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.

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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!
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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…
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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.
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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?

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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?
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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?
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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.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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

  1. When you shame OEMs for copying “Apple’s designs”, does anyone ever check if Apple got the design from somewhere else ? Or if the design is self-justified ?
    It’s not like Apple invented that screen ratio nor used it first on a computer. And it mostly makes sens for a computer.
    I’m not even sure they invented the groove in pencils.
    Huawei buyers might enjoy the slimmer bezels, unbuggy OS…

    Anyone who confuses one for the other needs to look closer, or get an eye check. Is there a limit to attribution bias and bias in general ? Shameful indeed.

    • That’s a classic disinformation response to being caught red handed; it could have come from Trump. “Why are you complaining about me? I’m sure other people do it. I think you do it yourself!”
      The anus is on YOU to demonstrate that Apple has ripped off the iPad Pro and Pencil designs. Given the profile that it has as a company, I think we’d have heard a long time ago if its tablet and pencil designs (especially the groove) has appeared somewhere else.
      Instead you choose to throw up chaff. “Maybe someone else did it! Who knows? If you get fooled it’s your own fault!” Huawei’s actions are shameful, but yours are truly pathetic.

      • You’re right of course Charles … plus you get 10 bonus points for writing “The ANUS is on you…”.

      • Nope, I’m not the one making accusations. The onus in on you tube verify whatever you say.

        A rectangular table ! Ripoff !

      • If you don’t think the onus is on you to check your info before publishing it, why do you think it is on Facebook ?

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