Start Up No.1312: the log graph problem, 5G unboxing!, BBC Together gets Netflix Party, how Easyjet got hacked, Wuhan dossier debunked, and more


For shops that are physically shut, Facebook Shopping could be a boon – at least online CC-licensed photo by CJS*64 on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. No idea how. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The public do not understand logarithmic graphs used to portray COVID-19 • LSE

Alessandro Romano, Chiara Sotis, Goran Dominioni and Sebastián Guidi:

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the canonical example of framing effects involves an epidemic: a disease that kills 200 out of 600 people is considered worse than one in which 400 people survive…

…Many media outlets portray information about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths using a logarithmic scale graph. At first sight, this seems sensible. In fact, many of them defend their decision by showing how much better these charts are in conveying information about the exponential nature of the contagion. For history lovers, the popular economist Irving Fisher also believed this, which led him to strongly advocate for their use in 1917 (right before the Spanish Flu rendered them tragically relevant). Fisher was ecstatic about this scale: “When one is once accustomed to it, it never misleads.” It turns out, however, that even specialized scientists don’t get used to it. Not surprisingly, neither does the general public.

…We conducted a between-subjects experiment to test whether people had a better understanding of graphs in a logarithmic or in a linear scale, and whether the scale in which the chart is shown affects their level of worry and their policy preferences. Half of our n=2000 sample of US residents was shown the progression of COVID-19 related deaths in the US at the time of the survey plotted on a logarithmic scale. The other half received exactly the same information–this time plotted on a good old linear scale.

Contrary to [the 1917 economist Irving] Fisher’s optimism, we find that the group who read the information on a logarithmic scale has a much lower level of comprehension of the graph: only 40.66% of them could respond correctly to a basic question about the graph (whether there were more deaths in one week or another), contrasted to 83.79% of respondents on the linear scale. Moreover, people in the logarithmic group also proved to be worse at making predictions on the evolution of the pandemic…

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The problem comes with having lots of countries which you’re trying to compare. In that situation, log graphs are useful for comparison. When you’re looking at one country alone (as in this experiment), linear works better.
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Facebook launches shopping platform for small businesses • WSJ

Maria Armental:

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Facebook is making a big push into online shopping through Facebook Shops, enlisting small businesses to sell their wares through its platform and giving them access to its technology at the same time the coronavirus pandemic has upended business world-wide.

“It’s clear at this point that Covid isn’t just a health emergency,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday, referring to Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus that has forced businesses to close physical stores. “It’s also the biggest economic shock that we’ve felt in our lifetime.”

Small businesses, Mr. Zuckerberg said, will be able to personalize virtual storefronts to show specific products that are considered more relevant and use augmented reality to let customers virtually try on things such as sunglasses, lipstick or makeup or sample what furniture might look like in a room.

The virtual shops will appear on the businesses’ Facebook and Instagram accounts and, eventually, on the Messenger and WhatsApp messaging tools.

The move, which Facebook said was months in the making and was done with partners such as Shopify Inc., comes a day after the company released results from a survey of small-business owners that found that as of April nearly one-third of small and midsize businesses had stopped operating.

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Potentially huge, and while there’s lockdown in place businesses will be gasping to use this. And Facebook tightens its grip just a little bit more.
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Unboxing a 5G protection device • The Quackometer Blog

Andy Lewis:

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The makers of 5G bioshields claim to use a “PROPRIETARY HOLOGRAPHIC NANO-LAYER TECHNOLOGY” to

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provide protection for  your home and family,  thanks to the wearable holographic nano-layer catalyser, which can be worn or placed near to a smartphone or any other electrical, radiation or EMF emitting device.

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This is of course bullshit.

But it is bullshit that sells at £283.00 and is endorsed by the good denizens of Glastonbury [specifically, its 5G committee, as mentioned here on Friday].

Variations of such devices have been around for many years, peddled to protect you from the every increasing dangers of 3G, WiFi, 4G and now 5G. Every few years, a new scare comes along to keep selling such devices.

I bought one a few years ago.

The device I bought was from a chap called Gary Johnson,

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a qualified Homoeopath, Subtle Energy engineer and lecturer in health & environmental analysis. Developing the art and science of mental/emotional/physical  healing for 28 years.

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Gary sells a number of solutions to the problems of mobile radiation. He has updated his range somewhat since I bought my device a few years back but a full house solution will set you back about £200.

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Aren’t nano-layers dangerous though?

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BBC Together is like Netflix Party but for BBC shows • The Verge

Jay Peters:

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BBC is launching a new experimental tool, BBC Together, that will let you watch or listen to BBC programming with others over the internet, with everyone seeing the same thing on-screen at the same time. It sounds a lot like Netflix Party but for BBC content.

BBC Together works with any audio or video content from BBC iPlayer (which has on-demand video content from the BBC), BBC Sounds (which has on-demand audio content), Bitesize (which has educational content), BBC News, and BBC Sport, according to the BBC. You should be able to try it now on Taster, the BBC’s site for its experimental technologies.

Once you decide what you want to watch with others with BBC Together, you’ll be able to share a link with your friends so they can join in. If you’re the host, you can decide when to start, stop, rewind, or forward content, and everyone’s stream should stay in sync.

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Easyjet hacked: nine million people’s data accessed plus 2,200 folks’ credit card details grabbed • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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Budget British airline Easyjet has been hacked, it has told the stock markets, admitting nine million people’s details were accessed and more than 2,000 customers’ credit card details stolen.

Some information about the attack was released to the London Stock Exchange by the company, which claimed it had been targeted by “a highly sophisticated source”.

Email addresses and “travel details” of “approximately 9 million customers” were slurped by the unidentified hackers. Easyjet insists that the passport and credit card details of nearly all of those people were not affected.

However, 2,208 unlucky souls within the group did have their credit card details nabbed. Precisely which details – 16 digit card number, 3-digit CVV from the reverse, expiry date and so on – were not spelled out.

Twitter activity dating back to the first few days of April, however, shows Easyjet customers asking the airline whether notification emails were real…

…Professor Alan Woodward of the University of Surrey speculated about the digital break-in: “So either credit card details [were] not encrypted or it’s Magecart again. Can’t see why they’d leave only 2,000 cards unencrypted, so suggests Magecart.”

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Magecart being the group that hacked British Airways by getting their card-stealing code to load from the baggage booking page.
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Retrospective pooled screening for SARS-CoV-2 RNA in late 2019 • medRxiv

Catherine Hogan and others at Stanford University:

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Reports have emerged documenting earlier SARS-CoV-2 cases than previously recognized. To investigate this possibility in the Bay Area, we retrospectively tested 1,700 samples from symptomatic individuals [with respiratory problems] for the last two months of 2019. No SARS-CoV-2 positive pools were identified, consistent with limited transmission in this population at this time.

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In other words: nobody seems to have had Covid-19 in the US in 2019 in the Bay area. Just need this for the Seattle area and New York now.
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State Dept. investigator fired by Trump had examined weapons sales to Saudis and Emiratis • The New York Times

Edward Wong and David Sanger:

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The State Department inspector general fired by President Trump on Friday was in the final stages of an investigation into whether the administration had unlawfully declared an “emergency” last year to allow the resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their air war in Yemen.

Employees from the office of the inspector general, Steve A. Linick, presented preliminary findings to senior State Department officials in early March, before the coronavirus forced lockdowns across the United States. But it was not clear whether that investigation, or others that Mr. Linick had underway, led to his dismissal.

Mr. Trump, speaking about the latest in his series of firings of inspectors general around the government, said on Monday of Mr. Linick: “I don’t know him. Never heard of him. But I was asked by the State Department, by Mike” to terminate Mr. Linick. He apparently was referring to a recommendation he received from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…

…The investigation into how Mr. Pompeo moved to end a congressional hold on arms sales to the Saudis was prompted in part by demands from the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, who said on Monday that the subsequent investigation might have been “another reason” for the firing of Mr. Linick.

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The tales of Pompeo being investigated for getting someone to walk his dog and getting his wife onto planes now sounds like a distraction; this is the real meat of it.
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Pentagon contractors’ report on ‘Wuhan Lab’ origins of coronavirus is bogus • Daily Beast

Erin Banco, Adam Rawnsley and Lachlan Cartwright:

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Multiple congressional committees have obtained and are scrutinizing the 30-page report, produced by the Multi-Agency Collaboration Environment (MACE), a part of Sierra Nevada, a major Department of Defense contractor. The report claims to rely on social media postings, commercial satellite imagery, and cellphone location data to draw the conclusion that some sort of “hazardous event” occurred at the Wuhan virology lab in October 2019—an event that allowed COVID-19 to escape. It’s a theory that has gained currency on the political right and in the upper tiers of the Trump administration.  

But the report’s claim centers around missing location data for up to seven phones — and in many cases, less than that. It’s too small a sample size to prove much of anything, especially when the same devices showed similar absences in the spring of 2019. The MACE document claims a November 2019 conference was canceled because of some calamity; in fact, there are selfies from the event. 

What’s more, imagery collected by DigitalGlobe’s Maxar Technologies satellites and provided to The Daily Beast reveals a simpler, less exotic reason for why analysts believed “roadblocks” went into place around the lab after the supposed accident: road construction. The Maxar images also show typical workdays, with normal traffic patterns around the lab, after the supposedly cataclysmic event.

“This is an illustrated guide on how not to do open source analysis,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, who analyzed the MACE report for The Daily Beast. “It is filled with apples-to-oranges comparisons, motivated reasoning, and a complete refusal to consider mundane explanations or place the data in any sort of context.” 

A Department of Defense spokesperson told The Daily Beast that MACE did not produce the report “in coordination with the DoD.”

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Bellingcat, the OSInt group, looked at this and disproved it within minutes. Pompeo and the DoD are now backing away from this at speed.
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Georgia coronavirus data made reopening look safe. It wasn’t • Los Angeles Times

Matthew Fleischer:

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Mass delusion seems a dubious strategy for ending the coronavirus crisis. And yet if you look at the data coming out of Georgia over the past month — which had one of the earliest and most aggressive efforts to reopen its economy — you might be convinced that there is little danger in a broad economic reopening.

According to state data models, which Gov. Brian Kemp used to justify Georgia’s aggressive reopening, the state’s infection curve has been rapidly heading in a direction that would be the envy of states like California, with its aggressive lockdown rules. The Wall Street Journal hailed the “Georgia Model” as evidence that aggressive lockdowns were needlessly harming the economy.

Georgia’s miraculous curve seemingly played an important role in the changing public sentiment around reopening nationally. If it’s working in Georgia, why can’t it work here?

Georgia’s flattening curve defied all scientific logic. Pandemics don’t end because the economy is suffering and we want them to.

And yet data don’t lie. Or do they?

Thanks to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, we now know things did indeed look too good to be true. Georgia’s coronavirus numbers looked so rosy because officials misrepresented the data in such a way it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t done on purpose. [Dates were out of order in a way that made the figures appear to be going down.]

“I have a hard time understanding how this happens without it being deliberate,” microbiology and molecular genetics PhD and state Rep. Jasmine Clark told the Journal Constitution. “Literally nowhere ever in any type of statistics would that be acceptable.”

Georgia isn’t the only state itching to reopen that has a penchant for dubious data. Florida actively tried suppressing county coroners from releasing COVID-19 death tallies.

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If you can’t trust the data, you’ve got a problem. Georgia’s data dashboard shows a fall. But can you trust it now? Florida just fired its data scientist for being too careful.
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Germany′s data chief tells ministries WhatsApp is a no-go • DW

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Data privacy commissioner Ulrich Kelber said any use of WhatsApp was prohibited for federal ministries and institutions, even if some had resorted to using it during the current pandemic.

In a letter to branches of the federal government, Kelber said that bodies must respect, and not neglect, data protection “even in these difficult times.”

Read more: WhatsApp in India — Scourge of violence-inciting fake news tough to tackle
He stressed that federal entities were obliged to uphold Germany law and had a role model function.
The Düsseldorf newspaper Handelsblatt said Kelber, previously a Social Democrat (SPD) federal parliamentarian, was reacting to complaints from citizens about the use of WhatsApp by unnamed federal authorities.

“Just by sending messages, metadata is delivered to WhatsApp every time,” said Kelber, adding that it could be assumed that these data snippets were then forwarded directly to Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent concern.

“These contribute, even if only as a small piece of the mosaic, to the increased storage of personal profiles,” he wrote, referring to IP addresses and locations.

WhatsApp, cited in Handelblatt’s Monday edition, rebutted Kelber’s warning, saying the messaging service did not forward user data to Facebook — for example, to enable more accurately the distribution of online advertising.

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There’s a gap in Facebook’s denial. It’s able to block messages being forwarded more than a certain number of times from WhatsApp groups; it’s able to measure how much less virality there is as a result. How can it know that if it isn’t collecting some metadata?
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China puts city of Shulan under Wuhan-style lockdown after fresh Covid-19 cases • The Guardian

Helen Davidson:

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In Shulan, residential compounds were restricted to just one entry and exit for emergency vehicles, and banned non-residents and vehicles from entering. If there are confirmed cases in a community residence, no one can enter or leave.

Last week, the city was reclassified as high risk after a cluster of cases emerged connected to a woman with no known history of travel or exposure to the virus. In response, authorities ordered the temporary closure of public places, schools and public transport.

On Monday however these restrictions were increased further, with China Daily referring to the city as “the latest pandemic hotspot in the country”. It said hundreds of people were under medical quarantine, and that life might not go back to normal for weeks.

The north-east of the country, which borders Russia and North Korea, has emerged as an area of serious concern, as cases appear to have been brought in from across the border, and then begun to spread locally.

At least 34 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in Jilin province in the past fortnight.

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Shulan in is the north-east region of the country, a long way from Wuhan. Tempted to say that coronavirus is endemic in China now.
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OnePlus 8 Pro’s color filter mode won’t be disabled after all (except in China), but will receive changes • Android Police

Ryne Hager:

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OnePlus has announced that it will temporarily disable the “color filter” camera on the 8 Pro in a future update, but only the Chinese version of the phone running HydrogenOS will be affected. The camera, which is augmented with its ability to gather infrared light, was able to see through materials like certain plastics and even some kinds of cloth. The functionality will apparently return in the future when OnePlus can limit “other functionality that may be of concern.”

The company made its initial announcement via Weibo, but a follow-up post to the OnePlus forums has made the upcoming changes much more clear. The color filter camera will be disabled in the Chinese market within the next week via a HydrogenOS update, but the company has plans to bring it back once it can eliminate customer worries. Again, this temporary feature removal only affects HydrogenOS, the company’s Chinese ROM. OnePlus has no plans to disable the color filter camera in the US or international markets, though it all markets will end up with whatever fix the company eventually devises.

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Unclear why it’s only the Chinese version. Perhaps sales aren’t actually significant enough outside China yet to make it worth considering; it would just be hassle.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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