Start Up No.1298: poll finds Americans don’t trust tracking apps, Trump’s lost two months, Facebook hires its UK regulator, HTC’s 1,000-year phone, and more


There won’t be queues like this for the next iPhone, of course; and they’ll probably be a month later than usual CC-licensed photo by Ian Betteridge on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Now that’s what I call lockdown. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Poll finds a problem for Apple-Google coronavirus app: mistrust of tech firms • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell and Alauna Safarpour:

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Nearly 3 in 5 Americans say they are either unable or unwilling to use the infection-alert system under development by Google and Apple, suggesting that it will be difficult to persuade enough people to use the app to make it effective against the coronavirus pandemic, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll finds.

The two tech giants are working with public health authorities and university researchers to produce a set of tools that apps could use to notify users who had come in close contact with a person who tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The initiative has been portrayed as a way to enhance traditional forms of contact tracing to find potential new infections and help make resumption of economic and social activities safer in the months ahead.

But the effort faces several major barriers, including that approximately 1 in 6 Americans do not have smartphones, which would be necessary for running any apps produced by the initiative. Rates of smartphone ownership are much lower among seniors, who are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19, with just over half of those aged 65 or older saying that they have a smartphone (53%). Rates are even lower for those 75 and older, according to the Post-U. Md. poll.

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I think it’s going to dawn eventually on people that reopening locked-down countries will rely very heavily on having good contact tracing; which means smartphones; which means apps, and they’ll have to use the Apple-Google API, because not doing so will be the kiss of, well, death. (Perhaps, in time, it can record if you’ve already had it, or been vaccinated.)

Quite possibly the elderly will be told to get a cheap one and keep it powered simply for the tracing.
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Inside Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s two months of magical thinking • Vanity Fair

Gabriel Sherman:

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[Health and Human Services secretary Alex] Azar was briefed on a new and dangerous coronavirus sweeping the Chinese city of Wuhan by CDC director Robert Redfield on January 3—but he struggled to communicate this knowledge to the president. At the time of the outbreak, Trump had soured on Azar, whom he blamed for his weak health care polling numbers. “Trump thought Azar was a disaster. He is definitely on the gangplank,” a person close to Trump told me. Azar wasn’t able to speak to Trump about the virus for two weeks, even though Trump called him during this period to scream that the White House’s ban on e-cigarettes, a response to a health crisis that he believed could help him politically, had become a drag on his poll numbers. “I never should have done this fucking vaping thing!” Trump told Azar on January 17, a person familiar with the call told me.

When Azar finally told Trump about the outbreak on the phone at Mar-a-Lago, on the night of Saturday, January 18, Trump cut him off and launched into another e-cigarette rant. “Trump jumped his shit about vaping,” a person briefed on the phone call told me…

[Embodiment of Dunning-Kruger’s Law, Jared] Kushner blamed [Azar] for the criticism Trump received about the delays in testing, according to a person in frequent touch with the West Wing. “This was a total mess,” Kushner told people when he got involved. Kushner had no medical experience, but that didn’t seem to matter. “’To be honest, when I got involved, I was a little intimidated. But I know how to make this government run now’,” Kushner said, according to a source. “The arrogance was on full display.”

Kushner advocated for the iconoclastic public-private approach he had used for his Mideast peace plan. He reached out to business leaders like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, according to a source. With bravado only partly grounded in reality, he promised Trump that Google was rolling out a testing website. He also made a point of bypassing normal channels, phoning Wall Street executives and asking for advice on how to help New York, people briefed on the conversation said. A former West Wing official said Kushner’s involvement wrought chaos: business leaders wanting to contribute masks or ventilators didn’t know who in government to call. According to two sources, Kushner told Trump about experimental treatments he’d learned of from executives in Silicon Valley. “Jared is bringing conspiracy theories to Trump about potential treatments,” a Republican briefed on the conversations told me. (A person close to Kushner said he brought COVID testing ideas to Trump.)

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It’s a terrifying piece: Kushner’s idiot-in-charge confidence combined with Trump’s idiot-in-charge stupidity and lack of focus. It’s also hilarious for the “sources close to” denials, obviously from Kushner himself.
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Yes: the American people should see Trump’s coronavirus briefings in their entirety • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi:

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to watch Trump speak, uninterrupted by TV hosts and pundits, is to understand that he does not have a message, that the stray sentences he formulates which do articulate a belief of some kind are anomalies, and he is likely to muddy their meaning in the next breath, or bury it with a series of half-formed thoughts and throwaway verbal crutches — many people are saying, some people would say, if you can believe it, and so on. And when we extract his words in clips or quotes in news articles, when we divorce them from their rambling context to place them in the context of the real world, and his real record, we are also helping him articulate a semi-coherent worldview and ideology when there usually isn’t one. We are aiding and abetting him in the creation of a message, and giving the voting public the option to abstain from sitting through his endless yapping to discern his meaning for themselves.

A viewer, hearing the president in full, would likely struggle to notice or take seriously that stray sentence which articulates a belief, sandwiched between a dozen other thoughts spewing from his mouth at rapid speed and inhuman cadence. Even when we place the belief in context, when we explain that he’s often expressed the opposite sentiment, or that his actions contradict his words, we’re not revealing Trump to those inclined to believe him over the fake news media.

For a Republican voter who has been able to stomach the Trump presidency because of tax reform, or the reconfiguration of the courts, but who ignores his tweets and opts out of attending his rallies, I imagine it’s much easier to tolerate the president’s words when they are distilled into proper sentences and coherent thoughts by the media. I imagine it would be less tolerable to have to hear it straight from the rambling horse’s mouth. When you listen to what he says, and how he says it, you are confronted by his insanity in a way that is more powerful, and harder to ignore, than hearing a cable-news analyst or reporter explain to you why you shouldn’t take him seriously, why it would be stupid to do so, when he’s lied or been wrong about X, Y, or Z so many times before.

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Apple delays mass production of 2020 flagship iPhones • WSJ

Yoko Kubota:

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Apple is forging ahead with plans to release four new iPhone models later this year, people familiar with its plans say. The phones, some with 5G connectivity, will vary in price and come in three sizes—5.4 inches, two measuring 6.1 inches, and one at 6.7 inches, all featuring organic light-emitting diode, or OLED, screens, the people said.

Apple’s annual product refresh fuels the majority of iPhone sales for an entire year, making new phones the linchpin of a business segment that accounts for more than half of the company’s total revenue.

Investor anticipation for this year’s 5G release helped send Apple shares to record highs before the pandemic hit, as analysts predicted the devices would lift a mature product line that last year failed to ship more than 200 million units for the first time since 2015.

Apple declined to comment.

Apple usually unveils new iPhone models in mid-September and begins selling them before the end of the month. To do so, it usually ramps up mass-production in the early summer, building up inventory around August.

This year, while Apple would still be building some of the new phones in the July-to-September period, the mass-production ramp-up will slide back by about a month, the people said.

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The phones “will vary in price”. Quelle surprise. So essentially it’s pushing things back a month. As the story points out, the original iPhone X was delayed until November.
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Apple making it easier to unlock Face ID iPhones if you have a mask on • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

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Right now, if you’re wearing a mask, you need to lift your mask to unlock an iPhone with Face ID. Otherwise, there’s a small but annoying delay between when the phone realizes it can’t see your face and when it presents the screen to enter in a passcode. You can just turn off Face ID, but then you don’t get the convenience when you’re at home and not wearing a mask.

In the new iOS 13.5 beta 3 code, which was released to developers for testing on Wednesday, Apple simplifies the unlock process for folks wearing masks by bringing the passcode field to the main screen. All you need to do is swipe up if you’re wearing a mask, and you’ll skip the Face ID display and enter in a code instead.

That means you’ll be able to get to unlock your phone easier while doing things like mobile payments at a checkout counter instead of fumbling with your mask or waiting for a passcode screen to pop up. Since this is still a beta, it may be a few more weeks until a final version launches with the feature enabled.

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Bet Apple will try to hurry it up. Face ID turns out to have been a great idea which was launched with unlucky timing. (Still, at least it wasn’t AirBnB.) How soon will we have iris recognition?
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Facebook poaches social media regulator Tony Close from Ofcom • The Times

Matthew Moore:

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A senior official at the watchdog preparing to regulate social media companies has been poached by Facebook to help it respond to the curbs.

Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards, has been heavily involved with drawing up rules to rein in the tech giants and protect the public.

Ministers said in February that they were minded to appoint Ofcom as the country’s first internet watchdog. It is already responsible for TV and radio.

The government is preparing to announce a timetable for legislation but Mr Close will not oversee the regime after accepting an offer to become Facebook’s director of content regulation.

He is expected to be responsible for ensuring the US company does not fall foul of the regulatory system, and for pushing back against any restrictions that it deems unworkable.

A former senior Ofcom official said that colleagues were shocked. “He was obviously privy to all their thinking about online harms,” the source said. “Facebook wants regulation that isn’t going to adversely affect their profits too much, so it’s in their interest to recruit people with inside knowledge.”

The Conservative MP Damian Collins, the former chairman of the culture select committee, said: “We don’t want to see a revolving door between regulators and companies they are seeking to regulate . . . parliament must insist on a proper regulator with teeth who can set standards for the platforms and hold them to account.”

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Perhaps Parliament could pass a law about this sort of thing, Mr Collins. In fact, it has had years to pass such a law; the revolving door has been outraging people in different sectors for ages.
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World’s largest solar energy project will also be its cheapest • Greentech Media

John Parnell:

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Abu Dhabi has set a global record-low solar price as authorities confirmed the winning bid in a 2-gigawatt tender. Upon its expected completion in mid-2022, it is slated to be the largest single-site solar energy project in the world.

The Al Dhafra project had five bidders, with the lowest offer coming in at 1.35 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour.

The state-run Abu Dhabi Power Corporation (ADPower) confirmed to Greentech Media that the leading consortium consists of French energy giant EDF and the projects division of Chinese solar manufacturer Jinko Solar.

ADPower will now negotiate a 30-year power-purchase agreement with EDF/Jinko. If an agreement cannot be reached, ADPower, part of the Emirates Water and Electricity Company, can negotiate with the second-best bidder.

…There are numerous factors behind the ever-lower prices for solar in the Middle East, including great solar resources, large and flat sites, cheap-to-zero land costs, massive scale, and the cheap finance that comes with a 30-year PPA [public-private agreement] with a petrostate as the offtaker.

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Twitter launches a COVID-19 data set of tweets for approved developers and researchers • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Twitter is making it possible for developers and researchers to study the public conversation around COVID-19 in real time with an update to its API platform. The company is introducing a new COVID-19 stream endpoint to those participating in Twitter Developer Labs — a program that offers access to new API endpoints and other features ahead of their public release. The new COVID-19 endpoint will allow approved developers to access COVID-19 and coronavirus-related tweets across languages, resulting in a data set that will include tens of millions of tweets daily, Twitter says.

The data can be used to research a range of topics related to the coronavirus pandemic, including things like the spread of the disease, the spread of misinformation, crisis management within communities and more.

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I like how there’s an implicit assumption that there will be misinformation and that it will spread; that Twitter is a nice little Petri dish for observing its foibles, and its users’ foibles.
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The scale of the problem • Jayson Lusk

Lusk is quickly becoming our go-to on the question of American meat processing:

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Keep in mind, there are 77.6 million pigs in this country. Iowa alone has 23.6 million pigs, or about 7.6 pigs for every man, woman, and child in that state.

Here is where the scale of the problem really kicks in. We have a national pork processing capacity of about 500,000 head per day. Latest data suggests that because of plant closures and slowdowns, we are processing about 40% fewer pigs, which means an extra 500,000*0.4 = 200,000 pigs that are left on the farm. Every. Single. Day. Do that for 5 days, and that’s 1 million “excess” pigs left on the farm.

Why not send the the hogs to smaller local packers? Well, assuming those packers even had room, how big are they? Some of the small-ish packers of any scale process 200 hogs a day. But, the largest plants now shut down can process 20,000 hogs a day. That means, 1 of those small plants would have to run 20,000/200 = 100 extra days to make up for just 1 day of lost production from the large plant. Or, stated differently, we’d need 100 brand new small packing plants to make up for the loss of one large plant.

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And you can’t just tell the pigs not to exist, because they were effectively set in train 300 days ago. There’s a graph of how rapidly storage is filling up too from the US Dept of Agriculture. (Thanks Paul G for the pointer.)
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Tax havens: there’s a chance now to apply conditions to bail outs • The Conversation

Atul K. Shah is a professor of accounting and finance at the City University of London:

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the reality is that it has become normal for multinationals to even shift their profits from one EU country to other EU countries which have lower corporate tax rates. One study finds that France, for example, loses 22% of its corporate revenue to tax havens – 18% of this goes to other EU countries. In 2017 it lost US$13bn, of which more than US$11bn went mostly to Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Another recent study by the Tax Justice Network think tank found that Italy and Spain – both badly hit by coronavirus – lost significant tax revenues (US$1.5bn and US$1bn, respectively) to the Netherlands in 2017. Yet most of the recent announcements by countries to not give state aid to tax avoiders only use the EU’s official list.

A better solution to this problem would be to introduce country-by-country reporting. This would allow investors and government to accurately tell where a company trades, where it parks its profits, and where and what taxes it actually pays. Considering accounting has international standards and most big corporations are audited by one of the Big Four auditing firms, this should be relatively easy to implement…

…Now that we are in a profound economic crisis, with a number of multinationals reliant on state aid, we have a unique opportunity to change business as usual. Corporations are in trouble and seeking state aid so governments can now call the shots, and make sure that money is not given away without conditions. Such conditions can include not having a subsidiary in a tax haven, transparency about profits earned in each country, and greater openness and commitment to paying fair taxes in the countries where revenues are earned.

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I think that given “These Difficult Times”, governments all over will decide that tax havens are a blight. Perhaps if they declared that companies are free to use them but will be taxed henceforth on revenues, rather than profits, there might be a shift.
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HTC’s crypto mining phone takes 500 years to recoup cost of device • Decrypt

Andrew Hayward:

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“Midas Labs empowers Exodus 1s users to mine at least $0.0038 of [the cryptocurrency] XMR per day on average, while the electricity cost is less than 50% of that,” [Midas Labs founder Jri] Lee told The Block. The company suggests that someone could mine about $0.06 of XMR per day on a laptop, but spend an average of $0.156 on energy to do so.

Running the DeMiner app, the HTC Exodus phones will automatically stop mining when in heavy use or unplugged from a charger, ensuring that the phone still remains a functional, reliable phone throughout the day.

Still, it’s peanuts. Even if you mined every single day, that $0.0038 estimate would only yield $1.39 of XMR in a full year

For context, the most recent edition of the Exodus 1—the Binance Edition (which has native support for Binance’s decentralized exchange, and is the only version in stock on HTC’s website)—costs around $700. Assuming the price of Monero remains constant, it would take half a millennium of mining to get your money back. And that doesn’t even factor in electricity costs.

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I’m going to guess that half a millennium of mining might rack up some electricity costs. At this point I have no idea why HTC carries on. It’s a zombie.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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