Start Up No.1358: Facebook’s mimsy political labels, Slack files EU antitrust complaint against Microsoft, Covid reinfection?, and more


Protesters against the HB 6 bill, which became law in Ohio: its architect has been arrested on suspicion of taking bribes. CC-licensed photo by Becker1999 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.

Facebook begins labeling, but not fact-checking, posts from Trump and Biden • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan and Marshall Cohen:

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After President Donald Trump posted an unfounded claim to Facebook (FB) on Tuesday that mail-in voting could lead to a “corrupt election,” the social network slapped a label on it. But the label did not attempt to fact-check the post as true or false. Instead, it directed users to a government website to learn more about how to vote.

The response is part of Facebook’s new policy, announced by CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month, to label posts about the November election. In recent days, Facebook has placed the same label beneath a mix of posts from Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, including one from the former vice president calling to “vote Donald Trump out this November” that does not make any factual assertions about voting.

This new approach has already been criticized by some industry watchers who worry the labels are confusing or could even be viewed as tacit endorsements of the President’s controversial posts.
“This warning seems pretty useless — it might even seem that Facebook is endorsing what Trump is saying and providing a path for more information,” Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on Twitter.

Twitter’s rigid fact-check rules allow Trump to continue spreading false information about the election
The labeling began rolling out over the last few days, according to Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone. It comes in the aftermath of employees and civil rights leaders panning Facebook’s decision not to take action on earlier incendiary posts from Trump, including one on mail-in ballots and another during a protest, in which he said “looting” would lead to “shooting.” (Twitter flagged these posts by the President.)

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Classic Facebook. It’s always never enough. Always, continually, predictably. If there are two options, it will always take the less-good, less-effective, less-useful one.
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Larry Householder affidavit: Ohio energy law that bailed out FirstEnergy was fueled by bribery • Vox

Leah Stokes:

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On Tuesday, the news broke that the FBI had arrested Ohio Speaker of the House of Representatives Larry Householder, the architect of HB 6, a law that passed in July 2019. That bill, widely recognized as the worst energy policy in the country, gutted Ohio’s renewables and energy efficiency laws while bailing out several coal and nuclear plants.

As I wrote in my book, Short Circuiting Policy, the law was a multibillion-dollar gift to FirstEnergy, a private electric utility that has resisted climate policy for decades. It turns out it was a gift paid for with $61m in bribes.

Spending a few million to get more than a billion dollars? Not a bad return on investment.

Unfortunately, this kind of corruption is not an aberration for the electric utility industry. Across the US, most private utilities are resisting the clean energy transition, and many are buying off politicians with campaign contributions to do it. What’s more, the industry celebrates it — the Edison Electric Institute, the national private utility association, gave FirstEnergy an award for its work to pass HB 6.

Corruption like this within the electric utility industry is a barrier to solving the climate crisis. But the way forward is clear: citizens must demand that politicians stop taking money from these fossil fuel companies and start holding them accountable.

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Slack files EU antitrust complaint against Microsoft • WSJ

Sam Schechner:

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Business-messaging app Slack has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in the European Union, accusing the software giant of abusing its dominance in allegations that echo the Windows-maker’s competition battles more than a decade ago.

The complaint, filed Wednesday to the European Commission, the EU’s top competition regulator, accuses Microsoft of trying to snuff out competition in its push into workplace collaboration tools by tying its Teams software to its widely used Office productivity suite.

Slack Technologies, which supplies its messaging app as well as a hub for other business-collaboration apps, alleges that Microsoft forces companies to install Teams, blocks its removal and makes certain types of interoperability impossible. The company is asking the EU to force Microsoft to sell Teams as a stand-alone product, rather than bundling it with Office.

Microsoft said that it is committed to providing its customers a variety of choice and that it looks forward to providing additional information to the European Commission.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said the regulator has received Slack’s complaint against Microsoft and “will assess it under our standard procedures.” In the past such complaints have at times—but not always—led to formal investigations.

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It’s all the same song that we used to hear: interoperability, bundling, pricing. All they have to do is show that Microsoft has a dominant market share and they’re sold. And in about 2025, there will be the first steps to a resolution.
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Can you become reinfected with Covid? It’s very unlikely, experts say • The New York Times

Apoorva Mandavilli:

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What’s unusual in the current pandemic, Dr. Mina said, is to see how this dynamic plays out in adults, because they so rarely experience a virus for the first time.

Even after the first surge of immunity fades, there is likely to be some residual protection. And while antibodies have received all the attention because they are easier to study and detect, memory T cells and B cells are also powerful immune warriors in a fight against any pathogen.

A study published July 15, for example, looked at three different groups. In one, each of 36 people exposed to the new virus had T cells that recognize a protein that looks similar in all coronaviruses. In another, 23 people infected with the SARS virus in 2003 also had these T cells, as did 37 people in the third group who were never exposed to either pathogen.

“A level of pre-existing immunity against SARS-CoV2 appears to exist in the general population,” said Dr. Antonio Bertoletti, a virologist at Duke NUS Medical School in Singapore.

The immunity may have been stimulated by prior exposure to coronaviruses that cause common colds. These T cells may not thwart infection, but they would blunt the illness and may explain why some people with Covid-19 have mild to no symptoms. “I believe that cellular and antibody immunity will be equally important,” Dr. Bertoletti said.

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This is interesting in the context of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s top dolt, who has now tested positive three times. Except there don’t seem to be any occasions where he’s tested negative. He’s just mildly ill, perhaps.

Or, perhaps, he hasn’t tested positive at all, because at his age (65) he could get pretty ill. Telling the press you’re ill when you’re not would be a good way to play the tough guy, and reinforce his message that it’s nothing to worry about. Meanwhile, people are dying.
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So *that’s* how Breitbart is still making money • BRANDED

BRANDED:

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For the past few years, we’ve all believed that not funding hate is as easy as blocking bad sites. That you can avoid the risks of being viewed next to terrorist propaganda or hate speech by simply opting out.

But nothing about digital advertising is straightforward.

Last month, Zach Edwards, a data supply researcher, reached out to us with a tip. He told us he had found evidence that Breitbart was continuing to siphon advertising dollars from unsuspecting brands without their knowledge or consent. He told us the average marketer would never know — that you wouldn’t find any clues of this by checking your site list.

This tactic enables vast sums of money to be funnelled towards bad actors mostly without detection, which means that the biggest companies in the world are still funnelling ad dollars towards hate and disinformation. Even if you have blocked Breitbart or use an inclusion list, your brand could still be at risk.

Zach has been our guide to understanding this type of ad fraud, which we find to be so egregious that it should be illegal. We decided to join forces with him for this story.

👉🏽 You can read Zach’s technical version here.

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This is super-complicated. But a weird thing: Breitbart, Drudgereport, the Mirror in the UK are somehow sharing advertising revenue. Embarrassing for the Mirror among others.
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Artificial intelligence is the hope 2020 needs • Bloomberg via MSN

Tyler Cowen:

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GPT-3 does not try to pass the Turing test by being indistinguishable from a human in its responses. Rather, it is built for generality and depth, even though that means it will serve up bad answers to many queries, at least in its current state. As a general philosophical principle, it accepts that being weird sometimes is a necessary part of being smart. In any case, like so many other technologies, GPT-3 has the potential to rapidly improve.

It is not difficult to imagine a wide variety of GPT-3 spinoffs, or companies built around auxiliary services, or industry task forces to improve the less accurate aspects of GPT-3. Unlike some innovations, it could conceivably generate an entire ecosystem.

There is a notable buzz about GPT-3 in the tech community. One user in the U.K. tweeted: “I just got access to gpt-3 and I can’t stop smiling, i am so excited.” Venture capitalist Paul Graham noted coyly: “Hackers are fascinated by GPT-3. To everyone else it seems a toy. Pattern seem familiar to anyone?” Venture capitalist and AI expert Daniel Gross referred to GPT-3 as “a landmark moment in the field of AI.”

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Want some more reading? Here’s more about GPT-3. Make sure you read to the end. If you’re not paying attention to GPT-3, watch out for GPT-4 in a couple of years’ time.
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The racist history of tipping • POLITICO Magazine

Reverend Dr William Barber:

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You might not think of tipping as a legacy of slavery, but it has a far more racialized history than most Americans realize. Tipping originated in feudal Europe and was imported back to the United States by American travelers eager to seem sophisticated. The practice spread throughout the country after the Civil War as US employers, largely in the hospitality sector, looked for ways to avoid paying formerly enslaved workers.

One of the most notorious examples comes from the Pullman Company, which hired newly freed African American men as porters. Rather than paying them a real wage, Pullman provided the black porters with just a meager pittance, forcing them to rely on tips from their white clientele for most of their pay.

Tipping further entrenched a unique and often racialized class structure in service jobs, in which workers must please both customer and employer to earn anything at all. A journalist quoted in Kerry Segrave’s 2009 book, Tipping: An American Social History of Gratuities, wrote in 1902 that he was embarrassed to offer a tip to a white man. “Negroes take tips, of course; one expects that of them—it is a token of their inferiority,” he wrote. “Tips go with servility, and no man who is a voter in this country is in the least justified in being in service.”

The immorality of paying an insufficient wage to workers, who then were forced to rely on tips, was acknowledged at the time. In his popular 1916 anti-tipping study, The Itching Palm, writer William Scott described tipping as an aristocratic custom that went against American ideals. “The relation of a man giving a tip and a man accepting it is as undemocratic as the relation of master and slave,” Scott wrote. “A citizen in a republic ought to stand shoulder to shoulder with every other citizen, with no thought of cringing, without an assumption of superiority or an acknowledgment of inferiority.”

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As someone remarked on Twitter, almost every unusual practice you see in America is linked to racism.
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Twitter cracks down on QAnon, bans thousands of accounts • The Washington Post

Tim Elfrink:

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As QAnon conspiracy theorists bombarded Chrissy Teigen with false claims and threats last week, the model and author blocked more than 1 million accounts and threatened to abandon the platform and her 13 million followers.

On Tuesday, Twitter took broad action itself against the right-wing conspiracy theory. The social media company recently deleted more than 7,000 QAnon accounts, the company confirmed to The Washington Post, and is removing QAnon URLs from tweets and working to prevent the conspiracy theory from showing up in recommendations and trending topics. The changes could ultimately affect more than 150,000 accounts.

The company told The Post the move to crack down on QAnon wasn’t directly motivated by Teigen’s high-profile conflict last week, but rather an emerging trend of QAnon groups coordinating to abuse people.

Teigen backed the move, telling a critic who called Twitter’s announcement “censorship” that harassment isn’t free speech.

“You don’t have a ‘right’ to coordinate attacks and make death threats,” Teigen wrote on Twitter. “It is not an ‘opinion’ to call people pedophiles who rape and eat children.”

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Teigen has had a grisly time. The fruitloops of QAnut have been going after her for years. Wiping the ones coordinating it off the site is an overdue move.
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Nvidia interested in buying SoftBank’s Arm chip designer • TheStreet

Rob Lenihan:

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Nvidia is reportedly interested in acquiring Arm Ltd., the semiconductor designer owned by Japanese investment group SoftBank Group.

Shares of Nvidia at last check were up 1.2% at $418.

Nvidia made an approach in recent weeks about a potential deal for Cambridge, England-based Arm, Bloomberg reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

SoftBank is exploring options to sell part or all of its stake in Arm through a private deal or public stock listing, Bloomberg said. Other potential bidders could also emerge.

Nvidia’s interest may not lead to a deal, and SoftBank may still opt to pursue a listing, the people said. 

Arm sells semiconductor designs and also licenses the fundamentals of how chips communicate with software, known as instruction sets. Even some companies that design their own chips, such as Apple, do so using Arm’s instruction set.

A deal for Arm could become the biggest-ever acquisition in the chip industry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Arm is owned by SoftBank and its $100bn Vision Fund. SoftBank bought Arm in 2016 for $32bn, which at the time was the UK’s largest listed technology company.

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Doubtful whether Nvidia will get the go-ahead for this: the competition question (you’re a dominant GPU designer and you want to own the dominant CPU designer?) is obvious.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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