also rallied behind Huawei, boosting sales at the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, which the United States has added to a trade blacklist.

Smartphone sales still account for most of Xiaomi’s revenues but it has been promoting its internet services division, which mainly consists of online ad sales. The business, however, accounts for just 10% of total revenue – the same proportion as when the company listed its stock in August 2018.

Revenues at Xiaomi’s smartphone business fell 8% to 32.3 billion yuan in the quarter ended Sept. 30. The company sold about 32.1m phones during the period, roughly one million units fewer than a year earlier.

Total revenue rose 5.5% to 53.66 billion yuan from the same period last year, largely in line with analysts’ expectations according to Refinitiv data.

Xiaomi has looked to foreign markets to make up for the sales drop at home but that came at a price with selling and marketing expenses jumping 16% in the quarter.


unique link to this extract

Uber’s ‘dirty little secret’: shared driver accounts • WSJ

Parmy Olson and Sarah Needleman:


Transport for London, the city’s main transportation regulator, said earlier this week it determined 14,000 Uber rides in late 2018 and early 2019 weren’t conducted by authorized drivers, but by others who had been able to substitute their photos to use a real driver’s account.

Several drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps, in London and elsewhere, say the practice of account sharing is an open secret, discussed in private groups on social media or on messaging apps used by drivers. Uber says account sharing is an issue globally, including in the US…

…The issue identified in London involved 43 drivers who managed to trick the Uber app into thinking they were inside special Uber offices. The offices, called Greenlight hubs, are the only place where drivers in London can update their profile photo.

Uber said it remedied the photo-fraud problem in London in October and rolled out fixes world-wide. The Uber spokeswoman, however, said it isn’t necessarily a “silver bullet.”

Drivers say photo swapping provides a simple way for one driver to temporarily transfer access to an authorized ride-hailing account to someone else. Drivers taking a vacation or an extended break, for instance, can try to rent out their Uber credentials to others. Another technique: Two or more drivers can alternate shifts on the same account.


It’s all over the place, according to the article. Any weakness is sure to be exploited mercilessly, especially for money on a service which is squeezing you dry.

unique link to this extract

Hindustan Times uses Snapchat filters to enable sexual assault survivors to speak freely on camera • Media news

Caroline Scott:


While covering India’s first Climb Against Sexual Abuse, Yusuf Omar, mobile editor, Hindustan Times, used Snapchat’s filters to film open and honest interviews with rape survivors under the age of 18, without needing to blur or silhouette their faces.

“I thought there must be a more accessible way to disguise someone’s face using new technology, and Snapchat was just that,” said Omar.

The event, which saw 50 young people climb the Chamundi Hills in Mysore, India, in a bid to undo the taboo and stigma existing around sexual violence, was documented by Omar using just an iPhone 6 and a selfie-stick that doubled up as a monopod.

The complex face-mapping software used by Snapchat allows users to transform their appearance with a range of filters, and turn themselves into a dog, a lion, or a fire-breathing dragon, for example – usually seen as features designed to entertain.

But this technology can have “serious applications for journalism,” Omar told He found that Snapchat’s filters enabled him to get raw, emotional interviews with the young survivors taking part in the climb.

In a series of one-on-one interviews during the climb, Omar asked each interviewee to choose a filter to disguise themselves.

“Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying ‘yes, we will blur you afterwards’, so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative.”


unique link to this extract

It’s way too easy to get a .gov domain name • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Earlier this month, KrebsOnSecurity received an email from a researcher who said he got a .gov domain simply by filling out and emailing an online form, grabbing some letterhead off the homepage of a small U.S. town that only has a “.us” domain name, and impersonating the town’s mayor in the application.

“I used a fake Google Voice number and fake Gmail address,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for this story but who said he did it mainly as a thought experiment. “The only thing that was real was the mayor’s name.”

The email from this source was sent from exeterri[.]gov, a domain registered on Nov. 14 that at the time displayed the same content as the .us domain it was impersonating — — which belongs to the town of Exeter, Rhode Island (the impostor domain is no longer resolving).

“I had to [fill out] ‘an official authorization form,’ which basically just lists your admin, tech guy, and billing guy,” the source continued. “Also, it needs to be printed on ‘official letterhead,’ which of course can be easily forged just by Googling a document from said municipality. Then you either mail or fax it in. After that, they send account creation links to all the contacts.”

Technically, what my source did was wire fraud (obtaining something of value via the Internet/telephone/fax through false pretenses); had he done it through the US mail, he could be facing mail fraud charges if caught.


Not something that foreign state actors would be exactly terrified about, though.
unique link to this extract

Amazon warehouse reports show worker injuries • The Atlantic

Will Evans:


The clock was always ticking on Amazon’s promised delivery time. Dixon had to scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit her quota, she said, and Amazon always knew when she didn’t.

Dixon’s scan rate—more than 300 items an hour, thousands of individual products a day—was being tracked constantly, the data flowing to managers in real time, then crunched by a proprietary software system called ADAPT. She knew, like the thousands of other workers there, that if she didn’t hit her target speed, she would be written up, and if she didn’t improve, she eventually would be fired.

Amazon’s cutting-edge technology, unrelenting surveillance, and constant disciplinary write-ups pushed the Eastvale workers so hard that in the last holiday season, they hit a coveted target: They got a million packages out the door in 24 hours. Amazon handed out T-shirts celebrating their induction into the “Million Unit Club.”

But Dixon, 54, wasn’t around for that. She started the job in April 2018, and within two months, or nearly 100,000 items, the lifting had destroyed her back. An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100% due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair—everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve.

So this holiday-shopping season, as Amazon’s ferocious speed is on full display, Dixon is at a standstill. She told Reveal in mid-October that her workers’-compensation settlement was about to run out. She was struggling to land a new job and worried she’d lose her home.

“I’m still too young to feel like I’m 90 years old,” Dixon said, sitting in the living room of her Corona, California, home, which was decorated with inspirational sayings (“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”). “I don’t even know how I’m going to make it in a couple of months.”


The headline at the top is what search engines see; the headline humans see on the page is “Ruthless quotas at Amazon are maiming employees”. Why are robots seeing the watered-down version of this headline? Worried about hurting their feelings?

Also: with the US’s regressive healthcare system, exploitation of the poor by the rich really comes into sharp focus.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1197: Google fires activist staff, India’s coal sputters, IPv4 all gone, Bose’s headphone row, Brexit gets worse, and more

Lots of Americans believe they’ve already got 5G – including iPhone users, who definitely haven’t. CC-licensed photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not a king? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google fires four workers active in labor organizing • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi:


Google on Monday fired four employees who had been active in labor organizing at the company, according to a memo that was seen by The New York Times.

The memo, sent by Google’s security and investigations team, told employees that the company had dismissed four employees “for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies.” Jenn Kaiser, a Google spokeswoman, confirmed the firings but declined to elaborate.

The dismissals are expected to exacerbate rocky relations between Google’s management and a vocal contingent of workers who have protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment, its treatment of contract employees, and its work with the Defense Department, federal border agencies and the Chinese government.

Tensions have increased as Google has cracked down on what had long been a freewheeling work culture that encouraged employees to speak out. Google recently canceled a regular series of companywide meetings that allowed workers to pose questions to senior executives and began working with a consulting firm that has helped companies quell unionization efforts…

…In the memo, Google said the fired employees had repeatedly searched for, looked through and distributed information “outside the scope of their jobs.” One of the workers set up notifications to receive emails detailing the work and whereabouts of other employees without their knowledge or consent, the memo said.

“This is not how Google’s open culture works or was ever intended to work,” the memo said.

When asked last week by The Times, Google could not point to a specific rule that forbade setting up these notifications but said it was investigating to determine if this and other behavior violated the company’s code of conduct.


Lots of questions here. If getting notifications is not how the culture “works or was ever intended to work”, how was it possible? There seems to be an unstated understanding that though the tools to do this existed, the staff would never find need to use them – an assumption that is now breaking down.

Second, those data security policies seem very weighted towards higher-ups. It’s OK for the higher-ups to spy on the staff (which a browser extension effectively does), but not vice-versa. And I don’t recall anyone at Google getting fired when the company collects too much data about people outside Google (Wi-Fi network details, Safari cookie exploits for ads).

But the long and short is that Google is hitting an inflexion point. It’s either going to rediscover its early, freewheeling character, or it is going down the road of a locked-down business that will become another Microsoft, sclerotically stuck in its trajectory. Profitable, but a creative husk.
link to this extract

Consumers are confused by 5G, survey finds • Strategy Analytics Online Newsroom


Surveying consumers in the US via web-survey, key report findings include:

• Nearly two thirds of consumers surveyed claimed ‘Basic Familiarity’ or to be ‘Very Familiar’ with 5G, but of this nearly one fifth of consumers already thought they had 5G.
• While one in four consumers in the US listed 5G as an important feature, one in five didn’t yet see a need for 5G, or wanted to wait until the benefits of 5G were proven before purchasing this technology.
• Apple fans in the US believe they are 5G leaders despite market reality. But when asked which brand they would buy for 5G capabilities, overall consumers ranked Samsung neck and neck with Apple as the most preferred.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXS and report author commented, “Outside of Apple and Samsung, the battle for 5G will largely be in the mid-tier – smartphones with a retail price of $600 and below. A wave of new entrants for 5G from China, as well as new Nokia devices, could be also be damaging to brands such as LG and Motorola, who are most at risk given their low repeat purchase intentions in the 5G era.”


I expect that the Apple users were looking at the “5G” logo in the top of their phone, put there by AT&T in its network signal to fool people that it’s ahead of the game. In reality, it’s going to have it in a few cities by February 2020.
link to this extract

Health concerns mount as more old sewer pipes are lined with plastic • Scientific American

Robin Lloyd:


Earlier this year Nicole Davis arrived at one of the San Antonio, Tex., offices of the audiology practice she co-owns, ready to see the day’s patients. But upon entering her office, Davis says she quickly noticed a noxious odor that smelled like paint thinner. Her eyes started burning. By noon, she felt nauseated and dizzy, with the burning sensation spreading to her nose and throat. Her mouth went numb. Co-workers in the building told Davis that they felt ill, too. By the evening, she says, she was vomiting.

Two days later, Davis received an e-mail from an employee for a construction firm that was doing work that week on municipal pipes below street-level near the building. The employee apologized in the e-mail for Davis’s “recent experience” and attached a technical document describing the hazards and health risks associated with materials used to make plastic in the pipe project. The e-mail and attachment do not state that the work caused the odor or Davis’s reaction.

The company was renovating an underground sewer pipe with a widely and increasingly used technique called cured-in-place pipes. A felt or composite sleeve is saturated, typically with a polyester or vinyl ester resin. Workers thread the sleeve through an underground pipe and then inflate and heat it, often with steam or hot water. The sleeve hardens to form a continuous plastic liner along the old pipe’s inner walls. The technique is less expensive and takes less time than fully replacing old sewer-system pipes and stormwater culverts.

Davis has recovered from most of what she says her doctor told her were neurological effects from a chemical exposure.


Clever technique but seems like they need to work the bugs out. And admit that it’s going to generate lots of toxic chemicals in the short term.
link to this extract

India’s electricity-sector transformation is happening now • Institute for Energy Economics + Financial Analysis

Tim Buckley:


The Indian energy market transformation is accelerating under Energy Minister Piyush Goyal’s leadership.

The most recent and most persuasive evidence is the collapsing cost of solar electricity—a collapse that has gone beyond anyone’s expectations, and the results are in: solar has won.

The global energy market implications are profound.

Recent events have given manifest life to Mark Carney’s landmark 2015 speech in which Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned of stranded-asset risks across the coal industry. This month alone has seen the cancellation of 13.7 gigawatts (GW) of proposed coal-fired power plants across India and an admission that US$9bn (8.6GW) of already operating import-coal-fired power plants are potentially no longer viable.

To put an Australian and a global seaborne thermal coal-trade perspective on it, these development strike at the very viability of the Carmichael export thermal coal proposal. They speak as well to a worldwide transition in progress.

India solar tariffs have been in freefall for months. A new 250MW solar tender in Rajasthan at the Bhadla Phase IV solar park this month was won at a record low Rs2.62/kWh, 12% below the previous record low tariff awarded across 750MW of solar just three months ago at Rs2.97/kWh.


Coal-fired thermal plants make up about 55% of installed generation capacity in India (it’s the world’s third-largest producer and importer) but they’re increasingly unsustainable – because of water shortages, apart from anything else – and working at about 50% of their 196GW (196,000 MW) capacity. Renewables + nuclear were 35% by September 2018.
link to this extract

The RIPE NCC has run out of IPv4 addresses • RIPE


This event [the awarding of the last IPv4 internet address] is another step on the path towards global exhaustion of the remaining IPv4 addressing space. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of an IPv4 transfer market and greater use of Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGNAT) in our region. There are costs and trade-offs with both approaches and neither one solves the underlying problem, which is that there are not enough IPv4 addresses for everyone.

Without wide-scale IPv6 deployment, we risk heading into a future where the growth of our Internet is unnecessarily limited – not by a lack of skilled network engineers, technical equipment or investment – but by a shortage of unique network identifiers. There is still a long way to go, and we call on all stakeholders to play their role in supporting the IPv6 roll-out.


In case you don’t follow it: IPv4 is “old” internet addressing, a bit like a 32-bit processor: it can only address a specific number of points. (We actually passed that number ages ago, but various network tricks have made it feasible to keep using IPv4.)

The 64-bit version is IPv6, but people are reluctant to shift there because they’d like everyone else to have made the switch first. I still don’t have a clear idea of how many routers, for example, function on IPv6.
link to this extract

Big Tech’s big defector • New Yorker

Brian Barth:


[longtime venture capitalist Roger] McNamee saw the tech industry as an experiment in creative and profitable problem-solving. He grew unnerved by its ethical failures only in 2012, when Uber came to him for investment capital. He decided that Silicon Valley had changed. “These guys all wanted to be monopolists,” he said recently. “They all want to be billionaires.”

McNamee was convinced that Facebook was different. Then, in February, 2016, shortly after he retired from full-time investing, he noticed posts in his Facebook feed that purported to support Bernie Sanders but struck him as fishy. That spring, the social-media-fuelled vitriol of the Brexit campaign seemed like further proof that Facebook was being exploited to sow division among voters—and that company executives had turned a blind eye. The more McNamee listened to Silicon Valley critics, the more alarmed he became: he learned that Facebook allowed facial-recognition software to identify users without their consent, and let advertisers discriminate against viewers. (Real-estate companies, for example, could exclude people of certain races from seeing their ads.)

Ten days before the Presidential election, McNamee sent an e-mail to Zuckerberg and Sandberg. “I am disappointed. I am embarrassed. I am ashamed,” he wrote. “Recently, Facebook has done some things that are truly horrible and I can no longer excuse its behavior. . . . Facebook is enabling people to do harm. It has the power to stop the harm. What it currently lacks is an incentive to do so.”

Within hours, both Zuckerberg and Sandberg sent McNamee cordial replies, assuring him that they were already working to address some of the issues he’d raised, and dispatched a Facebook executive, Dan Rose, to talk to him. Rose told McNamee that Facebook was a platform, not a publisher, and couldn’t control all user behavior. Since leaving the investment world, McNamee had been looking forward to being a full-time musician. But Rose’s dismissiveness rattled him. “They were my friends. I wanted to give them a chance to do the right thing. I wasn’t expecting them to go, ‘Oh, my God, stop everything,’ but I was expecting them to take it seriously,” he said. “It was obvious they thought it was a P.R. problem, not a business problem, and they thought the P.R. problem was me.”


The lesson: don’t spurn the VC. (Also well worth it for the line “He and Nancy Pelosi, now the Speaker of the House, had been introduced some twenty years earlier, by the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart…”)
link to this extract

How a chance meeting with Twitter bosses landed a Nigerian developer his dream job • CNN

Aisha Salaudeen:


Dara Oladosu met Jack Dorsey, who was on a “listening and learning tour” in Africa with other Twitter executives and met with members of Nigeria’s tech community and business executives.

One of their first stops was a meeting with tech publishers where Oladosu’s app, Quoted Replies, a Twitter-based bot that helps users collate quoted replies to tweets was discussed.
Oladosu was not on the initial invite list for the event held at TechpointNG but a last minute invitation ensured he got to meet the Twitter bosses.

“Titi…the person that interviewed me for the Techpoint articles got me a pass to the event Jack was at. She asked if I could make it there and coincidentally I was on leave at work at the time so I made it before the event ended,” Oladosu told CNN.

Impressed by his work, Dorsey and his team including Kayvon Beykpour, Product Lead and co-founder of Periscope, Parag Agrawal, Chief Technology Officer, and Mike Montano, Engineering Team Lead invited him to join them.

“Someone from the audience was talking about the bot when I got to the event. So, when the person finished, Titi introduced me as the developer who built it. I got the microphone and explained what Quoted Replies was about and how I built it,” Oladosu said.
In a video from the event, Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s Product Lead said the team is willing to implement Quoted Replies on Twitter as a feature and would like Oladosu to join the team to work on it.


link to this extract

Hidden cam above Bluetooth pump skimmer • Krebs On Security

Brian Krebs:


“I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a camera on a gas pump with a Bluetooth card skimmer,” said Detective Matt Jogodka of the Las Vegas Police Department, referring to the compromised fuel pump pictured below.

The fake panel (horizontal) above the “This Sale” display obscures a tiny hidden camera angled toward the gas pump’s PIN pad.
It may be difficult to tell from the angle of the photograph above, but the horizontal bar across the top of the machine (just above the “This Sale $” indicator) contains a hidden pinhole camera angled so as to record debit card users entering their PIN.

Jogodka said although this pump’s PIN pad is encrypted, the hidden camera sidesteps that security feature.

“The PIN pad is encrypted, so this is a NEW way to capture the PIN,” Jogodka wrote in a message to a mailing list about skimming devices found on Arizona fuel pumps. “The camera was set on Motion, [to] save memory space and battery life. Sad for the suspect, it was recovered 2 hours after it was installed.”

Whoever hacked this fuel pump was able to get inside the machine and install a Bluetooth-based circuit board that connects to the power and can transmit stolen card data wirelessly. This allows the thieves to drive by at any time and download the card data remotely from a mobile device or laptop.


So they were able to get a long way into the machine. Inside job? Even if they did it in the dead of night you’d expect there would be CCTV.
link to this extract

Bose customers beg for firmware ceasefire after headphones fall victim to another crap update • The Register

John Oates:


Owners of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are still trying to get the company to either fix or roll back a firmware update that removed noise-cancelling functions from their over-ear gear.

The problems date back to July and some owners seem to have managed to get Bose to exchange their cans for the company’s shiny new 700 headphones.

We were contacted by a reader who was first given a set of version II headphones when his V1 set were borked. When the updated firmware borked them as well, he declined the offer of a replacement set and was given a pair of 700s. Firmware version 4.5.2 was fingered as the main culprit.

Like all Bose gear, the cans don’t come cheap – they’ll set you back £259.95 to be precise, or £349.95 for a pair of limited edition white 700s.

Pissed-off punters have filled a deafening 182 pages of Bose’s support forums with complaints.

One has even set up a petition to beg for a pause on firmware updates until a fix is found.

The main complaint is that Bose seems to be deaf to the problem and the easiest solution – to roll everyone back to the previous firmware and restore noise cancelling.

As of Thursday, Bose was claiming that new firmware is coming soon to solve the problem, a long five-month wait for angry customers.

We’ve contacted Bose’s UK PR again but don’t expect to hear back. The company kept very quiet when firmware updates stopped their TV soundbars making any sound.


That’s incredible. Screwed it up with two different types of devices? QC clearly not standing for “quality control”.
link to this extract

Ivan Rogers on Brexit: the worst is yet to come • Prospect Magazine

Ivan Rogers, formerly the UK’s ambassador to the EU, in a speech made recently:


The publicly avowed [Boris] Johnson intention is to be much more distant from the EU, and to adopt a model on both goods and services which is substantially more divergent from EU rules and standards.

He DOES NOT WANT a so-called “high alignment” model.

That is, after all, the whole basis of the appeal his redraft of the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement had to the Conservative Right that Mrs May’s deal did not.

Hers kept us in their view too closely regulatorily aligned with the EU. They viewed that as wholly unacceptable. His liberates us to diverge much more radically.

For many, that was, after all, the whole point of exiting. Essentially, I think, because they believe that the main benefits of Brexit are the greater capacity to deregulate. Not that they wish to say that during an election campaign, which currently seems to be about both main Parties making lavish promises to spend money we haven’t got.

That does not suggest to me huge faith that a deregulatory model actually has any real appeal to the great British public.

But that deregulatory purpose is now central—from food hygiene to financial services, from environmental to social regulation to state aids—to the EU perception of what Brexit is all about. Which is a further reason why the next phase will be more difficult, not less.

It has always been true that if Brexit turned out to mean diverging much more substantially than say, Norway, and leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union, the exit process will take longer and be more difficult than Ministers are still professing to believe is achievable.


Excoriating about pretty much everyone, but this point about deregulation is the one that is being glossed over in the election campaigning.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: In yesterday’s article about pigs, the disease is African swine fever, not Asian swine flu. Thanks, Tom.

Start Up No.1196: Berners-Lee calls for halt on political ads, the dumbest smartwatch, China’s pork crisis, crypto’s scammers, and more

The new alternative to Uber, which has had its licence revoked in London. CC-licensed photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Boomer or whimper? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee attacks Tories over misinformation • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:


The inventor of the World Wide Web has accused the Conservatives of spreading misinformation during the general election campaign.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee described the renaming of a Tory Twitter account as a fact checking body as “impersonation”.

“That was really brazen,” he told the BBC. “It was unbelievable they would do that.”

During a live TV leaders’ debate on Tuesday the Tory press office account @CCHQ was rebranded “factcheckuk”.

The renaming remained for the duration of the hour-long debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives have said “no one will have been fooled” by the move.

But Sir Tim said the renaming “was impersonation. Don’t do that. Don’t trust people who do that.”
He went on to compare what happened with someone impersonating a friend for the purpose of defrauding them. “What the Conservative Party has done is obviously a no no. That’s amazingly blatant,” Sir Tim said.

The Conservative Party has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment on Sir Tim’s criticism, but has previously insisted that it was clear at all times that the Twitter account belonged to the party.

The web’s creator also called on Facebook to stop allowing targeted political adverts. He issued a personal appeal to the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to ban them before the election. Sir Tim said: “It’s not fair to risk democracy by allowing all these very subtle manipulations with targeted ads which promote completely false ideas. They do it just before the election, and then disappear.”


It wasn’t clear, but it feels like this was an own goal for the Conservatives: it undermines trust.
link to this extract

Cheap kids smartwatch exposes the location of 5,000+ children • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


A cheap $35 kids’ smartwatch made in China was caught exposing the personal details and location information for more than 5,000 children and their parents.

In a report published today by the Internet of Things testing division of AV-TEST, researchers said they found egregious security measures put in place to protect the backend and mobile app of the M2 smartwatch, made by Chinese company SMA.

“The Chinese SMA-WATCH-M2 tops the security failures of other manufacturers by far,” said Maik Morgenstern, CEO and the Technical Director of AV-TEST, whose team has been testing kids smartwatches for more than two years.

The SMA W2 kids smartwatch has been around for years. It was designed to work with a companion mobile app. Parents would register an account on the SMA service, pair their child’s smartwatch to their phone, and use the app to track the kid’s location, make voice calls, or get notifications when the child would leave a designated area.

The concept is not new, as there are plenty of similar products on the market, varying in prices from $30 to $200-$300. However, Morgenstern suggests that SMA created one of the most insecure products on the market.

For starters, Morgenstern says anyone can query the smartwatch’s backend via a publicly accessible web API. This is the same backend where the mobile app also connects to retrieve the data it shows on parents’ phones.

Morgenstern says there’s an authentication token in place that’s supposedly there to prevent unauthorized access, but attackers can supply any token they like, as the server never verifies its validity.


link to this extract

Hours of daylight mapped as a function of latitude and time of year • FlowingData

Nathan Yau:


Reddit user harpalss animated hours of day light by latitude and day of year. Just let it hypnotize you.

They used this formula to calculate daylight hours.


Wonderful idea and execution. (Via Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning.)
link to this extract

Uber is fighting to survive in London after losing its licence • The New York Times

Adam Satariano and Amie Tsang:


London is one of Uber’s most lucrative markets, but also home to some of its most contentious struggles with government authorities. The company has been in a battle to retain its license in the British capital for years.

In 2017, authorities in London also revoked Uber’s license for, among other reasons, poor oversight of drivers. Uber appealed the decision and was granted a 15-month license after it agreed to more government supervision and several policy changes, including adopting rules on how to report incidents to the police, keeping tired drivers off the road and naming a new independent board to oversee British operations.

City authorities acknowledged that Uber “has made a number of positive changes and improvement to its culture, leadership and systems,” but said it had not gone far enough. The company’s license was due to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Monday.

The transport authority said one main issue was a flaw in Uber’s system that let unauthorized drivers sneak onto it. The drivers sidestepped rules by colluding with authorized drivers to pick up riders under their account. At least 14,000 trips were conducted by at least 43 drivers using the workaround.

“This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers,” Transport for London said.

This practice, known as “account spoofing,” is a challenge for gig-economy platforms to police. Food delivery companies have also seen people working under the accounts of others to sidestep policies.

London officials cited other safety deficiencies at Uber, including instances when dismissed or suspended drivers were able to create another account. Transport for London found several examples in which drivers did not have the correct insurance. The regulators said that because of the volume of problems, they had lost faith in Uber’s ability to improve.


Astonishing what happens when you have a regulator that’s actually prepared to regulate. Do we really think that these unauthorised rides only happen in London?
link to this extract

‘Not enough pork in the world’ to deal with China’s demand for meat • The Guardian

Bibi van der Zee:


Pork imports into China have also rocketed. In September last year 94 million kg were shipped in, but the ASF [Asian swine flu] crisis has pushed imports to 161m kg this year and officials are now rushing to certify farms in Brazil, Ireland and several other countries for export at an unprecedented rate to satisfy demand. Two weeks ago, they lifted a ban on imports from Canada.

As a result pork prices are rising outside China too. Europe has seen a jump of at least 35% since the beginning of the year. “The problem is that total global pork exports in 2018 were 8m tonnes, and China is short 24 million,” said Claxton. “There just isn’t enough pork in the world to fill the gap.”

African swine fever is a highly contagious virus which is fatal to pigs. It is extremely hardy, can survive being cooked and processed, and will endure in frozen meat for a number of years. It is transmitted directly between animals, or by the feeding of infected meat, and there have also been cases of infected animal feed.

ASF has been circulating in Europe for a number of years, but it began to spread at a more rapid rate last year. It is now reported in more than 40 countries, and earlier this week was discovered to have leapt 300km across Poland from its easternmost provinces to farms near its western border.

Alistair Driver of UK monthly magazine Pig World said this was extremely concerning. “That is just 70km from the German border, and Germany is one of the largest pork exporters in the world.”


Who had “pig pandemic” creating a world trade crisis in 2019?
link to this extract

Rev transcribers face low pay and disturbing recordings • The Verge

Dani Deahl:


One transcriber working for Rev says that, for them, the recordings that graphically detail someone being abused or assaulted are the most difficult to get through. For other transcribers at Rev, it’s the videos from police body cams that show dead bodies and people who have been attacked, or files where children talk about where an abuser touched them. “Of course, I have the option not to work on such files, but I have no way of knowing what I’m clicking on until I hear it,” the Revver says. A Rev transcriber can choose from a long list of largely unidentified recordings when picking what to work on. The trouble is, a file submitted under the “legal” category might be “a corporate law meeting,” the Revver says, or “a police recording with someone screaming in distress.”

Rev made headlines this month after it slashed minimum pay for its transcribers from 45 cents per audio / video minute transcribed to 30 cents. The company justified the change by saying it was also increasing the pay for more difficult files, and so, ultimately, the amount paid out to transcribers would be about the same. But even though Rev says the changes will only affect a “very small number of jobs,” workers say they are seeing substantial pay cuts because of the change — and for some, the work increasingly isn’t worth the time and stress…

…Nearly every Revver who spoke with The Verge said they were exposed to graphic or troubling material on multiple occasions with no warning. This includes recordings of physical and verbal abuse between intimate partners, graphic descriptions of sexual assault, amateur porn, violent footage from police body cameras, a transphobic rant, and, in one instance, “a breast augmentation filmed by a physician’s cell phone, being performed on a patient who was under sedation.”

It doesn’t bother everyone, but for some, it can be overwhelming. “I’ve finished more than one file in tears because listening to someone talk about being abused or assaulted is emotionally taxing, and frankly I have no training or expertise that really helps me cope with it,” one Revver tells The Verge.


Also: the pay rate is set by an algorithm. Hard to know how it could be worse.
link to this extract

Study: almost half of new cancer patients lose their entire life savings • Insider

Lana Bandoim:


According to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine, 42% of new cancer patients lose all of their life savings in two years because of treatment. The average amount a cancer patient lost was $92,098.

After tracking 9.5 million cancer patients from 2000 to 2012, researchers also learned that 62% of all cancer patients are in debt because of their treatment, and 55% of them owe at least $10,000.

Overall, the total medical costs for cancer are $80bn in the US.

Even if you have insurance, it may not cover all the medical costs associated with cancer. From high deductibles to large copayments, cancer patients can end up with a huge stack of bills.


That figure for “total medical costs” is completely made up. It could be any number, depending how you decide to allocate the cost of drugs, hospital time and doctors. You could also factor in the “cost” to the economy of sick people who aren’t able to contribute because they don’t have any money because it went on cancer treatment they can’t afford. And yet there are Americans who find the idea of publicly funded healthcare repellent.

Also: 1 in 2 women, and 1 in 3 men, will develop cancer during their lifetime.
link to this extract

The secret life and strange death of Quadriga founder Gerald Cotten • Vanity Fair

Nathaniel Rich:


Cotten returned for [sailing] lessons the following summer, though not as often. He was busy. Then, in December, Robertson called Sunnybrook to explain that Gerry, while on their honeymoon in Jaipur, had died suddenly. She wanted to sell the Gulliver. When national news articles began to appear a month later, they emphasized another detail: Cotten was the only person with the passwords to the accounts holding Quadriga’s funds—cryptocurrency and cash—worth approximately a quarter billion U.S. dollars. Nobody knew how to find the money.

The yacht salesman had questions, though it was not his job to ask questions. More than 75,000 Quadriga account holders also had questions. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court declared the company bankrupt and selected the accounting firm Ernst & Young to serve as its third-party monitor, responsible for securing the lost funds belonging to Quadriga’s creditors. Additional investigations were begun by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the FBI; and at least two other law enforcement agencies that have not been publicly disclosed (though one of them is likely a federal agency in Japan). The most effective and thorough investigation to date, however, has been conducted by anonymous accounts posting on Twitter, Reddit, Pastebin, and Telegram. Their findings, though baroquely technical, could be distilled to a two-word conclusion:

Gerry’s alive.


Odd how the story’s essentially the same with “the missing cryptoqueen” (about another cryptocoin, OneCoin): huge promise around a cryptocurrency, and then the central person vanishes abruptly and a fortune is unspoken for. With OneCoin, it was a more straightforward pyramid scheme. (Meanwhile, bitcoin is swooning nicely for Thanksgiving as people sell their positions to get some money they can use to buy actual things.)
link to this extract

OK Boomer, who’s going to buy your 21 million homes? • WSJ

Laura Kusisto:


By 2037, one quarter of the US for-sale housing stock, or roughly 21 million homes, will be vacated by seniors. That is more than twice the number of new properties built during a 10-year period that spanned the last housing bubble.

Most of these homes will be concentrated in traditional retirement communities in Arizona and Florida, according to Zillow, or parts of the Rust Belt that have been losing population for decades. A more modest infusion of new housing is expected in pricey coastal neighborhoods of New York or San Francisco where younger Americans are still flocking in large numbers.

On the face of it, this doesn’t sound all bad. Dying homeowners have always needed to be replaced by younger ones and the US has for a number of years suffered from a shortage of housing, a development that has dampened recent home sales activity and kept many millennials stuck in rentals.

But the buyers coming behind the baby boomers, the Gen Xers, are a smaller and more financially precarious generation with different preferences, posing a new kind of test for the housing market.

One problem is that the bulk of the supply won’t necessarily be in places where these new buyers want to live. Gen Xers and the younger millennials have shown thus far they would rather be in cities or suburbs in major metropolitan areas that offer strong Wi-Fi and plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance—like the Frisco suburbs of Dallas or the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.


Doesn’t it just mean that the homes will sell for less than the boomers had hoped? The bigger problem is going to be those Florida homes: the climate crisis is going to make them close to unsaleable quite quickly.

Going to be a thing in the UK too, I expect.
link to this extract

YouTube Masthead is a massive auto-playing video ad for TV • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:


Earlier this year YouTube tested a huge new ad format for its TV experience called a Masthead. Today, that new ad format is rolling out widely to all users.

Announced in a brief post, YouTube says that its beta test of this new ad format was successful in select markets leading to the now global rollout of the Masthead ad format. The new format is available to all advertisers on a CPM basis as part of a cross-screen advertising campaign on YouTube.

YouTube’s Masthead ad format is not subtle by any means, appearing over the entire top portion of the TV app. Further, that ad auto-plays silently and expands to full-size when the user hovers over the ad. Advertisers, such as FOX, call this “first of its kind” initiative a “fantastic way” to promote its content. The TV network has been using the YouTube Masthead to promote its hit show The Masked Singer.


Autoplaying, unskippable (unlike the ads that come on broadcast or cable TV that you might watch with a digital video recorder, aka DVR). The only way to avoid them is to sign up to the paid-for YouTube Premium. TV advertising in the modern internet age begins to look a lot like it did in the 1950s – more targeted, but no less annoying.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1195: Facebook under attack, the election polls to watch, does your site fit on a floppy?, and more

Antarctic ozone hole 2019
The 2019 ozone hole over Antarctica is the smallest since 1982. Credit: Nasa Goddard Space Laboratory.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Have a gander. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Read Sacha Baron Cohen’s scathing attack on Facebook in full: ‘greatest propaganda machine in history’ • The Guardian


I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

The greatest propaganda machine in history.

Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history – the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When I, as the wannabe gangsta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.


It’s a remarkable speech; a must-read.
link to this extract

Sacha Baron Cohen’s anti-Facebook rant at the ADL summit was pure moral panic •

Robby Soave:


without Section 230, social media companies would have to resort to being wildly censorious across all corners of the internet. Section 230 is the web’s First Amendment—the very thing that has allowed unfettered free speech to flourish in the years since online conversation became the norm.

It’s fine to note that this climate of free expression has come at a cost—that yes, horrible people can say things that are evil and false, and Facebook may not be obligated to do anything about it (though Section 230 does not apply in all cases). But we should not overstate these downsides. Cohen, for instance, warned that “hate crimes are surging” as a consequence of our society’s tolerance for intolerance speech. This is an oft-expressed fear by progressives, but the notion that hate crimes are being committed more frequently than ever before isn’t actually supported by the available evidence.

Similarly, another free-speech skeptic, The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz, claimed in a well-read New York Times op-ed that “Free Speech Is Killing Us” and something must be done. But violent crime is lower than ever, and politically-motivated violence is especially rare. We have more protections for free speech, more ways to express ourselves than ever before, and if anything, less violence.

Cohen concluded his remarks with a call to stop “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” by which he means the cumulative impact of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google. That’s ridiculous hyperbole: The companies are not engaged in some coordinated effort to spread lies or promote an agenda.


The Section 230 point is relevant, but he’s wrong about hate crime. The FBI statistics show those as:
2018: 7,120 cases
2017: 7,106 (on the same page)
2016: 6,121
2015: 5,850
2014: 5,479.

That’s a pretty clear upward trend: up 30% in four years. And propaganda machines? They’re really good at it.
link to this extract

White nationalists are openly operating on Facebook. The company won’t act • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:


Just a few weeks earlier, Red Ice TV had suffered a serious setback when it was permanently banned from YouTube for repeated violations of its policy against hate speech. But Red Ice TV still had a home on Facebook, allowing the channel’s 90,000 followers to stream the discussion on Facebook Watch – the platform Mark Zuckerberg launched as a place “to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things”.

The conversation wasn’t a unique occurrence. Facebook promised to ban white nationalist content from its platform in March 2019, reversing a years-long policy to tolerate the ideology. But Red Ice TV is just one of several white nationalist outlets that remain active on the platform today.

A Guardian analysis found longstanding Facebook pages for VDare, a white nationalist website focused on opposition to immigration; the Affirmative Right, a rebranding of Richard Spencer’s blog Alternative Right, which helped launch the “alt-right” movement; and American Free Press, a newsletter founded by the white supremacist Willis Carto, in addition to multiple pages associated with Red Ice TV. Also operating openly on the platform are two Holocaust denial organizations, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust and the Institute for Historical Review.

“There’s no question that every single one of these groups is a white nationalist group,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project, after reviewing the Guardian’s findings. “It’s not even up for debate. There’s really no excuse for not removing this material.”


As a result of writing this piece, Carrie Wong was harassed by Breitbart News and the Daily Stormer, and white nationalist groups in between. Facebook talks the talk, but it doesn’t walk the walk.
link to this extract

Slack’s new rich text editor shows that Markdown still scares people • VICE

Ernie Smith:


Slack just updated its longtime editor for its primary interface—and the rich-text result hints at a longstanding tension over how much of a helping hand users need from their text editors and communication programs.

Power users, like programmer Arthur O’Dwyer, make the case that they don’t really need any—and the rich-text interface they added just gets in the way. “I wish Slack would provide a way to disable the WYSIWYG rich-text-input box,” he wrote in a viral blog post. “I don’t think it’s useful, and it’s extremely annoying to have to keep backspacing to fix mistakes.”

After the decision was criticized by O’Dwyer and others (and after this article was published), Slack told Motherboard that it would switch gears and provide an option to bring the old interface back.

It noted that it was trying to make the app more palatable to the broader audience of users it’s gained in recent years since. But concerns from older users who liked the prior Markdown-driven interface led the company to rethink the decision, and bring the tool back in the coming weeks.

“Our recently introduced WYSIWYG formatting toolbar was developed with that broader customer community in mind,” the company said. “We thought we had nailed it, but we have seen an outpouring of feedback from customers who love using Slack with markup.”


Markup, markdown, can’t we all just get along?
link to this extract

How a Facebook employee helped Trump win—but switched sides for 2020 • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


[During the 2016 US election, James] Barnes [who had joined Facebook’s political ad sales team in 2013] frequently flew to Texas, sometimes staying for four days at a time and logging 12-hour days. By July, he says, he was solely focused on the Trump campaign. When on-site in the building that served as the Trump campaign’s digital headquarters in San Antonio, he sometimes sat a few feet from Mr. Parscale.

The intense pace reflected Trump officials’ full embrace of Facebook’s platform, in the absence of a more traditional campaign structure including donor files and massive email databases.

The Trump campaign would give Mr. Barnes certain videos or images, such as a video of Donald Trump Jr. urging voters to help build the border wall. Mr. Barnes would experiment with different ways to display the ad. One might say “donate” while another would say “give.” Some videos would be vertical, others square. Buttons could be highlighted in red or green.

Each variation of the ad would be targeted to certain demographics. It could be as specific as 18-to-24-year-old men who visited the Trump campaign donation page and made it to the third step but never finished, according to Mr. Barnes. They tested all the variations and doubled down on those that raised the most money.

Trump campaign officials have said that some days the campaign churned out 100,000 separate versions of Facebook ads.

One official from the 2016 Trump campaign said it primarily relied on Mr. Barnes for troubleshooting and complained to Facebook about periodic technical issues that the campaign argued hurt its performance. The official, who is also working on Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, declined to comment further.

Mr. Barnes’s Democratic counterparts at Facebook weren’t getting the same reception. Tatenda Musapatike, a former Facebook employee who worked with Democratic PACs and other independent expenditure groups in 2016, said she felt many Democrats held Facebook at arm’s length.

“For James, he’d suggest something and they’d say, ‘Sure, let’s try it,’” said Ms. Musapatike. “It was a battle for us to get anything accepted at a much smaller scale.”


A key difference: the Democrats were still fighting like it was 2004.
link to this extract

The Google tax • Seth’s Blog

Seth Godin:


Actually, there are two.

The first is the tax we each pay so that companies can bid against each other to buy traffic from Google. Because their revenue model is (cleverly) built on both direct marketing and an auction, they are able to keep a significant portion of the margin from many industries. They’ve become the internet’s landlord.

The difference between a successful business in New York and an unsuccessful one is just a few percentage points–the successful ones pay 95% of their profit to landlords, while the unsuccessful ones pay 105%.

It doesn’t matter if there are competitors to Google in search: the model of bidding for attention is so economically compelling (because attention is so scarce), that companies are going to be paying ever more to reach people in this way–or allow their competitors to do so.

The second is harder to see: Because Google has made it ever more difficult for sites to be found, previously successful businesses like Groupon, Travelocity and Hipmunk suffer. As a result, new web companies are significantly harder to fund and build. If you’re dependent on being found in a Google search, it’s probably worth rethinking your plan.


link to this extract

Does your website fit on a floppy? • Fitonafloppy

Brendon Body:


A floppy disk’s capacity is 1.44MB.

Webpages are getting bigger and bigger. The internet is getting faster and faster but not everywhere at the same pace. A floppy is a physical reminder of filesize.

Assets Audited (On page load):
HTML; CSS/Fonts; JavaScript; Images (excluding inline data source)

How long to download on various mobile devices:
2G EDGE (0.1Mbit/s): 2 minutes
3G HSPA (~1.5Mbit/s): 8 seconds
4G LTE Category 4 (~15Mbit/s): less than 1 second
5G (~150Mbit/s): less than 1 second

« does; doesn’t (2.2MB); does; doesn’t (2.6MB); wouldn’t load.
link to this extract

Los Angeles authorities warn travelers of charging-station hackers • The Washington Post

Drew Jones:


The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is warning travelers using Los Angeles International Airport of a new scheme targeting people who need a quick boost at public USB charging stations. The USB charging scam, also known as “juice jacking,” involves hackers spoofing charging stations to steal information.

Similar to credit-card skimming, fake charging stations are set up via port or cable, and unknowing users who plug into them expose their devices to malware attacks that can lock their devices and export sensitive contents such as passwords and bank account numbers into the hands of waiting information thieves.

“#ICYMI: Avoid using public USB charging stations at airports and other locations,” the district attorney’s office wrote on Twitter.

Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak says investigators from his office have seen scammers whom they know to be involved in identity-theft schemes with the software and hardware capable of performing the “juice jacking” scam. He says his office wants to give travelers the information they need to protect themselves.

“It’s something that people should be aware is possible,” he said. “And they mostly don’t know that it is.”

Sometimes phone security is taken for granted, he says, along with the knowledge that the phone’s charging port is also how the phone sends and receives data…

…A key thing to look out for is whether your phone displays a “Do you trust this computer?” message when you plug into a USB outlet. Sisak said that’s an easy giveaway that a data device has been connected to it. On anything that’s not your home computer, the answer should always be “no.”


I think “Don’t Trust” on an iPhone, but perhaps Android offers “No”. Particularly relevant this week because lots of Americans are travelling for Thanksgiving.
link to this extract

Brexit didn’t cause all our divisions • UnHerd

Freddie Sayers:


The most powerful data modelling technique in politics at the moment, is something called MRP. It stands for “multilevel regression with post-stratification” —  not exactly catchy — and the number of people who fully understand it in the UK can be counted on two hands.

But, roughly speaking, you conduct a huge survey, normally 10,000 or more so that you have sufficient numbers to look at small subsets of people, and you then analyse what the most predictive characteristics are behind the question you’re interested in, for example whether race, education or income is more predictive of how people are going to vote (that’s the ‘multilevel regression’ part).

Then, once you have identified the most predictive characteristics, you use what you know about the people in each constituency, and in combination with any local effects you observe in your sample, you can estimate the outcome in every constituency in the land (that’s the ‘post stratification’).

With this method, instead of crude national swings, you create something close to a simulated version of the whole electorate, in miniature, in all its complex glory.

The defining moment for MRP arrived during the general election of 2017. The conventional opinion polls had showed a dramatic narrowing, with most still showing Theresa May’s Conservatives significantly ahead on election day. The Westminster bubble was expecting her to build on, not lose, David Cameron’s majority.

But as well as their conventional poll, YouGov had also run an MRP model, and, instead of a majority this one pointed to something very different: a hung parliament, with the Tories losing ‘safe’ seats such as Kensington, Canterbury and Ipswich. Two weeks before polling day they gave it to the Times, who put it on the front page with the headline: Shock Poll Predicts Tory Losses.

Almost nobody believed it, but it turned out to be astonishingly accurate.


And YouGov has another MRP poll coming out some time this week. Watch for it.
link to this extract

2019 ozone hole is the smallest on record since its discovery • NASA

Ellen Gray and Theo Stein:


Abnormal weather patterns in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica dramatically limited ozone depletion in September and October, resulting in the smallest ozone hole observed since 1982, NASA and NOAA scientists reported today [October 2019].

The annual ozone hole reached its peak extent of 6.3 million square miles (16. 4 million square kilometers) on Sept. 8, and then shrank to less than 3.9 million square miles (10 million square kilometers) for the remainder of September and October, according to NASA and NOAA satellite measurements. During years with normal weather conditions, the ozone hole typically grows to a maximum area of about 8 million square miles in late September or early October.

“It’s great news for ozone in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But it’s important to recognize that what we’re seeing this year is due to warmer stratospheric temperatures. It’s not a sign that atmospheric ozone is suddenly on a fast track to recovery.”.


Don’t say there’s never any good environmental news. Though the graph below of the size of the hole, and the minimum ozone level isn’t super-encouraging. CFCs have multi-decade survival in the upper atmosphere, and related chemicals are still being produced (CFC and HCFC smuggling is quite common across Pakistan’s border, according to a paper I read while trying – and failing – to find data about world CFC production by year).

link to this extract

The United States is starting to look like Ukraine • The New York Times

Bret Stephens:


Donald Trump ought to be impeached and removed from office. This isn’t what I thought two months ago, when the impeachment inquiry began. I argued that the evidence fell short of the standards of a prosecutable criminal act. I also feared impeachment might ultimately help Trump politically, as it had helped Bill Clinton in 1998. That second worry might still prove true.

But if the congressional testimonies of Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman and especially Fiona Hill make anything clear, it’s that the president’s highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine.

It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine. The judgment Congress has to make is whether the American people should be willing, actively or passively, to go along with it.

I’ve followed Ukrainian politics fairly closely since 1999, when I joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal Europe. It has consistent themes that should sound familiar to American ears.

The first theme is the criminalization of political differences. Years before Trump led his followers in “Lock Her Up” chants against Hillary Clinton, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did exactly that against his own political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on a variety of byzantine charges after she had narrowly lost the 2010 election.

She spent three years in prison before her release during the 2014 Maidan Revolution. Key to Yanukovych’s efforts to discredit Tymoshenko was — who else? — Paul Manafort.


Manafort who is, of course, deservedly in prison now. But as an observation: when you’ve lost Bret Stephens..
link to this extract

Florida dog drives in circles for an hour, video shows • The Washington Post

Hannah Knowles:


Anna Sabol, who lives across from the cul-de-sac, told the Sun-Sentinel she started watching the car’s strange doughnuts after her own dogs began to bark. She looked out her window to see officers gathered around.

It took her a while to realize that a canine was behind the wheel, she said. “First I thought I saw somebody backing up, but then they kept going and I’m like, ‘Okay, what are they doing?’ ” she recounted to local news station WPBF-TV. Her reaction when a dog got out of the vehicle: “This is turning weird.”

Sabol told the Sun-Sentinel that the car finally stopped after going up a lawn and hitting a mailbox. The dog’s owner has reportedly promised to fix the damage.

No one was hurt, and the silver 2003 Mercury Sable sustained only minor damage, the Port St. Lucie Police Department said. It described Max in a statement as “fine, healthy and happy.”

“They should give that dog a license,” Sabol told the Sun-Sentinel. “He drives better than some people I’ve seen on the roads here.”


Perfect payoff line. (I’d have linked directly to the Sun-Sentinel but apparently it hasn’t worked out how to show adverts to people in Europe without breaking the law about data collection.)
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1194: are the grifters here to stay?, judges warns on AI decisions, Trump’s Apple nonsense, and more

Facebook and Google seem to be having (limited) second thoughts about political advertising. CC-licensed photo by outtacontext on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Crowded under the bus? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The next decade will be just as bad • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:


Why are we being overrun by scams? Society’s signals for judging reputation and trustworthiness haven’t caught up with the changing tech. Even though we know better, we reflexively mistake Instagram for reality — online influence is seen as a proxy for real-world authenticity, and so we are constantly falling under the sway of people who’ve found ways to game the digital realm. On your phone, the Fyre Festival looks irresistible.

We are also too easily blinded by wealth, or markers for wealth. Anna Sorokin, the Russian immigrant convicted this year of conning New York society into thinking she was a German heiress named Anna Delvey, defrauded hotels and banks of hundreds of thousands of dollars by pretending to be rich. She’d hand out $100 bills to anyone and everyone. “For a stretch of time in New York, no small amount of the cash in circulation was coming from Anna Delvey,” Jessica Pressler wrote.

You could argue that my take on the end of truth is too gloomy. Consider the clarifying power of #MeToo — how in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby and other once-powerful men, we witnessed the power of facts and objective, clear eyed investigation to alter the brutal power structures that had long held victims in silence…

…You might also argue that collectively, we’re getting better at spotting hucksters and frauds. The resistance grifters had a good run, but we found them out. Less than a year from now, if not sooner, Trump, too, may hit the end of his run.

But I’m skeptical that these things signal some reason for optimism. Our information system has slipped its moorings, and as a result, lying and scheming and fraud has simply become too effective a life strategy.


Show us what you’ve got, 2020!
link to this extract

Google crackdown on political ads ‘will have minimal impact in UK’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


A new rule banning microtargeting in political adverts will have minimal impact in the UK, the Guardian has learned, because the majority of political advertisers do not use the tools anyway.

Instead, British political advertisers spend the bulk of their money on search adverts with simple targeting to individual keywords. Often, those keywords relate to opposing parties: on Thursday, the Conservative party bought an advert for searches for the word “Labour” that took users to, a site set up by the Tories to attack Labour’s expected policies before either party had released their manifesto.

Google announced on Wednesday that it would ban microtargeting in political ads, starting in the UK “within the week”. When the ban comes into place, advertisers will only be allowed to narrow down audiences based on three general categories: age, gender and postcode-level location.

But in the UK, according to a Google source, political advertisers already lack access to “custom affinity” audience targeting, the most powerful form of microtargeting, which lets them define very narrow groups of voters and target specific messages to them. Other forms of microtargeting, such as focusing on a geographic point or targeting similar audiences to other content, were available but were rarely used by British advertisers, the source said. As a result, the ban would have minimal impact on the UK election.


It’s a perfect “strategy credit”: get positive publicity over a controversial topic by not doing something you’re already bad at doing, but which a rival is good at doing.
link to this extract

Facebook weighs steps to curb narrowly targeted political ads • WSJ

Emily Glazer:


Facebook is considering making changes to its political-advertising policy that could include preventing campaigns from targeting only very small groups of people, people familiar with the matter said, in an effort to spurn the spread of misinformation.

The company in recent weeks has weighed increasing the minimum number of people who are targeted in political ads from 100 to a few thousand, the people said.

Facebook has sought feedback on potential changes with large Republican and Democratic political ad buyers—about that possible change and other ideas—in efforts to limit how misinformation is spread, since ads with false or misleading information are often targeted toward specific audiences, one of the people said…

…Though it is unclear if or when Facebook could roll out any changes, it has hinted that modifications to its political ad policy could be possible. It left the door open again in response to Google’s announcement Wednesday.

Candidates from both parties have ramped up spending this year. Digital political ad spending is expected to reach $2.9bn in 2020, up from $1.4bn in 2016, according to Borrell Associates Inc., a consulting firm.


I wonder if that last paragraph contains any clues about why Facebook doesn’t want to give up political advertising.
link to this extract

Bigger fines would help to keep political fight fair • The Times

Louise Edwards is director of regulation at the Electoral Commission:


The outcry over @CCHQPress changing its Twitter profile to @factcheckuk during the leadership debate is an example of how highly the public value political transparency. We’ve no doubt that the political leaders of all our major parties share this value.

Transparency is the reason printed campaign material must to carry an imprint telling you who funded it. Our research tells us that, in general, the public find online campaigning helpful, and we agree. Anything that gives voters the information they need to make a decision about how to vote is a good thing.

The problem comes when voters don’t know — and can’t find out — who the source is. That’s why we’ve been calling since 2003 for the same rules to apply to digital materials.

People tell us that their concerns about online campaigning focus on the use of targeted messages that spread false or misleading information, and on who is paying for the message to be circulated. Parties and campaigners should heed this concern and give careful consideration to messaging they might present as fact when it is simply opinion, albeit informed opinion.

Imprints might not stop the spread of false information but they would certainly help us all to understand who is behind campaigning material and what their agenda might be. Add to this education work that seeks to increase digital and political literacy, and we could start to stem the tide of misinformation aimed at voters during an election. It’s a topic that governments around the globe are grappling with. Implementing our calls for imprints would be an important first step…

…For anyone concerned that some campaigners do still break the rules, the answer is to make such rule-breaking prohibitively expensive. Our fines are currently capped at £20,000 per offence at a time when a political party could spend up to £19m in a general election. If we really want to keep the fight fair and deter campaigners and parties from breaking the rules in the first place, we need the power to levy larger fines.


How likely is it, though, that a party that wins by breaking the rules will implement legislation to making breaking the rules prohibitively expensive?
link to this extract

Judge sounds ‘serf’ warning on digital public services • UKAuthority

Michael Cross:


One of the UK’s top tier judges has made an extraordinary public warning about the potential dangers of automating decision-making in public services.

In a public lecture this month, Supreme Court Justice Lord Sales (Philip Sales QC) asserted that while, while digital government offers the potential of huge savings, it also has the potential to undermine human dignity and human rights.

“Access to public services is being depersonalised,” he said. “The individual seems powerless in the face of machine systems and loses all dignity in being subjected to their control.

“The movement here threatens to be from citizen to consumer and then on to serf.”

In his lecture for the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, Sales added his voice to a growing campaign for independent regulation of machine learning algorithms. Decisions made by AI could embed human prejudices in inflexible code without a “capacity for mercy”, he said.

“AI may get to the stage where it will understand the rules of (the legal principle of) equity and how to recognise hard cases, but we are not there yet.” In the meantime “we need to build a structure of legal obligations on those who design and build algorithms”.


If the judges are saying it…
link to this extract

Google Assistant can now navigate websites, book movie tickets • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google says the feature works with “more than 70 cinemas and ticketing services, such as Fandango,, AMC, or MJR Theaters in the US, or ODEON in the UK.” While all of those services could have coded up special hooks for the Google Assistant, that’s not what’s going on here—instead this feature is powered by a feature Google calls “Duplex on the web.” You might remember “Duplex” as Google’s futuristic phone-call bot that can book restaurants over the phone while sounding like a real human. This “Duplex on the web” doesn’t make phone calls, though, and instead navigates websites for you and completes the movie ticket purchase. Google announced this feature earlier in the year during the Google I/O keynote, where CEO Sundar Pichai defined Duplex as “the approach by which we train AI on simple but familiar tasks to accomplish them and save you time.”

Buying movie tickets on your behalf through a website means Google Duplex navigates to the site, searches for a movie, fills in your personal info and your credit card details, and, after a confirmation step, completes the purchase, mashing all the necessary “next” and “buy” buttons along the way. You can watch it do all this yourself on your phone screen, and if there’s anything that Duplex doesn’t know how to deal with, like making a reservation for a specific seat, it will stop and ask you. We’ve had autofill for some time, and this is like autofill plus auto-navigation.

The technology to automatically navigate webpages is interesting, but this is something that will generally help only casual movie ticket buyers.


Google’s being cautious about how it rolls out Duplex; wise.
link to this extract

Google Stadia users are reporting overheated Chromecast Ultra devices • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Google Stadia has been out for a few days now, letting you stream high quality games via a solid internet connection. You don’t need a gaming console or anything fancy either, as you can stream titles on your TV via a Chromecast.

Unfortunately, it seems like several people on reddit have reported that their gaming sessions are being cut short due to overheating Chromecast Ultra devices.

“I was in the middle of a fight in Destiny 2 when suddenly my Chromecast died and lost connectivity to the network. I went to unplug it from the power and it was extremely hot,” read a post from user armadeon7479. Several other users chimed in to report that their streaming dongles were either hot or had shut down during a session.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem specifically related to Stadia though, as users noted that the Chromecast Ultra is prone to overheating in the first place. In fact, complaints about overheating Chromecasts date back to the very first device.


That’s 2014, for the first device. Five years and there are still problems with overheating?

link to this extract

Trump is lying about the ‘new’ ‘Apple’ factory • The Verge

Russell Brandom:


In advance of Trump’s factory tour today, I took a look at the strange relationship that’s developed between Tim Cook and Donald Trump over the past three years. One of the things that popped up was one specific story that Trump would tell about Apple, in rally after rally and meeting after meeting. The idea was that Trump had somehow induced the company to build a new factory in the US, through some combination of tax cuts and trade policy, which was both very politically useful and also very much not true.

Today, perhaps not surprisingly, he told the lie again.

“We’re seeing the beginning of a very powerful and important plant,” Trump said at the factory. “Anybody that followed my campaign, I would always talk about Apple, that I want to see Apple building plants in the United States. And that’s what’s happening.”

This is not true for a couple reasons — one of them nitpicky and one of them a lot more serious. The nitpicky problem is that Apple isn’t actually building a manufacturing plant. The company is building a new campus in Austin, but it’s miles away from the factory and the jobs are going to be very similar to the kind of white-collar design and engineering work that Apple does in Cupertino. Apple doesn’t do its own manufacturing, and the plant Trump is standing in belongs to a contractor called Flex Ltd (formerly Flextronics).


Notable how the Wall Street Journal report on this visit didn’t pick up any of those inaccuracies by Trump; it didn’t even report him going out and saying he’d opened the plant. The NY Times did point out his multiple errors.

Cook got what he wanted: no tariffs on iPhones. But at what price?
link to this extract

Inside Apple’s iPhone software shakeup after buggy iOS 13 debut • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


The new development process will help early internal iOS versions to be more usable, or “livable,” in Apple parlance. Prior to iOS 14’s development, some teams would add features every day that weren’t fully tested, while other teams would contribute changes weekly. “Daily builds were like a recipe with lots of cooks adding ingredients,” a person with knowledge of the process said.

Test software got so crammed with changes at different stages of development that the devices often became difficult to use. Because of this, some “testers would go days without a livable build, so they wouldn’t really have a handle on what’s working and not working,” the person said. This defeated the main goal of the testing process as Apple engineers struggled to check how the operating system was reacting to many of the new features, leading to some of iOS 13’s problems.

Apple measures and ranks the quality of its software using a scale of 1 to 100 that’s based on what’s known internally as a “white glove” test. Buggy releases might get a score in the low 60s whereas more stable software would be above 80. iOS 13 scored lower on that scale than the more polished iOS 12 that preceded it. Apple teams also assign green, yellow and red color codes to features to indicate their quality during development. A priority scale of 0 through 5, with 0 being a critical issue and 5 being minor, is used to determine the gravity of individual bugs.

The new strategy is already being applied to the development of iOS 14, codenamed “Azul” internally, ahead of its debut next year. Apple has also considered delaying some iOS 14 features until 2021 — in an update called “Azul +1” internally that will likely become known as iOS 15 externally — to give the company more time to focus on performance. Still, iOS 14 is expected to rival iOS 13 in the breadth of its new capabilities, the people familiar with Apple’s plans said.

The testing shift will apply to all of Apple’s operating systems, including iPadOS, watchOS, macOS and tvOS.


I’d love to know where iOS 13 came on that 1-to-100 scale. I’d put it well below iOS 12 – if the latter was, say, 85, this has been about 65. The particular bug I hate is that Messages crashes from the lockscreen if you type more than 37 characters in a reply. Where’s that going to go on a 0-5 scale? Not high. (It’s not a data loss bug.) But it’s annoying nonetheless – the irksome kind of bug.

But more to the point, how has Apple let this get so out of whack? Was it gradual, or did something precipitate it?
link to this extract

Huawei’s upcoming Android tablet is an iPad Pro with a hole-punch display | Android Central

Philip Berne:


Rumor site 91Mobiles has spotted renders of a new Huawei tablet that could sit at the high-end of Huawei’s mid-screen range. The tablet has a smooth look with a thin bezel and a ‘hole-punch’ selfie camera on the front screen.

Leaks label this tablet with an internal codename “Marx,” but prolific Twitter leaker Evan Blass chimed in to say this would be the Huawei “MatePad Pro.”

Source: 91Mobiles

The device is pictured with Huawei’s professional-looking keyboard attachment, similar to Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard. 91Mobiles also claims the tablet will support Huawei’s M-Pen stylus. A few other details can be inferred from the leak, including a USB-C port and bottom-firing speakers, but important items like the stylus silo or the fate of the 3.5mm headphone jack are unclear.

The new Huawei tablet is shown in black and white. What is not so black and white, however, is the fate of Huawei’s Android devices. Huawei is currently locked out of the Google services program while the Chinese company is under investigation by the U.S. government. It’s unclear what OS this new tablet is running, but assuming it’s anything like the Mate 30 Pro, it’ll be a build of Android 10 / EMUI 10 without access to Google services.


“Similar to” Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard? Everything from the square proportions of the tablet edges to the use of a groove on the Pencil is a complete ripoff of Apple’s design. Shameful.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1193: Google cuts back TGIF, the $4bn browser extension, Ring shares a bit too much video?, “right to repair”.. military equipment, and more

The new antibiotics pipeline is barren. Time to take pharma companies into public ownership and fill it? CC-licensed photo by Sheep purple on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Quid pro quod erat demonstrandum. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google shakes up its ‘TGIF’—and ends its culture of openness • WIRED

Steven Levy:


“It’s not working in its current form,” Pichai said of what was once the hallmark of Google culture. In 2020, he declared, the [TGIF] meetings [held at the end of Fridays] would be limited to once a month, and they would be more constrained affairs, sticking to “product and business strategy.” Don’t Be Evil has changed to Don’t Ask Me Anything.

With that, Pichai not only ended an era at Google, he symbolically closed the shutters on a dream held widely in the tech world—that one can scale a company to global ubiquity while maintaining the camaraderie of an idealistic clan.

Pichai cited decreased attendance rates, the difficulty of running a real-time gathering across time zones, and an uptick in meetings among big product groups like Cloud or YouTube. His most resonant reason, however, was that Google employees could no longer be trusted to keep matters confidential. He cited “a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF … it has affected our ability to use TGIF as a forum for candid conversations on important topics.” He also noted that while many want to hear about product launches and business strategies, some attend to “hear answers on other topics.” It seems obvious he was referring to recent moments when aggrieved employees registered objections to Google’s policies and missteps—on developing a search engine for China, bestowing millions of dollars to executives charged with sexual misconduct, or hiring a former Homeland Security apparatchik. Pichai says Google may address such issues in specific town-hall meetings when warranted.

…The loss of TGIF is huge. The ability to ask the boss any question in a timely fashion was a powerful symbol of employee empowerment. The practice began when Google was relatively tiny, as a relaxed session—beer was served!—where cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took queries, no matter how challenging, from anyone who cared to ask. The company even invented an app that allowed employees to rank potential questions, so pressing ones would get precedence.

When I was writing a book about Google some years ago, I sat in on several TGIFs, held in the cavernous Charlie’s Cafe on the Mountain View campus. They followed a format that became a template for dozens of new companies thereafter.


Levy – who has been so far inside Google he was almost a staffer – says that the company’s culture has effectively been changed from Don’t Be Evil to Don’t Ask Me Anything. It’s been a long time coming.
link to this extract

PayPal acquires the company behind the Honey deal-finding Chrome extension for $4bn • The Verge

Jay Peters:


When you’re shopping on one of the 30,000 online retailers Honey works with, the extension will find coupon codes for things you add to your cart and attempt to automatically apply them for you. In my experience, though, the codes Honey finds don’t always work — Best Buy’s online store didn’t take a Honey-found coupon for an order I created for a Nintendo Switch, for example — but it’s a useful service to at least help you check for coupon codes before you buy something.

Honey can also track prices of an individual item and notify you when it drops below a certain threshold. Honey also offers a rewards program, Honey Gold, which gives you “Gold” for using Honey while you’re shopping that can be redeemed for gift cards. (PayPal-owned Venmo just launched a similar rewards program for its physical debit card.)

PayPal’s press release isn’t clear about exactly how Honey and its deal-finding tech will be integrated into PayPal’s products, but in an interview with TechCrunch, PayPal SVP John Kunze said that PayPal wants to build Honey’s functionality “into the PayPal and Venmo experiences.” PayPal merchant partners will also apparently be able to use Honey to offer more targeted promotions, according to TechCrunch.


The Techcrunch version that it points to doesn’t make what seems to me the amazing thing here: this is a Chrome extension. A business that relies on being a Chrome extension is worth $4bn.
link to this extract

Merkel faces party revolt over Huawei’s role in German 5G rollout • Financial Times

Guy Chazan:


Angela Merkel is facing a rebellion in her party over the German government’s decision not to formally exclude Huawei from the buildout of its next generation 5G telecoms network, amid rising concern in Berlin at potential security risks.

MPs from Ms Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union have put forward a motion for the party’s annual conference this week in Leipzig that would in effect ban the Chinese supplier from the 5G project.

There is also pressure from inside Ms Merkel’s own cabinet to pursue a tougher line on Huawei. Foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday that when it came to the safety of critical infrastructure, Germany “cannot afford to ignore the political and legal realities that a supplier is subjected to”.

Ms Merkel has refused to prohibit Huawei outright, insisting instead that all telecom equipment providers be allowed to take part in the 5G rollout providing they meet certain tightened security standards.

The chancellor has stuck to the approach despite fierce pressure from the US to shut out the Chinese group, which Washington says could be used by Beijing to conduct espionage or cyber sabotage.


The US pressure isn’t surprising, but the internal pressure is a new thing. Huawei isn’t entirely trusted at the network level either.
link to this extract

Ring: Doorbell camera footage can be kept by police forever and shared with whomever they’d like • The Washington Post



Police officers who download videos captured by homeowners’ Ring doorbell cameras can keep them forever and share them with whomever they’d like without providing evidence of a crime, the Amazon-owned firm told a lawmaker this month.

More than 600 police forces across the country have entered into partnerships with the camera giant, allowing them to quickly request and download video recorded by Ring’s motion-detecting, Internet-connected cameras inside and around Americans’ homes.

The company says that the videos can be a critical tool in helping law enforcement investigate crimes such as trespassing, burglary and package theft, and that homeowners are free to decline the requests. But some lawmakers and privacy advocates say the systems could empower more widespread police surveillance, fuel racial profiling and spark new neighborhood fears.

In September, following reports about Ring’s police partnerships by The Washington Post and other outlets, Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) wrote to Amazon asking for details about how it protected the privacy and civil liberties of people caught on camera. Since that report, the number of law enforcement agencies working with Ring has increased nearly 50 percent.


“The telescreen recieved and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever the wanted to.”
link to this extract

Facebook’s director of business integrity explains the platform’s political ads policy • AdAge

Garett Sloane interviewed Rob Leathern:


Twitter now bans just about all political ads. You’ve taken a different approach. Why?
I won’t talk specifically about the decisions other companies are making. I can talk a little bit about how we think about political ads and social issue ads. When it comes to issue ads obviously there’s a challenge about where to draw the line. Things that mention candidates or an election campaign are clearly political, but there are a lot of ads that are about highly politicized issues: health care, veterans services, climate change, other areas. We think it’s important to take kind of a broad approach here.

We also have to give people a place to express their voice. It’s not just about the presidential and well-known candidates, but it’s also about the local, little-known or new candidates that don’t typically have access to the same kind of media, the same kinds of ways to get their message out there.

We think that if we stopped running political ads on our services then the people who would really benefit are going to be the incumbents and established politicians, the newcomers would not benefit. Challengers don’t have the ability to spend $60,000 to produce a TV ad, let alone the media costs of running it.

Why not ban negative ads?
We have been working to even just identify what are political ads and what are social issue ads. It’s a challenging technical problem to identify these ads, which we’ve gotten a lot better at and continue to improve. We’re going to continue to miss things, but I think we’re getting better at just identifying social issues and political ads. But going to the next point of identifying what is a negative ad and what’s not, that’s also just a difficult technical challenge, and we’re definitely focused on the first part of that, identifying political ads.


Facebook’s problem remains that any line it draws will inevitably turn out to be inscribed in sand, because a zillion bad actors will attempt to jump over it, or blur it. Even so, the idea that issues-based ads are “political” and therefore you throw up your hands is nonsensical. You can present the issues to people: eg “we should pay more for health care”, or “we should pay less tax because it gets wasted” or “the rich should pay a bigger proportion of taxes” are political, but don’t have to be associated with candidates.
link to this extract

Here’s one reason the US military can’t fix its own equipment • The New York Times

Elle Ekman:


In July, the Federal Trade Commission hosted a workshop to address “the issues that arise when a manufacturer restricts or makes it impossible for a consumer or an independent repair shop to make product repairs.”

It has long been considered a problem with the automotive industry, electronics and farming equipment. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have even brought it up during their presidential campaigns, siding with farmers who want to repair their own equipment; while the senators are advocating national laws, at least 20 states have considered their own right-to-repair legislation this year.

I first heard about the term from a fellow Marine interested in problems with monopoly power and technology. A few past experiences then snapped into focus. Besides the broken generator in South Korea, I remembered working at a maintenance unit in Okinawa, Japan, watching as engines were packed up and shipped back to contractors in the United States for repairs because “that’s what the contract says.” The process took months.

With every engine sent back, Marines lost the opportunity to practice the skills they might need one day on the battlefield, where contractor support is inordinately expensive, unreliable or nonexistent.

I also recalled how Marines have the ability to manufacture parts using water-jets, lathes and milling machines (as well as newer 3-D printers), but that these tools often sit idle in maintenance bays alongside broken-down military equipment. Although parts from the manufacturer aren’t available to repair the equipment, we aren’t allowed to make the parts ourselves “due to specifications.”


None of your $200 hammers here. But the warranty on the hammers, well…
link to this extract

Big Pharma has failed: the antibiotic pipeline needs to be taken under public ownership • The Conversation

Claas Kirchhelle, Adam Roberts and Andrew Singer:


the injection of over £520m of public money since 2016 has not prevented the industry from further contracting. Between 2016 and 2019, major producers, such as Sanofi, Novartis and AstraZeneca shuttered their antibiotic-development divisions. This resulted in the closure of well-financed industrial research departments and a critical global loss of human capital and expertise in antibiotic R&D. According to a recent review, there is “now a shortage of experts qualified to lead research programs employing promising new antibiotic discovery methods”.

Although international non-profit organisations are mobilising further public money to subsidise for-profit development, it is questionable whether this public-private model will bear fruit. After over three decades of market failure and in the face of a critical contraction of remaining industry activity, alternatives beyond the market should urgently be explored.

The public is already sponsoring the high-risk phases of drug discovery and trialling by university researchers and private companies but own none of the intellectual property once antibiotics go to market. There has also been little public pay-off either in terms of new antibiotic classes or increased access to effective drugs in low-income countries.

The market is broken. It is time to apply recent official calls of “public money for public goods” to areas beyond farming and seriously consider public ownership of antibiotic research, development and production.


Kirchhelle is a research associate at the Oxford Martin School/ Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford; Roberts is a Reader in Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and Resistance, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine; Singer is a chemical ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Back in 1997, I spoke to the (about to be outgoing) science minister Ian Taylor, who said that getting more research into antibiotics was one of the most urgent matters facing us. Nothing’s happened since; that’s over 20 years lost.
link to this extract

Does money make people right-wing and inegalitarian? A longitudinal study of lottery winners • Warwick University

Nattavudh Powdthavee and Andrew J. Oswald:


The causes of people’s political attitudes are largely unknown. We study this issue by exploiting longitudinal data on lottery winners. Comparing people before and after a lottery windfall, we show that winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian. The larger the win, the more people tilt to the right. This relationship is robust to (i) different ways of defining right-wing, (ii) a variety of estimation methods, and (iii) methods that condition on the person previously having voted left. It is strongest for males. Our findings are consistent with the view that voting is driven partly by human self-interest. Money apparently makes people more right-wing.


This is an academic paper, so it’s a PDF. It’s from 2014, not that that should make any difference. In effect, it’s showing that *sudden* accumulation of money makes people more right-wing, but the broad effect probably explains why shadowy thinktanks like the Institute of Economic Affairs or the so-called Taxpayers Alliance, neither of which discloses the sources of their funding but which are surely funded by rich people, espouse particularly right-wing views of the world – and particularly what should happen to those who have lots of money.
link to this extract

Google is putting an algorithmic audio news feed on its Assistant • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


Google is rolling out a new service for Google Assistant that it’s calling “Your News Update.” It takes the idea of an algorithmically determined news feed — the kind you get from Facebook or on Google’s news feed — and turns it into an audio stream. To play it, you simply ask a Google smart speaker or Assistant on your phone to “listen to the news.”

Google uses the information it has learned about you over the years alongside your location to custom-build a series of short news updates from partners from which it has licensed audio. It hopes to foster an ecosystem it’s calling “the audio web,” according to Liz Gannes, Google’s product manager of audio news. These aren’t podcasts so much as news bites, similar to the hourly news updates that can be heard on the radio.

Your News Update replaces the current way of getting news updates from Assistant, which consists of a straightforward list of news sources. With that system, you have to choose which sources you want and what order they’re played in…

…Google has licensed audio from a variety of news sources, including ABC, Cheddar, The Associated Press, CNN, Fox News Radio, PBS, Reuters, WYNC, and a bunch of local radio stations…

…the main problem I have with this kind of news feed is that while an algorithmic list of stories makes sense on a screen, it’s incredibly annoying when it’s a linear stream of audio. On a screen, you can scan through quickly and read headlines and sources, picking and choosing what you prefer. On an audio feed, you have to constantly bark “Hey Google, skip” if you get a story that isn’t a good match.

I also have concerns that, as with news feeds on the web, this new audio news feed will reinforce filter bubbles.


Yup. He’s absolutely right: it will. And you can also bet, like night follows day, that there will be attempts to game this. Hasn’t Google learnt anything from Facebook and YouTube’s and its own debacles around algorithmic suggestions for nuanced news topics?
link to this extract

Age structure of the world population • Our World in Data

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser:


In comparing 1950 and 2018 we see that the number of children born has increased – 97 million in 1950 to 143 million today – and that the mortality of children decreased at the same time. If you now compare the base of the pyramid in 2018 with the projection for 2100 you see that the coming decades will not resemble the past: According to the projections there will be fewer children born at the end of this century than today. The base of the future population structure is narrower.

We are at a turning point in global population history. Between 1950 and today it was a widening of the entire pyramid that was responsible for the increase of the world population. What is responsible for the increase of the world population from now on is not a widening of the base, but a ‘fill up’ of the population above the base. Not children will be added to the world population, but people of working age and old age. The number of children born will remain as high as it is today, but as global health is improving and mortality is falling these children will live longer. The final step that will end rapid population growth.

At a country level “peak child” is often followed by a time in which the country benefits from a “demographic dividend” when the proportion of the dependent young generation falls and the share of the population in working age increases.

This is now happening at a global scale. For every child younger than 15 there were 1.8 people in working-age (15 to 64) in 1950; today there are 2.5; and by the end of the century there will be 3.4.


The other graphic to look at in this fascinating page is the median age in countries – which is indicative both of their likelihood to see widespread violence (lower when the median age is higher) and to be politically conservative (goes up with median age).

link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1192: Apple reveals repair costs (sorta), fact-checking’s problem, Google’s flawed election spend data, and more

A SIM swap hack is being blamed for Arron Banks’s Twitter account being hacked. CC-licensed photo by Karl Baron on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Arron Banks’s private Twitter messages leaked by hacker • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


Arron Banks’s Twitter account has been hacked and the entire private message history of the Leave.EU founder uploaded to the internet, in what appears to be a targeted attack that has been reported to the police.

The founder of the pro-Brexit campaign group, who has been the subject of questions about the source of his group’s funding and rule breaches during the EU referendum, confirmed the hack and accused Twitter of leaving his personal data available for anyone to access for almost 24 hours.

Leave.EU spokesman, Andy Wigmore, told the Guardian the hack had been reported to the police and they were investigating possible breaches of the Computer Misuse Act.

“The police told us pretty quickly that it was a simswap,” he said, referring to the tactic where control of a phone number is obtained by a hacker, enabling them to gain access to the account.

The attack appears to have involved gaining access to Banks’s email address, which was registered to an expired campaign website. Someone else appears to now own the domain for that site, which directs users to pornography.

Wigmore said he and Banks had been unable to download the hacked messages due to a lack of technical skills. However, they had been sent some by others who had managed to download them. Wigmore dismissed the content as “gossip” rather than revelations. He also criticised Twitter for the time it took the social media platform to respond to the data breach.


Wigmore tried to claim that anyone accessing the file (uploaded to and others) would be breaching the Computer Misuse Act, and that Twitter would know who had accessed it. Neither true, of course. Be interesting to see what stories appear in the next few days from it.
link to this extract

Questions for and answers from Apple for the US House Judiciary Committee

Questions for the Record from the Honorable David N. Cicilline, Chairman, Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law of the Committee on the Judiciary: Questions for Mr. Kyle Andeer, Vice President, Corporate Law, Apple, Inc.:


18. What types of repairs does Apple prevent its authorized technicians from making on Apple devices and what are the reasons for doing so?
AASPs [Apple Authorised Service Providers] conduct the exact same repairs that Apple Retail Stores offer. There are a very limited number of repairs that require special fixtures or equipment, necessitating that those repairs be done at an Apple Repair Center. In these cases, neither an Apple Retail Store nor an AASP will be permitted to conduct the repair. But they can mail the device to the closest Apple Repair Center to do the repair and then ship it back to the customer.

19. Does Apple take any actions to block consumers from seeking out or using repair shops that offer a broader range of repairs than those offered by authorized technicians? If yes, describe each action that Apple takes and the reason for doing so.
Apple does not take any actions to block consumers from seeking out or using repair shops that offer a broader range of repairs than those offered by Apple’s authorized technicians. Customers are free to obtain repairs from any repair shop of their choice.

20. How many repair technicians does Apple employ in the United States?
There are tens of thousands of Apple-authorized repair technicians working at Apple Retail Stores and third-party retailers.

21. For each year since 2009, please identify the total revenue that Apple derived from repair services.
For each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs.


That last one is going to surprise folks a little. It’s quite evasive in parts (“Apple has spent billions of dollars on Apple Maps”, and so on). There might be plenty more from a careful read.
link to this extract

How does fact-checking work when we can’t agree on the truth? • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:


Jonathan Albright, who runs the Digital Forensic Research unit at Columbia’s Tow Center, says that his research shows that many of the same disinformation strategies from the 2016 election—aimed at reinforcing polarization and institutional distrust—are being leveraged this time around, too. As before, the focus is on religion, immigration, health, and climate change. When it comes to political advertising, Albright says, fact-checking wouldn’t be sufficient to confront the scope of the problem—even if Facebook did allow for it. “We need a [Federal Election Commission]-style portal on how citizen data is used in political campaigns, not separate platform political ad APIs,” he argues. Baybars Örsek, of the International Fact-Checking Network, says that Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political ads is a mistake: “I think fact-checkers should be able to flag not only political advertisements but also political claims and statements on Facebook.” 

Rampant disinformation may seem like a modern crisis, but Kelly Weill, of The Daily Beast, points out that “the US is a country that’s always held conspiratorial thinking close to its heart. The signers of the Declaration of Independence believed a number of falsehoods about plots by King George III against America.” Conspiratorial thinking often comes with new communication methods, Weill adds: the Flat Earth movement got its start in the United Kingdom in the mid-1840s, when newspapers became widely available. Renee DiResta, of the Stanford Internet Observatory, says that disinformation is “a chronic condition, and we’re now in the process of figuring out the best way to manage it.”


You can read all of the “virtual symposium“; it’s worth it.
link to this extract

Google admits major underreporting of election ad spend • The Guardian

Alex Hern and Niamh McIntyre:


the company’s transparency report published this week included the claim that Labour spent just £50 on adverts in the week beginning 27 October, when the election was called, and nothing at all in the week following. That would mean that, for the week immediately following the dissolution of parliament, Labour ran no adverts on Google Search or YouTube, or on the company’s wider ad network.

In fact, Labour was advertising heavily in that period, spending tens of thousands of pounds on adverts on Google Search results for terms including “Brexit party” and “Brexit”.

The correct figures were disclosed by Google in a previous version of its transparency report, no longer available on its website: the party spent £63,900 in two weeks, at least 1,000 times more than the amount reported by Google.

A similar, though smaller, discrepancy exists in the spend reported for the Conservative party. Originally, the Tory spend was reported as £12,450, but in the latest version of the report that is downgraded to £9,900.

When the Guardian highlighted the discrepancy, Google admitted that this week’s report was incorrect, and that the figures published last week were the accurate ones. The company initially said it had no plans to update the public version of the report with the correct figures until next Tuesday, but shortly before publication said it would fix any errors “as soon as possible”. In the meantime, the incorrect information is still available on the site for download.


Google getting data wrong? It’s like there’s a rift in the universe.
link to this extract

Pollution • Patrick Collison

Collison is a member of the Long Now foundation; “the long term is underrated”, he says:


Air pollution is a very big deal. Its adverse effects on numerous health outcomes and general mortality are widely documented. However, our understanding of its cognitive costs is more recent and those costs are almost certainly still significantly under-emphasized…

• Chess players make more mistakes on polluted days: “We find that an increase of 10 µg/m³ raises the probability of making an error by 1.5 percentage points, and increases the magnitude of the errors by 9.4%. The impact of pollution is exacerbated by time pressure. When players approach the time control of games, an increase of 10 µg/m³, corresponding to about one standard deviation, increases the probability of making a meaningful error by 3.2 percentage points, and errors being 17.3% larger.” – Künn et al 2019.

A 3.26x (albeit with very wide CI) increase in Alzheimer’s incidence for each 10 µg/m³ increase in long-term PM2.5 exposure? “Short- and long-term PM2.5 exposure was associated with increased risks of stroke (short-term odds ratio 1.01 [per µg/m³ increase in PM2.5 concentrations], 95% CI 1.01-1.02; long-term 1.14, 95% CI 1.08-1.21) and mortality (short-term 1.02, 95% CI 1.01-1.04; long-term 1.15, 95% CI 1.07-1.24) of stroke. Long-term PM2.5 exposure was associated with increased risks of dementia (1.16, 95% CI 1.07-1.26), Alzheimer’s disease (3.26, 95% 0.84-12.74), ASD (1.68, 95% CI 1.20-2.34), and Parkinson’s disease (1.34, 95% CI 1.04-1.73).” – Fu et al 2019. Similar effects are seen in Bishop et al 2018: “We find that a 1 µg/m³ increase in decadal PM2.5 increases the probability of a dementia diagnosis by 1.68 percentage points.”

• A study of 20,000 elderly women concluded that “the effect of a 10 µg/m³ increment in long-term [PM2.5 and PM10] exposure is cognitively equivalent to ageing by approximately two years”.


Amazing how many negatives fossil fuels turn out to have.
link to this extract

Google confirms Android camera security threat: ‘hundreds of millions’ of users affected • Forbes

Davey Winder:


The vulnerabilities themselves (CVE-2019-2234) allowed a rogue application to grab input from the camera, microphone as well as GPS location data, all remotely.

The implications of being able to do this are serious enough that the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) specifically has a set of permissions that any application must request from the user and be approved before enabling such actions.

What the Checkmarx researchers did was to create an attack scenario that abused the Google Camera app itself to bypass these permissions. They did so by creating a malicious app that exploited one of the most commonly requested permissions: storage access. “A malicious app running on an Android smartphone that can read the SD card,” Yalon said, “not only has access to past photos and videos, but with this new attack methodology, can be directed to take new photos and videos at will.”

…[security expert Ian] Thornton-Trump is happy that Google issued a fix and issued it quickly, but says that, based upon the severity and comprehensive nature of the vulnerabilities, “it’s time for Google to apply perhaps some of the “Project Zero” capability to dig deeply into the Android OS itself.” There’s little doubt that the high number of Android vulnerabilities being disclosed is hurting the Android brand.


At will. But it was patched in July, with the coordination of Samsung and Google. And I’m not sure about this “little doubt” over the Android brand and vulnerabilities.
link to this extract

The collapse of the information ecosystem poses profound risks for humanity • The Guardian

Lydia Polgreen:


he digital revolution greatly expanded human knowledge and wealth much as the industrial revolution did 150 years earlier when new technologies, notably the combustion engine, brought about extraordinary economic growth. And much like the building of great railways and interstate highways allowed people to connect, the creation of tools that allow anyone to be their own publisher has made it possible for new voices to reach large audiences around the world.

But if the price of the industrial revolution was planetary destruction on an unimaginable scale, the digital revolution may be costly in a different but similarly destructive way. William Randolph Hearst owned the means of production and was free to publish made up stories to sell papers and stoke the Spanish-American war. Today, everyone is free to be their own propagandist.

When the scientists behind the Doomsday clock published their yearly assessment of how close we are to planetary doom, they added a new dimension to the dual threats of nuclear proliferation and climate change, namely “the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem on which modern civilization depends”.

What we’ve seen in recent years isn’t just the collapse of informational authority. It is the destruction of the pact between the purveyors of quality information and the businesses that wanted to reach the consumers of that information.

…That world is a very dangerous one for humans in general, but it poses special and serious risks for businesses. Without facts, what are contracts? Without facts, what are laws? A world without facts is as dangerous for companies as it is for citizens.


Intriguing metaphor.

link to this extract

Secretive energy startup backed by Bill Gates achieves solar breakthrough • CNN

Matt Egan:


Heliogen, a clean energy company that emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Essentially, Heliogen created a solar oven — one capable of reaching temperatures that are roughly a quarter of what you’d find on the surface of the sun.

The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can replace fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy revolution.

“We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions,” Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder and CEO, told CNN Business. “And that’s really the holy grail.”


Not very clear where it’s doing this, but it looks mid-American. Also using AI to achieve it.

link to this extract

How Turkish coffee destroyed an empire • 1843 Magazine

Sarah Jilani:


Coffee houses gave men somewhere to congregate other than in homes, mosques or markets, providing a place for them to socialise, exchange information, entertain – and be educated. Literate members of society read aloud the news of the day; janissaries, members of an elite cadre of Ottoman troops, planned acts of protest against the Sultan; officials discussed court intrigue; merchants exchanged rumours of war. And the illiterate majority listened in. In the coffee houses they were introduced to ideas that spelled trouble for the Ottoman state: rebellion, self-determination and the fallibility of the powerful.

It wasn’t long before the authorities began to regard the kahvehane [public coffee houses] as a threat. Some sultans installed spies in coffee houses to gauge public opinion; others, like Murad IV, an early-18th-century sultan, tried shutting them down altogether. But they were too profitable. When simmering nationalist movements came to a boil throughout Ottoman lands in the 19th century, the popularity of coffee houses burgeoned. Ethnic groups in European regions of the empire with an Eastern Orthodox Christian majority started agitating for independence. Nationalist leaders planned their tactics and cemented alliances in the coffee houses of Thessaloniki, Sofia and Belgrade. Their caffeine-fuelled efforts succeeded with the establishment of an independent Greece in 1821, Serbia in 1835, and Bulgaria in 1878. The reign of kahve was over.


Nowadays coffee houses are just used to show off optimistic projections of growth for vague startups.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1191: Snapchat checking political ads, cheaper iPhone sells in China, spot that bot!, Disney+ hacked accounts for sale, and more

An old-time skill.. has just become relevant again: the scissor switch has definitely returned to Apple’s keyboard. CC-licensed photo by Andy Ihnatko on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Make backups. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple iPhone 11 scores early China success, official data shows • Bloomberg

Yuan Gao, and Colum Murphy:


Apple shipped 10 million iPhones in China during September and October, based on Bloomberg’s calculations from government data on overall and Android device shipments. That’s the first indication of the company’s performance following the autumn release of its latest gadgets, and it shows iPhone shipments up 6% from a year earlier, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, which is run by the country’s technology ministry.

That affirms expectations that Apple’s iPhone 11 is selling more strongly than its predecessor, particularly in a market that’s second only to the US in its importance to Apple’s bottom line. The company had recently been stuck in a rut in China, ceding ground to local rivals like Huawei and Xiaomi, which offer more enticing pricing, better specifications and increasingly premium design. Apple also lost market share to Samsung Electronics and Huawei globally prior to the iPhone 11’s release. Chief executive officer Tim Cook has said new pricing, a monthly payment program and trade-in offers helped the iPhone’s performance in China.

“Chinese customers seem to be receiving the iPhone 11 series better than last year’s models because of the lowered retail price,” said Nicole Peng, a Canalys analyst. “We see weaker shipments for old models but the latest products are going strong.”

Overall Chinese smartphone shipments dropped 5% to 69.3 million units during the two months, according to reports published by the academy, which is run by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and tracks the number of smartphones that get permits to be sold in China.


Price affects sales? Who could have guessed? Seems the iPhone isn’t quite the Veblen good some thought.
link to this extract

GPTrue or False • Chrome Web Store



OpenAI’s recently released GPT-2 model has revealed itself to be capable of generating incredibily realistic text.

With the rampant spread of fake news in today’s world, such tools may pose a threat to the quality of the information found on the internet.

Luckily, OpenAI also released a detector which is designed to detect whether a given portion of text has been generated by GPT-2 or not.

This extension wraps the detector into a simple browser extension. Simply select a portion of text (at least 50 words) and the extension will let you know of the GPT-2 log probability that the text is indeed real.


Pretty soon this will have to be built in to every browser, won’t it. (User tests suggest it’s pretty good at it.)
link to this extract

Facebook’s fake numbers problem • Financial Times

Elaine Moore and Hannah Murphy:


At first glance, Amy Dowd’s Facebook account appears perfectly normal. There is a smiling profile picture of a young woman surrounded by autumnal leaves and the date that she began a new job at Southeast Missouri State University. But look more closely and things begin to seem strange. Unlike most 29 year olds, Amy has no friends, no interests and no photos. The only thing she has written is a gushing review of a US haulage company. “Fake account,” replied one user. They were right.

This Amy Dowd does not exist. Her account is a fake bought by the Financial Times as part of an investigation into the millions of bogus accounts littering the social media network in spite of efforts to better verify users.

The proliferation of phoney identities has reached a record high. That is a problem for a company that trumpets user growth — considered a barometer of health by investors — while receiving criticism for failing to prevent the spread of false information by third parties.

Facebook’s own estimates suggest duplicate accounts represent approximately 11% of monthly active users while fake versions make up another 5%. Others claim the total is higher. Yet Facebook continues to promote its user base as an incredible 2.45bn per month — close to one-third of the global population.

Growth in user numbers looks significantly less impressive once adjusted for duplicate and fake accounts — up 7% in the past two years, rather than 18% calculated by Facebook.

The discrepancy highlights the lack of transparency around the metrics used by one of the world’s most valuable companies. Given the importance of users to the company’s revenue growth and profitability Facebook needs to open up its data to more detailed audit and create a new, adjusted metric to count users.


Facebook released data the other day saying that it zaps pretty much every fake account itself, and that humans spot about 0.5% of them. I think that’s “surviving planes syndrome” – it doesn’t know how many fake accounts it misses.
link to this extract

Google Stadia wants you to replace your video game console. Don’t • The New York Times

Brian Chen:


I recommend taking a wait-and-see approach before buying games there. Here are the biggest uncertainties:

• It’s unclear whether Stadia games will continue streaming smoothly. Once hordes of people start using the service, they might overload the servers, and gamers could see degraded performance. (I was among a small number of reviewers testing the service.) Google said its data centers were designed to handle peak traffic proficiently.

• Will the cost be worth it to gamers? Like other game providers, Google will sell games à la carte — a premium game costs $60, for example. But to play the games in the highest (4K) resolution, gamers must pay a subscription of $10 a month. Gamers might prefer instead to buy a PlayStation 4 Pro for $400 and play 4K games for as long as they wish.

• The games catalog is the biggest unknown. With Stadia’s release, there will be about two dozen titles to buy — mostly games that were released on other systems. While Nintendo’s Switch had only 10 titles on Day 1, among those was an exclusive Zelda game that got rave reviews.

It’s unclear whether Stadia will get highly anticipated titles on the same day they are released for PlayStation 4 or Xbox. A Google spokesman said that in the future, Stadia should get new titles around the same time as other game systems.


Still struggle to see the benefit of this over just buying a console.
link to this extract

ByteDance to take on rivals with music streaming launch • Financial Times

Anna Nicolaou:


The Beijing-based technology company aims to launch as soon as next month, initially in emerging markets such as India, Indonesia and Brazil, before a future opening in the US, according to people briefed on the plans. 

The move would see ByteDance, valued by Japanese investment group SoftBank at $75bn last year, battle directly with industry leaders Spotify, Tencent and Apple in the market for paid music.

The Chinese group aims to differentiate itself from rivals by focusing on the user-generated content that has quickly made TikTok one of the world’s most popular social media platforms.

The app allows people to post and watch short video clips; content often veers towards silly comedy sketches and dance “challenges” to various trending songs. TikTok claims more than 1bn users, which makes it more popular than better known social media platforms Snapchat or Twitter.

Music executives are keen to make money from TikTok, which is free to use. They view a new ByteDance app as a welcome addition to the music streaming market, where a number of companies, including Apple, Spotify and Amazon, offer a similar catalogue of songs. 


I liked the comedian David Mitchell’s comment about music: “I find it’s rather like the weather. There’s just a lot of it and it’s always there and you can like it or complain about it.” Music services are all becoming more and more weather-like.
link to this extract

Thousands of hacked Disney+ accounts are already for sale on hacking forums • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


Hackers didn’t waste any time and have started hijacking Disney+ user accounts hours after the service launched.

Many of these accounts are now being offered for free on hacking forums, or available for sale for prices varying from $3 to $11, a ZDNet investigation has discovered.

The Disney+ video streaming service launched on November 12. The service, although being available only in the US, Canada, and the Netherlands, has already amassed more than 10 million customers in its first 24 hours.

The Disney+ launch was marred by technical issues. Many users reported being unable to stream their favorite movies and shows.

But hidden in the flood of complaints about technical issues was a smaller stream of users reporting losing access to their accounts.

Many users reported that hackers were accessing their accounts, logging them out of all devices, and then changing the account’s email and password, effectively taking over the account and locking the previous owner out.

…Two users who spoke with ZDNet on the condition we do not share their names admitted that they reused passwords. However, other users said online that they did not, and had used passwords unique for their Disney+ accounts.

This suggests that in some cases hackers gained access to accounts by using email and password combos leaked at other sites, while in other cases the Disney+ credentials might have been obtained from users infected with keylogging or info-stealing malware.


That’s a low, low price for an account.
link to this extract

Snapchat fact-checks political ads unlike Facebook: CEO Evan Spiegel • CNBC

William Feuer:


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has defended Facebook’s decision not to fact-check political advertising, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey decided to ban all political advertising, though the company is now struggling to define what actually qualifies as a political advertisement. Google, which also owns YouTube, has remained quiet on the matter.

In contrast, Snapchat has a team to fact-check all political advertising on the platform, Spiegel says.

“We subject all advertising to review, including political advertising,” he said Monday. “And I think what we try to do is create a place for political ads on our platform, especially because we reach so many young people and first-time voters we want them to be able to engage with the political conversation, but we don’t allow things like misinformation to appear in that advertising.”

He compared Snap’s policy on political ads to cable TV. “That might be more similar to cable rather than broadcast,” he said.

Under Federal Communications Commission rules, broadcast television stations cannot censor certain political advertisements based on accuracy concerns. Cable television networks are not bound by the same federal policies.


Wouldn’t it be nice if Facebook copied this, like it does everything else that Snapchat does?
link to this extract

MacBook Pro 16″ 2019 teardown • iFixit



Remember the iMac’s Magic Keyboard? It’s a well-liked, reliable design that Apple calls the “core technology” for the redesigned keyboard in this new machine.

That might be understating it slightly: side by side, we’re hard pressed to spot any differences.

Scissor switches, keycaps… There’s slightly less space surrounding these new keys, and pundits will celebrate those reconfigured arrow keys—but everything else looks nigh identical.

News flash: there’s not even a dust-proofing membrane on these new switches. We’re inclined to take this as a very good sign. (It means we can finally eat Doritos during teardowns again.)…

…Compared once again with the desktop Magic Keyboard:

The two scissor mechanisms look nearly identical. The old Magic scissor is ever-so-slightly thicker (1.6 vs 1.38 mm).

0.22 mm may not seem like much, but no doubt a lot of engineering went into the re-creation of this slender new scissor switch.


It’s crazy that a teardown of a Mac, at the end of 2019, should have to focus on whether the keyboard is likely to be reliable. Let’s hope we never have to hear about it again.
link to this extract

The flat-Earth conspiracy is spreading around the globe. Does it hide a darker core? • CNN

Rob Picheta, CNN:


On a clear day, the curvature of the Earth can be seen from an airplane window. But remarkably, the hundreds of flat Earthers at the Dallas gathering were just a small portion of the movement.

People in every pocket of this spherical planet are rejecting science and spreading the word that the Earth is flat.

There’s no clear study indicating how many people have been convinced — and flat Earthers like Weiss will tell you without evidence there are millions more in the closet anyway, including Hollywood A-listers and commercial airline pilots — but online communities have hundreds of thousands of followers and YouTube is inundated with flat-Earth content creators, whose productions reach millions.

A YouGov survey of more than 8,000 American adults suggested last year that as many as one in six Americans are not entirely certain the world is round, while a 2019 Datafolha Institute survey of more than 2,000 Brazilian adults indicated that 7% of people in that country reject that concept, according to local media…

…most adherents demonstrate plenty of anti-scientific tendencies. It’s hard to find a flat Earther who doesn’t believe most other conspiracies under the sun; a flat-Earth conference is invariably also a gathering of anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers and Illuminati subscribers, to name a few.

It’s that hyper-skeptical mindset that helps flat earthers answer the big questions — like who’s hiding the true shape of the planet from us?

“The ruling elite, from the royal family to the Rockefellers, the Rothschilds … all of those groups that run the world, they’re in on it,” says Weiss.


As HG Wells said, “we are in a race between education and catastrophe.” Hard to figure who’s winning.
link to this extract

WeWork may lay off thousands • The New York Times

Peter Eavis and Mike Isaac:


WeWork is preparing to cut at least 4,000 people from its work force as it tries to stabilize itself after the company’s breakneck growth racked up heavy losses and led it to the brink of collapse, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

The cuts are expected to be announced as early as this week and will take place across WeWork’s sprawling global operation. Under the plan, the company’s core business of subletting office space would lay off 2,000 to 2,500 employees, one of the people said. An additional 1,000 employees will leave as WeWork sells or closes down noncore businesses, like a private school in Manhattan that WeWork set up. Additionally, roughly 1,000 building maintenance employees will be transferred to an outside contractor. Together, these employees would represent around a third of the 12,500 people WeWork employed at the end of June.

But one of the people said the company could shed as many as 5,000 to 6,000 employees.


Has there ever been a bigger car crash of a venture-funded company? I’d love to know.
link to this extract

Vaping apps go up in smoke on Apple’s App Store • The Washington Post

Marie Baca:


Apple removed all vaping-related apps from its App Store on Friday, siding with experts who call vaping “a public health crisis” and “a youth epidemic.”

Some of the 181 vaping apps removed by Apple permit the user to control the temperature or other settings on vaping devices. Others offer users access to social networks or games. The App Store has never permitted the sale of vaping cartridges through apps.

“We’re constantly evaluating apps, and consulting the latest evidence to determine risks to users’ health and well-being,” Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in a statement. Apple cited evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other groups that have linked vaping and e-cigarette usage to deaths and lung injuries.

The App Store is a powerful platform that generates billions of dollars in revenue for Apple. Apple sets the rules for what is allowed on it, affecting millions of users and developers. Some critics complain that Apple applies its standards unevenly or is too restrictive, while others say the company hasn’t gone far enough to curb harmful apps.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment about the criticism.

Apple says it hasn’t approved a vape-related app since June. That’s when the company updated its app review guidelines to prohibit anything that encourages or facilitates vaping, the company said.


A study published in the UK on the same day which showed that switching from cigarettes to vaping improves the health of the heart. The vaping deaths in the US seem to be linked to misuse. I find this move peculiar, at minimum; unjustified, at worse.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,190: ex-Apple chip execs aim at servers, track Twitter hoaxes, costing Labour’s broadband plan, Amazon’s externalities, and more

Ships rely on GPS – but someone in China has figured out how to spoof it reliably. CC-licensed photo by Travis on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. It’s the time of year. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ghost ships, crop circles, and soft gold: a GPS mystery in Shanghai • MIT Technology Review

Mark Harris:


As the crew carefully maneuvered the 700-foot ship through the world’s busiest port, its captain watched his navigation screens closely. By international law, all but the smallest commercial ships have to install automatic identification system (AIS) transponders. Every few seconds, these devices broadcast their identity, position, course, and speed and display AIS data from other ships in the area, helping to keep crowded waterways safe. The position data for those transponders comes from GPS satellites.

According to the Manukai’s screens, another ship was steaming up the same channel at about seven knots (eight miles per hour). Suddenly, the other ship disappeared from the AIS display. A few minutes later, the screen showed the other ship back at the dock. Then it was in the channel and moving again, then back at the dock, then gone once more.

Eventually, mystified, the captain picked up his binoculars and scanned the dockside. The other ship had been stationary at the dock the entire time.

When it came time for the Manukai to head for its own berth, the bridge began echoing to multiple alarms. Both of the ship’s GPS units—it carried two for redundancy—had lost their signals, and its AIS transponder had failed. Even a last-ditch emergency distress system that also relied on GPS could not get a fix.

Now, new research and previously unseen data show that the Manukai, and thousands of other vessels in Shanghai over the last year, are falling victim to a mysterious new weapon that is able to spoof GPS systems in a way never seen before.


Long talked about, it looks like aggressive GPS spoofing is now a real thing.
unique link to this extract



Koyaanisqatsi is a 1983 wordless documentary primarily made up of slow motion and time-lapse footage. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the trailer.

I wondered how easy it would be to make an internet version using random Giphy ‘gifs’ which have been tagged as slow motion or time-lapse, playing them along with the Philip Glass soundtrack.

(As with any random thing, there is a chance some dodgy content may get through. I have used Giphy’s PG-13 setting and it seems okay, but click on a video and it will tell you an id – send me this and I’ll block anything iffy. Also note that this may not work on phones, especially iPhones, as they can be weird about multiple videos, and it’s quite heavy on your processor and bandwidth.)


This is good fun, and the soundtrack works with pretty much anything.
unique link to this extract

Former Apple chip executives found company to take on Intel, AMD • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:


Three of Apple former top semiconductor executives in charge of iPhone chips have founded a startup to design processors for data centers, aiming to take on current industry leaders Intel Corp and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

NUVIA Inc was founded by Gerard Williams III, Manu Gulati and John Bruno in early 2019 and is developing a processor code-named Phoenix. The company on Friday said it raised $53m from Dell Technologies Capital and several Silicon Valley firms, which will help it expand from 60 employees to about 100 by the end of this year.

The company’s founders, backers and plans have not been previously reported.

Williams left Apple this spring after more than nine years as chief architect for all Apple central processors and systems-on-a-chip. Gulati spent eight years at Apple working on mobile systems-on-a-chip, and Bruno spent five years in Apple’s platform architecture group. Gulati and Bruno also worked for Alphabet Inc’s Google before coming to NUVIA.


That’s some high-powered execs there. Apple bought PA Semi in 2008, and hired Williams in 2010 from ARM. But it seems like the chip group is always seeing change.

You’d have to guess that these are going to be ARM-based servers, which is a slice of the market that hasn’t seen much action yet.
unique link to this extract

Hoaxy® : FAQ


What is Hoaxy?

Hoaxy is a tool that visualizes the spread of articles online. Articles can be found on Twitter, or in a corpus of claims and related fact checking.

What is the difference between Hoaxy search and Twitter search?

There are two search modes. Hoaxy search finds claims and related fact checking in a limited corpus of articles from low-credibility and fact-checking sources, dating back to 2016. This mode leverages the Hoaxy API to retrieve relevant articles, accounts, and tweets. Twitter search lets users track articles from any sources posted on Twitter, but only within the last 7 days. Twitter mode uses the Twitter Search API to retrieve relevant, popular, or mixedtweets matching your search query. It is compatible with all advanced search operators. At most, Hoaxy is capable of visualizing the top 1000 accounts and in the case of a Twitter search, this will be the most recently active 1000 accounts if sorted by Recent.


Fun! Worth adding to your bookmarks.
unique link to this extract

How feasible is Labour’s free broadband plan and part-nationalisation of BT? • The Guardian

Mark Sweney and Patrick Collinson:


Could the government and BT shareholders agree a fair price for Openreach?
There is likely to be significant difficulty valuing British Broadband, which is what Labour would call a nationalised Openreach. Bloomberg has valued it at £15bn.

The Labour party has said parliament would decide what to pay but it would have to be a fair price to get the backing of employee shareholders, pension fund investors, small shareholders and big overseas investors. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, which has 12% of the business, is likely to be a tough negotiator, for instance.

But it would likely cost less than it would have done a few years ago. BT’s share price was 500p in 2015 but is now only 191p. Labour has said that BT shareholders would get government bonds in return for their shares, which pay a lower dividend than BT investors currently receive.

Would nationalising broadband work?
Australia has tried to do this with its National Broadband Network and it has been branded one of the biggest infrastructure failures in its history. Set up in 2006, the government’s plan was to roll out full fibre to 93% of all premises, although over the years this was watered down to a “multi-technology mix” using different technologies offering varying levels of speed and service to consumers. “Only one other country in the world has come close to going down this route, Australia,” says Matthew Howett, the principal analyst at telecoms research firm Assembly. “And for a good reason – it’s hard, expensive and fraught with difficulty. Australia’s NBN is years late, massively overbudget and offering speeds and technology a fraction of the original political intention.”


The problem with the Australia program was that it got watered down to stick with copper. Nationalising BT Openreach would be a radical move – but so was selling the public BT into the private sector in 1984. Now it’s just using Openreach as a cash cow. Infrastructure shouldn’t be that.
unique link to this extract

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales launches Twitter and Facebook rival • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw:


Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has quietly launched a rival to Facebook and Twitter that he hopes will combat “clickbait” and misleading headlines. 

WT:Social, his new social-networking site, allows users to share links to articles and discuss them in a Facebook-style news feed. Topics range from politics and technology to heavy metal and beekeeping. 

While the company is completely separate to Wikipedia, Mr Wales is borrowing the online encyclopedia’s business model. WT:Social will rely on donations from a small subset of users to allow the network to operate without the advertising that he blames for encouraging the wrong kind of engagement on social media.

“The business model of social media companies, of pure advertising, is problematic,” Mr Wales said. “It turns out the huge winner is low-quality content.” 

While Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms ensure that the posts with the most comments or likes rise to the top, WT:Social puts the newest links first. However, WT:Social hopes to add an “upvote” button that will allow users to recommend quality stories.


Have to say that this would have been perfect about 15 years ago. Hard to see it really making an impact now, though he’s right about the problems.
unique link to this extract

Most Americans think they’re being constantly tracked—and that there’s nothing they can do • MIT Technology Review

Angela Chen:


More than 60% of Americans think it’s impossible to go through daily life without being tracked by companies or the government, according to a new Pew Research study. The results provide important context on the long-running question of how much Americans really care about privacy. 

It’s not just that Americans (correctly) think companies are collecting their data. They don’t like it. About 69% of Americans are skeptical that companies will use their private information in a way they’re comfortable with, while 79% don’t believe that companies will come clean if they misuse the information. 

When it comes to who they trust, there are differences by race. About 73% of black Americans, for instance, are at least a little worried about what law enforcement knows about them, compared with 56% of white Americans. But among all respondents, more than 80% were concerned about what social-media sites and advertisers might know. 

Despite these concerns, more than 80% of Americans feel they have no control over how their information is collected. 

Very few people read privacy policies, the survey shows. That’s understandable. A review of 150 policies from major websites found that the average one takes about 18 minutes to read and requires at least a college-level reading ability. Few people have time for that—and even if they did, most people are forced to agree anyway if they really need the service.


unique link to this extract

Brand hijacking and Amazon’s China strategy • The Margins

Ranjan Roy:


For decades, we’ve vilified the “middleman” as an inefficiency; an unnecessary tax paid by the consumer which technology finally solved for. But, we ignored the layers of accountability and positive value that many of these conduits provided.

Think about it: If you bought a child’s toy from Sears, you would assume that it didn’t contain 400x the amount of lead legally allowed. But that’s no longer the case:


Another musical-instrument set failing the Journal’s tests, made by a company calling itself Innocheer and listed as in China, likely contributed to a New York City child’s lead poisoning, according to city health officials. The city in May 2018 began tracking down contaminated products including the set bought on Amazon, a New York health-department spokesman says.


If you went to a store and bought a motorcycle helmet that was listed as DOT compliant, but it in fact, was not and your son died in an accident where it did not act as expected, you’d expect proper recourse, but you’d be wrong:


The coroner declared Mr. Stokes dead at the scene, a day before he and his girlfriend planned to find out their unborn baby’s gender. His mother sued Amazon, claiming the helmet was flawed. Amazon in court argued it didn’t sell the helmet but merely listed it on the seller’s behalf. It settled for $5,000 without admitting liability. It declined to comment on the case.


The examples go on and on, but you get the point. What was long decried as inefficiency, in fact, imbued some semblance of accountability. When Jeff Bezos says “your margin is my opportunity” he seems to gloss over whether there was a modicum of value being delivered within that margin.


In short: problems that used to be contained within the system have become externalities.
unique link to this extract

Microsoft is killing off its Cortana app for iOS and Android in January • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft has revealed that it’s planning to kill off its Cortana app for iOS and Android in January. The software maker has posted a new support article for Cortana users in the UK, Canada, and Australia that reveals Cortana for iOS and Android is disappearing in at least those markets. Microsoft has also confirmed to The Verge that the Cortana app will disappear in the UK, Australia, Germany, Mexico, China, Spain, Canada, and India on January 31st.

“Cortana is an integral part of our broader vision to bring the power of conversational computing and productivity to all our platforms and devices,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “To make Cortana as helpful as possible, we’re integrating Cortana deeper into your Microsoft 365 productivity apps, and part of this evolution involves ending support for the Cortana mobile app on Android and iOS.”

It’s not clear how much longer the Cortana for iOS and Android app will continue to operate in the US after January 31st.


Come on, they say they’re integrating it into Office, but the truth is it’s dead. A brief history: development started in 2009, and it was introduced in April 2014. Amazon’s Alexa: introduced in November 2014. Surprising how one has survived and the other hasn’t.
unique link to this extract

Google Pixel 4 review: overpriced, uncompetitive, and out of touch • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


When the original Google Pixel first came out, there was an abundance of things you could give Google’s new smartphone division the benefit of the doubt on. The design was a year or two behind the competition, with thicker bezels and a less appealing design. Availability was very poor, as the phone was only sold in a handful of countries compared to the world-dominating distribution networks of Apple and Samsung. At a whopping $650, the original Pixel phone was shockingly expensive compared to the awesome value previously provided by the Nexus line. The fabled integration of hardware and software hadn’t shown many benefits yet, but that was easy to excuse since the original Pixel was rushed out the door. “This will all get better,” we all thought. Google was just getting started!

We’re on generation 4 of the Pixel line now, and nothing has really gotten better. The Pixel 4 design is still dated compared to the competition, sporting a sizable bezel when most of the smartphone world has moved on to minimal cameral blemishes or completely hidden cameras. Distribution is still very bad. The Pixel 4 is only for sale in 12 countries, a laughable number compared to the 70 countries that Apple does iPhone business in and the 100+ countries that can buy the Galaxy S10. The pricing problem has gotten even worse, as the Pixel 4’s entry point is now higher than the iPhone 11. Yet, the iPhone 11 has a bigger screen, a bigger battery, and a longer support window.

We’re not seeing any benefits from the supposed “deeper” integration of hardware and software, either. In four generations, Google has yet to do anything special with its hardware. It mostly just produces cookie-cutter smartphones at a very high price, doing the same thing as other companies often a year or two behind the competition.


Tough crowd, the Android reviewer for a big tech site.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified