Start Up No.1458: London faces Covid ICU crisis, Facebook’s WhatsApp data grab, Apple’s long plan for the M1, do targeted ads work?, and more


It was 20 years ago today (more or less)… remember how Microsoft came to games? CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch on Flickr.

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

Exclusive: London will be overwhelmed by Covid in a fortnight, says leaked NHS England briefing • Health Service Journal

Alastair McLellan:

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London’s hospitals are less than two weeks from being overwhelmed by covid even under the “best” case scenario, according to an official briefing given to the capital’s most senior doctors this afternoon.

NHS England London medical director Vin Diwakar set out the stark analysis to the medical directors of London’s hospital trusts on a Zoom call.

The NHS England presentation, seen by HSJ (see slides below story), showed that even if the number of covid patients grew at the lowest rate considered likely, and measures to manage demand and increase capacity, including open the capital’s Nightingale hospital, were successful, the NHS in London would be short of nearly 2,000 general and acute and intensive care beds by 19 January.

The briefing forecasts demand for both G&A [general and acute] and intensive care beds, for both covid and non-covid patients, against capacity. It accounts for the impact of planned measures to mitigate demand and increase capacity.

For both G&A and intensive care, three scenarios are detailed: “Best”, which projects 4% daily growth; “average” which plots 5% daily growth; and “worse” which forecasts 6% daily growth.

The briefing says that growth on 5 January was 3.5% for G&A beds, 4.8% for ICU beds.

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As has been clear since this outbreak began, exponential growth flummoxes humans: we’re so unused to seeing it that we struggle terribly to cope when confronted with it.
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WhatsApp gives users an ultimatum: share data with Facebook or stop using the app • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

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WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messenger that claims to have privacy coded into its DNA, is giving its 2 billion plus users an ultimatum: agree to share their personal data with the social network or delete their accounts.

The requirement is being delivered through an in-app alert directing users to agree to sweeping changes in the WhatsApp terms of service. Those who don’t accept the revamped privacy policy by February 8 will no longer be able to use the app.

Shortly after Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in 2014, its developers built state-of-the-art end-to-end encryption into the messaging app. The move was seen as a victory for privacy advocates because it used the Signal Protocol, an open source encryption scheme whose source code has been reviewed and audited by scores of independent security experts.

In 2016, WhatsApp gave users a one-time ability to opt out of having account data turned over to Facebook. Now, an updated privacy policy is changing that. Come next month, users will no longer have that choice. Some of the data that WhatsApp collects includes:

• User phone numbers
• Other people’s phone numbers stored in address books
• Profile names
• Profile pictures
• Status message including when a user was last online
• Diagnostic data collected from app logs

Under the new terms, Facebook reserves the right to share collected data with its family of companies.

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Other versions of this report say that it won’t be requiring this in the EU because of GDPR, and the fact that Facebook promised the EU as a condition of its acquisition that it wouldn’t merge data. (Please let me know, EU readers.) Unclear: what happens in the UK, which isn’t part of the EU, but does still have lots of its regulations.
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“down so bad im 3rd wheeling an e-couple 🤦‍♂️” – Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick:

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Last month, I wrote about “the main characterification of Twitter.” TL;DR — I believe that Twitter is a dying website and that it has entered a period of deep insularity and cultural decline and is now virtually unintelligible to outsiders. Put simply, 2021 Twitter is 2015 Tumblr, 2016 Reddit, or 2013 4chan. The only difference is that its hopelessly-addicted user base is made up of journalists, politicians, celebrities, and academics. So we’re forced, as a society, to take Twitter’s inane message board drama more seriously than we would if we were talking about a Something Awful goon building a wildly unsafe house. Toxic Twitter power users have filled vacuums where community moderation should be and now they police the site like warlords, serving up public vigilante justice for their restless and angry followers.

Which is how we end up with Bean Dad.

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Ohhh, Bean Dad. If you missed Bean Dad over the weekend… lucky you. But here it is, so you can’t miss it! And as Broderick points out, Bean Dad

»

decided to make the worst possible choice you can make when you’re at the center of a Twitter storm. He engaged.

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(Bean Dad deleted his account as a result.)

Broderick’s conclusion, in part:

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in my opinion, Bean Dad is very simple. It means one thing — your website is poorly run. That’s it. It means that context collapse has gotten so bad and the scale of your trending algorithms are so completely out of whack that a total moron tweeting about beans can create the same level of discussion within your community as the Trump Georgia call [criminally seeking to change the outcome of an election].

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Where tech workers are moving: new LinkedIn data vs. the narrative • OneZero

Alex Kantrowitz:

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There’s a narrative that the tech industry’s future lies in Texas and Florida. That tech workers and executives — sick of California’s oppressive policies and sky-high real estate costs — are moving en masse to Miami and Austin this year. That these cities are building dominant talent foundations that will persist for years due to the pandemic. That narrative is wrong.

The story crumbles when placed next to new LinkedIn data showing where tech workers are actually moving in 2020. The key beneficiaries of this year’s tech migration are less buzzy cities like Madison, Wisconsin; Richmond, Virginia; and Sacramento, California. These places don’t get much play in the news, but they’re attracting tech talent at significantly higher rates than they were last year. Austin, conversely, is gaining tech workers more slowly.

The new LinkedIn data, which Big Technology is first publishing here, examines several hundred thousand tech workers in the US. It breaks down the ratio at which they’re moving into a city vs. moving out, something LinkedIn calls the inflow/outflow ratio. The data ranges from April to October, comparing 2020 with 2019. It encompasses the core months people left their cities due to the pandemic.

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New York and San Francisco losing workers, though. Not rapidly, for the latter – for every 100 that leave, 96 come. But still, notable.
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Former Apple engineer details how the magic of M1 Mac performance began 10 years ago • 9to5Mac

Michael Potuck:

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a former Apple engineer has shared interesting details on what key ARM advancements Apple made starting around 10 years ago that led to the magic of M1 Mac performance that we have today. And notably, Apple’s work really pushed the rest of the industry as it forged the leading edge with ARM.

Shac Ron, a former Apple kernel engineer shared some fascinating details about Apple’s work on its ARM chips over the years and gave some perspective on why the M1 chip is so powerful

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It’s very technical, but essentially boils down to Apple having had a plan back in 2010, three years before its first 64-bit (ARM) chip appeared. “low clocks[peed], highly OoO [out of order execution of instructions], highly speculative”. And it designed ARM 64 around that.

They sure are fast, though.
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Facebook managers trash their own ad targeting in unsealed remarks • The Intercept

Sam Biddle:

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The [unsealed court] documents feature internal Facebook communications in which managers appear to admit to major flaws in ad targeting capabilities, including that ads reached the intended audience less than half of the time and that data behind a targeting criterion was “all crap.” Facebook says the material is presented out of context.

The documents emerged from a suit currently seeking class-action certification in federal court. The suit was filed by the owner of Investor Village, a small business that operates a message board on financial topics. Investor Village said in court filings that it decided to buy narrowly targeted Facebook ads because it hoped to reach “highly compensated and educated investors” but “had limited resources to spend on advertising.” But nearly 40% of the people who saw Investor Village’s ad either lacked a college degree, did not make $250,000 per year, or both, the company claims. In fact, not a single Facebook user it surveyed met all the targeting criteria it had set for Facebook ads, it says.

The complaint features Facebook documents indicating that the company knew its advertising capabilities were overhyped and underperformed.

A “February 2016 internal memorandum” sent from an unnamed Facebook manager to Andrew Bosworth, a Zuckerberg confidant and powerful company executive who oversaw ad efforts at the time, reads, “[I]nterest precision in the US is only 41%—that means that more than half the time we’re showing ads to someone other than the advertisers’ intended audience. And it is even worse internationally. … We don’t feel we’re meeting advertisers’ interest accuracy expectations today.”

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OK, so it was 2016, but there’s still a question about how effective targeted advertising is.
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Facebook smart glasses coming ‘sooner than later’, without AR • Bloomberg

Kurt Wagner and Sarah Frier:

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Facebook Inc.’s planned smart glasses will arrive “sooner than later” in 2021, but won’t feature the kind of digital overlay technology that is associated with augmented reality, according to hardware chief Andrew Bosworth.

The glasses, which are being built in partnership with Ray-Ban and parent Luxottica Group SpA, will connect to a device – though users won’t be able to overlay digital objects onto their real-world view, a foundational element of AR.

“These are certainly connected glasses, they are certainly providing a lot of functionality, [but] we’re being quite coy about which functionality precisely we are providing,” Bosworth said. “We’re excited about it but we don’t want to over-hype it. We’re not even calling it augmented reality, we’re just calling it ‘smart glasses,’” he added.

Facebook first announced plans for AR glasses in 2017 and has since built a handful of camera features that allow people to project digital images onto the physical world, like face-distorting photo filters. The company has invested substantial resources into hardware development in recent years, acquiring virtual-reality startup Oculus and launching an in-home video device called Portal. Facebook’s VR, AR and hardware teams account for more than 6,000 employees, according to a person familiar with its staffing. That’s a larger group than Facebook has working on billion-user apps Instagram and WhatsApp.

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Smart glasses without visual overlays – isn’t that just a rerun Google Glass, which crashed and burned in the consumer space so thoroughly a decade or so ago? No wonder Bosworth is being coy.
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Xbox 20 Year Anniversary: how an American video game empire was born • Bloomberg

Dina Bass:

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The project got its spark, as things often do inside big companies, at an executive retreat. The next two years brought competing visions, infighting, numerous focus groups and near-cancellation of the product, until a team of 2,000 delivered something Bill Gates could unveil onstage, standing beside a famous pro wrestler, to a bemused audience in Las Vegas.

“We needed to penetrate the living room,” said Steve Ballmer, then the chief executive officer of Microsoft. His former boss, the co-founder Bill Gates, said: “Xbox might seem like an unlikely success story to other people, but it wasn’t a stretch for me to believe in this project and the people who were bringing it to life.”

“I was very cognizant of Microsoft’s market power. Look, they may have all been the world’s nicest guys,” said John Riccitiello, then the president and chief operating officer at video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. “But they’re also the guys that shut down Netscape.”

In the original team’s own words, here is the story of how an ungainly, over-budget project spawned a gaming powerhouse.

…Rick Thompson (who became the first head of XBox): “By June, it might’ve been July, there’s a big meeting, a dozen VPs, 50 people in the room. And the DirectX guys are saying, “We want to go off and start working on this thing.” One of them was this guy, Nat Brown. Brown was not in the room. He’s on a squawk box, and the last thing he says on this several-hour phone call after they pretty much get the go-ahead is, “We want Rick Thompson to lead it.” I turned bright red and said, “I’m not big enough for this job.” The next day, Ballmer showed up in my office with a baseball bat in his hand, literally, and told me that this is what I was going to do.”

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Bass then asks Ballmer about that. His answer’s priceless. (A reminder – if you don’t have a Bloomberg subscription, you can probably find the article by plugging the headline into a search engine.)
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Minecraft Earth coming to an end • Minecraft

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Minecraft Earth was designed around free movement and collaborative play – two things that have become near impossible in the current global situation. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to re-allocate our resources to other areas that provide value to the Minecraft community and to end support for Minecraft Earth in June 2021.

That said, we still have one update left. Today we are releasing the final build of the game, containing some changes to make your time in Minecraft Earth as fun as possible. We hope these adjustments will allow you to explore, craft, and build more – while staying safe indoors.

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Two years after it launched, because it turns out that augmented reality games that rely on your going outdoors don’t handle pandemics involving lockdowns too well.
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Ticketmaster admits it hacked rival company before it went out of business • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

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Ticketmaster has agreed to pay a $10m criminal fine after admitting its employees repeatedly used stolen passwords and other means to hack a rival ticket sales company.

The fine, which is part of a deferred prosecution agreement Ticketmaster entered with federal prosecutors, resolves criminal charges filed last week in federal court in the eastern district of New York. Charges include violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, computer intrusion for commercial advantage or private financial gain, computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud.

In the settlement, Ticketmaster admitted that an employee who used to work for a rival company emailed the login credentials for multiple accounts the rival used to manage presale ticket sales. At a San Francisco meeting attended by at least 14 employees of Ticketmaster or its parent company Live Nation, the employee used one set of credentials to log in to an account to demonstrate how it worked.

The employee, who wasn’t identified in court documents, later provided Ticketmaster executives with internal and confidential financial documents he had retained from his previous employer. The employee was later promoted to director of client relations and given a raise. Court documents didn’t identify the rival company, but Variety reported it was Songkick, which in 2017 filed a lawsuit accusing Ticketmaster of hacking its database. A few months later, Songkick went out of business.

The charges against Ticketmaster come 26 months after Zeeshan Zaidi, the former head of Ticketmaster’s artist services division, pled guilty in a related case to conspiring to hack the rival company and engage in wired fraud.

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Far too tempting to hack the rival, isn’t it. Though of course the winners write history.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

3 thoughts on “Start Up No.1458: London faces Covid ICU crisis, Facebook’s WhatsApp data grab, Apple’s long plan for the M1, do targeted ads work?, and more

  1. One issue the OneZero article doesn’t mention is Trump’s 2017 tax bill‘s change in State and Local Tax deductions. By capping them, it basically caused a large tax increase for high earners in high tax states like California and New York. Washington State, on the other hand, has no income tax. Which perhaps explains why Seattle is growing so quickly at the same time New York and San Fransisco are losing workers.

    Biden and Congressional Democrats campaigned on removing this cap. It’s eligible for Budget Reconciliation and important to suburban voters in blue states, so Tuesday’s wins probably guarantee it happening.

    Not that the pandemic has nothing to do with what’s going on, just that there is big pocketbook issue affecting things as well.

    • Another aspect related to that is at the start of the pandemic, employees moved outside of expensive areas and lived like Kings in cheaper areas. That’s not going to continue in the long term. There’s been a lot of chatter among HR depts about allowing employees to work anywhere but price their wages to the local region. Hence having a $200K California salary but live in Colorado isn’t going to continue much past 2021.

      • Yep! And employees will take home more of that $200,000 California salary upon the repeal of the SALT cap. Staying remote will cost workers more real dollars than doing so would have if the GOP had held the Senate.

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