Start Up No.1,187: Facebook iOS app has camera bug, US demographics and its doughtiest opponent, Galileo’s GPS problem, not enough fish, and more

Snapchat’s having another go at Spectacles (these are v1; it’s up to v3, which look better). But what are they for? CC-licensed photo by Trey Ratcliff 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 awake at 3.30am. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Snapchat Spectacles 3 review • CNBC

Todd Haselton:


Snap’s Spectacles 3 launch on Tuesday for $380. They let you record video and snap pictures, apply new 3D effects to them and then post that content to Snapchat or other social networks.

Unlike the previous two versions of Spectacles, the Spectacles 3 introduce new augmented reality and 3D features with the aid of a new depth sensor. Thanks to this tech, you can make it look like you’re walking down a rainbow hallway, that heart-shaped balloons are floating in a park around you, or that a cartoon phoenix is following you around on a walk. Or you can take pictures and convert them into tilting 3D images and GIFs that can bring your adventures to life.

These blobs just appear in the real world around objects.

But Spectacles 3 aren’t meant for mass consumption the way earlier models might have been. (Snapchat wrote off nearly $40m when the first model flopped.) Instead, Spectacles 3 are aimed at wealthier influencers and creators who want to add special effects to their Snapchat posts. That’s a relatively small audience.

At $380, they’re not exactly priced for mass consumption anyway. Given Snapchat reaches 90% of 13- to 24-year olds, they’re also probably too expensive for most of the younger buyers.


The problem is always about the content, isn’t it? And the examples that Haselton shows here are just, well, daft. What one wants is content you can use – such as messages, times, maps – overlaid on the real world. A heads-up dashboard for the world, if you like. At least they’re starting to get the pricing right.
unique link to this extract

Facebook is secretly using your iPhone’s camera as you scroll your feed • The Next Web



iPhone owners, beware. It appears Facebook might be actively using your camera without your knowledge while you’re scrolling your feed.

The issue has come to light after a user going by the name Joshua Maddux took to Twitter to report the unusual behavior, which occurs in the Facebook app for iOS. In footage he shared, you can see his camera actively working in the background as he scrolls through his feed.

The problem becomes evident due to a bug that shows the camera feed in a tiny sliver on the left side of your screen, when you open a photo in the app and swipe down. TNW has since been able to independently reproduce the issue.


Facebook’s VP of integrity responded on Twitter: “We recently discovered our iOS app incorrectly launched in landscape. In fixing that last week in v246 we inadvertently introduced a bug where the app partially navigates to the camera screen when a photo is tapped. We have no evidence of photos/videos uploaded due to this.” He also says a fix is being submitted to the App Store as of Tuesday.
unique link to this extract

Moderate Republicans can save America • The Atlantic

Yoni Appelbaum:


What has caused such rancor? The stresses of a globalizing, postindustrial economy. Growing economic inequality. The hyperbolizing force of social media. Geographic sorting. The demagogic provocations of the president himself. As in Murder on the Orient Express, every suspect has had a hand in the crime.

But the biggest driver might be demographic change. The United States is undergoing a transition perhaps no rich and stable democracy has ever experienced: Its historically dominant group is on its way to becoming a political minority—and its minority groups are asserting their co-equal rights and interests. If there are precedents for such a transition, they lie here in the United States, where white Englishmen initially predominated, and the boundaries of the dominant group have been under negotiation ever since. Yet those precedents are hardly comforting. Many of these renegotiations sparked political conflict or open violence, and few were as profound as the one now under way.

Within the living memory of most Americans, a majority of the country’s residents were white Christians. That is no longer the case, and voters are not insensate to the change—nearly a third of conservatives say they face “a lot” of discrimination for their beliefs, as do more than half of white evangelicals. But more epochal than the change that has already happened is the change that is yet to come: Sometime in the next quarter century or so, depending on immigration rates and the vagaries of ethnic and racial identification, nonwhites will become a majority in the U.S. For some Americans, that change will be cause for celebration; for others, it may pass unnoticed. But the transition is already producing a sharp political backlash, exploited and exacerbated by the president. In 2016, white working-class voters who said that discrimination against whites is a serious problem, or who said they felt like strangers in their own country, were almost twice as likely to vote for Trump as those who did not. Two-thirds of Trump voters agreed that “the 2016 election represented the last chance to stop America’s decline.” In Trump, they’d found a defender.


Oh, and what sort of defender. Read on…
unique link to this extract

Stephen Miller’s affinity for white nationalism revealed in leaked emails • Southern Poverty Law Center

Michael Edison Hayden:


In the run-up to the 2016 election, White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage, according to leaked emails reviewed by Hatewatch.

The emails, which Miller sent to the conservative website Breitbart News in 2015 and 2016, showcase the extremist, anti-immigrant ideology that undergirds the policies he has helped create as an architect of Donald Trump’s presidency. These policies include reportedly setting arrest quotas for undocumented immigrants, an executive order effectively banning immigration from five Muslim-majority countries and a policy of family separation at refugee resettlement facilities that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General said is causing “intense trauma” in children.

In this, the first of what will be a series about those emails, Hatewatch exposes the racist source material that has influenced Miller’s visions of policy.


And he’s the key influence on so many policies in the White House. America’s systems turn out to be astonishingly vulnerable to racists; perhaps they never weren’t.
unique link to this extract

AI-generated fake content could unleash a virtual arms race • VentureBeat

Chris O’Brien:


When it comes to AI’s role in making online content, Kristin Tynski, VP of digital marketing firm Fractl, sees an opportunity to boost creativity. But a recent experiment in AI-generated content left her a bit shaken. Using publicly available AI tools and about an hour of her time, Tynski created a website that includes 30 highly polished blog posts, as well as an AI-generated headshot for the non-existent author of the posts. The website is cheekily called

Although the intention was to generate conversation around the site’s implications, the exercise gave Tynski a glimpse into a potentially darker digital future in which it is impossible to distinguish reality from fiction.

Such a scenario threatens to topple the already precarious balance of power between creators, search engines, and users. The current flow of fake news and propaganda already fools too many people, even as digital platforms struggle to weed it all out. AI’s ability to further automate content creation could leave everyone from journalists to brands unable to connect with an audience that no longer trusts search engine results and must assume that the bulk of what they see online is fake.


Though personally, having read the fake marketing blog, I’d say that the AI provides a much sparkier output, and it’s grammatically correct too. And it doesn’t mean putting a human under the yoke of having to write it.
unique link to this extract

One man’s mistake, missing backups and complete reboot: the tale of Europe’s Galileo satellites going dark • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:


Here’s what we do know based on the report given at the Miami conference in September and additional details dug out by Hubert and others.

• The vague reports from the Galileo team that everything was fine and no one should worry was built on the fact that the actual satellites themselves were all still working (well, apart the ones that aren’t) and were in their expected positions. In other words, the actual hardware in orbit was fine; it hadn’t been hit by anything, or gone flying off at tangents.
• The actual problem almost certainly came from the software that undertakes the complex job of keeping the whole system in sync. It is no mean feat to keep the atomic clocks on the satellites accurate to within nanoseconds when everything in flying around in multiple orbits. There was some kind of anomaly in the reference time system while it was being upgraded – which is where the operator error came in – and that sent the whole system spinning.
• For reasons that remain unclear, the backup system was not available, meaning that it wasn’t possible to simply rollback to the previous version. As a result, things got more and more inaccurate.
• Additionally, it appears that at the time everything went awry, the system was not configured in the normal way so engineers had a hard time figuring out how to get it all back working together.
• Eventually the decision was made that it has taken so long to figure out what had gone wrong that the best solution was to effectively reboot the entire system. Which is what they did. But because it is a fiendishly complex setup, that reboot took several days to complete.


Galileo looks quite the mess: only 21 of 26 satellites is working, and it needs 24 to provide a functional system. And the organisation is hugely complex so that when things go awry, there’s all sorts of finger-pointing to get it un-awry.

Running a geopositioning satellite system is also one of the hardest things you can attempt.
unique link to this extract

How GOP-linked PR firms use Google’s ad platform to harvest email addresses • Engadget

Sam Baker:


What’s the seventh largest purchaser of US political ads on Google right now?

After the Republican Senate and Congressional Leadership Funds and the Trump campaign, comes a group called –- a limited-liability company specializing in digital marketing for clients looking to attract new customers via “opt-in email lists”.

It also owns and runs a supposed news site called Conservative Buzz and, under that banner, it’s been running Google Ads like this:

[“Does Trump deserve a second term?” advert]

Which lead those who click on them to webpages like this:

[“Does Donald Trump deserve a second term?/ Enter email address / Vote now! Yes/No]

That [Vote] box is ticked on arrival. Clearly not the best polling practice.

The ads appear to be geared towards collecting potential voter email addresses and directing people to questionable news sites. The emails people receive after signing up are either miracle health cures, secret new ways to boost your income or scary news about savings and the latest socialist coming to take them.

According to Google’s political advertising transparency report, has spent over $3.5m on more than 3,400 Google ads like the one above to date — promoting poll questions that ultimately ask for email addresses. And it’s not the only company doing this.

In a joint Engadget and Point investigation, we found at least three companies actively placing these types of ads connected to incendiary ‘news’ sites, one of which is run by a Republican donor and another that was registered by a former Trump campaign lawyer.


The Conservative Party in the UK seems to have been doing something similar, buying a top spot on Google Ads for “register to vote” and using a system which harvests user data. Sneaky.
unique link to this extract

Sadfishing, predators and bullies: the hazards of being ‘real’ on social media • WSJ

Julie Jargon:


Influencers have used the word “anxiety” three times more so far this year than they did in all of 2016 and more than six million posts on Instagram reference #mentalhealthawareness, according to Captiv8 Inc., an influencer marketing firm.

“With millennials, everything on social media was about curation, showing the perfect life. They were raised where it was all about the group and fitting in,” said Jayne Charneski, founder of Front Row Insights & Strategy, a consumer-insights firm. “Generation Z is being raised by Gen-Xers, who are fiercely independent, and so it’s cool to be different. Gen Z is an inclusive, open-minded generation, and vulnerability is social currency now.”

There are upsides to opening up online, as my colleague Andrea Petersen recently wrote. Research shows that self-disclosure can be beneficial to people struggling with mental-health issues because it removes the stigma. Teenagers with mental-health problems have found all of this new openness from the people they admire to be empowering. Seeing celebrities and influencers sharing their struggles can show followers that no one is perfect.

What teens might not realize is that influencers’ motivation for doing so isn’t always pure. When influencers share personal struggles, it tends to result in more followers, likes and comments, which results in more brand sponsorships. (This might start to change. Instagram’s CEO last week said it will expand a global test of hiding “like” counts on certain users’ posts to the U.S. starting this week.)


unique link to this extract

Jeremy Stoppelman’s long battle with Google is finally paying off • Buzzfeed News

Mat Honan:


when you see an average review number on Yelp, it’s a pretty good indicator. A 4.5-star restaurant is probably going to be pretty great. A 2-star restaurant? Not gonna eat there. You might also see an alert about a restaurant’s cleanliness on Yelp. In more than 30 states, it makes that information available right on a restaurant’s page. It’s another transparency measure that’s good for consumers but has probably cost the company money with the communities of small businesses that populate its site.

“If you optimize for maximum attention, you’re leaning into human nature of rubbernecking at train crashes, and all the worst stuff that humanity can provide.”
“I’m sure we could have been making a lot more money if we allowed ourselves to be compromised and just said: Anything goes on Yelp. You want 5 stars? Tell your friends to go write a bunch of reviews for you and they’ll be on Yelp and then you can advertise. And wouldn’t it be wonderful?” said Stoppelman.

Instead, Yelp went another route. It is vigilant about reviews, and has passed on some easy ways to make money from users’ data. It doesn’t let businesses target users who happen to be walking by with an ad, for example. Despite persistent rumors, it’s hard to imagine Yelp fitting in as an acquisition target for Big Tech — in just two interviews with BuzzFeed News, the outspoken Stoppelman took shots at Facebook, Amazon, and Google.

Which is all the more curious as Stoppelman is a member of perhaps the most successful circle of investors ever, in the PayPal Mafia, and yet his business runs counter to so much of the prevailing wisdom in Silicon Valley, which argues for growth at any cost.

“When I look out at other companies,” Stoppelman said, “I see other priorities, namely growing revenue as much as possible. So why didn’t Facebook crack down on certain types of content, or why did they allow sensational stories or stories that are not true to blast across the network and get amplified so much? Had they had the foresight to say, ‘Hey, this is bad for the world’ or ‘This is bad for our long-term brand, we should shut it down,’ it probably wouldn’t have turned into an eventually traumatic political issue.


So the way he’s winning the battle is by taking a different direction.
unique link to this extract

The sea is running out of fish, despite nations’ pledges to stop • National Geographic

Todd Woody:


new research shows that governments have actually increased financial support for fishing practices that decimate marine life, despite public pledges to curtail such handouts.

In an exhaustive survey of 152 countries, scientists at the University of British Columbia found that ocean-faring nations spent $22bn on harmful subsidies in 2018, or 63% of the total amount expended to support the global fishing industry.

That’s a 6% rise since 2009. Harmful subsidies is a term that refers to those that promote overfishing and illegal fishing that would otherwise not be profitable, such as subsidies that underwrite fuel costs allowing industrial trawlers to sail to the farthest reaches of the planet. Fuel subsidies alone accounted for 22% of all fishing subsidies last year.

China, which operates the world’s largest overseas fishing fleet, has increased harmful subsidies by 105% over the past decade, according to the study published in Marine Policy.

“It’s hard to take much positive from this study, but it can be a rallying cry for governments as the WTO is in a position to end harmful subsidies and have a huge impact on the ocean,” says Isabel Jarrett, manager of Pew Charitable Trusts’ fishing subsidies program. Pew helped fund the research.


This was in October. Not sure that things improved.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,187: Facebook iOS app has camera bug, US demographics and its doughtiest opponent, Galileo’s GPS problem, not enough fish, and more

  1. re Yelp: erm, it’s not all roses either: Basically paying them gives an venue owner the right to boost some reviews and handicap others.

    In my semi-touristy town, it’s clear there are shenanigans for the touristy places; and in my quiet out-of-the-way part of town, the reviews don’t make sense at all – I’m guessing the bad places are badmouthing the good places and the good places aren’t aware.

    Then a again, my globetrotting relatives use it a lot. Even in my/their home town, to mostly dismal results. I’d guess it’s like on Amazon: 50% of reviews are fake. Luckily we have a few good food bloggers ;-p

  2. That one is interesting, as always:

    A couple of things though:
    1- An increasing number of people are aware one should go directly to the seller’s site, especially for travel, hotels, and in general services. I was amazed to see several non-tech friends look for hotels in a dedicated site, then browse directly to the hotel’s site (from a Google search, but not within Google’s Hotels tool). Then again, a large minority of people type urls in Google search box…
    2- It’s surprising how many sites have extremely bad search. On about half the sites, I get better results from a Google search, not even a site-specific one, just putting the site name in the search.
    2b- Special mention to Amazon, insisting on using the same layout for all types of products just doesn’t work. On real IT sites, I can filter for 256GB µSD cards, 10TB HDDs, or 3-screens monitor arms. Not on Amazon.
    3- I keep regularly trying other search engines. Except for .torrents, Google still produces the best results by far.

  3. Aaaand sales for China. I’m getting curious how stuffed that Huawei channel is. They’re probably playing the “victimized national champion” card, it’s weird Apple sales are growing, you’d expect nationalist spillover. I’m not sure how their features&prices are in China. In Europe, they’re not competitive with Xiaomi nor Realme/Oppo.

    I also don’t understand why consultants keep hyping 5G for a market rebound. Not a single person has asked me about it; it enables no new uses in phones; rollout will take a decade we’re not even done with 4G. Not only don’t I see 5G generating new sales, I’m not even sure anyone will be willing to merely pay a premium for it when upgrading their phone on the regular schedule. 4G enabled video on phones. 5G might at best enable FHD/4K video, which on a phone is really not important; neither is bandwidth for gaming and 4G latency is mostly OK already, unless cloud gaming on mobile takes off which I doubt, esp short/mid-term.

    I’m guessing the bet is we’ll start doing 3D VR on 5G :-)))

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.