Start Up No.1479: Twitter untouched by Trump’s absence, the price of abusing Chris Whitty, improving Fitness+, and more


Magic Leap’s AR glasses were a flop. What’s Apple going to do that’s different? CC-licensed photo by Collision Conf on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Another one down. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Banning Trump didn’t change how much people use Twitter, new data shows • Big Technology

Alex Kantrowitz:

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For as long as Donald Trump was president, there was a common misconception that Twitter’s fate was tied to his. That without his presence, Twitter would lose truckloads of users and engagement, and it was therefore beholden to him. Now that Twitter’s banned Trump though, the data shows he had no discernable impact on how much people used it.

Daily use of Twitter has remained remarkably consistent after it banned Trump last month, according to new data from mobile research company Apptopia. Across January, Twitter barely registered a blip in the number of times people used its app. The day of the ban itself is impossible to pick out when looking at the trend line.

“It is not easy for one person to have a noticeable impact on such large social network apps,” Adam Blacker, Apptopia’s VP of insights and global alliances, told me. “Cultural events are seen much better in the data than any singular person’s situation.”

The new data, first published here, can finally put to rest the notion that Twitter kept Trump on its service to boost engagement and make money from ads. Despite Trump’s numerous run-ins with its rules, Twitter kept his account live as a matter of principle.

…Twitter declined to comment. But it didn’t dispute the data. Apptopia pulls data from 125,000 apps on iOS and Android, along with publicly available sources, to reach its conclusions. Its data didn’t show any meaningful change in Twitter downloads, sessions, or time spent after the ban.

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The graph on usage is pretty much a straight line. There’s absolutely zero decline. (Or increase.)
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Apple’s rumored VR headset could cost $3,000, feature 8K displays and over a dozen cameras • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:

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It’s no secret Apple is hard at work on augmented and virtual reality devices, with a report from Bloomberg in January claiming Apple is working on an ultra-high-end, pricey headset that could hit stores in 2022. Now, a new report from The Information sheds new light on what to expect from the potential headset, including a rendering — said to be based on “internal Apple images of a late-stage prototype from last year” — of what the device might actually look like.

The Information’s report corroborates several details from Bloomberg’s, including the fabric mesh material that the company is said to be using in order to lighten the weight of the device — and the high price tag. The new report claims the price could reach approximately $3,000, considerably higher than most other standalone VR headsets, like the $299 Oculus Quest 2.

The alleged design also appears to borrow cues from a variety of other Apple devices, including swappable Apple Watch-style headbands and a HomePod-esque mesh fabric.

There are also new details on the actual hardware for the rumored device, which is said to offer both VR and mixed reality applications, thanks to over a dozen cameras (for tracking hand movement) and LIDAR sensors (for mapping rooms, similar to AR effects on the iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro). It is also said to feature dual 8K displays with eye-tracking technology that could offer resolution far beyond any current commercial VR headsets on the market today.

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I don’t believe lots of these details. 8K screens? Three thousand dollars? The design looks ridiculous too. Remember how before it launched, people thought the iPad would cost $1,000 (perhaps helped along by Apple dropping hints). There’s no way the price would have been decided for this device so far ahead of launch, either.

Let’s not forget that Microsoft and, mirabile dictu, Magic Leap have collectively burned through billions to achieve pretty much zero effect with mixed-reality headsets. The VR market is bigger, but only just, at the $500-and-below mark. This still feels like a bizarre side project.
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Mother of boy who filmed himself abusing Chris Whitty takes away his PlayStation • Daily Mail Online

Vivek Chaudhary:

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The mother of a teenager who abused Chris Whitty in the street has revealed how she was ‘horrified’ at her son’s rudeness, has taken away his PlayStation and is making him apologise to the Government’s Chief Medical Officer.

She told MailOnline it was her 15-year-old son who filmed himself repeatedly accusing Prof Whitty of ‘lying’ to the nation about the pandemic that has claimed 100,000-plus lives.

The 47-year-old housewife and mother-of-two revealed she had told her eldest son to make another video apologising to him.

She also said she had reprimanded him by taking away his games console but she was not grounding him because ‘he is already suffering enough because of the lockdown’.

The teenager, who is fond of making short films and has posted several on YouTube, lives with his mother and father – a former warehouse worker – and 12-year-old brother in a council flat in Westminster, not far from where he accosted Mr Whitty.

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This is so perfect. And the impossibility of grounding someone during lockdown. Although wouldn’t the greater punishment have been to take away his phone and let him have the PlayStation?
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September 2019: Deezer plans 2020 user-centric payment system pilot launch – if it can get rightsholders to sign up • Music Business Worldwide

Murray Stassen, nearly 18 months ago:

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Deezer has launched a new website and social media campaign to publicly champion a user-centric payment system (UCPS) and is planning to launch a pilot in France early next year – if it can get rightsholders onboard.

Speaking to journalists at a briefing in Paris last week, the company said that it has a “technical solution in place”, the implementation of which “does not require significant investment” and is now in talks with rightsholders and French policy makers to rally support for the new system.

Music companies that support Deezer’s UCPS proposal so far include Because Music, Wagram Music, Play Two, Idol, Tot ou tard, Outhere Music, #NP, Believe Distribution Services, Six et Sept, International Artist Organization of Music, FELIN, UPFI, MMF France and GAM.

Over 40 labels globally have agreed to Deezer’s UCPS, including the majority of French labels, but there are notable major absentees from the list of partners shared by the company.

Deezer, which has 14 million monthly active users, is majority owned by Access Industries, the full owner of Warner Music Group.

The streaming sector currently uses a market share model based on overall market share to calculate payments, which means that artists get a percentage of total royalties based on the percentage of total plays their music accounts for across the whole service.

This system sees top streaming artists and genres get paid a disproportionate amount of money compared to smaller and more niche acts and genres, argues Deezer.

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Despite having that apparent number of backers, there’s been absolutely zippo movement on this since. (Thanks to .Albert Cuesta who pointed me to this, and has written on the topic [in Spanish.) Is it because it would be difficult to implement? I guess the feeling is that there’s little to be gained, since people assume this is how it works anyway, and artists don’t have enough leverage to make it happen.
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Are Telegram and Signal the next misinformation hot spots? •The New York Times

A conversation between Brian Chen and Kevin Roose, who reports on misinformation at the NYT:

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Chen: So the migration is heading toward Signal and Telegram. The apps offer “end to end encryption,” which is a jargony way to describe messages that get scrambled to become indecipherable to anyone except for the sender and the recipient.

The obvious benefit is that people are ensured privacy. The possible downside is that it’s tougher for the companies and law enforcement to hold misinformation spreaders and criminals accountable because their messages won’t be accessible.
So what’s your take? Are you concerned?

Roose: Honestly, not really?

It’s obviously not great for public safety that neo-Nazis, far-right militias and other dangerous groups are finding ways to communicate and organize, and that those ways increasingly involve end-to-end encryption. We’ve seen this happen for years, going all the way back to ISIS, and it definitely makes things harder for law enforcement agencies and counterterrorism officials.

At the same time, there’s a real benefit to getting these extremists off mainstream platforms, where they can find new sympathizers and take advantage of the broadcast mechanics of those platforms to spread their messages to millions of potential extremists.

The way I’ve been thinking about this is in a kind of epidemiological model. If someone is sick and at risk of infecting others, you ideally want to get them out of the general population and into quarantine, even if it means putting them somewhere like a hospital, where there are a lot of other sick people.

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I think the same: putting them into smaller groups reduces the trouble they can cause among the untouched. Facebook is the exact opposite.
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Riddle Of The Sphinx II: Sustained Release Riddlin’ • Astral Codex Ten

Scott Alexander:

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I was driving down to LA when the cops pulled me over. “You have to turn back sir, the Sphinx here eats any traveler who can’t answer her riddle.”

“I’ve trained my whole life for this” I said, and stepped on the gas. Soon I saw a Sphinx lounging in the middle of the road. When she spotted me, she asked: “What has braces, crowns, and retainers, but is not teeth?”

“A medieval king in armor. My turn. What has pupils, irises, and whites, but is not an eye?”

“A gardening class during apartheid. How is a river like the Federal Reserve?”

“It maintains liquidity despite rushes on the banks. What has wings, but cannot fly – fins, but cannot swim – and heels, but cannot walk?”

“Helsinki General Hospital.” The Sphinx licked her lips. “But tell me, how is Lord Nelson like a cigar?”

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It continues, and it’s built around a terrific little joke at the end. True comic timing.
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No, Captain Tom wasn’t raising money for the NHS • Odds and Ends of History

James O’Malley:

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Sir Captain Tom Moore has died, which is sad. He was, it appears, a nice man who ascended to hero status after going almost as viral as the pandemic during the last year of his life. Why? He walked lengths (not laps, as pedants point out) of his garden and in the end, this one simple act of charity raised £32.9m. That’s around £39m once gift aid is taken into account*. A great achievement that should be widely celebrated.

But for what cause was he raising money? According to many viral tweets over the last year and in the wake of his death, he was raising money for the NHS. An act that is damning of the government for not funding the NHS properly.

However, Captain Tom did not, in fact, raise money for the NHS.

Contrary to the emerging mythology, Captain Tom’s cash was not to pay for the ventilators and PPE used in intensive care wards. Nor was he paying the salaries of the heroic doctors and nurses working on the frontlines. The NHS is, after all, funded mostly by the government. A combination of general taxation and National Insurance.

Captain Tom was in reality raising money for a group called NHS Charities Together, which is a central node for dishing out charitable cash to reportedly around 250 smaller charities that all have links to the NHS hospitals and trusts and the like.

And because the pandemic has been dragging on for so damn long now, we in fact already know some of what Captain Tom’s money has been spent on.

…(*Though I guess, amusingly, gift aid is basically a tax write-off, so claiming the gift aid is a bit like taking a chunk of cash, a proportion of which would ordinarily go to the NHS, and spending it on NHS Charities instead…)

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The “raising money for the NHS” line was repeated quite a lot, though not by larger news organisations. Many people though didn’t hear the second words in “NHS Charities” though.
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Apple Fitness+ could be a great workout solution but it’s missing these 10 key features • Pocket Lint

Britta O’Boyle:

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Apple Fitness+ joined the plethora of at-home fitness apps in December 2020, competing with the likes of Fiit, Peloton and even individual trainers like Joe Wicks and Bradley Simmonds.

The subscription service offers a number of studio-style workouts, across several activity types, though unlike others, it has been designed around the Apple Watch.

While it offers good foundations though, it is lacking features compared to its competition. Here’s what we think is missing and keeping it from greatness.

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Pretty good analysis (things like better feedback methods, targeting, streaks and so on). Though don’t forget that Fitness+ is only a few months old. Depending who’s in charge of it, they might update this quickly or… not so quickly. But as this article shows, there’s plenty of space for Apple to expand into.
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Revealed: Brits who fuelled ‘vicious’ conspiracy theory by Trump supporters

Duncan Campbell:

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Just before Trump took office in 2017, US government intelligence assessed that Russian government hackers had worked to help him win. Court documents reveal that Butowsky fought back by hiring investigators and encouraging Fox TV to broadcast fabricated claims that a murdered Democratic Party employee, Seth Rich, with his brother Aaron, stole the emails and confidential files from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and gave them to WikiLeaks. These baseless claims broadcast by Fox, if believed, would have exculpated the Russian government of having worked to rig Trump’s election.

Fox quickly withdrew its claims. Butowsky and Matt Couch, a far-right activist, carried on until this month. Couch also ran the America First Media Group. All claimed that the Rich family was “in possession of material evidence indicating that Seth Rich downloaded the DNC emails, sent them to WikiLeaks, and requested payment”.

Rich, a voter rights specialist, died after being shot in a north Washington street near his home on 10 July 2016, while fighting off what police considered a botched robbery. His brutal killing was quickly exploited by Trump extremists and Russian propagandists.

But before Trump left Washington in disgrace on 20 January 2021, Butowsky and Couch became the last names in a long list of US right-wing media and conspiracy theory promoters to apologise unreservedly for publishing lies about the Rich family, and so helping cover up Russia’s role in the hacking.

The Rich family has now received a stream of full retractions, as well as millions of dollars in compensation for intentional emotional harm, for what court documents described as “death threats and vicious online harassment”.

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Parler CEO says he was fired as platform neared restoring service • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz and Keach Hagey:

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John Matze, the former CEO, said he was fired on Friday by the company’s board as the platform was within days of restoring service to its roughly 15 million users. He said the board is currently controlled by conservative political donor Rebekah Mercer.

“Over the past few months, I’ve met constant resistance to my product vision, my strong belief in free speech and my view of how the Parler site should be managed,” he said in a statement. “For example, I advocated for more product stability and what I believe is a more effective approach to content moderation.”

Dan Bongino, a conservative talk-show host who has invested in Parler, responded with a Facebook video saying that Mr. Matze bore responsibility for “really bad decisions” that led to Parler being taken offline as well as problems with the app’s stability.

“John decided to make this public, not us, “ Mr. Bongino said. “We were handling it like gentlemen.”

The immediate impact on Parler’s efforts to restore service to its roughly 15 million users isn’t clear, though a person familiar with the company said that Mr. Matze had created Parler’s original code. Mr. Matze told the Journal that the site had overcome most of the hurdles to restoring service both through its website and for people who had previously downloaded its app.

“Anybody who still had the app could have gotten on it” when service is restored, he said. “But no new accounts.”

Mr. Matze said that before he was fired he had been seeking to adjust the platform’s moderation rules in ways that would allow Parler to return to Google’s and Apple Inc.’s app stores.

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Feels like Parler’s owners are intentionally sabotaging its return. Do they not like the moderation? Or the monster they’ve created?
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Pandemic drove sales of 4G and 5G-enabled PCs to new record in 2020 • Strategy Analytics

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Global sales of cellular-enabled mobile PCs reached more than 10 million units for the first time in 2020 as home workers sought improved connectivity in response to the closure of office facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest analysis from Strategy Analytics’ Connected Computing Devices program, global shipments increased by 70% to 10.1 million, the highest ever annual total. North America accounted for nearly half of 3G-, 4G- and 5G-enabled PC shipments, while Europe and Asia-Pacific accounted for 45%. The report, Notebook PC Cellular Connectivity Shipment and Installed Base Forecast, estimates that more than 26 million cellular-enabled PCs are now in use worldwide, an increase of 25% in twelve months.

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That’s 10 million in total annual sales of around 300 million last year. It’s hardly gigantic; if anything, more people being at home would probably have suppressed sales. Bigger question whether those modems are active.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: I’ve emailed the BBC’s More Or Less programme (which looks into questions about statistics, data and more) to ask them to figure out whether the Dunning-Kruger effect is real or not. More news as we get it.

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1479: Twitter untouched by Trump’s absence, the price of abusing Chris Whitty, improving Fitness+, and more

  1. I’m not going to make a Dunning-Kruger joke about asking a journalist to figure out a dispute between professional scientists. But it does seem to me that there’s an epistemological problem there. If some highly technical people are arguing a complicated point, should you really trust what a journalist, even an excellent specialist, says about the matter? That seems to me to run into exactly the problem of one side of the dispute claiming “The reporter entirely misunderstood the subtle aspect of …” – and then we are back where we started. Or perhaps even worse off, as there’s now more noise added to the system.

    With regard to the article claim “Twitter kept [Trump’s] account live as a matter of principle.”, I’m cynical about that “principle”. I wasn’t there, but surely it’s a bad idea for a megacorporation to get into a fight with a sitting President. And a good idea to please the incoming President who strongly favors regulation which might greatly reduce the profits of said megacorporation (I must confess I find it oddly amusing that Biden once referred to some so-called “leaders in Silicon Valley” as “little creeps”). Maybe that’s also a “principle”, of good business.

    • Ah, you need to listen to some episodes of More Or Less. They consult experts in the respective fields to explain the topic and lead you through the back-and-forth.
      As to Trump – yes, very politically expedient. Of course they wouldn’t have banned him in 2017. It was only a question of when in 2021 they would do it, not really whether.

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