Start Up No.1481: Facebook to cull vaccine misinformation, Twitter mulls subscriptions, iOS to allow Spotify as default music stream, and more


Let’s talk about Blade Runner. No particular reason. But who needs a reason? CC-licensed photo by kaytaria on Flickr.

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

Hacker tried to poison Florida city’s water supply, police say • Vice


Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox:
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On Monday officials from Pinellas County in Florida announced that an unidentified hacker remotely gained access to a panel that controls the City of Oldsmar’s water treatment system, and changed a setting that would have drastically increased the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water supply.

During a press conference, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that a legitimate operator saw the change and quickly reversed it, but signaled that the hacking attempt was a serious threat to the city’s water supply. Sodium hydroxide is also known as lye and can be deadly if ingested in large amounts.

“The hacker changed the sodium hydroxide from about one hundred parts per million, to 11,100 parts per million,” Gualtieri said, adding that these were “dangerous” levels. When asked if this should be considered an attempt at bioterrorism, Gualtieri said, “What it is is someone hacked into the system not just once but twice … opened the program and changed the levels from 100 to 11,100 parts per million with a caustic substance. So, you label it however you want, those are the facts.”

…”The person who remotely accessed the system for about three to five minutes, opening various functions on the screen,” Gualtieri said during the press conference. “One of the functions opened by the person hacking into the system was one that controls the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water.”

Gualtieri said that on Friday at 8am a plant operator at the Oldmar’s water treatment facility noticed someone remotely accessing the system that he was monitoring. The system was deliberately set up with a piece of remote access software so that “authorized users could troubleshoot system problems from other locations,” Gualtieri added.

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The astonishing thing here is that they had a system allowing remote access and hadn’t considered that hacking is just access you didn’t expect.
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Facebook says it plans to remove posts with false vaccine claims • The New York Times


Mike Isaac:
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Facebook said on Monday that it plans to remove posts with erroneous claims about vaccines from across its platform, including taking down assertions that vaccines cause autism or that it is safer for people to contract Covid-19 than to receive the vaccinations.

The social network has increasingly changed its content policies over the past year as the coronavirus has surged. In October, the social network prohibited people and companies from purchasing advertising that included false or misleading information about vaccines. In December, Facebook said it would remove posts with claims that had been debunked by the World Health Organization or government agencies.

Monday’s move goes further by targeting unpaid posts to the site and particularly Facebook pages and groups. Instead of targeting only misinformation around Covid vaccines, the update encompasses false claims around all vaccines. Facebook said it consulted with the World Health Organization and other leading health institutes to determine a list of false or misleading claims around Covid and vaccines in general.

In the past, Facebook had said it would only “downrank,” or push lower down in people’s News Feeds, misleading or false claims about vaccines, making it more difficult to find such groups or posts. Now posts, pages and groups containing such falsehoods will be removed from the platform entirely.

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Years and years and years too late. Notable though how Facebook has now decided that it can arbitrate on truth, having for years insisted that it was neutral on topics like Holocaust denial and, yes, lies about vaccines.
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Bloomberg: Apple and Hyundai hit the brakes on Apple Car production negotiations • 9to5Mac


Chance Miller:
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Over the last weeks, a handful of reports have indicated that Apple would be teaming up with Hyundai for the production of Apple Car. Now, a new report from Bloomberg suggests that the two companies have recently paused their discussions.

Hyundai made a bold statement last month when it confirmed that it was in talks with Apple about a potential partnership for Apple Car. Almost immediately after issuing the first statement, Hyundai backtracked and published a new statement without a mention of Apple.

After Hyundai’s initial statement, a handful of different reports corroborated that Apple and Hyundai were in talks about the electric, self-driving Apple Car. Most recently, reports suggested that Apple would be working with Hyundai subsidiary Kia Motors through a potential $3.6 billion investment.

A new report from Bloomberg, however, says that Hyundai and Apple have hit the brakes on their negotiations. One reason for the paused negotiations is that Apple is “upset” over Hyundai’s pre-announcement of the deal.

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Classic: leak about having a deal with Apple, and suddenly you don’t have a deal with Apple. Been the same for the past 25 years.
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European touring made Radiohead the band we are. Brexit must not destroy it • The Guardian


Colin Greenwood is the bassist with Radiohead:
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In December 2018, I was lucky enough to play three sold-out shows with the brilliant young Belgian artist Tamino. The gigs were at the Ancienne Belgique, a largish venue in the heart of Brussels’ club and cafe centre. Tamino’s music takes in influences as wide as Jacques Brel and Tim Buckley, as well as the 90s Seattle scene and his Egyptian heritage. It’s been a privilege to work with him. I grabbed my bass in Oxford, jumped on the Eurostar and spent three nights playing with him and his band, staying in a small hotel across the road. No visas, no carnet, just the freedom of music.

What will playing in Europe be like now, after Brexit? I spoke to several old friends who’ve had years of experience planning Radiohead tours. Adrian, our touring accountant, said it will be more clunky and expensive. Before Brexit, a carnet (a list of goods going in and out of the country) was just needed for Norway and Switzerland. Now it would be more like playing South America, where each country has its systems for dealing with “third countries” like us. Adrian said a £10,000 guitar would need a carnet that would cost about £650 plus VAT. The costs of travel and accommodation are already high, and the extra paperwork and expenses would rise quickly for a touring orchestra.

There’s also that ugly word, cabotage – the rights for transport movement – with trucks carrying the gear from the UK only allowed two drop-offs in the EU before having to return to Britain, making a multi-city tour impossible with a UK tour bus or truck fleet. Another of our accountants, Steph, assured me that we would have people to sort it all out, and sent me an email for an online conference about what Brexit means for the music industry: an opportunity to charge artists and touring productions for dealing with the shiny new red tape.

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The problem is going to be for small bands trying to get their start. The cost will be prohibitive.
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Tesla’s bitcoin buy is a reckless, destructive troll • The New Republic


Jacob Silverman:
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In a Monday morning SEC filing, Tesla revealed that it had purchased $1.5bn worth of Bitcoin, adding itself to a roster of companies and investment funds that have poured billions into the preeminent cryptocurrency in the last year. Tesla said it would also start accepting Bitcoin as payment for its cars.

The news caused Bitcoin’s price to shoot up about 13% in early trading, but more than any short-term profits, it represents the culmination of a months-long campaign by Bitcoiners to get Musk to embrace Bitcoin and its attendant worldview, a messianic vision of a decentralized currency network leading to economic emancipation, with consumers free of the shackles of politics and central banks. Whether Musk actually believes Bitcoiner rhetoric—or, like any troll, is merely doing it for the lulz—is less important than what it represents: one of tech’s most celebrated companies making a huge commitment to its most controversial commodity.

The Bitcoin buy is also a clear indictment of Tesla’s, and Musk’s, image as an environmentally conscious innovator. There are few speculative assets more harmful to the climate than Bitcoin, which consumes a colossal amount of electricity. In an added irony, the SEC filing showed that Tesla had continued its long-standing practice of selling carbon credits. In 2020, Tesla sold about $1.58bn worth of these credits—almost exactly the value of the Bitcoin purchased. It appears that to bulk up its paltry balance sheet (Tesla is a perennial money-loser), the company sold environmental credits and then funneled the proceeds into the digital equivalent of burning coal.

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It really does give the lie to Musk’s claims about wanting to improve the environment. The filing doesn’t say exactly how many bitcoin Tesla bought (apparently approved by the Audit Committee). This article from September shows how much energy bitcoin consumes – pointlessly, to create the digital equivalent of diamonds. Except diamonds have actual uses.
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Twitter mulls subscription product, tipping for generating revenue • Bloomberg


Kurt Wagner:
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The majority of Twitter’s revenue comes from targeted advertising, which serves up promoted posts aimed at specific groups of users. That business has grown in recent years at a slower pace than competitors like Facebook Inc. and Snap Inc., and Twitter’s slice of the digital ad market globally remains at at a lackluster 0.8%, according to EMarketer.

Twitter, the thinking goes, would benefit from a separate revenue stream that isn’t as reliant on brand advertising. The company’s user base in the US, its most valuable market, has also started to plateau, meaning it can’t rely on simply adding users to juice revenue.

To explore potential options outside ad sales, a number of Twitter teams are researching subscription offerings, including one using the code name “Rogue One,” according to people familiar with the effort. At least one idea being considered is related to “tipping,” or the ability for users to pay the people they follow for exclusive content, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are internal. Other possible ways to generate recurring revenue include charging for the use of services like Tweetdeck or advanced user features like “undo send” or profile-customization options.

Subscriptions have always offered a tantalizing alternative to advertising, but social networks have traditionally stayed free as a way to encourage user growth and engagement, which is then subsidized with paid marketing posts. Still, Twitter chief financial officer Ned Segal said on a call with investors last year that a subscription option of some kind would offer sales “durability,” and recurring revenue is more consistent than advertising spending.

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None of these sounds like really compelling things to do – Tweetdeck, perhaps, for corporate users. Tipping sounds more like Substack does with email, though that could generate some revenue too. But none sounds like a boil-the-ocean scheme that would dramatically increase revenue.
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Siri now allows setting a default music streaming service on iOS 14.5 • The 8-Bit


Taha Broach:
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Apple launched the initial beta versions of iOS 14.5 to developers and public beta testers last week. Among the list of new features, Apple has also introduced a new functionality within Siri that enables the virtual assistant to set a default music streaming service aside from Apple Music.

First noted by users on Reddit, the first time you ask Siri to play a song on iOS 14.5, it offers an option to choose between different music streaming apps. The third-party music streaming apps should be installed on your iPhone in order for Siri to be able to set them as default.

For instance, if you chose Spotify as the default app, the next time you say “Hey, Siri, play The Lazy Song,” Siri will play it on Spotify instead of Apple Music.

Siri will also set a music streaming app as default if you ask it to play from that specific app for the first time. For example, “Hey, Siri, play The Lazy Song on Spotify.”

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This is being interpreted as Apple seeking to evade antitrust trouble by not making Apple Music the default, but Spotify’s complaint in Europe is more about the App Store and the 15% (or 30%) cut Apple takes and the barriers to telling people how to sign up in a way that’s advantageous to Spotify rather than Apple.

But I do think Apple is increasingly confident about its position; so much so that it doesn’t worry about defaults any more; that won’t harm its installed base. (Might even help it.)
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The (lithium-ion) battery is ready to power the world • WSJ


Russell Gold and Ben Foldy:
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Electric vehicles are currently the main source of demand for battery cells. As demand grows and costs fall further, batteries will become even more disruptive across industries. Batteries recently scored a win at General Motors, which said it hoped to phase out gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles from its showrooms world-wide by 2035.

The battery boom could erode demand for crude oil and byproducts such as gasoline—as well as for natural gas, which is primarily used in power plants. While mining materials and manufacturing batteries produce some greenhouse gas emissions, analysts believe shifting to batteries in the auto and energy sectors would reduce emissions overall, boosting efforts to tackle climate change.

US power plants alone produce about a quarter of the country’s emissions, while light-duty vehicles such as cars and vans contribute another 17%.

The rise of rechargeable batteries is now a matter of national security and industrial policy. Control of the minerals and manufacturing processes needed to make lithium-ion batteries is the 21st-century version of oil security.

The flow of batteries is currently dominated by Asian countries and companies. Nearly 65% of lithium-ion batteries come from China. By comparison, no single country produces more than 20% of global crude oil output.

…To meet expected demand, global output of lithium, a silvery metal also used to make nuclear bombs and treat bipolar disorder, has nearly tripled in the past decade, according to Benchmark. Lithium is mostly mined in Australia and Chile, where it is found in underground brine deposits, although efforts to increase U.S. output from mines in Nevada and North Carolina are gaining attention from investors.

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Following on from yesterday’s article about renewables creating change in world politics, the point about China and batteries is an important one. Swapping one authoritarian regime that produces the energy we need for another?
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From the Archives: ‘Blade Runner’ went from Harrison Ford’s ‘miserable’ production to Ridley Scott’s unicorn scene, ending as a cult classic • Los Angeles Times


Kenneth Turan, the LA Times’s film critic, in a piece first published in September 1992:
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Though Dick’s novel was set in 1992, the script had updated things to 2020 (finally changed to 2019 so it didn’t sound so much like an eye chart). Scott, who’d been attracted to the film because of a chance to design a city-oriented future, knew he wanted to avoid “the diagonal zipper and silver-hair syndrome” a la “Logan’s Run.” Based on his experiences with urban excess in New York and the Orient, “Blade Runner” was going to be the present only much more so, “Hong Kong on a bad day,” Scott says, a massive, teeming, on-the-verge-of-collapse city that the director at one point was going to call “San Angeles.”

“This was not a science-fiction film so much as a period piece,” Paull explains. “But it would be 40 years from now, not 40 years ago.”

The key design concept came to be called retrofitting, the idea being that once cities start to seriously break down, no one would bother to start new construction from scratch. Rather, such essentials as electrical and ventilation systems would simply be added onto the exteriors of older buildings, giving them a clunky, somehow menacing look. Progress and decay would exist hand in hand, and the city’s major buildings, like the massive, Mayan-inspired pyramid that houses the Tyrell Corp., would tower miles above the squalor below.

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There’s all sorts of fascinating detail in this deeply researched article about this iconic film. And the only reason that anyone ever knew there was a director’s cut (the original version before the studio got involved) was that it was mistakenly screened at a showing of the film for fans. (Thanks Richard G for the pointer.)
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Next-hour precipitation rolling out in Weather app in UK and Ireland • MacRumors


Juli Clover:
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Multiple MacRumors readers in the UK and Ireland have noticed that the built-in Weather app now supports next-hour precipitation readings, a feature that appears to have rolled out recently.

Next-hour precipitation details have been available in the United States and Canada since the launch of iOS 14, but had not expanded to other countries prior to this week. The new precipitation charts appear to be showing up for those running both iOS 14.4 and iOS 14.5.

Apple added next-hour precipitation to the Weather app after its acquisition of Dark Sky in March 2020. Precipitation charts offer minute-by-minute weather predictions based on precise location.

Update: Dutch website iCulture reports that the precipitation feature is appearing in The Hague, suggesting rollout is happening in the Netherlands and France, too.

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I noticed this over the weekend (checking for snow). The Dark Sky API for other apps won’t be turned off until the end of this year, but it seems a safe assumption that Apple will wrap all of Dark Sky’s features into the Weather app by the time iOS 15 comes out, most likely in September.
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Some friendly reminders about day trading • A Wealth Of Commonsense


Ben Carlson, ruminating on the stories about some who made money on GameStop:
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There will always be winners and losers in the stock market, even for those who aren’t day-trading. This is simply the zero-sum nature of transacting in a market like this. For every buyer, there has to be a seller and vice versa.

But day-traders face a much higher hurdle rate than long-term investors for a couple of reasons:

Day trading is hard. I know, I know, no one likes to hear about the pitfalls of day-trading when it seems so fun and lucrative. But I would be remiss if I didn’t share some statistics as a cautionary tale for those who feel like they’re earning easy money trading stocks right now and assume it will always be like this.

A study of Brazilian futures traders found 97% of individuals who traded in the market for more than 300 days lost money on their trades.

Research on individual day traders in Taiwan over a 15 year period from 1992 to 2006 showed even the most experienced day traders lose money and surprisingly even those traders who lose consistently continue to trade despite their losses.

The SEC studied the habits of retail FX traders and discovered, “approximately 70% of customers lose money every quarter and on average 100% of a retail customer’s investment is lost in less than 12 months.”

Another study of eToro day-traders found nearly 80% of them lost money over a 12-month period with a median loss of 36%.

Are there people who can become successful day-traders? Of course.

Are the odds in your favor? Nope.

The only guarantee when day-trading is taxes. I’m sure some people are trading in tax-deferred accounts but not at Robinhood. All Robinhood accounts are taxable at the moment. And adding taxes to the mix increases your hurdle rate substantially since short-term gains are taxed at a higher rate than long-term gains.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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