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.

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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

2 thoughts on “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

  1. Hey, for once, there’s a real issue with a piece of Android malware:
    1- it’s on the PlayStore
    2- It doesn’t require root
    3- it’s live
    4- There’s no obvious fix on the OS/Store side (aside from piecemeal code scanning)
    5- it’s not abusing a technical bug, it’s abusing a legit feature.

    I was waiting for Ars’ piece but it’s late. As far as I understand, the malware injects itself between an app icon the actual app, intercepting everything typed in and displayed before passing it on to the actual app. It also lures the user into re-granting dangerous permissions prentending to be the targeted app.

    The 2 clues are that a) the malware must mimic the app’s screens so there’ll be mistakes and dead buttons and b) the malware does re-request the relevant permissions, possibly with a false/weird name. Alas, most user won’t notice either. There seem to be a way for apps to check there’s no man-the-middle attack, but that’s not done right now, and it might break things (screen readers, theming, …)

    promon.co/security-news/strandhogg/

  2. Actually, thinking more on it (thanks, flu !), I think the argument that a flat share structure improves accountability is self-contradictory:
    1- it assumes accountability is endogenous, otherwise share structure would have no impact.
    2- let’s clarify, accountability/morals is a (the ?) restraint on what a company can/will do for money, ie on how low it will go to improve revenue/profit (eg, GM refusing to recall faulty brakes)
    3- but, the punters who will place the most value on shares are the ones who are most willing to compromise accountability/values/ethics/morals. If a company is actually accountable, you can unlock value by making it unaccountable. eg, Boeing used to over-engineer planes, now they cheat on design certifcations.
    4- hence the most unaccountable/amoral people will buy shares of accountable companies, turn them into unaccountable companies, and pocket the unlocked profits.

    This mechanism also explains why in the long term, you cannot trust any company, so should refuse lock-in, should insist on modularity, …

    This topic *is* interesting. I’d be interested in further discussion. I’m willing to refrain from remarking on how the whole thing started !

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