Start Up No.1393: Oracle TikTok bid still uncertain, Spotify negative on Apple One, iOS 14 released, cyberwar on newspapers, and more


Who’s unafraid of Apple’s new Fitness+ offering? These people. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Spin, but in a good way. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oracle’s TikTok bid leaves US security concerns unaddressed • Bloomberg

Saleha Mohsin , Nick Wadhams, and Jennifer Jacobs:

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Oracle’s bid for TikTok falls short of resolving concerns of Trump administration officials that the Chinese-owned video-sharing app poses a risk to US national security, according to people familiar with the matter.

President Donald Trump has the authority to sign off on a deal, but continuing concerns from national security officials could sway his decision. The agreement remains on the table, with discussions continuing between administration officials and the companies, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are confidential.

Addressing those remaining issues could pave the way for US approval, the people said.

The officials, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, are concerned that after a potential transaction, TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, could still have access to user data from its nearly 100 million users in America, said the people. The officials remain wary about the proposed new ownership structure and how much influence that would give China over the company.

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I wonder if ByteDance is just trying as best it can to string this out beyond the election date. The reality is still that if the algorithm isn’t part of the deal, it’s just a hosting deal – just the same as Apple being obliged to store iCloud data for Chinese users in China (so the Chinese government can inspect it). We have met the enemy, and he is us. Though quite what the NSA hopes to find out from 100 million American kids dancing, who knows. WSJ reports overnight that US wants over 50% of ownership. Good luck with that.
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Peloton CEO on Apple launching workouts: ‘a legitimization of fitness content’ • CNBC

Lauren Thomas:

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Peloton CEO John Foley said Tuesday that Apple launching a fitness platform is a “legitimization” of this type of content. 

Foley’s remarks were made during the bike maker’s first-ever investor meeting as a public company, and coincided with Apple’s splashy unveiling of the fitness platform, which will allow users to access a catalog of workout videos on iPhones, iPads, or on an Apple TV that sync to an Apple Watch. 

Peloton shares dipped slightly on the news and recently were up about 4%. 

“We’re just digesting the announcement like everybody,” Foley said. “The biggest thing I will say is it’s quite a legitimization of fitness content, to the extent the biggest company in the word, a $2 trillion company, is coming in and saying fitness content matters. It’s meaningful enough for Apple.” 

However, he said, Peloton separates itself from Apple with its high-tech spin bikes and treadmills, which Apple isn’t planning to offer customers.

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Peloton kit is flipping expensive. Like £2,000 for a bike and then a subscription for the service. But this is not a Swiss watch v Apple Watch situation. Peloton users love their kit and the experience, so aren’t going to abandon it. If you can afford it, you’ll probably go for Peloton rather than something cheaper. Apple though is going to mop up a significant number of people for whom Fitness+ will be a gym membership on their wrist (you need an Apple Watch to use it).
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Spotify steps up antitrust war over Apple One bundling • Yahoo

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Sweden’s global number one music streamer Spotify is urging EU competition authorities to probe Apple’s One bundled subscription services as it steps up its antitrust criticisms of the US tech titan.

“Once again, Apple is using its dominant position and unfair practices to disadvantage competitors and deprive consumers by favoring its own services,” said Spotify in a statement.

“We call on competition authorities to act urgently to restrict Apple’s anti-competitive behavior, which if left unchecked, will cause irreparable harm to the developer community and threaten our collective freedoms to listen, learn, create, and connect,” the firm added in a Tuesday statement.

Spotify has already been involved in two other competition face-offs with Apple surrounding the latter’s Apple Store and Apple Pay.

The Swedish company says that a low-priced bundle including music streaming from Apple Music, a key rival, skews the market.

Spotify is by a distance the global leader in music streaming, with 299 million users according to latest data from June – including 138 million subscription holders – and sales of €1.89bn ($2.2bn).

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As Ben Thompson pointed out, there’s nothing stopping Spotify bundling itself with some offering from Google or an Android OEM or a carrier or.. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s done a few of those. Spotify might have a case the cost of signing people up through the App Store, but this is thin gruel. Apple’s nowhere near a monopoly of smartphones.

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Apple releases iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 with home screen redesign, App Library, compact UI, Translate app, Scribble support, App Clips, and more • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple has released iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, the newest operating system updates designed for the iPhone and iPad. As with all of Apple’s software updates, iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 can be downloaded for free. iOS 14 is available on the iPhone 6s and later, while iPadOS 14 is available on the iPad Air 2 and later.

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Good rundown of what’s new. I think the instantly most popular thing will be pinning message recipients to the top of the screen for quick access to people or groups you often communicate with.

And people are going to be quite puzzled for a while by incoming calls not taking over the screen. Expect lots of people to miss calls for a while.

Plus you can change your default browser and mail app. Say goodbye to your battery if you choose Chrome and Gmail, I suspect.
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Oregon GOP senator who walked out to stop climate vote loses house to wildfire • Labour 411

Sahid Fawaz:

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Oregon Republican state senator Fred Girod was one of 11 Republicans who made headlines when they walked out of the senate – some even leaving the state – so that a quorum could not be achieved for a climate change bill.

As Wikipedia states:

“From June 20, 2019, all 11 Republican state senators for Oregon, including Girod, refused to show up for work at the Oregon State Capitol, instead going into hiding, some even fleeing the state. Their aim was to push the vote on a cap-and-trade proposal that would dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to combat climate change to voters instead of being instituted by lawmakers. The Senate holds 30 seats, but 1 is vacant due to a death. Without the Republican senators, the remaining 18 Democratic state senators could not reach a quorum of 20 to hold a vote…”

…Now with wildfires raging in Oregon, climate change has come to Girod’s doorstep. Literally.

Oregon Live reports:

“Fred Girod stood near the edge of a steep drop between what remained of his house and the Santiam River, grasping the destruction days after the Beachie Creek wildfire destroyed homes, businesses and landmarks along the canyon.

The walls of the one-story home had collapsed, leaving two stone columns and a chimney that rose out of the rubble. The heat and flames had twisted the frame of the deck where he would sit to watch bald eagles, ospreys and sunrises.”

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Oregon Live somehow omits the point about preventing the vote.
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Climate science contrarian installed in upper-level NOAA position • Ars Technica

Scott Johnson:

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The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently hired a new person in an upper-level deputy assistant secretary position. Normally, this would not be too surprising or newsworthy, but this is an exception. Joining NOAA as the “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction” is University of Delaware Professor David Legates—a well-known contrarian who rejects the science of human-caused climate change.

The position apparently reports to acting head of NOAA Neil Jacobs, although the circumstances of the hire are unknown. Ars asked NOAA about the duties of this position, but the agency has not responded. Jacobs was entangled in the fallout from President Trump’s inaccurate tweets about Hurricane Dorian that culminated in a forecast map doctored with a black marker. A pair of investigations found that Jacobs capitulated to directives from the office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the White House, releasing an unsigned NOAA statement that sought to rescue the president’s inaccurate statements by mildly admonishing the forecasters who corrected him.

…Legates was Delaware’s State Climatologist between 2005 and 2011. Although he started his career working on precipitation data and patterns, he is primarily known for rejecting, at every opportunity, the human role in climate change. He’s a frequent contributor to work by the Heartland Institute—a “think tank” that opposes the facts of climate science. When Ars visited a Heartland conference in 2015, Legates was there, presenting a talk that waved away trends in US rainfall extremes as an artifact of measurement changes.

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No, it’s fine, checks and balances, norms of behaviour, standards, etc.

In reality there’s very little time left for the US. If this goes on it will effectively become a rogue state acting to destroy the world’s climate. Which might sound extreme. But there’s very little time before things get bad all over.
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Facebook’s first ‘smart glasses’ will be Ray-Bans, coming next year • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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The company has talked for years about its plans to build AR devices that resemble a standard pair of glasses, and the company is now working with Ray-Ban maker EssilorLuxottica to design the frames of its first consumer smart glasses, confirming rumors last fall that the company had partnered with the Italian eyewear brand.

“We’re passionate about exploring devices that can give people better ways to connect with those closest to them. Wearables have the potential to do that. With EssilorLuxottica we have an equally ambitious partner who’ll lend their expertise and world-class brand catalogue to the first truly fashionable smart glasses,” Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of the Reality Labs division, said in a statement.

We don’t have any details on what Facebook’s eventual AR glasses will be called, what they look like beyond the Aria prototype, or how much they might cost (or for that matter how much the Ray-Ban designed smart glasses will cost).

But AR and smart glasses designed to look like standard pieces of eyewear have become more common in recent years, with companies like North (now owned by Google) and Nreal developing pretty impressive devices. Meanwhile, all the major tech giants — including Amazon, Apple, Google, Intel, and others — have either already released a device in the smart glasses or AR category, or are said to be actively working on something.

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Colour me continually sceptical about these things. There won’t be a display, so what’s the point? To take photos? Snap tried that and lost a bucketload of money. If it doesn’t have a display and so can’t provide any useful info, hardly anyone is going to tolerate the nerd factor of wearing them.
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Amazon Music jumps into the podcasting game with original and exclusive shows • Android Police

Jules Wang:

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Spotify is pushing nearly all of its chips onto podcast browsing and production as a way to drive its revenues. Amazon may be looking to do the same for its Amazon Music service as it has enabled podcast streaming and is making a splash with what it can call its own shows including “Disgraceland,” “That Scene with Dan Patrick,” and new shows from Will Smith.

Free and paid Amazon Music users in the Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. can listen to widely-available podcasts right now through its website. We weren’t immediately able to find podcasts on the Android app — there is a supporting update and changelog for that feature — but it’ll also be there as well as iOS, Google Assistant, and Echo devices. Listeners will be able to download shows for offline listening and follow their favorite series as well.

The company is also claiming production credit and exclusive rights to a number of shows…

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Podcasts are the perfect way for music streaming services to get away from having to pay per-play (as with music tracks) and into lump sums, so that they can benefit from the zero marginal cost of serving every extra podcast. In Spotify’s case it’s evident that it really wants to push that; now that Amazon is doing the same, is Apple going to be able to hold back from doing it too?
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What newsrooms can learn from threat modeling at Facebook • The Verge

Alex Stamos, former security chief at Facebook (interviewed by Jay Rosen):

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So, let’s imagine The New York Times has hired me to help them threat model and practice for 2020. This is a highly unlikely scenario, so I’ll give them the advice here for free.

First, you think about your likely adversaries in 2020. You still have the Russian security services. FSB, GRU, and SVR. So I would help gather up all of the examples of their disinformation operations from the last four years.

This would include the GRU’s tactic of hacking into websites to plant fake documents, and then pointing their press outlets at those documents. When the documents are inevitably removed, they spin it as a conspiracy. This is something they did to Poland’s equivalent of West Point, and there has been some recent activity that looks like the planting of fake documents to muddy the waters on the poisoning of Navalny.

You have the Russian Internet Research Agency, and their current activities. They have also pivoted and now hire people in-country to create content. Facebook broke open one of these networks this week.

This year, however, we have new players! You have the Chinese. China is really coming from behind on combined hacking / disinformation operations, but man are they making up time fast. COVID and the Hong Kong crisis has motivated them to build much more capable overt and covert capabilities in English. And most importantly, in 2020, you have the domestic actors.

The Russian activity in 2016, from both the security services and troll farms, has been really well documented.

JR: And breakdowns created by government, like an overwhelmed Post Office.

Yes, true!

I wrote a piece for Lawfare imagining foreign actors using hacking to cause chaos in the election and then spreading that with disinfo. It’s quaint now, as the election has been pre-hacked by COVID.

The struggles that states and local governments are having to prepare for pandemic voting and the intentional knee-capping of the response by the Administration and Republican Senate has effectively pre-hacked the election — in that there is already going to be huge confusion about how to vote, when to vote, and whether the rules are being applied fairly.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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