Start Up No.1373: Facebook’s ongoing Boogaloo problem, QAnon eats into the GOP, retailers quit Manhattan, Mozilla’s money trouble, and more


New Zealand is investigating the possibility that coronavirus was transmitted via imported frozen food packaging. CC-licensed photo by Victor Wong on Flickr.

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A selection of 12 links for you. All for you. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Boogaloo Bois are all over Facebook • Vice

Tess Owen:

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The anti-government Boogaloo movement is thriving on Facebook under an array of code names, where followers are circulating links to Google Drives containing manuals on bomb making, how to be a getaway driver, and how to murder people with your bare hands, an investigation by the Tech Transparency Project found.

The group, which tracks extremist movements on social media, identified 110 Boogaloo groups that were created since Facebook designated it a “dangerous organization” and banned it from the platform on June 30. At least 18 of them were created on a single day.

Some of those groups have already amassed thousands of members, and are distributing documents including “Al Qaeda kidnapping manual” and the “Army Sniper Manual,” as well as reports on bombings such as the 2005 attack on London’s transport system, which left 56 dead.

…In some cases, the presence of the Boogaloo movement may be even more troubling than it was before. The distribution of entire folders containing instructions for violent acts is an escalation even compared to just a few months ago, when members were just pasting recipes for Molotov cocktails directly into Facebook groups.

“The biggest concern is the ability to reach such a large number of people,” said Katie Paul, director of the Tech Transparency Project. “That increases the number of people who may be unstable. One person could take these manuals, find them useful, and carry out a lone-wolf attack.”

«

Just the other day Faebook was congratulating itself for the amount of terrorist content it had taken down. Does this count?
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Marjorie Taylor Greene, candidate who supports QAnon, wins Republican primary runoff in Georgia • The Washington Post

Isaac Stanley-Becker and Rachael Bade:

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Greene, who owns a construction company jointly with her husband, defeated John Cowan, a neurosurgeon. She will face Democrat Kevin Van Ausdal, an IT specialist, in November. [She’s likely to win unless Van Ausdal can overturn a double-digit poll difference generally in Georgia.]

GOP leaders, whose standard-bearer rose to political prominence on the basis of a conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birthplace, have watched her ascent with some unease. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House Republican whip, endorsed her primary opponent. Republican members of Georgia’s delegation privately urged the party’s House leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, to do more to intervene in the race, according to multiple GOP aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the conversations.

“There are a lot of members livid at McCarthy for sitting back and doing nothing to stop this woman from being elected while the entire Georgia delegation, Scalise and some moderates tried” to help her opponent, said one House Republican aide closely monitoring the race.

«

Also: Max Boot (formerly very Republican, post-Trump very much not) on how the Republican party is being dragged to the right by these loons, while the Democratic party has its left wing (AOC, Ilhan Omar etc) under control.
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A Bible burning, a Russian news agency and a story too good to check • The New York Times

Matthew Rosenberg and Julian E. Barnes:

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The story was a near-perfect fit for a central Trump campaign talking point — that with liberals and Democrats comes godless disorder — and it went viral among Republicans within hours of appearing earlier this month. The New York Post wrote about it, as did The Federalist, saying that the protesters had shown “their true colors.” Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican, said of the protesters, “This is who they are.” Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, tweeted that antifa had moved to “the book burning phase.”

The truth was far more mundane. A few protesters among the many thousands appear to have burned a single Bible — and possibly a second — for kindling to start a bigger fire. None of the other protesters seemed to notice or care.

Yet in the rush to paint all the protesters as Bible-burning zealots, few of the politicians or commentators who weighed in on the incident took the time to look into the story’s veracity, or to figure out that it had originated with a Kremlin-backed video news agency. And now, days later, the Portland Bible burnings appear to be one of the first viral Russian disinformation hits of the 2020 presidential campaign.

With Election Day drawing closer, the Russian efforts to influence the vote appear to be well underway.

«

Nicest line: “the tweet [pushing the nonsense] was picked up by a Malaysian named Ian Miles Cheong who has amassed a large Twitter following by playing a right-wing American raconteur on social media.”
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Retail chains abandon Manhattan: ‘it’s unsustainable’ • The New York Times

Matthew Haag and Patrick McGeehan:

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In the heart of Manhattan, national chains including J.C. Penney, Kate Spade, Subway and Le Pain Quotidien have shuttered branches for good. Many other large brands, like Victoria’s Secret and the Gap, have kept their high-profile locations closed in Manhattan, while reopening in other states.

Michael Weinstein, the chief executive of Ark Restaurants, who owns Bryant Park Grill & Cafe and 19 other restaurants, said he will never open another restaurant in New York.

Of Ark Restaurants’ five Manhattan restaurants, only two have reopened, while its properties in Florida — where the virus is far worse — have expanded outdoor seating with tents and tables into their parking lots, serving almost as many guests as they had indoors.

“There’s no reason to do business in New York,” Mr. Weinstein said. “I can do the same volume in Florida in the same square feet as I would have in New York, with my expenses being much less. The idea was that branding and locations were important, but the expense of being in this city has overtaken the marketing group that says you have to be there.”

Even as the city has contained the virus and slowly reopens, there are ominous signs that some national brands are starting to abandon New York. The city is home to many flagship stores, chains and high-profile restaurants that tolerated astronomical rents and other costs because of New York’s global cachet and the reliable onslaught of tourists and commuters.

But New York today looks nothing like it did just a few months ago.

In Manhattan’s major retail corridors, from SoHo to Fifth Avenue to Madison Avenue, once packed sidewalks are now nearly empty. A fraction of the usual army of office workers goes into work every day, and many wealthy residents have left the city for second homes.

«

The latter group will come back, but the former might well not.
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New Zealand considers freight as possible source of new coronavirus cluster • Reuters

Praveen Menon:

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New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that its first COVID-19 cases in more than three months were imported by freight, as the country’s biggest city plunged back into lockdown on Wednesday.

The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to swiftly reimpose tight restrictions in the city and social distancing measures across the entire country.

The source of the outbreak has baffled health officials, who said they were confident there was no local transmission of the virus in New Zealand for 102 days.

“We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected,” said Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

Investigations were zeroing in on the potential the virus was imported by freight. Bloomfield said surface testing was underway at an Auckland cool store where a man from the infected family worked.

“We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time,” Bloomfield said during a televised media conference.

…China has reported several instances of the coronavirus being detected on the packaging of imported frozen seafood in recent weeks.

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WHO says 🤷. That’s a pretty remarkable vector for transmission, though.
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Mozilla lays off 250 employees while it refocuses on commercial products • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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Going forward, [Mozilla CEO Mitchell] Baker said Mozilla will also be re-thinking its core business model and put more focus on financially viable products.

“Recognizing that the old model where everything was free has consequences, means we must explore a range of different business opportunities and alternate value exchanges,” Baker said.

“We must learn and expand different ways to support ourselves and build a business that isn’t what we see today.”

This most likely includes a bigger focus on Mozilla’s VPN offering, which Mozilla formally launched last month. Virtual Private Network (VPN) apps are one of today’s biggest money-makers in tech, and Mozilla, despite arriving late to the party, is set to become one of the biggest players on the market, primarily due to its reputation as a privacy-first organization and civil and privacy rights advocate.

Furthermore, Mozilla’s contract with Google to include Google as the default search provider inside Firefox is set to expire later this year, and the contract has not been renewed. The Google deal has historically accounted for around 90% of all of Mozilla’s revenue, and without it experts see a dim future for Mozilla past 2021.

«

Well spotted, “experts”. Not mentioned in this is that Mozilla laid off 70 people back in January. Its 2018 financial statement showed $133m in the bank at the start of 2019, so that’s a number to watch for whenever the financials drop – which on past form seems to be roughly 12 months after the relevant year-end.

Baker burbled that the “pre-COVID plan is no longer workable”, but I don’t think it was workable before either. Mozilla needs a significant revenue source that isn’t Google, and VPNs could be it. Or paid-for dev tools. The expertise is there. The era of free seems, as she says, to be over.
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The cult of the free must die • QuirksBlog

Peter Paul Koch:

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Isn’t it time Mozilla distances itself from the cult of the free? I know it’s deep in their DNA, but that hasn’t prevented it from hitting a very rough spot. Maybe the model is not as viable as we all thought.

So allow me to make a modest proposal: build in a donations function in Firefox itself — for instance by adding a simple “Please support us” message to the update page you get to see whenever you update the browser, and by adding a Donations item to the main menu.

Oh, and don’t bother with perks for paying members. It’s not about perks, it’s about supporting the software you’re using. The software is the perk.

I’m not saying Mozilla should erect a paywall around Firefox. That would far worse than the problem it’s supposed to solve. (The fact that it would be such a terribly bad move is part of the problem, though. If people had just learned to pay for the good stuff …)

I’m also not saying this will solve Mozilla’s financial problems — in fact, I’m quite certain that it won’t. Still, it would be one step in the direction of a better web where consumers slowly get used to the idea of paying. Also, it might help Mozilla itself veer away from the cult of the free towards a more sustainable model, mostly by putting psychological pressure on the organisation as a whole.

«

Strange how Koch, who in 2016 (the link above) wrote that “offering stuff for free is the web’s original sin” can’t see that the strategy of “offering stuff for pay” is its solution. There is then the problem of how you reach those who can’t afford, which brings in advertising, which then means stuff is offered for free, but then the ads can’t support it… and so the cycle continues.
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Google adds AR chemistry models to Search • Android Police

Manuel Vonau:

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Last year during Google I/O (it feels so long ago), Google introduced AR animal models you can put into your home, available right through Google Search without requiring extra software. Over the following year, the company has added many more 3D models to its library, including skeletons, planets and other celestial bodies, NASA equipment, anatomic models, cell structures, and many more. Now Google has expanded the list of supported 3D models with chemistry terms.

To view the new chemistry models, make sure your phone is on the list of supported models and search the Google app or Chrome for the terms you want to see.

«

Neat (and probably useful for GCSE or A-level students in particular). Here’s the full Google blogpost.
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Google beats song lyric scraping lawsuit • Hollywood Reporter

Eriq Gardner:

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Genius Media Group was pretty clever when it used digital watermarks to show that Google had been using its huge collection of song lyrics. One of those watermarks spelled “redhanded” in Morse code. That Google was caught with another site’s song lyric transcriptions made international news — and even merited a mention during Congress’ Big Tech hearing late last month. But was there anything unlawful about Google’s alleged scraping (direct or indirect)? On Monday, a New York federal judge dismissed claims by Genius.

Genius doesn’t own copyrights to the song lyrics. Those rights belong to publishers and songwriters. Genius does have a license to the song lyrics in question. Additionally, Genius spends a lot of time and millions of dollars facilitating collaborative lyric transcription. Can’t it protect its sweat? Genius believed so.

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I honestly can’t understand this judgment: I don’t get why Google isn’t an accessory to copyright infringement.
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China hires over 100 TSMC engineers in push for chip leadership • Nikkei Asian Review

Cheng Ting-Fang:

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Two Chinese government-backed chip projects have together hired more than 100 veteran engineers and managers from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s leading chipmaker, since last year, multiple sources have told the Nikkei Asian Review.

The hirings are aimed at helping Beijing achieve its goal of fostering a domestic chip industry in order to cut China’s reliance on foreign suppliers, the sources said.

Quanxin Integrated Circuit Manufacturing (Jinan), better known as QXIC, and Wuhan Hongxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., or HSMC, along with their various associate and affiliate companies, are little-known outside the industry. But in addition to employing more than 50 former TSMC employees each, both are also led by ex-TSMC executives with established reputations in the chip world. The two projects are aiming to develop 14-nanometer and 12-nanometer chip process technologies, which are two to three generations behind TSMC but still the most cutting-edge in China.

Hongxin and QXIC, founded in 2017 and 2019, respectively, are part of a recent boom in China’s semiconductor industry as Beijing prioritizes self-sufficiency in key tech areas impacted by tensions with Washington.

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And is America’s government doing the same, given its determination to ramp up tensions with China? (Although this will be a question for the next administration, given the time it takes to create a new fab.)
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Microsoft’s Surface Duo arrives on September 10th for $1,399 • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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MicrosoftMicrosoft is launching its Surface Duo dual-screen Android phone on September 10th, priced from $1,399. After months of Microsoft executives teasing the device on Twitter, the company is now allowing anyone to preorder the Surface Duo today in the US. Preorders will be available at AT&T, Microsoft’s online store, and Best Buy.

While Microsoft had revealed the design of the Surface Duo back in October, the company has kept the specs relatively secret. The device includes two separate 5.6-inch OLED displays (1800 x 1350) with a 4:3 aspect ratio that connect together to form a 8.1-inch overall workspace (2700 x 1800) with a 3:2 aspect ratio. Unlike foldables like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, the Surface Duo is using real Gorilla Glass, and the displays are designed to work in a similar way to multiple monitors on a Windows PC.

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Nothing on the outside – no screen. So if you get a phone call (it does happen), how will you know who it’s from? If there’s a message ping, you’ll have to take it out of your pocket or wherever, and open it – this isn’t a “glance” device.

Sure to be more robust than the Galaxy Fold, pretty sure to sell fewer once people discover its limitations.
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‘A shady move’: Apple News+ Safari change automatically redirecting traffic to itself infuriates publishers • Digiday

Max Willens and Lucinda Southern:

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The operating system changes arrive [CA: will arrive; this is in the public beta, due September or so] at a rare moment when publishers were seeing good signs emanating from Apple News+. Sources at four different publishers said reader revenue from Apple News+ has been up over the spring (due to a lag in reporting time, publishers do not yet know how much money they made from Apple News+ in June or July).

It is unclear whether that spike is the result of Apple adding subscribers or subscribers consuming more content; Apple distributes 50% of Apple News+’s subscriber revenue to publishers based on subscribers’ dwell time on content within the app, and keeps the remaining 50% for itself. It also does not tell publishers how many subscribers it has.

Data from Apple News’ ad-supported side suggests more consumption may be responsible. Several sources said they were seeing record views from Apple News this spring, much like the record-breaking traffic their own sites got at the start of the coronavirus crisis.

But that increased consumption did little to improve Apple News’s long-standing issues with monetization. Two sources said that the effective CPMs on Apple News ads have fallen close to 20% since the fourth quarter of 2019, and the fill rates — which have been described as “atrocious” in the past — have never climbed above 50% at any point this year, one source said.

Two sources said they believe the CPM drops are more the result of this spring’s broader economic turbulence than any specific change Apple or NBCUniversal, which handles ad sales for Apple News, made.

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From the noise people are trying to drum up, you’d think publishers didn’t have any option but to be in the paid-for News+. Actually, they aren’t obliged to be there. If it’s so bad, why not just pull out?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1373: Facebook’s ongoing Boogaloo problem, QAnon eats into the GOP, retailers quit Manhattan, Mozilla’s money trouble, and more

  1. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve studied copyright issues over the years, from general interest. As I understand this from a quick read, the key aspect here is that Genius isn’t suing Google for copyright infringement. That would have to be in Federal court, due to the way US copyright law works. Genius is suing in State court, over “breach of contact” and similar. The judge says, in essence, what contract? You can’t just reframe a copyright claim into a breach of contract claim, they are different. Genius tries to do that, the judge says their effort doesn’t work. Repeat with other claims. No valid legal claim, lawsuit loses.

    There’s some deep policy issues here, where people have mental models of what should happen, but the law is very different (the “Section 230” liability debate is even more full of this).
    But inversely, there’s a problem with the equivalent of “We should do something, this is something, so we should do it”.

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