Start Up No.1478: how cyberattacks became commonplace, maybe Dunning-Kruger *is* real?, Spotify’s payment problem, and more


Apple is reportedly close to a $3.6bn deal with Kia, which will make cars for it. What will they look like, though? CC-licensed photo by Eric Rice on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. What’s the sound of an electric vehicle revving? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The next cyberattack is already under way • The New Yorker

Jill Lepore reviews Natasha Perlroth’s book “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race”, about cyberattacks at government level:

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By 2015, Russians were inside the State Department, the White House, and the Pentagon. The hackers didn’t turn things off; they just sat there, waiting. Beginning in 2014, in anticipation of the 2016 election, they fomented civil unrest through fake Twitter and Facebook accounts, sowing disinformation. They broke into the computers of the Democratic National Committee. As with the Sony attack, the press mostly reported the gossip found in the e-mails of people like John Podesta. All the while, as Perlroth emphasizes, Russian hackers were also invading election and voter-registration systems in every state in the country. Donald Trump’s response, once he was in office, was to deny that the Russians had done anything at all, and to get rid of the White House cybersecurity coördinator.

In the spring of 2017, still unknown hackers calling themselves the Shadow Brokers infiltrated the N.S.A.’s zero-day archive, a box of digital picklocks. They walked into the cyber equivalent of Fort Knox, and cleaned the place out. But it was worse than that, because they stole cyberweapons, the keys to the kingdom.

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The Dunning-Kruger effect probably is real • Medium

Benjamin Vincent is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Dundee:

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The fact that the self-perceived ability of those with low ability is higher than expected based on actual test scores has been used to argue that low ability participants over-estimate their ability by a lot. Similarly, the fact that the perceived ability of those with high ability is lower than expected based on test scores has been used to argue that high ability participants underestimate their ability by a little.

Recently however, simulations have shown that this basic result can be generated when no over- or under-estimation effect exists (Ackerman, Beier, & Bowen, 2002; Nuhfer, Cogan, Fleisher, Gaze, & Wirth, 2016). This was recently echoed in a blog post by Jonathan Jarry. In that blog post, a plot (created by Patrick McKnight) was used to argue that the Dunning-Kruger effect was not real.

If the claims of over-and under-estimation biases are based upon quartile plots, and this basic pattern of results can be generated from simulated null models with no bias, then this is worrying. It suggests that the Dunning-Kruger effect is artifactual, being the result of measurement error alone. But is this the case?

Not being satisfied with someone else’s plot (with no code to inspect) I thought I’d create my own data generating model. This model can be considered as a noise + bias model where each participant has a true ability, x, and their subjective ability score is a noisy estimate of their true ability + some bias.

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OK well the previous one said it isn’t, so now I’m confused. I think I’ll have to refer it to Tim Harford at the BBC’s More Or Less program.
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Report: Apple to invest $3.6bn in carmaker Kia to manufacture its Apple Car • BGR

Chris Smith:

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Korean media has reported that Apple is about to invest $3.6bn in Hyundai affiliate, Kia, with plans to have its first car models out in 2024. The Reuters report said that Apple was targeting production for 2024.

Korean language site Donga reported that Apple Car production would take place at the Kia Georgia plant, with the contract to be signed as soon as February 17th. The report notes that the date might be changed so Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Eui-sun can attend the formal event. Apple certainly has the cash to afford such massive investments. Apple purchased Beats for $3bn in 2014, in what’s its biggest acquisition so far. Apple buys smaller companies regularly, without making splashes about the smaller acquisitions.

Apple’s $3.6bn investment would go towards building manufacturing facilities that would only serve the Apple Car line, the report notes. Kia would mass-produce 100,000 units per year starting with 2024, but the production can be expanded to 400,000 units annually.

The report notes that Hyundai might be the best partner Apple could seek in the industry. The company just launched its own electric car platform, the E-GMP announced in early December, has a production facility in the US, and can meet Apple’s demands to have a car ready by 2024. An association with Apple would also benefit Hyundai, even though the Apple Car would compete directly against Hyundai electric vehicles.

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The comparison with Beats is a smart one. This would of course only be a beginning investment. For another comparison, Tesla’s capital expenditure is about $2bn annually; around $15bn since 2008, and sold about 1.5m cars.
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Introducing Birdwatch, a community-based approach to misinformation • Twitter Blog

Keith Coleman is Twitter’s VP of Product:

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Birdwatch allows people to identify information in Tweets they believe is misleading and write notes that provide informative context. We believe this approach has the potential to respond quickly when misleading information spreads, adding context that people trust and find valuable. Eventually we aim to make notes visible directly on Tweets for the global Twitter audience, when there is consensus from a broad and diverse set of contributors.

In this first phase of the pilot, notes will only be visible on a separate Birdwatch site. On this site, pilot participants can also rate the helpfulness of notes added by other contributors. These notes are being intentionally kept separate from Twitter for now, while we build Birdwatch and gain confidence that it produces context people find helpful and appropriate. Additionally, notes will not have an effect on the way people see Tweets or our system recommendations.

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Only available in the US, so I can’t tell you what it’s like. Rather hard to see how it can scale, though.
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New study cracks the case of why food sticks to center of nonstick pans • Ars Technica

Jennifer Ouellette:

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sometimes food still gets stuck to the center of a frying pan, even with a nonstick coating. Researchers at the Czech Academy of Sciences were curious about why this might be the case, and they decided to experiment. They videotaped sunflower oil in a nonstick pan coated with ceramic particles being heated, and they noted the speed at which a suspicious dry spot formed in the oil and grew. They performed similar experiments with Teflon-coated pans.

According to co-author Alexander Fedorchenko, a physicist at the Czech Academy of Sciences, food getting stuck to the center of the pan “is caused by the formation of a dry spot in the thin sunflower oil film as a result of thermocapillary convection.” It’s a variant of the so-called Marangoni effect—after Italian physicist Carlo Marangoni—which is responsible for both wine tears and the infamous “coffee ring effect,” which has also generated much interest among physicists.

As we’ve reported previously, British physicist James Thomson (elder brother to Lord Kelvin) first noticed wine tears in 1855. The effect is most notable in wines (or other spirits like rum) with alcohol content at least as high as 13.5 percent. That’s because alcohol has a lower surface tension than water. If you spread a thin film of water on your kitchen counter and place a single drop of alcohol in the center, you’ll see the water flow outward, away from the alcohol. The difference in the alcohol concentrations creates a surface-tension gradient, driving the flow.

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Lockdown really is forcing us to find all sorts of distractions, isn’t it.
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Apple urged to root out rating scams as developer highlights ugly cost of enforcement failure • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas following up on Kosta Eleftheriou’s complaint about a fake app ripping off his IP:

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Fake reviews are pretty much a universal experience across the Internet — whether you’re trying to buy stuff on Amazon, looking at places to visit on Tripadvisor or trying to find a local dentist with the help of reviews on Google Maps (in short; don’t) — given how many platforms now incorporate user reviews.

But the issue does look especially toxic for Apple.

A core part of the USP for its App Store is the claim that Apple’s review process sums to a higher quality, more trustworthy experience than alternative marketplaces that aren’t so carefully overseen.

So a failure to do more to enforce against review scams and rating manipulations risks taking a lot more shine off Apple’s brand than Cupertino should be comfortable with.

Simply put: Consumers expect a higher standard from Apple. That’s why they’re willing to pay a premium for its products. Under-resourcing App Store review and enforcement thus looks like a false economy — not least because it risks driving quality developers like Eleftheriou away.

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Eleftheriou had some followup on his own thread: some success, but a lot yet to do.
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Is the Google Fitbit deal the end of Wear OS? • Android Authority

C Scott Brown:

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If in seven years with zero distractions Google couldn’t make the Wear OS platform shine, what would change now that Fitbit is on board?

The way I see it, there are three potential outcomes for Wear OS now.

Outcome 1: Google abandons Wear OS entirely
This might be the most likely outcome. The so-called Google Graveyard gets bigger and bigger every year. Platforms and products are in the graveyard that you would never have thought would have ended up there. Google Play Music, Hangouts, Cloud Print, Inbox, and even Chrome Apps are all dead or are confirmed to die soon.

With Wear OS essentially stagnant and owning a dismal market share, it would have been a textbook case of future Google Graveyard material even before the Fitbit acquisition. With Fitbit on team Google now, my money is on Wear OS heading off into the sunset. It might not happen this year or even the next, but I feel it’s an inevitability now.

Outcome 2: Google and Fitbit merge Wear OS and Fitbit OS
People like to dump on Wear OS a lot, but it’s actually got quite a lot going for it. Its app library is robust (certainly much more so than Fitbit’s) and its openness allows for plenty of innovation. That all being said, it’s also incredibly resource-heavy which makes battery life and memory management very bad.

Since Wear OS’s big strength is in apps and Fitbit’s big weakness is a lack thereof, merging the two software systems together would seem like a good match. However, this might just be an extension of Google killing off Wear OS. In other words, it would certainly be easier for Fitbit OS to stay as the platform for Fitbit devices rather than porting a reconfigured Wear OS/Fitbit OS hybrid. This is especially true when you remember that Fitbit makes fitness trackers, too, which simply wouldn’t be able to handle Wear OS.

So, in essence, this wouldn’t be that much different from the previous potential outcome…

Outcome 3: Wear OS and Fitbit OS exist simultaneously
This is the most unlikely possibility.

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Google is amazing at being first into a hardware category and then screwing it up. See also: Google Glass.
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Spotify adds subscribers with focus on podcasts • WSJ

Anne Steele:

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At the end of the fourth quarter, Spotify had 345 million monthly active users, up 27% from a year earlier and at the high end of the company’s guidance. Paying subscribers, its most lucrative type of customer, grew to 155 million, up 24% from the same period a year earlier and above expectations.

Average revenue per user for the subscription business in the quarter fell 8% to €4.26, the equivalent of $5.13, as the company continued to attract new subscribers via discounted plans and charge lower prices in new markets such as India and Russia. In October, Spotify raised the price of its family plan in seven markets, a move the company said didn’t affect churn or customer intake. In February, it extended price increases to another 25 markets, including in Europe, Latin America and Canada.

Revenue from subscriptions rose 15% from the year before, to €1.89bn. Advertising revenue jumped 29% to €281m, growing for a second consecutive quarter after sliding in the first half of the year amid pandemic headwinds. Advertising, historically less than 10% of Spotify’s top line, accounted for 13% of revenue. It has become a growth area as the company expands its podcast business.

…The company posted a loss of €125m, or 66 European cents a share, compared with a loss of €209m, or €1.14 a share, the year before.

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So profitability (or less loss) improves because people listen to podcasts. But allocation of revenues to music artists still isn’t done in the way it should be: your monthly payment isn’t apportioned between the artists you listen to, but instead is all lumped into one basket and then shared according to the aggregate of what all of Spotify’s users listen to. That needs to be fixed, because it’s a key way in which it differs from recorded music before when you used to buy the music you wanted to listen to.
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Analysis: car makers face screen test to judge safety • Autocar

 

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The danger of drivers becoming distracted by ever larger in-car touchscreens is becoming the focus of potential new legislation as countries grapple with the reasons why road deaths and accidents are no longer falling but plateauing.

Currently, there is little in the way of regulation surrounding the design of infotainment systems and both safety experts and legislators are worried car makers are losing sight of the distraction factor in their rush to add ever more functions via the touchscreen.

Just how distracting they can be was revealed in a 2020 study by the UK’s TRL (formerly the Transport Research Laboratory). It found that operating features within Apple CarPlay and Android Auto significantly increased driver reaction times to an emergency event, even more so than texting or driving under the influence of alcohol or cannabis.

The results were an eye-opener to Neale Kinnear, head of behavioural science at TRL and organiser of the study. He had expected significant distraction but the length of time drivers took their eyes off the road for certain events went beyond his predictions.

“I was surprised by the extent,” he told Autocar. “Items such as choosing a music track, for example, on Spotify took up to 20 seconds. We just don’t have any way of understanding the impact of that on safety in the real world.”

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Of course while you were choosing the track you’d be allowing your self-driving vehicle to, well, self-drive itself, wouldn’t you? (Thanks, Mark Gould, for the link.)
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GameStop stock tipster Roaring Kitty reveals he lost $13m in one day • The Independent

James Crump:

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The Reddit user whose stock market tips have been credited with inspiring the GameStop trading frenzy has revealed that the value of his shares fell by $13m (£9.5m) in one day.

Keith Gill, 34, who is known as Roaring Kitty on YouTube and DeepF*****gValue on Reddit, said that he lost more than $13m on Tuesday as share prices plummeted.

He shared the information on Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, where the tipster has been regularly sharing updates on his investment, with many users refusing to sell their GameStop shares until he does.

Mr Gill, who is known for wearing a bandana in his YouTube videos, has 50,000 shares and 500 call options in the gaming merchandise retailer, which he bought for $53,000 (£38,382) in June 2019.

The value of his stake fell significantly on Tuesday after the share price for GameStop dropped by around 60%, and followed a fall of about $5.2m (£3.8m) on Monday.

Despite the dramatic drop over the first two days of this week, Mr Gill still has a profit of $7.6m (£5.5m) from his initial investment. He has not sold any of his shares in the company.

Following his advice, Reddit users carried out a short squeeze last month and saw the Gamestop share price rise to a high of $483 (£353), before dropping to $90 (£65) on Tuesday.

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So of course he didn’t actually lose that money, since it was only a notional profit. He hasn’t yet made any money; it’s in a possibly liquid stock. The big social media stock excitement is over. Until the next, unexpected time, of course.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: re Wikipedia, Paul Clarke observes: “I’m not sure Wikipedia’s escape from the mire has been as much to do with lack of an algorithm, as it has the tremendous amount of friction that lies in the path of a would-be regular contributor. Everything from sign-up, to interface, to the bewildering hierarchy of insiders and their culture, mitigates against short-term off-the-cuff troublemaking. I think. I often think how much easier they could make it to participate; and then realise why that might not be a great design choice.

“The decline in friction is behind so much of the badness. One reason IMHO that Instagram has maintained a relatively healthier (I know I know) culture is just the simple act of restricting search to hashtags and usernames, not free text. That simple bit of friction makes it so much harder to track down and pick on a random stranger who’s voiced something you disagree with. Tiny bit of engineering. Significant difference. Twitter [by contrast] hasn’t just removed friction, it’s done spectacular bits of engineering to apply actual grease to the cog…”

1 thought on “Start Up No.1478: how cyberattacks became commonplace, maybe Dunning-Kruger *is* real?, Spotify’s payment problem, and more

  1. I continually keep my fingers crossed that google won’t remember it’s got feedburner still chugging along in the background. As I dread the day they will stick in the knife and get rid of it. (their investment in Google Scholar could be better too considering how many researchers use it).

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