Start Up No.1403: Tiktok zaps political misinformation (Facebook doesn’t), Samsung’s TV ad invasion, goodbye hold music, and more


Shell is cutting thousands of jobs as oil demand falls. CC-licensed photo by John Vincent on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Let me just say… I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TikTok videos, Facebook Trump ads spread misinformation concerning Biden’s health • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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False stories about Joe Biden’s health continued to spread on social platforms the day after the first presidential debate, including misleading Facebook ads by the Trump campaign and a viral video on TikTok.

A false story about Biden wearing an earpiece that emerged on Tuesday continued to get traction on Facebook after the debate. The Trump campaign ad, which encourages people to “Check Joe’s Ears,” and asked “Why won’t Sleepy Joe commit to an earpiece inspection,” was viewed between 200 to 250,000 times and marketed primarily to people over 55 in Texas and Florida. The implication of the ad, the content of which originated from a tweet by a New York Post reporter who cited a single anonymous source, is that Biden needed the assistance of an earpiece so someone could pass him information during the debates.

And on the video platform TikTok, four grainy videos alleging that Biden was wearing a wire to “cheat” during the debate racked up more than half a million combined views on Wednesday, according to research by the left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters. One of the videos shows a still of Biden with his hand inside his suit, while another overlays an arrow over Biden’s tie, but neither video shows any visual evidence of Biden wearing an electronic device of any kind.

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Turns out that TikTok – you know, the platform that’s meant to be a national security threat – is better at taking down misinformation than Facebook.

The indifference of Facebook to the spread of outright lies intended to degrade trust in the democratic process and politicians is simply incredible.
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Samsung TV owners complain about increasingly obtrusive ads • FlatpanelsHD

Rasmus Larsen:

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In the beginning, Samsung TV owners were seeing ads for new streaming content, apps or Samsung products. Owners are now complaining about larger, increasingly obtrusive, and unrelated ads.

Sometime in 2016 Samsung began pushing a software update to enable ads in the user interface of previously acquired Smart TVs as well as new TVs. The ads were shown above a new icon in the bottom menu.

The move upset some owners of Samsung TVs while others accepted it. Back then, the ads related mostly to new services (such as GameFly), new content from close partners (such as Google Play or Amazon Video), new movies in theaters (such as Angry Birds 2), Samsung’s own services (such as TV Plus) or its own products (such as Galaxy smartphones).

Towards the end of 2019, owners have started to voice their dissatisfaction with larger, increasingly obtrusive, and unrelated ads showing up on their Samsung TVs. These include ads for canned beans or discount supermarkets such as the one embedded below or the one shared on Samsung’s community boards here.

On its webpage intended for business partners, Samsung boasts that is has 50 million Smart TVs in operation and that it has the “industry’s largest ACR data set”.

What is ACR? It is short for Automatic Content Recognition and it means that the TV uses identification technology to analyze and recognize the content displayed on the screen at any time. It is used to build a personal profile of you and your interests in order to serve “native ads on the home screen” and “video ads on Samsung TV Plus” as well as ads “on the biggest to the smallest screens”. In other words ads that venture beyond your TV.

There is apparently no way to deactivate the ads.

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Samsung makes money hand over fist, so why on earth does it need to do this? The money it gets from this (which it also does on its phones, though those can be deactivated) can’t be more than a fraction of a% of what it gets from any big contract to make screens for Apple. Or just for its own TVs.
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Windows XP leak confirmed after user compiles the leaked code into a working OS • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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The Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 source code that was leaked online last week on 4chan has been confirmed to be authentic after a YouTube user compiled the code into working operating systems.

Shortly after the leak occurred last week, ZDNet reached out to multiple current and former Microsoft software engineers to confirm the validity of the leaked files.

At the time, sources told ZDNet that from a summary review, the code appeared to be incomplete, but from the components they analyzed, the code appeared to be authentic.

NTDEV, a US-based IT technician behind the eponymous Twitter and YouTube accounts, was one of the millions of users who downloaded the code last week.

But rather than wait for an official statement from Microsoft that is likely to never come, NTDEV decided to compile the code and find out for themselves.

According to videos shared online, the amateur IT technician was successful in compiling the Windows XP code over the weekend, and Windows Server 2003 yesterday.

“Well, the reports were indeed true. It seems that there are some components missing, such as winlogon.exe and lots of drivers,” NTDEV told ZDNet in an interview today, describing his work on XP.

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That’s impressive. Still haven’t heard much about potential sources.
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Say goodbye to hold music • Google blog

Andrew Goodman (Google Assistant person) and Joseph Cherukara (Google phone app product manager):

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Sometimes, a phone call is the best way to get something done. We call retailers to locate missing packages, utilities to adjust our internet speeds, airlines to change our travel itineraries…the list goes on. But more often than not, we need to wait on hold during these calls—listening closely to hold music and repetitive messages—before we reach a customer support representative who can help. In fact, people in the United States spent over 10 million hours on hold with businesses last week.

Hold for Me, our latest Phone app feature, helps you get that time back, starting with an early preview on Pixel 5 and Pixel 4a (5G) in the U.S. Now, when you call a toll-free number and a business puts you on hold, Google Assistant can wait on the line for you. You can go back to your day, and Google Assistant will notify you with sound, vibration and a prompt on your screen once someone is on the line and ready to talk. That means you’ll spend more time doing what’s important to you, and less time listening to hold music.

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That’s the Phone app that you can download from Google Play. Smart.
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Chris Wallace calls debate ‘a terrible missed opportunity’ • The New York Times

Michael Grynbaum:

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In his first interview since the chaotic and often incoherent spectacle — in which a pugilistic Mr. Trump relentlessly interrupted opponent and moderator alike — Mr. Wallace conceded that he had been slow to recognize that the president was not going to cease flouting the debate’s rules.

“I’ve read some of the reviews, I know people think, Well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough,” Mr. Wallace said, his voice betraying some hoarseness from the previous night’s proceedings. “I guess I didn’t realize — and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 — that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate.”

Recalling his thoughts as he sat onstage, with tens of millions of Americans watching live, Mr. Wallace said: “I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”

Mr. Trump’s bullying behavior had no obvious precedent in presidential debates, even the one that Mr. Wallace previously moderated, to acclaim, in 2016. In the interview, the anchor said that when Mr. Trump initially engaged directly with Mr. Biden, “I thought this was great — this is a debate!”

But as the president gave no sign of backing off, Mr. Wallace said, he grew more alarmed. “If I didn’t try to seize control of the debate — which I don’t know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks,” he said.

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Wallace is a terrific interviewer one-on-one, but if he honestly didn’t think Trump was going to interrupt all the time, has he been asleep since 2015? The next debate simply needs a cutoff switch, operated by the moderator. (And might get one.) For Nixon-Kennedy, they sat down when not asked to speak.
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The National Guard’s fire-mapping drones get an AI upgrade • WIRED

Tom Simonite:

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climate change has helped make crisscrossing California gathering video a new fall tradition for the 163rd Attack Wing. Its drones have helped map wildfires every year since 2017, thanks to special permission from the secretary of defense.

Normally, National Guard analysts review that wildfire surveillance video to create maps, a process that takes as long as 6 hours. This year, the Pentagon is testing artificial intelligence algorithms that scan the video and automatically generate maps of the fires in minutes. Call it cartogr-AI-phy. Results have been promising, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as CalFire, used the maps to help its response to the Creek Fire, near Yosemite National Park. The software could be rolled out broadly in next year’s seemingly inevitable wildfire crisis. The project may also help the Pentagon build AI muscle that can be flexed on other missions, whether it be hurricane relief or mapping enemy movements.

Fighting wildfires is a multidimensional logistical hell with the challenge of mapping fast-moving flames in rugged terrain at its tangled heart. CalFire has traditionally updated its maps overnight, using ground and air observations called or radioed in by firefighters and spotters. This season’s conflagrations have advanced as fast as 15 miles in a day, though, and delayed or out-of-date maps put personnel and vehicles at risk, because they could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, with tragic results.

In recent years the drones have sped up this mapping process. Footage from MQ-9s—the same model that killed Iranian general Qassim Suleimani early this year—is beamed down to National Guard analysts. They mark the boundary of active burns using the line-drawing tool in Google Earth and flag smaller “spot fires” that may need attention.

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But that’s still too slow – so, enter machine learning, or more precisely machine prediction to get ahead of where the fires will be. But if you give a military drone an AI upgrade, is that necessarily a good idea?
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Thread by @adamdavidson re Trump’s odd UK golf course accounting • Thread Reader App

An addendum to the story the other day about Scottish MSPs seeking to investigate Trump for money laundering is this thread from Adam Davidson, who is looking at the UK Companies House records for Trump’s golf properties:

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The thing everyone reports is the losses–the shareholder (Trump) has lost more than £7m.

But the interesting stuff is the fixed asset value and the creditors – over one year.

Trump is all of them: he owns the asset, lends the money, owes the money, is owed the money.

We see the same process year after year. He lends himself millions, the asset value is increased by that same number of millions.

This happens in many years when he does no work on the property – no investment, no building.

It happened through the 2008 crash.

…the overall picture is crystal clear: Every year, Trump lends millions to himself, spends all that money on something, and claims the asset is worth all the money he spent.

He cannot have spent all that money on the properties. We have the planning docs. We know how much he spent–it’s far less than what he claims.

The money truly disappears. It goes from one pocket to another pocket and then the pocket is opened to reveal nothing is there.

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You read it, and you start to understand how money laundering (or simple asset inflation) works. The courses will go bust, and the banks that really loaned the money against the property will find it’s not worth that at all.
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It can happen here. It is • The.Ink

Anand Giridharadas with a long interview with Sarah Kendzior, who has a doctorate in anthropology and first looked at authoritarian politics in post-Soviet satellite states, and thus recognises the tropes:

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SK: As for the debt and other information revealed in the NYT piece, none of this is surprising, but people need to learn how to interpret it. People should review his mentor Roy Cohn — Trump’s tax-dodging, mobbed-up, media-savvy lawyer who was the biggest influence in his life. Cohn dreamed of dying owing the US government enormous amount of money, and in 1986, he did. Acquisition of wealth is not the goal for either Trump or Cohn; debt is not a problem for them. A luxurious lifestyle, powered by fraud and threat and untouchable by law, is the goal. People need to examine not only Cohn and Trump’s crimes but the complicit actors that enabled them, which in this case includes the I.R.S., the Department of the Treasury and other broken U.S. institutions. Trump and Cohn are symptoms of a broader disease.

Trump will continue to try to steal the election. That was always the goal, and the tax stories don’t change that. The revelations about his taxes also won’t affect his base in the way some pundits claim. Trump doesn’t care if they know that he doesn’t pay taxes because he thinks taxes are for suckers. His base will also see it this way. What I do wish his base (and everyone else) would understand is that the reason Trump doesn’t pay taxes is because he is a key part of the so-called “deep state” and “DC swamp” and “NYC elites” that his base claims to despise.

But in terms of the election, the focus should be on the mechanisms of rigging — domestic voter suppression, foreign interference, insecure machines, the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service, and so on — and what to do if he cheats and is caught or refuses to concede, both of which are likely. No one should ever compromise in holding him and his crime cult accountable.

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There’s plenty more; it’s a hell of an interview, and Kendzior has been saying this for five years now. That point about Trump’s taxes is incisive: the pretence that he’s somehow not part of the “swamp” is completely undercut by the way that he uses everything in the tax code to avoid helping any other person but himself. Utter pinhole selfishness personified; the very worst of America.

Read the whole thing, though, and worry.
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Shell to cut up to 9,000 jobs • WSJ

Sarah McFarlane:

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The pandemic has sapped demand for oil, sending prices tumbling and hitting profits hard. That has already prompted Shell to write down the value of some of its assets and cut its dividend for the first time since World War II.

Shell said it was restructuring to focus more on the highest value oil it produces, grow in liquefied-natural gas and invest in low carbon energy businesses, while shrinking its refining operations. It expects the plan to deliver annual cost savings of $2bn to $2.5bn by the end of 2022, including from the staff cuts, less travel and fewer contractors.

It expects to cut between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs from its more than 80,000 employees.

The planned job cuts follow similar moves at peers including BP PLC and Chevron Corp. to rein in costs amid the pandemic.

Shell said its restructuring isn’t just a response to the pandemic, but also part of a broader plan to accelerate investments in low-carbon energy.

The company says that by 2050 it will sell predominantly low-carbon electricity, biofuels, hydrogen and other solutions. However, it says it needs its oil-and-gas business to perform well to fund that change.

Chief Executive Ben Van Beurden said Shell’s core business would be critical to the effort. “We need it to be very successful, so we have the financial strength to invest further in our lower-carbon products,” he added.

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That “by 2050.. [but] oil-and-gas businesses [need] to perform well” is otherwise translated as “we’re going to keep crapping in the back garden, but rest assured that in a few years we’re going on a diet.”

Still, the pandemic – and the reevaluation that’s following – is probably leading to an overshoot in reduction.
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Sonos sues Google for infringing five more wireless audio patents • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

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Sonos filed its first patent lawsuits against Google in January in California federal court and with the International Trade Commission; the federal case has been put on hold while the ITC reaches a decision on whether to block Google’s allegedly infringing products from market. The new case is filed only in the federal court for the Western District of Texas — an emerging patent lawsuit hotspot — and represents a more aggressive approach from Sonos.

“We think it’s important to show the depth and breadth of Google’s copying,” says Eddie Lazarus, Sonos’ chief legal officer. “We showed them claim charts on 100 patents that we claimed they were infringing, all to no avail.”

Google, of course, says it will fight back; it has countersued Sonos in the initial case. “Sonos has made misleading statements about our history of working together,” says Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda. “Our technology and devices were designed independently. We deny their claims vigorously, and will be defending against them.”

Sonos has long been vocal about the power of big platform companies like Google to push around smaller companies. In particular, Sonos alleges the tech giants routinely copy technology because the penalties are so low compared to the benefits of flooding the market with cheap loss-leader products and gaining market share. CEO Patrick Spence testified to the House antitrust subcommittee earlier this year about what’s called “efficient infringement” — and this new case is a reflection of how strongly the company thinks it should be curtailed.

“Efficient infringement is a very big problem,” says Lazarus. “That’s why we went to the ITC and now Texas — to shorten the process and get resolution as quickly as possible.” (To be clear, “short” is a relative term in patent law — Lazarus estimates this new case will take two years.)

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Sonos’s financial year ends this week; it hopes to get $30m in back payments after forgiveness on tariffs for its imports from China (strange, I thought someone orange said that China paid those). It has had to let go of staff and close offices. Revenues have actually held up pretty well in the pandemic. So far this litigation has cost it over $4m, but it has more than $600m in assets. It should be able to see the case through.

Hard not to think that Sonos should prevail: it’s been doing this for absolutely ages, so should have all the intellectual property sewn up.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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