Start Up No.1353: hackers hit Twitter, Apple escapes tax bill, the technological genocide in Xinjiang, Zoom thinks big, and more

Fake photos were used to create a “personality” for articles attacking an activist. Who’s behind them? CC-licensed photo by World Economic Forum on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The world’s most technologically sophisticated genocide is happening in Xinjiang • Foreign Policy

Rayhan Asat, Yonah Diamond:


With Uighur men detained and women sterilized, the government has laid the groundwork for the physical destruction of the Uighur people. At least half a million of the remaining Uighur children have been separated from their families and are being raised by the state at so-called “children shelters.”

What makes this genocide so uniquely dangerous is its technological sophistication, allowing for efficiency in its destruction and concealment from global attention. The Uighurs have been suffering under the most advanced police state, with extensive controls and restrictions on every aspect of life—religious, familial, cultural, and social. To facilitate surveillance, Xinjiang operates under a grid management system. Cities and villages are split into squares of about 500 people. Each square has a police station that closely monitors inhabitants by regularly scanning their identification cards, faces, DNA samples, fingerprints, and cell phones. These methods are supplemented by a machine-operated system known as the Integrated Joint Operations Platform. The system uses machine learning to collect personal data from video surveillance, smartphones, and other private records to generate lists for detention. Over a million Han Chinese watchers have been installed in Uighur households, rendering even intimate spaces subject to the government’s eye.

The Chinese government operates the most intrusive mass surveillance system in the world and repeatedly denies the international community meaningful access to it. It is therefore incumbent on us to appreciate the nature, depth, and speed of the genocide and act now before it’s too late.


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Joe Biden, Elon Musk, Apple, and others hacked in unprecedented Twitter attack • The Verge

Nick Statt:


The Twitter accounts of major companies and individuals have been compromised in one of the most widespread and confounding hacks the platform has ever seen, all in service of promoting a bitcoin scam that appears to be earning its creator quite a bit of money. We don’t know how it’s happened or even to what extent Twitter’s own systems may have been compromised. The hack is ongoing, with new tweets posting to verified accounts on a regular basis starting shortly after 4PM ET.

It all began when Elon Musk’s Twitter account was seemingly compromised by a hacker intent on using it to run a bitcoin scam. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates also had his account seemingly accessed by the same scammer, who posted a similar message with an identical bitcoin wallet address. Both accounts are continuing to post new tweets promoting the scam almost as fast as they are deleted. A spokesperson for Gates tells Recode’s Teddy Schleifer, “We can confirm that this tweet was not sent by Bill Gates. This appears to be part of a larger issue that Twitter is facing. Twitter is aware and working to restore the account.”


Incredible if there are people who would honestly send money to a bitcoin address just because they see a tweet which says “I am giving back to my fans. All Bitcoin sent to my address below will be sent back doubled.” I mean, there’s intellectually challenged, and there’s utterly stupid. You can see the money moving into it at this page. Apparently more than 200 people were that dim.

Just after the hack, the suggestion is that a Twitter employee admin panel was hacked. It’s that or a third-party app, the common method.
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Deepfake used to attack activist couple shows new disinformation frontier • Reuters

Raphael Satter:


Oliver Taylor, a student at England’s University of Birmingham, is a twenty-something with brown eyes, light stubble, and a slightly stiff smile.

Online profiles describe him as a coffee lover and politics junkie who was raised in a traditional Jewish home. His half dozen freelance editorials and blog posts reveal an active interest in anti-Semitism and Jewish affairs, with bylines in the Jerusalem Post and the Times of Israel.

The catch? Oliver Taylor seems to be an elaborate fiction.

His university says it has no record of him. He has no obvious online footprint beyond an account on the question-and-answer site Quora, where he was active for two days in March. Two newspapers that published his work say they have tried and failed to confirm his identity. And experts in deceptive imagery used state-of-the-art forensic analysis programs to determine that Taylor’s profile photo is a hyper-realistic forgery – a “deepfake.”

…Reuters was alerted to Taylor by London academic Mazen Masri, who drew international attention in late 2018 when he helped launch an Israeli lawsuit against the surveillance company NSO on behalf of alleged Mexican victims of the company’s phone hacking technology.

In an article in U.S. Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner, Taylor had accused Masri and his wife, Palestinian rights campaigner Ryvka Barnard, of being “known terrorist sympathizers.”

Masri and Barnard were taken aback by the allegation, which they deny. But they were also baffled as to why a university student would single them out. Masri said he pulled up Taylor’s profile photo. He couldn’t put his finger on it, he said, but something about the young man’s face “seemed off.”


Not a deepfake, but certainly a fake. I think we can join the dots on how Masri was targeted. Howcome a news organisation would just take an article from a Uni of Birmingham student, though?
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Zoom introduces all-in-one home communications appliance for $599 • TechCrunch

Ron Miller:


The device, dubbed the Zoom for Home – DTEN ME, is being produced by partner DTEN. It consists of a standalone 27in screen, essentially a large tablet equipped with three wide-angle cameras designed for high-resolution video and 8 microphones. Zoom software is pre-loaded on the device and the interface is designed to provide easy access to popular Zoom features.

Jeff Smith, head of Zoom Rooms, says that the idea is to offer an appliance that you can pull out of the box and it’s ready to use with minimal fuss. “Zoom for Home is an initiative from Zoom that allows any Zoom user to deploy a personal collaboration device for their video meetings, phone calls, interactive whiteboard annotation — all the good stuff that you want to do on Zoom, you can do with a dedicated purpose-built device,” Smith told TechCrunch.

He says this is designed with simplicity in mind, so that you pull it out of the box and launch the interface by entering a pairing code on a website on your laptop or mobile phone. Once the interface appears, you simply touch the function you want, such as making a phone call or starting a meeting, and it connects automatically.


Clearly they’re thinking that *waves hands all this* is going to go on and on. Doubt they’ll find any buyers in business while the China rhetoric is getting louder and louder, until Zoom corrals off its servers there.
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Apple adds audio to Apple News, along with in-house daily podcast • Axios

Sara Fischer:


Apple is adding new audio features to both its free Apple News and subscription Apple News+ services, including a short daily podcast, produced and narrated by its own editorial staff.

Apple is doubling down on its commitment to human and editorial curation of news content, something its rival tech partners have mostly been slower to do.

The podcast, called “Apple News Today,” will be seven to eight minutes long, and offered free to Apple News users on weekdays.

It will be hosted by two former journalists who now work as Apple News editors, Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino.

“Apple News Today” will exist exclusively within the Apple News app, meaning Apple won’t make it available on rival platforms like Spotify.

Apple will also produce roughly 20 audio stories a week for Apple News+ subscribers, based off narrations of mostly long-form stories from publishing partners.


Is this meant to make people more likely to subscribe to News+? I don’t get it. Somehow this feels like makework for the folk they’ve got curating stuff at Apple News.
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Apple wins major tax battle against EU • WSJ

Valentina Pop and Sam Schechner:


Apple won a major battle with the European Union when the bloc’s second-highest court on Wednesday sided with the US company over a €13bn ($14.8bn) tax bill that EU antitrust officials had said the company owed to Ireland.

The decision was a rebuke to Margrethe Vestager, who is leading the charge at the European Commission to rein in alleged abuses by big tech companies including Apple, Alphabet’s Google, and Amazon.

But Wednesday’s setback may at the same time embolden Ms. Vestager and other EU leaders in their push to create new regulations for tech companies, because they already argue that existing rules are insufficient to bring big tech companies to heel in areas ranging from competition to taxes.

The case stems from a 2016 decision by the European Commission, the bloc’s top antitrust enforcer, which said that Ireland must recoup €13bn in allegedly unpaid taxes between 2003 and 2014, money the commission said constituted an illegal subsidy under the bloc’s strict state-aid rules.

The General Court swept aside that reasoning, saying it annulled the decision because the commission had failed to meet the legal standards in showing that Apple was illegally given special treatment.


Surprising: this seemed like a lock at the time.
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MP who beat Chris Grayling to intelligence chair role loses Tory whip • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh:


One source said Grayling “didn’t see it coming” as the nine members of the MPs’ committee voted five to four in favour of Lewis, with the four opposition members all voting against Grayling.

A furious Downing Street responded by stripping the whip from Lewis – a Tory MP since 1997 – “because he worked with Labour and other opposition MPs to his own advantage”.

The committee, responsible for oversight of Britain’s spy agencies, has agreed to meet again before recess and is expected to discuss publishing the long-delayed report into Russian interference in British politics.

Grayling had been the prime minister’s choice for months, but his appointment was controversial even amongst Conservatives because of his error-prone record as a cabinet minister.

He presided over the collapse of Northern and Thameslink rail services and the granting of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships.

As justice secretary, he part-privatised the probation service and banned prisoners from receiving books from relatives, a measure that was overturned in the courts. He was also a prominent supporter of leave in the 2016 referendum campaign.


Simply the most hilarious story in British politics. Grayling is known as “Failing Grayling” because of all the screwups he’s overseen. And now he screws up getting selected for a plum job that the government wanted him to do – heading the Intelligence and Security Committee. And now the government has taken away its hold over the Tory MP who did get in. Let all dunderheads fail in the same way.
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Wirecard boasted of hundreds of partnerships. Some were less than meets the eye • WSJ

Caitlin Ostroff:


Wirecard’s former Chief Executive Markus Braun, now accused by German prosecutors of falsely inflating revenues, put a high priority on issuing news releases, according to former employees. Business unit leaders would get regular calls from the investor relations team demanding things to announce, according to one employee. Some joked internally that these releases were Wirecard’s real product.

A lawyer for Mr. Braun didn’t respond to requests for comment. The lawyer previously said his client was cooperating fully with prosecutors.

In 2019, Wirecard issued over 100 news releases, while competitors such as Dutch payments processor Adyen NV issued 21 releases and the U.S.’s Discover Financial Services put out 80.

“If you’re just scratching the surface and you look at headlines, you’ll say ‘oh that’s pretty impressive,’” said Neil Campling, head of telecoms, media and technology research at Mirabaud Securities. “If you looked at the details, you’d realize it was absolutely meaningless.”

More than 90 companies identified in Wirecard’s releases responded to The Journal’s inquiries. Many declined to comment. Others confirmed that they had legitimate business with Wirecard. Some said they were Wirecard customers but that the releases overplayed their relationship.


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With Trump, invective obscures his policy messages • Los Angeles Times

Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman:


the White House spent a good part of the day dealing with a controversy set off by an op-ed column in which Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, slammed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert.

Fauci “has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on,” Navarro said in his column in USA Today, which appeared Tuesday night online.

White House officials tried to distance the president from the column. Deputy press secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted that it “didn’t go through normal White House clearance processes and is the opinion of Peter alone.” Trump, she continued, “values the expertise of the medical professionals advising his Administration.”

But there’s little doubt that Navarro’s broadside reflected — and appealed to — the president’s own frustration with Fauci, who has not been invited to the Oval Office to brief Trump since early June and whose proposed television appearances often have been blocked by the White House.

According to one administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, Navarro had the president’s permission to write the column.

“Not only was he authorized by Trump, he was encouraged,” the official said.


Navarro’s column begin “Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on”. He rather kills his argument by suggesting that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treament: the study he quotes isn’t an RCT (randomized controlled trial). But there’s a simple explanation: Navarro’s a grifter who says things his boss wants to hear.
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12 things I learned by switching from the 13-inch MacBook Pro to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro • Macworld

Michael Simon:


My setup was as high-end as you could get: a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 1TB of storage and cellular connectivity, a Magic Keyboard, and Apple Pencil—a setup that’s more expensive than the 13-inch MacBook Pro I got it in 2016. It looked great on my desk and felt every bit like the future Apple sells. When I snapped the iPad into its magnetic enclosure, I truly hoped it could replace my MacBook with a sleek, modern, and versatile device.

Sadly, it didn’t work out. I spent more time fighting my iPad than loving it, and when push came to shove, it was just too difficult to get things done as quickly and efficiently as I do on my Mac. Some of it is muscle memory, of course, but there are still fundamental issues with the iPad that prevent it from being the work-first device Apple wants it to be. So I’m giving it up.

While there’s a lot to like about the iPad Pro and Apple’s whole tablet experience, it isn’t as simple as a trackpad being the missing link between it and the Mac.


His two main criticisms are that it was hard to work with photos, and hard to work with text. That seems like it would cover the work you’d want to do. Though I don’t think that the week he gave it is quite enough – and also, you need to think hard about what apps you’re going to use. Cross-platform ones are a good idea, for instance.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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