Start Up No.1300: Zuckerberg tightens grip on Facebook (and Icke kicked off it), the dangers of Amazon’s dynamic pricing, Icann blocks .org sale, and more


This is the correct side to charge your MacBook Pro if you don’t want it to waste CPU cycles and get needlessly hot. CC-licensed photo by scottwearsglasses on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mark Zuckerberg asserts control of Facebook, pushing aside dissenters • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer:

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In December, Facebook’s top brass gathered at Mark Zuckerberg’s more than 700-acre beachfront estate in Kauai, Hawaii, for an unusual board meeting to discuss how to redirect the company after years of turmoil.

Changes came, but they weren’t what everyone expected, according to people familiar with the gathering.

Within months, Facebook announced the departure of two directors, and added a longtime friend of Mr. Zuckerberg’s to the board. The moves were the culmination of the chief executive’s campaign over the past two years to consolidate decision-making at the company he co-founded 16 years ago. The 35-year-old tycoon also jumped into action steering Facebook into a high-profile campaign in the coronavirus response, while putting himself in the spotlight interviewing prominent health officials and politicians.

The result is a Facebook CEO and chairman more actively and visibly in charge than he has been in years.

It is far from certain that Mr. Zuckerberg’s repositioning of Facebook, and his role at the top, will lead to a lasting turnaround in its reputation following more than three years of controversy over the spread of misinformation, loose oversight of user data and the company’s competitive practices.

The departure of long-serving directors, along with those of several longtime lieutenants over the past two years, means he is navigating this moment without key advisers who might be able to help him spot potential pitfalls.

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This story is long on detail, yet short on overview: nobody of the many who are interviewed seems to have a consistent story to tell about what’s going on, or what was wrong. Is Zuckerberg storing up trouble? He already has total control.
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Coronavirus: David Icke kicked off Facebook • BBC News

Marianne Spring:

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Facebook has taken down the official page of conspiracy theorist David Icke for publishing “health misinformation that could cause physical harm”.

Mr Icke has made several false claims about coronavirus, such as suggesting 5G mobile phone networks are linked to the spread of the virus. In one video, he suggested a Jewish group was behind the virus.

Following the ban, his Twitter account posted: “Fascist Facebook deletes David Icke – the elite are TERRIFIED.” Facebook said in a statement: “We have removed this Page for repeatedly violating our policies on harmful misinformation”.

On Friday, campaign group the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) published an open letter calling on tech companies to ban Mr Icke’s accounts. The letter said Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube had amplified “Icke’s racism and misinformation about Covid-19 to millions of people”. It was co-signed by MP Damian Collins, as well as celebrity medics Dr Christian Jessen, Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Pixie McKenna.

The CCDH said videos of Mr Icke making “untrue and conspiracist claims about Covid-19” had been watched more than 30 million times online.

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Well overdue. If you’re going to have rules about misinformation, just get on and apply them.
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Why am I paying $60 for that bag of rice on Amazon.com? • The Markup

Sara Harrison:

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limited inventory is not the only reason that the price of pasta (or toilet paper, peanut butter, and rice) is shifting so drastically on Amazon. Experts say the fluctuations on Amazon are often a result of the algorithms sellers use to optimize their sales.

Dynamic pricing (or algorithmic pricing) relies on algorithms that can synthesize lots of information about the marketplace and then change the price of something based on what’s happening hour to hour or even minute to minute. Dynamic pricing is already common for items like plane tickets and hotel rooms. As the supply gets smaller or if there’s more demand—a big conference is going to be in town that weekend, for example—then prices go up. If demand goes down because, say, a pandemic has stopped people from traveling, then prices drop. 

But dynamic pricing isn’t quite that simple on Amazon because of its Buy Box. When shoppers click the “Buy Now” or “Add to Cart” button, they are selecting a specific vendor. There’s usually an option to consider other vendors, but most users—by some estimates 80 percent—make their purchase through the Buy Box. To determine who “wins” the box, Amazon uses its own algorithm, which it does not reveal to the public but which observers say includes more than price. “The Buy Box depends on fulfillment speed, channel, your reviews and rating, availability within a certain period of time,” Victor Rosenman, CEO of Feedvisor, a company that creates algorithms for Amazon sellers, said in an interview.

…Consumers themselves can use browser extensions like Camelcamelcamel and Keepa to track prices on Amazon and set limits that will alert them when the price falls to an acceptable level. But just like couponing, Wilson says, price-tracking apps favor consumers who have the time and the wherewithal to comparison shop and wait for a good deal—a strategy that’s not very practical when you’re staring at an empty pantry or using up that last roll of toilet paper.

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ICANN board withholds consent for a change of control of the Public Interest Registry (PIR) • ICANN

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Today, the ICANN Board made the decision to reject the proposed change of control and entity conversion request that Public Interest Registry (PIR) submitted to ICANN.

After completing extensive due diligence, the ICANN Board finds that withholding consent of the transfer of PIR from the Internet Society (ISOC) to Ethos Capital is reasonable, and the right thing to do.

ICANN’s role is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems. We are dedicated to making the right decision, knowing that whatever we decide will be well received by some, and not by others. It is our responsibility to weigh all factors from an ICANN Bylaws and policies perspective, including considering the global public interest. We have done this diligently, ensuring as much transparency as possible and welcoming input from stakeholders throughout.

…After completing its evaluation, the ICANN Board finds that the public interest is better served in withholding consent as a result of various factors that create unacceptable uncertainty over the future of the third largest gTLD registry.

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The PIR is the .org domain. This is the proposed sale to private equity that had pretty much all of the internet up in arms. Thankfully now revoked. Among the factors were the key one that it was moving from a non-profit to a profit-at-all-costs.
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Worldwide smartphone market suffers its largest year-over-year decline in Q1 2020 • IDC

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Worldwide smartphone shipments decreased 11.7% year over year in the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. In total, companies shipped 275.8 million smartphones during 1Q20. Although the first quarter usually experiences a sequential (quarter over quarter) decline in shipments, with the average sequential decline over the last three years hovering between -15% to -20%, this is the largest annual (year over year) decline ever.

The drop comes as no surprise as 1Q20 marked the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the peak of the lockdowns in China, which extended to the rest of the world by the end of the quarter. The largest regional decline in 1Q20 was in China, which saw shipments drop 20.3% year over year. Since China constitutes almost a quarter of worldwide shipments, this had a huge impact on the overall market. The global dependency on China for its smartphone supply chain also caused major issues as the quarter progressed. Other regions that contributed to the drastic worldwide decline were the United States and Western Europe, which declined by 16.1% and 18.3% respectively.

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Here comes the storm.
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Worldwide tablet shipments continue to decline in Q1 2020 • IDC

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic furthered the decline of the worldwide tablet market as global shipments fell to 24.6m units, down 18.2% year over year during the first quarter of 2020 (1Q20), according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Detachables continued to grow and gain market share with year-over-year growth of 56.8%, mainly driven by iOS devices, while slate tablets saw shipments decline 36.4% compared to the first quarter of 2019.

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As ever, the “other” category is shrinking faster than the rest of the market, indicating the squeeze on small players. Well, tiny players.
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macos – How to find cause of high kernel_task cpu usage? • Ask Different

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TLDR; If your MacBook Pro runs hot or shows a high % CPU for the kernel task, try charging on the right and not on the left.

High kernel_task CPU Usage is due to high chassis temperature caused by charging. In particular Left Thunderbolt port usage.

Solutions include:
• Move charging from the left to the right side. If you have a second charger then plug it in on the right side. Avoid plugging everything on the right side (see last paragraph below).
• Unplug something from the left side. Either power or another accessory until the battery is full.
• Force fans to max before plugging in. iStatMenus has an easy Sensors -> Fans menu item to do so. This only helps in marginal conditions.
• Move to a cooler room.

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This is amazing, though absolutely undeniable. Just to repeat, if you’ve got a USB-C MacBook Pro and the fans are spinning like mad, make sure you’re not charging on the left. Plug the charger in to the right. (I guess you could unplug the charger?)

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The inevitable coronavirus censorship crisis is here • Reporting by Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi:

»

H.L. Mencken once said that in America, “the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head.”

We have a lot of dumb people in this country. But the difference between the stupidities cherished by the Idiocracy set ingesting fish cleaner, and the ones pushed in places like the Atlantic [suggesting that America’s internet should have more censorship “like China], is that the jackasses among the “expert” class compound their wrongness by being so sure of themselves that they force others to go along. In other words, to combat “ignorance,” the scolders create a new and more virulent species of it: exclusive ignorance, forced ignorance, ignorance with staying power.

The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see this.

…There’s a reason why journalists should always keep their distance from priesthoods in any field. It’s particularly in the nature of insular communities of subject matter experts to coalesce around orthodoxies that blind the very people in the loop who should be the most knowledgeable.

“Experts” get things wrong for reasons that are innocent (they’ve all been taught the same incorrect thing in school) and less so (they have a financial or professional interest in denying the truth).

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It’s worth reading this piece, if only to spot the joins where Taibbi conflates different things and claims they’re the same thing, or else fibs. Here’s a few so you’ll see them: journalists aren’t social media platforms; coronavirus isn’t Saddam’s WMD; pollsters didn’t say it was impossible that Trump could win in 2016. (Thanks Jim for the link.)
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Coronavirus offers a clear view of what causes air pollution • WSJ

Jim Carlton:

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One of the biggest airborne pollutants to fall off has been nitrogen dioxide, which is a byproduct of fossil-fuel emissions that most scientists believe is contributing to climate change. Satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration show NO2 levels in the Northeastern U.S. dropped 30% during March from the previous four-year average for the month.

San Francisco-based Aclima has compiled data that shows the NO2 readings dropping in lockstep as the coronavirus swept first from China in January to Europe in February and the US in March. Scientists said it was the first time they could remember so many cities going clean all at once.

Aclima’s most comprehensive data is for its own backyard, the San Francisco Bay Area, home to about eight million people. The region recorded a 31% decline in NO2 during the 10 weekdays ended April 6 compared with the previous three-year average for the same time. In addition, Aclima found a 39% drop in particulate matter such as from smoke and a 41% plunge in soot created by diesel fumes and other human sources. The company’s scientists say they believe those are the lowest levels since the first half of the last century.

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Terrible headline – we know what causes air pollution – and as the article notes, this is only short-term. Climate change is about cumulative addition of greenhouse gases; you need to take some out, not just stop adding them, to have beneficial effects.
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Blackout risk as low demand for power brings plea to switch off wind farms • The Times

Emily Gosden:

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Britain could be at risk of blackouts as extremely low energy demand threatens to leave the electricity grid overwhelmed by surplus power.

National Grid asked the regulator yesterday for emergency powers to switch off solar and wind farms to prevent the grid from being swamped on the May 8 bank holiday, when demand is expected to be especially low.

In its urgent request to Ofgem, it warned of “a significant risk of disruption to security of supply” if the “last resort” powers to order plant disconnections were not granted.

National Grid has to keep supply and demand balanced to ensure stable voltage and frequency on the network. When there is an imbalance the network can become unstable, leading to blackouts such as that on August 9 last year when a million homes were cut off.

The lockdown has led to a huge fall in demand for power as factories and businesses shut down. National Grid said in its request to Ofgem: “The societal changes required by the need to achieve social distancing have led to demand for electricity falling by up to 20% compared to predicted values.”

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Emphasising the need for storage – but wow, that’s a dramatic fall in demand.
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In conversation with the murder hornet • ¡Hola Papi!

John Paul Brammer:

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Her apartment decor immediately dispels any notion that this will be the interview I was expecting. A porcelain mint green tea set sits on a shelf alongside a copy of Severance by Ling Ma and Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. For a moment, the Murder Hornet seems unaware I have joined the Zoom call. She fiddles with her antennae, a conceit to keeping up appearances, yet another surprise in an interview in which we’ve yet to exchange a word.

“Hello!” I greet her over the faulty internet connection. Her eyes, not too unlike Spiderman’s mask with their teardrop shape and inscrutable motives, meet mine. “Hi there!” she says cheerfully.

I haven’t prepared any questions. I suppose I expected the Murder Hornet to live up to her name and lead our conversation with some degree of homicidal bravado. What I have instead is just a bug, a pair of wings, an immigrant, an entity. Where to start?

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For those who haven’t been keeping up, the US faces an invasion of murderous hornets (though the murder is apparently mostly focussed on bees, but anyway). And this is a wonderful parody of those bloody celebrity interviews.
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Me on COVID-19 contact tracing apps • Schneier on Security

Bruce Schneier:

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Assume you take the app out grocery shopping with you and it subsequently alerts you of a contact. What should you do? It’s not accurate enough for you to quarantine yourself for two weeks. And without ubiquitous, cheap, fast, and accurate testing, you can’t confirm the app’s diagnosis. So the alert is useless.

Similarly, assume you take the app out grocery shopping and it doesn’t alert you of any contact. Are you in the clear? No, you’re not. You actually have no idea if you’ve been infected.

The end result is an app that doesn’t work. People will post their bad experiences on social media, and people will read those posts and realize that the app is not to be trusted. That loss of trust is even worse than having no app at all.

It has nothing to do with privacy concerns. The idea that contact tracing can be done with an app, and not human health professionals, is just plain dumb.

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But, but, but. The idea is that you do get cheap and fast testing. OK, might not be accurate, might not be ubiquitous; but you can make up for the accuracy by testing twice. You can also read more than you perhaps ever wanted to know about the Apple-Google API at NSHipster.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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