Start Up No.1245: HQTrivia asks its last, how to beat job-hire software, coronavirus scares and shows, looking back at LG’s Prada, and more


After the iPlayer, the BBC had an ambitious plan to disrupt TV – but regulators killed it CC-licensed photo by Dan Taylor-Watt on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

HQ Trivia, the once-popular mobile game, is shutting down • CNN

Kerry Flynn:

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The company behind the once-popular live mobile trivia game is shutting down, CNN Business has learned. HQ will part ways with 25 full-time employees.

When HQ launched in 2017, its first game HQ Trivia quickly attracted millions of people across the world who stopped whatever they were doing twice a day to play the game on their smartphones. The company was profiled by The New York Times and its original host Scott Rogowsky became a household name, appearing on programs like NBC’s “Today” show.

But over the next year, the game’s popularity faded and its parent company was hit with a series of setbacks. The company grappled with internal turmoil, including the death of HQ cofounder Colin Kroll, who died in December 2018 from a drug overdose.

CEO Rus Yusupov said in a company-wide email on Friday that “lead investors are no longer willing to fund the company, and so effective today, HQ will cease operations and move to dissolution.”

In the email, which was obtained by CNN Business, Yusupov also disclosed that the company had hired a banker “to help find additional investors and partners to support the expansion of the company.” He said the company had “received an offer from an established business” and was expected to close the deal on Saturday, but the potential acquisition fell through.

In recent months, HQ tried to expand its audience by launching new products, including a photo challenge game in December called HQX.

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They wanted to be the future of TV; and maybe a successor will be. It seems inevitable that at some point a mobile app like this – appointment “TV” – will get big enough to become embedded and self-sustaining on mobile. But this company was too screwed up.

You can bet the folk at Epic Games, makers of Fortnite, are feeling a little itchy though.
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Cost-cutting algorithms are making your job search a living hell • VICE

Nick Keppler:

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Manoeuvering around algorithmic gatekeepers to reach an actual person with a say in hiring has become a crucial skill, even if the tasks involved feel duplicitous and absurd. ATS [Applicant Tracking System] software can also enable a company to discriminate, possibly unwittingly, based on bias-informed data and culling of certain psychological traits.

Lynne Williams, a Philadelphia-area career advisor, holds a seminar called “Beating the Applicant Tracking System.” Every time, she braces for a wave of anger from the audience. “I can feel their blood pressure rise when I tell them what they are doing wrong,” she said.

Their most important task, she tells crowds of jobseekers, is to parrot keywords from job descriptions. The most basic elimination function of most ATS software is searching résumés and cover letters for keywords. Many systems can’t—or don’t bother to—distinguish synonyms, like “manager” and “supervisor,” so she says to rewrite résumés with each application, mindlessly copying words from the job description. Countless online guides for “beating the bots” recommend the same.

People find this task frustrating and are indignant over its irrelevance to their fitness for the job, Williams said. Others fume about all the time spent carefully crafting applications that were probably never seen by a human.

Jack Wei, a director of product marketing for the job site SmartRecruiters, said that “the moment a candidate applies [for a posted job], a ‘smart profile’ scrapes résumé info into a digital portfolio by extracting keywords.” The employer then sees an automatically generated score, from 1 to 5, of their apparent fitness for the job.

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But is the software more, less or just as biased as the humans who used to do all that? But it has brought some old tricks back to life:

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ATS technology encourages applicants to find ways to cut in line, said Anjunwa. She has heard stories of people inserting common keywords in small white font on their PDF résumés, visible only to bots, to sneak into the next tier of candidates.

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Just as used to happen to search before Google.
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How the BBC’s Netflix-killing plan was snuffed by myopic regulation • WIRED UK

Chris Stokel-Walker:

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It all started in 2007, in a Shepherd’s Bush pub where Ashley Highfield was having a pint and mulling over a bold plan. As the director of technology and new media at the BBC, Highfield had just overseen the launch of the iPlayer – BBC’s online catch-up service. Now he wanted to try and build a commercial equivalent that would earn more. For that reason that he was meeting over drinks with Ben McOwen-Wilson, then head of strategy at ITV.

Scribbling on the back of a coaster, the two mapped out the plan for a British digital television streaming service which would feature selected Hollywood films alongside content from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. That service would be named Kangaroo.

The premise was simple: it would be the best of British television, co-owned by the three broadcasters, fully committed to the project. It was a prototypical Britbox, the streaming service that the British networks finally set up in 2017, but according to Highfield it would have packed a heavier punch thanks to a broader range of content, including rights to American films.

“I think the difference [with Britbox is] that each of the players realises this is too little, too late, and will therefore hedge their bets,” says Highfield, who now works outside the TV industry, in a yacht-making business. Back then, he says, there was impetus to act as the battle was not yet lost.

“Each of the big players was desperate to not be wrong-footed by the emergence of players like Hulu and Sky’s growing dominance in this area.” There were also rumours swirling of other streaming platforms that could come in and steal audience share. “The stars aligned in a way that took ten years to even partially align again.”

The birth of the iPlayer itself had been difficult, according to a source present at the time in the BBC, who asked not to be named because they still work for the organisation. “It faced huge resistance internally from TV,” they say. Digital was considered the “weird sibling” of television and radio before the internet content boom, and commissioners in traditional broadcast were worried digital services would cannibalise their audiences. Some were still stuck in a 20th century mentality, and couldn’t understand the appeal of on-demand viewing.

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Terrific article, and so timely as idiots in the government try to tear apart the BBC because they can’t bear journalistic inquiry.
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YouTube has been cracking down on coronavirus hoaxes, but they are still going viral • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:

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If you search “coronavirus” or “Wuhan” on YouTube — even in incognito mode, which removes customization from the search results — you’ll see high-quality content from verified news providers. But that doesn’t mean that hoaxes about the virus aren’t being watched on the platform in huge numbers.

BuzzFeed News viewed a list on Monday of 500 of the most-watched YouTube videos featuring the keyword “coronavirus”, according to the social metrics dashboard BuzzSumo. Many of the top videos are from news agencies like Britain’s Channel 4 News, the South China Morning Post, and BBC News. But that list also contains dozens of popular videos that feature unconfirmed or false information about the virus. In some cases, videos have earned millions of views with claims that the virus is an engineered bioweapon, that it originated from Chinese people eating “bat soup,” or that the death count is actually 10 times higher than reported. As of Wednesday, there were more than 45,210 reported cases of the virus, with 99% in China, and 1,118 deaths.

YouTube has waged a well-documented battle over the last year against the conga line of conspiracy theories that dance below the surface of the platform. Last February, the company demonetized anti-vax content. Last March, it announced it would be showing “information panels” — text widgets that offer debunks from the site’s fact-checking partners — on searches for topics “prone to misinformation”.

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Love the phrase “conga line of conspiracy theories”.
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Facebook canceled a 5,000-person conference in San Francisco because of coronavirus • Vox

Shirin Ghaffary:

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Facebook is canceling an annual marketing conference it was planning to host in San Francisco next month over concerns about the new coronavirus — now officially known as Covid-19.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we canceled our Global Marketing Summit due to evolving public health risks related to coronavirus,” Facebook spokesman Anthony Harrison said in a statement to Recode.

The social media giant confirmed that it has scratched its plan to hold the event for 5,000 international attendees at the Moscone Center on March 9-12, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s the latest sign of how the outbreak, which has taken the lives of nearly 1,400 people as of Friday, is impacting business in the tech industry. Earlier this week, the world’s biggest phone show, Mobile World Conference, canceled its event in Barcelona after major tech companies like Amazon pulled out of the event.

But the Facebook marketing summit is the first publicly reported example of an event in the San Francisco Bay Area being canceled due to the virus. While there are four cases of novel coronavirus in Silicon Valley, public health officials say that the handful of cases are contained to those who either recently traveled to Hubei, where the virus started, or had close contact with family members who did.

That hasn’t stopped Silicon Valley from worrying — particularly because of the high level of travel between the area and China.

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“Coronavirus” in the headline, Covid-19 in the story: so you can see that the name recognition isn’t quite there. Let’s hope that the recognition stays that low.
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IBM pulls out of RSA over coronavirus fears • Protocol

Adam Janofsky:

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Just days after MWC organizers canceled its Barcelona trade show, another major tech conference is in flux over coronavirus fears.

IBM on Friday said that it is pulling out of RSA, one of the cybersecurity industry’s largest events that’s set to take place in San Francisco from Feb. 24 to 28.

“The health of IBMers continues to be our primary concern as we monitor upcoming events and travel relative to Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19),” an IBM spokesperson said in an email to Protocol. “As a result, we are canceling our participation in this year’s RSA conference.”

IBM is one of the biggest sponsors at RSA, which hosts more than 40,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors. RSA organizers said that the conference planned to proceed as scheduled at the George R. Moscone Convention Center. In a public statement issued late Friday, they added, “We understand and respect [IBM’s] decision.”

Seven other exhibitors — six of them from China — have dropped out, according to the statement, and less than 1% of attendees have cancelled their registration. Conference organizers at Moscone have added health and safety measures, such as offering disinfectant wipes at all check-in counters.

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COVID-19 is just on the edge of becoming a pandemic – defined as a disease that is causing new infections on every continent. Hence all the fretting.
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Google has released a tool to spot faked and doctored images • MIT Technology Review

Karen Hao:

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Jigsaw, a technology incubator at Google, has released an experimental platform called Assembler to help journalists and front-line fact-checkers quickly verify images.

How it works: Assembler combines several existing techniques in academia for detecting common manipulation techniques, including changing image brightness and pasting copied pixels elsewhere to cover up something while retaining the same visual texture. It also includes a detector that spots deepfakes of the type created using StyleGAN, an algorithm that can generate realistic imaginary faces. These detection techniques feed into a master model that tells users how likely it is that an image has been manipulated. 

Why it matters: Fake images are among the harder things to verify, especially with the rise of manipulation by artificial intelligence. The window of opportunity for journalists and fact-checkers to react is also rapidly shrinking, as disinformation spreads at speed and scale.

Not a panacea: Assembler is a good step in fighting manipulated media—but it doesn’t cover many other existing manipulation techniques, including those used for video, which the team will need to add and update as the ecosystem keeps evolving. It also still exists as a separate platform from the channels where doctored images are usually distributed.

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Data brokers are cruising for a bruising • WIRED

Anouk Ruhaak:

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Data brokers should be held accountable for the negative externalities they inflict on society. There will always be criminals online, and new regulations will never fully deter them. But governments can deter the complicit middlemen — the data brokers with little security and fewer scruples. While data brokers are often sued for damages if data is breached when it’s in the possession of those they sell to (e.g., Equifax in 2017 and Exactis in 2018), they are not held accountable for data breached by those they sell to, nor are their executives tried for fraud. What if instead they had to answer for the consequent fraud and abuse? What if authorities like the Federal Communications Commission had a strong mandate to punish data brokers for their role in leaks and breaches?

To make companies responsible for the actions of buyers or sellers up or down the supply chain is not a new idea. The UK Modern Slavery Act was specifically designed to hold large UK manufacturers responsible for human rights violations by their contractors or subsidiaries down the chain. Similarly, anyone importing goods into the EU is responsible for the use of toxic chemicals anywhere in the production cycle, even if that part of the chain is not directly controlled by the importing company. It’s a tried and tested methodology to prevent corporations from passing the buck down the supply chain.

In a similar vein, we could hold data brokers responsible for any breaches involving data sold by them. What could such regulations look like?

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Good suggestions, and it’s totally true that data brokers bring negative externalities. They’re a sort of radioactive waste repository, but with data.
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Labour urges Johnson adviser sacking after eugenics support • Financial Times

Laura Hughes:

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Boris Johnson is facing calls from Labour to sack a 27-year-old adviser who praised the merits of eugenics and reportedly called for “universal contraception” to prevent a “permanent underclass”.

Andrew Sabisky, a researcher who describes himself as a “super-forecaster”, was appointed after Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, invited maverick freethinkers and “assorted weirdos” to apply for Downing Street jobs.

Speaking to Schools Week in 2016, Mr Sabisky said: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things. Intelligence is largely inherited and correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness.”

In the same interview he suggested that the widespread prescription of modafinil, an anti-narcolepsy drug, would be worth the death of a child a year. “From a societal perspective the benefits of giving everyone modafinil once a week are probably worth a dead kid once a year,” he said.

In a 2014 post on a website run by Mr Cummings, the Mail on Sunday reported Mr Sabisky called for “universal contraception” to prevent a “permanent underclass”.

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As some Tories have been asking, did nobody think to use Google before hiring him? If this is the quality of Cummings’s “weirdos”, then they’re living up to that part of their name.

Governments can come unstuck remarkably fast as this stuff builds up. We’re barely three months into this one.
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The 2006 LG Prada was the first capacitive touchscreen phone. But… • Android Authority

C Scott Brown roamed eBay to find an original LG Prada, launched 13 years ago (and thus coming before the iPhone in terms of availability, if not widely recognised demonstration). It’s lacking in pretty much every way, and then there’s this:

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The first Android smartphone wouldn’t land until 2008 as the HTC Dream (or the T-Mobile G1 in some areas). As such, the LG Prada does not run on Android. Instead, it runs on a proprietary operating system built on Flash that we’re just going to call Prada UI.

Remember that prior to the KE850, there were no capacitive touchscreen smartphones. You either had buttons, a trackball, or a stylus for interfacing with your smartphone display. So LG couldn’t just use the touchscreen OS of choice on the Prada because there wasn’t a touchscreen OS of choice.

This, ultimately, is where LG massively drops the ball. This was an opportunity for the company to set the groundwork on an operating system built with human touch distinctly in mind. Instead, what did LG do? It essentially transferred the operating system of a feature phone and made it touch-capable and called it a day.

As an example of what I mean, the LG Prada does not have a software keyboard. If you want to compose a text message you are presented with an on-screen numeric keypad and need to use T9 entry. For those of you too young to know what that is, that’s when you tap a number a certain number of times to pick a letter and then move on to the next letter.

The iPhone, meanwhile, had a full QWERTY keyboard that would appear on the screen, instantly making T9 seem like it came from the stone age.

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But LG was a phone maker, whereas Apple was a computer maker. Of course you’d have a QWERTY keyboard on a computer. Of course you’d have T9 on a phone. That’s why the iPhone was low-end disruption for PCs, not high-end disruption for phones – though it turned out to do that too.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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