Start Up No.1480: why renewables will reshape world politics, how many scam apps are there?, the Democrats’ bad internet bill, and more

Apple’s AirPods have done the same trick as the iPod, cornering the market. But how? CC-licensed photo by tua ulamac on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Yes, back again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How the race for renewable energy is reshaping global politics • Financial Times

Leslie Hook and Henry Sanderson:


as the energy system changes, so will energy politics. For most of the past century, geopolitical power was intimately connected to fossil fuels. The fear of an oil embargo or a gas shortage was enough to forge alliances or start wars, and access to oil deposits conferred great wealth. In the world of clean energy, a new set of winners and losers will emerge. Some see it as a clean energy “space race”. Countries or regions that master clean technology, export green energy or import less fossil fuel stand to gain from the new system, while those that rely on exporting fossil fuels — such as the Middle East or Russia — could see their power decline.

Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, the former president of Iceland and chair of the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation, says that the clean energy transition will birth a new type of politics. The shift is happening “faster, and in a more comprehensive way, than anyone expected”, he says. “As fossil fuels gradually go out of the energy system . . . the old geopolitical model of power centres that dominate relations between states also goes out the window. Gradually the power of those states that were big players in the world of the fossil-fuel economies, or big corporates like the oil companies, will fritter away.”

In Australia, a growing lobby is pushing for the country to become a “renewable superpower” thanks to its abundant wind and solar resources. [Chair of Fortescue Metals Group, the Australian billionaire Andrew] Forrest is an investor in a project called the Sun Cable, which hopes to lay an electric cable all the way to Singapore. He believes the country’s future is at stake. “The impact on the Australian economy, if we get this right, could be nothing short of nation-building,” he says.

New power structures will emerge along with the transition. “The [old] levers of control, a lot of them will dissipate and simply cease to exist,” says Thijs Van de Graaf, associate professor at Ghent University and lead author of an influential 2019 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). “This is a completely new constellation, so we cannot think just like the old days,” he adds. “There is a new class of energy exporters that may emerge on the global scene.”


I believe the Saudis are trying to invest in solar at a colossal rate with the same intention – to be a dominant energy provider as renewables take over.
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Porn app network scamming iPhone users for $2.6m per month, says Apps Exposed • Forbes

John Koetsier:


Dozens of porn apps are scamming iPhone owners and generating an estimated $2.6m in monthly revenue, according to anonymous tipster Apps Exposed.

“In total they are generating $2,626,000 (estimated data for December 2020) a month by breaking the App Store Guidelines and scamming their users with prerecorded videos, fake push notifications, bait and switch prices and hired girls to do naked cam shows to keep the user as much as possible inside the app,” the group says.


This is the October 2019 release from Apps Exposed, which counted 1,370 “scam apps”. There’s also this thread from the end of January.

There’s basically a cottage industry pointing to these scam apps. But with more than a million apps on the App Store, the scope of the problem comes into view: scams are perhaps 0.1% of the total apps on there. Even if there are five or ten times as many as Apps Exposed found, that’s up to 1%. And they probably don’t get updated much, so they won’t pop up in app review.

Finding them therefore becomes the proverbial needle in a haystack. Apple has begun removing some of the ones highlighted in this article. But that leaves almost the same number still running. The modern-day Sisyphus doesn’t roll a rock, but searches for scam apps.
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Don’t expect the ‘Apple Car’ to have a steering wheel, analyst says • AppleInsider

Mike Peterson:


The fully autonomous “Apple Car” — which will likely lack a steering wheel — could be a major competitor to Tesla and other electric vehicle makers, Morgan Stanley automotive analysts said.

In a note to investors seen by AppleInsider, Morgan Stanley Auto & Shared Mobility analyst Adam Jones shared some thoughts on the implications of Apple’s entry into the car market.

For one, Jones notes how high Apple’s reported $3.6bn investment is. That’s “a lot of money to invest into one car factory,” and Jones adds that the investment only appears to be Apple’s portion.

Users who are expecting a traditional automotive experience may want to think again. “Don’t expecting steering wheels,” Jones said.

“We have a hard time imagining Apple entering the automotive market with a vehicle design that involves human intervention in the driving process,” Jones writes. “Just our view but an Apple car with a steering wheel is like an iPhone with physical buttons and a coiled rubber cord connected to a wall. If we’re right, then this could really turbocharge investor appreciation on the AV timeline.”


It’s OK, you can use a wheel from one of your older cars. It’s an environmental measure.

(More honestly, I think the analysts are smoking something powerful.)
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Now it’s the Democrats’ turn to destroy the open internet: Mark Warner’s 230 reform bill is a dumpster fire of cluelessness • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:


Senator Mark Warner has introduced his new Section 230 reform bill, called the SAFE TECH Act (“Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act” co-sponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono and Amy Klobuchar), and it is one of the worst Section 230 bills I’ve seen. It is difficult to explain just how bad this bill is concisely, because it has so many bad ideas crammed into one single bill. It’s as if none of these three Senators or their staff spoke to anyone who actually understands how the internet works, or how content moderation/trust and safety works. It’s stunning in the ignorance it displays.

About the only good thing I’ll say about it, is that (unlike most bills) at least Warner released a redline version to show how it would actually (massively) change Section 230. He also put out an incredibly disingenuous FAQ that flat out lies about… nearly everything. We’ll go through that in a bit.

Basically, this bill takes nearly every single idea that people who want there to be less speech online have had, and dumped it all into one bill. There’s a lot in there, and nearly all of it is bad. Last week I wrote about a draft bill in the House that suggested carving out civil rights law from Section 230. In my analysis of that bill, I noted that it appeared to come from a well meaning place, but was simply misguided. This bill, which also includes a carveout for civil rights law, does not come from a well meaning place. The drafters of the bill are either malicious or ignorant. It’s not a good look for Senators Warner, Hirono, and Klobuchar.


Then again, there’s clueless stuff on the east side of the Atlantic too from Conservative MPs, who have been in power for ten years yet act surprised by the power of tech companies and the weakness of laws.
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She wanted a ‘freebirth’ with no doctors. Online groups convinced her it would be OK • NBC News

Brandy Zaraodzny:


As well as she can figure, it started with the podcasts. 

Judith worked at a flower shop. The daily drive was an hour outside of town, time she filled by listening to podcasts. When she got pregnant, she devoured episodes of “The Birth Hour” and “Indie Birth,” popular programs on which women shared their childbirth stories, which ranged from hospital to home births. But it was the “Free Birth Podcast” that really spoke to Judith.

Billed as “a supportive space for people who are learning, exploring and celebrating their autonomous choices in childbirth,” the podcast features Emilee Saldaya, 35, a Los Angeles freebirth advocate and founder of the Free Birth Society. The group has 46,000 followers on Instagram, and its podcast hit a million downloads last year.

On the podcast, Saldaya interviews mothers about their freebirth stories. These women reminded Judith of herself; they were college educated, spiritual, creative types who spoke about their births in powerful, radical terms: as euphoric events that happened in bathtubs, in nature or in their own beds, surrounded by their partners and family. Women in these podcasts weren’t listening to doctors but to their bodies. They weren’t lying on their backs waiting for someone to pull a baby from them but bringing their babies into the world with their own two hands. 

Judith tore through some 70 episodes. She relistened to her favorites, one of which featured a woman who had given birth by candlelight in an off-the-grid yurt in the California mountains with only her husband and a dog she called her “midwolf.” 

While she listened, Judith would daydream, imagining herself as a future guest on the podcast. 


This is very much a tale of what happens when you don’t involve experts, but instead have lots of people who know very little but are very enthusiastic. (I’m tempted to say Dunning-Kruger applies, but…)
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The capitalist case for overhauling Twitter • NY Mag

Scott Galloway:


Twitter is already a landmark company culturally, and with some robust management, it could be appraised as one. Value is created on the platform every second. Influencers build followings, businesses find customers, ideas are generated and shaped. But Twitter, in a misguided posture of neutrality, lets all this economic activity flow across its platform and neither cultivates nor harvests it. The opportunity for Twitter — and the fiduciary obligation for its management — is to command the space that it occupies.

At the heart of my proposed revamp is a subscription model that charges accounts with followers over a certain threshold. Of course, millions of casual Twitter users provide the company with its scale, and I am not proposing the company charge them. Rather, the company should recognize that many people and organizations derive enormous value from Twitter at little or no cost. My 345,000-follower account is an important tool in my professional life and a window into the communities I care about. I’d pay a subscription fee if Twitter thought to ask for it. And I believe @KimKardashian (nearly 69 million followers) would pay more.

This isn’t just a money grab. Subscription encourages a firm to reorient its business around its users — who provide the bulk of the content that brings people to the platform, after all — and build premium features that justify collecting premium revenue. Even many casual users would likely pay a fee for better analytics, control over their feeds (such as the ability to switch easily between work and personal modes), and enhanced profile pages. The lack of innovation in the core Twitter product has been a weakness for years, but now it presents an opportunity to support a subscription fee.


Mmm. I don’t think this would work. But Twitter could certainly turn itself into a more profitable network by enabling more transactions of all sorts, by having many more credit cards attached to accounts (though it would need to improve its security first). Also – Galloway owns $10m in Twitter stock? Either he was a really early investor, or he made some remarkable investments a long time back. (Via John Naughton.)
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Kate Bingham: why the UK strategy on Covid vaccines has been a great success • la Repubblica

Fascinating interview with the woman venture capitalist who helped the UK get near the front of the queue:


Q: Did you mainly work with institutions like Oxford and Cambridge?
“Oh no. I did not mind where the vaccines came from and in fact, the only vaccine we secured, the only UK based vaccine is Oxford/AstraZeneca. We also secured rights to the UK/French vaccines from GSK/Sanofi and Valneva. As far as I was concerned, geography didn’t matter. I was only interested in securing the best vaccines. For example BioNTech: Sean Marett, who is the chief business officer, was somebody I had backed in one of my companies before. I’ve known him for, I don’t know, 15, 20 years. So it’s very easy for me to just pick up the phone and had lunch with him a year or two ago when he was in London, easy for me to pick up the phone and have those conversations. I don’t think this was anything to do with the UK being better or anything. I think that is the wrong narrative. I think it’s just a different strategy.”

“The UK had a very strategic approach, which was to secure vaccines quickly. And the European approach seems to be more sort of a more typical procurement approach, which was more about making sure you got the best value for money for your vaccines. It wasn’t related to Brexit and is not related to people being better or more experienced. I think there’s plenty of very, very, very good people obviously in the EU and in fact, you know, if you look at the companies are, you know, BionTech his exceptional, CureVac is exceptional. Sanofi is fantastic. Lots of good companies there.”

Q: You are more happy to take a risk in this country?
“Maybe. I don’t know. Our actual upfront cost was 900 million pounds. It’s in the public accounts committee transcript. But yes, we were willing to write off the upfront money which was largely for manufacturing if actually those vaccines failed.”


Shows the value of experts. I’d like to see a similar interview for Israel, which got ahead of everyone.
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Why haven’t other true wireless earbuds taken off like Apple’s AirPods? • Android Authority

Jon Fingas:


There’s no way to sugarcoat this — much of the competition to Apple’s AirPods just isn’t that great.

You’ll certainly find high-quality options like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro or Sony’s WF-1000XM3. However, the market is saturated with a legion of look-at-me earbuds that explicitly mimic Apple’s AirPods design. The true wireless buds from Huawei, OnePlus and Xiaomi (among many others) have some cosmetic differences, but they’re clearly riding on Apple’s coattails. And if you can afford the real thing, you probably won’t buy the knockoff.

Regardless of uniqueness, all of these competitors face a larger problem: they don’t fundamentally improve on the basic buds-plus-case concept Apple popularized with AirPods. They may sound better or last longer on battery, but there aren’t revolutionizing technology upgrades that would have AirPods buyers thinking twice. Even the Galaxy Buds Pro, as sophisticated as they are, sit in Apple’s shadow.

And that’s just not good enough when AirPods have such a commanding sales lead. While these rivals do bring AirPods-like capabilities to Android users, someone seriously considering a pair of AirPods might not bat an eye at the alternatives unless they’re either cost-conscious or insist on feature parity for Android. Why take a chance on a rival when Apple is a known quantity?


Apple took half the market for wireless earbuds in 2020, according to Strategy Analytics. Always interested by analysis like this on Android sites, which grudgingly accept that Apple derives a huge advantage in user experience from its integrated approach. See also: Windows sites doing writeups about the iPod in 2005, except they usually insisted Microsoft was just about to come up with a strategy that would kill the iPod dead.
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The Arctic threat that must not be named • War on the Rocks

Sharon Burke:


The Arctic, as the National Climate Assessment [released by the Trump administration in 2018] puts it, is on the “front line” of this change. The region is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and possibly as much as seven times as fast, based on measurements Norway has taken at Svalbard Airport for the last 120 years. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the Arctic has lost more than a million square miles of ice at its seasonally lowest point since the beginning of satellite records in 1979. That is an area more than twice the size of Alaska, the largest state in America. This is not a projection, it is not a mathematical model, and it is not disputed science. These are conditions that we can see and measure through satellite imagery and through physical observations from buoys and other devices.

While Arctic explorers have long looked for a sea route through the area, often with disastrous results, this is the first time in human history that a truly navigable ocean is opening up in the region. That new sea lane could cut two weeks off the transit time between Asia and Europe, one of the drivers for China’s interest. That thaw will also mean access to trillions of dollars of resources that were trapped under the ice before, including oil, gas, and rare earth elements, a lure for all the littoral countries and for China as well. Ironically, the great thaw will also likely mean an acceleration of global climate change, as the reflective ice disappears and methane trapped under the ice is released. That is likely to happen regardless of whether nations control greenhouse gas emissions, given that a certain amount of warming is already locked in.


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GameStop and the Truth Wars • City Journal

Bruno Maçaes, with what could be the last word on the subject (until the next stock madness):


The same processes that have been undermining the sense of a shared reality in American politics over the last few years are now doing so in financial markets. As the tech entrepreneur Sam Lessin pointed out, when wealth moved from physical assets to abstract digital records with no existence in physical space, economic elites acquired a new kind of power: the ability to shape reality and do it safe from prying eyes. Several hedge-fund managers told Reuters that the idea to short GameStop had long been a favorite at exclusive “idea dinners,” where fund managers swap their best trades. Now the mob has learned how to play the same game. The Redditors were not interested in GameStop stock insofar as it represented a company that sells items to turn a profit in the physical world. To them, the stock was merely a token to use in certain applications—for example, a short squeeze. And if enough people agree that this token is a store of value, then it becomes a store of value, even if by chance the underlying company were to disappear. Think of Bitcoin, a financial asset with no cash flows.

The Reddit traders—the mob—do not seem to have any philosophy of valuation. Does that make them immoral? Some, hilariously, have argued precisely that on network television. Albert Edwards, a global strategist at Société Générale, said that the Federal Reserve “should hang its head in shame” for having presided over scenes of “a retail mob feasting off each hedge fund kill.” Does this make the retailers naïve? Maybe, though many increased their net worth from $50,000 to $20m or $30m. What it really shows is that they understand the secret of modern capitalism—a secret that until now has been reserved for a happy few.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1480: why renewables will reshape world politics, how many scam apps are there?, the Democrats’ bad internet bill, and more

  1. Looks like the Apple/Kia talks collapsed for exactly the same reasons why the Apple/Verizon talks ended back when the iPhone was being launched. Kia thought it could control the message and would at least be an equal in the venture, which was very different to what Apple was considering. So putting it on that foot, who would Apple consider next? And who would be willing to risk going into the market with them because their factories are underutilized?

    1. Greely via Volvo (new US factory, and it’s not working at full capacity, and they need to get on the electric train).
    2. The outlier: Nissan. Which despite the success of the Leaf, is all over the place. So it would be helpful it making their share price look good. Plus they have battery experience.

    Unlikely but a long maybe: Subaru. Again has a US factory (which appears to be what Apple is looking for), has a relatively green credentials, and is behind on electric. The only fly in the ointment might be Toyota blocking the agreement.

    I can’t see any of the others getting into this business as it might jeopardize their existing plans (i.e. GM, Ford, whatever Fiat is called this week, BMW, Honda etc…)

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