Start Up No.1461: India’s digital goldrush, Sony gets drone-y, Parler hacked, Parler sues Amazon, why Twitter was right to zap Trump, and more


These empty shelves were caused by panic buying, but Brexit is causing them too now. CC-licensed photo by Sheep”R”Us on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Uninserrectionable. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

UK supermarkets short of fruit and veg amid Brexit and Covid chaos • Daily Mail Online

Sean Poulter:

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Gaps are appearing on supermarket fruit and veg shelves amid warnings that supplies are being squeezed by Brexit red tape at ports and staff shortages at food producers due to Covid.

Lettuce, cauliflower packs, oranges, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are listed as ‘out of stock’ in some areas on Tesco’s website while prepared carrots, cauliflower and broccoli were among the fruit and veg listed as being unavailable on Ocado’s.

The problem at food production plants of staff going sick or needing to shield or self-isolate is an issue for the entire food industry, particularly chicken and red meat processors.

Meanwhile, food industry experts and the Cabinet minister with responsibility for Brexit, Michael Gove, have warned that problems at the ports are likely to escalate from today as the number of trucks going through Dover and the Channel Tunnel rises to normal levels after a New Year lull as the French step up enforcement of post-Brexit paperwork.

Freight expert John Shirley said: ‘The chaos has begun. Organising even the simplest load to Europe has become an almost impossible task due to the mountain of red tape brought in on January 1.’

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Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of our actions. This was predicted and predictable, but I highlight it here because this is just the first wave – these are the FMCGs, fast-moving consumer goods, where supply chains are most immediately vulnerable. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be other industries which will be affected in spotty, unpredictable ways, because that’s the complexity of the supply chains we rely on now: they’re essentially chaotically, and any pertubation to them can throw things wildly off. This is just the start.
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Inside India’s digital gold rush • Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher:

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n early August, Peter Johnson watched as the price of gold soared to more than $2,000 an ounce, the highest it had been in more than a decade. He was ecstatic: The sharp increase meant his wife’s jewelry was now worth almost twice as much as when he pawned it last year. Johnson, a 43-year-old father living in southern India, has never earned enough to support his family of four. For the past 15 years, pawning gold heirlooms has kept him afloat, allowing him to do everything from pay rent to put his children through school. Whenever he needed cash, Johnson would simply find a bank or pawnbroker. “You name a place, I would have gone there,” he said. 

But in the middle of a global pandemic — when visiting pawnshops posed a health risk — Johnson instead turned Rupeek. The startup, which raised $60 million from investors earlier this year, promises gold loans delivered right to your doorstep. Rupeek is part of a wave of Indian companies that are digitizing the centuries-old practice of borrowing against gold. The trend could ultimately help millions of unbanked Indians enter the formal credit market, jump-starting economic growth. And during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent financial downturn, business is booming.

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India has been quite inventive for centuries in the use of money transfer without using actual goods or money through the hawala system – effectively, promissory notes carried from one place to another which evade exchange regulations (back when those were a thing).
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This is Sony’s Airpeak drone • The Verge

Chaim Gertenberg:

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Sony is getting into the drone business, with the company showing off a brief first look at its new Airpeak drone at CES 2021. The new drone is said to be the smallest drone capable of carrying an Alpha camera and is designed for video content creation and professional photography.

There are very few concrete details about the new drone system right now, although Sony mentioned that it’s been exploring using the drones to film landscape and city shots. It showcased the Airpeak working as a chase camera for footage of its Vision-S concept car from last CES. The model shown off at CES 2021 is a quadcopter design and features two landing gear extensions that retract upward during flight (so as not to spoil your footage).

While Sony hasn’t dabbled in drones before, its cameras are among the best in the industry — so much so that market leader DJI already offers camera mounts for Sony Alpha products. And the idea of Sony bringing that expertise to bear with bespoke drone-focused products is certainly an intriguing one.

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I guess drones was the one space where Sony might as well try to get its cameras used. But it’s a market that has burnt a lot of money; only DJI has managed to hang in there. Focussing on the pro side rather than consumers is wise. Small market but high margin.
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70TB of Parler users’ data leaked by security researchers • CyberNews

Vilius Petkauskas:

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Parler, a social network used to plan the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week, has been hit by a massive data scrape. Security researchers collected swaths of user data before the network went dark Monday morning after Amazon, Google, and Apple booted the platform. 

The scrape includes user profile data, user information, and which users had administration rights for specific groups within the social network. Twitter user @donk_enby, who first announced about the scrape, claims that over a million video URLs, some deleted and private, were taken. 

“These are original, unprocessed, raw files as uploaded to Parler with all associated metadata,” claims one of the authors. 

Security researchers claim that the scrapped posts are linked to accounts that posted them, and some of the video and image data have geolocation information. That is said also to include data from Parler’s “Verified Citizens,” users of the network who verified their identity by uploading photographs of government-issued IDs, such as a driver’s license. 

The data might prove valuable to law enforcement since many who participated in the riots deleted their posts and videos afterward. The data scrape includes deleted posts, meaning that Parler stored user data after users deleted it.

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Based on WordPress code, Parler was vulnerable to an exploit in a plugin; this was used to create a ton of administrator accounts which were able to access the databases. A historical artefact of sorts.
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Facebook bans ‘stop the steal’ content, 69 days after the election • CNN

Brian Fung:

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Facebook will begin removing all content that mentions the phrase “stop the steal,” a full 69 days after Election Day.

The social media giant said in a blog post that it will ramp up enforcement against the phrase because it was used by those who participated in last week’s riots at the US Capitol.

“With continued attempts to organize events against the outcome of the US presidential election that can lead to violence, and use of the term by those involved in Wednesday’s violence in DC, we’re taking this additional step in the lead up to the inauguration,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of integrity, wrote in a post about the company’s preparation for Inauguration Day.

On Election Day, the slogan “stop the steal” quickly became a rallying cry among President Donald Trump’s supporters, many of whom were egged on by Trump himself and his allies with false claims of election fraud. As a hashtag, its origins date back years, according to Facebook’s CrowdTangle analysis tool, but it became wildly popular in recent months as a gathering place for conspiracy theories about the election outcome.

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Not sure what happened to “move fast and break things”. There’s not a lot of moving fast going on around there – and people doing idle searches were still finding huge Groups with the same phrase, bringing into question Facebook’s capability to do anything effectively.
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Not easy, not unreasonable, not censorship: the decision to ban Trump from Twitter • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:

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they’re making the rules up as they go along, but the problem with this framing is that it assumes that there are some magical rules you can put in place and then objectively apply them always. That’s never ever been the case. The problem with so much of the content moderation debate is that all sides assume these things. They assume that it’s easy to set up rules and easy to enforce them. Neither is true. Radiolab did a great episode a few years ago, detailing the process by which Facebook made and changed its rules. And it highlights some really important things including that almost every case is different, that it’s tough to apply rules to every case, and that context is always changing. And that also means the rules must always keep changing.

A few years back, we took a room full of content moderation experts and asked them to make content moderation decisions on eight cases — none of which I’d argue are anywhere near as difficult as deciding what to do with the President of the United States. And we couldn’t get these experts to agree on anything. On every case, we had at least one person choose each of the four options we gave them, and to defend that position. The platforms have rules because it gives them a framework to think about things, and those rules are useful in identifying both principles for moderation and some bright lines.
But every case is different.

And no matter what you think of Trump, his case was different.

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You may think you’ve read all the posts about this, but this is the one to read if you’ve had enough of them.
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Parler sues Amazon after tech giant kicks site off its servers • WSJ

Keach Hagey:

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In a complaint filed Monday in Seattle federal court, Parler alleged that Amazon Web Services kicked the company off its cloud servers for political and anti-competitive reasons. The conservative social network founded in 2018 exploded in popularity among supporters of President Trump after the November U.S. election.

“AWS’s decision to effectively terminate Parler’s account is apparently motivated by political animus. It is also apparently designed to reduce competition in the microblogging services market to the benefit of Twitter, ” according to the complaint, which also accused Amazon of breaching a contract between the parties.

Amazon said Saturday that it would cut off Parler because it wasn’t confident in its ability to sufficiently police content on its platform that incites violence. The company said while it would no longer provide web services to Parler after Sunday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time, it would preserve the platform’s data and help it migrate to different servers.

In its complaint, Parler also accused Amazon of applying a double standard than with other platforms, noting that Twitter had recently signed a multi-year web-hosting deal with the company.

An AWS spokesman said the claims had no merit and it respected Parler’s right to determine what content it allows.

“However, it is clear that there is significant content on Parler that encourages and incites violence against others, and that Parler is unable or unwilling to promptly identify and remove this content, which is a violation of our terms of service,” the AWS spokesman said.

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The complaint is pretty much a grumble about Twitter having a contract and Parler not having one. Though it does say that its code is written for AWS, and “To have to switch to a different service provider would require rewriting that code, meaning Parler will be offline for a financially devastating period.” See also Dave Troy, who thinks Parler is simply going to vanish.
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Global PC market ends 2020 on a high with 25% growth in Q4 • Canalys Newsroom

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Ongoing strong demand in the holiday season led to a third consecutive quarter of sequential growth, with shipments in Q4 up 13% sequentially over what was a stellar performance in Q3. On the back of this remarkable recovery after a supply-constrained Q1, total PC shipments in 2020 grew 11% to reach 297.0 million units.

This represents the highest full-year growth since 2010 and the highest shipment volume since 2014. Worldwide PC market growth in 2020 was singlehandedly driven by notebooks and mobile workstations. Shipments of these devices increased 44% from 2019 to reach 235.1 million units. Conversely, desktop and desktop workstation shipments fell 20% from last year to reach 61.9 million units in 2020.

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Not surprising, of course: everyone’s still Out Of Office. Apple introduced its M1 models and, according to Canalys (though of course we don’t have official figures any more) saw a 45% increase in sales in Q4 compared to the year before. That gave it an 8% share – higher than many, many years. Lenovo, HP and Dell still dominate, of course, and all grew.
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“An Extremely Online Riot” • BIG by Matt Stoller

Matt Stoller on the death of Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot as she tried to climb through a broken window in the Capitol towards lawmakers (and who is profiled in this NYT article):

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There’s no moral or practical equivalence between these pro-Trump rioters and those who protested against police brutality; anger against racism in America is grounded and legitimate, while QAnon paranoia is not. And the pro-Trump protesters are not a group of sad sack victims taking out legitimate grievances by attempting to attack the counting of electoral votes. What Babbitt did was obviously wrong, and she did not have to do it. Most in her situation do not.

But still, environments nudge us in different directions. And Babbitt was both an adult making dangerous political choices, and a product of our policy regime, having been a soldier in a violent unnecessary war and trying to make her way a society that enables predators to make money through financial chicanery and addictive products. She chose poorly, but she also had few choices to make, one of which was getting on social media and being lured into joining a violent and paranoid cult of personality.

I don’t know that a different set of life experiences would have led Babbitt to a different place, but it’s not hard to see why someone like this would start to imagine a giant secret conspiracy was controlling her life. It’s more likely that people will distrust political institutions if those political institutions have repeatedly failed them. After all, Babbitt didn’t send herself to war; George W. Bush, as much as he might condemn her actions at the Capitol, did that.

Again, I’m not justifying, but I am trying to understand, because anti-democratic rage, which we tend to center around specific political leaders, is deep-rooted.

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America’s advantage is it’s so big that companies can really scale. America’s disadvantage is it’s so big that when companies scale, they crush the little people. Babbitt’s death was a stupid waste: she clearly didn’t know she was in danger. It was her final bad decision.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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