Start Up No.1266: TikTok shuns the ugly, Apple fined by French, bitcoin’s squeezed miners, penguins!, and lots more coronavirus news


Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t letting humans in, and this fella wants a videoconference. CC-licensed photo by Karen on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Coronavirus at the end. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TikTok told moderators: suppress posts by the “ugly” and poor • The Intercept

Sam Biddle, Paulo Victor Ribeiro and Tatiana Dias:

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The makers of TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing app with hundreds of millions of users around the world, instructed moderators to suppress posts created by users deemed too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. These same documents show moderators were also told to censor political speech in TikTok livestreams, punishing those who harmed “national honor” or broadcast streams about “state organs such as police” with bans from the platform.

These previously unreported Chinese policy documents, along with conversations with multiple sources directly familiar with TikTok’s censorship activities, provide new details about the company’s efforts to enforce rigid constraints across its reported 800 million or so monthly users while it simultaneously attempts to bolster its image as a global paragon of self-expression and anything-goes creativity. They also show how TikTok controls content on its platform to achieve rapid growth in the mould of a Silicon Valley startup while simultaneously discouraging political dissent with the sort of heavy hand regularly seen in its home country of China.

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Live cams • Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium is closed to the public. Or the physical public – but the virtual public is more than welcome: they have penguins and all sorts:

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Tune in to a web cam.

Be delighted by the antics of our sea otters or mellow out to the hypnotic drifting of our jellies. With ten live cams to choose from, you can experience the wonder of the ocean no matter where you are.

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See? The animals and fish aren’t concerned.
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Apple fined record €1.1bn by French competition regulator • The Guardian

Angela Monaghan:

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Apple has been fined a record €1.1bn (£990m) by antitrust regulators in France for engaging in anti-competitive agreements with two wholesalers. The penalty imposed on the US tech giant is the largest ever handed out to a company by the Autorité de la Concurrence.

Commenting on the move, Isabelle de Silva, head of the French competition watchdog, said: “Apple and its two wholesalers agreed to not compete against each other and prevent resellers from promoting competition between each other, thus sterilising the wholesale market for Apple products.”

The watchdog said Apple had conspired with the two wholesalers, Tech Data and Ingram Micro, and behaved in such a way that aligned prices and limited wholesale competition for Apple products such as Apple Mac computers and iPads, but not iPhones.

The other two French companies were also fined. Tech Data was handed a €76m penalty and Ingram Micro was ordered to pay €63m.

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Industry body warns most airlines could go broke by May • Financial Times

Jamie Smyth and Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson:

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The airline industry is warning that it must shed jobs and obtain state support to survive the coronavirus crisis, as a respected aviation consultancy predicted that most of the world’s carriers could go broke by May. 

United Airlines in the US and Air New Zealand have told staff that they will begin redundancy processes, as travel restrictions force carriers to slash capacity and ground tens of thousands of aircraft. 

Air New Zealand said on Monday that it would slash international capacity by 85% and cut domestic capacity by almost a third in April and May. The carrier, which employs 8,000 people, said it would consult with trade unions about redundancies.

That followed news from United that it is planning to halve its capacity for April and May, and has warned its nearly 100,000 employees of “painful” cuts to its payroll.

The severe measures came as the Centre for Aviation, a consultancy, warned that by the end of May most airlines would be bankrupt due to the unprecedented travel restrictions that are being rolled out by governments around the world. 

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Bitcoin price crash forces miners off network • Decrypt

Robert Stevens:

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“Most hash rate lost was from China, I know this based on our own customers, plus seeing a lot of the Chinese pools (with more older gen machines) lose hash rate,” Thomas Heller, global business director at F2Pool, told Decrypt. “The more prepared Chinese miners with [Antminer] S9’s have been selling large scale amounts of S9’s over the past few months, primarily to countries with even cheaper power, such as Russia/CIS region, Middle East, etc.”

“With the prices where they are now ($4,600), more hash rate will go offline in the coming days/weeks, if the price doesn’t turn around,” he added.

The main issue is that the drop in prices has made mining less profitable. Bitcoin mining profitability has fallen to $0.09 per TH [terahash], down 80% from a recent high of $0.44 in July 2019.

“It’s an extremely tough time for miners,” Heller said. And it doesn’t look like that will end any time soon.

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That’s the problem for bitcoin miners: the investment is upfront, and begins depreciating as soon as it’s installed. As long as bitcoin rises in value, everything’s fine. But it’s not rising.
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Twitter takes down coronavirus tweets from John McAfee, David Clarke, and others • The Verge

Kim Lyons:

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Twitter has removed several tweets by prominent accounts that made misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic, as the company says it’s following a “zero-tolerance approach to platform manipulation and any other attempts to abuse our service at this critical juncture.”

A Twitter spokesperson says the platform removed three posts by David Clarke, who tweets under the handle @SheriffClarke, because the tweets violated its policy against encouraging self-harm. All three of the tweets in question referred to the pandemic in some way, as noted by Jared Holt at watchdog site Right Wing Watch.

In one, Clarke linked to an article about bars and restaurants being ordered to close because of the novel coronavirus and added “Time to RISE UP and push back. Bars and restaurants should defy the order. Let people decide if they want to go out.” In another, he encouraged people to “get back to reasonableness” and “stop buying toilet paper,” and a third removed tweet suggested people “take to the streets.”

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Again, howcome it’s so feasible to do it now, but not at other times when there’s clear misinformation, for example around vaccines?
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Verily’s coronavirus screening site is basically unusable • Input Mag

Matthew Welle:

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Project Baseline is not a public health site with the power to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Rather, it’s a pilot program with a very limited scope that isn’t actually useful for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. In fact, the screening program prompts users with symptoms to seek help elsewhere.

How exactly is this meant to fight the coronavirus again?

For starters, Project Baseline is only available to those living in either Santa Clara or San Mateo counties in California. The project has nothing at all to offer for those who reside outside of these areas.

Say you do live in one of these two counties. You’re coughing, have a fever, and are generally very scared that you’ve contracted COVID-19. You log onto Project Baseline seeking assistance in finding a testing facility nearby. The site prompts you with an opening question about your symptoms: “Are you currently experiencing severe cough, shortness of breath, fever, or other concerning symptoms?”

You click yes. Project Baseline provides you with an answer: “We suggest that you seek medical attention.”

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Amazon is selling dozens of e-books with dubious coronavirus advice • VICE

Abigail Beall:

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Since the start of the year, a handful of e-books have been published on Amazon claiming to offer expert advice on how to survive coronavirus. Now, a search for “coronavirus” on the Kindle store brings up 860 results. At best, these books are profiting from repurposing information already widely available, and at worst they are spreading conspiracy theories.

The people behind the books are using pseudonyms, fake reviews and buzzwords to make their way to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists. And they mostly seem to be getting away with it, too.

Some of the books are using names of official departments to appear legitimate. One entitled Coronavirus Disease: A Practical Guide for Preparation and Protection, which is available to buy on the Kindle store for £6.71, has listed one of its authors as ‘U.S. Dep. of Health & Human Services’. The real HHS confirmed to VICE this was not an official publication.

Others are using fake authors and fake reviews to sell copies.

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Amazon has removed some, but by no means all, of the scam books.
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Coronavirus and 3D printing • 3D Printing Media Network

Davide Sher:

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the hospital in Brescia (near one of the hardest-hit regions for coronavirus infections) urgently needed valves (in the photo) for an intensive care device and that the supplier could not provide them in a short time. Running out of the valves would have been dramatic and some people might have lost their lives. So [Nunzia Vallini] asked if it would be possible to 3D print them.

After several phone calls to fablabs and companies in Milan and Brescia and then, fortunately, a company in the area, Isinnova, responded to this call for help through its founder-CEO Cristian Fracassi, who brought a 3D printer directly to the hospital and, in just a few hours, redesigned and then produced the missing piece.

On the evening of Saturday 14th (the next day) Massimo [Temporelli, founder of the FabLab in Milan] reported that “the system works”. At the time of writing, 10 patients are accompanied in breathing by a machine that uses a 3D printed valve. As the virus inevitably continues to spread worldwide and breaks supply chains, 3D printers – through people’s ingenuity and design abilities – can definitely lend a helping hand. Or valve, or protective gear, or masks, or anything you will need and can’t get from your usual supplier.

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Microsoft Teams goes down just as Europe logs on to work remotely • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Microsoft’s chat and communications tool, Microsoft Teams, is down across Europe this morning. The outage started just as thousands of workers started to sign into the service and attempt to work remotely amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Microsoft Teams users are currently experiencing issues signing into the service and sending messages. “We’re investigating messaging-related functionality problems within Microsoft Teams,” says a Microsoft support Twitter account.

The timing is less than ideal, just as many businesses are encouraging employees to work remotely and collaborate using services like Microsoft Teams. Even schools are also using tools like Microsoft Teams for remote education, with some schools in The Netherlands instructing students to log into the service today for digital questions.

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A classic “you had one job” moment. But the strain of corporate VPNs and other remote-working systems is going to be immense this week. Slack is definitely going to find out whether it has earned its place in the world.
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To track coronavirus, Israel moves to tap secret trove of cellphone data • The New York Times

David Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner and Ronen Bergman:

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has authorized the country’s internal security agency to tap into a vast and previously undisclosed trove of cellphone data to retrace the movements of people who have contracted the coronavirus and identify others who should be quarantined because their paths crossed.

The unprecedented move to use data secretly gathered to combat terrorism for public health efforts was authorized on Sunday by Mr. Netanyahu’s holdover cabinet. It must still be approved by Parliament’s Secret Services Subcommittee.

The subcommittee met Monday afternoon but ended its discussions after 4 p.m. — when a new Parliament was to be sworn in — without holding a vote, essentially stopping the approval process.

The existence of the data trove and the legislative framework under which it is amassed and used have not previously been reported. The plan to apply it to fighting the virus, alluded to only vaguely by Mr. Netanyahu, has not yet been debated by lawmakers or revealed to the public.

The idea is to sift through geolocation data routinely collected from Israeli cellphone providers about millions of their customers in Israel and the West Bank, find people who came into close contact with known virus carriers, and send them text messages directing them to isolate themselves immediately.

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And the difference between this and China is..?
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China’s first confirmed Covid-19 case traced back to November 17 • South China Morning Post

Josephine Ma:

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The first case of someone in China suffering from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can be traced back to November 17, according to government data seen by the South China Morning Post.

Chinese authorities have so far identified at least 266 people who were infected last year, all of whom came under medical surveillance at some point.

Some of the cases were likely backdated after health authorities had tested specimens taken from suspected patients.

Interviews with whistle-blowers from the medical community suggest Chinese doctors only realised they were dealing with a new disease in late December.

Scientists have been trying to map the pattern of the early transmission of Covid-19 since an epidemic was reported in the central China city of Wuhan in January, two months before the outbreak became a global health crisis.

Understanding how the disease spread and determining how undetected and undocumented cases contributed to its transmission will greatly improve their understanding of the size of that threat.
According to the government data seen by the Post, a 55-year-old from Hubei province could have been the first person to have contracted Covid-19 on November 17.

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Which is way earlier than was admitted.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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