Start Up No.1256: the Philippines’ Facebook fake news, all about Mrs WeWork, Silicon Valley workers v bosses, Apple takes $500m battery hit, and more


Allegedly used to create codewords for 10-year-old girls. CC-licensed photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Tested free of any mention of coronavirus. Dammit! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Facebook’s News Feed became a political propaganda machine • Science Friday

Steven Levy, in an extract from his new book about the inside story of Facebook:

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“Newspeople don’t tell lies, but lies spread faster,” [Philippines journalist Maria] Ressa says. She had bet her entire publication on Facebook but now was being eclipsed by the false information from Duterte bloggers. The country was inundated with posts like a fake sex tape where the head of Duterte’s female opponent was digitally grafted onto the body of a porn actress. Facebook also was empowering the Duterte mob to use the platform to attack his critics, putting them in danger from his angry supporters. Ressa was personally targeted.

And despite her multiple complaints, Facebook was doing nothing to stop this.

Ressa thought that after Duterte won the election in May 2016, things might calm down. But then he began using the same tactics on Facebook to push his governance platform of strong-arm tactics.

Ressa understood that the Duterte forces were drawing a road map for future political abusers around the globe to use Facebook. She pushed for a meeting to warn the company. In August 2016, she met with three senior Facebook officials in Singapore. She had identified 25 fake accounts that were able to amplify their hateful and false information to 3 million people. “I began showing them lies, the attacks against anyone who attacked [violent acts by Duterte supporters],” she says. One example was a post from the Duterte campaign spokesperson, showing a photo of a girl he claimed was raped in the Philippines. “We did a check and it showed that the photo was a girl from Brazil,” says Ressa, speaking to me in 2019. “And yet that post was allowed to stay up. It’s still up there today.”

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That wasn’t the only country where this happened; to say that Facebook is indifferent to warnings about the effect it’s having would be to overstate things. It’s far less worried than that.
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Rebekah Neumann’s search for enlightenment fuelled WeWork’s collapse • Bustle

Moe Tkacik:

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WeWork’s bailout by its largest investor, SoftBank, may permanently obscure the ugliest details behind its demise. But if the epidemic of self-delusion surrounding WeWork’s potential can be traced to anyone, it is Rebekah. Media accounts tended to depict Rebekah as a cartoon Yoko who brainwashed Adam into giving her titles like “strategic thought partner” and a staff she charged with such inane tasks as disassembling her phone, painting all the pieces white, and reassembling it again. But even though Rebekah’s name was absent from WeWork’s original literature — leading to accusations that the company rewrote its history to make her a co-founder — the business bore the hallmarks of her thirst for enlightenment and mystic milieu. It was Rebekah who, according to the couple’s own mythology, transformed Adam from a chain-smoking pretty boy with such profound dyslexia he could barely read his text messages into the shamanic figure who wooed so many overconfident white guys in Silicon Valley. Perhaps more importantly, a close friend says, it was she who at some point during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 — when other heiresses were plowing their money into gold, Caribbean tax shelters, battered too-big-to-fail bank stocks, industrial foreclosure flippers, and this new thing called Bitcoin — bet her own net worth on Adam.

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Yes, she is the sister of Gwyneth. It’s the most amazing profile, but one has to feel that she provides the most amazing fuel for the fire. Tkacik did a great job finding the people to recount the stories.

BRB, just getting my telephone dismantled and the pieces painted white.
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Kicking extremists off social media helps fight hate, report finds • HuffPost UK

Arj Singh:

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in the last two years Yaxley-Lennon has been kicked off Twitter and Facebook, as well as having restrictions placed on his YouTube channel, “which resulted in his views collapsing”.

He has been forced to communicate with supporters through the more marginal encrypted messaging app Telegram, where he has just 42,000 followers compared to more than a million before his bans, Hope Not Hate’s State Of Hate 2020 report found.

Yaxley-Lennon attracted more than 10,000 supporters to “Free Tommy” demonstrations against his incarceration for contempt of court in London in 2018, one of the largest far-right protests in the UK in recent years.

But similar demonstrations after his bans attracted little more than a few hundred last year.

“The reasons for this are by no means monocausal, but he and his associates’ inability to spread the word about events and animate the masses beyond core supporters has clearly played a role,” the report said.

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Stands to reason, really. Put someone on a lower hill, fewer people can see them.
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Spotify’s newest pitch to labels and musicians: now you pay us • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw:

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The streaming giant is asking record labels and artists for money to advertise their songs within its app, arguing that they’ll reach new fans and increase their popularity. The effort is controversial because it’s complicating wider talks over long-term music rights between Spotify and the record companies. The service has already introduced one tool, called Marquee, and is pitching a second, people with knowledge of the matter said.

“They need to diversify their revenue streams, they need to work out ways to drive higher operating margins,” said Mark Mulligan, an industry analyst at Midia Research…

…Spotify’s approach to the two-sided marketplace has changed over the years. The company initially offered tools and services to musicians and independent record companies to help them stand out in a world dominated by major labels. The most high-profile test allowed artists to upload tracks directly to Spotify. That infuriated Universal Music, Warner Music and Sony Music Entertainment — the company’s key suppliers — and Spotify canceled the program.

Now its biggest push, music companies say, is paid promotion — getting labels to pay to promote their artists.

Spotify has inserted sponsored songs in listeners’ playlists, and has also discussed charging artists and labels for data about their habits. With Marquee, artists or their labels can pay a minimum of $5,000 to have fans notified when a new release arrives on the service.

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So it’s legalised payola. The music labels are going to have to hope that Apple Music stays competitive in order to keep Spotify at bay. Else it will become a monster.
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Silicon Valley leaders’ plea to Democrats: anyone but Sanders • The New York Times

Nellie Bowles and Erin Griffith:

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How Silicon Valley votes matters because it leans overwhelmingly Democratic and there is a tremendous amount of capital. What is striking about this primary cycle is the schism between the people who run the companies and their workers.

Consider that employees of [Google owner] Alphabet gave $499,309 to Mr. Sanders for the 2020 cycle, his second-largest total donations from one employer after University of California employees, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. By comparison, Mr. Buttigieg’s 2020 run had raised $294,860 from Alphabet employees.

“There’s a massive split between leadership and rank and file,” said Luis Zamora, a co-president of the San Francisco Young Democrats. “Bernie wants employees to be able to take over some of the ownership of the company, and that’s not going to fly.”

For a group of California technologists dismayed by what they see as the populist turn of both national parties, the solution — albeit only a statewide one — is to ditch the two-party system altogether.
On a cool evening in Palo Alto, at the Stanford University Faculty Club in September, those technologists and activists launched the Common Sense Party.

It was a response, they said, to what they call the one-party monopoly in the state. They hoped to carve out Democrats who feel isolated from their party’s leftward lurch.

“One party is the puppet of the public unions and wants government to run everything, and the other party is the puppet of the religious autocrats who want us all to act in a certain manner,” said Tim Draper, a venture capitalist and a Common Sense supporter. “No party is supporting a moderate agenda of someone who wants freedom to prosper and freedom to act.”

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Don’t worry about disrupting politics, bros, you already did with untrammelled social networks.
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Nando’s-inspired sex slang used by girls as young as 10 • The Guardian

Robert Booth:

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An internet safety service that has monitored the online interactions of more than 50,000 children has discovered that girls as young as 10 are using code words drawn from the Nando’s restaurant menu to obscure explicit sexual conversations.

SafeToNet has screened more than 65m texts sent since November and found that girls aged 10, rather than teenage boys, as they had expected, use the most explicit and potentially harmful sexual language.

“We weren’t expecting to see that,” said Richard Pursey, the founder and chief executive of the service, which monitors popular messaging apps including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well as Instagram and Snapchat. “We thought it would be more likely to be boys than girls and in the 12 to 13 age group.”

As well as overtly graphic terms, they use “peri peri” to mean a well-endowed male and “coleslaw” to mean a bit on the side, he said.

The SafeToNet app looks for language indicating sexual talk, abuse, aggression and thoughts about suicide and self-harm. It applies a threat level to each and 10-year-old girls were the most prominent in category 3 of sexual references, which relates to the most explicit and harmful language.

In December, it emerged that more than 6,000 children under 14 have been investigated by police for sexting offences in the past three years, including more than 300 of primary school age.

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SafeToNet is an app which installs a third-party keyboard, and (just like Apple warns you they can) reads and transmits everything back to SafeToNet. The company says that content is anonymised, and then AI analyses it. If it’s able to identify that it’s 10-year-old girls sending “peri peri” messages, though, it can’t be *that* anonymised.

There are lots and lots of questions about the authenticity of this story – as in, does anyone believe a word of it? If any 10-year-old girls (or parents of same) could tell us about whether “peri peri” is really an innuendo, or whether it just happens that they like ordering Nando’s, that would be great.
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I just tried the first mainstream 5G phone, and so far 5G isn’t all it’s cracked up to be • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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I know 5G is going to be big. Eventually, its super-fast speeds might help medical professionals diagnose and help people while they’re still riding in an ambulance to the hospital. It could power game streaming services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Microsoft xCloud and Google Stadia so you can play games with console quality wherever you are, even without Wi-Fi. It may let you download movies in seconds before you get on the airplane at the airport. You’ll still have service in packed stadiums where, on older LTE networks, you might not even be able to place a phone call.

But aside from faster speeds I found in very limited areas, there’s no “killer app” for 5G right now. And I don’t know what it’s going to be. Maybe it won’t even be on phones and instead packed into new augmented reality glasses we wear on our heads in a few years. 

With LTE, the killer app  was, in my opinion, high-quality video chats. Before LTE, you needed a Wi-Fi connection for a high-quality video chat like FaceTime. Today, you can use 4G LTE for group video chats, for Snapchat, for TikTok, downloading big apps on the go, streaming Netflix and more. But you can do all of that without 5G, so there’s no really “must have” solution…

…It’ll be years until we really see why we need 5G in our phones outside of getting faster downloads. There’s so much hype around these networks today, though. Consumers are bombarded by commercials advertising carrier 5G networks and the truth of it is this: You don’t need it yet.

Worse, the advertising only stands to confuse customers who, unlike me, will never spend time actually hunting down a 5G tower, if there’s one near them at all.

So the gist is this: Don’t worry about 5G. If you’re buying a Galaxy S20 and it has coverage for all the flavors, great, you’re future proofing a little bit. But you shouldn’t just buy a phone for 5G alone.

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No more headlines • MacSurfer’s Headline News™

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Dear MHN [MacSurfer Headline News] Readers:

Not seeing a viable future with subscriptions, MacSurfer and TechNN will cease operations effective immediately. Please allow a few weeks to process forthcoming refunds. If need be, subscription inquiries can be addressed to the Publisher at the bottom of the Homepage.

Thanks kindly for your support, and thanks for the memories…

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It’s roughly a million years since I looked at this site, which aims to aggregate headlines from all over the place. The reason for its failure is immediately obvious: what it does has been easy enough to do for yourself ever since RSS readers started becoming widespread in around 2005. The options it offered for subscription (reorganise the order of the site!) were pointless. The only surprise is that it has managed to survive this long.
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Apple to pay up to $500m over battery-related phone slowdown • The Washington Post

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IPhone owners could get $25 from Apple after the company agreed to pay up to $500m to settle claims over intentionally slowing down older phones to preserve older batteries.

Apple and lawyers representing iPhone consumers agreed to a deal stemming from Apple’s 2017 admission that it was slowing down phone performance in older models to avoid unexpected shutdowns related to battery fatigue.

That admission led to Apple offering discounted battery replacements at $29, but many people claimed they had already spent hundreds of dollars to buy new phones because Apple didn’t reveal the cause of the problem. If they had known they could just buy new batteries, they might not have bought new phones, some consumers in the case said.

Apple did not admit wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, the company will pay $310m to $500m, including about $93m to lawyers representing consumers.

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Quite an expensive failure to communicate. For years Apple faced complaints that newer versions of its OS slowed down older phones (sometimes, it did – the processors weren’t up to it), but failing to explain that it was intentionally throttling because the battery was old feels like something that engineering executed well, but the explanation of why it was being done got lost on the way to marketing. Or else marketing heard about it, but couldn’t think of a good way to describe it.
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Exclusive: newly obtained documents show Huawei role in shipping prohibited US gear to Iran • Reuters

Steve Stecklow:

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China’s Huawei Technologies, which for years has denied violating American trade sanctions on Iran, produced internal company records in 2010 that show it was directly involved in sending prohibited U.S. computer equipment to Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator.

Two Huawei packing lists, dated December 2010, included computer equipment made by Hewlett-Packard Co and destined for the Iranian carrier, internal Huawei documents reviewed by Reuters show.

Another Huawei document, dated two months later, stated: “Currently the equipment is delivered to Tehran, and waiting for the custom clearance.”

The packing lists and other internal documents, reported here for the first time, provide the strongest documentary evidence to date of Huawei’s involvement in alleged trade sanctions violations. They could bolster Washington’s multifaceted campaign to check the power of Huawei, the world’s leading telecommunications-equipment maker.

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There was already an indication from ZTE documents. Huawei can’t really get away from this now. Its CFO is still fighting extradition from Canada to the US. This won’t help, though the documents don’t form part of the case.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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