Start Up No.1413: Twitter and Facebook act on ‘hacking’ story, red states want limits on big tech, the racism in healthcare software, and more

What if these were augmented reality glasses? Who’d be a good boy then? CC-licensed photo by Adrian Smalley on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Not locked up or down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter cites ‘Hacked Materials Policy’ to justify censorship of NY Post Hunter Biden article • Yahoo News

Tobias Hoonhout:


Twitter said Thursday that it censored a New York Post article based on emails between Hunter Biden and a Burisma executive in accordance with its “hacked materials policy.”

“In line with our Hacked Materials Policy, as well as our approach to blocking URLs, we are taking action to block any links to or images of the material in question on Twitter,” a Twitter spokesperson told National Review when asked why the platform was not allowing users to share the Post’s article.

Twitter’s Hacked Materials Policy states that it does not “permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets,” though the platform does currently allow leaked and hacked material from other sources, including Wikileaks, to be shared.

The platform said that the policy applied in this case due to concerns about the “lack of authoritative reporting” in regards to the origins of the material included in the article, and subsequently locked the Post’s Twitter account. Twitter’s actions came after Facebook announced it would limit the sharing of the story while fact-checkers reviewed the piece.


If you read further on, the actual story that the NY Post has gone with is remarkably sketchy – the emails were on the disk drive of a laptop that was taken to a repair shop and never picked up and then subpoenaed by the FBI? The fact that both Twitter and Facebook find this story dodgy is very unusual.

More to the point, this Hacked Materials Policy is new, dating back only to March 2019. Yet it says


You can discuss a hack that has taken place (including reporting on a hack, or sharing press coverage of hacking), provided that you don’t include someone’s private information, information that could put people at risk of physical harm or danger; and/or information related to trade secrets.


The big question is whether this really was hacking, or if it’s just Russian (or, even more wildly, Trump campaign-ian) disinformation. The timing, too, is amazing.
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Large majority in Senate battleground states agree government needs to act now to reign in big tech companies • Public Policy Polling

Jim Williams runs Public Policy Polling:


A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that a large majority of voters across Senate battleground states agree that big tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon have grown too big and powerful, and the government needs to act now to rein in their power.

A total of 84% of voters agree with this sentiment, with 53% strongly agreeing and 31% somewhat agreeing, with 7% who say they somewhat disagree and only 2% strongly disagreeing. 61% of voters say they would be more likely to vote for a Senator who voted to rein in the power of big tech companies, with thirty six% saying they would be much more likely, and only 11% saying they would be less likely to vote for them.


A few words about the methodology:
• carried out on landlines and mobiles, robocalling rather than humans (which these days is reckoned to make people more likely to answer truthfully, at least on voting intention
• total of 701 voters (just about enough to be statistically valid) in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina
• 41% Democrat, 34% Republican, 25% independent; in 2016 voted 46% Trump, 45% Clinton, 9% someone else/didn’t vote
• 47% approve of Trump’s job performance, 47% approve, 3% “not sure”. What on earth more do they need to know after the past four years?

There’s lots of fascinating data to be found in the cross-tabulations, but the sentiment is clearly bipartisan, and running against tech companies. That will surely be reflected in the next Senate from January 2021. (Thanks Jim for the link.)
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How software infuses racism into US health care • STAT

Casey Ross:


A STAT investigation has found that a common method of using analytics software to target medical services to patients who need them most is infusing racial bias into decision-making about who should receive stepped-up care. While a study published last year documented bias in the use of an algorithm in one health system, STAT found the problems arise from multiple algorithms used in hospitals across the country. The bias is not intentional, but it reinforces deeply rooted inequities in the American health care system, effectively walling off low-income Black and Hispanic patients from services that less sick white patients routinely receive.

These algorithms are running in the background of most Americans’ interaction with the health care system. They sift data on patients’ medical problems, prior health costs, medication use, lab results, and other information to predict how much their care will cost in the future and inform decisions such as whether they should get extra doctor visits or other support to manage their illnesses at home. The trouble is, these data reflect long-standing racial disparities in access to care, insurance coverage, and use of services, leading the algorithms to systematically overlook the needs of people of color in ways that insurers and providers may fail to recognize.

“Nobody says, ‘Hey, understand that Blacks have historically used health care in different patterns, in different ways than whites, and therefore are much less likely to be identified by our algorithm,” said Christine Vogeli, director of population health evaluation and research at Mass General Brigham Healthcare in Massachusetts, and co-author of the study that found racial bias in the use of an algorithm developed by health services giant Optum.

The bias can produce huge differences in assessing patients’ need for special care to manage conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, or mental illness


Of course, the algorithm works on what it’s given. What does that tell us about health care in the US?
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PC sales soared in Q3, Chromebook shipments up 90% • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:


PC sales boomed in Q3 2020, driven by massive new demand in the education market and continuing strong sales in business and gaming segments. The coronavirus has fueled a tremendous surge in PC sales throughout 2020. Initially, demand was expected to taper off in Q3, but we now know the market grew significantly.

How much the market grew depends on whether you count Chromebooks. Gartner (which doesn’t) reports that PC sales grew 3.6% compared with Q3 2019. Now, understand — 3.6% is not nothing for a market that’s been in almost continuous decline for a decade now.

But the 3.6% growth Gartner reports is dwarfed by the 14.1% growth that IDC recorded, and the difference comes down to Chromebooks. IDC counts them. According to Gartner’s figures, counting Chromebooks, the market grew at 9%, with Chromebooks representing about 11% of total shipments. A 9%/14% gap between the two firms is still large, but it’s much closer than the previous figure.

Chromebook shipments surged an astounding 90% year-on-year, driven by massive demand ahead of the deployment of remote learning in US school systems. Non-Chromebook sales were driven by an increase in Windows laptops and in gaming systems, but the huge 28% surge in laptop sales was undercut by a nearly equivalent decline in desktops. Outside of gaming, where they remain fairly popular, overall desktop adoption declined sharply.


Echoing the Canalys figures earlier this week. That’s an amazing figure for Chromebooks: being cheap, reliable and virus-free really counts for something for schools.
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First room-temperature superconductor reported • Ars Technica

John Timmer:


In the period after the discovery of high-temperature superconductors, there wasn’t a good conceptual understanding of why those compounds worked. While there was a burst of progress toward higher temperatures, it quickly ground to a halt, largely because it was fueled by trial and error. Recent years brought a better understanding of the mechanisms that enable superconductivity, and we’re seeing a second burst of rapidly rising temperatures.

The key to the progress has been a new focus on hydrogen-rich compounds, built on the knowledge that hydrogen’s vibrations within a solid help encourage the formation of superconducting electron pairs. By using ultra-high pressures, researchers have been able to force hydrogen into solids that turned out to superconduct at temperatures that could be reached without resorting to liquid nitrogen.

Now, researchers have cleared a major psychological barrier by demonstrating the first chemical that superconducts at room temperature. There are just two catches: we’re not entirely sure what the chemical is, and it only works at 2.5 million atmospheres of pressure.


Woo-h….what? Room-temperature superconductivity and routine nuclear fusion: incorporated ages ago into science fiction, endlessly out of reach in real life.
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Augmented reality dog goggles could help protect soldiers • The United States Army


The augmented reality goggles are specially designed to fit each dog with a visual indicator that allows the dog to be directed to a specific spot and react to the visual cue in the goggles. The handler can see everything the dog sees to provide it commands through the glasses.

“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, an ARO senior scientist. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”

The initial prototype is wired, keeping the dog on a leash, but researchers are working to make it wireless in the next phase of development.

“We are still in the beginning research stages of applying this technology to dogs, but the results from our initial research are extremely promising,” Peper said. “Much of the research to date has been conducted with my rottweiler, Mater. His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible. We still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”


Normally it’s done by pointing, but AR would allow remote interaction. Or a whole new way to throw the ball to be fetched.
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Poor numerical literacy linked to greater susceptibility to Covid-19 fake news • The Guardian

Natalie Grover:


People in Ireland, Spain, Mexico, the US and the UK took part in the study. Their numerical literacy levels were calculated on the basis of three different numeracy tests.

Participants were presented with nine statements about Covid-19, some false (for example, 5G networks may be making us more susceptible to the coronavirus) and some true (for instance, people with diabetes are at higher risk of complications from coronavirus).

Participants were also asked about their risk perception of Covid-19, what extent they complied with public health guidance and their likelihood of getting vaccinated if a vaccine were to become available.

Overall, higher susceptibility to fake news was associated with lower self-reported compliance with public health guidance for Covid-19, as well as people’s willingness to get vaccinated against the virus and recommend the vaccine to vulnerable family and friends.

Some scientists think that susceptibility to misinformation is related to political views, while others think it is linked to reasoning abilities, study author Dr Sander van der Linden explained.

“My take is that both are relevant. And I was surprised to see numeracy playing such a strong role here … it was one of the single most important predictors,” he said. “I like that finding in a sense because it gives me hope that there’s a solution out there.”

…The research, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, also found that people who were more receptive to misinformation viewed themselves as minorities and appeared resistant to voices in authority such as scientists and politicians


That latter sentence is a bit of a mixture. Scientists, fine, but which politicians should we regard as an authority on this topic? Jacinda Ardern, perhaps, but you’d hardly look to Donald Trump for your best advice on avoiding it.
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Exclusive: Huawei in talks to sell parts of its Honor smartphone business – sources • Reuters

Julie Zhu:


Embattled Huawei is resetting its priorities due to US sanctions and will focus on its higher-end Huawei phones rather than the Honor brand which is aimed at young people and the budget conscious, they said.

The assets to be sold have yet to be finalised but could include Honor’s brand, R&D capabilities and related supply chain management business, two of the people said.

The deal may be an all-cash sale and could end up smaller, worth somewhere between 15 billion yuan and 25 billion yuan ($2.2bn-$3.7bn), one of the people said.

Digital China, the main distributor for Honor phones, has emerged as the frontrunner but other prospective buyers include Chinese electronics maker TCL and rival smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp, the people said, declining to be identified as the talks were confidential.

…Kuo Ming-chi, an analyst at TF International Securities, has said that any sale by Huawei of the Honor smartphone business would be a win-win situation for the Honor brand, its suppliers and China’s electronics industry.

“If Honor is independent from Huawei, its purchase of components will no longer be subject to the U.S. ban on Huawei. This will help Honor’s smartphone business and the suppliers,” he wrote in a research note last week.


Huawei’s executives must be praying that Trump loses and that they’ll get a chance to reset with a new administration, but even that won’t happen until January. This feels like testing the market in case things don’t turn out well in November. Note the inclusion of the R&D: is that really separate for the high-end phones and the cheaper Honor brand?
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Google and Facebook have a news labelling problem • Columbia Journalism Review

Emily Bell and Sara Sheridan:


When the Institute for Nonprofit News was approached several years ago by a news organization targeting African American readers, executive director Sue Cross was intrigued. Although the organization did not pass the transparency of funding standards for INN membership, Cross followed their journalism closely over a period of months. While much of the reporting seemed solid, Cross noted “a pattern of stories emerging; particularly positive stories about coal and stories about how particular types of new energy have a racist impact.” The undisclosed money funding the site was clearly aligned with the interests of the fossil-fuel industry, but as Cross put it recently, “You had to read the output of a number of months to even detect it.”

Sites like this one were the subject of a recent Tow Center discussion on the phenomenon of covertly partisan money funding local news. Tow Center research into understanding how partisan online news networks operate ahead of elections revealed over a thousand politically backed sites cropping up across the US producing largely automatically generated stories. The Metric Media network at the center of the study is the largest, but by no means the only example of organizations that are serving lobbying or political interests by producing what appears to be local news content. As Cross pointed out, the lack of transparency around funding sources is designed to deceive readers by making it difficult to detect political or commercial motives. 


Of course, as they acknowledge, the world of print and cable has seen partisan funding (the right-wing press in the UK; Sinclair Media in the US). But Facebook lets anyone define themselves as a media/news company, while Google doesn’t apply it consistently. That, in turn, creates problems of “pink slime” news: regurgitated, reused content with undeclared partisan intent.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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