Start Up No.1457: Facebook’s Georgia ad problem, App Store app privacy examined, how police will interrogate your car, and more


Mini by name and apparently by sales too: US data suggests iPhone 12 mini sales lagged bigger iPhones. CC-licensed photo by K%u0101rlis Dambr%u0101ns on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

In Georgia, Facebook’s changes brought back a partisan news feed • The Markup

Corin Faife:

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As Georgians head to the polls to vote on their two US Senators—and effectively, partisan control of Congress—on Tuesday, voters face an online landscape far different from what they saw in the weeks surrounding November’s general election.

In the fall, Facebook—by far the most popular social network—clamped down on sponsored posts about politics in order to ensure that misinformation would not spread the way that it had during the 2016 presidential election. But a few weeks before the Georgia race, Facebook turned off this safeguard in Georgia. The Markup decided to take a look behind the curtain to see if we could determine the impact on Georgia voters’ news feeds. We recruited a panel of 58 Facebook users in the state and paid them to allow us to monitor their feeds, starting in late November, using custom software we built for our Citizen Browser project. The Citizen Browser project is a data-driven initiative to examine what content social media companies choose to amplify to their users.

While Facebook’s controls were in place, we found that links to traditional news sites were present in almost all election-related posts that appeared on our Georgia panelists’ feeds. After Dec. 16, however, when Facebook flipped the switch to turn on political advertising for the Georgia election, we noticed that partisan content quickly elbowed out news sites, replacing a significant proportion of mentions of the election in our users’ feeds.

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Andy Stone, a PR for Facebook, snarkily critiqued this article on the basis that it was only 58 people. (“I’m pretty sure the plural of anecdote isn’t data.”) Eli Pariser (of “filter bubble” fame) pointed out that Facebook must have the data to demonstrate what’s actually going on, so why not share it? Stone hasn’t got back on that.

The Washington Post also has a similar piece, about how much disinformation and misinformation is being sown in Georgia on Facebook through political ads. Seems 2021 might not be that different from 2020, or previous years. At least we have a vaccine for Covid. What is there for Facebook?
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Ten predictions for the display industry in 2021 • Display Supply Chain Consultants

Bob O’Brien has a number of offerings, but this caught my eye:

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We expect that 2021 will be a break-out year for MiniLED technology as it is introduced in multiple applications and goes head-to-head against OLED technology.

MiniLED consists of many tiny LED chips that generally range from 50 to 300µm in size, although an industry definition of MiniLED has not yet been established. MiniLEDs replace conventional LEDs in backlights and are used in a local dimming rather than edge lighting configuration.

TCL has been a pioneer in MiniLED TVs. TCL shipped the world’s first LCDs with MiniLED backlight, 8-Series, in 2019, and expanded their range with a lower-priced 6-Series in 2020, along with introducing its Vidrian MiniLED backlight TV with an active matrix backplane in their 8-Series. Sales of this product have been sluggish, as TCL has not established a high-end brand image, but in 2021 we will see the technology adopted by the rest of the leading TV brands. Samsung has established a sales target of 2 million for MiniLED TVs in 2021, and LG will introduce its first MiniLED TV at the CES Show in January (see separate story this issue).

In the IT domain, Apple won a 2020 Display of the Year Award from SID for its 32” Pro Display XDR monitor; while Apple does not use the term MiniLED, the product fits within our definition. Although the XDR, priced at $4999, does not sell in high volumes, in early 2021 Apple is expected to release a 12.9″ iPad Pro with a MiniLED backlight with 10,384 LED chips. Additional IT products from Asus, Dell and Samsung will drive higher volumes of this technology.

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iPhone 12 mini sales likely ‘disappointed’ Apple – 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:

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A new report from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) today seen by 9to5Mac highlights the continued success of the iPhone 12 lineup. The CIRP data indicates that the iPhone 12 models accounted for 76% of new iPhone sales during the October through November period following their releases.

Of the new iPhone 12 models, the standard 6.1-inch iPhone 12 took the largest share of new iPhone sales in the United States, coming in at 27%. The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max both accounted for right around 20% of new iPhone sales in the US during the October and November launch months.

During the launch period of the iPhone 11 lineup last year, the new iPhone 11 devices accounted for 69% of sales. This means that the iPhone 12 lineup was more successful in terms of US iPhone sales in the period after their launch, but year-over-year comparisons are challenging because Apple launched the iPhone 12 in two separate waves.

…The CIRP report also touches on the iPhone 12 mini, saying that the 5.4-inch device only garnered 6% of total iPhone sales during October and November. Analyst Mike Levin speculates that this is because the iPhone XR is priced at $499 and the iPhone 11 is priced at $599, both of which could be more enticing for certain buyers.

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The 12 mini came out later than the 12 and 12 Pro, but the same time as the Max. If the Max did 20% and the mini just 6%, especially given the huge price delta, I think the market has spoken.
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An analysis of privacy on the App Store • Hugo Tunius

Tunius scraped the iOS App Store for the new privacy data about what data is collected by apps:

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most apps collect no data outside of that which supports the app’s functionality. To get a better view of the apps that do collect data, let’s remove the majority of apps that don’t.

Still the amount of data collected is fairly low, but there’s a curious set of outliers somewhere around 120 data types collected. All of those outliers have something in common, see if you can figure it out before I reveal the answer later in the post.

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The quick takeaways are that free apps do collect more data than paid ones. And Facebook/Instagram snarfs a shedload of data. Honourable mention to The (Daily) Telegraph, which collects 55 types of data, only half as many as Facebook. LinkedIn and a pregnancy tracker also make a surprise appearance.
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Danes get 20-year 0% mortgages • Bloomberg Quint

Frances Schwartzkopff:

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The country with the longest history of negative central bank rates is offering homeowners 20-year loans at a fixed interest rate of zero.

Customers at the Danish home-finance unit of Nordea Bank Abp can, as of Tuesday, get the mortgages, which will carry a lower coupon than benchmark US 10-year Treasuries. At least two other banks have since said they’ll do the same.

Denmark stands out in a global context as the country to have lived with negative central bank rates longer than any other. Back in 2012, policy makers drove their main rate below zero to defend the krone’s peg to the euro. Since then, Danish homeowners have enjoyed continuous slides in borrowing costs.

The once unthinkable notion of borrowing for two decades without paying interest comes as central bankers across the globe shy away from rate hikes. No major western central bank is likely to raise rates this year, according to Bloomberg’s quarterly review of monetary policy.

As rates have continued to sink, other banks in Denmark – home to the world’s biggest mortgage-backed covered-bond market – are joining Nordea.

…Demand is there, Lisa Bergmann, chief housing economist at Nordea Kredit, said in a note. The bonds backing the mortgages are likely to price close to a record high, she said.

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I’m really puzzled by what sort of bond you can have with a coupon of zero percent. Great deal for Danish homebuyers, though: Danish inflation is about 0.5%. Over 20 years, even without house price rises, an amazing deal.
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Microsoft is building a new Outlook app for Windows and Mac powered by the web • Windows Central

Zac Bowden:

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Project Monarch is the end-goal for Microsoft’s “One Outlook” vision, which aims to build a single Outlook client that works across PC, Mac, and the Web. Right now, Microsoft has a number of different Outlook clients for desktop, including Outlook Web, Outlook (Win32) for Windows, Outlook for Mac, and Mail & Calendar on Windows 10.

Microsoft wants to replace the existing desktop clients with one app built with web technologies. The project will deliver Outlook as a single product, with the same user experience and codebase whether that be on Windows or Mac. It’ll also have a much smaller footprint and be accessible to all users whether they’re free Outlook consumers or commercial business customers.

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This guarantees that it’s going to be unsatisfying on every platform – the Windows version too webby, the Mac version too Windows-y, the web version unsatisfying to users of either platform. It also seems like a retreat from Windows as the One True Platform.
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After spending over $57m on Facebook ads, they kicked me and my pages off without warning or explanation • Medium

Jordan Nabigon:

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From 2006 to 2020, the group of businesses that I co-own and operate have spent a total of $57,263,553 CAD on Facebook ads. We have spent money on other platforms, but Facebook has remained our main one. We believed Facebook when they said they cared about small businesses.

Freebies has been plagued by recent ad violations suggesting they are not following policy for dating ads. Freebies has never run a dating site, nor has it advertised for dating sites on Facebook. The CEO of Freebies, Mike Debutte, tried in vain to reach out to Facebook for help in appealing the supposed violations that are causing major disruptions and loss of revenue to our business. It was frustrating and handicapped the business, but it had become the cost of doing business on Facebook, so we just kept doing the best we could to continue to grow the business.

On Oct 26, 2020 my phone lit up with notifications that any business owner reliant on Facebook never wants to see: a number of my pages from both businesses had been unpublished. At first, it was smaller pages with between a few thousand and a few million fans each.

An hour later, our main Shared page, with more than 13 million fans was unpublished and my personal Facebook account was disabled. My business partner, James Walker, and our ex-media buyer, who had started a new business together, also had their personal accounts disabled.

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Giant platform, giant reach. And giant indifference – or at least, you’re just one of many millions. (Unless, that is, you’re one of the right-wing organisations favoured by Joel Kaplan, the No.3 in the business and former Bush staffer.
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Conspiracy theorists mistake guitar pedal diagram for “5G Chip”, alleging it’s in COVID-19 vaccine • MusicTech

Daniel Seah:

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Conspiracy theorists in Italy are warning the public about a ‘5G Chip’ they claim has been planted in COVID-19 vaccines. However, the widely circulated image of the chip in question has been outed as a reworked schematic for the Boss Metal Zone pedal.

The image shows a diagram for the alleged ‘COVID 5G Chip’ – which has a section labelled 5G Frequency, amongst others such as Bass, Mid and Treble.

Mario Fusco, a senior software engineer at Redhat, tweeted to flag the misinformative image being sent out by those who bought into a widely debunked conspiracy about a vaccine with broadband capabilities.

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I guess it would at least explain if you felt your thinking was fuzzy after the injection. This isn’t quite as good as the people who bought Faraday cages for their routers (the linked page will give hours of hilarity), but it’s pretty close. (I mean: if you’re worried about Wi-Fi “emissions” coming from your router, why not just turn it off?)
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My green home: $90,000 in clean tech upgrades, $20,000 in tax breaks • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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A few years ago I started writing regularly about electric cars and the batteries that power them—technologies that are helping humanity transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. And as bad news continued to pile up about the harms caused by climate change, I started to think harder about my own carbon footprint.

So last year, my wife and I got solar panels for our roof. Then we replaced our air conditioner, getting a model with a heat pump capability. Shortly after that, our boiler sprang a leak and we got a new high-efficiency boiler. Then we purchased a battery electric car.

We haven’t yet achieved a carbon-free lifestyle. The new boiler burns natural gas, and we’re keeping our old gasoline-powered car. We also have an oven and fireplace that run on natural gas. Still, our carbon emissions in 2021 will be far lower than they were in 2019. And we’re on a path to radically reduce our carbon emissions over the next decade.

Government policies were a big help here. The federal government offers generous incentives for the purchase of solar panels and electric vehicles. The District of Columbia, where we live, offers additional incentives for both. Not only did these directly reduce our out-of-pocket costs, they have also helped manufacturers achieve economies of scale that made these technologies affordable in the first place.

So I thought walking through the experience might inform—and perhaps inspire—others who might be considering taking a similar leap.

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That’s quite a hefty outlay. The heat pump in particular is impressive – it’s an overlooked technology (essentially a fridge in reverse). And the electric car means that the electricity bills are more than zero.
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Insecure wheels: police turn to car data to destroy suspects’ alibis • NBC News

Olivia Solon:

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In recent years, investigators have realized that automobiles — particularly newer models — can be treasure troves of digital evidence. Their onboard computers generate and store data that can be used to reconstruct where a vehicle has been and what its passengers were doing. They reveal everything from location, speed and acceleration to when doors were opened and closed, whether texts and calls were made while the cellphone was plugged into the infotainment system, as well as voice commands and web histories.

But that boon for forensic investigators creates fear for privacy activists, who warn that the lack of information security baked into vehicles’ computers poses a risk to consumers and who call for safeguards to be put in place.

“I hear a lot of analogies of cars being smartphones on wheels. But that’s vastly reductive,” said Andrea Amico, founder of Privacy4Cars, which makes a free app that helps people delete their data from automobiles and makes its money by offering the service to rental companies and dealerships. “If you think about the amount of sensors in a car, the smartphone is a toy. A car has GPS, an accelerometer, a camera. A car will know how much you weigh. Most people don’t realize this is happening.”

Law enforcement agencies have been focusing their investigative efforts on two main information sources: the telematics system — which is like the “black box” — and the infotainment system. The telematics system stores a vehicle’s turn-by-turn navigation, speed, acceleration and deceleration information, as well as more granular clues, such as when and where the lights were switched on, the doors were opened, seat belts were put on and airbags were deployed.

The infotainment system records recent destinations, call logs, contact lists, text messages, emails, pictures, videos, web histories, voice commands and social media feeds. It can also keep track of the phones that have been connected to the vehicle via USB cable or Bluetooth, as well as all the apps installed on the device.

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Some companies collect this: in 2013 Tesla wrote a long riposte to a New York Times article that Elon Musk felt didn’t paint an accurate picture. It turned out they’d got data about almost everything the car had done. And that was seven years ago.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1457: Facebook’s Georgia ad problem, App Store app privacy examined, how police will interrogate your car, and more

  1. Back in that 2013 dispute, I wrote a personal blog post wondering if there was a flaw in the data analysis in Tesla’s riposte.

    http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/001482.html

    Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to get it heard above the noise, and the risk/reward for trying to do so seemed unfavorable. After all, it was just speculation on my part – and we’ve seen how Musk handles criticism.

    Note data from cars is a standard mystery story gimmick – “You claim you spent a quiet night at home last evening, but the gas station owner says you filled up last afternoon, and your gas tank is nearly empty!”. There’s of course much more data nowadays. But the concept is pretty old and cliche.

    • That Musk difference over the car speed is very odd, as you pointed out.
      The thing about data from cars is just that the car becomes a compliant witness to precisely what you’ve done and where you’ve been. (Or at least, the car has been. But the inclusion of cameras in and around cars means you can tell who’s got into the car too.) You might be able to refuse to unlock your phone, but can you refuse to unlock your car if there’s a search warrant?
      And yes, I’m sure that if Columbo was still being made, there would be an episode like this. In fact, given they had 10 or 11 seasons of them, it would be amazing if they didn’t. Whose car has been seen where and when is, as you say, quite the trope.

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