Start Up No.1224: AR contact lenses!, Pelosi slams Facebook, retail privacy policies, WhatsApp NoAds, and more


Want to go to the Bose store? Not any more in the US or Europe or Japan or Australia. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. You call that perfect? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Augmented reality in a contact lens: it’s the real deal • IEEE Spectrum

Tekla Perry:

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Augmented reality in a contact lens? Science fiction writers envisioned the technology decades ago, and startups have been working on developing an actual product for at least 10 years.

Today, Mojo Vision announced that it has done just that—put 14K pixels-per-inch microdisplays, wireless radios, image sensors, and motion sensors into contact lenses that fit comfortably in the eyes. The first generation of Mojo Lenses are being powered wirelessly, though future generations will have batteries on board. A small external pack, besides providing power, handles sensor data and sends information to the display. The company is calling the technology Invisible Computing, and company representatives say it will get people’s eyes off their phones and back onto the world around them.

The first application, says Steve Sinclair, senior vice president of product and marketing, will likely be for people with low vision—providing real-time edge detection and dropping crisp lines around objects. In a demonstration last week at CES 2020, I used a working prototype (albeit by squinting through the lens rather than putting it into my eyes), and the device highlighted shapes in bright green as I looked around a dimly lit room.

The effect was impressive and it was easy to see how useful this could be.

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And when you close your eyes, says an exec, you still see content displayed. It was all sounding so good until then. Wonder if it will actually come to fruition, unlike Google’s (and before that Microsoft’s) “contact lenses that take your blood sugar”.
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Pelosi says Facebook execs ‘schmooze’ the Trump admin to avoid taxes • CNBC

Lauren Feiner:

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., slammed Facebook during her weekly press briefing Thursday, accusing the company of only caring about profits and saying executives “schmooze” the Trump administration to avoid taxes and antitrust action.

“The Facebook business model is strictly to make money. They don’t care about the impact on children, they don’t care about truth, they don’t care about where this is all coming from, and they have said, even if they know it’s not true, they will print it,” Pelosi said in what appeared to be a reference to the company’s policy not to remove or fact-check political ads. “I think they have been very abusive of the great opportunity that technology has given them.”

Pelosi, whose constituency includes the tech-heavy district of San Francisco, said Facebook’s behavior has been “shameful.”

“All they want are their tax cuts and no antitrust action against them,” Pelosi said. “And they schmooze this administration in that regard because so far that’s what they have received. But I think that what they have said very blatantly, very clearly, that they intend to be accomplices for misleading the American people with money from God knows where, they didn’t even check on the money from Russia in the last election, they never even thought they should. So they have been very irresponsible.”

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Bose is closing all of its retail stores in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia • The Verge

Chris Welch:

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Bose plans to close its entire retail store footprint in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company announced the decision earlier today and pointed to the fact that its headphones, speakers, and other products “are increasingly purchased through e-commerce” as the reasoning. Hundreds of employees will be laid off as a result.

Bose opened its first physical retail store in 1993 and currently has locations in many shopping centers and the remaining malls scattered across the US. The stores are used to showcase the company’s product lineup, which has grown beyond Bose’s signature noise-canceling headphones in recent years to include smart speakers and sunglasses that double as earbuds. There are often similar demo areas at retailers like Best Buy, though Bose has plenty of competition to worry about in that environment.

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Wow. That’s 119 stores. Yet keeping open 130 stores in China, UAE, India, SE Asia and South Korea. Are they seriously trying to suggest that e-commerce isn’t big in any of those?
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Now stores must tell you how they’re tracking your every move • WIRED

Tom Simonite:

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To anyone with eyes in their kneecaps, the notice outside gadget retailer B8ta’s glossy store next to San Francisco’s new NBA arena is obvious. “We care about your privacy,” the small plaque proclaims, offering a web address and QR code.

Anyone curious and limber enough to bend down and follow these pointers is taken to the retailer’s online privacy policy, which discloses that stepping inside the store puts you in range of technology that automatically collects personal information. That includes “smartphone detectors” and Wi-Fi routers that note the location and unique identifiers of your phone, and cameras equipped with software that estimates your age and gender.

B8ta added the signage to its six California stores and expanded its online privacy policy late last year as it prepared to comply with a new state law that took effect this month called the California Consumer Privacy Act. The law requires businesses to disclose what personal information they collect from consumers at or before the time it is collected. It gives state residents the right to request data collected about them be deleted and to forbid a business from selling it.

CCPA’s most visible effect has been a plague of website popups on California residents. But the law also applies to offline data collection.

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The annoyance is felt directly, and lawmakers get the blame – because the surveillance is silent, but pervasive.
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Study confirms climate models are getting future warming projections right • Nasa Climate Change

Alan Buis, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

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For decades, people have legitimately wondered how well climate models perform in predicting future climate conditions. Based on solid physics and the best understanding of the Earth system available, they skillfully reproduce observed data. Nevertheless, they have a wide response to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and many uncertainties remain in the details. The hallmark of good science, however, is the ability to make testable predictions, and climate models have been making predictions since the 1970s. How reliable have they been?

Now a new evaluation of global climate models used to project Earth’s future global average surface temperatures over the past half-century answers that question: most of the models have been quite accurate.

In a study accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a research team led by Zeke Hausfather of the University of California, Berkeley, conducted a systematic evaluation of the performance of past climate models. The team compared 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature developed between 1970 and 2007, including some originally developed by NASA, with actual changes in global temperature observed through the end of 2017.

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And those are temperatures in Fahrenheit – if it were in Celsius, the accuracy would look a lot better.
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Carriers ignore studies that show they suck at preventing SIM-swap attacks • Boing Boing

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The study – conducted by Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy – details how researchers were able to bypass carrier security measures such as requiring people to give date of birth and billing ZIP codes by stating that they had been careless during the signup period and couldn’t recall what answers they’d given previously. What’s more, the researchers found it simple to bypass the carriers’ requirement that the subscriber dial two phone numbers to confirm the swap – they just sent fraudulent texts to the real customers telling them they’d won a prize and asking them to dial a certain number to collect it, then followed up by saying they had sent the wrong number originally and asking the victim to dial the second number instead.

Four out of the five carriers whose security was bypassed in this manner took no steps to fix it.

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That’s sneaky stuff with the texts. Give the fraudsters this: they’re imaginative, in way that the companies aren’t.
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EU to consider mandatory common charger for smartphones, paving the way for USB-C domination • Android Police

Cody English:

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The European Union will soon hold a vote to decide if it will enforce a mandatory, universal charging connector for all smartphones and other similar, small electronic devices. Arguments in favor of the new legislation include a reduction of e-waste and easy, interoperable charging for end-users. The introduction of USB Type-C has energized standardization talks as it incorporates many of the advantages (reversibility of connection, data transmission rates, and charging speeds) used to justify the existence of proprietary charging connectors.

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Let’s look at what the Euro Parliament says:

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To reduce electronic waste and make consumers’ life easier, MEPs want binding measures for chargers to fit all mobile phones and other portable devices.

In the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive, EU lawmakers called for a common charger to be developed and gave the Commission powers to pursue this via a delegated act.

The Commission’s approach of “encouraging” industry to develop common chargers fell short of the co-legislators’ objectives. The voluntary agreements between different industry players have not yielded the desired results.

A common charger should fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices, MEPs will insist.

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Chargers are the things that plug into the wall. They’re not the plugs that go into the devices. Apple has already moved its chargers to USB-C – all its current laptop line, its iPads, its iPhones. So the companies that will be affected like this are other companies. But of course everyone thinks this is about Apple.
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WhatsApp backs off controversial plan to sell ads • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz and Kirsten Grind:

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Facebook Inc. is backing away from efforts to sell ads in WhatsApp, marking a retreat from a controversial plan that drove the creators of the popular messaging service to resign more than 18 months ago, according to people familiar with the matter.

WhatsApp in recent months disbanded a team that had been established to find the best ways to integrate ads into the service, according to people familiar with the matter. The team’s work was then deleted from WhatsApp’s code, the people said.

The shift marks a setback in the social-media giant’s quest to monetize WhatsApp, which it bought in a blockbuster $22bn acquisition in 2014 that has yet to pay financial dividends despite the service being used by more than 1.5 billion people globally.

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This sci-fi-inspired device could replace bulky, expensive X-ray machines • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

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Current X-ray machinery is bulky, requiring arrays of rotating tubes with superheated filaments that produce electron clouds. When moved near a metal anode, the filament produces the X-rays needed for imaging. These giant analog contraptions require heavy shielding to keep patients safe, and they use a lot of power. There’s also a substantial upfront cost that can run $2-3m. The Nanox.Arc, on the other hand, uses silicon micro-electromechanical systems (MEMs) in the form of more than 100 million molybdenum nano-cones that generate electrons. 

Nanox says its field emission X-ray technology is the product of 15 years of research, and no other company on Earth has done something similar. The upshot of all this is that the Nanox.Arc takes up very little space and uses less power than traditional machines. The company also has a plan to address the low global availability of X-ray machines. Instead of selling the Nanox.Arc for millions of dollars, it will lease the devices to hospitals and medical centers and charge per scan.

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But it’s not enough to do that; it has to add a “cloud-based AI platform” to analyse the images.
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The FBI got data from a locked iPhone 11 Pro Max—so why is it demanding Apple unlock older phones? • Forbes

Thomas Brewster:

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Questions are being asked about the FBI’s motivations over demanding Apple help it unlock the iPhones of the Pensacola shooting suspect, after Forbes uncovered a search warrant that strongly indicates the feds have access to a tool that can grab data on the latest, and most secure, iPhones.

Last year, FBI investigators in Ohio used a hacking device called a GrayKey to draw data from the latest Apple model, the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The phone belonged to Baris Ali Koch, who was accused of helping his convicted brother flee the country by providing him with his own ID documents and lying to the police. He has now entered a plea agreement and is awaiting sentencing.

Forbes confirmed with Koch’s lawyer, Ameer Mabjish, that the device was locked. Mabjish also said he was unaware of any way the investigators could’ve acquired the passcode; Koch had not given it to them nor did they force the defendant to use his face to unlock the phone via Face ID, as far as the lawyer was aware. The search warrant document obtained by Forbes, dated October 16, 2019, also showed the phone in a locked state, giving the strongest indication yet that the FBI has access to a device that can acquire data from the latest iPhone.

Given the models in the Pensacola shooting case are iPhones 5 and 7, it’s unclear why a GrayKey hasn’t proven useful in that investigation. Forbes has previously revealed a GrayKey brochure that showed it worked on older devices, too.

Senator Wyden’s office told Forbes it has asked the Department of Justice to explain why it is making public demands for backdoors if it has already used the tool to access the newest iPhones.

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So that answers my question from earlier this week: could the FBI get into the Pensacola phones? It seems yes, it could. (Link via @benthompson’s Stratechery newsletter.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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