Start Up No.1384: US DoJ prepares Google antitrust suit, real-world v virtual privacy, Facebook bans Indian politician, and more


Huawei 5G kit is being stripped out of European networks just as new iPhones can handle it. CC-licensed photo by Vodafone Enterprise Plenum e.V. on Flickr.

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

Justice Dept. plans to file antitrust charges against Google in coming weeks • The New York Times

Katie Benner and Cecilia Kang:

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The Google case could also give Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr an election-season achievement on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans see as a major problem: the influence of the biggest tech companies over consumers and the possibility that their business practices have stifled new competitors and hobbled legacy industries like telecom and media.

A coalition of 50 states and territories support antitrust action against Google, a reflection of the broad bipartisan support that a Justice Department case might have. But state attorneys general conducting their own investigations into the company are split on how to move forward, with Democrats perceived by Republicans as slow-walking the work so that cases can be brought under a potential Biden administration, and Democrats accusing Republicans of rushing it out under Mr. Trump. That disagreement could limit the number of states that join a Justice Department lawsuit and imperil the bipartisan nature of the investigation.

Some lawyers in the department worry that Mr. Barr’s determination to bring a complaint this month could weaken their case and ultimately strengthen Google’s hand, according to interviews with 15 lawyers who worked on the case or were briefed on the department’s strategy. They asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

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This really is an amazingly clueless story. First: the Google case, if filed, won’t be an “election-season achievement”. It will take years to come to court. Also, maybe ask yourself: which does the average American like more, Google or the government? I’ll guess at Google. So what’s the average American’s response going to be when it hears that the government is going after Google?

By contrast, the 1998 DoJ antitrust case against Microsoft was a popular president (Bill Clinton) against a company which made your computer crash and lose your work. None of that is in the story.

Third, and also not in the story: what the basis of the antitrust complaint would be. They spoke to all those lawyers yet never asked “and how should we explain this to the average reader?”

Still, at least you know that there might soon be an antitrust suit against Google. Or, you know, not.
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Huawei’s struggles in European telecoms • Counterpoint Research

Jan Stryjak:

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Across the rest of Europe, a growing list of carriers are also [like the UK] considering their options, and the removal of Huawei from their core networks is already underway. But doing so is not easy…or cheap. Vodafone for example is spending €200m ($224m) to extract Huawei from the core of its entire European operation. It will also take time: some carriers are much more reliant on Huawei than others (Sunrise Switzerland, for example, has a 100% Huawei 5G network) and issues around vendor incompatibility need to be carefully considered.

Huawei’s position in RAN is also at risk. European carriers may well follow the UK’s decision to remove Huawei from their RAN too, and there is growing momentum behind Open RAN technologies which aim to increase vendor competition: Telefónica has announced it will launch 4G and 5G Open RAN trials across its European operations this year, while Vodafone plans to open its entire European footprint up to tender in order to expand its supplier options and explore Open RAN technology. The Huawei saga will act as a catalyst to accelerate open RAN technology development, and adoption and may be further boosted by the introduction of statutory open RAN mandates by European governments.

The direction of travel, therefore, is clear: Huawei’s expulsion from all of Europe’s core networks seems to be a question of when, not if, and its European RAN business may be on the way out too. This will likely result in Europe playing catch-up in its 5G race with China and the US.

…[And] why would European carriers want to stock Huawei devices? In the past, Huawei’s deep pockets ensured European carrier portfolios were chock full of Huawei smartphones, the most popular being the P30 which still accounts for a significant proportion of Huawei’s sales. However, this device is now over a year old, and with inventory running low, a lack of a worthy successor in the pipeline and consumer sentiment waning, Huawei is being squeezed out.

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Online privacy should be modeled on real-world privacy • Daring Fireball

John Gruber:

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Imagine if you were out shopping, went into a drug store, examined a few bottles of sunscreen, but left the store without purchasing anything. And then immediately a stranger approached you with an offer for sunscreen. Such an encounter would trigger a fight or flight reaction — the needle on your innate creepometer would shoot right into the red. (Not to mention that if real-world tracking were like online tracking, you’d get the same creepy offer to buy sunscreen even if you just bought some. Tracking-based offers are both creepy, and, at times, annoyingly stupid.)

Or imagine if you found out that public billboards were taking photos of people who glance at them, logging those photos to a database, and using facial recognition to match them with photos taken at point-of-sale terminals in retail stores. That way, if, say, you were photographed looking at an ad for a soft drink, and later — hours, days, weeks — purchased that same soft drink, the billboard advertisement you glanced at hours, days, or weeks before could get “credit” for your purchase.

We wouldn’t tolerate it. But that’s basically how online ad tracking works.

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Gruber is writing about the Apple ad below, which seems to be nudging us to be thinking about iPhones, as there’s a launch coming up some time in the next few weeks.


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5G iPhones: Kuo says we can expect fewer super-fast 5G ones • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

Offering mmWave 5G is expensive, one recent report suggesting it will add as much as $50 per iPhone to Apple’s costs. That being the case, the expectation is that not all iPhone 12 models will support the faster 5G standard.

There have been conflicting reports about what that might mean. Some believe mmWave 5G will be limited to the flagship models (the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, if Apple uses iPhone 11 nomenclature). Others think all models will get it, but only in certain countries.

Noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has a new report today suggesting that Apple supplier Xuande will see lower growth thanks to reduced mmWave 5G orders from the iPhone maker.

»

We estimate that the shipments of millimeter wave iPhones in 2020 and 2021 will be about 4-6 million and 25-5 million, respectively. , Which is lower than the market consensus of 10-20 million and 40-50 million units. Therefore, Xuande’s contribution from millimeter-wave iPhone high single-piece components will be lower than expected.

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The report still sheds no direct light on whether mmWave 5G will be limited by model or by country, but one sentence in it may give a clue.

»

We believe that due to the impact of COVID-19, the global 5G millimeter wave base stations are lower than expected.

«

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The 5G question actually becomes something to think about this year. Unlike years past when we had the transition to 4G, the smartphone market is saturated, so people are hanging on to their phones for two or even three years. Two years from now you’d expect 5G will be well developed. So might it be worth paying more now to get that functionality as your phone reaches its middle or late age?
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Facebook, under pressure in India, bans politician for hate speech • WSJ

Newley Purnell and Rajesh Roy:

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Facebook banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

At the same time, Facebook is under pressure around the world to crack down on alleged hate speech.

Lawmakers in India’s opposition Congress party earlier called for hearings to examine whether Facebook has bent its own rules to favor Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

In Facebook posts and public appearances, Mr. Singh, a member of Mr. Modi’s BJP, has said Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to destroy mosques. He had hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and its Instagram service.

«

This has only happened because the WSJ has exposed it and pressed on it. Facebook obviously didn’t do anything itself, because this is longstanding (and quite possibly enabled by the high-ranking Facebook India executive). More evidence that Facebook’s self-regulation is inadequate.
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A tale of two stores • Digital First

Youngjin Yoo:

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I went to Office Max to pick up chairs that I ordered earlier. The store was almost empty. I was happy to see my chairs stacked up in the cash register area. I thought it would a quick stop at the cash register to pay for the chairs and leave. Perhaps 5 minutes total. 

There were two employees at the cash register. One was dealing with a customer who tried to get a refund. The other was trying to find a product that a customer wants to buy (if you buy a big item there, you bring a card from the floor to the cash register and they will bring to you). I was the first one behind these two customers. Lucky me, I thought! Well, not quite.

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Quite an old story (from November 2017!) but more relevant than ever. (Via John Naughton’s Memex.)
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Official campaign website statement by Vice President Biden on the poisoning of Alexey Navalny • Official Biden website

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This outrageous and brazen attempt on Mr. Navalny’s life is just the latest incident in a long history of murder and poisoning of dissidents, investigative journalists, anti-corruption activists, and opposition leaders under the Putin regime. It is the mark of a Russian regime that is so paranoid that it is unwilling to tolerate any criticism or dissent.

The Kremlin no doubt thinks that it can act with impunity. Donald Trump has refused to confront Putin, calling him a “terrific person.” He has said nothing about intelligence reports that Putin placed bounties on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan. He has yet to condemn the attack on Mr. Navalny. His silence is complicity. Americans are less safe with Donald Trump in the White House.

As president, I will do what Donald Trump refuses to do: work with our allies and partners to hold the Putin regime accountable for its crimes.

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I always find it weird how once you’ve been vice-president you get to call yourself that all the time. It’s like being a peer in the UK, except they don’t notionally run the country.

The US government’s response was to have a National Security flack call it “completely reprehensible” on Twitter. Too hard for Trump to criticise Putin? Is he scared, or something?
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Facebook wants its AR glasses to give wearers superhearing • The Verge

Adi Robertson:

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Facebook has pursued high-quality virtual sound for years, largely through its Oculus virtual reality headsets. FRL Research’s latest work focuses on AR applications. To give one example, “imagine being able to hold a conversation in a crowded restaurant or bar without having to raise your voice to be heard or straining to understand what others are saying,” the company explains.

AR glasses could do this by picking up audio with microphones, using contextual clues to gauge which sounds are important, and feeding those sounds through a noise-canceling earpiece. Conversely, if you’re on a phone or video call, improved spatial sound could project participants’ voices or other audio to specific parts of the room, increasing the sense that you’re really with somebody else — or “audio presence,” in FRL Research’s terms.

As Facebook acknowledges, the lab’s “perceptual superpowers” pitch is very similar to the function of existing hearing aids, which also amplify sound and reduce background noise. (One experimental system even uses brain implants to focus on specific voices.)

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Being able to focus your listening on someone in a noisy environment is an amazing capability we have in normal hearing, but it gets harder with age. Do you need glasses to enhance that? Couldn’t you just have earphones that focussed in the sound ahead of you?
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Large antibody study offers hope for virus vaccine efforts • Associated Press

Marilynn Marchione:

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Antibodies that people make to fight the new coronavirus last for at least four months after diagnosis and do not fade quickly as some earlier reports suggested, scientists have found.

Tuesday’s report, from tests on more than 30,000 people in Iceland, is the most extensive work yet on the immune system’s response to the virus over time, and is good news for efforts to develop vaccines.

If a vaccine can spur production of long-lasting antibodies as natural infection seems to do, it gives hope that “immunity to this unpredictable and highly contagious virus may not be fleeting,” scientists from Harvard University and the U.S. National Institutes of Health wrote in a commentary published with the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

…The study also found:

— Testing through the bits-of-virus method that’s commonly done in community settings missed nearly half of people who were found to have had the virus by blood antibody testing. That means the blood tests are far more reliable and better for tracking spread of the disease in a region and for guiding decisions and returning to work or school, researchers say.

— Nearly a third of infections were in people who reported no symptoms.

— Nearly 1% of Iceland’s population was infected in this first wave of the pandemic, meaning the other 99% are still vulnerable to the virus.

— The infection fatality rate was 0.3%. That’s about three times the fatality rate of seasonal flu and in keeping with some other more recent estimates, said Dr. Derek Angus, critical care chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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Infection fatality rate v case fatality rate is quite different. CFR is higher – given that half the infections were missed by testing, you’d have a CFR at least twice as high.
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Facebook complains, Apple responds: iOS 14’s big privacy change gets postponed • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

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The feature, announced at Apple’s annual developer conference in June, would require app developers to notify a user of an app’s intent to track the user’s IDFA (ID for Advertisers). IDFA is used to track the user’s behavior across multiple apps and deliver targeted ads based on that behavior. The change would also require the user to opt in to that tracking.

Apple now says that, while developers will be able to implement this notification and request for permission, doing so will no longer be mandatory when iOS 14 launches sometime in the next couple of months. However, Apple was careful to clarify that it still intends to establish the requirement in the future, and that this is only a delay “to give developers time to make necessary changes.”

Here’s Apple’s statement on the matter, which was published to its developer portal today:

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In addition, on iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, apps will be required to receive user permission to track users across apps or websites owned by other companies, or to access the device’s advertising identifier. We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year. More information, including an update to the App Store Review Guidelines, will follow this fall.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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