Start Up No.1232: Facebook shows its data grab, will Apple buy MGM?, US voters polarise over news, the awkward iPad, and more


Green roofs – or solar-panelled ones – are now obligatory in New York on new buildings. CC-licensed photo by Andrew on Flickr.

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A selection of 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook’s ‘Clear History’ tool doesn’t clear worth a damn • Gizmodo

Shoshana Wodinsky:

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“To help shed more light on these practices that are common yet not always well understood, today we’re introducing a new way to view and control your off-Facebook activity,” Zuckerberg said in the post. “Off-Facebook Activity lets you see a summary of the apps and websites that send us information about your activity, and clear this information from your account if you want to.”

Zuck’s use of the phrases “control your off-Facebook activity” and “clear this information from your account” is kinda misleading—you’re not really controlling or clearing much of anything. By using this tool, you’re just telling Facebook to put the data it has on you into two separate buckets that are otherwise mixed together. Put another way, Facebook is offering a one-stop-shop to opt-out of any ties between the sites and services you peruse daily that have some sort of Facebook software installed and your own-platform activity on Facebook or Instagram.

The only thing you’re clearing is a connection Facebook made between its data and the data it gets from third parties, not the data itself.

As an ad-tech reporter, my bread and butter involves downloading shit that does god-knows-what with your data, which is why I shouldn’t’ve been surprised that Facebook hoovered data from more 520 partners across the internet—either sites I’d visited or apps I’d downloaded. For Gizmodo alone, Facebook tracked “252 interactions” drawn from the handful of plug-ins our blog has installed. (To be clear, you’re going to run into these kinds of trackers e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e.—not just on our site.)

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It shows six months’ data, though it’s not clear whether that’s all it keeps. Mine has three: a company website I ordered pet food from, a small news site, and a small crowdfunding site. I certainly didn’t consent to any of them handing data to Facebook.

However, it says “this list doesn’t show all of the activity that we’ve received. Activity that is not shown includes information that we’ve received when you’re not logged in to Facebook, or when we can’t confirm that you’ve previously used Facebook on that device.” Surely the very thing we want to know is what it sees when we’re not logged in. Clearing your history isn’t much help either: “We’ll continue to receive your activity from the businesses and organisations that you visit in the future.”

Useless, Facebook. Useless.
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Britain defies Trump plea to ban Huawei from 5G network • The New York Times

Adam Satariano:

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Despite more than a year of intense lobbying by the Trump administration, which has accused Huawei of having ties to China’s Communist Party that pose a national security threat, the British government announced it would allow the company to provide equipment in some portions of a next-generation network to be built in the coming years.

The British decision was crucial in a broader fight for tech supremacy between the United States and China. Britain, a key American ally, is the most important country so far to reject White House warnings that Huawei is an instrument of Beijing. Britain’s membership in the “five eyes” intelligence-sharing group of countries, which also includes Australia, Canada and New Zealand, gave the outcome an added significance.

Many countries have been caught between the United States and China in their tech cold war. American officials have threatened to withhold intelligence if countries do not ban Huawei, while Chinese representatives have warned of economic retaliation if they do.

“This is a U.K.-specific solution for U.K.-specific reasons and the decision deals with the challenges we face right now,” said Nicky Morgan, the secretary for digital, culture, media and sport, the government agency that oversaw the decision.

“It not only paves the way for secure and resilient networks, with our sovereignty over data protected, but it also builds on our strategy to develop a diversity of suppliers,” she said.

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I don’t think it was a Trump “plea”. It was a demand. The only plea you’ll hear from Trump is when he’s arraigned after leaving office (unless he goes out feet first; all things are possible in the multiverse). Huawei gets up to 35% of the network, and can’t be used near military bases. A neat enough swerve by the UK government.
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The iPad awkwardly turns 10 • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

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Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.

Consider the basic task of putting two apps on screen at the same time, the basic definition of “multitasking” in the UI sense. To launch the first app, you tap its icon on the homescreen, just like on the iPhone, and just like on the iPad before split-screen multitasking. Tapping an icon to open an app is natural and intuitive.

But to get a second app on the same screen, you cannot tap its icon. You must first slide up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Dock. Then you must tap and hold on an app icon in the Dock. Then you drag the app icon out of the Dock to launch it in a way that it will become the second app splitting the display. But isn’t dragging an icon out of the Dock the way that you remove apps from the Dock? Yes, it is — when you do it from the homescreen. So the way you launch an app in the Dock for split-screen mode is identical to the way you remove that app from the Dock. Oh, and apps that aren’t in the Dock can’t become the second app in split screen mode. What sense does that limitation make?

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He’s absolutely right on this – and his point that multitasking on the Mac is simple and consistent to invoke (start another app by double-clicking its icon, or navigate to it via Spotlight, [OKAY or ask Siri to open it]) is a killer. It’s a terrific analysis because it documents so precisely what’s missing and what’s inconsistent.

How Apple can clean it up, well, that’s a lot harder to answer.
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American Herald Tribune pays Americans to write ‘news’ articles. Signs indicate it originates in Iran • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:

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American Herald Tribune bills itself as a “genuinely independent online media outlet.” Set up in 2015, it publishes in English and pays Americans to write articles. But multiple investigations by American tech companies, details of which have not previously been reported, point to the site originating in Iran.

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN Business that company staff who looked into the website’s Facebook page say it was linked to Iranian state media. Facebook removed the page in 2018. FireEye, a top cybersecurity company, says it assessed with “moderate confidence” that the website originates in Iran and is part of a much larger influence operation.

The new details about alleged Iranian ties to the American Herald Tribune shed light on how the country has attempted to run a years-long covert online influence campaign targeting the United States. As Russia did around the 2016 election, Iran appears to have co-opted and in this case paid a small number of unwitting Americans to lend legitimacy to its operations…

…The articles posted to American Herald Tribune are largely in line with the views of Iran’s ruling establishment. It publishes stories criticizing American foreign policy and attacking President Donald Trump and Israel. Often the criticism is not unlike viewpoints expressed on authentic US-based independent websites, especially ones with an anti-establishment perspective.

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So what’s the problem, exactly? There are shady right-wing American sites which don’t disclose their funding. Is the problem shadiness, or Iranian-ness?
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Why the UK is banning default passwords in IoT devices • New Statesman

Matt Warman is the minister for digital and broadband:

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Our aim is to make the UK the world’s leading digital economy. But if we are to achieve this ambition we need to make sure people trust technology.

I believe we can do this through pro-innovation regulation. So today I’ve announced we are developing new legislation to hold firms manufacturing and stocking internet-connected devices to account to stop hackers threatening people’s privacy and safety.

These new laws will mean consumers are protected from devices which do not adhere to the three rigorous security requirements we’ve developed alongside a code of conduct.

These measures will mean all the passwords pre-programmed in internet-connected devices must be unique and not resettable to any universal factory setting.

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Only a brief lifetime ago, Matt was a technology correspondent at the Daily Telegraph, so he understands this a bit. “Pro-innovation regulation” is a strange phrase; what does it really mean? How do you spot pro-innovation regulation from, um, the other kind?

More to the point: having unique passwords coded in is mostly a good idea – until you lose the little piece of paper that came in the box, or the sticker it was on rubs off. So a crouching ovation on that one. (There’s more about security update guarantees, which are also good.)

The bigger question: how will the government enforce this on the junk sold on Amazon? Will it be Amazon’s responsibility, or the manufacturer’s, and who gets penalised? (Anyone know: do Huawei routers have unique passwords?)
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US media polarization and the 2020 election: a nation divided • Pew Research Center

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evidence suggests that partisan polarization in the use and trust of media sources has widened in the past five years. A comparison to a similar study by the Center of web-using U.S. adults in 2014 finds that Republicans have grown increasingly alienated from most of the more established sources, while Democrats’ confidence in them remains stable, and in some cases, has strengthened.

The study asked about use of, trust in, and distrust of 30 different news sources for political and election news. While it is impossible to represent the entire crowded media space, the outlets, which range from network television news to Rush Limbaugh to the New York Times to the Washington Examiner to HuffPost, were selected to represent popular media brands across a range of platforms.

Greater portions of Republicans express distrust than express trust of 20 of the 30 sources asked about. Only seven outlets generate more trust than distrust among Republicans – including Fox News and the talk radio programs of hosts Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

For Democrats, the numbers are almost reversed. Greater portions of Democrats express trust than express distrust in 22 of the 30 sources asked about. Only eight generate more distrust than trust – including Fox News, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

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Oh, America.
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MGM leads 2020 media acquisition targets • CNBC

Alex Sherman:

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Two major shifts in the past year have made scale — the concept of being as big as possible — more important than ever for media companies. The first is the transition from linear cable TV to streaming services, which are expensive to build out and run and require premium content to stand out.

The second is major consolidation — Disney buying Fox, Comcast acquiring Sky, AT&T purchasing Time Warner and Viacom merging with CBS — that has put media companies with enterprise valuations under $50bn at a severe disadvantage to their peers.

The result leaves a handful of companies, including AMC Networks (enterprise value: $5.2bn), Discovery (~$40bn), Lions Gate (~$6bn), MGM (private), Sony Pictures (part of larger company, Sony), and even the merged ViacomCBS (~$25bn), in positions of relative weakness.

On the other side, Netflix (~$160bn), Amazon (~$965bn), Comcast (~$320bn), AT&T (~$487bn), Disney (~$315bn) and Apple (~$1.4trn) have all put their flags in the ground in what the media calls The Streaming Wars, an evolution from bundled cable TV to a world of a la carte services that can be watched anywhere on any device. If Comcast, Charter/Time Warner Cable, Dish and DirecTV were the Big 4 of the media distribution world for the past decade, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Disney and Netflix look like the Big 6 of the streaming era.

MGM, in particular, seems like a logical candidate to sell this year. Its owners include Anchorage Capital, Highland Capital and Solus Alternative Asset Management, hedge funds that acquired the company out of bankruptcy in 2010…

…MGM has held preliminary talks with a number of companies, including Apple and Netflix, to gauge their interest in an acquisition, two of the people said. MGM owns the James Bond catalog and its studio has made several current hit shows including “The Handmaid’s Tale,”…

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Apple owning MGM would be a hell of a thing. Unlikely; but maybe at arm’s length, as Pixar wasn’t owned by Apple but was run by Steve Jobs? The corollary to yesterday’s article about film sequels v streaming services.
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NYC’s roofs are getting a sustainable makeover, but is green or solar better? • Utility Dive

Cailley LaPara:

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As of Nov. 15, 2019, Local Laws 92 and 94 are in effect to target a vast, often overlooked and underutilized resource in New York: roofs.

The laws, known informally as the Sustainable Roof Laws, require most new buildings and buildings undergoing major roof reconstruction to include a sustainable roofing zone on 100% of the available roof space.

Sustainable roofing zones are defined as “areas of a roof assembly where a solar photovoltaic electricity generating system, a green roof system, or a combination thereof, is installed.” In other words, the roofs must have a solar panel array, green roof or both.

“When you fly into New York City, you see an amazing amount of unproductive roof space,” Jonce Walker, senior associate at Thornton Tomasetti, told Smart Cities Dive. Walker and others in the sustainable design community hope Local Laws 92 and 94 are going to change that.

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But the question is: green roof or solar? The conditions that are best for each tend to be opposite (shadowed space? Green. On a slope? Solar), though there can be edge cases where it’s tricky to decide. Maintenance of green roofs could be interesting, though, compared to solar.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1232: Facebook shows its data grab, will Apple buy MGM?, US voters polarise over news, the awkward iPad, and more

  1. Multitasking: the way Android does it is fine:
    Go to the recent/multitask screen (either via its button, or swipe up from the bottom and hold); it displays a list of recent apps, and a button to split the screen
    Click the split screen button and slide to desired size
    drag your secondary app to that split screen
    Launch your main app, either right off Recents where you’re already, or from the Home page.

    It’s fairly intuitive, that’s the way you launch apps all the time there’s no separate UI to split the screen nor launch the apps. The only gotcha is that the secondary app must be in Recents.

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