Start Up No.1309: Call of Duty kicks cheaters with 2FA, Netflix’s timesaver, Apple buys NextVR, comparing apocalypses, Huawei’s new old phones, and more


A DJI Mavic drone – but you won’t find them in its Hong Kong stores. Why aren’t they on show? CC-licensed photo by Aaron Yoo 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.

‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ cheaters are getting owned by 2FA • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Emanuel Maiberg:

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If you’ve been getting owned in Call of Duty: Warzone a lot before you even hit the ground and thought it would be more fun to play if you could use cheats to see other players through walls, you’re not alone.

Last month, the developers of the hugely popular game banned more than 70,000 cheaters and promised to combat the game’s cheating problem.

“We are watching. We have zero tolerance for cheaters,” tweeted the official account of Infinity Ward, the game’s developer.

This week, Infinity Ward rolled out a new, basic security feature which appears to have had the added bonus of locking out many cheaters: two-factor authentication. Infinity Ward announced that new Warzone players on PC will have to use SMS to login to the free version of the game, “as another step to provide an additional layer of security for players.”

Infinity Ward and Activision did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but cheaters are currently complaining about the effect this simple move has had on them.

Two-factor authentication is a common and very effective security feature to stop hackers from taking over your email or Facebook accounts. Two-factor, also known as two-step, multi-factor, or 2FA, is a mechanism where a user has to provide another code or number (or even physical token) to login, after providing a password.

But, in this case, it also works as an anti-cheat feature, as it allows Infinity Ward to tie a cellphone number to known cheaters…

…In this case, two-factor authentication functions as just another method to identify a cheater. Since cheaters need to provide a phone number to play Warzone for free now, and since they can’t reuse the same phone number to create infinite accounts, many cheaters are locked out once their number is tied to a banned account.

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Difficult and expensive to get another SIM right now, of course. Smart move.
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Netflix saved its average user from 9.1 days of commercials in 2019 • Reviews.com

Rob Toledo:

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Fast facts:

• The average Netflix subscriber spent over two hours a day streaming Netflix content in 2019.
• Network television averages 18 minutes of commercials per hour (and this number continues to increase)
• With no commercials, two hours of Netflix saves users from over 36 minutes of ads daily, or 219 hours of ads a year
• During COVID-19 quarantine, we estimate the average total daily usage of Netflix has gone up at least thirty minutes per user, meaning the service is saving people from an extra nine minutes of ads a day during the pandemic.

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Related: people are cord-cutting in the US at a growing rate. Which is going to mean the advert load will go up, driving more people away to streaming services which don’t have adverts – if they can afford them, or get a fast enough connection. American TV networks have abused their viewers for decades by overloading programmes with annoying adverts. Now it’s payback time.
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Inside Trump’s coronavirus meltdown • Financial Times

Edward Luce:

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[On March 6] Trump proclaimed that America was leading the world. South Korea had its first infection on January 20, the same day as America’s first case, and was, he said, calling America for help. “They have a lot of people that are infected; we don’t.” “All I say is, ‘Be calm,’” said the president. “Everyone is relying on us. The world is relying on us.”

He could just as well have said baseball is popular or foreigners love New York. American leadership in any disaster, whether a tsunami or an Ebola outbreak, has been a truism for decades. The US is renowned for helping others in an emergency.

In hindsight, Trump’s claim to global leadership leaps out. History will mark Covid-19 as the first time that ceased to be true. US airlifts have been missing in action. America cannot even supply itself.

South Korea, which has a population density nearly 15 times greater and is next door to China, has lost a total of 259 lives to the disease. There have been days when America has lost 10 times that number. The US death toll is now approaching 90,000.

What has gone wrong? I interviewed dozens of people, including outsiders who Trump consults regularly, former senior advisers, World Health Organization officials, leading scientists and diplomats, and figures inside the White House. Some spoke off the record.

Again and again, the story that emerged is of a president who ignored increasingly urgent intelligence warnings from January, dismisses anyone who claims to know more than him and trusts no one outside a tiny coterie, led by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner – the property developer who Trump has empowered to sideline the best-funded disaster response bureaucracy in the world.

People often observed during Trump’s first three years that he had yet to be tested in a true crisis. Covid-19 is way bigger than that. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, who was the most senior US diplomat, and is now head of the Carnegie Endowment.

“America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”

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Thorough and damning.
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Exclusive: NextVR acquired by Apple (Updated) • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

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It’s no secret that Apple has ambitious plans for augmented reality and a future AR-focused headset. Apple is practically building the platform for its future headset out in the open with ARKit. What’s new is that Apple is believed to be in the process of acquiring a California-based virtual reality company called NextVR, 9to5Mac has learned.

[Update 5/14/2020: NextVR.com now only displays this message: “NextVR is Heading in a New Direction. Thank you to our partners and fans around the world for the role you played in building this awesome platform for sports, music and entertainment experiences in Virtual Reality.”]

NextVR, which is located in Orange County, California, has a decade of experience marrying virtual reality with sports and entertainment. The company currently provides VR experiences for viewing live events with headsets from PlayStation, Oculus, HTC, Microsoft, Lenovo headsets.

The icing on the cake may not be expertise in virtual reality, however, as NextVR also has holds patented technology that upscales video streams. NextVR uses this technology to support high quality video streams of music and sporting events to VR headsets. NextVR holds over 40 technology patents in total.

The company failed to secure a Series C round of funding in early 2019, however, which resulted in a 40% staff reduction at the time. NextVR’s focus on virtual reality was seen as a risk with the rise of augmented reality technology.

NextVR has partnerships in place with the NBA, Fox Sports, Wimbledon, and other live music and sporting event partners.

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I can’t figure out what Apple thinks is going to come of this. Is it just a nice-to-have just-in-case? VR just isn’t a market. (Come at me in a year or two if this proves wrong, but I nailed it with Magic Leap, so one out of one, baby.)
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How apocalyptic is now? • UnHerd

John Gray is a political philosopher, who looks back in the rest of this essay at recent “apocalypses” (the Russian revolution, the Holocaust):

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The relevant comparison here is not with previous pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, but instead the more recent impact of terrorism. The numbers killed in terrorist incidents may be small. But the threat is endemic, and the texture of everyday life has altered profoundly. Video cameras and security procedures in public places have become part of the way we live.

Covid-19 may not be an exceptionally lethal pathogen, but it is fearful enough. Soon temperature checks will be ubiquitous and surveillance via mobile phones omnipresent. Social distancing, in one form or another, will be entrenched everywhere beyond the home. The impact on the economy will be immeasurable. Enterprises that adapt quickly will thrive, but sectors that relied on pre-Covid lifestyles — pubs, restaurants, sporting events, discos and airline travel, for example — will shrink or disappear. The old life of carefree human intermingling will fast slip from memory.

Some occupations may gain in power and status. Health and care workers need more than applause for their efforts. Better pay and conditions will be demanded, and may well be achieved. Workers in other low-paid jobs and the gig economy are likely to fare more badly than before.

The impact on the “knowledge classes” will be far-reaching. Higher education operates on a model of student living that social distancing has rendered defunct. Museums, journalism, publishing and the arts all face similar shocks. Automation and artificial intelligence will wipe out swathes of middle class employment. Accelerating a trend that has been underway for decades, the remains of bourgeois life will be swept away.

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I think what a lot of these analyses miss is the attitude of the people who’ve had it. Some parts of Spain already have an estimated 11-14% seropositives, compared to less than 2% in others. There will be an urban-rural divide (city dwellers will be more likely to have had it) and a positive-negative divide. And into all that, you have economic turmoil. Quite a time coming.

And everyone worried it was AI coming for their jobs.
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Why have consumer drones vanished from DJI’s Hong Kong stores? • Abacus

Karen Chiu:

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DJI never had a problem filling its Hong Kong stores before. At least, not until last year.

Hong Kong’s drone shortage has persisted since last fall, when the city was rocked by waves of anti-government protests that turned violent at times. Under Hong Kong law, any recreational user can fly a drone no heavier than 7kg (15.4 pounds) without applying for a permit. Yet fans noticed that the newly released Mavic Mini, weighing just half a pound, wasn’t available in the city.

As stocks of older models dwindled, some people reported that they also had trouble buying drone parts from shopping sites in mainland China. Shipping agents warned customers that drones were classified as “sensitive items” that shouldn’t be forwarded from the mainland to Hong Kong.

DJI didn’t respond to our question on whether last year’s protests affected shipping of its drones across the border. Back in November, the company told us the availability of the Mavic Mini would be announced at a later date. But six months later, there’s still no sign of the drone — or the newer Mavic Air 2.

The continuous absence disappoints some local drone enthusiasts.

“I do think it’s a shame that DJI hasn’t been selling new drones,” said Blair Sugarman, who runs the drone photography site Beyond Visuals along with a few enthusiasts. “Not that anyone’s travelling at the moment, but back when people were travelling and they wanted to take drones with them abroad, you couldn’t get hold of one. You’d either have to wait till you get abroad or order it from somewhere else.”

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Very strange – surely related to the protests, but hard to figure out why.
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How Civil didn’t save journalism • Study Hall at Patreon

Allegra Hobbs:

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[In summer 2017] fruit juice and vape companies added “blockchain” to their names to capitalize on the trend’s cultural cachet. It was a different time. 

Civil was introduced in 2017 as an innovative force that would similarly use crypto to save journalism. The  company was founded by Matthew Iles, a former marketing executive at a start-up incubator, and funded by blockchain venture studio ConsenSys. Given the climate around crypto technology and the media industry at the time, it made sense. With its blockchain-enabled CMS and custom currency — the CVL token, built on the Ethereum blockchain — Civil promised to rescue the ailing industry from the clutches of Facebook and Google by facilitating crowd-supported newsrooms, placing power in the hands of actual journalists. “With open governance and crypto-economics, we can create a sustainable place for journalism  — even the kind of local, policy, and investigative journalism that has been most eroded,” reads a white paper document that Civil published in October of 2017. 

This was before the digital-subscription boom that has driven the New York Times and Washington Post to new heights, when confidence in digital media was at an ebb. The venture capital-backed models of Vice, BuzzFeed, and Vox Media looked shaky with their need to hit investors’ revenue targets. Meanwhile, publications like DNAinfo and Gawker were being destroyed by the whims of billionaires, their investigations and commentary erased. Maybe the strengths of cryptocurrency — digital permanence, trackability, and payments within closed systems — were exactly what the media industry needed. 

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Maybe you can guess that they weren’t. It’s all a stupid intermediary: why not just admit that you’re crowdsourcing some money, and do that?
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QAnon is more important than you think • The Atlantic

Adrienne LaFrance:

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Conspiracy theories are a constant in American history, and it is tempting to dismiss them as inconsequential. But as the 21st century has progressed, such a dismissal has begun to require willful blindness. I was a city-hall reporter for a local investigative-news site called Honolulu Civil Beat in 2011 when Donald Trump was laying the groundwork for a presidential run by publicly questioning whether Barack Obama had been born in Hawaii, as all facts and documents showed. Trump maintained that Obama had really been born in Africa, and therefore wasn’t a natural-born American—making him ineligible for the highest office. I remember the debate in our Honolulu newsroom: Should we even cover this “birther” madness? As it turned out, the allegations, based entirely on lies, captivated enough people to give Trump a launching pad.

Nine years later, as reports of a fearsome new virus suddenly emerged, and with Trump now president, a series of ideas began burbling in the QAnon community: that the coronavirus might not be real; that if it was, it had been created by the “deep state,” the star chamber of government officials and other elite figures who secretly run the world; that the hysteria surrounding the pandemic was part of a plot to hurt Trump’s reelection chances; and that media elites were cheering the death toll. Some of these ideas would make their way onto Fox News and into the president’s public utterances. As of late last year, according to The New York Times, Trump had retweeted accounts often focused on conspiracy theories, including those of QAnon, on at least 145 occasions.

…QAnon is emblematic of modern America’s susceptibility to conspiracy theories, and its enthusiasm for them. But it is also already much more than a loose collection of conspiracy-minded chat-room inhabitants. It is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end.

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Still, it would be worse if they had access to gu– oh.
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Huawei denies involvement in buggy Linux kernel patch proposal • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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Huawei denied on Monday having any official involvement in an insecure patch submitted to the Linux kernel project over the weekend; patch that introduced a “trivially exploitable” vulnerability.

The buggy patch was submitted to the official Linux kernel project via its mailing list on Sunday. Named HKSP (Huawei Kernel Self Protection), the patch allegedly introduced a series of security-hardening options to the Linux kernel.

Big tech companies that heavily use Linux in their data centers and online services, often submit patches to the Linux kernel. Companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others have been known to have contributed code.

On Sunday, the HKSP submission sparked interest in the Linux community as could signal Huawei’s wish to possibly contribute to the official kernel. Due to this, the patch came under immediate scrutiny, including from the developers of Grsecurity, a project that provides its own set of security-hardening patches for the Linux kernel.

In a blog post published on the same day, the Grsecurity team said that it discovered that the HKSP patch was introducing a “trivially exploitable” vulnerability in the kernel code — if the patch was to be approved.

Rumors and conspiracy theories almost immediately started online, accusing Huawei of trying to sneakily introduce vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel.

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So either Huawei has bad coders, or evil coders. I’ll go with bad coders, but that doesn’t inspire confident either, does it?
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Huawei’s Google app loophole: just keep re-releasing old devices • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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Huawei is doing its best to delay the effects of the export ban, though, and lately, it seems to have come up with a new loophole to keep shipping the Google apps: re-release old smartphones. The way the export ban has worked in practice is that Huawei devices that launched before the export ban (and some that launched even slightly after) can still be sold with Google apps. Devices that launched well after the ban, like the Mate 30 Pro, are stuck without the Google apps. So Huawei’s solution, and its interpretation of the law, is that re-releases of old devices can still ship with Google apps.

So meet the “New Editions” of old Huawei phones. This week, the company announced that the Huawei P30 Pro would be returning as the “Huawei P30 Pro New Edition,” and earlier this year it re-launched the P30 Lite as the “P30 Lite New Edition.” Both of these phones are from March 2019, so they’re well over a year old now, but they both have Google app licenses, so welcome back!

What’s new in a “new edition?” Well, first you get more RAM and storage. The P30 Pro New Edition has a new baseline of 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which is up from the 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on what I guess we’re now going to call the “Old Edition.” There’s also new software: Android 10 with Huawei’s EMUI skin (the old version launched with Android 9). And there’s a new color: silver. The Old Edition of the P30 Pro was a flagship smartphone with flagship smartphone pricing: €999 or $1,125. The New Edition is now a year-old smartphone, and the one confirmed price we have is for the UK, which is £699, or $852.

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Makes perfect sense to me – the ones without Google’s suite aren’t selling (and this is the evidence). It can keep releasing old phones with updated internals, though I suspect the cameras won’t be, for quite a while, gently moving downmarket as the rest of the market also goes for economy.
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Facebook and the folly of self-regulation • WIRED

Siva Vaidhyanathan is the author of Antisocial Media:

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In an op-ed in The New York Times, the [Facebook review] board’s new leadership declared: “The oversight board will focus on the most challenging content issues for Facebook, including in areas such as hate speech, harassment, and protecting people’s safety and privacy. It will make final and binding decisions on whether specific content should be allowed or removed from Facebook and Instagram (which Facebook owns).”

Only in the narrowest and most trivial of ways does this board have any such power. The new Facebook review board will have no influence over anything that really matters in the world.

It will hear only individual appeals about specific content that the company has removed from the service—and only a fraction of those appeals. The board can’t say anything about the toxic content that Facebook allows and promotes on the site. It will have no authority over advertising or the massive surveillance that makes Facebook ads so valuable. It won’t curb disinformation campaigns or dangerous conspiracies. It has no influence on the sorts of harassment that regularly occur on Facebook or (Facebook-owned) WhatsApp. It won’t dictate policy for Facebook Groups, where much of the most dangerous content thrives. And most importantly, the board will have no say over how the algorithms work and thus what gets amplified or muffled by the real power of Facebook…

…on Facebook, as in global and ethnic conflict, the environment is tumultuous and changing all the time. Calls for mass violence spring up, seemingly out of nowhere. They take new forms as cultures and conditions shift. Facebook moves fast and breaks things like democracy. This review board is designed to move slowly and preserve things like Facebook.

This review board will provide a creaking, idealistic, simplistic solution to a trivial problem. The stuff that Facebook deletes creates an inconvenience to some people. Facebook makes a lot of mistakes, and dealing with the Facebook bureaucracy is next to impossible. But Facebook is not the whole Internet, let alone the whole information ecosystem. And Facebook is not the only way people communicate and learn things (yet).

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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