Start Up No.1410: should Trump’s tweets be delayed?, our crowded orbits, Facebook and the kidnap plot, Apple’s T2 problem, and more


Here comes the mobile internet; there goes (some) trust in government. CC-licensed photo by Toujours Passages on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Depending what the meaning of “link” is. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Space is becoming too crowded, Rocket Lab CEO warns • CNN

Jackie Wattles:

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said that the sheer number of objects in space right now — a number that is growing quickly thanks in part to SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation, Starlink — is making it more difficult to find a clear path for rockets to launch new satellites.

“This has a massive impact on the launch side,” he told CNN Business. Rockets “have to try and weave their way up in between these [satellite] constellations.”

Part of the problem is that outer space remains largely unregulated. The last widely agreed upon international treaty hasn’t been updated in five decades, and that’s mostly left the commercial space industry to police itself.

Rocket Lab set out to create lightweight rockets — far smaller than SpaceX’s 230-foot-tall Falcon rockets — that can deliver batches of small satellites to space on a monthly or even weekly basis. Since 2018, Rocket Lab has launched 12 successful missions and a total of 55 satellites to space for a variety of research and commercial purposes. Beck said the in-orbit traffic issues took a turn for the worst over the past 12 months.

It was over that time that SpaceX has rapidly built up its Starlink constellation, growing it to include more than 700 internet-beaming satellites. It’s already the largest satellite constellation by far, and the company plans to grow it to include between 12,000 and 40,000 total satellites. That’s five times the total number of satellites humans have launched since the dawn of spaceflight in the late 1950s.

…Moriba Jah, an astrodynamicist at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading expert in space traffic, said most of Earth’s orbit below about 750 miles is becoming a danger zone.

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The “Gravity” scenario (aka Kessler Syndrome) becomes more likely every day.
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Facebook and the group that planned to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

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Just how effective these bans [on QAnon and political adverts after the US election] will be depends on their implementation. Facebook’s record on this is spotty, but so far the takedowns seem comprehensive. Both decisions are steps in the right direction.

Still, taken together, Facebook’s pre-election actions underscore a damning truth: With every bit of friction Facebook introduces to its platform, our information ecosystem becomes a bit less unstable. Flip that logic around and the conclusion is unsettling. Facebook, when it’s working as designed, is a natural accelerating force in the erosion of our shared reality and, with it, our democratic norms.
A good example of this appeared on Thursday in a criminal complaint released by the F.B.I. The complaint details a federal investigation that successfully stopped a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and put her on “trial.” The investigation is the latest example of anti-government domestic terrorism among far-right extremists. The group also discussed plans to attack the Michigan State Capitol building in what the state attorney general, Dana Nessel, called an attempt to “instigate a civil war.”

…Near the beginning of his 2017 speech on community, Mr. Zuckerberg revealed part of his motivation to focus on groups and communities. “Every day, I say to myself, I don’t have much time here on Earth, how can I make the greatest positive impact?” he mused.

Normally, that’s a hard question for a company of Facebook’s size. But if Mr. Zuckerberg is still asking himself that question every morning, the answer right now should be crystal clear. Facebook itself seems to know what it ought to do. That’s why it is quietly, temporarily dismantling normally crucial pieces of its infrastructure in anticipation of a crucial moment for American democracy. It’s a tacit admission that what is good for Facebook is, on the whole, destabilizing for society.

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Apple’s T2 security chip has an unfixable flaw • WIRED

Lily Hay Newman:

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In general, the jailbreak community haven’t paid as much attention to macOS and OS X as it has iOS, because they don’t have the same restrictions and walled gardens that are built into Apple’s mobile ecosystem. But the T2 chip, launched in 2017, created some limitations and mysteries. Apple added the chip as a trusted mechanism for securing high-value features like encrypted data storage, Touch ID, and Activation Lock, which works with Apple’s “Find My” services. But the T2 also contains a vulnerability, known as Checkm8, that jailbreakers have already been exploiting in Apple’s A5 through A11 (2011 to 2017) mobile chipsets. Now Checkra1n, the same group that developed the tool for iOS, has released support for T2 bypass.

On Macs, the jailbreak allows researchers to probe the T2 chip and explore its security features. It can even be used to run Linux on the T2 or play Doom on a MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar. The jailbreak could also be weaponized by malicious hackers, though, to disable macOS security features like System Integrity Protection and Secure Boot and install malware. Combined with another T2 vulnerability that was publicly disclosed in July by the Chinese security research and jailbreaking group Pangu Team, the jailbreak could also potentially be used to obtain FileVault encryption keys and to decrypt user data. The vulnerability is unpatchable, because the flaw is in low-level, unchangeable code for hardware.

…There are a few important limitations of the jailbreak, though, that keep this from being a full-blown security crisis. The first is that an attacker would need physical access to target devices in order to exploit them. The tool can only run off of another device over USB. This means hackers can’t remotely mass-infect every Mac that has a T2 chip. An attacker could jailbreak a target device and then disappear, but the compromise isn’t “persistent”; it ends when the T2 chip is rebooted.

…In this case, you’d likely have to be a very high-value target to register any real alarm. But hardware-based security measures do create a single point of failure that the most important data and systems rely on.

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Still, at least they found a good use for the Touch Bar. “Using [X] to play Doom” has now become the hacking existence proof, like “hello world” for programming.
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PC market shipments grow a stellar 13% in Q3 2020 to break ten-year record • Canalys

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Recently released Canalys data shows the global PC market climbed 12.7% from a year ago to reach 79.2 million units in Q3 2020 as it continued to benefit hugely from the COVID-19 crisis. This is the highest growth the market has seen in the past 10 years. After a weak Q1, the recovery in Q2 continued into Q3 this year, and it even grew on top of a strong market the previous year. Global notebook shipments touched 64 million units (almost as much as the record high of Q4 2011 when notebook shipments were 64.6 million) as demand continued to surge due to second waves of COVID-19 in many countries and companies continued to invest in longer-term transitions to remote working. Shipments of notebooks and mobile workstations grew 28.3% year-on-year. This contrasted with desktop and desktop workstations, which saw shipments shrink by 26.0%.

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Canalys rushed this out before IDC and Gartner could get their quarterly figures out (probably on Wednesday or Thursday). The growth might be big, but the actual level of shipments is less than Q4 or Q3 of 2014. You can see from the graph how there’s been a gradual decline. That figure for the fall in desktops is dramatic – is that business going to come back?

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Web of distrust: faith in government declines when mobile internet arrives • The Economist

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Most of the 4.1bn people now online got connected after 2010. To measure how new users’ views changed as a result, the authors combined two datasets. First, for each year in 2007-18, they estimated the share of people in each of 2,232 regions (such as states or provinces), spread across 116 countries, that could access at least 3g-level mobile internet. Then they used surveys by Gallup, a pollster, to measure how faith in government, courts and elections changed during this period in each area.

In general, people’s confidence in their leaders declined after getting 3G. However, the size of this effect varied. It was smaller in countries that allow a free press than in ones where traditional media are muzzled, and bigger in countries with unlimited web browsing than in ones that censor the internet. This implies that people are most likely to turn against their governments when they are exposed to online criticism that is not present offline. The decline was also larger in rural areas than in cities.

A similar pattern emerged at the ballot box. Among 102 elections in 33 European countries, incumbent parties’ vote-share fell by an average of 4.7 percentage points once 3G arrived.

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Twitter bans calls for polling disruptions and early victory declarations to curb election abuse • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Craig Timberg:

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Twitter will impose new warnings on politicians’ lies, restrict premature declarations of victory and block calls for polling violence or other disruptions, the company announced Friday as it rolled out wide-ranging changes designed to harden the platform against abuse related to the US election on Nov. 3.

The moves also will temporarily alter the look and feel of Twitter, a service built on instantaneous conversation, quips and breaking news. Retweeting others, for example, will require an extra step designed to encourage users to add their own thoughts before posting. Recommendations and trends will get new curbs intended to prevent abuse.

Twitter’s moves, like those announced recently by Facebook, are aimed mainly at combating efforts to manipulate the political landscape at critical moments in the hotly contested national vote.

…Trump campaign spokeswoman Samantha Zager said in a statement Friday after the announcement, “Make no mistake, this corporation is attempting to silence voters and elected officials to influence our election, and this is extremely dangerous for our democracy.”

The campaign for Joe Biden, Trump’s Democratic rival, did not respond to a request for comment.

Democrats, civil rights activists and independent researchers, by contrast, have generally praised efforts by social media companies to prevent abuse and manipulation of platforms that are potent, far-reaching sources of news and opinion to billions of people worldwide.

“It’s really important these companies are understanding the unique role they play in amplifying or cutting off disinformation,” said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights,

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The contrast between the Trump and Biden campaign comments is telling. One gets the feeling that Silicon Valley has chosen its timing on this very carefully.
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Put Trump’s tweets on a time delay • WIRED

Mike Ananny is a professor at USC, and Daniel Kreiss is a principal researchers at UNC Center for Information:

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Twitter and Facebook have extensive and well-documented content rules that prohibit everything from electoral to health disinformation. The platforms have singled out these categories of content in particular because they have significant likelihood of causing real world harm, from voter suppression to undermining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s public health guidelines. The FBI found that the plot to kidnap Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer was, in part, organized in a Facebook group.

To date, the enforcement of these policies has been spotty at best. Twitter has labeled some of the president’s tweets as “potentially misleading” to readers about mail-in ballots. The platform hid a Trump tweet stating “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” for “glorifying violence,” and it recently hid another tweet equating Covid-19 to the flu, claiming that the president was “spreading misleading and potentially harmful information” when he wrote that “we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” Facebook has taken similar actions, providing links to reliable voter and health information and removing posts that it deems violate its policies.

But these actions often take hours to put in place while this content racks up thousands of engagements and shares. In those hours, as recent research from Harvard shows, Trump is a one-man source of disinformation that travels quickly and broadly across Twitter and Facebook. And we know that the mainstream media often picks up on and amplifies Trump’s posts before platforms moderate them. Journalists report on platforms’ treatments of Trump’s tweets, making that and them the story, and giving life to false claims.

What if we never let Trump’s disinformation breathe to begin with, cutting it off from the social media and mainstream journalism oxygen it craves?

…why should this system be applied only to the posts of Trump and other political elites when Twitter and Facebook are rife with abuse from many sources? The answer, in short, is that when it comes to political and health disinformation, political elites matter the most. As decades of political science has taught us, people often take their cues from political leaders; they have outsized influence on public attitudes. Even more, such a high-profile test run of these systems on political elites in the US might help these companies figure out how to create a generalized post-delay system to ensure the integrity of their platforms’ policies.

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Trump reveals his climate weakness • HEATED

Very late to this (bookmarked it ages ago and then News Happened), but Emily Atkin poked at the one crucial question that came up in the first (and last? who knows) presidential debate:

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• [Moderator Chris] Wallace’s first question to Trump was, simply, “What do you believe about the science of climate change?” Trump admitted that humans contribute “to some extent.” Wallace then asked the necessary follow-up question that moderators don’t often do: “If you believe in the science of climate change, why have you rolled back [climate change regulations]?” Trump responded by saying energy prices would rise, and then rambled incoherently for a full minute about why cars should be able to pollute more.

• Through his climate answers, Biden revealed that he has a plan to address climate change, and that he really needs to get better at talking about it. When Wallace asked Biden about concerns that his climate plan will hurt the economy, for example, Biden responded that his plan would “create thousands and millions of jobs” before launching into a tirade about… building weatherization, for some reason?? Biden never made a forceful argument about how much not addressing climate change is hurting the economy, which is essential for voters to understand, particularly as wildfires and hurricanes rip through the country. This was an absolute softball that Biden should have been able to knock out of the park. He got on base, but that’s not enough to win.

• Climate change may actually be Trump’s greatest debate weakness. And here’s why: Trump just doesn’t know what to say. A huge reason last night’s debate was such a train wreck was because Trump could not stop interrupting every five seconds. But during the 11-minute climate portion, Trump was weirdly silent. He barely interrupted Biden or Wallace the entire time.

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Atkins writes a newsletter: you can sign up on the site. Occasional free posts, or if you pay then you can get the whole shebang. (Her most recent, on “petro-masculinity“, is worth your time too.
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Inside the Trump White House after his Covid-19 diagnosis • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi:

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Statistically, the coronavirus is more likely to cost Donald Trump the White House than his life, though the threat to the latter isn’t helping the former. A little more than three weeks before the election, potentially contagious and freaking everybody out, Trump faces what looks like the end of his presidency. “He’s mishandled the coronavirus, he’s never been popular, and he’s gonna lose badly. I think it’s pretty simple,” a senior Republican official said. “Of course he was going to say, ‘Oh look, I feel great! Look how badly I beat this puny little virus!’ Meanwhile, it touches every American’s life every day in multiple different ways, and he’s handled it badly and people don’t forget that.” Or, as ex–Trump adviser Sam Nunberg put it, “Everything has just completely gone to shit.”

The polls suggest not just that the president will lose to Joe Biden but that he might lose bigly, in a landslide.

…After [Hope Hicks] tested positive on Thursday afternoon, the White House failed to notify others who would soon test positive themselves. They learned about it when the world did, not with an official disclosure but with a leak to the media. “The president could’ve given it to her,” one of those people told me, in fairness, but “I would’ve done things different that day, had I known.”

Trump did know, but he didn’t change his plans. At 1pm on Thursday, he flew to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, for a fund-raiser with hundreds of his supporters, some of whom he spoke with indoors. Later that night, he tweeted about Hicks being sick. “Terrible!” he said. “The First Lady and I are waiting for our test results. In the meantime, we will begin our quarantining process.”

Reading the message, the person said, “I assumed he must’ve had a preliminary positive one.” The lack of transparency, this person added, is “symptomatic about how people I work with always keep the wrong things secret.” Suicidal in all senses, this is the Trumpian madness that threatens the president’s political and earthly future as it puts at risk everyone around him.

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Note: people are starting to use the L word – “landslide”.
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Telegram forced to close channels run by Belarus protestors • Decrypt

Scott Chipolina:

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Apple is requesting that Telegram shut down three channels used in Belarus to expose the identities of individuals belonging to the Belarusian authoritarian regime that may be oppressing civilians. 

Apple’s concern is that revealing the identities of law enforcement individuals may give rise to further violence. 

Telegram on the other hand, would prefer to keep these channels open but the company said that it feels it has no choice in the matter. These channels are a tool for Belarus’ citizens protesting the recently rigged presidential election, but, with a centralized entity like Apple calling the shots on its own App Store, there’s little the protesters can do about it. 

“I think this situation is not black and white and would rather leave the channels be, but typically Apple doesn’t offer much choice for apps like Telegram in such situations,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said in his Telegram channel.

The tension between Apple and Telegram is part of the wider issue surrounding Belarus’ 2020 election, which saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko re-elected despite claims and evidence the election was rigged. The result has seen thousands of Belarusian citizens take to the streets to protest. 

This tension also highlights a problem with centralized app stores. “Unfortunately, I assume these channels will end up getting blocked on iOS, but remain available on other platforms,” Durov added. 

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I really don’t understand the dynamics here. Telegram can surely keep what channels it wants open, and while Apple can stop new downloads, it can’t affect what happens on old ones. And Android is definitely an option – which I would have thought would be popular in Belarus.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1410: should Trump’s tweets be delayed?, our crowded orbits, Facebook and the kidnap plot, Apple’s T2 problem, and more

  1. There’s a lot of politics around the word ‘landslide’, specifically when the GOP use it. In this case it’s to try and persuade democrats not to bother coming out to vote so it will be a closer election (then they can try and get the rest of the votes thrown out in the courts). Last time around all the media was saying Clinton had it in the bag, so a lot of people didn’t go out to vote because they didn’t like her (a bit like how people thought everyone else would vote Remain, so they could do a protest vote against the Tories by voting Leave). I don’t think the democrats will make the same mistake again (which is why they are urging everyone to get out and vote early).

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