Start Up No.1315: how iOS 14 leaked, a fungus to stop malaria?, UK to phase out Huawei, how Ayn Rand ruined Sears, ‘fish cleaner’ death redux, and more


Sports betting has all but ceased – so gamblers have turned to the stock market, and like its money-back scheme CC-licensed photo by Sheep”R”Us on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. What’s a holiday? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How iPhone hackers got their hands on the new iOS months before its release • VICE

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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Motherboard has not been able to independently verify exactly how it leaked, but five sources in the jailbreaking community familiar with the leak told us they think that someone obtained a development iPhone 11 running a version of iOS 14 dated December 2019, which was made to be used only by Apple developers. According to those sources, someone purchased it from vendors in China for thousands of dollars, and then extracted the iOS 14 internal build and distributed it in the iPhone jailbreaking and hacking community.

For the last few months, information about iOS 14 has been trickling out on the Apple blog 9to5Mac, which obtained a copy of the leak. At the same time, people who trade stolen or leaked Apple code and hardware have been distributing this early version of iOS 14 to several security researchers, giving them an opportunity to take an early look into new code, and find new vectors to attack it, according to four sources in the security research community.

“It gives insight into a decrypted copy of the iOS file system months before release so it could be very useful. It’s pre-release, lots could change, but it’s a trove of information,” said Ryan Duff, Director of Cyber Products at SIXGEN, who reviewed the leaked code for Motherboard. “I can’t say this will give an easy jailbreak or anything like that, but it’s way more information about an upcoming iOS than we ever see normally.”

…Will Strafach, a former iPhone jailbreaker and now founder of iOS security app Guardian Firewall [said] “I feel a bit bad for whoever is messing around as Apple does not take kindly to this.”

Duff, who has studied iOS for years, said that it’s relatively normal to have some information about the upcoming iPhone and iOS, but this is “definitely a bad leak.”

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And people wonder why Apple is paranoid about security around its factories? This seems to have happened before coronavirus blew everything up, so that can’t be blamed.
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‘The house was on fire’: top Chinese virologist on how China and U.S. have met the pandemic • Science

Jon Cohen speaks to Shao Yiming, chief expert on AIDS at China’s CDC:

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Q: China’s ahead of the rest of the world in terms of responding to COVID-19, so a big question outside of China is how do we best control this without lockdowns?

A: You have to do early finding of cases, which means measuring temperatures all the time, and you have to do an epidemiological investigation and contact tracing of each case within 24 hours. Prevention has to focus on old people and nursing homes, key personnel, larger factories, pregnant women, and university and school campuses. Scale up testing: Testing is going up in China, even though there are no more cases. In order to guarantee a safe opening, you need to test more people.

Q: How do you do such large-scale contact tracing?

A: To help at China’s epicenter, Wuhan, and in its province, Hubei, our CDC network formed 1300 epidemic investigation teams, in addition to the 40,000 doctors and nurses. We also use very clever tracing tools with big data support. Everybody has a smartphone, and you have to have this health card in your phone, it has to be with you. We don’t need to interview people and ask them to remember where they went. This is the new normal: If you travel or come in contact with a case, your health card will switch from green and become yellow or red. When you reach a new city, at the train station or the airport, you have to show your health card is green. That’s how we do very good contract tracing in China, and that’s how you control the virus.

Q: In the United States, we don’t like the type of intensive surveillance that China does. We think that takes away our individual rights and privacy.

A: But you have done that for almost 20 years because of 9/11. Whenever I go to the United States, I have to give your customs agent 10 fingerprints and two irises into the camera. I cannot understand why U.S. customs wants 10 fingerprints. Why not two? And including my two irises?

Q: But we don’t track people with GPS on their phones and give them a green-yellow-red system. We don’t have state surveillance the way China does—we reject that.

A: Any technology can be wisely used and could also be misused.I think China is careful in how it uses that technology.

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There’s a lot to chew over in this interview. For instance, US state surveillance used to include collecting the metadata of peoples’ phone calls, including on mobile networks. There’s a fair amount of evasion too.
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Malaria ‘completely stopped’ by microbe • BBC News

James Gallagher:

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Scientists have discovered a microbe that completely protects mosquitoes from being infected with malaria.

The team in Kenya and the UK say the finding has “enormous potential” to control the disease.
Malaria is spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes, so protecting them could in turn protect people. The researchers are now investigating whether they can release infected mosquitoes into the wild, or use spores to suppress the disease.

The malaria-blocking bug, Microsporidia MB, was discovered by studying mosquitoes on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It lives in the gut and genitals of the insects.

The researchers could not find a single mosquito carrying the Microsporidia that was harbouring the malaria parasite. And lab experiments, published in Nature Communications, confirmed the microbe gave the mosquitoes protection.

Microsporidias are fungi, or at least closely related to them, and most are parasites. However, this new species may be beneficial to the mosquito and was naturally found in around 5% of the insects studied.

“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage, it’s a very severe blockage of malaria,” Dr Jeremy Herren, from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya told the BBC.

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You need a form of herd immunity (er..) – at least 40% of the mosquitoes in an area need to have it to become effective. What seems odd is: if this is a beneficial parasite, why isn’t it more common? There must be some competing benefit from the malaria parasite; or does it alter the physiology of the mosquito to kill the fungus?
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UK draws up three-year plan to remove Huawei from 5G networks • Financial Times

Jim Pickard and Nic Fildes:

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Downing Street has been under pressure from Tory MPs to ensure that the UK’s telecoms networks — including 5G mobile phone infrastructure — do not contain equipment from the Chinese company beyond 2023 because they believe this could compromise national security.

Boris Johnson, prime minister, in January granted the Chinese telecoms equipment maker a limited role in supplying kit for the UK’s 5G networks, while capping Huawei’s market share to 35%. The rules also banned the use of the company’s equipment in the critical core of mobile networks where data is stored and routed.

In March the government only narrowly defeated a Tory rebel amendment designed to ban Huawei from UK networks completely.

Now the prime minister has instructed officials to tighten restrictions on the involvement of the company in the new system to zero by 2023, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, which officials have confirmed. The newspaper reported that Mr Johnson always had “serious concerns” about the 5G agreement, initially brokered by his predecessor Theresa May, and now wanted it to be “significantly scaled back”.

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Suuuuuuuure Johnson had “concerns” about Huawei. More like he had concerns that if Huawei got a substantial chunk of the network contracts, the US under Trump would screw the UK in any trade deal. That will happen anyway, of course.
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Trump considers forming panel to review complaints of online bias • WSJ

John McKinnon and Alex Leary:

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President Trump is considering establishing a panel to review complaints of anticonservative bias on social media, according to people familiar with the matter, in a move that would likely draw pushback from technology companies and others.

The plans are still under discussion but could include the establishment of a White House-created commission that would examine allegations of online bias and censorship, these people said. The administration could also encourage similar reviews by federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Election Commission, they said.

“Left-wing bias in the tech world is a concern that definitely needs to be addressed from our vantage point, and at least exposed [so] that Americans have clear eyes about what we’re dealing with,” a White House official said.

…Jon Berroya, interim president of the Internet Association, a trade group, disputed the contention that tech companies tilt left. “Online platforms do not have a political bias, and offer more people a chance to have their voice heard than at any point in history,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said any moves by the government carry significant risk of misfiring because of the companies’ free-speech rights and other concerns.

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Amazing how conservatives are concerned about the market working as it chooses to. (There isn’t any such bias, but they’re private companies so even if there was, that’s their choice, and the US government cannot compel them to do things differently: that’s a First Amendment infringement.) Why don’t the companies being targeted with this bring that up?
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Study: white supremacist groups are ‘thriving’ on Facebook, despite extremist ban • HuffPost UK

Christopher Mathias:

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A new study reported that white supremacist groups are “thriving” on Facebook, despite repeated assurances from the company that it doesn’t allow extremists on its platform.

The watchdog group Tech Transparency Project released a study Thursday that found more than 100 white supremacist groups had a presence on Facebook.  

Project researchers identified 221 white supremacist groups — using information collected by Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, two of America’s most prominent anti-hate organizations — and searched for those groups on Facebook. 

About 50% of the groups were present on the platform, the study said. 

Of the 113 white supremacist groups the project found on Facebook, 36% had pages or groups created by active users. The remaining 64% had a page auto-generated by Facebook itself. 

…After HuffPost emailed a Facebook spokesperson about TTP’s report this week, project researchers noticed the company had removed pages for 55 white supremacist groups identified in its report.

“We are making progress keeping this activity off our platform and are reviewing content in this report,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement to HuffPost, adding that the company has “banned over 250 white supremacist organizations and removed 4.7 million pieces of content tied to organized hate globally in the first quarter of 2020, over 96% of which we found before someone reported it.”

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Read the link about the “auto-generated by Facebook” stuff: Facebook auto-generated pages for Isis and white supremacists, including “a celebratory jihadist video”.
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Failing to plan: how Ayn Rand destroyed Sears • Verso

Michal Rozworski and Leigh Phillips wrote a book called “People’s Republic of Walmart”, pointing at the counter-example to that giant corporation’s success with Sears, whose CEO Eddie Lampert, a firm believer in Ayn Rand tooth-and-claw capitalism, decided to prove that a corporation divided against itself would actually function better than some namby-pamby cooperative:

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if the apparel division wanted to use the services of IT or human resources, they had to sign contracts with them, or alternately to use outside contractors if it would improve the financial performance of the unit—regardless of whether it would improve the performance of the company as a whole. [Bloomberg journalist Mina] Kimes tells the story of how Sears’s widely trusted appliance brand, Kenmore, was divided between the appliance division and the branding division. The former had to pay fees to the latter for any transaction. But selling non-Sears-branded appliances was more profitable to the appliances division, so they began to offer more prominent in-store placement to rivals of Kenmore products, undermining overall profitability. Its in-house tool brand, Craftsman—so ubiquitous an American trademark that it plays a pivotal role in a Neal Stephenson science fiction bestseller, Seveneves, 5,000 years in the future—refused to pay extra royalties to the in-house battery brand DieHard, so they went with an external provider, again indifferent to what this meant for the company’s bottom line as a whole.

Executives would attach screen protectors to their laptops at meetings to prevent their colleagues from finding out what they were up to. Units would scrap over floor and shelf space for their products. Screaming matches between the chief marketing officers of the different divisions were common at meetings intended to agree on the content of the crucial weekly circular advertising specials. They would fight over key positioning, aiming to optimize their own unit’s profits, even at another unit’s expense, sometimes with grimly hilarious result. Kimes describes screwdrivers being advertised next to lingerie, and how the sporting goods division succeeded in getting the Doodle Bug mini-bike for young boys placed on the cover of the Mothers’ Day edition of the circular. As for different divisions swallowing lower profits, or losses, on discounted goods in order to attract customers for other items, forget about it.

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The extract is hilarious; pretty soon it’s like Lord of the Flies. Sears filed for bankruptcy in October 2018 and was sold in 2019. I’m always here for failed Ayn Rand experiments.
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Frustrated sports punters turn to US stock market • Financial Times

Richard Henderson:

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The lockdowns that have kept billions of people indoors have halted the world’s biggest sporting events — from US basketball and hockey to European football, Indian cricket and even the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

But brokerages that connect everyday investors to the stock market have seen a surge in account openings, as punters seek thrills in unfamiliar places. This has brought new investors to the market, helping to propel a one-third rise in US stocks from the depths of the pandemic sell-off in March.

“People are staying at home, there’s no sports on — so people are trading for fun with the backdrop of improving markets,” said Rich Repetto, senior research analyst at Sandler O’Neill in New York.

Daniel Goodwin, who oversees a team of paralegals for a law firm in Indiana, would typically bet $100 on a handful of sports games every night. A few weeks into the shutdowns, with matches on hold, he fired up a dormant ETrade account with several thousand dollars and began to buy stocks.

“I’m not here for the long run — I just want to throw a thousand bucks at something to see if I can make a few hundred,” said Mr Goodwin, 39, noting that so far he has done well on MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment, the casino groups.

“With sports, if I throw $1,000 at something, I lose the whole thing real quick, but here if things go south you can cut your losses.”

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It would be the most fabulous irony if the gambling industry were to lose out to the stock market.
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Our weird behavior during the pandemic is messing with AI models • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

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It took less than a week at the end of February for the top 10 Amazon search terms in multiple countries to fill up with products related to covid-19. You can track the spread of the pandemic by what we shopped for: the items peaked first in Italy, followed by Spain, France, Canada, and the US. The UK and Germany lag slightly behind. “It’s an incredible transition in the space of five days,” says Rael Cline, Nozzle’s CEO. The ripple effects have been seen across retail supply chains.

But they have also affected artificial intelligence, causing hiccups for the algorithms that run behind the scenes in inventory management, fraud detection, marketing, and more. Machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior are now finding that normal has changed, and some are no longer working as they should.

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So far so expected. But notice this segment:

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London-based Phrasee… uses natural-language processing and machine learning to generate email marketing copy or Facebook ads on behalf of its clients. Making sure that it gets the tone right is part of its job. Its AI works by generating lots of possible phrases and then running them through a neural network that picks the best ones. But because natural-language generation can go very wrong, Phrasee always has humans check what goes into and comes out of its AI.

When covid-19 hit, Phrasee realized that more sensitivity than usual might be required and started filtering out additional language. The company has banned specific phrases, such as “going viral,” and doesn’t allow language that refers to discouraged activities, such as “party wear.” It has even culled emojis that may be read as too happy or too alarming. And it has also dropped terms that may stoke anxiety, such as “OMG,” “be prepared,” “stock up,” and “brace yourself.” “People don’t want marketing to make them feel anxious and fearful—you know, like, this deal is about to run out, pressure pressure pressure,” says Parry Malm, the firm’s CEO.

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AI is writing marketing copy and Facebook ads?
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Police investigating death of Arizona man from chloroquine phosphate • Washington Free Beacon

As they say on news bulletins, we return to this developing story from Alana Goodman:

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The Mesa City Police Department’s homicide division is investigating the death of Gary Lenius, the Arizona man whose wife served him soda mixed with fish tank cleaner in what she claimed was a bid to fend off the coronavirus. A detective handling the case confirmed the investigation to the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday after requesting a recording of the Free Beacon’s interviews with Lenius’s wife, Wanda.

Gary Lenius, 68, died on March 22. Wanda, 61, told several news outlets last month that both she and her husband had ingested a substance used to clean aquariums after hearing President Donald Trump tout one of its ingredients, chloroquine phosphate, from the White House briefing room.

Detective Teresa Van Galder, the homicide detective handling the case for the Mesa City Police Department, confirmed that the investigation is ongoing but declined to provide additional details.

“As this is an active investigation, I cannot go into any details at this time regarding the case,” Van Galder said. The Free Beacon provided a recording of its interview last month with Wanda Lenius.

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Goodman has been doing a ton of work on this story, and established back in March that the couple gave thousands of dollars to Democratic groups and candidates, including a “pro-science resistance PAC” in the past two years alone.

Increasingly this doesn’t look like a duh-how-stupid story, but more like a cruel act that ended a life prematurely.
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Kayleigh McEnany displays one of Trump’s checks in a little too much detail • The New York Times

Annie Karni:

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on Friday, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, did not just reveal that the president was sending his salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to help “support the efforts being undertaken to confront, contain and combat the coronavirus.”
She also displayed the president’s private bank account and routing numbers.

The $100,000 check she held up like a prop appeared to be a real check from Capital One, complete with the relevant details. An administration official said mock checks were never used in the briefing.
A White House spokesman, Judd Deere, said in a statement, “Today his salary went to help advance new therapies to treat this virus, but leave it to the media to find a shameful reason not to simply report the facts, focusing instead on whether the check is real or not.”

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With Trump, the first thing you do is examine the gift horse’s teeth. But this is hilarious. Continuing a proud record of hiring only the stupidest people, who then rage like toddlers when their stupidity is pointed out.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1315: how iOS 14 leaked, a fungus to stop malaria?, UK to phase out Huawei, how Ayn Rand ruined Sears, ‘fish cleaner’ death redux, and more

  1. The problem with tech companies simply standing on the First Amendment is that they’re some of the world’s largest businesses, with many tax and liability issues. The implicit reply to anything along the lines of “We’re not politically biased, and even if we were, it’s our absolute right to be as leftist liberal anti-Republican resist-Trump as we want due to the First Amendment”, is a response of “Ah, yes, that’s true, consider the matter closed – now let’s move on to revisiting this multi-billion dollar tax break or liability exemption that you have, we think the time has come to reconsider it in light of changing circumstances”.

    Business and politics at that level resembles more negotiation between rival empires, than anything that can be resolved at gesturing at law.

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