Start Up No.1284: are runners really a risk?, inside Zuckerberg’s jealous rage at Instagram, Travelex’s downfall, Microsoft puts off Windows 10X devices, and more

Huawei says it has lost a ton of money on this foldable phone. Are we surprised? CC-licensed photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. One day closer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The viral ‘study’ about runners spreading coronavirus is not actually a study • VICE

Jason Koebler:


In the last 24 hours, a computer simulation by a team of Belgian engineers that tracks the “spread droplets” and “slipstream” of the exhalations, coughs, and sneezes of people who are running, walking, or cycling has gone viral. Perhaps you have seen the gif on Twitter, Facebook, or NextDoor. Or, as some people on our staff have seen, perhaps write-ups of it have been texted to you by concerned friends or family.

Though this was not the specific goal of the simulation, it is currently being used on neighborhood groups and social media as scientific evidence that people who are jogging and biking are putting others at risk. If you are getting “droplets” or “globules” on you, the thinking goes, you are at risk of contracting coronavirus.

“People should read and not misread my tweets and texts,” Bert Blocken of Eindhoven University of Technology, the lead researcher on the simulation, wrote in an email to Motherboard. “I have never and nowhere discouraged people from walking, running, or cycling. Rather the opposite. Maybe people should read more, and react less.”

Blocken has yet to publish a peer-reviewed paper about the simulation. In fact, he hasn’t even published a non-peer-reviewed study. Instead, he spoke to a reporter in Belgium about it, who wrote a news article, which has now been aggregated and shared widely by many publications. Given what Blocken has put into the world, taken at face value, some people are understandably concluding that it is impossible to run or cycle safely in many cities; he recommends a distance of 65 feet between bikers and other people, something that is impossible to do in cities. The issue with Blocken’s suggestion that we “read more, and react less” is that there is almost nothing to read, and there is no study to critique.


Another news article in a Belgian paper. (The Belgian doctor who linked 5G to coronavirus was also written about in a Belgian paper.) It’s a bad look, Belgium. But more worrying is the way that any old thing is being shoved out there.
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Zuckerberg’s jealousy held back Instagram and drove off founders • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:


[Mark Zuckerberg’s and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom’s] competitive streaks manifested in different ways. When they went on a ski trip to bond shortly after the acquisition, Systrom preferred the unpredictability of backcountry trails, while Zuckerberg just wanted to race black diamonds to the bottom. No matter the stakes, Zuckerberg was win-at-all-costs. Once, when he lost a Scrabble match to a friend’s teenage daughter, he created a simple software program to cheat for him. Systrom fancied himself a Renaissance man, with a passion for self-improvement matched only by his expensive tastes for Italian leather, bespoke mountain bikes, and dinner with celebrities. In 2018, around the time Zuckerberg testified to Congress about one of Facebook’s data-sharing scandals, Systrom passed his wine sommelier exam and sat with the Kardashians at the Met Gala.

Instagram’s success earned Zuckerberg’s respect, but not a place on the short list of Facebook executives he counted as confidants and friends. Zuckerberg couldn’t relate to Systrom’s obsession over each contour of Instagram’s design, which slowed product development. Systrom worried that Facebook’s hard-sell approach—sending spammy emails to push users to log in, for example, or using red dots in the interface to create anxiety about missed messages—might cost Instagram the relative trust it enjoyed as a friendlier-looking social network. Still, he believed that keeping Zuckerberg happy would require him to show that Instagram remained valuable to Facebook’s future. He assumed Zuckerberg would continue to honor Instagram’s independence as long as it grew quickly—and crushed the competition…

…After Instagram reached 1 billion users, Zuckerberg directed Javier Olivan, Facebook’s head of growth, to draw up a list of all the ways Instagram was supported by the Facebook app. Then he ordered the supporting tools turned off. Instagram would no longer be promoted in Facebook’s news feed. Sure enough, Instagram’s growth slowed to a halt.


This is an extract from Frier’s new book about Instagram. Zuckerberg comes across as a maniacally competitive sociopath.
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COVID-19: How we’re continuing to help • Inside Google blog

Sundar Pichai:


With so many disruptions to daily life, people are looking for more information about school or business closures. Based on data from governments and other authoritative sources, Google Search and Maps will now display if a place, like a school or local business, is temporarily closed. In the coming days, we’ll make it possible for businesses to easily mark themselves as “temporarily closed” using Google My Business. We’re also using our artificial intelligence (AI) technology Duplex where possible to contact businesses to confirm their updated business hours, so we can reflect them accurately when people are looking on Search and Maps. 


Not clear from this which countries Google is going to use Duplex in. UK journalists seem to have been told that this is its introduction to the UK, though it’ll only be used by Google to confirm whether stores are open. A little way from being the program you can use all the time to book a hairdresser.. er, a restaurant.. er..
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Huawei has lost at least $60m on Mate XS foldable • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Huawei launched its Mate X foldable phone at MWC 2019, following up with the Mate XS in February this year. The latter foldable has enjoyed a wider launch of sorts, but the firm has reportedly revealed that it’s still making a hefty loss on the device.

Huawei consumer group CEO Richard Yu told media in China that even though the Mate XS retails for an eye-watering 16,999 yuan (~$2,408), the firm has lost between $60m and $70m. This is despite earlier claims that the phone is seeing high demand, suggesting that the company is willing to swallow losses to encourage foldable adoption.

“After the cost of the folding screen is reduced, it is possible to make a profit, not just the selling price (sic),” the CEO was quoted as saying by ITHome and MyDrivers.

It really makes you wonder how much the Mate XS would cost if the company was trying to make a profit right out of the gate. But the silver lining is that the price of foldable phone components is expected to come down over time as production and development matures.

In fact, the Huawei executive previously stated that it’ll take roughly two years for foldable phones to have the same price as traditional smartphones.


Oh yeah, remember folding phones. Pff.
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Travelex paid hackers multimillion-dollar ransom before hitting new obstacles • WSJ

Anna Isaac, Caitlin Ostroff and Bradley Hope:


Owned by London-listed payments conglomerate Finablr PLC, Travelex found its operations crippled by a New Year’s Eve ransomware attack that left some of its systems offline for weeks. The finance company paid out the ransom in the form of 285 bitcoin, according to the person with knowledge of the transaction.

Asked about the payment, a Travelex spokesman said the firm has taken advice from a number of experts and has kept regulators and partners informed about its efforts to manage the recovery. A U.K. law-enforcement investigation into the breach is continuing, he said. He declined to comment further on the incident.

The company said it had begun reinstating some of its operations in January and revived its consumer business in the second half of February…

…Finablr said last month that it was preparing for a potential collapse as investors began questioning its financial arrangements and ability to operate amid the pandemic, sending its shares into a tailspin. The company’s founder, Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, stepped down from the board of London-listed NMC Health PLC earlier in the year amid concerns about financial irregularities including understating the health-care provider’s debt.

Days later, S&P Global cut Travelex’s credit ratings deeper to junk status, citing liquidity constraints and a potential breach of its contractual obligations to some creditors. Finablr’s own financial problems leave it unable to support Travelex, the ratings company said.


So when the airports reopen, it’s possible that those ripoff kiosks won’t be open. Though others will probably have replaced them.
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Head of ATM network warns cash could be killed off by end of summer as shoppers switch to cards • This is Money

Helen Cahill:


Cash could be almost killed off by the end of the summer as shoppers switch to using cards and never go back, the head of the ATM network warned last night. 

John Howells, chief executive of Link, which runs Britain’s 70,000 cashpoints, said the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically sped up the switch from cash to card and online payments. 

Before the shutdown, cash was still used in around a third of transactions. Now Link predicts its use will slump to just 10% by August as people shop and go out less, use cards when they stock up at supermarkets and avoid coins and notes for fear of picking up the virus. 
Research shows that once people switch to using cards and digital payments they rarely use cash again. Previously, cash use had been expected to fall to 10% by 2025 – meaning a change that should have taken five years will now take five months. 

Howells said the rapid fall could see vast numbers of ATMs close as they are used less often, while withdrawal fees could be rapidly introduced on other ATMs to ensure they remain profitable. 

Older and more vulnerable people would be the worst hit as they might be forced to travel miles to withdraw cash. 


Definitely a predictable effect.
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Diamond and Silk’s Twitter account locked for breaking coronavirus misinformation rules • POLITICO

Cristiano Lima:


Twitter briefly locked the account of online personalities and prominent Trump allies Diamond and Silk over a tweet that violated the company’s rules against coronavirus misinformation, a spokesperson for the social media firm told POLITICO on Wednesday.

It’s the latest instance of Twitter taking enforcement action against a notable surrogate of President Donald Trump for ruling afoul of its recently enacted rules against medical hoaxes and misleading information during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The duo, whose legal names are Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, claimed in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that individuals will get sicker if they stay inside amid the pandemic, a statement directly at odds with the advice of public health experts who have called for millions of Americans to self-isolate.

“The only way we can become immune to the environment; we must be out in the environment. Quarantining people inside of their houses for extended periods will make people sick!” the pair tweeted from their official account, which boasts 1.4 million followers.


When I heard that this pair had tweeted something suggesting that the official advice was wrong, I knew it was only a matter of time before they got hammered. Twitter is coming down hard on people who advise people to “self-harm” by ignoring the advice or encouraging them to contract coronavirus.

As the story says, the circle is getting closer to Trump, though he’s staying out of its reach. But one of his idiot sons might feel more tempted soon enough. The result of that should be fun to watch.
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Microsoft thinks coronavirus will forever change the way we work and learn • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft is also working on improving the video call view in Teams to include more people. Zoom usage has soared recently, and it has a simple gallery view that lets you easily see everyone in a conversation. “Today the Teams setup allows you to have the two-by-two, and we recognize meetings are bigger than just four people and people want to see more video,” says Spataro. “So we’ve reprioritized resources to make sure we’re quickly moving on that and in the near future we’re working on getting to see more and more people at once.”

During this work from home period, webcams and laptops are selling out at retailers as consumers look to buy equipment for remote work and distance learning. Microsoft is seeing similar trends in the supply chain. “The PC is back,” jokes Spataro. “People are recognizing… trying to use an iPad to work from home is not gonna work. That PC form factor is huge and you can see that data in everything from supply chain and what’s happening with devices.” Mobile usage is also increasing in Teams, driven by usage in education and health care where people have different devices and setups to typical commercial users of Teams.

So what happens after the pandemic has subsided? “It’s clear to me there will be a new normal,” explains Spataro. “If you look at what’s happening in China and what’s happening in Singapore, you essentially are in a time machine. We don’t see people going back to work and having it be all the same. There are different restrictions to society, there are new patterns in the way people work. There are societies that are thinking of A days and B days of who gets to go into the office and who works remote.”


“The PC is BACK, BABYYYY”, I can imagine them yelling down the halls in Redmond. However…
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Microsoft: don’t expect any Windows 10X devices this calendar year • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:


Microsoft is setting internal expectations that it won’t deliver any Windows 10X devices in calendar 2020, my contacts say. This isn’t really surprising, given what’s going on externally with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But for enthusiasts who were looking forward to dual-screen Surface Neo devices this holiday season, the reality is taking root.

My contacts say that Chief Product Officer Panos Panay informed some of his team internally today, April 8, that Microsoft wouldn’t be delivering its own Surface Neo dual-screen 10X devices this calendar year. In addition, Microsoft also won’t be enabling third-party dual-screen Windows devices to ship with 10X in calendar 2020, I hear. 

Microsoft’s new priority is to get Windows 10X on single-screen devices first – which could be good news for those who were hoping that Microsoft’s 10X push might help the company in its Chromebook-compete effort. (Single-screen devices means both 2-in-1-type form factors and traditional clamshell-type devices.)

I am hearing Microsoft is not saying that it plans to delay its Android-based Surface Duo to some time beyond this holiday season.


The dual-screen thing never looked like a realistic product, to be honest.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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