Start Up No.1235: Google Ads For One?, the call to ban facial recognition, how YouTube comments show radicalisation, tablet shipments slip, and more

This is essentially what privacy policies are, but not printed on paper. CC-licensed photo by txmx 2 on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not a palindrome. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google Ads Customer Match and the future of doxxing • OneZero

Patrick Berlinquette:


The experiments I ran — even in the rare instances that I could be sure I was serving an ad to one person — only gave me one chance at the data. If I’m targeting a mass shooter in America with an ad (another niche group I’ve served ads to), and they search for the keywords “I am going to shoot up the school,” but they don’t click the ad and never make that search again, I lose.

But there is a way to target one person with an ad, and follow them around with ads indefinitely, all the while collecting their data. And it’s untraceable.

It is done through Google’s Customer Match feature.

Customer Match allows anyone to spy on one person for any length of time — not just within Google Search, but across all Google channels — Gmail, YouTube, apps, and websites within Google’s Display Network.

Potential applications of this:
• Plotting someone’s day-to-day movements over time
• Doxxing someone based on their search or browsing history
• Viewing the login portals someone accesses.

With Customer Match, you upload a list of emails to Google. Google then targets ads only to those emails.

Here are the steps to achieve one-to-one targeting via Customer Match:
1. Upload emails of people that live in, say, California.
2. Upload the email of “the target.”
3. Exclude Californians from seeing ads.
As long as the target is physically located outside of the excluded region, they will be the sole recipient of the ad.


Isn’t this potentially more invasive than facial recognition? Yet in the hands of just one company.
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Why we should ban facial recognition technology • NY Mag

Max Read:


as the last decade has shown us, after-the-fact regulation or punishment is an ineffective method of confronting rapid, complex technological change. Time and time again, we’ve seen that the full negative implications of a given technology — say, the Facebook News Feed — are rarely felt, let alone understood, until the technology is sufficiently powerful and entrenched, at which point the company responsible for it has probably already pivoted into some complex new change.

Which is why we should ban facial-recognition technology. Or, at least, enact a moratorium on the use of facial-recognition software by law enforcement until the issue has been sufficiently studied and debated. For the same reason, we should impose heavy restrictions on the use of face data and facial-recognition tech within private companies as well. After all, it’s much harder to move fast and break things when you’re not allowed to move at all.

This position — that we should not widely deploy a new technology until its effects are understood and its uses deliberated, and potentially never deploy it at all — runs against the current of the last two decades, but it’s gaining some acceptance and momentum. As unsettling as the details of Clearview AI’s business were, the response to their disclosure from legislators and law enforcement has been heartening.


An outright ban is excessive. Does it have positive uses? Certainly the police will tell you so. Is it good for identifying pictures of yourself on social networks? Isn’t that useful, but not invasive? I think it needs better definition of what is too much, and I’m not sure we’ve heard that.
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The truth about “dramatic action” • China Media Project

Da Shiji:


According to a report in Health News (健康报), the official publication of China’s National Health Commission, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center (上海市公共卫生临床中心) had isolated a new strain of coronavirus by January 5, within just 10 days of its receiving samples from patients in Wuhan on December 26, and scientists at the center had obtained the entire genome sequence.

On January 11, on the basis of the latest research developments in Beijing and Shanghai, China officially confirmed that this new coronavirus was the pathogen causing the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, and it shared the new coronavirus gene sequence information with the WHO.

But while the Chinese authorities informed the World Health Organization about these developments at the earliest opportunity, they did not inform their own people, but instead maintained strict secrecy. This meant no progress was made on prevention and control.

As the researcher Meng Xin put it: “The ace card [provided by scientists] was still played very poorly, because at the first opportunity politics came into play and directed strict confidentiality requirements – this can’t be talked about, that can’t be talked about, we must maintain stability, and so on. So the test reports were locked into the safety deposit box.”


Fascinating insight from a Wuhan resident. The effects of this on the Chinese government’s approach to social media is going to be very, very interesting. Meanwhile, via the lovely Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning stats’n’graphics newsletter, a Reuters graphic comparing the Coronavirus with SARS and MERS. Short version: more infectious, less fatal.
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Worldwide tablet shipments continue to decline in Q4 2019 • IDC


The worldwide tablet market declined 0.6% year over year during the fourth quarter of 2019 (4Q19) as global shipments fell to 43.5 million units, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. For the full year 2019, the tablet market shrank 1.5% year over year as global shipments totaled 144 million units.

Apple maintained its lead in the holiday quarter, growing 22.7% year over year. The new iPad launched last quarter accounted for nearly 65% of their shipments and helped the company gain share to 36.5% compared to 29.6% last year. As the company’s product portfolio is moving more towards detachables, slate tablet shipments have been at an all-time low with a 79.3% decline.


Fourth quarter is 30% of the year; Christmas is big. Notable is that Amazon slipped by nearly a third; the market for Amazon Fire tablets must be completely saturated. And it’s still Apple twice as big as Samsung, which is twice as big (nearly) as Huawei and Amazon and Lenovo. Beyond that, there’s a few “others” who have 25% of the market (and probably near-zero profit), about the same as in the PC market.
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FCC confirms carriers ‘apparently’ broke the law by selling customer location data • The Verge

Chris Welch:


The controversy originated with a Motherboard report that made clear just how negligent carriers including T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T had gotten with selling the real-time location of their wireless subscribers. That information could trickle down to bounty hunters and complete strangers for a worryingly small amount of money — without the wireless customers ever having a clue.

Carriers tried to ease the resulting blowback by saying either they would stop their location sales practices or had already done so. AT&T even went so far as to argue it wasn’t violating any laws. But US lawmakers still wanted a better understanding of how such sensitive data was getting around so freely, which led Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to summon Pai to an “emergency briefing” that the FCC chairman ended up skipping.

Now, after what Pai says was an “extensive investigation,” the question turns to just how severely the FCC will penalize the mobile providers involved. Will it be something substantial or merely a wrist slap that leaves no lasting reminder for the companies that gave away some of the most sensitive data your phone can produce?


Let’s see if Pai is going to do anything material, or if he’s just in place to Do Things That Are The Opposite Of What Obama Did. It seems to me that location data is more valuable than facial recognition systems.
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The Guardian helpfully provides Privacy Policies for the 577 Companies with whom they may share your data • CyberCrime & Doing Time

Gary Warner:


I thought this was a policy between me and The Guardian. Who are those “Third Party” folks you refer to?  Oh!  There they are, under “Vendors” … let’s see how many there are … so I began to count.

1, 2, 3, … 10, 20, 30, 150, good God!  How many are there?

I switched from my iPad to my desktop and exported the HTML code to get a better feel for it.

There are 577 Vendors to whom this policy applies.

And guess what, each of them helpfully has a Privacy Policy of their own!  If you would like to see what each of THEM are going to do with your data, you need to read an additional 577 Privacy Policies.

If your lawyers are anything like my lawyers, I’m sure you will want to spend the next 120 business hours reading each of these privacy policies in detail to find out what you are agreeing to.  Its several thousand pages of reading, so be sure to make a nice pot of tea before you start.

Many of these cookie providers have an Opt-Out policy of their own.  Here is the VERY IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER though.  Let’s say you were take the next two months of your life and opt-out of all 577 of these tracking cookies — perhaps especially the ones that say they provide “Precise Geographic Location Data” (Remember the NYTimes article from December 2018, “Your Apps Know Where You Were Last Night” — they know because you gave them PERMISSION to know!)

Now consider this … the next time you cheerfully click the “OK” button on “I accept all of your cookie policies” — you are EXPLICITLY GRANTING PERMISSION to the company that you previously opted out from TO RESTART THE COLLECTION OF YOUR INFORMATION!  One click undoes whatever privacy you think you gained for yourself.


As he also says, it’s not as if The Guardian is the worst offender by any means. But it also means that the GDPR is ineffective in the face of adtech, which is the worst sort of hydra.
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We’re finally talking about what Apple’s Jony Ive got wrong • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


The only reason the Mac Pro’s form factor and overall design weren’t instantly slagged was that analysts and journalists both assumed Apple’s own software and hardware development priorities were reflected in its hardware choices. When Apple announced it would offer custom dual AMD GPUs and tie virtually all expansion to Thunderbolt, the expectation was that the company would be shifting resources to prioritize GPGPU computing and OpenCL. Apple did develop Metal and its own mobile GPU, but it didn’t pour money into building an ecosystem around AMD GPUs and their compute capabilities. The Mac Pro launched and sat, unrefreshed, until Apple replaced it last year.

One tidbit that’s emerged since Ive left Apple is that the Apple Watch Edition — a $10,000 wearable with a 2-3 year lifespan — was his own pet project. I genuinely have no idea why.

Apple’s laptop products had problems of their own. Apple is far from the first company to introduce a first-generation product with a flaw that only became apparent later. What sets Apple’s keyboard woes apart from most of these other situations is that the company proved incapable of fixing the problem. After three subsequent generations of butterfly keyboards, Apple has re-adopted the scissor design it used in 2015.

Furthermore, both the screens and the keyboards of these laptops shared a common flaw: Repairing even simple damage required extremely expensive hardware replacement. Apple later acknowledged and created a program to fix its keyboards for free, but both issues were examples of how the company’s relentless pursuit of thinness and integration had resulted in an inferior user experience.

That’s the common thread that connects these issues and separates them from some of the other controversial decisions Apple has made. In the early part of the decade, Apple was lauded for the way its minimalism made devices easier to use. From 2013 forward, its minimalistic designs began to limit or harm what users could do with its hardware.


There’s an excellent discussion of the extent to which Apple’s “functional” corporate structure can function (ha) without a high-level “editor” in the Steve Jobs mode on this Exponent podcast from November, with Ben Thompson and James Allworth. Ive was meant to be that editor after Jobs died, but his vision was too blinkered when it came to usability.

And by the way, some of us have been talking about what Ive got wrong for some time.
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Study of YouTube comments finds evidence of radicalization effect • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


A March 2018 New York Times article by sociologist Zeynep Tufekci set out the now widely reported thesis that YouTube is a radicalization engine. Followup reporting by journalist Kevin Roose told a compelling tale of the personal experience of an individual, Caleb Cain, who described falling down an “alt right rabbit hole” on YouTube. But researcher Manoel Horta Ribeiro, who was presenting the paper today, said the team wanted to see if they could find auditable evidence to support such anecdotes.

Their paper, called “Auditing radicalization pathways on YouTube”, details a large-scale study of YouTube looking for traces of evidence — in likes, comments and views — that certain right-leaning YouTube communities are acting as gateways to fringe far-right ideologies.

Per the paper, they analyzed 330,925 videos posted on 349 channels — broadly classifying the videos into four types: Media, the Alt-lite, the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) and the Alt-right — and using user comments as a “good enough” proxy for radicalization (their data set included 72 million comments).

The findings suggest a pipeline effect over a number of years where users who started out commenting on alt-lite/IDW YouTube content shifted to commenting on extreme far-right content on the platform over time.

The rate of overlap between consumers of Media content and the Alt-right was found to be far lower.

“A significant amount of commenting users systematically migrates from commenting exclusively on milder content to commenting on more extreme content,” they write in the paper.


Which is why YouTube’s oft-used defence that “it’s only a tiny proportion of content that’s the problem” is foolish – perhaps knowingly so. If lots of people watch that content, it’s the relative proportion of time spent watching it that matters.
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Huawei is done with Google for good • BGR

Chris Smith:


Huawei’s country manager for Austria, Fred Wangfei, revealed that there is no going back to Google. That’s because Huawei doesn’t want to be in a position to have to deal with a similar ban in the future, should it ever arrive.

While Huawei has been operating a Google-less Android environment in China for years, as Google doesn’t have an official presence on Android phones there, it’ll be more challenging to replicate that in Europe and other Western markets where Android users are reliant on Google’s Play Store and the other Google apps.

However, Huawei is ready to invest $3bn this year to incentivize more than 4,000 developers to improve the HMS system. Another billion is reserved for marketing purposes.

Huawei is apparently very aware of the challenging task at hand in Europe and other regions where Android users expect Google services on their phones. One issue is getting popular US apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. Huawei plans to use the same Android OS as Google to make it as easy as possible for developers to port their apps. As for Facebook and other US developers, Huawei plans to use a local Europe-based intermediary to bring these apps to its App Gallery store, although it’s unclear whether the effort will work.

The company is apparently ready to lose some market share in the process, as 2020 will be the first year when it won’t have a new device with Google apps on board. Huawei is still able to sell products made before the ban, which allows it to preload those phones with the Google apps you’d expect to find on a new Android phone.


I think there’s going to be a lot of those “products made before the ban” being sold this year. Fortunate really that the market is essentially stagnant, so it will make little difference (Huawei can just cut the price to reach newer parts of the market). The non-Google Apps products won’t sell outside China.
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LG mobile sees $858 m in losses in 2019 • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:


In late 2018, LG brought in a so-called “turnaround expert” to lead its struggling mobile division. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t appear to be working too well, as LG mobile just reported massive losses on its 2019 revenue report.

According to the report, LG Mobile lost 1.01trn Korean won (~$858.34m) in 2019 based on 5.97trn Korean won (~$5.07bn) in revenue. Ouch.

LG is quick to blame a few things for the $858m loss. It says “sluggish sales of mass-tier smartphones in overseas markets” are partially to blame, while also saying “increased marketing expenses to support flagship devices” exacerbated the situation further.

What is the LG mobile division’s plan to stop the bleeding? The only commitment it makes in the report is “the introduction of new mid to premium 5G smartphones and continued cost-efficiency efforts.” What does that mean? To us, it says, “business as usual, but outsourcing more production.”


More recently: in the fourth quarter, it lost $285m on revenues of $1.13bn. It says it’s going to make a profit by the end of next year. At least it’s the sort of horizon where most people will have forgotten it – or else LG will just withdraw from selling mobile phones outside Asia, or perhaps South Korea.
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Homework assignment • Birchtree

Matt Birchler:


If you work somewhere with people on computers much of the day, tomorrow take note of how many people use more than one window on screen at a time. Note that this is a per monitor thing, so no credit if they have one app on each screen. If they have one app on screen but it’s not taking up the full page, I’d count that the same, but use your discretion there on how you count it.

Let me know on Twitter what the proportion is of full screeners verses tiled windows folks.

Context: I want to hear how people around you use their computers. There has been a hubbub this week about multitasking and in my experience, almost no one uses multiple windows on screen at a time. Even very smart developers who are keenly aware of how computers work will slam any app they’re using into full screen immediately after opening it.

This is true of my wife, my friends, and my co-workers at my three most recent jobs. I’ve been the weirdo who has four apps up across two monitors!


Personally: tons of windows. Gazillions of tabs in Safari. Multiple apps.

(I think the reason he’s asking is because of discussion about iPad multitasking, but could be wrong.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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