Start Up No.1332: Apple faces double EU antitrust investigation, tweet for science!, Instagram the news service?, Magic Leap’s last gasp, and more


It’s a nice target, but fewer steps will serve you just as well. But what number exactly? CC-licensed photo by Vaguely Artistic on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU opens Apple antitrust investigations into App Store and Apple Pay practices • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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The European Commission is opening two antitrust investigations into Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay practices today.

The first investigation will probe whether Apple has broken EU competition rules with its App Store policies, following complaints by Spotify and Rakuten over Apple’s 30% cut on subscriptions and sales of ebooks through its App Store.

“We need to ensure that Apple’s rules do not distort competition in markets where Apple is competing with other app developers, for example with its music streaming service Apple Music or with Apple Books,” says Margrethe Vestager, the head of the EU’s antitrust division. “I have therefore decided to take a close look at Apple’s App Store rules and their compliance with EU competition rules.”

Spotify has claimed Apple uses its App Store to stifle innovation and limit consumer choice in favor of its own Apple Music service. Rakuten filed a similar complaint to the EU earlier this year, alleging that it’s anti-competitive for Apple to take a 30% commission on ebooks sold through the App Store while promoting its own Apple Books service.

Alongside the App Store investigation, the European Commission will also look at Apple Pay to assess whether Apple’s payment system violates EU competition rules. Apple has limited access to the Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality of its iPhone and Apple Watch devices, a move that means banks and other financial service providers can’t offer NFC payments through their own apps.

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The Spotify one is likely to get sticky for Apple. As is the Rakuten case: I think it could well lose both. For the mobile payments, it’s less clear, since there are clear rivals in Google Pay and Samsung Pay.
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Why are Google and Apple dictating how European democracies fight coronavirus? • The Guardian

Ieva Ilves:

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Latvia has some of the lowest Covid-19 infection and mortality rates in the EU, thanks to aggressive and intensive manual contact tracing. Latvia ranks high for smartphone use, so it was natural that we would leap at the opportunity to reduce the manual workload with the help of a smartphone app. 

Yet when it came to transferring our successful manual tracing methods to the digital realm, we ran into a brick wall. As a member of the team that built our contact-tracing app, I represent the Latvian government in discussions with Apple and Google, whose technology the app uses. In negotiations I have come to realise that much of the public discussion on contact tracing has been oversimplified, with major implications for our health and for health institutions fighting the virus.

A debate has been raging as to where the data from contacts is stored – either on the user’s phone, presumably guaranteeing privacy, or with the national health authority once a user tests positive for coronavirus and might have exposed others to it. This distinction has been labelled a conflict between centralised versus decentralised storage of contact information.

This is the wrong debate. The misconception comes with the term centralised, as if all interactions and contacts between app users were going to be stored in a government-associated server. This has never been the case. What governments need an app to do is to mirror what public health authorities do anyway in the analogue world: manually trace contacts between infected individuals and people with whom they come into contact.

In the manual version authorities do not reveal the identity of the infected person, be they a bus driver or a secret lover, nor do they explore the nature of the contact. The same approach ensuring privacy and data security can be achieved in the digital world. It does not have to be a binary choice.

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Yeeaaah nope. Gathering all this sort of data into a centralised, person-named database is precisely what Google and Apple are protecting against.
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Hey is a wildly opinionated new email service from the makers of Basecamp • The Verge

Casey Newton:

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With the world now in a seemingly permanent state of crisis, you may not be in the market for a new email address. And why would you be? Even in the best of times, getting a new email address comes with all the hassle of changing your phone number, without the minor upgrades that a new phone brings. Changing your email address feels like a pointless struggle in a world where the existing options, however unremarkable, work basically fine. Like changing banks, really. Or moving into a new apartment in the same building.

In any case, I’m sorry to report that it’s time to consider getting a new email address. The reason is Hey, a new email service from Basecamp. It’s a genuinely original take on messaging that feels like the first interesting thing to happen to email since clever apps like Mailbox and Sparrow repurposed your Gmail account, and it’s available in an open beta starting today. With a $99-a-year price tag and some pungent opinions about how email should work, Hey is not for all or even most people. But if you find yourself chafing at the stagnation of Gmail and Outlook, or are just looking for a way to screen out most people who would ever send you a message, Hey is well worth considering.

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$99 per year? Is it 1999 again? Although early users are enthusiastic, for reasons that make little sense to me. (Running a mail app? Quit it. Running webmail? Close the tab. Distraction gone.) However, a huge kerfuffle has blown up over this app because although you can’t sign up for the app inside iOS, Apple is insisting that it should, and that then it should get a 30% cut of the sub. This isn’t too popular with the makers, as you can imagine.
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The Floyd protests show that Twitter is real life • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

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A 2017 Harvard-Harris poll suggested 57% of registered voters had an unfavorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, these conversations didn’t disappear off the internet when they left front pages. They were there all along, in plain view for those who sought them out. They continued, despite portrayals to discredit the movement as a violent fringe and specious claims that “systemic racism is a myth” perpetuated by the media and so-called social justice warriors.

But what begins online and is castigated as an unrepresentative view gradually builds consensus, in this case, tracking to our current moment. When, at last, it reaches critical mass it is treated as conventional wisdom by those who once dismissed it. According to a new Times analysis, “in the last two weeks, American voters’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased almost as much as it had in the preceding two years.” As my Opinion colleague Aisha Harris wrote on Tuesday, “all of a sudden, everybody seems to care about black lives.”

The undergirding movement and struggle has been there the whole time. It was an articulation of a better future, even when it fell on unlistening ears. It was real life.

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His point is that the roiling mass on Twitter and Instagram generates the political energy that then spills out when a suitable event creates the opportunity.
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Does tweeting improve citations? One-year results from the TSSMN prospective randomized trial • PubMed

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Methods: A total of 112 representative original articles were randomized 1:1 to be tweeted via TSSMN or a control (non-tweeted) group. Measured endpoints included citations at 1-year compared to baseline, as well as article-level metrics (Altmetric score) and Twitter analytics. Independent predictors of citations were identified through univariable and multivariable regression analyses.

Conclusions: One-year follow-up of this TSSMN prospective randomized trial importantly demonstrates that tweeting results in significantly more article citations over time, highlighting the durable scholarly impact of social media activity.

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Yup: articles that were tweeted got significantly more citations. Get to it, scientists.

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Instagram ‘will overtake Twitter as a news source’ • BBC News

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Just 26% of people said they trusted social media as a source of information about the virus. A similar percentage said they trusted news that had been shared via chat apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

National governments and news organisations, by contrast, were both trusted by about 59% of respondents.

Instagram is now used by more than a third of all people who answered the survey, and two-thirds of under-25s. And 11% use it for news, putting it just one point behind Twitter.

“Instagram’s become very popular with younger people”, said Nic Newman, lead author of the report. “They really respond well to stories that are told simply and well with visual images”.

Stand-out visual stories in recent months have helped – climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the coronavirus have all seen massive engagement on the platform.

“It’s not that one necessarily replaces the other,” Mr Newman said. “They might use Facebook and Instagram, or might use Twitter and Instagram.”

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which now reaches 85% of people each week. The company’s dominance in how stories are being told “remains incredibly important”, he added. The firm also owns WhatsApp.

The coronavirus pandemic also seems to have offered a temporary reprieve to a downward trend in how much news organisations are trusted. Only 38% of people said they trusted the news most of the time. Less than half – 46% – said they trusted their favoured news source.

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Quite a weird to think of Instagram as a news source – sharing content is very limited, so it’s difficult for it to go viral – but it is where the young folk are.
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Google bans two websites from its ad platform over protest articles • NBC News

Adele-Momoko Fraser:

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Google has banned two far-right websites from its advertising platform after research revealed the tech giant was profiting from articles pushing unsubstantiated claims about the Black Lives Matter protests.

The two sites, ZeroHedge and The Federalist, will no longer be able to generate revenue from any advertisements served by Google Ads.

A Google spokesperson said in an email that it took action after determining the websites violated its policies on content related to race.

“We have strict publisher policies that govern the content ads can run on and explicitly prohibit derogatory content that promotes hatred, intolerance, violence or discrimination based on race from monetizing,” the spokesperson wrote. “When a page or site violates our policies, we take action. In this case, we’ve removed both sites’ ability to monetize with Google.”

Google added that it takes into account all of the content on a website including comments to determine if a policy violation has occurred.

Google’s ban of the websites comes after the company was notified of research conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a British nonprofit that combats online hate and misinformation. They found that 10 U.S-based websites have published what they say are racist articles about the protests, and projected that the websites would make millions of dollars through Google Ads

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After this article was published, Google clarified that The Federalist wasn’t demonetized *yet*, and that the problem with both sites was the content in the comments. The Federalist had a little time to “remedy” the situation, and within a couple of hours of the story appearing, Google tweeted that “we worked with them to address issues on their site related to the comments section.” The story seems very ropey – there’s no actual published research from the CCDH, the journalist seems to have gone to Google saying that the story would be that Google runs ads against racist content, but Google then switched things around.

As to Google’s ad-serving monopoly – you can’t post absolutely anything on a billboard (the billboard owner will have rules), and advertisers won’t advertise in places that support racists. Lots of them have policies on that.
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Magic Leap bet big on holograms — and paid the price • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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Launched in 2018, the Magic Leap One headset should have been mixed reality’s moment to shine — but it couldn’t match the hype the company had created.

Now, Magic Leap seems barely afloat. On May 21st, the company laid off around 1,000 employees before getting a last-minute $350m investment that many saw as a lifeline. The following week, founder Rony Abovitz stepped down as CEO. As the company shifts into survival mode, the dream of a market-shifting creative platform (best represented by the Magic Leap One) seems to be dead — or, at the very least, indefinitely delayed. Instead, the company is focused on products that can keep the company alive — business-focused applications built in the model of Microsoft’s HoloLens.

That raises an uncomfortable question: with the starry-eyed vision stripped away, what does Magic Leap have left?

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Turns out: nothing to speak of. This is a comprehensive shovelling of dirt onto the perhaps still-twitching body.
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Tyranny of 10,000 steps was pedometer sales ploy • The Times

Will Pavia:

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two studies, which together involved more than 20,000 Americans, have cast doubt on this [10,000 step-per-day] target. One study, involving more than 17,000 women between the ages of 62 and 101, showed the benefits of walking began to taper off after about 7,500 steps.

Another study, involving a younger cohort of about 4,000 Americans, aged 40 and upwards, suggested there were health benefits from more steps but also showed those benefits dwindling before the 10,000-step mark. Both studies note that the target probably derives not from hard science, but from a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign.

“More is better but the curve levels off,” said I-Min Lee, a medical professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Medicine, who was the lead author of the study on women.

Dr Lee began looking at the ubiquitous 10,000-step target because she worried it was counterproductive for some people. “I became really interested in the origins of the 10,000 because I work with mainly older women,” she said. “With many older women, if you ask them for 10,000 steps it’s like asking them to go to the moon.”

Her paper reports that the yen for 10,000 steps “probably derives from the trade name of a pedometer sold in 1965 by the Yamasa Clock and Instrument Company”. Dr Lee said that the company sold a wearable pedometer that was called Manpo-kei, which meant “ten thousand step meter”.

“The Japanese character for 10,000 looks like a man walking, that’s why they chose it,” she said. “It wasn’t rooted in a scientific study.”

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I think we did know that the 10,000 step thing was totally made up, but it’s good to have the level where it actually is useful made clear.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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