Start Up No.1294: YouTube bans junk coronavirus content, ARM Macs on the way?, how Facebook advertisers target dolts, Zoom hits 300m, and more


Can you can breed these? You too could be in charge of Trump’s pandemic task force! Competence no object! CC-licensed photo by Michael Mandiberg 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.

Coronavirus: YouTube bans ‘medically unsubstantiated’ content • BBC News

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YouTube has banned any coronavirus-related content that directly contradicts World Health Organization (WHO) advice.

The Google-owned service says it will remove anything it deems “medically unsubstantiated”.
Chief executive Susan Wojcicki said the media giant wanted to stamp out “misinformation on the platform”.

The move follows YouTube banning conspiracy theories falsely linking Covid-19 to 5G networks.

Mrs Wojcicki made the remarks on Wednesday during her first interview since the global coronavirus lockdown began.

“So people saying, ‘Take vitamin C, take turmeric, we’ll cure you,’ those are the examples of things that would be a violation of our policy,” she told CNN.

“Anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy.”

Mrs Wojcicki added YouTube had seen a 75% increase in demand for news from “authoritative” sources.

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So is it also going to remove content that goes against WHO advice on vaccination? How does YouTube justify leaving some rubbish on, but taking other stuff out? Yes, coronavirus is a deadly infectious disease; but so is measles; will all the nonsense around that be removed too? I can’t understand how YouTube can defend doing the one but not the other. Dead is dead, whichever disease kills you.
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Want to find a misinformed public? Facebook’s already done it • The Markup

Aaron Sankin:

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Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post pledging to combat misinformation about COVID-19 circulating on Facebook.

“We’ve taken down hundreds of thousands of pieces of misinformation related to COVID-19, including theories like drinking bleach cures the virus or that physical distancing is ineffective at preventing the disease from spreading,” Zuckerberg wrote.

But at the very same time, The Markup found, Facebook was allowing advertisers to profit from ads targeting people that the company believes are interested in “pseudoscience.” According to Facebook’s ad portal, the pseudoscience interest category contained more than 78 million people.

This week, The Markup paid to advertise a post targeting people interested in pseudoscience, and the ad was approved by Facebook. 

Using the same tool, The Markup boosted a post targeting people interested in pseudoscience on Instagram, the Facebook-owned platform that is incredibly popular with Americans under 30. The ad was approved in minutes.

We reached out to Facebook asking about the targeting category on Monday morning. After asking for multiple extensions to formulate a response, company spokesperson Devon Kearns emailed The Markup on Wednesday evening to say that Facebook had eliminated the pseudoscience interest category. 

…we do have an idea what at least one ad targeting the group looks like, since an ad for a hat that would supposedly protect my head from cellphone radiation appeared on my Facebook feed on Thursday, April 16.

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But the plot thickens: when he got in touch with the advertiser, he found that Facebook had expanded the ad into the pseudoscience group. As the story also points out, this is part of a longrunning series of examples where Facebook lets you target people on categories that are, to say the least, surprising.
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Will American shale oil go bust? • The Conversation

Jorge Guira is an associate professor of law and finance at the University of Reading:

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Oil companies are restructuring hastily – assessing the value of reserves, and asking creditors for debt waivers. The US government has helped by extending companies’ ability to offset losses against future tax liabilities, which can make them more attractive to buyers.

Nonetheless, some companies sitting on the priciest oil will get liquidated. In other cases, big creditor banks could take over businesses, or demand mergers and acquisitions, including consolidations.

The biggest uncertainty is how long until the oil price rebounds? With the economy only likely to reopen gradually, demand will stay low for some time while supply remains too high. The futures markets expect WTI to bounce back to the high US$20s by the end of the year, but don’t foresee a return to even US$40 oil until December 2024.

How much US shale oil is worth saving in these straitened circumstances is key. Some estimate as many as 70% of firms will go out of business overall, with some never coming back until oil stabilises above US$50. Others may be taken over by companies prepared to wait for higher prices. As oil historian Daniel Yergin says, “Rocks don’t go bankrupt”. US shale is in a sort of death pageant, and will probably remain that way for the foreseeable future.

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One thing that might save the shale oil companies – temporarily – is that the US Federal Reserve is diving in and buying all sorts of bonds, including the junk bonds that keep them staggering on. But it’s only delaying the inevitable.
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Zoom grows to 300 million users despite security backlash • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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Zoom has now revealed that it has surpassed 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants. That’s up 50% from the 200 million the company reported earlier this month, and a huge jump from the 10 million back in December.

Zoom does say the figures are daily meeting participants, which could mean if you have five Zoom meetings in a day then you’re counted five times. However, Zoom also states in the same blog post that it has “more than 300 million daily users” and that “more than 300 million people around the world are using Zoom during this challenging time.”

Either way, more people are using Zoom despite the security and privacy concerns that have been raised recently. Zoom has implemented a 90-day feature freeze, and the company is releasing Zoom 5.0 this week to address some of the concerns. Zoom 5.0 includes passwords by default, improved encryption, and a new security icon to control meetings.

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Does anyone remember Skype?
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This tool automatically transcribes your Zoom meetings as they happen • The Verge

Jon Porter:

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Automated transcription service Otter.ai now integrates directly into Zoom calls to transcribe meetings on the fly. During a meeting, anyone on the call can click the “Otter.ai Live Transcript” button within their Zoom window to open up the Live Video Meeting Notes on Otter.ai’s site, and participants can then annotate them on the fly. Otter.ai quietly announced the new feature in a blog post earlier this month.

Otter.ai has had the ability to transcribe recordings of past Zoom meetings for a little while now. The live transcription feature should make the process quicker, and make highlighting and editing important sections easier while they’re still fresh in your mind.

In order to use the new feature you’ll need to be subscribed to Zoom’s Pro tier or higher, and you’ll also need an Otter for Teams subscription. Otter.ai’s Teams subscription normally costs $20 per use per month, but the service is currently offering two months for free if you use the code COVID19OTTER. You can find instructions on how to set the live transcription feature up on Otter.ai’s website.

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That’s a smart bit of piggybacking.
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Apple aims to sell Macs with its own ARM-based chips starting in 2021 • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

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The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, the people said.

In some Macs, Apple’s designs will double or quadruple the number of cores that Intel provides. The current entry-level MacBook Air has two cores, for example.

Like Qualcomm Inc. and the rest of the mobile semiconductor industry, Apple designs its smartphone chips with technology from Arm Inc., owned by SoftBank Group Corp. These components often use less energy than Intel’s offerings. But it in recent years, Arm customers have tried to make processors that are also more powerful.

The transition to in-house Apple processor designs would likely begin with a new laptop because the company’s first custom Mac chips won’t be able to rival the performance Intel provides for high-end MacBook Pros, iMacs and the Mac Pro desktop computer.

The switch away from Intel is complex, requiring close collaboration between Apple’s software, hardware and component-sourcing teams. Given work-from-home orders and disruptions in the company’s Asia-based supply chain, the shift could be delayed, the people said.

Like with the iPhone, Apple’s Mac processors will include several components, including the main processor, known as a Central Processing Unit or CPU, and the GPU, the graphics chip. Apple’s lower-end computers currently use Intel for graphics, while it has partnered with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. for the graphics cards in its professional-focused offerings.

The Kalamata project has been going for several years. In 2018, Apple developed a Mac chip based on the iPad Pro’s A12X processor for internal testing. That gave the company’s engineers confidence they could begin replacing Intel in Macs as early as 2020, Bloomberg News reported.

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Won’t be much of a hit to Intel – 5% of its CPU business? – though the prestige hit is substantial. Now all the questions begin about how Apple gets old Intel-based software to run. (Over to you, JLG..)
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iPhone SE review: an iPhone for people who don’t like new iPhones • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

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Unlike the starting-at-$699 iPhone 11 models, the SE is the only remaining iPhone with the once-beloved home button and a small (well, smaller) 4.7in screen. Yet it still has the performance and some of the camera tricks of those higher-end phones.

To test the SE over the past week, I went deep into my Museum of Ancient iPhones—and deep into my email inbox—to focus on the hundreds of questions that owners of older iPhones have written to me with since my iPhone 11 review last year.

No matter which phone you’re coming from, you’ll find the SE to be one of Apple’s best values in years, especially as we all try to tighten our belts in the coronavirus world. It’s even nice for talking to people, now that we’re doing that again. Just one problem: when we finally can stop sheltering in place, we’re going to want better battery life.

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As Stern explained when she was on John Gruber’s podcast recently, her email inbox is stuffed with messages from people who don’t want to use Face ID on phones; they like Touch ID, they understand Touch ID, and they’re damn well sticking with it.

And as always, the video accompanying the article is fantastic. I can’t imagine how long it must take to dream up and execute. Stern’s videos are pretty much the only reason for smartphone reviews.
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Making cryptocurrency part of the solution to human trafficking • Chainalysis blog

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In 2019, we tracked just under $930,000 worth of Bitcoin and Ethereum payments to addresses associated with CSAM providers. That represents a 32% increase over 2018, which in turn saw a 212% increase over 2017. We attribute most of these yearly increases to rising adoption of cryptocurrency rather than increased demand for CSAM, and it’s important to keep in mind these transactions represent a miniscule fraction of all cryptocurrency activity. Even so, this should be a concerning trend for the cryptocurrency industry, from both a moral and reputational standpoint. 


Most individual cryptocurrency payments to CSAM providers fall between $10 and $50, though a significant percentage of these sites’ total revenue comes from much larger payments. We know from law enforcement that payments between $10 and $50 would likely indicate either a one-time purchase of CSAM or, if seen on a recurring basis, possibly a subscription to a consistent CSAM provider. 

For example, this Chainalysis Reactor screenshot shows some recent transactions to an address the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has identified as belonging to a CSAM provider. A clear pattern emerges: Nearly all transfers the service receives are for 0.0021 Bitcoin, worth roughly $15 as of April 2020.


We can discern more patterns by isolating cryptocurrency payments to CSAM sites made from exchanges serving users in a single region. Above, for instance, we see that most payments for CSAM users in South Korea occur during nighttime hours, when most individuals are at home.

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Certainly the exchanges could do a lot more to look out for and alert authorities to transactions of suspicious sizes to particular sites. But of course they have a financial incentive not to.
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‘Sadness’ and disbelief from a world missing American leadership • The New York Times

Katrinn Benhold:

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The United States has an election in November. That, and the aftermath of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s, might also affect the course of history.

The Great Depression gave rise to America’s New Deal. Maybe the coronavirus will lead the United States to embrace a stronger public safety net and develop a national consensus for more accessible health care, [political scientist and senior adviser at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne, Domique] Moïsi suggested.

“Europe’s social democratic systems are not only more human, they leave us better prepared and fit to deal with a crisis like this than the more brutal capitalistic system in the United States,” Mr. Moïsi said.
The current crisis, some fear, could act like an accelerator of history, speeding up a decline in influence of both the United States and Europe.

“Sometime in 2021 we come out of this crisis and we will be in 2030,” said Mr. Moïsi. “There will be more Asia in the world and less West.”

[Timothy] Garton Ash said that the United States should take an urgent warning from a long line of empires that rose and fell.

“To a historian it’s nothing new, that’s what happens,” said Mr. Garton Ash. “It’s a very familiar story in world history that after a certain amount of time a power declines.”

“You accumulate problems, and because you’re such a strong player, you can carry these dysfunctionalities for a long time,” he said. “Until something happens and you can’t anymore.”

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Coronavirus vaccine doctor says he was fired over doubts on hydroxychloroquine • The New York Times

Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman:

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Rick Bright was abruptly dismissed this week as the director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and removed as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response. He was given a narrower job at the National Institutes of Health.

In a scorching statement, Dr. Bright, who received a Ph.D. in immunology and molecular pathogenesis from Emory University, assailed the leadership at the health department, saying he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, one of several “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections” and repeatedly described by the president as a potential “game changer” in the fight against the virus.

“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the Covid-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit,” he said in his statement. “I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way.”

…While Dr. Bright followed careful procedures, [Trump admin officials] said, he was a polarizing figure within the Department of Health and Human Services, where concerns had circulated about a management style that was described as confrontational.

Those officials said that there had been discussions about removing Dr. Bright for many months, and that they came to a head after emails were leaked to Reuters last week detailing internal discussions about chloroquines.

A senior administration official said that Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told the coronavirus task force members in their meeting on Wednesday about Dr. Bright’s departure from BARDA, describing it as a promotion to the vice president. Officials left the meeting and learned of Dr. Bright’s public statement.

…A person familiar with Dr. Bright’s account said that Dr. Bright was pressured to rush access to the drug after the president and Larry Ellison, the chairman and chief technology officer of Oracle, had a conversation about chloroquines. Dr. Bright was then directed to put in place a nationwide expanded access program to make the drugs available on a broad basis without specific controls in place, according to the person familiar with his account.

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Today in hilarious quotes from Trump “officials”: someone’s management style being described as “confrontational”. And now we turn to Alex Azar (who describes someone being fired as “a promotion”).
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Special report: former labradoodle breeder was tapped to lead US pandemic task force • Reuters

Aram Roston and Marisa Taylor:

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On January 21, the day the first U.S. case of coronavirus was reported, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services appeared on Fox News to report the latest on the disease as it ravaged China. Alex Azar, a 52-year-old lawyer and former drug industry executive, assured Americans the U.S. government was prepared.

“We developed a diagnostic test at the CDC, so we can confirm if somebody has this,” Azar said. “We will be spreading that diagnostic around the country so that we are able to do rapid testing on site.”

While coronavirus in Wuhan, China, was “potentially serious,” Azar assured viewers in America, it “was one for which we have a playbook.”

Azar’s initial comments misfired on two fronts. Like many U.S. officials, from President Donald Trump on down, he underestimated the pandemic’s severity. He also overestimated his agency’s preparedness.

As is now widely known, two agencies Azar oversaw as HHS secretary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, wouldn’t come up with viable tests for five and half weeks, even as other countries and the World Health Organization had already prepared their own.

Shortly after his televised comments, Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him “the dog breeder.”

Azar’s optimistic public pronouncement and choice of an inexperienced manager are emblematic of his agency’s oft-troubled response to the crisis. His HHS is a behemoth department, overseeing almost every federal public health agency in the country, with a $1.3 trillion budget that exceeds the gross national product of most countries.

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Incompetence, overconfidence and cronyism: the Trump administration in three words. Of course Azar is a Trump pick; of course his past in the pharmaceutical industry indicates that Trump was never truthful in saying, when trying to get elected, that he’d rein in the pharma sector. That hasn’t happened. Still, no labradoodles have died of Covid-19. (Current joke: “Trump wanted someone who was good with labs, and Azar delivered.”)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1294: YouTube bans junk coronavirus content, ARM Macs on the way?, how Facebook advertisers target dolts, Zoom hits 300m, and more

  1. Was wondering if YouTube was really going to remove content from nations who advise their citizens to wear face masks in public (contrary to WHO guidance) but I guess this paragraph in the WHO doc on the use of face masks would be an out clause.

    “In some countries masks are worn in accordance with local customs or in accordance with advice by national authorities in the context of COVID-19. In these situations, best practices should be followed about how to wear, remove, and dispose of them, and for hand hygiene after removal.”

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