Start Up No.1465: WhatsApp delays data change, is there a social media fix?, Twitter to reboot POTUS account, new MacBook Pros?, and more


A medical study says Apple Watch data can predict Covid infection. CC-licensed photo by hey tiffany! on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Walking well. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

WhatsApp to delay new privacy policy amid mass confusion about Facebook data sharing • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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WhatsApp on Friday announced a three-month delay of a new privacy policy originally slated to go into effect on February 8th following widespread confusion over whether the new policy would mandate data sharing with Facebook.

The update does not in fact affect data sharing with Facebook with regard to user chats or other profile information; WhatsApp has repeatedly clarified that its update addresses business chats in the event a user converses with a company’s customer service platform through WhatsApp.

“We’ve heard from so many people how much confusion there is around our recent update. There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the company wrote in a new blog post published today.

Since 2016, WhatsApp has shared certain information with Facebook, including your phone number, unless you were one of the select few users who chose to opt out of data sharing while the option was still available that year. WhatsApp does not, however, look at people’s chat messages or listen to their phone calls, and WhatsApp conversations are end-to-end encrypted to protect against those abuses.

Despite this, a pop-up informing users of the new change included mention of how WhatsApp partners with Facebook, and it also included an ultimatum instructing users to delete their account if they chose not to agree to the new terms. That gave people the idea they were being railroaded into new, more invasive terms.

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The irony is so thick you could spread it on toast. Misinformation spread on WhatsApp has been blamed for deaths in India and election distortion in Brazil, but the company slow-walked complaints there. But when people start defecting, that’s a different matter: it acts like it’s on fire.
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Banning Trump won’t fix social media: 10 ideas to rebuild our broken internet – by experts • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

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considering the role social media played in elevating Trump to the presidency and its part in spreading misinformation, conspiracy theories and calls for violence, it is clear that the end of the Trump presidency won’t provide an immediate fix. There is something fundamentally broken in social media that has allowed us to reach this violent juncture, and the de-platforming of Trump is not going to address those deeper pathologies.

Much of the ensuing debate about the Trump bans has played out along predictable and unproductive lines, with free speech absolutists refusing to acknowledge that harassment and hate lead to the silencing of marginalized groups and those who support tougher crackdowns tending to elide good-faith concerns about overly aggressive censorship. It’s a fight we’ve been having about the internet for so long that people on either side can probably recite the lines of the other from memory.

Still, away from the clamor of social media, meaningful and innovative work is being done by researchers and activists who have been living with and studying the brokenness of social media for years now. We asked a dozen of them to help us move the debate forward by sharing their proposals for concrete actions that can and should be taken now to prevent social media platforms from damaging democracy, spreading hate, or inciting violence.

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I think most of these are useless – in that they’ll make minimal differences – apart from Brandi Collins-Dexter’s.
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Block Party – Bye-bye, Twitter trolls 👋 • Product Hunt

Tracy Chou:

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Block Party builds tools against online abuse. Our mission is to create a safer online experience by building solutions for user control, protection and safety. Use Block Party to filter out unwanted @mentions from Twitter and take control of your online experience.

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Can you guess why this was developed by a non-white woman?
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PocketCasts for sale: where did it go wrong? • Medium

James Cridland:

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Perhaps part of that reason is that PocketCasts doesn’t appear to have innovated much – no WebSub, no episode images, no payment options. They could have taken a punt on Adam Curry’s Podcast Index work and made themselves the defacto app for that work. I can’t see any evidence that they have even investigated it.

The competition is now stronger. Google Podcasts is now at a point where it’s the #3 podcast app in more than a few pieces of data from hosts. For many, it’s now the default “decently capable” podcast app on Android: the platform that PocketCasts started on. PocketCasts will be losing significantly from Google getting into the game, since new users will just use the Google option.

On the other hand, the Android power users will use PodcastAddict, which (unlike PocketCasts) has continued to innovate and has incorporated plenty of Podcast Index stuff. I find it unintuitive and not that pretty, though that’s a personal view (and I’m no design genius); but Xavier is keen to improve it all the time, and it’s notable that he is very visible wherever podcast devs hang out.

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Seems that the company (in which NPR owns a big minority stake) lost about $2m last year. When you compare it to Marco Arment, who runs Overcast (a podcast app on Apple) entirely on his own, it’s not hard to see that any podcast app employing more than a couple of people is onto a loser.
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Online far-right movements fracture in wake of Capitol riot • NBC News

Ben Collins:

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QAnon adherents, who believe Trump is secretly saving the world from a cabal of child-eating Satanists, have identified Inauguration Day as a last stand, and falsely think he will force a 10-day, countrywide blackout that ends in the mass execution of his political enemies and a second Trump term.

Several QAnon supporters were arrested after storming the Capitol last week, including Jacob Chansley, whose lawyer said his client believed he was “answering the call of our president.”

QAnon believers have spent the last week forwarding chain letters on Facebook and via text message, often removing the conspiracy theory’s QAnon origins, in an effort to prepare friends and family for what they believe to be the upcoming judgment day.

According to researchers who study the real-life effects of the QAnon movement, the false belief in a secret plan for Jan. 20 is irking militant pro-Trump and anti-government groups, who believe the magical thinking is counterproductive to future insurrections.

Travis View, who hosts the QAnon-debunking podcast QAnon Anonymous, said Q supporters are waiting for a “miracle that prevents Biden from being inaugurated,” and it is beginning to grate on those anxious for more real-world conflict.

“I have seen some Trump supporters chastising people promoting QAnon-like conspiracy theories,” he said. “It seems some Trump supporters are reassessing their coalition and laying judgment on the QAnon wing.”

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Always happy to see these conspiracists falling out. Though you can be sure that for many, just like the cults which believed there were particular days on which the world would end and then discovered it didn’t, they will find excuses for the non-event and continue believing. Don’t forget, after all, that the whole QAnon thing rose from nowhere with absolutely no help from Trump – just from Facebook and its recommendation algorithms, and a credulous segment of society.
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Twitter refuses to engage in the peaceful transfer of posting • Gizmodo

Matt Novak:

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When President Barack Obama left office on January 20, 2017, all followers of the official @POTUS and @WhiteHouse accounts were transferred to newly elected President Donald Trump. But that’s not happening this year when Joe Biden takes the oath of office on Jan. 20. Instead, Biden will have to start from scratch, according to Biden’s new Digital Director, Rob Flaherty.

YouTube is transferring followers on the official White House account, as is Snapchat, while Facebook is transferring all of Biden’s Facebook fans to the official White House account. But when it comes to Twitter, Biden is expected to do all the heavy lifting on a fresh account, which Biden’s team just started, called PresElectBiden.

“Twitter is starting us at zero…but recommended the President of the United States tag other accounts to encourage growth,” Flaherty tweeted late Thursday.

When Gizmodo reached out to Twitter for an explanation, a spokesperson directed us to a blog post that did not contain an explanation for why Biden isn’t being afforded the same courtesy that Trump received. Instead, the blog notes that anyone who currently follows the POTUS account will receive a notification about the archival process for Trump’s institutional accounts.

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Best explanation for this I’ve seen: Trump’s POTUS account followers included huge numbers of trolls and bot networks: removing them as followers means Biden’s account can shake them off – and Twitter can more clearly identify them.
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CES 2021: a deep breath for the smart home to determine its future • Stacey on IoT

Kevin Tofel:

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CES 2021 has been more of a product refinement show for the smart home.

The pandemic likely had some impact as to why. When you can’t readily get the chips you need or the production line power to build new devices, the product life-cycle can’t move as rapidly. But that last part is probably the bigger reason: For several years, the smart home industry has moved a little too rapidly, without a cohesive understanding of what problems it should solve and what services or features consumers want.

For context, I think back to the 2015 CES event. There, Stacey and I attended a lengthy Samsung keynote that was filled with promise on how everything in the home was about to be connected, bringing a nirvana to our personal abodes. Samsung and many other companies set out to deliver on that promise without really thinking it through beyond the high level.

That doesn’t mean it’s been a complete wash since then. In fact, we’ve seen much progress ranging from the now ubiquitous digital assistants and smart speakers to video doorbells and connected cameras to intelligent appliances in the kitchen. By and large, though, these are the “low-hanging fruit” of the smart home solution.

To put it another way: has voice control of the lights or connected devices in your home really made a profound impact? Would it be that much more difficult for you to use a traditional oven to cook dinner instead of a smart oven? And how many times have you actually used that smart front door lock to remotely let someone in your home?

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It seems like the question of what is “smart” keeps moving. Voice-activated lights! Fantastic a few years ago, now not “smart” enough. I guess you’d ultimately want a house that was responsive to all sorts of conditions, self-monitoring for problems (leaks?), and would alert you.

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Smartwatches can help detect COVID-19 days before symptoms appear • CBS News

Megan Cerullo:

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Smartwatches and other wearable devices that continuously measure users’ heart rates, skin temperature and other physiological markers can help spot coronavirus infections days before an individual is diagnosed.

Devices like the Apple Watch, Garmin and Fitbit watches can predict whether an individual is positive for COVID-19 even before they are symptomatic or the virus is detectable by tests, according to studies from leading medical and academic institutions, including Mount Sinai Health System in New York and Stanford University in California. Experts say wearable technology could play a vital role in stemming the pandemic and other communicable diseases.

Researchers at Mount Sinai found that the Apple Watch can detect subtle changes in an individual’s heartbeat, which can signal that an individual has the coronavirus, up to seven days before they feel sick or infection is detected through testing. 

“Our goal was to use tools to identify infections at time of infection or before people knew they were sick,” said Rob Hirten, assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and author of the Warrior Watch study. 

Specifically, the study analyzed a metric called heart rate variability (HRV) — the variation in time between each heartbeat — which is also a measure of how well a person’s immune system is working. 

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Well, here’s the record of my HRV in the month of March 2020, during which I got Covid. See if you can spot five days leading up to the point where I developed Covid. (The days are numbered at the top.)

HRV data for March 2020

Correct answer (because I know it) is at the end of this post.
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Trump leaves as a broken president • NY Mag

Jonathan Chait:

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Many of his sources of income are drying up, either owing to the coronavirus pandemic or, more often, his toxic public image. The Washington Post has toted up the setbacks facing the Trump Organization, which include cancellations of partnerships with New York City government, three banks, the PGA Championship, and a real-estate firm that handled many of his leasing agreements. Meanwhile, he faces the closure of many of his hotels. And he is staring down two defamation lawsuits. Oh, and Trump has to repay, over the next four years, more than $300m in outstanding loans he personally guaranteed.

…If this were still 2015, Trump could fall back on his tried-and-true income generators: money laundering and tax fraud. The problem is that his business model relied on chronically lax enforcement of those financial crimes. And now he is under investigation by two different prosecutors in New York State for what appear to be black-letter violations of tax law. At minimum, these probes will make it impossible for him to stay afloat by stealing more money. At maximum, he faces the serious risk of millions of dollars in fines or a criminal prosecution that could send him to prison.

Trump reportedly plans to pardon himself along with a very broad swath of his hangers-on. But a pardon hardly solves his problems. For one thing, a federal pardon is useless against state-level crimes. For another, the self-pardon is a theoretical maneuver that’s never been tested, and it’s not clear whether the courts will agree it is even possible to do so.

And what’s more, a pardon might constitute an admission of guilt, which could open up Trump to more private lawsuits. Remember how O. J. Simpson was ordered to pay $34m to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, even after he beat the murder rap? The families of victims of the January 6 riot might well sue Trump for his role in inciting the violence.

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As Oscar Wilde said about the death of Little Nell, you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.
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Kuo: new MacBook Pro models to feature flat-edged design, MagSafe, no Touch Bar and more ports • MacRumors

Juli Clover:

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Apple is working on two new MacBook Pro models that will feature significant design changes, well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a note to investors that was obtained by MacRumors.

According to Kuo, Apple is developing two models in 14 and 16-inch size options. The new MacBook Pro machines will feature a flat-edged design, which Kuo describes as “similar to the iPhone 12” with no curves like current models. It will be the most significant design update to the MacBook Pro in the last five years.

There will be no OLED Touch Bar included, with Apple instead returning to physical function keys. Kuo says the MagSafe charging connector design will be restored, though it’s not quite clear what that means as Apple has transitioned to USB-C. The refreshed MacBook Pro models will have additional ports, and Kuo says that Most people may not need to purchase dongles to supplement the available ports on the new machines. Since 2016, Apple’s MacBook Pro models have been limited to USB-C ports with no other ports available.

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If Apple is really abandoning the Touch Bar and adding non-USB C ports, then that’s three big retreats it has made on its laptops in the past two years: these two, and the butterfly keyboards. Like the keyboards, the Touch Bar had its fans.

However: Kuo says the 16in isn’t due until the third quarter. That’s surprising: Apple must be seeing the demand for M1 devices, and I bet sales of the 16in have cratered. The pros who want that screen size know that Intel-based ones are effectively a waste of money. Apple’s leaving money on the table if it delays the launch.
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US blacklists Xiaomi in widening assault on China tech • Bloomberg

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Xiaomi Corp. plunged a record 10% after the Trump administration blacklisted China’s No. 2 smartphone maker and 10 other companies, broadening efforts to undercut the expansion of the country’s technology sector.

The U.S. has targeted scores of Chinese companies for the stated purpose of protecting national security, but going after Xiaomi was unexpected. The Beijing-based company has been viewed as China’s answer to Apple Inc., producing sleek smartphones that draw loyal fans with each new release. The company, which vies with Huawei Technologies Co. for the title of China’s No. 1 mobile device brand, also makes electric scooters, earphones and smart rice cookers.

The news was “really surprising to me,” said Kevin Chen, a Hong Kong-based analyst at China Merchants Securities Co.

The US Defense Dept. identified Xiaomi as one of nine companies with alleged ties to the Chinese military – which means American investors will be prohibited from buying their securities and will have to divest holdings by November.

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Wonder if Biden will reverse this. It’s not on the list of executive orders he’s going to implement immediately, which makes sense: this will be a useful bargaining chip in any negotiations with China.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

HRV answer: yes, I developed Covid late on Friday 27th, and was properly ill on the 28th and 29th. The week with the low HRV before it? No idea. Wasn’t exposed to Covid, though. The exposure was from a child picked up from university on the preceding Sunday. Three hours in a car with someone who’s mildly symptomatic will sort it.

7 thoughts on “Start Up No.1465: WhatsApp delays data change, is there a social media fix?, Twitter to reboot POTUS account, new MacBook Pros?, and more

  1. While I’m not a lawyer, I believe Chait is mistaken on a crucial element about suing Trump for “incitement”. In the O.J. Simpson cases, part of the legal issue was whether he was the killer, as criminal vs civil cases have different standards of proof (“reasonable doubt” vs “preponderance of the evidence”). But there was no significant debate that murders had taken place. For Trump, there’s no absolutely no dispute that he did in fact utter the words attributed to him. However, there’s a legal question as to whether what he said is protected by the First Amendment or not. I don’t believe there’s a different standard here in criminal vs civil matters. That is, if it’s protected speech for a criminal case, it’s also protected speech for civil damages case. This isn’t true for murder. Due to the different standards it’s quite possible not to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case, but liable by the preponderance of the evidence in a civil case.

    I don’t see that a pardon amounts to an admission of guilt. That’s like claiming getting a lawyer means you’ve done something wrong.

    The eagerness of the chattering class to have a very expansive standard of “incitement” to use against their political enemies is revealing, though. I was recently thinking about 1950’s McCarthyism, and the moral panics, the hysteria of “Ohmigod, there’s Reds under the bed! Agents of International Communism lurk everywhere! That bearded pinko is part of the hippie-to-Commie pipeline! …”. It looks crazy from a vantage point decades removed from the culture of the time. But maybe if you’re in the middle of it then, being constantly fed fear and threat, it seems more reasonable.

    • I think the problem isn’t that a pardon is an admission of guilt. The problem is that a pardon only operates to remove the punishment for a crime — the conviction remains in place.

      • While most pardons are given after a conviction for a crime, it’s entirely possible for a presidential pardon to be given before a crime is even formally charged. Think of President Ford’s pardon of Nixon. Or Trump could conceivably pardon everyone involved in storming the Capitol, even if they haven’t been prosecuted yet. Chait is just echoing a common myth.

        https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/five-myths/five-myths-about-presidential-pardons/2018/06/06/18447f84-69ba-11e8-bf8c-f9ed2e672adf_story.html

        “In Ex parte Garland , the Supreme Court settled the question of preemptive pardons. The justices in that 1866 case decided that while pardons could reach only past acts, the pardon “may be exercised at any time after [the act’s] commission, either before legal proceedings are taken or during their pendency or after conviction and judgment.”

    • Praise be, someone’s mind has been changed on the Internet 🙂 . You’re welcome.

      Anyway, as the saying goes, our long national nightmare is over (for this election).

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