Start Up No.1427: Apple Silicon’s CPU revelation, EU accuses Amazon of antitrust breach, the joy of Columbo, the company named to hack, and more


Some people really, really like airline peanuts. So they’ve bought 50 tons of them. CC-licensed photo by chi227 on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. No user-serviceable parts inside. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

MacBook Air and MacBook Pro M1 chips have same 8-core CPUs, no upgrades available • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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The newly announced MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models that Apple announced today are equipped with the same 8-core M1 chip that also offers an integrated GPU, with Apple offering no CPU upgrades.

There is, however, a GPU upgrade available for the MacBook Air . By default, the MacBook Air ships with an M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, while the MacBook Pro has the same M1 chip with an 8-core GPU.

If you choose the $1,249 MacBook Air model with a 512GB SSD, it upgrades to an 8-core GPU instead of the default 7-core GPU, but there is no custom configuration option to choose the lower tier model with the upgraded 8-core GPU option.

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The key difference is that the Air doesn’t have a fan, and the Pro does, so it can run at a higher level for longer. But the point about no CPU upgrades is really interesting, because on the Intel Macs there were typically two or three options (Good, Better, Best) which would guarantee confusion if you weren’t an expert in Intel SKUs.

There was a lot of speculation ahead of this about whether Apple would also offer CPU variants. Here’s the answer, then: no. (But wait for future models.) It indicates that Apple wants things simple. And, possibly, that all the variations in cores and turbo boosts that Intel offered were largely window dressing.

Of course, we’re going to hear plenty from people complaining that the Mac they want wasn’t on this list, and how long do they have to wait? (I’d give it four months before the next batch appears, ie February ; or wait for the benchmarks and reviews.)
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Nuts: people have bought 50 tons of airline nuts • One Mile at a Time

Ben Schlappig:

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Several months back I wrote about the challenging situation that GNS Foods was in, which is the supplier of the mixed nuts offered in premium cabins onboard American Airlines, United Airlines, etc.

The airlines have both stopped serving mixed nuts due to the coronavirus pandemic, yet the company was left with an endless supply of nuts. This is because GNS Foods had signed a one year contract for raw ingredients, since the airline also didn’t want any price variability for nuts.

Well, in light of circumstances the company decided to get creative, and started selling mixed nuts directly to consumers. Yes, these are the same nuts you’ll find onboard planes, ranging from American Airlines’ aloha nut mix, to United Airlines’ elite status nut mix, as the company calls it.

So, how much interest has there been in airline mixed nuts? A lot. GNS Foods has noted that it has sold all 78,000 bags of airline nut mixes. These bags have sold in quantities of one to two pounds each, so I’d conservatively estimate that over 100,000 pounds of nuts have been sold… that’s over 50 tons!

Now, in fairness, keep in mind that none of this was particularly high margin. The company claims it was selling these mixes at close to cost, though it’s great the company has been able to liquidate its inventory while letting people enjoy one of their favorite airplane comfort snacks at home.

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A simple way to live like you’re in Business or First Class. All you need is a couple of aircraft seats – and you’ll recall that you can buy those from surplus sites.
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EU accuses Amazon of breaching antitrust rules • Financial Times

Javier Espinoza:

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The EU has hit Amazon with formal antitrust charges over its treatment of the 150,000 European merchants selling goods through its website.

Margrethe Vestager, who oversees the EU’s competition policy, outlined two sets of concerns against the world’s dominant online retailer.

After a year-long probe, the European Commission reached the preliminary view that Amazon breached EU competition rules by using non-public data it gathers on sales on its website to boost its own-label products and services.

The EU has separately opened a second formal antitrust investigation into whether Amazon gave preferential treatment on its site to its own products and for sellers who paid extra for Amazon’s logistics and delivery services.

“We must ensure that dual-role platforms with market power, such as Amazon, do not distort competition,” said Ms Vestager. “Data on the activity of third-party sellers should not be used to the benefit of Amazon when it acts as a competitor to these sellers.”

Ms Vestager held out the possibility that the EU would work to settle the complaints with Amazon. She has previously acknowledged that large fines have not helped to remedy the dominant positions of Big Tech companies.

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Here’s the EC complaint. I honestly don’t see how this is any different from what supermarkets do: they can see what sells, they take money to give more favourable positioning, they can offer own-brand/white label products that compete with branded products on the shelves. Is the difference that there’s competition among supermarkets? Except the e-commerce space is huge; you can’t say Amazon has a dominant share of it across Europe.
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How to revert HP printers’ ban on 3rd-party ink cartridges • Kevin Deldycke

Kevin Deldycke:

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Hewlett & Packard, the founders, had great lessons to teach us (managers in high-tech) about culture. I even quoted them in my awesome list on engineering team management . 👨‍💼

HP Inc., the company, sucks. At least their printer division’s business model. They recently pushed a firmware update to ban third-party compatible ink cartridges . 💔

The timeline is straightforward:

• 2020, March: general lockdown. 🦠 I need a home office. SO is a scientist and spend her time printing papers for review. Got her an HP Color LaserJet M254dw to keep her productive workflow ( publish or perish! ).

• 2020, October: HP release a new firmware (versioned 20201021 ).

• 2020, November: my printer auto-upgrade. I’m welcomed with this Supply Problem Screen of Death :

I can’t print anymore. 🤯

Eight months. My printer worked for only 8 months. 😤

OK . It’s my fault. I should have spent more money buying certified™ gear. 😑

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The solution lies in downgrading the firmware (which in itself is quite a surprise). But it’s not a task for the faint of heart or uncertain of terminal.
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Amazon wants to win Sweden. The Swedes have other ideas • WIRED UK

Richard Orange:

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With its vast scale and market share in its core countries, you might expect Amazon to lay waste to the retail landscape in a small country like Sweden, whose 10 million people represent a market roughly the size of Michigan. The company currently has about 44% of the e-commerce market in the US, and about 30% in the UK and Germany. If it could achieve the same levels in Sweden, local rivals like CDON risk being wiped off the map. Despite that the leaders of Swedish e-commerce companies are remarkably sanguine. “We’ve been waiting for this for years,” says Hermann Haraldsson, chief executive of online clothes marketplace Boozt.

The way he sees it, Amazon is not competitive in the mid- to premium-range clothing business space where Boozt operates. Many prominent international brands are refusing to sell through Amazon’s platform and every sign that leading Swedish clothing brands will do the same. And he believes Boozt can more than match Amazon on customer service.

“We have one warehouse located very centrally, so we can actually serve the majority of our customers the same day, and it’s free shipping and free returns,” he says. “So even if they were to introduce some kind of [Amazon] Prime free next-day delivery, it won’t be better than the offer our customers get today.” CDON’s chief executive Kristoffer Väliharju is certain that the arrival of Amazon will change the Swedish marketplace, but he doesn’t expect to be squeezed out. “Worrying about Amazon is like worrying about Covid-19.” he says. “It’s a market adaptation. You just need to relate to it.”

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Dangerous to bet against Amazon, though. Like Japanese knotweed, it will just keep coming and coming and coming. Even so, Sweden has been expecting this onslaught for years.
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Rediscovering “Columbo” in 2020 • The New Yorker

Joe Dator with a graphic strip on why he loves the old TV series Columbo. I love it too, and I think my reasons match Dator’s. Especially the final frame.
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Company forced to change name that could be used to hack websites • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Companies House has forced a company to change its name after it belatedly realised it could pose a security risk.

The company now legally known as “THAT COMPANY WHOSE NAME USED TO CONTAIN HTML SCRIPT TAGS LTD” was set up by a British software engineer, who says he did it purely because he thought it would be “a fun playful name” for his consulting business.

He now says he didn’t realise that Companies House was actually vulnerable to the extremely simple technique he used, known as “cross-site scripting”, which allows an attacker to run code from one website on another.

The original name of the company was ““> LTD”. By beginning the name with a quotation mark and chevron, any site which failed to properly handle the HTML code would have mistakenly thought the company name was blank, and then loaded and executed a script from the site XSS Hunter, which helps developers find cross-site scripting errors.

That script would have simply put up a harmless alert – but it serves as proof that a malicious attacker could instead have used the same weakness as a gateway to more damaging ends.

Similar names have been registered in the past, such as “; DROP TABLE “COMPANIES”;– LTD”, a wry attempt to carry out an attack known as SQL injection, inspired by a famous XKCD webcomic, but this was the first such name to have prompted a response. Companies House has retroactively removed the original name from its data feeds, and all documentation referring to its original moniker now reads simply “Company name available on request”.

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It’s like The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, but for hackers, I guess.
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Zoom lied to users about end-to-end encryption for years, FTC says • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

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“[S]ince at least 2016, Zoom misled users by touting that it offered ‘end-to-end, 256-bit encryption’ to secure users’ communications, when in fact it provided a lower level of security,” the FTC said today in the announcement of its complaint against Zoom and the tentative settlement. Despite promising end-to-end encryption, the FTC said that “Zoom maintained the cryptographic keys that could allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ meetings, and secured its Zoom Meetings, in part, with a lower level of encryption than promised.”

The FTC complaint says that Zoom claimed it offers end-to-end encryption in its June 2016 and July 2017 HIPAA compliance guides, which were intended for health-care industry users of the video conferencing service. Zoom also claimed it offered end-to-end encryption in a January 2019 white paper, in an April 2017 blog post, and in direct responses to inquiries from customers and potential customers, the complaint said.

“In fact, Zoom did not provide end-to-end encryption for any Zoom Meeting that was conducted outside of Zoom’s ‘Connecter’ product (which are hosted on a customer’s own servers), because Zoom’s servers—including some located in China—maintain the cryptographic keys that would allow Zoom to access the content of its customers’ Zoom Meetings,” the FTC complaint said.

The FTC announcement said that Zoom also “misled some users who wanted to store recorded meetings on the company’s cloud storage by falsely claiming that those meetings were encrypted immediately after the meeting ended. Instead, some recordings allegedly were stored unencrypted for up to 60 days on Zoom’s servers before being transferred to its secure cloud storage.”

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So very 2020; we’re going to remember Zoom as integral to all the lockdowns and shelters.
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Introducing Simple Search • The Markup

Maddy Varner and Sam Morris:

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In July, The Markup’s Adrianne Jeffries and Leon Yin published an investigation showing Google products took up a huge amount of real estate on search results pages in our sample. They analyzed 15,000 popular search results and found that the search engine gave 41% of the first page and 63% of the first screen on mobile devices to Google properties and what the company calls “direct answers,” which are populated with information copied from other sources. In more than half of those searches, Google gave 75% of the search page to itself.

We built a browser extension, Simple Search, to show you just the “traditional” search results. The extension places them in a box above the plethora of search engine products. You can tab through pages of results, submit new queries, and go back to the full results page easily. It is available for Firefox and Chrome browsers and works for both Google and Bing search engines.

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Make Google Agreeable Again? Make Ads Go Away? Can’t disagree that Google’s packing of its search results with ads is terribly intrusive.
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Exclusive: Huawei to sell smartphone unit for $15bn to Shenzhen government, Digital China, others – sources • Reuters

Julie Zhu:

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Huawei plans to sell budget-brand smartphone unit Honor in a 100bn yuan ($15.2bn) deal to a consortium led by handset distributor Digital China and the government of its home town of Shenzhen, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The plan comes as US restrictions on supplying Huawei Technologies Co Ltd force the world’s second-biggest smartphone maker – after South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd – to focus on high-end handsets and corporate-oriented business, the people said.

It also indicates little expectation for any swift change in the US perception of Huawei as a security risk following a new US administration, one of the people said.

The all-cash sale will include almost all assets including brand, research & development capabilities and supply chain management, the people said. Huawei could announce it as early as Sunday, one of the people said.

Main Honor distributor Digital China Group Co Ltd will become a top-two shareholder of sold-off entity Honor Terminal Co Ltd with a near-15% stake, said two of the people. Honor Terminal was incorporated in April and is fully owned by Huawei, the corporate registry showed.

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The timing couldn’t really be worse for Huawei, which has run out of time (the smartphone business is a huge lossmaking drag on the rest of the business) – though would Biden reverse course quickly on the ban? I suspect that he finds the balance of power vis-a-vis China that he’s been left by Trump to be a useful bargaining position.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1427: Apple Silicon’s CPU revelation, EU accuses Amazon of antitrust breach, the joy of Columbo, the company named to hack, and more

  1. To answer your query about supermarkets, yes some of what Amazon is alleged to do is also alleged of supermarkets. This is a sector that is under active supervision (of its behavioural and merger activity) by the competition authorities in the UK (and probably other jurisdictions too). For example, the Competition and Markets Authority uses the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/groceries-supply-chain-practices-market-investigation-order) to check the purchasing power of supermarkets.

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