Start Up No.1411: Facebook bans Holocaust denial (but others are OK), Wisconsin further snubs Foxconn, is ad tech a bubble?, and more

You won’t believe the things Eddie Van Halen did to his guitars and amps. CC-licensed photo by National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution on Flickr.

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

On Facebook, misinformation is more popular now than in 2016 • The New York Times

Davey Alba:


have the platforms really become more sophisticated at handling misinformation?

Not necessarily.

People are engaging more on Facebook today with news outlets that routinely publish misinformation than they did before the 2016 election, according to new research from the German Marshall Fund Digital, the digital arm of the public policy think tank. The organization, which has a data partnership with the start-up NewsGuard and the social media analytics firm NewsWhip, published its findings on Monday.

In total, Facebook likes, comments and shares of articles from news outlets that regularly publish falsehoods and misleading content roughly tripled from the third quarter of 2016 to the third quarter of 2020, the group found.

About two thirds of those likes and comments were of articles published by 10 outlets, which the researchers categorized as “false content producers” or “manipulators.” Those news outlets included Palmer Report and The Federalist, according to the research.

The group used ratings from NewsGuard, which ranks news sites based on how they uphold nine journalistic principles, to sort them into “false content producers,” which repeatedly publish provably false content; and “manipulators,” which regularly present unsubstantiated claims or that distort information to make an argument.


Somehow, so unsurprising.
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Wisconsin rejects Foxconn’s subsidies after contract negotiations fail • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:


Through the many twists and turns of Foxconn’s troubled Wisconsin project, one thing has long been clear: the company is not building the promised 20 million-square-foot Gen 10.5 LCD factory specified in its contract with the state. Even before President Trump broke ground on the supposed factory in June 2018, Foxconn said it would instead build a far smaller factory than it had proposed.

The discrepancy between what Foxconn is doing and what it said it would do in its contract has only grown since then, and it has brought Wisconsin and the company to an impasse. Documents obtained by The Verge show that attempts to renegotiate that contract have so far failed, and today, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), which oversees the deal, rejected Foxconn’s application for tax subsidies on the grounds that Foxconn had not carried out the Gen 10.5 LCD factory project described in its original contract.

WEDC also noted that even if whatever Foxconn is currently doing had been eligible under the contract, it had failed to employ the minimum number of people needed to get subsidies.


Let’s just rewind to June 2018, when Trump broke ground and (according to the speech) said it was “one of the most advanced places of any kind you’ll see anywhere in the world” and “Think of it: more than 20 million feet. And that’s probably going to be a minimal number.”

We’re going to look back on stuff like that (the White House transcript is, indeed, a transcript) and marvel that anything so doltish could happen in public.
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Eddie Van Halen: how the rock legend hacked his guitar • Popular Mechanics

The man himself wouldn’t just hack his guitar; he’d go at his amps too:


If it was movable, or turnable, or anything that resembled something that could go up or down, I would mess with it to make the amp run hotter. I opened the amp up and saw this thing. I found out later it was a bias control, which controls the power to the output tubes. I’m poking around, and all of a sudden I touch this huge blue thing and my God, it was like being punched in the chest by Mike Tyson. My whole body flexed stiff, and it must have thrown me five feet. I’d touched a capacitor. I didn’t know they held voltage.

The Marshall amp I brought home from the store where I worked was only good if you turned it all the way up. Any lower and you’d lose the distortion. I needed that, but it was impossible to play anywhere with the volume that loud, so I tried everything, from leaving the thick plastic cover on it to facing it backwards to putting it face down. I’d blow a fuse twice an hour.


There’s pretty much no aspect of his guitars (the pickup, the frets, the nut, the back of the neck) or kit that he didn’t mess with.

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Facebook to ban posts that deny Holocaust, reversing policy • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:


Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, who has been lobbied by civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League to make the change, said he is concerned about the “current state of the world” and hate-based violence.

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post. “My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence.”

Facebook said its decision was supported by the documented evidence of a rise in anti-Semitism globally and “the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.” According to a recent survey of adults age 18-39 in the U.S., almost a quarter said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure, Facebook’s head of content policy, Monika Bickert, said in a separate post. The Holocaust was the extermination of 6 million Jews by the Nazis and their allies during World War II.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, said he’s pushed Facebook to make the change for years. It’s “a big deal,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter. “Glad it finally happened.”


As recently as July 2018 Zuckerberg was insisting that it was all just a matter of opinion. The real puzzle is still why he has changed his position on this. Where has this rise in anti-Semitic violence occurred? Yet there are a lot of changes afoot at Facebook.

Meanwhile, other genocide denial is just fine.
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Twitter flags Trump’s false claim about his Covid-19 immunity. Facebook, however, does nothing • CNN

Jason Hoffman and Jordan Valinsky:


There is no evidence that people are immune to coronavirus if they have been infected once, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC specifically cautions people not to assume they are immune.

Twitter’s warning label says the tweet “violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to Covid-19.”

“We placed a public interest notice on [President Trump’s] Tweet for violating our Covid-19 Misleading Information Policy by making misleading health claims about Covid-19,” a Twitter spokesperson said. “As is standard with this public interest notice, engagements with the Tweet will be significantly limited.”

Trump posted the same message on his Facebook account, but the platform hasn’t added a warning label despite the fact that it violates its rules. The post has been up for four hours and shared more than 24,000 times on Facebook.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.


Now if he had said that coronavirus made him immune to the Holocaust…
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Ad tech could be the next internet bubble • WIRED

Gilad Edelman:


[Ex-Googler Tim] Hwang thinks online ads are heading in the same direction, since no one really grasps their worthlessness. There are piles of research papers in support of this idea, showing that companies’ returns on investment in digital marketing are generally anemic and often negative. One recent study found that ad tech middlemen take as much as a 50% cut of all online ad spending. Brands pay that premium for the promise of automated microtargeting, but a study by Nico Neumann, Catherine E. Tucker, and Timothy Whitfield found that the accuracy of that targeting is often extremely poor. In one experiment, they used six different advertising platforms in an effort to reach Australian men between the ages of 25 and 44. Their targeting performed slightly worse than random guessing. Such research indicates that, despite the extent of surveillance tech, a lot of the data that fuels ad targeting is garbage.

Even when targeting works as promised, and the ads are served to their intended audience, many are simply never seen, because they load somewhere out of sight, like the bottom of a webpage. The rise of ad blocking makes the problem even more acute. Hwang cites a 2015 Adobe estimate that ad blockers deprived online publishers of $21.8bn in annual revenue, more than Facebook’s entire take for that year. Then there’s the astonishing level of digital ad fraud, including “click farms” that serve no purpose other than for bots or paid humans to constantly refresh and click ads, and “domain spoofing,” in which a bottom-dweller site participates in ad auctions while disguised as a more prestigious one. Hwang cites a 2017 study finding that, between lousy ad placement and outright fraud, “as much as 56% of all display ad dollars were lost to fraudulent or unviewable inventory in 2016.”


Hwang is very sure that it’s all going to collapse, like the US housing market in 2008. To me, the difference seems to be that everyone has an interest in the online advertising market continuing. And there’s no downside for them if it continues.
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Feds may target Google’s Chrome browser for breakup • Politico

Leah Nylen:


In the advertising investigation, DOJ and state attorneys general have asked rivals and other third parties for their views on which businesses Google should have to sell. They have also asked whether any existing competitors should be off-limits as potential buyers, the people said.

The lawyers have also asked whether any of Google’s properties outside of the advertising technology market should be targeted for potential sale — leading some to single out Google’s Chrome browser, they said.

The browser, which Google introduced in 2008 and has the largest market share in the US, has been at the centre of rivals’ accusations that the search giant uses its access to users’ web histories to aid its advertising business.

That criticism escalated in January, when Google said it would phase out the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within two years to enhance consumer privacy. But cookies — small files a browser uses to track visits to websites — are also a key tool for publishers to demonstrate the effectiveness of advertising campaigns to ad buyers.

Google’s own estimates show that eliminating those cookies will reduce advertising revenue to news outlets that show online ads by as much as 62%.


If the US somehow goes mad and implements this, will Google also have to do it in other countries? Chrome is the biggest browser in the world. The logic makes a kind of sense – through Chrome, Google can dictate how websites can behave and what tracking can and can’t be done. Wouldn’t be great news for Chromebooks, of course.
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Apple Watch at five • Asymco

Horace Dediu:


The Watch has an always-on altimeter which is working to help with tracking effort by the wearer.

The Watch can detect hand washing and provide a timer so you do it well enough.
The Watch can track all physical activity and provide motivational reminders to meet daily goals.
The Watch can monitor exercise with precision and provide data that helps you improve your performance.
The Watch can also be used to pay for your groceries at the register.

The reason the Watch can do all these things is because it’s a computer. A computer with a dual core processor based on the A13 bionic chip also used in the iPhone 11, a retina display that is always on(!) and displaying at least 500nits at all times. It has on-board storage for music, WiFi, Bluetooth and a touch screen.

But although being a computer allows the Watch to do all this and more, no PC can do even one of these things. Nor does a PC have GPS, or Cellular connectivity or NFC and is certainly not swimproof. You don’t wear a PC in bed and it does not stay with you 24×7.

…The story of phones, tablets and wearables is a story of creating new markets, not substituting for old ones. In so doing the new markets are greater than their putative substitutions would allow. This is happening over and over again but it still seems to go largely unnoticed. Keep an eye out for a lot more of this.


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Covid-19: China’s Qingdao to test nine million in five days • BBC News


The Chinese city of Qingdao is testing its entire population of nine million people for Covid-19 over a period of five days.

The mass testing comes after the discovery of a dozen cases linked to a hospital treating coronavirus patients arriving from abroad.

In May, China tested the entire city of Wuhan – home to 11 million people and the epicentre of the global pandemic.

The country has largely brought the virus under control. That is in stark contrast to other parts of the world, where there are still high case numbers and lockdown restrictions of varying severity.

In a statement posted to Chinese social media site Weibo, Qingdao’s Municipal Health Commission said six new cases and six asymptomatic cases had been discovered. All the cases were linked to the same hospital, said the state-run Global Times.


Those are stunning numbers – both the small number of positives and the size of the testing – though in context: 9m people in China’s 1.4 billion is equivalent to 0.6%, or 405,000 of the UK’s 63m population. The UK has a PCR testing capacity of about 310,000 tests per day.
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100-watt wireless charging could be a thing next year • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


We’ve seen major strides in fast charging in the last two years, as smartphone manufacturers like Huawei, BBK, and Xiaomi upped the ante for both wired and wireless charging. We’ve previously seen wired charging top out at ~120W in recent months, but wireless charging solutions aren’t far behind, either.

Now, frequent leaker Digital Chat Station has claimed that several manufacturers are targeting 100W wireless charging for phones launching in 2021. Check out the post below.

This would be a major leap over current wireless charging standards. We’ve seen 40W wireless charging in the likes of the Oppo Ace 2 and Huawei P40 Pro Plus respectively. Oppo has also announced 65W wireless charging technology earlier this year, although we haven’t seen it on a commercial device just yet.

Nevertheless, we do wonder about heat and battery degradation with a move to 100W wireless charging. Oppo in particular stated that its 125W wired charging solution degraded the battery to 80% capacity after 800 charging cycles, compared to its 65W wired solution dropping down to 90% capacity after 800 cycles.


The heat alone would be a concern. Plus that degradation: 800 charging cycles would be around two years and two months, on a daily schedule. Nor would the degradation mean you go from 100% to 80% on day; you’d lose a bit more each time, so you’d need to charge sooner, so the degradation would get worse… Wireless charging strikes me as a waste. What’s wrong with doing it slowly overnight on a power-efficient wire?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

4 thoughts on “Start Up No.1411: Facebook bans Holocaust denial (but others are OK), Wisconsin further snubs Foxconn, is ad tech a bubble?, and more

  1. Wireless charging degrading the battery that fast suggests you’ll have to buy a new phone once every two years. So it’s a win for the manufacturers (the whole, your fridge used to last 20 years, now you’re lucky if it goes above 5).

      • It’s the ice maker 🙂 Quite a common problem apparently. According to Sears you should only expect a fridge to last 5-10 years (which is why they sell a lot of warranties). The repairs to it almost cost as much as a new fridge ($700).

        The Ac/furnace system we have in the house, the previous one lasted 27 years, this one didn’t even last 8 before it required repairs. Even time they pop over now it’s “you really should buy a new system” and they can cost between $10-20K so they are not cheap. Hence it really looks like they are not built to last.

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