Start Up No.1374: Apple kicks Epic off App Store, US nabs terrorists’ crypto, Intel promises again to get faster, killed by Covid misinfo?, and more


Higher than Everest’s North Base Camp, this was the world’s highest ski resort. Then climate change hit. CC-licensed photo by Elias Rovielo on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Stormy weather. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple bans Fortnite from its App Store • The New York Times

Kellen Browning, Jack Nicas and Erin Griffith:

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Apple’s spat with app developers over its cut of their revenues exploded into a high-stakes clash on Thursday when Apple kicked the wildly popular game Fortnite off iPhones and Fortnite’s maker hit back with a lawsuit.

The fight began on Thursday morning with a clear provocation. Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, started encouraging users of the Fortnite iPhone app to pay it directly, rather than through Apple. The iPhone maker requires that it handle all such app payments, so it can collect a 30% commission, a policy that has been at the center of antitrust complaints against the company.

Hours later, Apple responded, removing the Fortnite app from its App Store.

“Epic enabled a feature in its app which was not reviewed or approved by Apple, and they did so with the express intent of violating the App Store guidelines,” Apple said in a statement. “We will make every effort to work with Epic to resolve these violations so they can return Fortnite to the App Store.”

Epic followed with its own response: It said it was suing Apple.

“Apple’s removal of Fortnite is yet another example of Apple flexing its enormous power in order to impose unreasonable restraints and unlawfully maintain its 100% monopoly over the” market for in-app payments on iPhones, Epic said in a 62-page lawsuit unveiled just moments after Apple removed the Fortnite app.

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The Epic lawsuit is pretty desperate stuff. As Ben Thompson has pointed out at Stratechery, just because an action is anti-competitive doesn’t mean it’s unlawful. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly of any relevant market. Sure, as Epic says, it has a monopoly of the iOS market. That’s as redundant as saying it has a monopoly of the iPhone. Epic wants to introduce a games app store on iOS. Apple won’t be forced to make that happen unless the law changes.

Meanwhile, people who already have Fortnite will still have it. The app just won’t be updated.
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The age of the office is over – the future lies in Britain’s commuter towns • The Guardian

Simon Jenkins:

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In his classic biography of the Cambridgeshire village of Foxton, The Common Stream, Rowland Parker described its many traumas. They included invading Saxons, the Black Death and, most recently, the arrival of combine harvesters in the 1920s. The machines slashed the need for farm labour. The village emptied. Rural vitality was devastated.

Since then Foxton has recovered as a dormitory suburb for office workers in Cambridge and even London. But does it now face another change, that of home-working? Across Britain there must be many people wondering if they really want to fight their way to a city office block when their home can be their office. Morgan Stanley reports a mere 18% of European office workers wanting to return to an office five days a week. Fulltime home working is estimated to raise productivity by more than 16 days over a full year.

The media is awash in studies declaring that offices are good for us after all. They promote social diversity and informal contacts, offering relief from relationship claustrophobia in “getting out of the house”. Management ideology has long identified “the company” with its headquarters, its physical presence and hierarchy. The New Scientist reports the boss of Microsoft worrying that unmonitored home working will eat into the “social capital” built up in an office environment. Zoom cannot replace the gossip of “those two minutes before and after” a meeting. We know that from TV’s The Office.

None the less, office workers seem certain to vote with their feet.

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This, more than anything, feels like an inevitable aftereffect of the coronavirus. Even once we can all “go back to work” (ie go back to offices), will we need to? Will we want to? It becomes “why do I need to?” rather than “what reason is there not to?” The cost of commuting, both in money and time, is going to weigh very heavily the longer this goes on – at least for those whose jobs offer that flexibility.
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Microsoft’s dual-screen Duo is here. The timing’s not great • WIRED

Lauren Goode:

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When the Duo was first revealed to WIRED last October, [chief product officer Panos] Panay insisted that it helps him stay “in the flow”—his productivity zone—so many times that I wondered if an internal quota had been set for the phrase. The Duo, like the foldable phones from Samsung and Motorola, was pitched as a product for people on the go. You wouldn’t need to carry a phone and a tablet with you on the train or plane; with a foldable, you have both. And the dual-screened OS? No prob: You could run Outlook and PowerPoint, side by side, because work work work work work.

Now Microsoft is trying to sell an ultraportable two-in-one at a time when many of us are going exactly nowhere. For the digital employee, work has officially been redefined as WFH, and our days are structured by whatever screen we have to use at any given hour. The move from a 6-inch screen to a 13-inch one, and later in the evening to a 50-inch screen or 10-inch one, is the delineator between work and leisure. Now, Microsoft wants to wedge its way into your living room and onto your couch, instead of your train ride and your office.

“The context of these kinds of devices has changed,” says Ben Arnold, consumer technology analyst at the NPD Group, which tracks US sales of electronics. “It’s not the one-handed emailer on the subway anymore. It’s the uber-productive work-from-home worker, and there are some different dimensions to that.”

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That’s the problem right there. The context has completely changed. Foldables might once have seemed like a worthwhile idea. That’s questionable now.
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US seized cryptocurrency from three terrorist groups • Bloomberg via MSN

Chris Strohm:

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The U.S. seized about $2m and more than 300 cryptocurrency accounts used by al-Qaeda, the al-Qassam Brigades – Hamas’s military wing – and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – widely known as ISIS – in what the Justice Department said was “the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context.”

The action indicates the government can identify and infiltrate terrorist or criminal groups that think they’re cloaked by the anonymity offered by Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

“This case is really historic and unprecedented for several reasons,” Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, told reporters on a press call. “We’re looking at three different entities that were targeted by the government to prevent financing going to these very dangerous terrorist organizations.”

The operations tied to Islamic State sought to exploit the coronavirus pandemic by offering to sell millions of dollars in what was actually fake personal protective gear to U.S. hospitals, nursing homes and first responders, according to the Justice Department.

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Disgraceful! They should leave that sort of thing to Jared’s friends, who have never worked in PPE manufacture either. The DOJ press release actually has a lot more useful information; and it’s proof that bitcoin is pseudonymous, not anonymous.
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Intel says new transistor technology could boost chip performance 20% • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:

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Intel sought to buck the notion that the single-number names given to each generation of chip process node tell the entire story by disclosing improvements on its existing 10-nanonmeter process node. It announced a new way of making what it now calls “SuperFin” transistors, which, along with a new material being used to improve the capacitors on chips, is expected to boost the performance of Intel’s forthcoming processors, despite their still being made on 10-nanonmeter manufacturing lines.

“It is 20%, the largest intra-node jump ever in our history,” Raja Koduri, Intel’s chief architect, said of the performance gain in an interview with Reuters. “It’s actually same as what you would get with one full Moore’s Law node of performance.”

It will not be possible to test those claims in the real world until Intel’s new chips come out, but its “Tiger Lake” laptop chips slated for release this fall will use the chips.

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Convenient announcement to tempt any OEMs that were thinking of defecting. As the story says, no way to confirm it until the chips are actually in peoples’ hands.
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‘Hundreds dead’ because of Covid-19 misinformation • BBC News

Alistair Coleman:

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At least 800 people may have died around the world because of coronavirus-related misinformation in the first three months of this year, researchers say.

A study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene also estimates that about 5,800 people were admitted to hospital as a result of false information on social media.

Many died from drinking methanol or alcohol-based cleaning products.

They wrongly believed the products to be a cure for the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously said that the “infodemic” surrounding Covid-19 spread just as quickly as the virus itself, with conspiracy theories, rumours and cultural stigma all contributing to deaths and injuries.

Many of the victims had followed advice resembling credible medical information – such as eating large amounts of garlic or ingesting large quantities of vitamins – as a way of preventing infection, the study’s authors say. Others drank substances such as cow urine. These actions all had “potentially serious implications” on their health, the researchers say.

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Corporate America worries WeChat ban could be bad for business • WSJ

John D. McKinnon and Lingling Wei:

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U.S. companies whose fortunes are linked to China are pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to restrict business transactions involving the WeChat app from Tencent Holdings, saying it could undermine their competitiveness in the world’s second-biggest economy.

More than a dozen major U.S. multinational companies raised concerns in a call with White House officials Tuesday about the potentially broad scope and impact of Mr. Trump’s executive order targeting WeChat, set to take effect late next month.

Apple, Ford Motor Co., Walmart and Walt Disney were among those participating in the call, according to people familiar with the situation.

“For those who don’t live in China, they don’t understand how vast the implications are if American companies aren’t allowed to use it,” said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. “They are going to be held at a severe disadvantage to every competitor,” he added.

Other participants in the call Tuesday included Procter & Gamble Co., Intel Corp., MetLife Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, United Parcel Service Inc., Merck & Co. Inc. and Cargill Inc., according to the people.

…One aim of the call was to seek clarity on the precise meaning of the executive order signed by Mr. Trump last week, according to the people familiar with the matter. That order barred “any transaction that is related to WeChat” by Americans but left details of what is actually banned to the Commerce Department to be worked out.

Companies are hoping the administration will narrow the order as it is implemented over the coming weeks, according to the people familiar.

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The WeChat ban is wild, poorly defined and potentially ruinous. Who knows which dolts at the State Department thought it was clever. As usual, they’re wrong.
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The ski resort that lost its glacier • Atlas Obscura

Tony Dunnell:

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The Chacaltaya ski resort WAS once the only ski resort in Bolivia. The popular resort also had the honor of being both the highest ski resort in the world and home to the world’s highest restaurant. But when the mountain’s glacier melted, it was all but abandoned.

The ski resort was opened in the late-1930s, and soon middle- and upper-class residents of nearby La Paz were flocking to its slopes. For seven or eight months of the year, people came to ski and go sledding down the Chacaltaya Glacier, at least until the cold and extreme altitude made them return to lower ground.

At 17,519 feet above sea level, the Chacaltaya Ski Resort was higher than the North Base Camp of Mount Everest. For decades it held the record as the world’s highest ski resort, and the resort’s restaurant is still recognized by Guinness as the highest restaurant in the world.

But in the 1990s, scientists at the Mount Chacaltaya Laboratory began to make some stark predictions. By 2015, they warned, the Chacaltaya Glacier would be gone. As it turned out, they were being optimistic. By 2009, the 18,000-year-old glacier was completely gone.

With the ice and snow melted, the skiers naturally stopped coming. The resort was soon shut down and abandoned, and its ski lifts shut down. Since then, the resort has sat like a freezing ghost town on the bare rocky slopes of Chacaltaya.

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AO seems to be a sort of tourist community. The “Been Here?” tag has 45 people, and the “Want To Visit” has 275. That’s quite an altitude, though. Altitude sickness must be a risk.
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We tested Instagram Reels, the TikTok clone. What a dud • The New York Times

Brian Chen and Taylor Lorenz:

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I invited Taylor Lorenz, our internet culture writer and resident TikTok expert, to share her thoughts about how Facebook’s clone worked versus the real thing. With her experience and my novice knowledge, we could assess how both the never-TikTokers and the TikTok die-hards might feel about Reels.

The verdict? For her, it was: Not good. For me, it was: Confused.

Let’s start with what was copied. Both TikTok, a stand-alone app, and Reels, a feature inside Instagram, are free to use. With Reels, Instagram mimicked TikTok’s signature ability to create short video montages, which are overlaid with copyrighted music and embellished with effects like emojis and sped-up motion.

The similarities pretty much ended there — and not in a positive way for Instagram.

On Instagram, the videos are published to a feed known as the Explore tab, a mishmash of photos, sponsored posts and long-form videos. On TikTok, videos are surfaced through For You, a feed algorithmically tailored to show clips that suit your interests. Reels also lacks TikTok’s editing features, like song recommendations and automatic clip trimming, that use artificial intelligence to speed up the process of video creation.

Taylor and I each tested Reels for five days and then talked about what we had found. We didn’t hold back.

TAYLOR: I can definitively say Reels is the worst feature I’ve ever used.

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And it goes downhill from there. What TikTok has, Facebook can’t necessarily copy: it’s algorithms, it’s huge amounts of content, it’s people dedicated to making the algorithm better and better every minute. Not a stuck-on feature on a different product. Watch the two super-short just-throw-in-and-see-what-it-makes videos comparing them.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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