Start Up No.1314: grannies v the GDPR, Facebook to cut remote worker pay, the Covid bots, Magic Leap lives (for now), Amish health redux, and more


Back in the 1860s, people could have taken an earlier version to a public hanging; and other strange historical intersections CC-licensed photo by Can Pac Swire 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.

Grandmother ordered to delete Facebook photos under GDPR • BBC News

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A woman must delete photographs of her grandchildren that she posted on Facebook and Pinterest without their parents’ permission, a court in the Netherlands has ruled.

It ended up in court after a falling-out between the woman and her daughter.

The judge ruled the matter was within the scope of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One expert said the ruling reflected the “position that the European Court has taken over many years”.

The case went to court after the woman refused to delete photographs of her grandchildren which she had posted on social media. The mother of the children had asked several times for the pictures to be deleted.

The GDPR does not apply to the “purely personal” or “household” processing of data. However, that exemption did not apply because posting photographs on social media made them available to a wider audience, the ruling said.

“With Facebook, it cannot be ruled out that placed photos may be distributed and may end up in the hands of third parties,” it said. The woman must remove the photos or pay a fine of €50 (£45) for every day that she fails to comply with the order, up to a maximum fine of €1,000.

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Contrast this with the laissez-faire attitude in the US over revenge porn (in its way, this is in the same box: a photo put online by someone else to which the photographed person, or their guardian, objects).

Raises the question of what happen about photos that ordinary people put on social media, if those photographed object, though.
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Researchers: nearly half of accounts tweeting about coronavirus are likely bots • NPR

Bobby Allyn:

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Nearly half of the Twitter accounts spreading messages on the social media platform about the coronavirus pandemic are likely bots, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University said Wednesday.

Researchers culled through more than 200 million tweets discussing the virus since January and found that about 45% were sent by accounts that behave more like computerized robots than humans.

It is too early to say conclusively which individuals or groups are behind the bot accounts, but researchers said the tweets appeared aimed at sowing division in America.

“We do know that it looks like it’s a propaganda machine, and it definitely matches the Russian and Chinese playbooks, but it would take a tremendous amount of resources to substantiate that,” said Kathleen Carley, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University who is conducting a study into bot-generated coronavirus activity on Twitter that has yet to be published.

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Yet again: Twitter isn’t even remotely the real world.
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Magic Leap raises $350m, withdraws layoff notices • The Information

Alex Heath:

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Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz told employees Thursday his struggling augmented reality firm had raised $350m from existing and new investors.

In a memo obtained by The Information, Abovitz also said it was withdrawing the conditional WARN notices sent to remaining staff on April 22. The withdrawal indicates the Florida-based company does not have imminent plans to lay off more of its remaining employees. “We look forward to continuing normal operations,” he wrote. Business Insider first reported the news.

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I guess it’s a sunk cost thing. They’ve piled more than $2.5bn into it. What’s another Three Hundred And Fifty Million Dollars? Apart obviously from $350m.
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Coronavirus hijacks cells in unique ways that suggest how to treat it • STAT

Sharon Begley, explaining that SARS-Cov-2 interferes (ahem) with the interferon-generating genes that are the usual response to a virus, but then stimulate the burn-it-all cytokines:

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In another new study, scientists in Japan last week identified how SARS-CoV-2 accomplishes that genetic manipulation. Its ORF3b gene produces a protein called a transcription factor that has “strong anti-interferon activity,” Kei Sato of the University of Tokyo and colleagues found — stronger than the original SARS virus or influenza viruses. The protein basically blocks the cell from recognizing that a virus is present, in a way that prevents interferon genes from being expressed.

In fact, the Icahn School team found no interferons in the lung cells of Covid-19 patients. Without interferons, tenOever said, “there is nothing to stop the virus from replicating and festering in the lungs forever.”

That causes lung cells to emit even more “call-for-reinforcement” genes, summoning more and more immune cells. Now the lungs have macrophages and neutrophils and other immune cells “everywhere,” tenOever said, causing such runaway inflammation “that you start having inflammation that induces more inflammation.”

At the same time, unchecked viral replication kills lung cells involved in oxygen exchange. “And suddenly you’re in the hospital in severe respiratory distress,” he said.

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So interferon might help. It’s pretty expensive. But probably safer than hydroxychloroquinine.
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The Atlantic lays off almost 20% of staff • Axios

Sara Fischer:

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The Atlantic is laying off nearly 20% of staff, according to an internal note from David Bradley, the publication’s chairman, that was obtained by Axios.

It’s the latest media company that’s been been forced to take drastic measures to survive the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The 68 staff cuts are mostly attributable to the collapse of the company’s events business, which was one of its strongest pillars for many years.

In the memo, Bradley says that sales, editorial and events staff are all impacted. “There is no fault on the part of people leaving the firm. What makes this so particularly difficult is that these are exceptional and beloved Atlantic colleagues. They are exactly the same good people who were selected to join us at the outset. Measure for measure, they have contributed to The Atlantic as have those who are remaining. It is only that the ground has shifted,” Bradley wrote in his note to staff.

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The pandemic is an extinction event for so many organisations that rely on events. Which turns out to be a lot of media companies.
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Students are failing AP tests because the College Board can’t handle iPhone photos • The Verge

Monica Chin:

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Nick Bryner, a high school senior in Los Angeles, had just completed his AP [Advanced Placement] English Literature and Composition test last week. But when he snapped a photo of a written answer with his iPhone and attempted to upload it to the testing portal, it stopped responding.

The website got stuck on the loading screen until Bryner’s time ran out. Bryner failed the test. He’s retaking it in a few weeks.

Bryner is among the many high school students around the country who completed Advanced Placement tests online last week but were unable to submit them at the end. The culprit: image formats.

For the uninitiated: AP exams require longform answers. Students can either type their response or upload a photo of handwritten work. Students who choose the latter option can do so as a JPG, JPEG, or PNG format according to the College Board’s coronavirus FAQ.

But the testing portal doesn’t support the default format on iOS devices and some newer Android phones, HEIC files. HEIC files are smaller than JPEGs and other formats, thus allowing you to store a lot more photos on an iPhone. Basically, only Apple (and, more recently, Samsung) use the HEIC format — most other websites and platforms don’t support it. Even popular Silicon Valley-based services, such as Slack, don’t treat HEICs the same way as standard JPEGs.

Bryner says many of his classmates also tried to submit iPhone photos and experienced the same problem. The issue was so common that his school’s AP program forwarded an email from the College Board to students on Sunday including tidbits of advice to prevent submission errors.

“What’s devastating is that thousands of students now have an additional three weeks of stressful studying for retakes,” Bryner said.

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Not easy either to change that setting. (See if you can manage it.)
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Facebook to push remote hiring, tells employees they can move • MSN

Kurt Wagner:

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It’s a trend that could drastically change Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, which has for decades been the mecca for high-paying technology jobs. Many of the world’s most valuable companies, including Facebook, Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google are headquartered just south of San Francisco, which has made the surrounding area one of the wealthiest and most expensive in the world.

Facebook employees who wish to work remotely, and are approved to do so, will be paid based on their new location, Zuckerberg added. That means employees who move to areas with a lower cost of living than the Bay Area would likely take a pay cut. Employees currently working remotely who want to extend their remote work plans beyond the end of this year will need to alert Facebook for tax and payroll reasons.

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So the first shoe drops: the high salaries are all about the discomfort and difficulty of living in the Bay Area, not because these are inherently fabulous programmers. It will be the first indication that programming really is a fungible skill to some of these people.
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For spy agencies, briefing Trump is a test of holding his attention • The New York Times

Julian E. Barnes and Adam Goldman:

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Mr. Trump, who has mounted a yearslong attack on the intelligence agencies, is particularly difficult to brief on critical national security matters, according to interviews with 10 current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings.

The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult, they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and his friends for information. He is unashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and riff based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn, the retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.

Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with or that runs counter to his worldview, the officials said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.

Working to keep Mr. Trump’s interest exhausted and burned out his first briefer, Ted Gistaro, two former officials said.

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And if you contradict him he stops listening and fires you. Those who call him the toddler-in-chief aren’t wrong. And he blames them for him not comprehending the risk of the coronavirus.
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Unlikely simultaneous historical events • kottke

Jason Kottke:

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A poster on Reddit asks: What are two events that took place in the same time in history but don’t seem like they would have? A few of my favorite answers (from this thread and a previous one):

…[other unlikely ones…

Spain was still a fascist dictatorship when Microsoft was founded.

There were no classes in calculus in Harvard’s curriculum for the first few years because calculus hadn’t been discovered yet.

Two empires [Roman & Ottoman] spanned the entire gap from Jesus to Babe Ruth.

When the pyramids were being built, there were still woolly mammoths.

The last use of the guillotine was in France the same year Star Wars came out.

Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire was founded.

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Here’s another which I saw on Twitter: people probably took the London Underground to get to public hangings. (First underground train 1863, last public hanging in London 1868.) It’s certain that something is happening this year which will cause future generations to say “Who would have–“
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Specimen: A Game About Color on the App Store

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Specimen is an addictive, minimalist design game about color perception. Easy to learn, tough to master: simply tap the specimen that matches the background color. As you advance, earn patterned boosters and chroma coins to combat an ever faster clock.

Play to find out: are you a color genius?

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A good way to find out whether you’re a tetrachromat (assuming your screen is good enough). No idea whether there’s a version for Android.
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Sharing the load: Amish healthcare financing • National Institutes of Health: Healthcare

Kristyn Rohrer and Lauren Dundes in 2016:

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The Amish Hospital Aid program is not without challenges, however, as more conservative Amish (who tend to reside in the southern areas of Lancaster County) are less likely to participate in the program, reflecting a well-known north–south divide in Lancaster County (roughly represented by Route 30). One southern respondent who objected to Amish Hospital Aid explained that “Plainer Amish don’t use it” and perceived it as, “the rich helping the rich”. Northern Lancaster County Amish (e.g., those living in and around Intercourse) tend to be more affluent than their more conservative southern neighbors living in towns like Quarryville. Relative to much more conservative Amish in other parts of Pennsylvania, however, the difference between northern and southern Lancaster County Amish is much less prominent.

Some of the more conservative Amish see the Amish Hospital Aid plan as inappropriately progressive and institutionalized. Many believe it detracts from neighbors helping each other completely voluntarily (with its set monthly fees, etc.) and view it as taking away from donations to the alms fund, a belief that remains to be substantiated. These individuals are more apt to approve only of the traditional Amish alms support (akin to church tithing) for members’ medical needs [2]. Part of the appeal of alms is the reliance on voluntary donations, which bears no resemblance to standard health insurance.

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Yes, the Amish are back! I got a lot of feedback about yesterday’s article. Seth pointed out that “Scott Alexander” (not Fitzgerald) of Slate Star Codex (who referenced the paper linked here) approaches the topic of healthcare from the “intellectual libertarian” stance, emphasising “personal responsibility” and that they engage in a “normal free market in medical care”.

This is somewhat true, but they’re obliged to because that’s the environment around them. Note that they pool resources on what is effectively a flat tax method and pay out according to need, not their payment plan.

G noted that “the discounts [the Amish get] are absorbed as higher prices for others. Amish often to go hospitals when they cannot be refused services due to lack of payment.” OK – but there are fewer than 400,000 Amish, so there’s a lot to absorb in a system that already overcharges.

Finally, Adrian noted that he’d encountered some very similar sects in Belize: “nice people, and much to be said for their way of life.” Harrison Ford thought so too, to some extent.
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D̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ hate the playa, hate the game • Tech Learnings

“Tech Learnings” (whose identity I haven’t discovered) on comparisons between Zoom and the airline industry:

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Back in 2011, Marc Andreessen uttered the most famous words in tech [that “software is eating the world”]. And most of us cheered on as his prognostication came out to largely be true. Industry after industry got disrupted by tech until it became a boring fact of life. But the real price of software start-ups was a declining share of output to human capital. We all continued to cheer on as Google and Facebook announced 70% gross margins and 40% EBIT margins. You know what those margins were? Rents on our society. Money that got returned year after year as capital to a few shareholders. We invented elaborate language and math to celebrate the success. Wall Street spoke highly of asset light businesses. HP did a great job by outsourcing manufacturing to China. Oh yes, offshoring production means that asset base is lower – ROA increased, hence ROE is higher. Yes, yes – the markets love that. Stock prices go higher and management gets compensated.

Silicon Valley professed to love software businesses. Software businesses ‘scaled’ very well. You know why they scale so well? Because after a certain point, there’s virtually no underlying cost base. Microsoft Office makes $30bn in revenue year despite being a 30-year old product that has zero innovation attached to it. That is the power of software scaling. That is the power of SaaS retention/stickiness. But Office doesn’t employ 100k employees at Microsoft. Microsoft could add another 10k engineers to the Office team and pay them $150k to play Minecraft at home. That would cost the company $1.5bn. And yet this would only cause the company’s margins to shrink by 1.1%. Investors won’t even notice as the company could call this R&D as Google has done with ‘Other Bets’ which has cost Google >$20bn over the past three years…

…We as a society need to come up with new terms to judge and allocate economic output. I’ll leave discussions of UBI and wealth re-allocation to politicians and experts like Piketty. But I will leave you with my final thought on the matter:

Imagine I told you a bank was charging 25% APR to customers. Naturally, most of you would be disgusted and would want to know the name of this organization. The regulator would likely get involved and fine these institutions. You would likely avoid that institution then for the rest of your life.

We need to add the same level of nuance around rent extraction by tech companies.

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Thought-provoking. It’s a Substack, so I subscribed. (Substack is fast becoming the go-to place for newsletters; like Medium, delivered more flexibly.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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