Start Up No.1,189: the UK political spending dashboard, .org to .cost?, Schiller keys in, South Korea’s scientific kids, and more


Vaccination: Facebook thinks that it’s political, not scientific – and so allows ads opposing it. CC-licensed photo by frankieleon on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. “Yes, and”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

7charts: UK Politics • Applied Data Science

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UK Politics: How are the UK’s political organisations targeting Facebook users?

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You have to go and look at these: seven charts which show where the advertising spend is going, broken down by age group, gender, month, party, topic, region, and demographic. And it’s being updated all the time. A terrific digital dashboard – though of course it can’t see what the “dark ads” are that are being used on Facebook; only who’s spending. (A million thanks to Jim Morrison for the link.)
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Facebook has shut down 5.4 billion fake accounts this year, but millions likely remain • CNN

Brian Fung and Ahiza Garcia:

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So far this year, Facebook has shut down 5.4 billion fake accounts on its main platform, but millions likely remain, the social networking giant said Wednesday. That’s compared to roughly 3.3 billion fake accounts removed in all of 2018.

As much as 5% of its monthly user base of nearly 2.5 billion consists of fake accounts, the company said, despite advances in technology that have allowed Facebook to catch more fake accounts the moment they are created.

The disclosure highlights the scale of the challenge before Facebook as it prepares for a high-stakes election season in the United States, as well as the 2020 US census. Analysts and watchdogs are bracing for a wave of fake and misleading content on social media following revelations about election meddling in 2016.
On a call with reporters, CEO Mark Zuckerberg framed the large number of fake accounts that have been removed as a sign of how seriously the company is taking this issue and called on other platforms to make similar disclosures.

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What this says loud and clear is that Facebook’s account creation system is far, far too slack. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the message that Zuckerberg is getting, though. It has removed twice as many fake accounts than there are actual internet users.
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Majority of anti-vaxx ads on Facebook are funded by just two organizations • The Guardian

Jessica Glenza:

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The majority of Facebook ads spreading misinformation about vaccines are funded by two organizations run by well-known anti-vaccination activists, a new study in the journal Vaccine has found.

The World Mercury Project chaired by Robert F Kennedy Jr, and Stop Mandatory Vaccinations, a project of campaigner Larry Cook, bought 54% of the anti-vaccine ads shown on the platform during the study period.

“Absolutely we were surprised,” said David Broniatowski, a professor of engineering at George Washington University, one of the authors of the report. “These two individuals were generating the majority of the content.”

Cook uses crowd-funding platforms to raise money for Facebook ads and his personal expenses. The crowd-funding platform GoFundMe banned Cook’s fundraisers in March 2019. YouTube has demonetized Cook’s videos.

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Notable comment in the conclusions of the paper:

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A small set of anti-vaccine advertisement buyers have leveraged Facebook advertisements to reach targeted audiences. By deeming all vaccine-related content an issue of “national importance,” Facebook has further the politicized vaccines.

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Yup: Facebook’s delight in pulling in money has once again put peoples’ lives at risk.
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The org that doles out .org websites just sold itself to a for-profit company • The Verge

Jay Peters:

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Today, the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which maintains the .org top-level domain, announced that it will be acquired by Ethos Capital, a private equity firm (via Domain Name Wire). This move will make PIR, previously a non-profit domain registry, officially part of a for-profit company — which certainly seems at odds with what .org might represent to some. Originally, “.org” was an alternative to the “.com” that was earmarked for commercial entities, which lent itself to non-profit use.

That’s not all: o n June 30th, ICANN, the non-profit that oversees all domain names on the internet, agreed to remove price caps on rates for .org domain names — which were previously pretty cheap. Seems like something a for-profit company might want.

Removing price caps wasn’t exactly a popular idea when it was first proposed on March 18th. According to Review Signal, only six of the more than 3,000 public comments on the proposal were in favor of the change.

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This can’t be a good move. It’s either going to see a flight elsewhere or a collapse.
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Apple’s Phil Schiller on reinventing the new MacBook Pro keyboard • CNet

Roger Cheng:

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Q: Walk me through the feedback you got on the butterfly keyboard and how that informed the new scissor-based keys.
Schiller: “As you know, a number of years ago we started a new keyboard technology with this butterfly keyboard and began it with MacBook. It had some things it did really well, like creating a much more stable key platform. It felt more firm and flat under your finger — some people really like that, but other people weren’t really happy with that. We got sort of a mixed reaction. We had some quality issues we had to work on. Over the years we’ve been refining that keyboard design, and we’re now on the third generation, and a lot of people are much happier with that as we’ve advanced and advanced it.

“But a few years back, we decided that while we were advancing the butterfly keyboard, we would also — specifically for our pro customer — go back and really talk to many pro customers about what they most want in a keyboard and did a bunch of research. That’s been a really impressive project, the way the engineering team has gotten into the physiology of typing and the psychology of typing — what people love.

“As we started to investigate specifically what pro users most wanted, a lot of times they would say, “I want something like this Magic Keyboard, I love that keyboard.” And so the team has been working on this idea of taking that core technology and adapting it to the notebook, which is a different implementation than the desktop keyboard, and that’s what we’ve come up with [for] this new keyboard.”

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Very clever how Schiller emphasises that it’s “specifically for our pro customer” – as if Apple won’t bring it to the consumer laptops in time, but also as a way to justify this appearing first on the top end laptop. Of course it’s only the pro customers who need a reliable keyboard. Yup. Sure.

In reality: the new keyboard will come to the other devices pronto, because that saves Apple a lot of money in repairs, and also lets it amortise the tooling costs of the new keys. Just hold tight.
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More South Korean academics caught naming kids as co-authors • Nature

Mark Zastrow:

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The number of South Korean academics accused of naming children as co-authors on research manuscripts — even though the children did not contribute to the research — continues to grow. An education ministry report details 11 university academics who named high-school or middle-school-aged children on papers that the children allegedly did not contribute to. Nine of these are newly identified, bringing the total number accused to 17, and the total number of papers affected to 24, since the practice was first exposed in late 2017.

Five of the nine newly identified academics named their own children on papers, said the report. One named a child of an acquaintance, and the others had no special relationship to the children. It is thought that in some cases, the children were named on papers to boost their chances of winning university places, for which competition in the country is fierce. The papers the ministry has identified as problematic stretch back at least as far as 2007.

The report’s release comes amid intense national scrutiny of the way children of South Korea’s wealthy, well-connected ‘elite’ get accepted to university. Unjustified authorship is considered research misconduct in South Korea.

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Apparently the reason is so that they can boost their application to university: “look at this paper I already wrote!” Take that, rich American people who do it by splurging money to endow places..
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How top health websites are sharing sensitive data with advertisers • Financial Times

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Using open-source tools to analyse 100 health websites, which include WebMD, Healthline, Babycentre and Bupa, an FT investigation found that 79% of the sites dropped “cookies” — little bits of code that, when embedded in your browser, allow third-party companies to track individuals around the internet. This was done without the consent that is a legal requirement in the UK.

Google’s advertising arm DoubleClick was by far the most common destination for data, showing up on 78% of the sites tested, followed by Amazon, which was present in 48% of cases, Facebook, Microsoft and adtech firm AppNexus.

“These findings are quite remarkable, and very concerning,” said Wolfie Christl, a technologist and researcher who has been investigating the adtech industry. “From my perspective, this kind of data is clearly sensitive, has special protections under the [General Data Protection Regulation] and transmitting this data most likely violates the law.”

…The data shared included:
• drug names entered into Drugs.com were sent to Google’s ad unit DoubleClick.
• symptoms inputted into WebMD’s symptom checker, and diagnoses received, including “drug overdose”, were shared with Facebook.
• menstrual and ovulation cycle information from BabyCentre ended up with Amazon Marketing, among others.
• keywords such as “heart disease” and “considering abortion” were shared from sites like the British Heart Foundation, Bupa and Healthline to companies including Scorecard Research and Blue Kai (owned by software giant Oracle).

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Kine creator: “The biggest concern with Stadia is that it might not exist” • GamesIndustry.biz

Rebekah Valentine:

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Though [Kine developer Gwen] Frey is excited about Stadia’s possibilities, she acknowledged that the service has some work to do. Google Stadia has received plenty of criticism for its slow, pricey, and at times confusing rollout. Though Frey prefaced her statements by noting she doesn’t speak for Google and isn’t privy to their plans, she’s fairly confident the company’s slow start is a deliberate move, and that the true potential of the technology won’t be realized for some time.

“I’m not sure it will have a super-strong launch initially, but I don’t even think they want to have a super-strong launch,” she said. “I get the sense that they want to scale slowly and see where this goes.

“The biggest complaint most developers have with Stadia is the fear is Google is just going to cancel it. Nobody ever says, ‘Oh, it’s not going to work.’ or ‘Streaming isn’t the future.’ Everyone accepts that streaming is pretty much inevitable. The biggest concern with Stadia is that it might not exist. And if you think about it like that, that’s kind of silly. Working in tech, you have to be willing to make bold moves and try things that could fail. And yeah, Google’s canceled a lot of projects. But I also have a Pixel in my pocket, I’m using Google Maps to get around, I only got here because my Google Calendar told me to get here by giving me a prompt in Gmail. It’s not like Google cancels every fucking thing they make.

“This is tech. The default state is failure. But this is cool, and it could really change things.”

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Huawei’s Google problem runs deep • The Information

Juro Osawa and Nick Bastone:

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Huawei executives underestimated the consequences of the Google ban. While the challenges of losing access to Google’s app store and maps were obvious, the executives hadn’t fully appreciated that most Android apps rely on Google’s services for everything from notifications to analytics to in-app purchases, said employees familiar with Huawei’s internal discussions.

The difficulties for Huawei show how tightly Google’s products are weaved into the mobile internet. In addition to making the Android operating system that powers more than 80% of mobile phones, including all Huawei smartphones. Google also operates high-profile internet services central to most phones, like YouTube and Google Maps.

Google also owns behind-the-scenes services, such as its mobile advertising network, that are key to many apps. Google’s control over the mobile ecosystem is expected to be one facet of the intensifying regulatory probes into the company’s dominance in the US and Europe. 

Since May—when sanctions took effect that prevent Huawei from using key Google services and other U.S. technologies—Huawei has encountered stark reminders of the American internet company’s ubiquity. The sanctions, put in place by the Trump administration because of national security concerns, blocked Huawei from Google Mobile Services, which include the Google Play app store, Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube. Huawei is still able to use Android on its phones because the operating system is open source.

The sanctions quickly forced Huawei to look for ways to replace Google’s widespread services for Android apps. Some Huawei managers in the company’s consumer electronics division told The Information that they were surprised to learn how dependent Android apps are on Google tools for authenticating users, sending notifications, analyzing data, integrating mapping functions and making money from ads.

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On the one hand, Huawei’s executives look pretty foolish not having realised the critical path in their system, and its vulnerability to disruption. On the other, who would have expected even three years ago that the US would pull the move it did? Even the arrival of Trump in late 2015 didn’t look like it could trigger this outcome. (Though this is surely driven by the intelligence services and National Security Council, not Trump himself.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1,189: the UK political spending dashboard, .org to .cost?, Schiller keys in, South Korea’s scientific kids, and more

  1. re. Apple Keyboard: That piece is funny by the intensity of what the French call “wooden tongue”, canned political speech. It doesn’t contain a single instance of the words “reliability” nor “repair”, which were the two issues that killed the previous one. Lots of unspecific fluff though, they could seel anything from houses to nappies with hat discourse. And it works !

  2. Interesting real-life head-to-head between Xiaomi’s Mi Note 10 and Huawei’s P30 Pro; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVmxKivGv28

    Conclusions at 4m20s. Interesting to see Xiaomi basically equalizing with proven leader Huawei, at a much lower price point even at the inflated launch price. Then again, the P30P is a true flagship, SoC, screen, audio are significantly better. But for single-issue buyers, the MN10 isn’t *bad* outside of its camera either.

    Apart from various details, what’s impressive is Xiaomi’s superstabilization during the “running” test. One drawback: on the MN10’s main test, he found out the MN10 fails at complex exposure in that mode, you get burnout or occlusions in mixed-light scenes.
    Also, Xiaomi I think has more disappointing (not bad, just not excellent) shots than Huawei, and this probably matters more than looking a little bit more excellent in excellent-anyway shots.

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