Start Up No.1238: Google gets legal on Clearview, how coronavirus will change the world (and MWC), Nevada dumps Shadow app, the truth about UK election news, and more

Endangered species? Apple outsold the entire Swiss watch industry in 2019, analysts say. CC-licensed photo by kitchener.lord on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Clearview AI: Google and YouTube send cease-and-desist letter to facial recognition app • CBS News

Gisela Perez and Hilary Cook:


Google and YouTube have sent a cease-and-desist letter to Clearview AI, a facial recognition app that scrapes images from websites and social media platforms, CBS News has learned. The tech companies join Twitter, which sent a similar letter in January, in trying to block the app from taking pictures from their platforms.

Clearview AI can identify a person by comparing their picture to its database of three billion images from the internet, and the results are 99.6% accurate, CEO Hoan Ton-That told CBS News correspondent Errol Barnett. The app is only available to law enforcement to be used to identify criminals, Ton-That said.

“You have to remember that this is only used for investigations after the fact. This is not a 24/7 surveillance system,” he said. 

But YouTube, which is owned by Google, and Twitter say the company is violating their policies.  

“YouTube’s Terms of Service explicitly forbid collecting data that can be used to identify a person. Clearview has publicly admitted to doing exactly that, and in response we sent them a cease and desist letter,” YouTube Spokesperson Alex Joseph said in a statement to CBS News.


As with Twitter, my question is: how are they going to identify which ones are their images? See the next link for one way that Facebook might do, but I think this is a stable door slamming on empty space.
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Using ‘radioactive data’ to detect if a data set was used for training • Facebook AI

Alexandre Sablayrolles, Matthijs Douze and Hervé Jégou:


We have developed a new technique to mark the images in a data set so that researchers can determine whether a particular machine learning model has been trained using those images. This can help researchers and engineers to keep track of which data set was used to train a model so they can better understand how various data sets affect the performance of different neural networks.

We call this new verification method “radioactive” data because it is analogous to the use of radioactive markers in medicine: Drugs such as barium sulphate allow doctors to see certain conditions more clearly on computerized tomography (CT) scans or other X-ray exams. We introduce unique marks that are harmless and have no impact on the classification accuracy of models, but remain present through the learning process and are detectable with high confidence in a neural network. Our method provides a level of confidence (p-value) that a radioactive data set was used to train a particular model.

Radioactive data differs from previous approaches that aim at “poisoning” training sets in an imperceptible way such that trained models will generalize poorly.


Fairly sure this is a reaction to Clearview AI – and a warning to it to stay off the lawns.
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The mysterious disappearance of Google’s click metric • ZDNet

Tom Foremski:


Take a look at this chart: As long as Google can keep growing the blue line –– growth of paid clicks –– faster than the red line –– its ad click deflation –– then it is golden. 

Every three months Google has to find faster ways of expanding the total number of paid clicks by as much as 66%. How is this a sustainable business model? 

There is an upper limit to how much more expansion in paid links can be found especially with the shift to mobile platforms and the constraints of the display.  

And what does this say about the effectiveness of Google’s ads? They aren’t very good and their value is declining at an astounding and unstoppable pace. 

To survive, Google must find ways of showing even more ads. This is the future with Google — more ads in more places. Or rather, more ineffective ads in more places. This is an unsustainable business model. 


But, as Foremski points out, as of this latest quarter Google has stopped reporting both the CPC and the growth of paid clicks. There can’t really be a justification for that; it’s not as if the CEO of Alphabet (who is also the CEO of Google) doesn’t see those numbers and rely on them to understand the business, which was the SEC’s rationale for wanting to see YouTube revenues (at least).

Ben Thompson may have been correct about Peak Google; just slightly early.
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A mile wide, an inch deep: online news and media use in the 2019 UK General Election • Reuters Institute Digital News Report

Richard Fletcher, Nic Newman and Anne Schulz:


This report presents the most detailed and comprehensive analysis to date of news use during the 2019 UK General Election. It is based on a unique tracking study of the online news consumption of 1,711 people aged 18-65 across mobile and desktop devices throughout the campaign (spanning six weeks), combined with surveys with a subset of 752 panellists fielded before and after the vote, asking them about the relative importance of offline and online news and their attitudes to the media and politics more widely.

We show that online news sources (including news websites/apps and social media) are more widely used than any other source among those with internet access. Online news use during the election had wide reach, but limited engagement.


Among the findings:


Almost three-quarters (72%) visited a news site to read a news story during the campaign. BBC News was by far the most widely used online source for election news. It was accessed by more than four in ten of our sample (44%) during the course of the election and was the main destination for election results.

Only 3% of all internet time was spent with news. On average, people spent 16 minutes per week with news and made around 22 news visits each week across web and mobile during the campaign. While election news made up around half (51%) of the most viewed stories in the first week, the proportion declined to just 24% later in the campaign.




Much of this news consumption came from websites committed to impartial coverage and those that made no party endorsement (33%). Just under one third (31%) came from outlets that endorsed the Conservative Party and one in eight (12%) from outlets that endorsed the Labour Party. Alternative brands such as the Canary, Novara Media on the left and Breitbart on the right – along with foreign sites like Russia Today and Sputnik – played a relatively small part with just 1% share of the time spent with news, about 0.02% of the time people spent online during the election.


More analysis by Adam Tinworth; he’s not reassured by it.
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Chrome ad blocker to target three annoying video ads • 9to5Google

Abner Li:


Last year, Google made Chrome’s standards-backed ad blocker fully available around the world. The Better Ads Standards today announced a “new set of standards for ads that show during video content,” with changes in Chrome set to be applied later this year.

These video ad standards are based on research from 45,000 consumers worldwide, and identified three experiences that “people find to be particularly disruptive on video content that is less than 8 minutes long.” This guidance for short-form video applies to desktop, mobile web, and apps.

Long, non-skippable pre-roll ads or groups of ads longer than 31 seconds that appear before a video and that cannot be skipped within the first 5 seconds.

Mid-roll ads of any duration that appear in the middle of a video, interrupting the user’s experience.
Image or text ads that appear on top of a playing video and are in the middle 1/3 of the video player window or cover more than 20% of the video content.

The Coalition for Better Ads group has mandated that websites stop showing these ads over the next four months, or risk losing advertising completely. Chrome enforcement begins August 5, 2020, and will see the browser “stop showing all ads on sites in any country that repeatedly show these disruptive ads.”


So here’s an antitrust question. Google gets to decide what ad formats Chrome will display. Google provides ads in specific formats. Chrome dominates the browser market. Google is using the dominance of Chrome to prevent rival advertisers from making ads they want to, raising the cost of ads. Antitrust breach, surely. Change my mind if you can.
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No handshakes at Mobile World Congress as virus spreads • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Thomas Seal:


Two smartphone makers canceled events at the world’s biggest mobile technology showcase in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and organizers reinforced hygiene protocol for people still planning to attend.

Delegates were warned to avoid handshakes, and microphones will be changed for different conference speakers in an effort to avoid infections at MWC Barcelona, an annual event that’s set to draw around 100,000 people from around the world to the Spanish city from Feb. 24 to 27.

This year’s conference is supposed to be a launch pad for a renewed push on 5G devices. However, South Korea’s LG Electronics said it’s withdrawing from exhibiting at the conference because most health experts advised against “needlessly” exposing hundreds of employees to international travel.

Shenzhen, China-based ZTE Corp., which makes smartphones and wireless networking equipment, cited difficulties in traveling out of China while virus-containment restrictions are in place, and so it’s canceling its MWC press conference, though it will still send a delegation.

The two companies usually occupy two of the largest, most central exhibition zones at the Fira Gran Via venue, and both were expected to contribute to an industrywide push to make the newest generation of networking and devices mainstream this year.

ZTE plans to roll out “a wide variety of new 5G devices” and will keep its usual exhibition spot. LG, keen to match compatriot arch rival Samsung Electronics Co., maintains an outsize presence at the show even when it doesn’t launch any major new products, and so its absence this year will be obvious to attendees.


Is the suggestion that holding a press conference brings lots of potentially unhealthy people together in one place? I don’t get it – if that’s the rationale, you don’t go to MWC at all.

(Also: Bloomberg’s headline called it “global wireless conference”. The whole mobile world knows it’s MWC, and knows it as MWC. If you don’t know what it is, “global wireless conference” won’t explain it.)
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The Nevada caucuses won’t use the Shadow app, per the state Democratic Party • Vox

Cameron Peters:


Party officials are scrambling to avoid a similar fate in the Nevada caucuses, the third early-state contest scheduled for February 22.

Previously, multiple news outlets reported that the Nevada caucuses would also rely on the faulty app developed by Shadow Inc., which markets itself as a progressive “tech infrastructure” company supporting the Democratic Party. The state is also operating under the same rule changes — adding in a few more complexities.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Nevada Democratic Party was quick to clarify that it plans to have things go differently.

“NV Dems can confidently say that what happened in the Iowa caucus last night will not happen in Nevada,” state Democratic Party Chair William McCurdy II said.

Exactly how they’ll turn that promise into a reality — beyond vowing not to use the same app — remains unclear.


Maybe they could call an organisation which sells an appropriate technology?

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Apple Watch outsells the entire Swiss Watch industry in 2019 • Strategy Analytics


According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, Apple Watch outsold the entire Swiss watch industry by a huge margin in 2019. Apple Watch shipped 31 million units worldwide in 2019, compared with 21 million for all Swiss watch brands combined. Swiss companies, like Swatch, are losing the smartwatch wars.

Steven Waltzer, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics, said, “We estimate Apple Watch shipped 30.7 million units worldwide in 2019, growing a healthy 36% from 22.5 million in 2018. A blend of attractive design, user-friendly tech and sticky apps makes the Apple Watch wildly popular in North America, Western Europe and Asia.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “We estimate the entire Swiss watch industry together shipped 21.1 million units worldwide in 2019, falling 13% from 24.2 million in 2018. Analog wristwatches remain popular among older consumers, but younger buyers are tipping toward smartwatches and computerized wristwear.”


Plus the replacement rate for Apple Watches is going to be way higher than for Swiss watches. They’re facing the classic high-end disruption problem that Nokia and others faced when the iPhone arrived in 2017: they’re OK at the hardware, but the software utterly eludes them. This time, though, there isn’t a more-than-good-enough Android to save them. (Not that it saved Nokia or BlackBerry either.)
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💭🦠 Six ways coronavirus will change our world • Exponential View

Azeem Azhar:


The pandemic virus, 2019-nCoV, is testing many of the assumptions of a highly interconnected, modern, globalised world. This 120nm virus, small to us, large by viral standards, is shining a light on many of our ways of living. It is a clash between traditional lifestyles, civets and bats in a ‘wet market’, and a technocratic, intraconnected China of high-speed rail, WeChat, drones and more.

The epidemic has had a mild personal impact. A trip to Hong Kong cancelled, replaced by early morning video conference calls. Cathay Pacific and Marriott are the losers of this adaptation. 

More strikingly, the outbreak has showed the strengths and weakness of our interconnected world. It’s making me wonder, are we resilient enough?


The six ways – open-source scientific collaboration, quarantines enabled by digital systems, more on genomics, “remote everything”, more self-sufficiency, and (unfortunately) more populism – make a lot of sense. Worth reading in much more detail though.
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Presentation: Standing on the shoulders of giants • Benedict Evans


Every year, I produce a big presentation digging into macro and strategic trends in the tech industry. This year, ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ looks at what it means that 4bn people have a smartphone; we connected everyone, and now we wonder what the Next Big Thing is, but meanwhile, connecting everyone means we connected all the problems. Tech is becoming a regulated industry, but we don’t really know what that will mean.


The video might be useful, but you get the idea. And there’s a video of the post-presentation Q+A.
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Navigating online controversy in an age of unrelenting, exhausting, ubiquitous bullshit: the American Dirt story (updated) • Singal-Minded

Jesse Singal:


There were certain problems with how American Dirt, the novel by Jeanine Cummins that is currently one of the hottest-selling titles on Amazon, and which was chosen by Oprah for her super-famous book club, was written and publicized. 

But how severe were those problems? And which of them were actual, you know, problems, rather than the inevitable outrage-overgrowth that instantly sprouts, kudzulike, during any sort of online pileon, suffocating reasoned conversation?

If you read most journalistic coverage of this controversy, you will not be informed. If anything, you will end up more misinformed than you were when you started. And that’s a useful problem to explore given where journalism is right now. I haven’t read American Dirt, so I can’t speak directly to the plot. But the book itself isn’t actually the point I’m interested in: Rather, I want to talk about the nature of how this controversy — and seemingly every controversy, these days — is being covered by mainstream media outlets.


Mainstream-ish outlets, but his takedown resonates: as he says, it degenerates into rightside norms versus accuracy norms.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1238: Google gets legal on Clearview, how coronavirus will change the world (and MWC), Nevada dumps Shadow app, the truth about UK election news, and more

  1. I’m not sure price per click vs number of clicks matters that much. AFAIK the percentage of GDP devoted to ads is fairly constant, so what matters is (a bit) how that amount evolves both in absolute and in %, then where that money goes to (esp. offline vs online, but also to whom online). Whether Google’s share of the pie takes the form of 1,000 at 10cts or 10,000 at 1ct sis fairly irrelevant.

  2. Radioactive data: that’s an old concept. When renting lists for cold calls or mailers 20+ yrs ago, you used to get a few fake contacts intermixed, to make sure those lists weren’t kept longer or used for other purposes.

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