Start Up No.1428: Google to start charging for 15GB+ Photos, Schmidt disses social, our splintering realities, frack the moon!, and more

Can’t get to a randomly chosen classical concert? Don’t worry, there’s a Chatroulette spinoff for that. CC-licensed photo by Krashna on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Doubled up. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google Photos will end its free unlimited storage on June 1st, 2021 • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


After five years of offering unlimited free photo backups at “high quality,” Google Photos will start charging for storage once more than 15GB on the account have been used. The change will happen on June 1st, 2021, and it comes with other Google Drive policy changes like counting Google Workspace documents and spreadsheets against the same cap. Google is also introducing a new policy of deleting data from inactive accounts that haven’t been logged in to for at least two years.

All photos and documents uploaded before June 1st will not count against that 15GB cap, so you have plenty of time to decide whether to continue using Google Photos or switching to another cloud storage provider for your photos. Only photos uploaded after June 1st will begin counting against the cap.

Google already counts “original quality” photo uploads against a storage cap in Google Photos. However, taking away unlimited backup for “high quality” photos and video (which are automatically compressed for more efficient storage) also takes away one of the service’s biggest selling points. It was the photo service where you just didn’t have to worry about how much storage you had.

As a side note, Pixel owners will still be able to upload high-quality (not original) photos for free after June 1st without those images counting against their cap. It’s not as good as the Pixel’s original deal of getting unlimited original quality, but it’s a small bonus for the few people who buy Google’s devices.

Google points out that it offers more free storage than others — you get 15GB instead of the paltry 5GB that Apple’s iCloud gives you — and it also claims that 80% of Google Photos users won’t hit that 15GB cap for at least three years.


Of course if you rush to fill up that 15GB now, you’ll start having to pay (or see your photos not uploaded?) immediately. So what’s happening here? Storage must have become cheaper and cheaper – over five years, you’d expect the price per GB is perhaps one-quarter of what it was at the start. Which in turn implies that the number of photos being stored is exploding, and this is an attempt to cap the most egregious use. Typically, you’ll find about 1% of users are taking up 90% of the excess use.
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Facebook, QAnon and the world’s slackening grip on reality • The Guardian

Alex Hern, with a long read:


“Our busiest time of the year is New Year’s Eve,” says Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, over a Zoom call from her London home. “And we were seeing the equivalent of New Year’s Eve every single day.” It was, she says, the inevitable result of having “almost the entire planet at home at the same time”.

Rachel agrees. “I believe the lockdown played a huge part in altering people’s perception of reality,” she says. When Covid restrictions came in, the rules of social interaction were rewritten. We suddenly stopped meeting friends in pubs, at the coffee point or by the school gates, and our lives moved online. And for many of us, “online” meant “on Facebook”.

I first heard Rachel’s story from QAnonCasualties, a forum on the social news site Reddit where she, and thousands like her, have congregated to seek advice and support after their loved ones fell into the cult. Her first post, in July this year, was titled: “I’ve finally reached the end of my tether.” She described a marriage of 25 years, and a family with four grownup children, being shattered by a husband who had sunk “further and further into this [QAnon] conspiracy”.

“It’s got the stage where I no longer understand him or even recognise him,” she wrote. Others echoed her story. Posts with titles such as “Grieving my dad while he’s still alive” and “Today I filed for divorce from my QAnon-obsessed husband” rub shoulders with pleas for help from those who still hope they can win loved ones back.

Beyond the heartbreak and anguish on QAnonCasualties, there is a common thread: a feeling that their friends and relatives are inhabiting a different reality.


And who is enabling that split reality? You’re probably ahead of me there. There is a worrying tendency for people to head down rabbit holes once they get even a small part of an idée fixe – eg that coronavirus isn’t that dangerous – which gets amplified.
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Former Google CEO calls social networks ‘amplifiers for idiots’ • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Gerrit de Vynck:


Former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said the “excesses” of social media are likely to result in greater regulation of internet platforms in the coming years.

Schmidt, who left the board of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc. in 2019 but is still one of its largest shareholders, said the antitrust lawsuit the U.S. government filed against the company on Tuesday was misplaced, but that more regulation may be in order for social networks in general.

“The context of social networks serving as amplifiers for idiots and crazy people is not what we intended,” Schmidt said at a virtual conference hosted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Unless the industry gets its act together in a really clever way, there will be regulation.”

Google’s YouTube has tried to decrease the spread of misinformation and lies about Covid-19 and US politics over the last year, with mixed results. Facebook and Twitter have also been under fire in recent years for allowing racist and discriminatory messages to spread online.


Wouldn’t say that YouTube has been that successful if that’s really what it’s been doing. But it’s quite a departure for Schmidt, who used to be the ultimate Pollyanna about the benefits of people getting online, to be so directly critical of social networks. I can’t think of a previous occasion where he’s been so biting about them.
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Concert Roulette


Concert Roulette
Click to watch a random concert!

Or only show me:
• Renaissance
• Baroque
• Classical
• Romantic
• 20th Century
• Contemporary


Neat. I got Haydyn and then something modern involving an accordion and an audience that were possibly being held hostage, judging by the expressions on their faces. (This one.)

Also: classical orchestras are just tribute bands for old music. You know I’m right.
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UK firm to turn moon rock into oxygen and building materials • The Guardian

Ian Sample:


When astronauts return to the moon in the next decade, they will do more with the dust than leave footprints in it.

A British firm has won a European Space Agency contract to develop the technology to turn moon dust and rocks into oxygen, leaving behind aluminium, iron and other metal powders for lunar construction workers to build with.

If the process can be made to work well enough, it will pave the way for extraction facilities on the moon that make oxygen and valuable materials on the surface, rather than having to haul them into space at enormous cost.

“Anything you take from Earth to the moon is an added weight that you don’t want to carry, so if you can make these materials in situ it saves you a lot of time, effort and money,” said Ian Mellor, the managing director of Metalysis, which is based in Sheffield.

Analyses of rocks brought back from the moon reveal that oxygen makes up about 45% of the material by weight. The remainder is largely iron, aluminium and silicon. In work published this year, scientists at Metalysis and the University of Glasgow found they could extract 96% of the oxygen from simulated lunar soil, leaving useful metal alloy powders behind.


It is faintly thrilling to think of this happening. What would be better would be if they can set up facilities that run without direct supervision. The moon as a fuel store: like they promised in the stories.
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TikTok says it’s been waiting weeks for a Trump response on US ban • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:


ByteDance on Tuesday appealed to a federal appellate court seeking to overturn a sweeping Trump administration order requiring the company to divest itself of its popular TikTok platform—at least in the United States. The order is scheduled to take effect tomorrow. But ByteDance says that it has been weeks since it has heard from the government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States about ByteDance’s plan to address the government’s concerns without shutting TikTok down.

ByteDance has proposed selling a share of TikTok to Oracle and giving the company’s US division more autonomy. These changes were designed to address the government concerns that American TikTok users could be subjected to Chinese government surveillance or other meddling.

“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment,” TikTok said in a media statement. “In the nearly two months since the president gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework.”

The August 14 order establishing tomorrow’s November 12 deadline allowed ByteDance to seek a further 30-day extension. ByteDance says it requested an extension but hasn’t received an answer. So it’s now asking the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the issue.


The Trump admin has forgotten all about this, and hasn’t got the bandwidth to think about two things at once. Maybe if Trump could just concede, they could get on and do something else.
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The world could learn a lot from how Africa is handling Covid-19 • WIRED UK

Munyaradzi Makoni:


There is no single reason for Africa’s seemingly remarkable escape. For one, Africa isn’t a homogenous lump of land. Its 54 countries are ethnically and socially diverse. Yet, across the continent, there are some trends that hint at why deaths from Covid-19 remain so low. The median age in Africa, where more than 60% of people are under the age of 25, is about half of that in Europe. This has played a significant role, says Denis Chopera, a public healthcare expert at the Africa Research Institute in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He also points to Africa’s warm climate and the potential of pre-existing immunity in some communities. “Africa has a high burden of infectious diseases, including coronaviruses, and it is possible that there is some cross-immunity which protects Africans from severe Covid-19,” Chopera says. The WHO has made similar suggestions.

Across the continent, high rates of tuberculosis, HIV, polio and Ebola, have also ensured a wealth of well-trained medical professionals and, crucially, the infrastructure and expertise to handle a pandemic. “The experience has come in handy, especially in countries such as South Africa where contact tracing already existed for tuberculosis,” says Chopera. “These were repurposed to combat Covid-19.”

To date, the continent has recorded 1.7 million infections. The number, as is the case across the world, is likely much higher. One study conducted by researchers at the University of Cape Town collected 2,700 samples during the city’s pandemic peak in late July and early August. A startling 40% of the people tested had Covid-19 antibodies.

That picture varies across Africa. Between the end of April and mid-May, researchers tested the blood samples from more than 3,000 people in Kenya. They found that 5.6% had Covid-19 antibodies. In the popular tourist city of Mombasa nearly 10% of donors had antibodies. At the time, official figures in Kenya stood at 2,093 cases and 71 deaths.


The west ought to learn from Africa. Will it? Of course not. When has the west listened to lessons coming out of Africa over anything at all? I honestly can’t think of a single instance.
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Improperly installed Ring doorbells are catching on fire • Ars Technica

Jim Slater:


Approximately 350,000 Ring doorbells sold in the North American markets are subject to a safety recall issued yesterday. Specifically, improperly installed 2nd-generation Ring doorbells can catch fire, causing property damage and potential burn hazards. This is a fairly unusual recall, however—and one that doesn’t require consumers to return their devices.

As long as the Ring doorbells were installed using the screws provided with the devices themselves, they’re fine. The issue is that quite a few homeowners substituted their own screws for the ones included in the package—and longer screws may reach places inside the Ring device that they shouldn’t, causing a short-circuit that can lead to overheating or fire.


Quite amazing, really: the screws provided will do the job precisely, and they don’t secure the device to the wall – they’re to anchor it to the bracket which is secured to the wall. Some people are astonishingly bad at DIY and understanding systems, yet also confident that they’re good at both. The Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
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Theta is a record-setting entry in 2020’s wild hurricane season • The Verge

Justine Calma:


2020 shattered another record when subtropical storm Theta, the 29th named storm this season, developed overnight in the Northeast Atlantic. There has never been an Atlantic hurricane season on record with more storms strong enough to earn a name.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) burned through its regular list of storm names nearly two months ago and had to resort to using Greek letters to label storms this year for only the second time in its history. This is the first time Theta has ever been used as a storm name.

The last time the WMO resorted to Greek letters was in 2005, which held the previous record for the most named storms in a single season. That year will still be known for one of the most devastating storms in American memory, Hurricane Katrina. Katrina and four other names were retired that year, which happens when a storm is so deadly or costly that the WMO deems it inappropriate to reuse the moniker.


Time is so short to deal with this.
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US election results: why the polls got it wrong • Vox

Dylan Matthews talks to the experienced pollster David Shor, who puts it like this:


it turns out that people who answer surveys are really weird. They’re considerably more politically engaged than normal. I put in a five-factor test [a kind of personality survey] and they have much higher agreeableness [a measure of how cooperative and warm people are], which makes sense, if you think about literally what’s happening.

They also have higher levels of social trust. I use the General Social Survey’s question, which is, “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” The way the GSS works is they hire tons of people to go get in-person responses. They get a 70% response rate. We can basically believe what they say.

It turns out, in the GSS, that 70% of people say that people can’t be trusted. And if you do phone surveys, and you weight, you will get that 50% of people say that people can be trusted. It’s a pretty massive gap. [Sociologist] Robert Putnam actually did some research on this, but people who don’t trust people and don’t trust institutions are way less likely to answer phone surveys. Unsurprising! This has always been true. It just used to not matter.

It used to be that once you control for age and race and gender and education, that people who trusted their neighbors basically voted the same as people who didn’t trust their neighbors. But then, starting in 2016, suddenly that shifted. If you look at white people without college education, high-trust non-college whites tended toward [Democrats], and low-trust non-college whites heavily turned against us. In 2016, we were polling this high-trust electorate, so we overestimated Clinton. These low-trust people still vote, even if they’re not answering these phone surveys.


Putnam was the one who wrote “Bowling Alone”, about how Americans were losing social cohesion. This looks like the continuation of that, but tilted around one party.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: many apologies for the lack of email on Wednesday. WordPress’s interface hasn’t been very helpful since it was updated and definitely won yesterday’s round.

1 thought on “Start Up No.1428: Google to start charging for 15GB+ Photos, Schmidt disses social, our splintering realities, frack the moon!, and more

  1. Of course if you rush to fill up that 15GB now, you’ll start having to pay (or see your photos not uploaded?) immediately.

    Existing High quality photos and videos are exempt from this change
    Any photos or videos you’ve uploaded in High quality before June 1, 2021 will not count toward your 15GB of free storage. This means that photos and videos backed up before June 1, 2021 will still be considered free and exempt from the storage limit.

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