Start Up No.1349: UK’s chaotic paper Covid trail, Facebook as gaslighter, draw that circle!, a real virus for Macs?, Quibi’s diehards, and more


UK telcos are warning that ripping out Huawei gear in a hurry could mean no signal on mobiles. CC-licensed photo by evan p. cordes on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not available on paper. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Coronavirus: The inside story of how UK’s ‘chaotic’ testing regime ‘broke all the rules’ • Sky News

Ed Conway and Rowland Manthorpe:

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As Britain sought to assemble its coronavirus testing programme, all the usual rules were broken.

In their effort to release rapid data to show the increase in testing capacity, officials from Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) “hand-cranked” the numbers to ensure a constant stream of rising test numbers were available for each day’s press conference, Sky News has been told.

An internal audit later confirmed that some of those figures simply didn’t add up.
According to multiple sources, the data collection was carried out in such a chaotic manner that we may never know for sure how many people have been tested for coronavirus.

“We completely buffed the system,” says a senior Whitehall figure. “We said: forget the conventions, we’re putting [this data] out.”

Sky News has learned that in the early days of mass COVID-19 testing, the statistical problems were so deep that one minister sat at their desk with Excel spreadsheets in front of them, calling round to try to collect data to use in each daily press conference.

Even as Health Secretary Matt Hancock struggled to get the number of tests carried out up to 100,000 a day by the end of April, the collection of those testing statistics was still so primitive that they were being compiled with pen and paper.

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“World-beating”, indeed.
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When a critic met Facebook: ‘what they’re doing is gaslighting’ • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel spoke to Rashad Robinson, who spoke to Facebook about its civil rights audit:

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Robinson: I believe we’re not going to win this fight through policies that Facebook puts in place. Yes, there are things Facebook could do tinkering on the margins. And, honestly, the only reason I’m at the table is because we don’t have the legislative and regulatory levers to pull right now. So I feel I need to be there. But the big fixes need those levers.

If there were not rules of the road for car companies around safety and seatbelts we wouldn’t get safety from the auto industry just because. They’d probably say things like Facebook says right now. “89% of seatbelts work!” [Facebook told Robinson that 89% of hate speech is caught before users report it.] And we’d say, ’that’s not good enough!’ And they’d say, well it’s a B-plus!’ The point is that there are regulations enforcing that accountability that Facebook does not have.

Q: You were instrumental in pushing Facebook for a public civil rights audit. What’s your reaction to the audit?
RR: The audit speaks to just how much Facebook’s incentive structure is broken. I keep thinking about the fact that the decisions around political speech and violations to rules goes through the team at the company that is the most political — who are in charge of dealing with lobbyists and Washington operators like Joel Kaplan [Facebook’s vice president of global public policy and a former Republican staffer and lobbyist].

And so then they consistently say things to me like, “Well, you just don’t like Republicans.” And I say, “I don’t think these issues should go through anyone who is primarily a political animal and operates inside D.C. politics.” I won’t pretend there are two equal sides of the issue. Joel Kaplan has political leanings that would make it harder for my grandfather to vote. And so if you put him in charge of voter suppression content, that’s an issue.

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Kaplan is going to become a bigger and bigger point of tension between Facebook and the outside world in the coming months.
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Conflict Culture is making social Unsocial • On my Om

Om Malik:

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The internet has removed the limitations of space on the print media. It might have started with the blogs, and later embraced by The Huffington Post. Today, the opinion pages of respected dailies, have also become expressive, and thus veering towards, not having a real impact, but as tools to keep the readership base close. Whether it is on the right or the left, everything has become infotainment. 

Just as daytime talk shows and cable news talk shows, the internet too has become the colosseum. The post-social internet is no different than daytime television and cable news. About a decade ago, I wrote about the future where we will all be starring in a movie called me. I was excited about the sources going direct. “In our 21st-century society, we all want to stand out and get attention,” I wrote, and that it was going to become the “defining the ethos for the new internet-connected age as we go along.”

Fast forward to today, that desire has mutated into a new dangerous form. The conflict culture has not only infected the social platforms but also started to consume the host body. Whether it is the president, or a maverick entrepreneur, a delusional rapper, self-important investor, a media personality – they are now hosts of their shows.

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Circular

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Draw a freehand circle, then click analyze to see how close you got to a perfect circle. Reset to start over

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This is damn difficult with a trackpad. (I got 12,000-plus points for something that looked like a scone.) Great way to lose some time, though.
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‘UK faces mobile blackouts if Huawei 5G ban imposed by 2023’ • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

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While it now seems likely the government will opt for a ban of some sort, the question is when it will come into effect. Some Tory backbenchers are urging a deadline to be set before the 2024 general election – and there has been speculation that it could be as soon as 2023.

But Vodafone and BT – which both use Huawei’s products in their networks – said this would be hugely disruptive. “To get to zero in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,” said Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology and information officer.

He explained the logistics involved in bringing in cranes and shutting off streets to replace masts, base stations and other Huawei equipment meant that the only way to meet the timespan would be to switch over multiple sites in an area at the same time.

3G signals would not be affected as the EE network uses Nokia kit to provide that service.
Vodafone made a similar case – it uses Huawei’s kit in its 2G, 3G. 4G and 5G networks.

“[Customers] would lose their signal, sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how big or how intrusive the work to be carried out is,” said Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s head of networks.

“I would say a five-year transition time would be the minimum,” Mr Watson added: “A minimum of five years, ideally seven.”

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Apple promises to support Thunderbolt on its new ARM Macs • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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Apple has yet to offer Thunderbolt support on any products outside of Intel-powered Macs — Apple’s ARM-based iPad Pro, in particular, stands out as featuring a regular USB-C port, not a Thunderbolt 3 connector. Apple’s ARM-based Developer Transition Kit also only features standard USB-C ports.

The news comes as Intel detailed its upcoming Thunderbolt 4 standard, which will be based on the USB4 spec standard and which uses the same USB-C connector that Thunderbolt 3 already does today. Both Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 offer more guaranteed features (like the ability to power external monitors, or charge laptops) compared to the standard USB 3 and USB4 standards that they’re built off of, and offer a consistency that regular USB-C standards can often be sorely lacking in.

Thunderbolt 4, in particular, offers the same 40 Gbps speeds that Thunderbolt 3 had offered, but adds even stricter hardware requirements for manufacturers: devices will have to be able to support either two 4K displays or one 8K display, and allow for PCIe data transfer speeds of up to 32 Gbps — which should be a boon for external storage and external GPUs.

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Not surprising that the DTKs don’t have Thunderbolt 3, since they’re using iPad Pro chips. But including it (and Thunderbolt 4) in Apple Silicon Macs would be a way to distinguish them from iPads, apart from anything.

Also, 8K displays? I don’t think I’ve even got 8K eyes.
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EvilQuest Mac malware ‘is after your data, not your money’ • Macworld UK

Anders Lundberg:

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researchers at SentinelOne have examined the encrypted files and discovered that the files themselves contain their encryption keys, making it straightforward to decrypt them. The company has already released a small freeware program that restores all files encrypted by EvilQuest.

Malwarebytes has researched the program more deeply and reports that the whole extortion function can in fact be a distraction to divert attention from the real goal: stealing data.

The malware sometimes downloads a Python script that goes through the entire home folder and uploads a long line of files to the control server, completely unencrypted.

Patrick Wardle’s continued investigations into the malware show that it also appears to be the first genuine virus for Mac since Mac OS X was released nearly 20 years ago.

Once the program has installed itself on the Mac, it runs a process that looks up all executable files in the affected home folder and adds a new bit of malicious code to the beginning of the file which will then run every time that file is run.

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That the files contain their own encryption keys makes this like the very, very, very first piece of ransomware, the AIDS Trojan, back in 1989, which did almost the same thing. As for the malware part – I thought Apple’s malware checker would spot this, but I guess not.
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Hong Kong downloads of Signal surge as residents fear crackdown • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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The secure chat app Signal has become the most downloaded app in Hong Kong on both Apple’s and Google’s app stores, Bloomberg reports, citing data from App Annie. The surging interest in encrypted messaging comes days after the Chinese government in Beijing passed a new national security law that reduced Hong Kong’s autonomy and could undermine its traditionally strong protections for civil liberties.

The 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China came with a promise that China would respect Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years following the handover. Under the terms of that deal, Hong Kong residents should have continued to enjoy greater freedom than people on the mainland until 2047. But recently, the mainland government has appeared to renege on that deal.

Civil liberties advocates see the national security law approved last week as a major blow to freedom in Hong Kong. The New York Times reports that “the four major offenses in the law—separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries—are ambiguously worded and give the authorities extensive power to target activists who criticize the party, activists say.” Until now, Hong Kongers faced trial in the city’s separate, independent judiciary. The new law opens the door for dissidents to be tried in mainland courts with less respect for civil liberties or due process.

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The problem with Signal (as Ben Thompson and John Gruber discussed on their Dithering podcast) is that it’s completely tied to your phone, and your phone number. Lose your phone (or SIM) and you’re stuffed – and that SIM or phone might be the vector for your messages to be viewed.
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Google and Amazon are inadvertently funding Covid conspiracy sites to the tune of $25m • Forbes

Isabel Togoh:

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The research shows ads from organizations including Merck, Loreal, Canon and the British Medical Association, a trade union for U.K. doctors, appeared on pages featuring conspiracy theory content.

“Based on our findings, ads for big brands have been found funding stories that tout debunked and dangerous cures, undercut government lock-down measures, equate track-and-trace apps with state surveillance, and traffic in theories that the Chinese government and the global elite should be blamed for the virus’ spread,” the GDI said.

The figures exclude advertising on disinformation on social media and video platforms, the GDI said, meaning the real numbers could be far higher.

The study was based on the GDI’s analysis of 480 English language sites between January and June this year, whose content was dominated by coronavirus misinformation, and which also carried adverts. The GDI made conservative estimates, and warned that their figures are likely to be “the tip of the iceberg.” They also estimate that ad revenue may have been skewed by a spike in overall web traffic sparked by more people being at home and searching for news online, as well as a decline in ad spend due to the pandemic.

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The research is by the Global Disinformation Index, and I found it at the Internet Archive – weirdly it wasn’t on the blog because Bloomberg was getting some sort of exclusive.

This story plays out again and again.
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Quibi reportedly lost 90% of early users after their free trials expired • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Streaming service Quibi only managed to convert a little under 10% of its early wave of users into paying subscribers, says mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. According to the firm’s new report on Quibi’s early growth, the short-form video platform signed up about 910,000 users in its first few days back in April. Of those users, only about 72,000 stuck around after the three-month free trial, indicating the app had about an 8% conversion rate.

That’s not too bad. But compare it to the streaming video industry’s most successful debut of the last few years, Disney Plus, and the resulting picture is a grim one for Quibi, which has struggled both to find a hit among its mobile-centric shows and gain traction with its desired younger, TikTok-loving demographic, despite the surge in screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Sensor Tower, Disney managed to convert a comparable 11% of early free trials users, but that was of out of whopping 9.5 million people the firm estimates signed up for Disney Plus in its first three days of availability in the US and Canada. Since then, Disney has added tens of millions more subscribers and now enjoys more than 50 million paying users as of April thanks in part to its international expansion.

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I’m surprised that it’s as many as 72,000, though don’t ignore the likelihood that lots of them have completely forgotten ever signing up and will unsubscribe when they notice.
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Update on the upcoming Wink Subscription • Wink Blog

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We want to share updates about our Wink subscription – a vital change for Wink that will enable us to provide our customers with a strong and growing smart home experience. The change will bring about expanded support for new brand integrations and continue to bring enhancements through firmware and software updates.

Please know that we have adjusted our timelines since our initial announcement on May 6th to allow users more opportunity to make considerations. We were able to extend our service so that subscriptions will now begin on Monday, July 27th, 2020. All users who have not already subscribed will need to visit subscription.wink.com to sign up.

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Previously on Wink, which does a sort of smart home hub thing, but is running low on money. Was the delay was because they were trying to raise fresh funding, or because they wanted to get the news to spread a bit further? Either way, I doubt many more people will sign up. Maybe if they did a bundle with Quibi?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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