Start Up No.1,182: US cops get big genetics warrant, who wins a meal with Trump?, AirPods Pro compared, and more


Does this 1977 Exxon advert count as political, or non-political? What about the modern ones? CC-licensed photo by Classic Film on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Observation: common sense generally isn’t. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

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‘Game-changer’ warrant let detective search genetic database • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill and Heather Murphy:

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For police officers around the country, the genetic profiles that 20 million people have uploaded to consumer DNA sites represent a tantalizing resource that could be used to solve cases both new and cold. But for years, the vast majority of the data have been off limits to investigators. The two largest sites, Ancestry.com and 23andMe, have long pledged to keep their users’ genetic information private, and a smaller one, GEDmatch, severely restricted police access to its records this year.

Last week, however, a Florida detective announced at a police convention that he had obtained a warrant to penetrate GEDmatch and search its full database of nearly one million users. Legal experts said that this appeared to be the first time a judge had approved such a warrant, and that the development could have profound implications for genetic privacy.

“That’s a huge game-changer,” said Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University. “The company made a decision to keep law enforcement out, and that’s been overridden by a court. It’s a signal that no genetic information can be safe.”

DNA policy experts said the development was likely to encourage other agencies to request similar search warrants from 23andMe, which has 10 million users, and Ancestry.com, which has 15 million. If that comes to pass, the Florida judge’s decision will affect not only the users of these sites but huge swaths of the population, including those who have never taken a DNA test.

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Sleepwalking into a surveillance age. Mission accomplished. Yes: it’s always good to solve more crime. But: you don’t know what sort of government you might get in the future: what if you get one which declares that certain DNA characteristics are illegal, and that people with them should be ejected from the country?
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Why you shouldn’t fear the gray tsunami – MIT Technology Review

David Rotman:

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The aging of the world is happening fast. Americans 65 and older are now 16% of the population and will make up 21% by 2035. At that point, they will outnumber those under 18. In China the large numbers of people born before the one-baby policy was introduced in 1979 are swelling the ranks of older people, even as younger age groups shrink. Other countries are even older. Japan leads—more than a quarter of its population is 65 or older—but Germany, Italy, Finland, and much of the rest of the European Union aren’t far behind. A quarter of the people in Europe and North America will be 65 or older by 2050…

…The conventional wisdom is that an aging population is toxic for economic growth. Who will do all the work? How will we pay for all those old people’s medical and welfare programs? Economists like to call it the dependency ratio: the size of the working-age population relative to those too old (or too young) to have a job. And they like to show scary projections of how this demographic crisis is coming to get us.

The warnings sound ominous. The gray tsunami. The demographic cliff. The demographic time bomb. But maybe what’s truly not aging well is all the fretting about an inevitable crisis.

The truth is that economists don’t know much about how an aging population will affect us.

“There has been a productivity hit,” says Nicole Maestas, an economist at Harvard. “It’s big, and it’s economically meaningful.” She and her colleagues have calculated, on the basis of data from 1980 to 2010, that a 10% increase in the population age 60 and older has decreased growth in GDP per capita by 5.5%. It means, if the past is any lesson, that the aging US population could slow economic growth by 1.2 percentage points this decade and 0.6 percentage points in the next. Some of this will be because fewer people are working, but two-thirds of it will be because the workforce is less productive on average.

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The Trump campaign holds a lot of contests. Does anyone win? • Popular.info

Judd Legum:

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Most contests run by the Trump campaign follow a pattern — messages over email and Facebook, promoting a meal with Trump at a location that Trump will be visiting soon. 

But for several weeks in August and September of 2018, the Trump campaign bought hundreds of Facebook ads about a contest for a dinner with Trump with no designated location. This contest, unlike the others, does not appear to be promoted over email. 

But like all the other contests, there was no announced winner.

Is it a scam? Are these contests, which promise a meal with Trump, a scam? Is the Trump campaign swindling its own supporters? We don’t know. 

In one respect, failing to go through with the meals makes little sense. The estimated value of each meal, including transportation and accommodations, is $3,000. For a campaign that is raising tens of millions of dollars every quarter, this is a pittance. 

But this is a campaign that has been willing to scam its supporters before. As Popular Information documented in May, the Trump campaign held a campaign to give away “the 1 millionth MAGA hat,” signed by Trump. On May 23, the Trump campaign ran a Facebook ad claiming that the deadline to enter was midnight. 

It ran that same ad, claiming a midnight deadline, for 12 days: May 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Here, the Trump campaign is telling an obvious lie to its supporters about a midnight deadline to gain a small advantage. Falsely claiming a deadline was midnight likely encouraged people to enter at a higher rate.

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I’m not a lawyer, and all that, but isn’t this what the legal eagles call “fraud”?
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Exxon climate ads aren’t “political,” according to Twitter • HEATED.world

Emily Atkins, in her newsletter about climate:

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in recent days, it’s become clear that there are some problems with Twitter’s new policy. For example: It’s easy to determine which ads are about specific candidates. But what is Twitter’s definition of a political “issue ad,” exactly? How does Twitter plan to enforce what is one, and isn’t one?

These questions have serious implications for the climate fight. For example, a HEATED investigation identified more than a dozen tweets from ExxonMobil related to climate change that are not currently labelled by Twitter as political “issue” ads. Under the new policy, these ads will be permitted to run after November 22, while environmental groups’ climate-related ads will be banned.

Asked to explain why Exxon’s climate-related ads are not political, Twitter declined to comment. A Harvard researcher who studies Exxon for a living, however, did not hold back.

“Mobil and ExxonMobil have pioneered issue advertising for decades,” said Geoffery Supran, who co-authored a peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate change communications. “I’ve studied this historical record in detail, and it couldn’t be clearer to me that Twitter ads like these are its twenty-first century extension.

“These Twitter ads aren’t just any political issue ads—they epitomize the art.”

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This has already been cited by Elizabeth Warren, and Jack Dorsey says he’s going to look again at Twitter’s policy on “issue” ads.
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AirPods Pro vs. Powerbeats Pro vs. WF-1000XM3 (Bonus: vs. WH-1000XM3) : Reddit

“frumpy_cat” decided to do an actual head-to-head (or maybe ear-to-ear) comparison of some noise-cancelling headphones:

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I know a lot of people have been wondering how the AirPods Pro stack up against some other competitors. Now that I have the 3 mentioned in the title and have been able to compare, I thought I would do so. Throwing in the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM3’s just for comparison on the ANC, since they’re in a completely different category.

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This is all fine, except the APPs have a third function, besides “no ANC” and “ANC”, called “Transparency”, which provides pass-through for certain frequencies and sound spikes. That isn’t dealt with here, but people really seem to like it.
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RIP OG Pixel: Google ends support after just three years • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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The Pixel 1 launched in 2016 with a promised two years of major update support and three years of security updates. It was Google’s first self-branded smartphone, ending the cheap, value-oriented Nexus line and ushering in an era of expensive—probably too-expensive—Google phones. Major OS support was eventually extended to three years, which is now standard across the Pixel line, and the original device was updated to Android 10 in September.

Three years of support is pretty weak compared to the manufacturer Google has most modeled the Pixel line after: Apple. iPhones typically get five years of major OS updates, which Apple can do partly thanks to its end-to-end control over the hardware and software. Google, if it even wanted to support the Pixel line for that long, would need to drag along Qualcomm and other chip partners to make it work. The longer update support is a major reason why iPhones hold their value much better than Pixel phones in the phone resale market, even if you go by Google’s own trade-in program.

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Gotta juice that market somehow.
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Internet Wayback Machine adds historical textdiff • SEO Book

Aaron Wall:

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The Wayback Machine has a cool new feature for looking at the historical changes of a web page.

The color scale shows how much a page has changed since it was last cached & you can select between any two documents to see how a page has changed over time.

You can then select between any two documents to see a side-by-side comparison of the documents.

That quickly gives you an at-a-glance view of how they’ve changed their:
• web design
• on-page SEO strategy
• marketing copy & sales strategy

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Even more useful. And of course it means you can see when someone has erased the embarrassing contents of a page they wish they could forget.
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Twitter hates me. The Des Moines Register fired me. Here’s what really happened • Columbia Journalism Review

Aaron Calvin:

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As I began writing [a profile of “Des Moines local hero” Carson King], an editor requested that I run a background check on King. This is standard practice at the Register, as it is for many newspapers, when reporting on public figures. I looked at King’s court records as well as his public social media, and found a few racist jokes he’d tweeted in high school. In context, I could see that these had been references to sketches by the comedian Daniel Tosh. I told my editor about the tweets and was asked to reach out to King for comment.

I believe this was the right thing to do. Performing background checks on public figures is part of a journalist’s responsibility. If I had found the tweets, others would, too. I approached King with an understanding that what you tweet in high school is not necessarily representative of your beliefs as an adult, and he duly apologized.

I included a brief mention of the offensive tweets and King’s apology toward the end of my profile. It was a small moment placed in context at the end of a positive story. The tweets were part of a narrative of growth, maturity, and compassion—not an accusatory, “gotcha” moment.

When I asked King about his tweets, I tried to communicate that I was not trying to bring him harm. It’s clear to me now, though, that he was worried about personal blowback. As is common in the world of celebrity PR, he moved to get ahead of the details that would be revealed in the profile.

The evening before the profile was scheduled to be published, King held a press conference to confess to the existence of his tweets and to make a public apology.

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Incredibly, Calvin suffered the blowback from the unimportant tweets in King’s past. It’s a bizarre story of the ourouboros of the American blame game.
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Fifty years ago, I helped invent the internet. How did it go so wrong? • Los Angeles Times

Leonard Kleinrock:

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We could try to push the internet back toward its ethical roots. However, it would be a complex challenge requiring a joint effort by interested parties — which means pretty much everyone.

We should pressure government officials and entities to more zealously monitor and adjudicate such internet abuses as cyberattacks, data breaches and piracy. Governments also should provide a forum to bring interested parties together to problem-solve.

Citizen-users need to hold websites more accountable. When was the last time a website asked what privacy policy you would like applied to you? My guess is never. You should be able to clearly articulate your preferred privacy policy and reject websites that don’t meet your standards. This means websites should provide a privacy policy customized to you, something they should be able to do since they already customize the ads you see. Websites should also be required to take responsibility for any violations and abuses of privacy that result from their services.

Scientists need to create more advanced methods of encryption to protect individual privacy by preventing perpetrators from using stolen databases. We are working on technologies that would hide the origin and destination of data moving around the network, thereby diminishing the value of captured network traffic.

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I think the answer to the headline’s question is “we let humans use it”.
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Why didn’t Google and Fitbit think of this before? • CIRP

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CIRP analysis indicates 35% of US iPhone buyers have a smartwatch, compared to only 16% of US Android buyers. Among iPhone buyers, 19% have an Apple Watch, while 10% own a Fitbit. Among Android buyers, 4% own a Samsung watch, while 5% own a Fitbit.

“Among the relatively small share of all smartphone buyers that have any kind of smartwatch, iPhone buyers are twice as likely to own one than Android buyers,” said Josh Lowitz, CIRP Partner and Co-Founder. “Not surprisingly, Apple Watch is the leading smartwatch for iPhone buyers, while about half as many own a Fitbit. Until now, Fitbit was a neutral brand, but now becomes part of the Google-Android-Pixel-Nest universe. This creates an interesting new Android entry point into the Apple ecosystem, with a decent percentage of iPhone owners now using a wearable that becomes a more Android-friendly device. Also, among the small percentage of Android owners that have a smartwatch, Samsung and Fitbit have roughly equal shares.”

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I’m surprised that the figure for US iPhone owners is so high. I’m amazed if 7% of US Android phone owners actually use a Wear OS watch, which seems to be the implication.
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Back to Windows after 20 years • Signal v. Noise

David Hansson:

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What this experiment [buying a Surface Laptop 3 and trying to run the Linux tools now provided in Windows] taught me, though, was just how much I actually like OSX. How much satisfaction I derive from its font rendering. How lovely my code looks in TextMate 2. How easy it is to live that *nix developer life, while still using a computer where everything (well, except that fucking keyboard!) mostly just works.

So the Surface Laptop 3 is going back to Microsoft. Kudos to them for the 30-day no questions return policy, and double kudos for making it so easy to wipe the machine for return (again, another area where Apple could learn!).

Windows still clearly isn’t for me. And I wouldn’t recommend it to any of our developers at Basecamp. But I kinda do wish that more people actually do make the switch. Apple needs the competition. We need to feel like there are real alternatives that not only are technically possible, but a joy to use. We need Microsoft to keep improving, and having more frustrated Apple users cross over, point out the flaws, and iron out the kinks, well, that’s only going to help.

I would absolutely give Windows another try in a few years, but for now, I’m just feeling #blessed that 90% of my work happens on an iMac with that lovely scissor-keyed Magic Keyboard 2. It’s not a real solution for lots of people who work on the go, but if you do most of your development at a desk, I’d check it out. Or be brave, go with Windows, make it better, you pioneer, you. You’ll have my utter admiration!

Also, Apple, please just fix those fucking keyboards. Provide proper restitution for the people who bought your broken shit. Stop gaslighting us all with your nonsense that this is only affecting extremely few people. It’s not. The situation is an unmitigated disaster.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

12 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,182: US cops get big genetics warrant, who wins a meal with Trump?, AirPods Pro compared, and more

  1. re. Fitbit. Android is much more open than iOS, so people on the Android side are using smartwatches that run a variety of OSes not just WearOS. Huawei, Samsung, Xiaomi… have lines of custom-OS smartwatches alongside their WearOS ones. Last I checked Samsung’s sales were mostly custom-OS.

    • Also, I disagree with the whole slant of the article
      1- Fitbit devices don’t suddenly become more Android-friendly for being owned by Google. Google Maps isn’t more Android-friendly…
      2- iOS users are extremely brand-conscious, and disproportionately switch to premium Android stuff (Google, Samsung). I think the Google brand might have more allure for them than minor player’s Fitbit, same as it does for smartphones. Branding addicts are not so much addicted to one brand as to a brand, any brand, as long as it has cachet.
      3- From my anecdotal experience, there’s a whole lot of assuming going on. The iWatch is advanced (also, iPhones) and journalist/bloggers dig into that and assume that’s why people buy them. It’s mostly untrue: most buyers go for brand cachet or the legacy ease-of-use image. There’s a whole lot of overserving going on on he Apple side, and of underbranding on the Android side.

  2. Re. Pixel updates:
    1- That’s too short, but longer than what was promised at launch. The people crying are idiots who can’t read or who take their wishes for reality, Google has delivered more than advertised.
    2- Paying a premium for Google hardware makes little sense. You get faster updates but not for longer. If updates matter to you (why ? unless a targeted individual ? an update fetishist ?), be ready to upgrade every 3 yrs.
    3- Again, OS updates on Android mean vastly less than on iOS. OS tools, ecosystem features, 1st-party apps, dev APIs… are independent of OS updates on Android, while on iOS adding new emojis let alone updating the browser requires an OS update. iOS users freak about OS updates because a non-updated Iphone is severely hampered. Not so much an Android device; even brand new features (eg, Pay, Fit; Home…) got backported 2-3-4 OS versions at launch.

  3. Re. That guy trying Windows.
    0- You keep picking the most biased outcomes around. There are several similar stories of people OK with Windows or Linux
    1- That guy isn’t even trying. Nobody uses Edge. Serious Linux use is done in a VM.
    2- That guy is actively sabotaging the attempt. Windows Linux Services is emulation. It’s intended for quick and dirty jobs, not to set up your whole dev toolchain in: there are native Windows tools, or VMs for that.
    3- This attitude is a big issue w/ switchers. If you switch platforms intending to make 0 effort to go native and just replicate whatever you were doing before with the exact same tools, disappointment is assured. One can quickly spot the guys who are really trying vs hatchet jobs. This is a hatchet job.
    4- Hey, I tried iOS. No homescreen widgets ?? iOS sucks !

  4. We’ve been kicked off our MacBooks and told we have to switch to Thinkpads. They turned up Monday. It’s only been 3 days and I can’t believe anyone puts up with this crap. Poor design, it’s slower than my 2015 MacBook Pro despite having an i7 chip in it, not as intuitive, and don’t get me started on having to use Outlook after 20 years of avoiding it. Yes I’m aware that part of this is cultural shock but even simple little things are a lot harder to do (and I agree with David Hansson about the fonts).

    It’s making my iPad Pro look very attractive as my ‘work’ machine unless I have something I really need a PC for. Then I think I’ll just bring my MacBook from home to use instead.

    • On the other hand, does the keyboard work ? ;-p
      Which Thinkpads ? There’s a bunch of them, from crap to best-in-class.
      Have you tried:
      “1. Control Panel –> Appearance and Personalization –> Fonts and then on the left panel, select the Adjust Clear Type Text option.
      2. Follow the instructions and choose how clear you’d like the fonts to be and restart all your programs.”

      • I actually just did the ClearType thing for myself. It makes a difference. Not sure if that’s what you’re looking for though. You can also change default fonts ?

      • I just did the ClearType thing for myself, it makes a difference, it’s actually impressive how different the variants look.

        You can also change default fonts, but I’ve got no clue which look better, nor whether you want clearer or fancier.

  5. High-level delusion: https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/6/20952370/bill-gates-windows-mobile-android-competition-comments-microsoft-antitrust

    I was there. I got the modal dialogs that were overflowing the phone’s screen (but looked Windows-y, a design goal I guess ?). I got dropped by tech support when my up-to-date phone wouldn’t sync with my up-to-date desktop and was told to go f*** off something better was in the works. I was on one version, the next one was incompatible and I got no upgrade. Others were on that incompatible v2. Then there was an incompatible v3. It ended at v5 IIRC.

    Winphone failed because it was targeted at pleasing managers not customers, and especially not early adopters which got screwed repeatedly. I loved my HTC HD2, then MS alienated me till… well, at least today.

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