Start Up No.1431: Obama frets for US democracy, US military buys app data, Apple faces Facebook’s nemesis, M1 emulation outpaces Intel Macs, and more


Strava has added about 2 million users during lockdown – many probably unaware how it shares their workouts. CC-licensed photo by Lee Simpson on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. No, really. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Why Obama fears for our democracy • The Atlantic

Jeffrey Goldberg:

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Trump, Obama noted, is not exactly an exemplar of traditional American manhood. “I think about the classic male hero in American culture when you and I were growing up: the John Waynes, the Gary Coopers, the Jimmy Stewarts, the Clint Eastwoods, for that matter. There was a code … the code of masculinity that I grew up with that harkens back to the ’30s and ’40s and before that. There’s a notion that a man is true to his word, that he takes responsibility, that he doesn’t complain, that he isn’t a bully—in fact he defends the vulnerable against bullies. And so even if you are someone who is annoyed by wokeness and political correctness and wants men to be men again and is tired about everyone complaining about the patriarchy, I thought that the model wouldn’t be Richie Rich—the complaining, lying, doesn’t-take-responsibility-for-anything type of figure.”

…He traces the populist shift inside the Republican Party to the election that made him president. It was Sarah Palin, John McCain’s 2008 running mate, he said, who helped unleash the populist wave: “The power of Palin’s rallies compared with McCain’s rallies—just contrast the excitement you would see in the Republican base. I think this hinted at the degree to which appeals around identity politics, around nativism, conspiracies, were gaining traction.”

The populist wave was abetted by Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, he said, and encouraged to spread by social-media companies uninterested in exploring their impact on democracy. “I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible,” he said, “because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it. I know most of these folks. I’ve talked to them about it. The degree to which these companies are insisting that they are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic, I do not think is tenable. They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not. The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there.”

He went on to say, “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.”

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There’s also a Q+A which is a reminder of what a coherent president sounds like. And will sound like after January.
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How the US military buys location data from ordinary apps • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

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The U.S. military is buying the granular movement data of people around the world, harvested from innocuous-seeming apps, Motherboard has learned. The most popular app among a group Motherboard analyzed connected to this sort of data sale is a Muslim prayer and Quran app that has more than 98 million downloads worldwide. Others include a Muslim dating app, a popular Craigslist app, an app for following storms, and a “level” app that can be used to help, for example, install shelves in a bedroom.

Through public records, interviews with developers, and technical analysis, Motherboard uncovered two separate, parallel data streams that the U.S. military uses, or has used, to obtain location data. One relies on a company called Babel Street, which creates a product called Locate X. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a branch of the military tasked with counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and special reconnaissance, bought access to Locate X to assist on overseas special forces operations. The other stream is through a company called X-Mode, which obtains location data directly from apps, then sells that data to contractors, and by extension, the military.

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Always useful for targeting people with drone strikes.
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Apple addresses privacy concerns surrounding app authentication in macOS • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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security researcher Jeffrey Paul shared a blog post titled “Your Computer Isn’t Yours,” in which he raised privacy and security concerns related to Macs “phoning home” to Apple’s OCSP server. In short, Paul said that the OCSP traffic that macOS generates is not encrypted and could potentially be seen by ISPs or even the U.S. military.

Apple has since responded to the matter by updating its “Safely open apps on your Mac” support document with new information, as noted by iPhoneinCanada. Here’s the new “Privacy protections” section of the support document in full:

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macOS has been designed to keep users and their data safe while respecting their privacy.

Gatekeeper performs online checks to verify if an app contains known malware and whether the developer’s signing certificate is revoked. We have never combined data from these checks with information about Apple users or their devices. We do not use data from these checks to learn what individual users are launching or running on their devices.

Notarization checks if the app contains known malware using an encrypted connection that is resilient to server failures.

These security checks have never included the user’s Apple ID or the identity of their device. To further protect privacy, we have stopped logging IP addresses associated with Developer ID certificate checks, and we will ensure that any collected IP addresses are removed from logs.

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Quite a thing for Apple to be pressured into making this announcement. Since Catalina its app oversight has become a lot more intrusive (Catalina would send a hash of anything – even terminal commands – to Apple to see whether it was malware). Does iOS do the same? Because nobody seems to have noticed it if so.
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Apple targeted by privacy campaigner who took on Facebook • Bloomberg

Aoife White and Stephanie Bodoni:

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Apple’s ad tracking is the target of two complaints to Spanish and German authorities by a privacy advocate whose earlier legal battles are forcing Facebook to change the way it transfers data.

Noyb, a group founded by privacy activist Max Schrems, is accusing Apple of unlawfully installing so-called identification for advertisers on its devices. The service helps Apple and apps track users’ behavior and their consumption preferences without their consent, the group said.

“With our complaints we want to enforce a simple principle: trackers are illegal, unless a user freely consents,” Noyb lawyer Stefano Rossetti said in a statement on Monday. “Smartphones are the most intimate device for most people and they must be tracker-free by default.”

Schrems made a name for himself as a law student by taking on Facebook over the safety of people’s data when it was shipped to the US. He won a landmark European Union court ruling in 2015 and his complaints led to a second key judgment in July that has forced regulators on both sides of Atlantic to rethink data transfer rules. The EU’s revamped data protection rules in 2018 opened the door to mass lawsuits, which led to the creation of Noyb and a promise by Schrems to “look for the bigger cases” with the biggest impact.

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Schrems tends to pick cases that he can win, and he’s determined as hell. Apple might want to start thinking about how it’s going to handle a loss here.
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Apple Silicon M1 emulating x86 is still faster than every other Mac in single core benchmark • MacRumors

Frank McShan:

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The first native benchmarks of Apple’s M1 chip appeared on the Geekbench site last week showing impressive native performance. Today, new benchmarks have begun showing up for the M1 chip emulating x86 under Rosetta 2.


Single Core Mac benchmarks

The new Rosetta 2 Geekbench results uploaded show that the M1 chip running on a MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM has single-core and multi-core scores of 1,313 and 5,888 respectively. Since this version of Geekbench is running through Apple’s translation layer Rosetta 2, an impact on performance is to be expected. Rosetta 2 running x86 code appears to be achieving 78%-79% of the performance of native Apple Silicon code.

Despite the impact on performance, the single-core Rosetta 2 score results still outperforms any other Intel Mac, including the 2020 27-inch iMac with Intel Core i9-10910 @ 3.6GHz.

Initial benchmarks for the MacBook Air running M1 natively featured a single-core score of 1,687 and multi-core score of 7,433. Additional benchmarks with M1 have since surfaced and are available on Geekbench.

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Not usually a fan of benchmarks but these are at least – uh – Apples to Apple comparisons.
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Sweden bans public events of more than eight people • The Local

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Sweden on Monday announced a ban on public events of more than eight people at a press conference where ministers urged the population to “do the right thing”.
The new limit is part of the Public Order Act and therefore is a law, not a recommendation like many of Sweden’s coronavirus measures. People who violate the ban by organising larger events could face fines or even imprisonment of up to six months.

The law change will come into effect on November 24th and will initially apply for four weeks.

“It’s going to get worse. Do your duty and take responsibility to stop the spread of infection. I’ll say it again. It’s going to get worse. Do your duty and take responsibility to stop the spread of infection,” said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the press conference on Monday.

Sweden’s limit on attendees at public events was reduced to 50 in March, and was raised to 300 in late October for certain types of seated events only — although several regions chose to keep the lower limit of 50.

The ban applies to public events such as concerts, performances, and sports matches, but not to places like schools or workplaces or to private gatherings. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said “we can’t regulate every social gathering” but urged people to follow the new limit at all kinds of events. 

“There should not be social situations with more than eight people even if they are not formally affected by the law. This is the new norm for the whole society, for all of Sweden. Don’t go to the gym. Don’t go to the library. Don’t have dinners. Don’t have parties. Cancel,” he said.

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Sweden bends to the inevitable. Its strategy, held up by many as the ideal way forward, has actually been pretty disastrous. Even its economy hasn’t done well compared to its neighbours.
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Strava raises $110m, touts growth rate of two million new users per month in 2020 • TechCrunch

Darrell Etherington:

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Strava has seen significant growth. The company claims that it has added over 2 million new “athletes” (how Strava refers to its users) per month in 2020. The company positions its activity tracking as focused on the community and networking aspects of the app and service, with features like virtual competitions and community goal-setting as representative of that approach.

Strava has 70 million members already according to the company, with presence in 195 countries globally. The company debuted a new Strava Metro service earlier this year, leveraging the data it collects from its users in an aggregated and anonymized way to provide city planners and transportation managers with valuable data about how people get around their cities and communities – all free for these governments and public agencies to use, once they’re approved for access by Strava.

The company’s uptick in new user adds in 2020 is likely due at least in part to COVID-19, which saw a general increase in the number of people pursuing outdoor activities including cycling and running, particularly at the beginning of of the pandemic when more aggressive lockdown measures were being put in place. As we see a likely return of many of those more aggressive measures due to surges in positive cases globally, gym closures could provoke even more interest in outdoor activity – though winter’s effect on that appetite among users in colder climates will be interesting to watch.

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Another sign that people don’t notice the privacy invasion much.
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Can history predict the future? • The Atlantic

Graeme Wood:

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[Jared] Diamond and [Yuval] Harari aimed to describe the history of humanity. [Peter] Turchin looks into a distant, science-fiction future for peers. In War and Peace and War (2006), his most accessible book, he likens himself to Hari Seldon, the “maverick mathematician” of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, who can foretell the rise and fall of empires. In those 10,000 years’ worth of data, Turchin believes he has found iron laws that dictate the fates of human societies.

The fate of our own society, he says, is not going to be pretty, at least in the near term. “It’s too late,” he told me as we passed Mirror Lake, which UConn’s website describes as a favorite place for students to “read, relax, or ride on the wooden swing.” The problems are deep and structural—not the type that the tedious process of demo cratic change can fix in time to forestall mayhem. Turchin likens America to a huge ship headed directly for an iceberg: “If you have a discussion among the crew about which way to turn, you will not turn in time, and you hit the iceberg directly.” The past 10 years or so have been discussion. That sickening crunch you now hear—steel twisting, rivets popping— is the sound of the ship hitting the iceberg.

“We are almost guaranteed” five hellish years, Turchin predicts, and likely a decade or more. The problem, he says, is that there are too many people like me. “You are ruling class,” he said, with no more rancor than if he had informed me that I had brown hair, or a slightly newer iPhone than his. Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily “elite overproduction”— the tendency of a society’s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill. One way for a ruling class to grow is biologically—think of Saudi Arabia, where princes and princesses are born faster than royal roles can be created for them. In the United States, elites over produce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: more and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Don’t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who don’t have power eventually turn on the ones who do.

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Anyway, how’s your day shaping up?
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Twitter names famed hacker ‘Mudge’ as head of security • Reuters

Joseph Menn:

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Social media giant Twitter TWTR.N Inc, under increased threat of regulation and plagued by serious security breaches, is appointing one of the world’s best-regarded hackers to tackle everything from engineering missteps to misinformation.

The company on Monday named Peiter Zatko, widely known by his hacker handle Mudge, to the new position of head of security, giving him a broad mandate to recommend changes in structure and practices. Zatko answers to CEO Jack Dorsey and is expected to take over management of key security functions after a 45- to 60-day review.

In an exclusive interview, Zatko said he will examine “information security, site integrity, physical security, platform integrity – which starts to touch on abuse and manipulation of the platform – and engineering.”

Zatko most recently oversaw security at the electronic payments unicorn Stripe. Before that, he worked on special projects at Google and oversaw handing out grants for projects on cybersecurity at the Pentagon’s famed Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA).

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That’s a storied CV, but the problem will be to instil a culture, not to be a famous figurehead. Twitter’s security problems are much more about the sloppy culture that has been there for years and which led to the colossal hack of a few months ago.
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New lawsuit: why do Android phones mysteriously exchange 260Mb a month with Google via cellular data when they’re not even in use? • The Register

Thomas Claburn:

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Google on Thursday was sued for allegedly stealing Android users’ cellular data allowances though unapproved, undisclosed transmissions to the web giant’s servers.

The lawsuit, Taylor et al v. Google [PDF], was filed in a US federal district court in San Jose on behalf of four plaintiffs based in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin in the hope the case will be certified by a judge as a class action.

The complaint contends that Google is using Android users’ limited cellular data allowances without permission to transmit information about those individuals that’s unrelated to their use of Google services.

Data sent over Wi-Fi is not at issue, nor is data sent over a cellular connection in the absence of Wi-Fi when an Android user has chosen to use a network-connected application. What concerns the plaintiffs is data sent to Google’s servers that isn’t the result of deliberate interaction with a mobile device – we’re talking passive or background data transfers via cell network, here.

“Google designed and implemented its Android operating system and apps to extract and transmit large volumes of information between Plaintiffs’ cellular devices and Google using Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances,” the complaint claims. “Google’s misappropriation of Plaintiffs’ cellular data allowances through passive transfers occurs in the background, does not result from Plaintiffs’ direct engagement with Google’s apps and properties on their devices, and happens without Plaintiffs’ consent.”

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Like you, I thought “it’ll be in the EULA”, but the plaintiffs say not. There’s a lot of data quietly pinging around there.
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Electric-truck pilot in Sweden slashes carbon footprint • Trucking Info

HDT staff:

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Oatly started using the battery-electric trucks to move Oatly’s products from its production facilities in Sweden, to destinations within the local market.

Sweden-based Einride may have attracted the most attention for its electric, autonomous cargo Pods, but it’s also developing regular electric trucks. Oatly is one of the first companies in the world to operate a full fleet of Einride electric trucks daily, on-site. 

During the first month of operation, the trucks have driven over 8,600 electric km (about 5,344 miles) and as a result have saved over 10,500 kg, or 23,149 pounds, of CO2 compared to diesel. 

The collaboration between the two sustainability-minded companies was first announced in May 2020 and took less than six months to come to fruition. It currently runs around the clock at Oatly’s Swedish facilities, and is coordinated by the Einride intelligent freight mobility platform for maximum efficiency and emissions reduction.

“This partnership debunks the myth that electric trucks cannot handle heavy loads,” said Robert Falck, CEO and founder of Einride. “When supported by intelligent software, heavy loads and long distances are entirely possible, and our freight mobility platform has proven this already with its ability to coordinate all details of the Oatly vehicle transport in real-time. We measure minute-by-minute, everything from drivers, pallets, loading bays, route choices, and loading points to make electric trucks both smart and profitable for our partners.”

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Since I wondered about electric artics yesterday. (Thanks David Joffe for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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