Start Up No.1204: fix the climate (here are the tools), life inside InfoWars, Reddit outdoes Twitter, Google with unions?, and more


A new study shows how people get – and share – their news about the general election. CC-licensed photo by Diego Sideburns 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 12 links for you. Another one down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Uncovered: reality of how smartphones turned election news into chaos • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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in a first-of-its-kind election monitoring project conducted by the Guardian and research agency Revealing Reality, a group of voters have allowed their phone use to be recorded for three days – and the results from each individual’s phone show how the traditional media ecosystem is changing and disintegrating.

Charlie in Sunderland consumed much of his election news through memes on lad humour Facebook pages, spending more time looking at posts of Boris Johnson using the word “boobies” than reading traditional news stories. Fiona in Bolton checked out claims about Jeremy Corbyn’s wealth by going to a website called Jihadi Watch before sharing the far-right material in a deliberate bid to anger her leftwing friends. And Shazi in Sheffield followed the BBC leaders’ interviews purely by watching videos of party supporters chanting the Labour leader’s name outside the venue.

The six volunteers who took part in the project should be seen as a snapshot rather than a statistically representative sample of the population. But the behaviour chimes with previous research to illustrate a pattern of behaviour across the political spectrum – a result with huge implications for the role of responsible journalism and reliable sources.

“News is becoming intermingled with entertainment,” said Damon De Ionno of agency Revealing Reality, who ran the project after pioneering the screen-recording approach to market research in the UK. “You’re no longer asking: what’s going on in the world today? It’s very different – you want to be entertained.”

The analysts who studied the volunteers – recruited under pseudonyms to reflect a spread of demographics, politics, and geography – saw broad patterns in the way they used their phones. Some were expected, with people increasingly consuming news passively by scrolling through headlines rather than actively seeking out information; one woman in London read 29 headlines but clicked on just six and only read three articles to the end.

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Reading headlines and not reading all or even most of the article isn’t new; that’s been the case with papers for years. What’s really different here is being able to share stuff you haven’t read at all, and seeking out a source for something you want to be confirmed.
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How political parties are using GIFs to boost their campaigns • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:

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Here’s a question. What’s performed really well online for the SNP this year?

It’s not an incendiary tweet or an aggressive video, or any of the sort of things normally associated with political success online.

No – it’s a GIF of Nicola Sturgeon raising her eyebrows.

via GIPHY

Since this second-long moving image was created by the party in February, it’s had more than 1.4 million views – more than 30,000 times the SNP’s most popular video on YouTube.

This isn’t a fluke, but a triumph of digital strategy.

Since 2016, the SNP has been creating content for use inside mobile apps.

The Nicola Sturgeon GIF is just one of 408 items it has uploaded to its channel on GIF database Giphy.

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*aged voice* I remember when they used to do it with posters. Posters that they stuck to billboards.
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I worked for Alex Jones. I regret it • The New York Times

Josh Owens was given a job at InfoWars as a video editor at the age of 23, right out of college:

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Suddenly, I was no longer a bored kid attending an overpriced art school. I was Fox Mulder combing through the X-Files, Rod Serling opening a door to the Twilight Zone, even Rosemary Woodhouse convinced that the neighbors were members of a ritualistic cult. I believed that the world was strategically run by a shadowy, organized cabal, and that Jones was a hero for exposing it.

I had my limits. I can’t say I ever believed his avowed theory that Sandy Hook was a staged event to push for gun control; to Jones, everything was a “false flag.” I didn’t believe that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama smelled like sulfur because of their proximity to hell or that Planned Parenthood was run by “Nazi baby killers.” But it was easy to brush off these fever dreams as eccentricities and excesses — not the heart of the Alex Jones operation but mere diversions.

Once I started working there, however, it became obvious that one was impossible to separate one from the other. Soon after I was hired, Jones’s Infowars-branded store — which sells emergency-survival foods, water filters, body armor and much more — introduced an iodine supplement, initially marketed as a “shield” against nuclear fallout. Still learning the ropes, I was tasked with creating video advertisements for the supplement, which he ran on his online TV show. One of these ads started with a shot of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as it exploded. I doubled the sound of the explosion, adding a glitch filter and sirens in the background for dramatic effect. Jones stood over my shoulder as I edited. “This is great,” he said. “See if you can find flyover footage of Chernobyl as well.”

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Life inside a cult: remarkably cult-like.
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We need to halve emissions by 2030. They rose again in 2019 • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:

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The world likely needs to halve greenhouse-gas emissions within the next decade to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Instead, year after year, we’re still pumping out more climate pollution.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels will rise for the third straight year in 2019, ticking up an estimated 0.6% to a record 37 billion metric tons, according to the closely watched annual report from the Global Carbon Project. Slight declines in the US and European Union were offset by projected increases in China, India, and other parts of the world, where economic growth is fueling rising energy demands.

In fact, carbon pollution is likely to climb again in 2020, given expected increases in use of oil and natural gas in emerging economies.

“Even with all the attention of the youth movements and growing climate focus around the world, we still haven’t turned the corner to stabilize and bring emissions down,” says Rob Jackson, professor of earth system science at Stanford and chair of the Global Carbon Project, an international research collaboration established in 2001 to track global climate pollution.

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Got that? Next up is your chance to fix it. Yes, really.
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En-ROADS Climate scenario modelling • MIT Management Sustainability Initiative

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Welcome to the beta version of En-ROADS from Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative.

The simulator is most powerful when used in a role-play game or policy workshop.

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This is really detailed. With the default assumptions, it’s forecasting that we’ll be 4.1C above baseline by 2100. You have lots of levers to pull: economic growth, population growth, coal/oil/nuclear/renewable/gas/bioenergy use, carbon pricing, energy efficiency, transport electrification, industry electrification, deforestation, reforestation, methane emissions from land and industry, carbon sequestration.

You pull them all really hard and suddenly the only way to keep the world from cooking is to be Thanos.
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France not ruling out response to cyber attack on hospital • Bloomberg

Helene Fouquet:

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French authorities said they may hit back at cyber assailants who’ve struck a public hospital, forcing it to suspend all but the most vital systems.

“The attacker is still active, and looking for targets in France,” said Guillaume Poupard, the head of the national cyber security agency ANSSI. He spoke on the sideline of a conference in Paris. “The French law allows us to be active against the attacker, to neutralize it. We’re not ruling it out,” he said.

Authorities said the Nov. 15 attack’s characteristics are similar to those of a criminal group from Russia called TA505 and have deployed 50 agents at the Rouen hospital to repair networks and restore operations. Poupard said a series of attacks in the past weeks hit public and private operators with an emphasis on the health sector. He declined to say if publicly listed companies had been targets.

While French police may be limited in their response, national agencies are increasingly launching their own cyberattacks across borders. French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview with the Economist that he wants to collaborate on cyber security with Russia, an area where “we’re waging total war against one another.”

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What are they going to do, bomb them? One rather loose quote gets turned into an overcooked story.
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Reddit’s monthly active user base grew 30% to reach 430M in 2019 • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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In a year-end retrospective released this morning, Reddit says its user base grew 30% this year to reach 430 million monthly active users, as of the end of October. Its users also contributed 199 million posts, 1.7 billion comments and 32 billion upvotes, the company says.

Last year, Reddit reported 330 million monthly active users — bigger than Twitter.

Monthly comments and monthly views were also up on an annual basis in 2019, with increases of 37% and 54%, respectively.

…Meanwhile, the most upvoted AMA (Ask Me Anything) post on the site was with Bill Gates, which received 110,000 upvotes.

Reddit also noted a number of trends across its more than 100,000 active communities, including sizable increases in its top 50 beauty and style communities, which grew 63+% and 52%+ year-over-year, respectively. To some extent, these increases were driven by the blogger beauty feuds — for example, the r/beautyguruchatter community jumped up by 87% year-over-year. The r/skincareaddiction community was the most popular beauty community, reaching over 1 million subscribers, Reddit says.

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Bigger than Twitter. But as influential as Twitter? Isn’t influence the next metric of the attention economy?
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Kuo: Four new OLED iPhones in 2020, iPhone without Lightning port in 2021 • 9to5Mac

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Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is out today with a new investor note focused on Apple’s iPhone lineup for 2020 and 2021. Kuo says there will be four new OLED iPhone models in 2020, followed by a new iPhone without a Lightning port in 2021.

Kuo predicts that Apple will introduce 5.4in, two 6.1in, and a 6.7in OLED iPhone models in 2020. He says that all four of these iPhones will also feature 5G connectivity. The difference between all of these models, other than screen sizes, will be camera technology.

According to Kuo, the 5.4-inch OLED iPhone will feature a dual-camera setup on the back. The lower-end 6.1-inch iPhone will feature a similar dual-camera system. The higher-end 6.1-inch model and the 6.7-inch model will include triple-lens camera setups as well as time-of-flight 3D sensing technology.

In terms of design for the 2020 OLED iPhone, Kuo says the form factor will be “similar to the iPhone 4.”

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What the hell does he mean, “similar to the iPhone 4”? Are they really going to get that much thicker?

As for not having a Lightning port.. possible, but that’s really assuming a lot of wireless chargers will be sold and installed over the next 24 months.
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2020 iPhone rumored to have under-display ultrasonic fingerprint scanner supplied by Qualcomm • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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The reports claim that Apple plans to use Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor technology in at least one iPhone model set to be released in 2020, although the timeframe could be pushed back to 2021. GIS would cooperate with Qualcomm to supply necessary components.

This lines up with recent reports from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Barclays analysts, Bloomberg, and others who expect Apple to release an iPhone with both Face ID and under-display fingerprint authentication in 2020 or 2021.

There are currently two types of under-display fingerprint sensors, including optical and ultrasonic. Optical variants rely on light from a smartphone’s display to create a 2D image of a fingerprint, while ultrasonic variants make use of high-frequency sound to generate a 3D image of a fingerprint.

Qualcomm already supplies ultrasonic fingerprint sensors for Samsung’s Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note10 smartphones, but iPhones could use an even more advanced version of the technology by time 2020 or 2021 rolls around.

…Qualcomm today at its Snapdragon Tech Summit in Hawaii unveiled a 30x20mm in-display fingerprint sensor for smartphones, said to be 17x larger than the one in the Galaxy S10.

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Sounds like a lock for the under-display fingerprint then; especially as 3D Touch is gone, so things are less complicated under the display. As well as Face ID.
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Google fired us for organizing. We’re fighting back • Medium

Google Walkout For Real Change:

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Other topics, like Google’s work with Customs and Border Protection, the decision to place an anti-LGBTQ and anti-immigrant think tank leader on the company’s AI Ethics council, developing drone technology for the U.S. Department of Defense, the unequal and unethical treatment of harassment and discrimination on YouTube, a secret project to work with the Chinese government to launch a censored search engine in China, and the hiring of one of the architects of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, extend far beyond, impacting not just our workplace, but also Google’s users and customers, and indeed the entire world.

So we spoke up, and how did they respond? Google didn’t respond by honoring its values, or abiding by the law. It responded like a large corporation more interested in revenue growth than in ensuring worker rights and ethical conduct. Last week, Google fired us for engaging in protected labor organizing.

We’ve all been subjected to interrogations, some of us for hours, and all of us had our reputations smeared in the press as Google spread rumors that we were rule-breaking troublemakers who “leaked” sensitive information. This is flatly untrue, and in the privacy of our meetings with HR and Google’s internal investigations team, the company acknowledged this. A careful reading of their statements will only confirm this.

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The group of four (two men, two women) are urging people in technology companies – especially the big ones – to create unions in their workplaces. That’s going to create some dramatic corporate culture clashes. But it also finally, definitely marks the passing of the time when people joined Google to get rich.
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The Alphabet of Google A and Google B • Asymco

Horace Dediu, back in August 2015, when Google became (part of) Alphabet:

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For the last few years, I’ve been proposing that the way to conceptualize Google is as two separate entities: Google A and Google B.

Roughly speaking Google A was the R&D organization and Google B was SG&A [sales, general and administrative expenses]. You can find the operating expenses of running each of these organizations in the company’s income statement.  In the last quarter R&D was about $2.8 billion and SG&A was about $3.5bn. The two entities are further distinguished as follows:

• Google A was led by Eric Schmidt and Larry Page and Google B was led by persons unknown, but mostly represented by the [then] “Chief Business Officer” Omid Kordestani.
• Google A spends money. Google B collects money.
• Google B sends a check to Google A while Google A sends data to Google B (which then sells it on to advertisers and collects money).
• Google A communicates frequently with optimism and enthusiasm about the future. Google B remains quiet.
• Google A solves problems of humanity, Google B solves problems for advertisers.
• Google A has users, Google B has customers (to whom it sells users.)

In summary, Google A is altruistic, Google B is pragmatic. Google A engages in research, Google B engages in commerce. Google A operates in a structure similar to a Bell Labs for the good of humanity,  Google B operates in a structure similar to AT&T and collects monopoly rents but without any government oversight.

This was an effective construct for analysis which explained to me much of how Google operated and how it made decisions. So what do we make of Google’s new Alphabet?

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Pretty much everyone who has an opinion is of the opinion that Alphabet, as a structure, isn’t long for this world. “Long” probably meaning four to five years tops.
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5G captured 5% of the global premium market in Q3 2019 • Counterpoint Research

Varun Mishra:

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According to Counterpoint Research Market Pulse service, the global premium market sell-through declined 7% YoY. The contribution of 5G within the price segment was 5% during the quarter. Samsung led the 5G segment with 74% of the market share followed by LG (11%) and Vivo (5%). This was driven by the early adoption of 5G in South Korea, followed by North America and China. The Samsung Galaxy S10 5G was the top-selling model, capturing over one-third of the total sales of all 5G devices.

All major OEMs in the premium segment now have 5G-capable devices, except Apple. Still, Apple alone captured over half of the premium market in Q3 2019. Apple grew 1% YoY increasing its market share from 48% a year back to 52% during the quarter. This was driven by both the initial, strong demand for the iPhone 11, as well as the continued success of the iPhone XR. iPhone XR was the top-selling model globally in the premium segment.

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5G is a terrific way to keep pushing up prices – though the top segment (over $1,000) shrank in the quarter compared to 2018. By my calculations, even though the number sold fell by 7%, the value of the whole premium segment fell by just 2% because there was a 50% rise in the value of the ~$900 segment. LG in particular must be relieved: 5G might be its mobile division’s temporary saviour.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1203: why ‘cancel culture’ is a hit, fake news keeps on thriving, Egypt tries to kill the tuk-tuk, another Google messaging app!, and more


Instagram says it’s going to try to enforce its minimum age limit of 13 – for new users. Let’s see how that goes. CC-licensed photo by Stock Catalog 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 to be mocked. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Instagram to collect ages in leap for youth safety, alcohol ads • Reuters

Paresh Dave:

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Facebook Inc’s Instagram said it will require birthdates from all new users starting on Wednesday, expanding the audience for ads for alcohol and other age-restricted products while offering new safety measures for younger users.

Until now, Instagram except for limited circumstances has required its 1 billion users only to say they are at least 13 years old.

Instagram said advertisers were not the driving force for the new requirement. Gambling and birth control are among other types of ads restricted to older audiences by Instagram policies and laws. 

The policy change could help stave off passage of costly child safety and data privacy regulations as lawmakers and family safety groups in the United States, Britain and elsewhere criticize the app for exposing children to inappropriate material.

The birthdate requirement is the latest step Instagram has taken to move away from longstanding principles such as anonymity that had distinguished it from Facebook’s namesake app.

“Understanding how old people are is quite important to the work we’re doing, not only to create age-appropriate experiences but to live up to our longstanding rule to not allow access to young people,

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Maybe it’s something to do with all those lawsuits heading its way, and the furore over children under 13 using it? The admission that the “experiences” haven’t been “age-appropriate” is subtle, but there it is. And of course the age-appropriateness is a forced export from the US: what if we judge that it should be 14 or 16 in the UK, rather as our drinking age is lower? Do we get a say?
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Five reasons why people love cancel culture • Psychology Today

Rob Henderson:

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“Cancel culture” describes how large groups of people, often on social media, target those who have committed some kind of moral violation. They are often cast out of their social and professional circles. Both the term “cancel culture” and the activity itself are becoming more popular. Especially among young people. 

Here are 5 reasons why cancel culture is so effective. 

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They’ll feel quite self-evident in retrospect – raises (your) social status, reduces enemies’ social status, strengthens social bonds, makes enemies show themselves, has fast payback. But seeing it written down brings it into focus.
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Egyptian government seeks to do away with popular tuk-tuks • Associated Press

Isabel Debre and Mohamad Salah:

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Motorized rickshaws known as tuk-tuks have ruled the streets of Cairo’s slums for the past two decades, squeezing through dusty alleys, dodging trash bins and fruit stands, blaring rhythmic electro-pop and navigating the city’s chaos to haul millions of Egyptians home every day.

Now the government is taking its most ambitious stand yet again against the polluting three-wheeled vehicles: in a push to modernize the country’s neglected transport system, it plans to replace tuk-tuks with clean-running minivans.

“This is for the health and safety of all Egyptians,” said Khaled el-Qassim, the spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Local Development, which is spearheading the initiative. “We’re creating a more beautiful image of our country.”

The state had long turned a blind eye as tuk-tuks became part of the fabric of life in Cairo’s vast informal settlements.

The new plan requires that drivers sell their tuk-tuks for scrap and take loans to buy new minivans — or risk fines and even prosecution. It has raised fears that the poorest Egyptians, already squeezed by economic austerity measures, will shoulder the bulk of the burden.

“I’d rather work as a thief than pay for this minivan,” said Ehab Sobhy, a 47-year-old who earns 130 pounds, about $8, a day plying the densely-packed district of Shobra in his weathered black-and-yellow tuk-tuk, sporting a decorative Islamic sticker in place of a license.

“If they take this away … how is my family going to eat,” asked Sobhy. Even with a government loan, he said he wouldn’t be able to afford the 90,000 pounds he estimates he’d need for the new minivan.

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The minivans are gas-powered, so it’s hardly a triumph for the environment either. Even if it succeeds, the Egyptian government is probably going to lose here.
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Google Photos launches private messaging for quickly sharing photos • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Google is finally acknowledging that photos nowadays are as much about communication as they are form of memory collection. For years, the only way to share photos through the company’s otherwise fantastic Google Photos service has been to create a cumbersome shared album. But starting Tuesday, Google has launched a revamped share option that’s effectively a private messaging feature built into the Google Photos iOS and Android mobile and website.

Now, when you want to share a photo, you no longer have to create an entire album. You can send a one-off message to a friend, so long as they also have Google Photos installed, that contains a photo, just as you would on Instagram, Snapchat, SMS, or any other chat app.

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This is great, because nobody has any means of sending a photo to someone else they know by any method, and Google doesn’t already have a gazillion chat apps. (Pls run this past the fact-checkers.)
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How fake news is still fooling Facebook’s fact-checking systems • OneZero

Will Oremus:

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the good news is that Facebook’s systems are having at least some effect, the bad news is that they’re far from foolproof. And unless Facebook continually improves them, propagandists will likely only get better at finding ways around them.

The Pelosi story [claiming, falsely, she has diverted $2.4bn from US social security to Trump’s impeachment] offers one instructive example. It has been widely debunked, including by at least two of Facebook’s official fact-checking partners, Politifact and FactCheck.org. Yet, when you go to post the article link to Facebook, the platform offers no warning, no hint that it might be bogus. Likewise, when it appears in your News Feed, nothing indicates that it’s false.

Facebook couldn’t say definitively why one of the most viral political articles on its platform remained untouched by its fact-checking warnings months after it was published, and even for weeks after Avaaz’s study called attention to it. But there are at least two possible culprits.

First, it appears that Politifact’s fact check was applied in Facebook’s system to a different version of the false Pelosi claim, one that appeared in the form of a photo with overlaid text, rather than an article link. Second, the article version may have skirted a fact check in part because the outlet that published it — PotatriotsUnite.com — identifies as a “satire” site, a label that experts say has become a popular fig leaf for misinformation merchants. That’s a label you’ll see if you click the link in your News Feed, and stop to pay attention to the site’s tagline, URL, or “About” page, rather than simply reacting to the headline and story itself, as so many people do. (There is also a watermark on the image accompanying the story that includes the word “satire,” though it’s so tiny as to be barely legible.)

Satire presents a quandary for Facebook’s fact-checkers: Slap earnest warning labels on every Onion story and suppress users’ ability to share it, and you essentially eradicate political humor from the platform, while insulting the intelligence of millions of Onion fans who are in on the joke. But what about self-described “satire” sites whose headlines seem calculated to mislead and inflame rather than amuse?

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Though you have to wonder about anyone who could believe it would cost $2.4bn to impeach Trump.
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Inside Larry Page’s turbulent Kitty Hawk: returned deposits, battery fires and a Boeing shakeup • Forbes

Jeremy Bogaisky:

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In 2017, success seemed to be just around the corner for Kitty Hawk, the secretive flying-car company that’s bankrolled by Google cofounder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford AI and robotics whiz who had launched Google’s self-driving car unit. Kitty Hawk had just shown off a prototype of the Flyer, a single-seat, battery-powered aircraft intended to be a low-altitude fun machine for use over water, like a jet ski on rotors, with handling that would make flying as easy as driving. “I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight,” Page said at the time. The startup promised to put the Flyer in eager buyers’ hands by the end of the year.

Late that year the Mountain View, California-based company also began flight-testing a more ambitious project in New Zealand: a two-seat electric self-flying taxi called Cora that Kitty Hawk says will enable city dwellers to soar over gridlocked streets. “Just imagine traveling at 80 miles an hour in a straight line at any time of day without ever having to stop,” Thrun told the Guardian a few months after Cora was unveiled. “It would be transformational to almost every person I know.”

Two years later, however, Kitty Hawk’s promise to bring personal flying to the masses has failed to take wing yet amid technical problems and safety issues with Flyer and unresolved questions about its practical use, according to four former Kitty Hawk employees who were among six who spoke to Forbes on the condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements. At the same time, the company may have given up control of Cora, sources suggest. [This was subsequently confirmed.]

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Maybe Larry doesn’t have the Midas touch after all. Still, he’ll have more time to devote to this now.
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Internet Society CEO: Most people don’t care about the .org sell-off – and nothing short of a court order will stop it • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:

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El Reg has quizzed Andrew Sullivan, the president and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC), about his organistion’s decision to sell the non-profit .org registry to private equity outfit Ethos Capital.

We have previously covered the controversy over the proposed sale, the continued failure of ISOC and DNS overseer ICANN to answer detailed questions, and efforts by both to push the deal forward even while opposition to it grows.

Your correspondant asked Sullivan whether he expected the amount of criticism from the internet community that has erupted in recent days.

“I did expect some people to be unhappy with the decision, I expected some pushback,” he told The Register, adding: “But the level of pushback has been very strong.”

He was aware, he says, that people would not like two key aspects of the decision: the move from a non-profit model to a for-profit one; and the lack of consultation. He had explanations ready for both: “The registry business is still a business, and this represented a really big opportunity, and one that is good for PIR [Public Interest Registry].”

As for the lack of consultation: “We didn’t go looking for this. If we had done that [consulted publicly about the sale .org], the opportunity would have been lost. If we had done it in public, it would have created a lot of uncertainty without any benefit.”

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Not answered: why did they think it was important to sell off .org? As McCarthy – who has followed the internet domain market for years (he tracked down and wrote about the shenanigans behind the ownership of sex.com) – points out, there’s no way longstanding .org sites are going to move if the price goes up. Yet they’re the ones least likely to be able to pay. It’s a shockingly bad decision.
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The missing link between spreadsheets and data visualization • RAWGraphs

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First, insert your data into RAWGraphs

As simple as a copy-paste.

RAWGraphs works with delimiter-separated values (i.e. csv and tsv files) as well as with copied-and-pasted texts from other applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheets, TextEdit, …). It also works with CORS-enabled endpoints (APIs).

No worries, your data is safe.

Even though RAWGraphs is a web app, the data you insert will be processed only by the web browser. No server-side operations or storages are performed, no one will see, touch or copy your data!

Second, choose from a wide range of visual models.

Conventional and unconventional layouts.

We designed and developed RAWGraphs with designers and vis geeks in mind. That’s why we focused on providing charts that are not easy to produce with other tools. But don’t worry, you can also find bar charts and pies! Something missing? See how easy is to build your own model.

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I feel like I’ve been seeing “finally! Visualise your spreadsheet data!” for the past 10 years at least. They’re always nice, but not as convenient as your spreadsheet software. But this is open source, so maybe we’ll find a way to make it last. Generates vectors or PNGs, so that’s promising.
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The one-traffic-light town with some of the fastest internet in the US • The New Yorker

Sue Halpern:

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McKee, an Appalachian town of about twelve hundred tucked into the Pigeon Roost Creek valley, is the seat of Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the country. There’s a sit-down restaurant, Opal’s, that serves the weekday breakfast-and-lunch crowd, one traffic light, a library, a few health clinics, eight churches, a Dairy Queen, a pair of dollar stores, and some of the fastest Internet in the United States. Subscribers to Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), which covers all of Jackson County and the adjacent Owsley County, can get speeds of up to one gigabit per second, and the coöperative is planning to upgrade the system to ten gigabits. (By contrast, where I live, in the mountains above Lake Champlain, we are lucky to get three megabytes.) For nearly fifteen million Americans living in sparsely populated communities, there is no broadband Internet service at all. “The cost of infrastructure simply doesn’t change,” Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, told me. “It’s no different in a rural area than in Washington, D.C. But we’ve got thousands of people in a square mile to spread the cost among. You just don’t in rural areas.”

Keith Gabbard, the CEO of PRTC, had the audacious idea of wiring every home and business in Jackson and Owsley Counties with high-speed fibre-optic cable. Gabbard, who is in his sixties, is deceptively easygoing, with a honeyed drawl and a geographically misplaced affection for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up in McKee and attended Eastern Kentucky University, thirty-five miles down Route 421; he lives with his wife, a retired social worker, in a house next door to the one in which he grew up. “I’ve spent my whole life here,” he said. “I’m used to people leaving for college and never coming back. The ones who didn’t go to college stayed. But the best and the brightest have often left because they felt like they didn’t have a choice.”

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Lovely piece. But the reality of how a fast connection changes the possibilities is enormously underappreciated: it has value that goes beyond simple money. (I speak as someone who lives in a rural area where we used to be lucky to get 3Mbps; then fibre arrived some months back, and everything is possible.)
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Worldwide loudspeaker market under pressure, but with pockets of growth • Futuresource Consulting

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The consumer loudspeaker market is facing challenges from shifting listening habits, as consumers look beyond traditional audio products, fixing their sights on smart speakers and headphones. However, the category is showing some resilience, and recent changes in loudspeaker preferences means trade value is faring better than volume, according to a new worldwide loudspeaker report from Futuresource Consulting.

Comprising bookshelf speakers, floor standing speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, home theatre speakers and computer speakers, the consumer loudspeaker market achieved 45 million shipments worldwide in 2018, with a trade value of $2.8bn. That equates to a 12% year-on-year decrease in units and a 5% drop in value.

“The growth in streaming services is transforming the relationship that people have with music,” says Guy Hammett, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “It’s altering audio consumption habits and we’re seeing a rapid change in the mix of devices people wish to buy and own. Combine this with trends towards convenience, simplicity, fewer and smaller speakers and less cabling, and there are clear challenges ahead for the traditional loudspeaker market. Just three years ago, the value of the wireless speaker market was less than double that of loudspeakers. Now it’s nearly three times the value.”

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That’s a hell of a flip to wireless. The triumph of Bluetooth.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1202: Facebook’s chatbot hit, Ring and the police, tracking MPs’ extra income, Escobar’s folding phone (really), and more


Sundar Pichai is on top of Google – and now of its holding company Alphabet too. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Cukier on Flickr.

A selection of 9 links for you. Try a search! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A letter from Larry and Sergey • Google Blog

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Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about! 

Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day. He’s worked closely with us for 15 years, through the formation of Alphabet, as CEO of Google, and a member of the Alphabet Board of Directors. He shares our confidence in the value of the Alphabet structure, and the ability it provides us to tackle big challenges through technology. There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.

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TL;DR: Sundar Pichai replaces Larry Page at the top of the company that owns Google. My hot take on this is: Alphabet is going to turn back into Google, the battleship around which the other businesses sail in more or less close formation. I don’t see Pichai finding it too much of a hassle running both Alphabet and Google.

Where does Page go? More to the point, where has he been the past few years? In September 2018 Bloomberg asked “Where’s Larry?” and didn’t have an answer. Sergey Brin is also going to stop being “President”, and the role won’t be filled. But they’ll keep their shares: unaccountable power at one of the biggest, more powerful companies in the world.
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Facebook gives workers a chatbot to appease that prying uncle • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac:

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Some Facebook employees recently told their managers that they were concerned about answering difficult questions about their workplace from friends and family over the holidays.

What if Mom or Dad accused the social network of destroying democracy? Or what if they said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was collecting their online data at the expense of privacy?

So just before Thanksgiving, Facebook rolled out something to help its workers: a chatbot that would teach them official company answers for dealing with such thorny questions.

If a relative asked how Facebook handled hate speech, for example, the chatbot — which is a simple piece of software that uses artificial intelligence to carry on a conversation — would instruct the employee to answer with these points:

• Facebook consults with experts on the matter.

• It has hired more moderators to police its content.

• It is working on A.I. to spot hate speech.

• Regulation is important for addressing the issue.

It would also suggest citing statistics from a Facebook report about how the company enforces its standards.

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Just in case your family didn’t think that you had been absorbed into a cult.
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Liam Bot • Glitch

:

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The ‘Liam Bot’ teaches Facebook employees what to say if friends or family ask difficult questions over the holidays. We hope it’s helpful!

Uncle: When are you planning on having kids?

🤖: Some problems lend themselves more easily to A.I. solutions than others.

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Reload for all the answers to those difficult, difficult questions. (It would be nice to be able to pose your own questions, but I guess you can’t have everything.)
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Building a more honest internet • Columbia Journalism Review

Ethan Zuckerman:

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Thirty years after the invention of the World Wide Web, it’s increasingly clear that there are significant flaws in the global model. Shoshana Zuboff, a scholar and activist, calls this model “surveillance capitalism”; it’s a system in which users’ online movements and actions are tracked and that information is sold to advertisers. The more time people spend online, the more money companies can make, so our attention is incessantly pulled to digital screens to be monitored and monetized.

Facebook and other companies have pioneered sophisticated methods of data collection that allow ads to be precisely targeted to individual people’s consumer habits and preferences. And this model has had an unintended side effect: it has turned social-media networks into incredibly popular—some say addictive—sources of unregulated information that are easily weaponized. Bad-faith actors, from politically motivated individuals to for-profit propaganda mills to the Russian government, can easily harness social-media platforms to spread information that is dangerous and false. Disinformation is now widespread across every major social-media platform.

In response to the vulnerabilities and ill effects associated with large-scale social media, movements like Time Well Spent seek to realign tech industry executives and investors in support of what they call “humane tech.” Yes, technology should act in the service of humanity, not as an existential threat to it. But in the face of such a large problem, don’t we need something more creative, more ambitious? That is, something like radio? Radio was the first public service media, one that still thrives today. A new movement toward public service digital media may be what we need to counter the excesses and failures of today’s internet.

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(Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.)
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Ring let police view map of video doorbell installations for over a year • CNet

Alfred Ng:

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For more than a year, police departments partnered with Amazon’s Ring unit had access to a map showing where its video doorbells were installed, down to the street, public documents revealed. So while Ring said it didn’t provide police with addresses for the devices, a feature in the map tool let them get extremely close. The feature was removed in July.

Public documents from the Rolling Meadows Police Department in Illinois, obtained by privacy researcher Shreyas Gandlur and reviewed by CNET, revealed that police had access to a heat map that showed the concentration of Ring cameras in a neighborhood.

In its default state, the heat map showed police where Ring cameras are concentrated: the darker the shade, the more the cameras. But when zoomed in, it would show light circles around individual locations, essentially outing Ring owners to police. Police could also type in specific addresses to see the cameras in the surrounding area.

In a statement, Ring denied that its heat map tool gave exact locations of its users.

“As previously stated, our video request feature does not give police access to the locations of devices. Ring is constantly working to improve our products and services and, earlier this year, we updated the video request process to no longer include any device density information,” the company said.

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As heat maps go, it gave you a pretty good idea where the devices were.
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UK MPs’ additional income • Lobo

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The annual salary for an MP in the United Kingdom is £79,468. But MPs can earn additional income by, for example, giving speeches, writing articles and advising companies. They must declare these earnings, but not in a format that enables easy comparison across MPs. So, we’ve written some code which converts all their payment declarations into a common format. All £8.4 million of them. Here’s what we found.

Between 8th June 2017 and 31st October 2019 (the most recent Parliament), the average MP earned £12,879. That’s roughly £5,330 every 12 months, earned mostly through second jobs (with a fixed, regular salary).  But also through other ad-hoc tasks like giving speeches. We can’t see income from rental properties or financial assets.

Most MPs have not declared any additional earnings. This means that earnings are concentrated: 15 MPs account for over 50% of total earnings. Boris Johnson alone earned almost 10% of the total: nearly £800,000 or £27,440 a month. That was mostly earned through giving speeches. All 15 top-earners are men.

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Only one of those 15 isn’t a Conservative. Would love to see this for previous Parliaments. And the gender gap is remarkable.
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Climate change is forcing one person from their home every two seconds, Oxfam says • CNN

Jack Guy, CNN:

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People are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by floods, cyclones and wildfires than volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and three times more likely than by conflict, according to the report released Monday,

The issue is one of a raft of topics set to be discussed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 25, which starts on Monday in Madrid.

Oxfam is calling on the international community to do more to fund recovery programs for poorer countries affected by the climate emergency, which is set to intensify as extreme weather events are projected to increase in both severity and frequency.

Low- and lower-middle income nations, such as India, are more than four times more likely to be affected by climate-fueled displacement than high-income countries like Spain and the US, according to the report.

Geography also plays a role, with about 80% of those displaced living in Asia.

Small island developing states (SIDS), such as Cuba, Dominica and Tuvalu, are particularly badly affected, making up seven of the top 10 countries with the highest rates of displacement from extreme weather disasters between 2008 and 2018.

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I’d really like to know what governments’ detailed reports about food production, shortages and mass migration look like. A question I’ve seriously been wondering about is in which decade of this century governments will introduce rationing.
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Pablo Escobar’s brother unveils folding smartphone with help of hot models • TMZ

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Pablo Escobar’s brother knows how to move merchandise — show off the goods … and make sure to toss in a little extra eye candy. Or a lot.

The notorious Colombian kingpin’s bro, Roberto, is adding to his tech portfolio by unveiling one of the world’s first foldable smartphones. Based on the ad … sexy women in lingerie will especially enjoy using it.

According to his company, Escobar Inc., the flexible screen Android easily folds out into a 7.8in screen tablet … and comes with all the top-of-the-line bells and whistles.

Its name – the Escobar Fold 1. Retail price – $349. The company says they’ll sell out quickly, because it’s only producing 100,000 units to start … so get ’em while they’re hot.

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First, I don’t think the quality’s going to be up there – this has surely come from a Chinese knockoff company, especially at that price.

Second, what a classic celebrity magazine story: don’t care about interrogating the tech, just look at the name!

Third, I don’t think you’d really want to make a complaint to customer service. “What did you say your address was? Ah, we’ll send someone round to deal with.. the problem.” (Thanks Jim C for the link.)
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Why the paper on the CRISPR babies stayed secret for so long • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:

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More than a year after the birth in China of twin girls known as Lulu and Nana, the world’s first gene-edited babies, the affair is still shrouded in secrecy. US researchers and universities have given incomplete or equivocal accounts of their involvement with He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist who used CRISPR to make changes to the girls’ DNA while they were still embryos. In China, if you distribute a news story to WeChat asking what happened to the twins, state censors will issue a takedown notice.

No reason is given. No appeal is possible.

The silence hasn’t served only to conceal what really happened to the girls. It is hiding the scientific facts themselves. Starting late last year, manuscripts written by He describing the creation of the twins were considered for publication by at least two supremely influential journals: Nature and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neither has published his work.

The reason isn’t only that He’s project trampled ethics rules. Another major obstacle to a full account is that He has not been seen or heard from for months. He didn’t make it to his home village for Chinese New Year in February, his father told us. His lab and data, according to one insider, were seized by Chinese authorities last December, and his original team of 10 has scattered to the four winds. An American collaborator, Michael Deem of Rice University, is the subject of an investigation by that institution; it has come to no public conclusion or disclosed any findings. So there may be nobody who can answer questions, expand upon the data, or carry out follow-up experiments, as scientific review by a journal often demands.

Although the reaction to the CRISPR babies was overwhelmingly negative, the future that the unpublished manuscripts unveil—a future of genetically engineered humans—is coming faster than many people realize. Genome-writing techniques are improving at a blazing pace. Select researchers remain keen to employ them in human embryos, tempted by the chance to prevent disease or improve heredity. The fear is they will do it again in secrecy, in some other country with lax oversight, and repeat He’s mistakes.

«

Hang on – a country that has access to CRISPR and high-quality laboratories and yet has lax oversight? Where is it, Jurassic World? But at least the article (3,000+ wds) goes into the detail of the paper, and why it hasn’t been published: the gene-deleting work with CRISPR might have gone wrong.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.1201: Wikipedia + Wayback = better, Greenland’s melt worsens, Facebook’s strange way with facts, and more


Amazingly, this company is – in a roundabout way – responsible for a lot of the image compression you see online. CC-licensed photo by Bertrand Duperrin 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Internet Archive is making Wikipedia more reliable • WIRED

Klint Finley:

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The reason people rely on Wikipedia, despite its imperfections, is that every claim is supposed to have citations. Any sentence that isn’t backed up with a credible source risks being slapped with the dreaded “citation needed” label. Anyone can check out those citations to learn more about a subject, or verify that those sources actually say what a particular Wikipedia entry claims they do—that is, if you can find those sources.

It’s easy enough when the sources are online. But many Wikipedia articles rely on good old-fashioned books. The entry on Martin Luther King Jr., for example, cites 66 different books. Until recently, if you wanted to verify that those books say what the article says they say, or if you just wanted to read the cited material, you’d need to track down a copy of the book.

Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Internet Archive, you can click the name of the book and see a two-page preview of the cited work, so long as the citation specifies a page number. You can also borrow a digital copy of the book, so long as no else has checked it out, for two weeks—much the same way you’d borrow a book from your local library. (Some groups of authors and publishers have challenged the archive’s practice of allowing users to borrow unauthorized scanned books. The Internet Archive says it seeks to widen access to books in “balanced and respectful ways.”)

So far the Internet Archive has turned 130,000 references in Wikipedia entries in various languages into direct links to 50,000 books that the organization has scanned and made available to the public. The organization eventually hopes to allow users to view and borrow every book cited by Wikipedia, with the ultimate goal being to digitize every book ever published.

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Start enough projects, and you’ll eventually have one that’s world-beating. But these two are both world-beating.
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Greenland melt involves massive waterfalls encased in ice, raising fears about sea level rise • The Washington Post

Andrew Freedman:

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Scientists are keenly interested in how meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet — the largest contributor to global sea level rise — acts to speed up the movement of ice toward the sea by lubricating the underside of the ice surface. The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year. This means tweaks may be needed to the computer models used to predict sea level rise from Greenland.

This is the first study to show that partial lake drainage can occur through cracks in the ice, rather than overtopping or other mechanisms, which was previously the assumption. This means even more water is reaching the base of the ice sheet than previously thought.

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We are very, very screwed.
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Coal power becoming ‘uninsurable’ as firms refuse cover • The Guardian

Julia Kollewe:

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The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels, according to a new report.

The report, which rates the world’s 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declares that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance.

Ten firms moved to restrict the insurance cover they offer to companies that build or operate coal power plants in 2019, taking the global total to 17, said the Unfriend Coal campaign, which includes 13 environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Client Earth and Urgewald, a German NGO. The report will be launched at an insurance and climate risk conference in London on Monday, as the UN climate summit gets underway in Madrid.

The first insurers to exit coal policies were all European, but since March, two US insurers – Chubb and Axis Capital – and the Australian firms QBE and Suncorp have pledged to stop or restrict insurance for coal projects.

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The rise of solar power is jeopardising the west Australia energy grid, and it’s a lesson for all of Australia • ABC News

Daniel Mercer:

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While much of the debate about the intersection of climate and energy policy is focused on the eastern states — and its national electricity market (NEM) — western Australia (WA) is hurtling towards a tipping point.

At heart of the state’s problem is its isolation.

Unlike states such as South Australia, which has even higher levels of renewable energy, WA cannot rely on any other markets to prop it up during times of disruption to supply or demand.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs WA’s wholesale electricity market (WEM), said the islanded nature of the grid in WA made it particularly exposed to the technical challenges posed by solar.

AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said these challenges tended to be most acute when high levels of solar output coincided with low levels of demand — typically on mild, sunny days in spring or autumn when people were not using air conditioners.

On those days, excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system, pushing the amount of power needed from the grid to increasingly low levels.

Ms Zibelman said WA’s isolation amplified this trend because the relative concentration of its solar resources meant fluctuations in supply caused by the weather had an outsized effect.

The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system.

The problem was coal-fired plants were not designed to be quickly ramped up or down in such a way, meaning they were ill-equipped to respond to sudden fluctuations in solar production.

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Filed under “problems you didn’t expect to have”.
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I ditched Google for DuckDuckGo. Here’s why you should too • WIRED

James Temperton:

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It all started with a realization: Most the things I search for are easy to find. Did I really need the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithms of Google to assist me? Probably not. So I made a simple change: I opened up Firefox on my Android phone and switched Google search for DuckDuckGo. As a result, I’ve had a fairly tedious but important revelation: I search for really obvious stuff. Google’s own data backs this up. Its annual round-up of the most searched-for terms is basically a list of names and events: World Cup, Avicii, Mac Miller, Stan Lee, Black Panther, Megan Markle. The list goes on. And I don’t need to buy into Google’s leviathan network of privacy-invading trackers to find out what Black Panther is and when I can go and see it at my local cinema.

While I continue to use Google at work (more out of necessity, as my employer runs on G-Suite), on my phone I’m all about DuckDuckGo. I had, based on zero evidence, convinced myself that finding things on the internet was hard and, inevitably, involved a fair amount of tracking. After two years of not being tracked and targeted, I have slowly come to realize that this is nonsense.

DuckDuckGo works in broadly the same way as any other search engine, Google included. It combines data from hundreds of sources, including Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and Bing, with its own web crawler to surface the most relevant results. Google does exactly the same, albeit on a somewhat larger scale. The key difference: DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or user information.

Billed as the search engine that doesn’t track you, DuckDuckGo processes around 1.5 billion searches every month. Google, for contrast, processes around 3.5 billion searches per day. It’s hardly a fair fight, but DuckDuckGo is growing. In 2012 it averaged just 45 million searches per month.

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You can see the growth in DuckDuckGo’s traffic directly. Though I don’t get why he says he continues to use Google at work “more out of necessity”. If search isn’t special on his phone, why on his desktop? Also: DDG’s traffic graph seems to be fractal – the same at every magnification.
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Huawei manages to make smartphones without American chips • WSJ

Asa Fitch and Dan Strumpf:

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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees export licenses, last month said U.S.-based chip makers were being granted licenses to resume some other deliveries. The department has received nearly 300 license applications, he said.

Meanwhile, Huawei has made significant strides in shedding its dependence on parts from U.S. companies. (At issue are chips from U.S.-based companies, not those necessarily made in America; many U.S. chip companies make their semiconductors abroad.)

Huawei long relied on suppliers like Qorvo Inc., the North Carolina maker of chips that are used to connect smartphones with cell towers, and Skyworks Solutions Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based company that makes similar chips. It also used parts from Broadcom Inc., the San Jose-based maker of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, and Cirrus Logic Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that makes chips for producing sound.

While Huawei hasn’t stopped using American chips entirely, it has reduced its reliance on U.S. suppliers or eliminated U.S. chips in phones launched since May, including the company’s Y9 Prime and Mate smartphones, according to Fomalhaut’s teardown analysis. Similar inspections by iFixit and Tech Insights Inc., two other firms that take apart phones to inspect components, have come to similar conclusions.

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Impressive. How’s it doing on not using Google software, though?
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How a nude ‘Playboy’ photo has been a mainstay in testing tech for decades • Medium

Corinne Purtill:

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“Once upon a time, I was the centerfold of Playboy,” says the former model, who now goes by the name Lena Forsen, in the film’s final moments. “But I retired from modeling a long time ago. It’s time I retired from tech, too.”

At the peak of Lena’s popularity, the strongest argument in favor of using the image in research was that so many others had done the same. Stripped from its original context, the Lena image was simply a recognizable pattern of pixels that could be manipulated, compressed, and then compared with the results of other compressions of the same image.

“At the height, it was used in everything from journal papers to textbooks,” said Deanna Needell, a mathematics professor at UCLA. “For a long time, I didn’t attend a single conference in image processing where she didn’t appear in someone’s talk. And now it is still, sadly, not uncommon.” To demonstrate that Lena wasn’t the only available face with the right amount of texture and shading, Needell and a colleague used a photograph of the model Fabio Lanzoni in a 2013 paper on image reconstruction.

The real-life implications of a ’70s-era Playboy centerfold being presented as a neutral image was apparent as recently as 2014. Maddie Zug, then a high school junior, was one of a handful of girls in a mostly male artificial intelligence class told to use the Lena image in a coding class assignment.

The teacher emphatically instructed the class not to search for the full image on Google, which of course everyone promptly did. Instantly, the awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys became the intensely awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys snorting and laughing over a picture of a naked lady.

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The 1970s have so much to answer for. The reason why that photo was used? Men brought Playboy to work.
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How a dog called Peter sparked Malta’s political crisis • The Guardian

Juliette Garside:

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A week of arrests and resignations, of drama and fury unlike anything Malta has seen in generations, might not have happened but for the keen nose of a police sniffer dog called Peter.

On Wednesday 13 November, the spaniel was screening passengers when he alerted his handlers to the smell of cash. Lots of it.

Customs reportedly found €210,000 (£178,000) in the belongings of a man preparing to board a flight to Istanbul.

The economic crimes unit were called and a day later, the incident led to the arrest of a taxi driver, Melvin Theuma.

Under questioning by police, Theuma made the sensational claim that he had acted as intermediary in the contract killing of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Now, as a consequence of Theuma’s claims, the EU’s smallest state is in the throes of its biggest political convulsion since the 1960s, when the former British colony became an independent country.

At the heart of it all is the murder of Caruana Galizia, who died two years ago when a bomb planted under the seat of her rental car was detonated near her home in the village of Bidnija.

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Dogs do not lie. This is why they are good. Malta (where I lived for a while as a child) has really gone to all kinds of hell.
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Facebook issues corrective label on user’s post under new Singapore fake news law • Reuters

Fathin Ungku and John Geddie:

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Facebook said on Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.

“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.

The correction label was embedded at the bottom of the original post without any alterations to the text.

The Singapore government said on Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a Nov. 23 post which contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistleblower and election rigging.

Singapore, which is expected to call a general elections within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.

Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused and authorities said he is now under investigation.

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Got that? Now read on.
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Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker quits over political ad exemption • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker has quit over the social network’s refusal to allow them to highlight political lies as being false.

The online newspaper Nu.nl had been Facebook’s only factchecking partner in the Netherlands since Leiden University dropped out of the programme last year. The website had sole responsibility for marking Facebook and Instagram news content for Dutch users as being false or misleading, in order to help power the social network’s tools that suppress distribution of misinformation.

According to an NPO 3 interview with Nu.nl’s editor-in-chief, Gert-Jaap Hoekman, the relationship ended over Facebook’s decision to ban it from checking content and adverts posted by politicians. “What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” Hoekman asked.

The organisation has had an uncomfortable relationship with Facebook since May, when Nu.nl labelled an advert from a Dutch politician as “unsubstantiated” – a move that was reversed by Facebook, which enforced its rules against factchecking politicians. But the “final straw”, according to the NPO programme, was when Facebook again pushed the factcheckers to reverse rulings against the far-right Freedom party (PVV) and FvD party.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We value the work that Nu.nl has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business.

“Fighting misinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry…”

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…but Facebook doesn’t want to wield any of those prongs.
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Silicon Valley braces for belt-tightening • The Information

Cory Weinberg:

»

Airbnb racked up heavy losses in the first half of this year as it spent heavily on marketing and adding employees. While it recorded a big profit in the third quarter, three people familiar with the matter said, the rest of the year might not make up for the early performance. It isn’t clear whether Airbnb will make cuts, but investors have increasingly been scrutinizing the company’s high overhead expenses as it prepares to go public next year, two of the people said.

Other startups already have taken steps to tighten their belts. Opendoor, a home-buying service valued at $3.8bn, dramatically slowed a planned expansion to new markets this year, and its CEO has talked publicly about trying to be more frugal. Mattress maker Casper, which is likely to go public next year, recently trimmed staff to conserve cash. The changes, described by people close to the companies, haven’t previously been reported.

Rich Boyle, a general partner at venture capital firm Canaan Partners, said startup boards that he sits on have had more discussions in recent months about how to prepare for tougher times, including whether to reduce staff, slow office expansion and invest in fewer new products or services. Those considerations represent a reality check for investors and entrepreneurs accustomed to the last decade of “everything is up and to the right, everything easy to raise,” he said.

The poor IPO performances of Uber and Lyft, and WeWork’s failed attempt to go public, demonstrated that public investors want to see clear pathways to profits. Another factor, he said, was a pullback by SoftBank, which had been plowing money into tech startups since it launched its enormous Vision Fund in 2017.

“There is a sentiment shift,” Boyle said. “We’re entering one of the phases where it’s not growth at all costs.”

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If SoftBank has finally got some accountants who know the meaning of “mark-to-market” and can read a P/L, that’s probably a good thing, even if it means fewer [insert pointless food/pursuit of choice] for startups. Though one also wonders if this is the first cold wind presaging a much colder business climate for everyone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1200: China forces face scans for mobile, fake news and fake viewers, EU looks again at Google, iPhone = iPod?, and more


Reversing cameras are now obligatory on cars in the US: what’s the economic justification? CC-licensed photo by Maria Palma on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. “The right to carry narwhal tusks and fire extinguishers”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users • BBC News

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People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, was due to come into effect on Sunday.

The government says it wants to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”. China already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population. It is a world leader in such technologies, but their intensifying use across the country in recent years has sparked debate.

When signing up for new mobile or mobile data contracts, people are already required to show their national identification card (as required in many countries) and have their photos taken. But now, they will also have their faces scanned in order to verify that they are a genuine match for the ID provided…

…When the regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not make a big deal of it.

But online, hundreds of social media users voiced concerns about the increasing amount of data being held on them.
“People are being more and more strictly monitored,” one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. “What are they [the government] afraid of?”

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Increasingly creepy; but what’s more concerning is that it creates a sort of mission creep for other countries: they can say, when they introduce new biometric requirements, that “it’s not as bad as China’s” – which will be true, but no less intrusive and concerning because of the potential for abuse. (Imagine the Trump administration with a facial recognition database of citizens.)
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Rear Visibility and some unresolved problems for economic analysis • SSRN

Cass Sunstein:

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Rearview cameras produce a set of benefits that are hard to quantify, including increased ease of driving, and those benefits might have been made a part of “breakeven analysis,” accompanying standard cost-benefit analysis.

In addition, rearview cameras significantly improve the experience of driving, and it is plausible to think that in deciding whether to demand them, many vehicle purchasers did not sufficiently anticipate that improvement.

This is a problem of limited foresight; rearview cameras are “experience goods.” A survey conducted in 2019 strongly supports this proposition, finding that about 56% of consumers would demand at least $300 to buy a car without a rearview camera, and that fewer than 6% would demand $50 or less. Almost all of that 6% consists of people who do not own a car with a rearview camera. (The per-person cost is usually under $50.)

These conclusions have general implications for other domains in which regulation has the potential to improve social welfare, even if it fails standard cost-benefit analysis; the defining category involves situations in which people lack experience with a good whose provision might have highly beneficial welfare effects.

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The US has made rear-view cameras obligatory since 2014, and (even) the Trump administration backed that in 2018. Sunstein points out that “it is not easy to identify a market failure to justify the regulation”. The long list of “backover” stories (children killed or injured by reversing vehicles) suggests that’s because it’s difficult to value a child’s life.
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Episode 203: Tech Election – Part 2 • Talking Politics podcast

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We talk about the impact of different online platforms on the general election campaign, from Twitter and Facebook to WhatsApp and TikTok. Is micro-targeting getting more sophisticated? Is viral messaging getting more important? Or are traditional electioneering techniques still driving voter engagement? Plus we ask whether there’s any scope left for a ‘December surprise’. With Charles Arthur, former technology editor of the Guardian, and Jennifer Cobbe, from the Cambridge Trust and Technology Initiative.

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One comment on this was “you’re usually a world class podcast, but this episode was really boring”. Knock yourself out.
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Sham news sites make big bucks from fake views • BBC News

Vivienne Nunis:

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Often the sites are not designed to be seen by human eyes at all. The laredotribune.com website also – at first glance – appears to be a regular news site for a city in south Texas. There are stories about local residents and President Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

But the stories have no publication date. There are no contact details for the editorial staff and the site loads slowly due to the large number of ads. Yet the site has had 3.7 million page views over the past three months, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb.

Not bad for a news site covering a city of just 260,000 people.

But the audience is fake. Bots are used to give the impression of high traffic, generating very real revenue for the site’s creators.

“We estimate each site is making at least $100,000 [£77,450] a month,” said Vlad Shevtsov, director of investigations at Social Puncher, the firm that exposed a number of fraudulent news sites. The organisation says ad fraud is a million-dollar industry.

Dig a little deeper into the Laredo Tribune’s user data, and there are other clues it is not legitimate. Advertisers might ask why there were 500,000 page views in September, which jumped to a staggering three million views in October.

Ads for major UK brands including Virgin Media, Superdrug and even TV Licensing were all displayed on related sham news sites seen by the BBC.

“We hope more can be done across the industry to clamp down on these instances of pay-per-con advertising fraud,” said a Virgin Media spokesman.

Google says the Laredo Tribune does not breach its advertising rules, and it found no issues with traffic to the site.

“That means that next month, the anonymous owner will get the next payout cheque from Google,” said Mr Shevtsov.

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Google not realising that the site is fake is a bad sign – for Google, and for everyone else trying to run a legitimate news site.
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Exclusive: EU antitrust regulators say they are investigating Google’s data collection • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

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EU antitrust regulators are investigating Google’s collection of data, the European Commission told Reuters on Saturday, suggesting the world’s most popular internet search engine remains in its sights despite record fines in recent years.

Competition enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic are now looking into how dominant tech companies use and monetise data.

The EU executive said it was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data, confirming a Reuters story on Friday.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” the EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

A document seen by Reuters shows the EU’s focus is on data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers and others.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has handed down fines totalling more than €8bn to Google in the last two years and ordered it to change its business practices.

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Google’s not going to change its business practices.
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On being proud to be British • Medium

Martin Shapland:

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James Ford is the man wielding the fire extinguisher [against the attacker on London Bridge who killed two people with a knife]. He murdered a 21-yr-old [Amanda Champion, aged 21] who had learning difficulties in 2004, for which he is coming to the end of a lengthy life sentence.

He happened to be at the same event [as the London Bridge attacker] on rehabilitation on day release and helped to stop another man murdering more than he managed. What does it say about Britishness? Are we unredeemable? In another age he would have been put to death for his crime, he’s no hero, but does he, and we, deserve a second chance?

And then there is the attacker. Usman Khan. Previously convicted for acts of terrorism in 2012. Clearly unredeemable and incapable of rehabilitation. Yet he too was British and part of our story.

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The fact that one man defending the public is a convicted killer, and that the man attacking the public hadn’t killed anyone (because he had been stopped first) is a stunning detail. The parents of Ford’s victim did not, and do not, forgive him; it was in some ways a more brutal murder than those Khan carried out. The death penalty might have satisfied Champion’s parents, yet denied someone their life in this present day if Ford hadn’t been there.
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Scrapping paper car tax discs has cost nearly £300million • Daily Mail

Tom Payne:

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Scrapping the paper car tax discs has led to a surge in fee dodging and cost nearly £300m, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Ministers claimed moving the system online would cut costs and reduce tax evasion. But the changes have led to a dramatic rise in motorists either deliberately dodging tax or forgetting to pay it. It means the Treasury has lost an estimated £281m since 2014.

Last night, critics described the scheme as a failure and said the millions could have been spent on improving our crumbling roads. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Getting a piece of paper to stick in the windscreen might seem a quaint idea in the digital age, but what we’ve lost is the daily reminder it provided for all to see when the next payment was due.”

…Roadside surveys by the DVLA reveal that losses from car tax were around £35m in 2013/14 – the last year when discs were in use. But this has risen to £94m in 2019 alone, with an ‘upper estimate’ of £281m since 2014. Some tax will be reclaimed or repaid later, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said.

…The coloured disc system was overhauled by then-Chancellor George Osborne as part of a ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to streamline services. Every vehicle’s tax status is now kept on a DVLA computer and drivers are automatically posted or emailed reminders. But evidence shows renewal letters can be sent to old addresses or are missed in mountains of junk mail.

Of those found dodging tax, 54% were caught two months after they should have renewed – suggesting the evasion is accidental. The increase is being blamed on another change in the system that requires drivers to pay tax every time a vehicle changes hands.

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I’d guess that intentional dodging is made easier by this – register the vehicle to an old or fake address. But police can check automatically whether a vehicle is taxed. It’s an enforcement gap.
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SMS replacement is exposing users to text, call interception thanks to sloppy telcos • VICE

Joseph Cox:

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SRLabs didn’t find an issue in the RCS standard itself, but rather how it is being implemented by different telecos. Because some of the standard is undefined, there’s a good chance companies may deploy it in their own way and make mistakes.

“Everybody seems to get it wrong right now, but in different ways,” Nohl said. SRLabs took a sample of SIM cards from a variety of carriers and checked for RCS-related domains, and then looked into particular security issues with each. SRLabs didn’t say which issues impacted which particular telecos.

Some of those issues include how devices receive RCS configuration files. In one instance, a server provides the configuration file for the right device by identifying them by their IP address. But because they also use that IP address, “Any app that you install on your phone, even if you give it no permissions whatsoever, it can request this file. So now every app can get your username and password to all your text messages and all your voice calls. That’s unexpected,” Nohl said.

In another instance, a teleco sends a text message with a six-digit code to verify that the RCS user is who they say they are, but “then give you an unlimited number of tries” to input the code, Nohl said. “One million attempts takes five minutes,” he added, meaning that it could be possible to brute force through the authentication process.

“All of these mistakes from the 90s are being reinvented, reintroduced,” Nohl said. “It is being rolled out for upwards of a billion people already who are all affected by this.”

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This iPhone app will make you nostalgic for the iPod click wheel • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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An iOS developer is building an iPhone app that will turn the smartphone into an iPod Classic with its nostalgic click wheel. Elvin Hu, a design student at Cooper Union college in New York City, has been working on the project since October, and shared an early look at the app on Twitter on Thursday. It essentially turns your iPhone into a fullscreen iPod Classic with a click wheel that includes haptic feedback and click sounds just like Apple’s original device.

It has generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with even the “father of the iPod,” Tony Fadell, noting it’s a “nice throwback.” Hu built the app because he was working on a paper about the development of the iPod at school. “I’ve always been a fan of Apple products since I was a kid,” revealed Hu in an email to The Verge. “Before my family could afford one, I would draw the UI layout of iPhone on lids of Ferrero Rocher boxes. Their products (among other products, such as Windows Vista and Zune HD) have greatly influenced my decision of pursuing design as a career.”

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It’s a lovely concept, though apparently he’s waiting to see whether Apple will approve it because of patents and IP and so on. Fingers crossed he gets the thumbs-up: it’s exactly what Steve Jobs described about the flexibility of having a screen rather than a keyboard: that you can turn the phone into any app you want. Including the thing it replaced.
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Britain fights its last election, again • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s core strategy is to embrace radicalism, and in doing so feed off the publicity it generates, turning Tory attack lines into free campaign commercials. Each Labour policy is actively designed to impose costs, not avoid them, on the minority of Britons who have large assets, income, or wealth, and to redistribute it across the population. Criticism of these policies, therefore, in Labour’s eyes, only serves to elevate them in the public consciousness.

This is, in effect, the same strategy the party employed in 2017, when it won far more seats than expected but still fell well short of a parliamentary majority. It comes through clearly in its latest manifesto, which promises to increase day-to-day government outlays by £80 billion ($103 billion) a year to pay for a slate of new giveaways. The scale of the proposed spending spree means that for every extra pound the Conservatives are proposing to spend if elected, Labour is offering 28. The crux of Labour’s plan, however, is not so much the scale of the spending but the proposal to load all of the extra tax burden onto the top 5% of earners. Corbyn and his aides are betting that the more the Tories attack Labour’s manifesto, the more the 95% of the country that would benefit from the Labour plan will hear about it. In other words, they have taken the strategy that failed to win the last election, and doubled down on it.

Despite emerging from the 2017 contest with the most votes and the most seats, the Tories, by comparison, had thrown away their slender majority in a vote they seemed all but guaranteed to win—and win big. It was a historic debacle that eventually cost Theresa May her job and the Conservative Party the chance to enact the version of Brexit it wanted. This year, under a new leader but with a strikingly similar offer, it is now crystal clear what the Tories have concluded went wrong the first time: Whereas May claimed it was because they allowed Labour to paint them “as the voice of continuity,” Johnson has decided they offered voters far too much change last time.

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Terrific analysis about the strange times we live in – and how a Lynton Crosby memo from 2017 that was ignored now seems to form the core of the Tories’ approach.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified