Start Up No.1484: Clubhouse’s uncancel culture, Steve Jobs’s keynote producer speaks, two masks better, why lockdown sceptics fail, and more


A cosmic ray helped a gamer produce an unrepeatably fast time on a speedrun – a one-in-a-trillion event CC-licensed photo by Lox & Cream Cheese on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. No, you’re on mute. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Who gets cancelled on Clubhouse? • UnHerd

Gavin Haynes:

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In purely commercial terms, ugly, fractious environments are lousy for business. Everyone would like to create the next Instagram. Filtered pictures of clean-eating Zoomers in yoga pants equals a place to advertise $1,000 handbags. No one wants to create the next reddit. Incels looking to hive-mind some new social Darwinism equals a space to advertise brain pills and male sex toys.

Clubhouse, then, seeks to address the main issues of the last decade’s social technology. For starters, it responds to what Twitter does badly: allowing aggression, of the “you’d never actually say that to someone’s face” variety, and tames it, by forcing you to actually say that to someone’s… voice, at least. The rooms are moderated, and at this stage moderators hold the power of life and death: not only can they boot you out, they are entitled to delete your entire profile.

In the same way, the fear of the offence archivists is supposed to be mitigated by the sense that the “rooms” operate under informal Chatham House-like rules. No recording is permitted — that’s in the terms and conditions — and it’s physically impossible to record within the app. This is the same system that allowed Snapchat to grab a younger generation, who sought intimacy without permanency.

…Clubhouse, on the other hand, removes the poison hand of the algorithm from the system, by making rooms curated entities: a human creates one, and other humans join it. No upvotes involved.

But without a decent mechanism to pre-sift content, discovery is haphazard at best. Mostly, you’re left ambling the hallways, poking around groups called things like “Why do people fetishize wealth and the wealthy”, “We’re 35+ Why Aren’t We Allowed To Age Gracefully”, “Let Men Cheat I Don’t See The Problem”. It’s a bit like going behind the velvet rope at an exclusive VIP zone, only to find it peopled entirely by those with nothing to say.

Perhaps because of the strong network effects of an invite-only policy, the site’s early adopters seem to be the worst meeting of minds since Molotov shook hands with von Ribbentrop. They divide neatly into five categories: Bitcoin bros, Silicon Valley types, “digital nomads”. Online marketing ‘gurus’, wannabe influencers, failing musicians, pluggers. American women trading low-rent love advice (“What y’all getting ya men for V Day”). Empowerment ‘gurus’ (strong crossover with all three other groups), shilling bromides about believing in yourself (“Happiness Advice from HAPPY Millionaires”.) And Eric Weinstein.

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Black doctors work overtime to combat Clubhouse Covid myths • Bloomberg

William Turton:

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Fagbuyi is just one of dozens of Black doctors and medical professionals who have taken it upon themselves to counter Covid-19 misinformation, which has proliferated on the app alongside the surge in new users. Unlike Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, where the companies have tried to impose rules on objectionable content, Clubhouse leaves the moderation to the app’s users, who control who gets to speak in certain rooms.

Medical professionals of many backgrounds are on Clubhouse too. Some of them, like Fagbuyi, are racing to dispel disinformation. But the effort has taken on added urgency among Black medical professionals, according to several of the participants and researchers. They said Clubhouse has become so popular and influential in the Black community that false claims about Covid-19 and its vaccines can’t be ignored.

“Black people are acting as first responders in the disinformation crisis,” said Erin Shields, a national field organizer at MediaJustice, a social justice non-profit. Some of the medical professionals said they have been bullied and harassed for their efforts.

Clubhouse declined to comment.

Fagbuyi, a former biodefense and public health expert at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said friends urged him to start using the app to counter the false claims. Clubhouse users were spreading conspiracy theories about 5G technology being linked to the virus and about the safety of the vaccine, they told him.

…Fagbuyi said some users have accused him of being secretly paid by the government to promote the vaccine. “There’s a learning curve to using the app,” he said. “Going in on a suicide mission is not necessary.”

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Gosh, abuse and misinformation. But Tyler Cowen assured us yesterday – in an opinion piece for Bloomberg – that this wouldn’t happen. A day is a long time in social media. Plus it’s a privacy nightmare.
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The man who produced Steve Jobs’ keynotes for 20 years • Cake

“Chris” interviews Wayne Goodrich, who produced every Steve Jobs keynote for 20 years:

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Chris: How much time went into preparing the iPhone demo?

Goodrich: Quite a lot! That’s the thing, no other CEO would have imagined spending the time Steve invested in his keynotes. For the most important ones, we started 3 or so months out. He would run the company until maybe 2:00 pm and then spend a few hours with me. Then he may start in again in the evening, me at my house and him at his, and we’d stay up until midnight. Sometimes we’d be at it again at 6 am. 

I saw part of my job—and Steve never knew this—as managing his emotional ramp to the event. I’ve even described my job much like being a product manager. There were all kinds of things that could mess that up: the product timing, or the photos that were taken weren’t good enough, or he had a bad day, or we didn’t have all the assets he needed… or at times too many! 

With movies, you never want anything to affect suspension of belief. You want your audience to stay in that magical moment and not think about how things are done.  With the iPhone, we wanted to show that if you rotate your phone to landscape mode, the photo would automatically rotate too. But we were not projecting a video of the actual iPhone that Steve was holding in his hand, only the video from the iPhone. That would have made it shaky on the big screen with distracting reflections.

So we showed a graphic of an iPhone, to look like the Keynote slides, and projected Steve’s demo iPhone screen into the exact right position in the graphic. The trick was that when Steve rotated the iPhone to landscape mode, the right thing to do to keep customers in the moment was to rotate the iPhone graphic with its inserted video feed rotating in sync as well. But how?

It took a month for one of the brilliant Apple engineers to work out how to do this. It looked natural to the audience and no one had to think about how it happened. 

When Steve saw this happen he first time, he knew it’d be magic and it had to be shown live. He rotated it back and forth several times in his demo and no one ever questioned what they were seeing because it looked exactly they way it should.  

If I remember, the internal estimate of the marketing power of the iPhone demo Steve did that day was in excess of $1 billion of PR spend from demo until we shipped.

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Amazing. From 2018, but evergreen. Never knew that detail about the rotation; no doubt there are many more. (Another piece on Jobs’s keynote preparation: Behind the magic curtain, from January 2006.)
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Despite scanning millions with facial recognition, Feds caught zero imposters at airports last year • OneZero

Dave Gershgorn:

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US Customs and Border Protection scanned more than 23 million people with facial recognition technology at airports, seaports, and pedestrian crossings in 2020, the agency recently revealed in its annual report on trade and travel.

The agency scanned four million more people than in 2019. The report indicates that the system caught no imposters traveling through airports last year and fewer than 100 new pedestrian imposters.

Since the agency started public tracking statistics in 2018, it has only caught seven imposters trying to enter the United States through airports, and 285 attempting to do so over land crossings. These facial recognition scans are the result of CBP partnerships with more than 30 points of entry to the US.

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OK, but how many imposto/ers does the CBP thing normally try to come into the US? Surely that’s a pretty important number. The CBP annual report says that since 2018 it has caught seven at airports and 285 in the “land pedestrian environment” – which I suspect means the Mexico border, as with this case in El Paso, Texas. (There were a lot of people being caught with bad documents then.) I suspect airports don’t get many impostors because travellers have already gone through a passport check at the boarding side.
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How an ionizing particle from outer space helped a Mario speedrunner save time • The Gamer

Gavin Burtt:

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Normally, a player must bump into a ceiling with the edge of their hitbox, while a grabbable ceiling is directly above them, higher up. The game will see that Mario is touching a ceiling and that there is a grabbable ceiling above him, so it will think Mario is grabbing that higher grabbable ceiling, warping him up to it. [The player] DOTA_Teabag was simply landing on a platform, not touching any ceilings, and got up-warped for seemingly no reason.

In the glitch hunt that would follow, numerous speedrunners [link added – CA] and glitch-hunters tried their hands at replicating this glitch. Hunters matched the inputs of DOTA_Teabag down to the frame in emulators in order to try and pull it off and claim the large prize, but to no avail. But why was nobody able to pull it off, even when replicating exactly the inputs that DOTA_Teabag had used? Simple: this glitch requires a phenomenon known as a single-event upset, which is very much out of any player’s control.

A single-event upset is a change of a binary state in a bit – either from a 0 to a 1, or vice versa – caused by an ionizing particle colliding with a sensitive microelectronic device. This occurs because of a discharge in the storage elements (the memory bits) after a free charge is created by ionization of the particle near the node. Cosmic particles that enter the Earth’s atmosphere will collide with atmospheric atoms, leading to a sort of rain of protons and neutrons which can affect electronic devices they contact. While most of the time, the effects are barely noticeable, as the bit affected may not be of huge importance, this case here was very noticeable.

During the race, an ionizing particle from outer space collided with DOTA_Teabag’s N64, flipping the eighth bit of Mario’s first height byte. Specifically, it flipped the byte from 11000101 to 11000100, from “C5” to “C4”. This resulted in a height change from C5837800 to C4837800, which by complete chance, happened to be the exact amount needed to warp Mario up to the higher floor at that exact moment. This was tested by pannenkoek12 – the same person who put up the bounty – using a script that manually flipped that particular bit at the right time, confirming the suspicion of a bit flip.

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The CDC says tight-fit masks or double masking increases protection • The New York Times

Roni Caryn Rabin and Sheryl Gay Stolberg:

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Wearing a mask — any mask — reduces the risk of infection with the coronavirus, but wearing a more tightly fitted surgical mask, or layering a cloth mask atop a surgical mask, can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.

New research by the agency shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5% if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth-and-surgical-mask combination.

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the C.D.C., announced the findings during Wednesday’s White House coronavirus briefing, and coupled them with a plea for Americans to wear “a well-fitting mask” that has two or more layers.

…“Any mask is better than none,” said Dr. John Brooks, lead author of the new C.D.C. study. “There are substantial and compelling data that wearing a mask reduces spread, and in communities that adopt mask wearing, new infections go down.”

…One option for reducing transmission is to wear a cloth mask over a surgical mask, the agency said. The alternative is to fit the surgical mask more tightly on the face by “knotting and tucking” — that is, knotting the two strands of the ear loops together where they attach to the edge of the mask, then folding and flattening the extra fabric at the mask’s edge and tucking it in for a tighter seal.

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(Thanks G for the link.)
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Apple partners with TSMC to develop ultra-advanced displays • Nikkei Asia

Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang:

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Apple has partnered with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) to develop ultra-advanced display technology at a secretive facility in Taiwan, Nikkei Asia learned.

The California tech giant plans to develop micro OLED displays — a radically different type of display built directly onto chip wafers — with the ultimate goal of using the new technology in its upcoming augmented reality devices, sources briefed on the matter said.

Apple is collaborating with its longtime chip supplier TSMC because micro OLED displays are not built on glass substrates like the conventional LCD screens in smartphones and TVs, or OLED displays used in high-end smartphones. Instead, these new displays are built directly onto wafers — the substrates that semiconductors are fabricated on — allowing for displays that are far thinner and smaller and use less power, making them more suitable for use in wearable AR devices, according to sources familiar with the projects.

The project represents a further deepening of Apple’s relationship with TSMC, the sole supplier of iPhone processors, even as the U.S. tech giant works to reduce its reliance on other major suppliers. The Taiwanese chipmaking giant is also helping Apple build its in-house designed central processors for Mac computers.

The micro OLED project is now at the trial production stage, sources said, and it will take several years to achieve mass production. The displays under development are less than 1 inch in size.

“Panel players are good at making screens bigger and bigger, but when it comes to thin and light devices like AR glasses, you need a very small screen,” said a source who has direct information on the micro OLED R&D project.

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Apple redirects Google Safe Browsing traffic through its own proxy servers to prevent disclosing users’ IP addresses to Google in iOS 14.5 • The 8 Bit

Taha Broach:

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Google Safe Browsing is a security service created by Google that checks whether a website is malicious. When you access a website on the desktop version of Chrome on your Mac or PC, for instance, Google Safe Browsing checks if a website is safe to browse and displays a warning accordingly. The user ultimately has the choice, however.

As Reddit user u/jaydenkieran explains, Apple uses Google Safe Browsing when you enable “Fraudulent Website Warning” within the Safari settings in the Settings app on iPhone or iPad.

According to Google, its Safe Browsing system works by scanning sections of Google’s web index and “identifying potentially compromised websites.” Then, Google tests those websites by using a virtual machine to check if the website compromises the system. If it does, it’s added to Google’s online database. Google also identifies phishing websites by using statistical models.

According to Apple, before visiting a website, Safari may send hashed prefixes of the URL (Apple terms it “information calculated from the website address”) to Google Safe Browsing to check if there’s a match.

Since Apple uses a hashed prefix, Google cannot learn which website the user is trying to visit. Up until iOS 14.5, Google could also see the IP address of where that request is coming from. However, since Apple now proxies Google Safe Browsing traffic, it further safeguards users’ privacy while browsing using Safari.

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I’m not entirely sure what the benefit to the user is here. So Google knows that you’re trying to reach a malicious site? Is that particularly bad? Apple is certainly covering all the crevices here. I guess Google has a record of trying to find ways around blocks that Apple puts in the way. (Via Counternotions.)
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Lockdown scepticism shows the limits of post-truth politics • Politics.co.uk

Ian Dunt:

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There’s not much good to be said about lockdown scepticism. It is an ethical abyss, a testament to how certain commentators and politicians will allow their need for attention to overrule even the most rudimentary of moral standards. But it has at least achieved one useful thing: it demonstrates the limitations of post-truth politics.

This approach to politics has defined the last few years of British debate. It burst into the open during the Brexit referendum and dominated the way it played out afterwards. It didn’t matter how many experts pointed out that customs borders required checks on goods or how many studies were released demonstrating that friction in trade would reduce its flow. Hardline proponents of Brexit in parliament and the press simply dismissed it.

Lockdown scepticism functions in the same way. It has various levels of severity, from mild to outright lunacy…

…In the country at large, there is very little distinction on lockdown views on the basis of the Leave/Remain divide. A Kantar Public Voice survey found no difference in lockdown compliance according to people’s EU referendum vote. A recent YouGov poll found that Remainers were only slightly more supportive of tougher government action. But the most forceful anti-lockdown writers, broadcasters and politicians are all Brexiters and they have deployed the exact same form of argument used during the Brexit debate.

Except this time it isn’t getting the desired result. It’s like watching an old man use the same chat-up lines he deployed in his youth and finding out they don’t work anymore. The reasons for this are simple and they give a decent indication of the limits of a post-truth discourse. They’re about the speed and spread of refutation.

Brexit was a liar’s charter. You could say whatever you wanted, safe in the knowledge that it would only be disproved years from now. …Covid isn’t so easily smudged. It is a direct and immediate link of claim and empirical verification. Each day, we get new data on infections and deaths. We do not have to wait years to see the effect of policies. And they are not spread out – they are concentrated in a set of basic numbers.

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It has been noticeable that the anti-lockdown stuff has been getting so little traction more widely. Aside from TalkRadio, which seems to be a hotbed of denial, and pockets of the Daily Telegraph (which turns out not to be that influential). People intuit that lockdowns work for an airborne infection.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1483: Facebook dials down the politics, is Clubhouse different?, how the Kent Covid variant emerged, and more


The next update to Apple Maps will let users record details about road accidents for crowdsourcing. CC-licensed photo by Mike McBey on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. That’s dialling down? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook dials down the politics for users • The New York Times

Kevin Roose and Mike Isaac:

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After inflaming political discourse around the globe, Facebook is trying to turn down the temperature.

The social network announced on Wednesday that it had started changing its algorithm to reduce the political content in users’ news feeds. The less political feed will be tested on a fraction of Facebook’s users in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia beginning this week, and will be expanded to the United States in the coming weeks, the company said.

“During these initial tests we’ll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people’s feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we’ll use going forward,” Aastha Gupta, a Facebook product management director, wrote in a blog post announcing the test.

Facebook previewed the change last month when Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, said the company was experimenting with ways to tamp down divisive political debates among users.
“One of the top pieces of feedback we’re hearing from our community right now is that people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services,” he said.

Political stories won’t disappear from users’ feeds altogether. Content from official government agencies and services will be exempt from the algorithm change, Facebook said, as will information about Covid-19 from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Last month, Mr. Zuckerberg said users would also still be able to discuss politics inside private groups.

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You probably feel that you’ve been hearing this story repeatedly over the past few months. That’s because you have. Zuckerberg said so two weeks ago. A block on political ads. A quiet block on political group recommendations in November.
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Clubhouse success shows niceness can exist on social media • Bloomberg

Tyler Cowen:

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To me, a lot of Clubhouse sounds like elders chatting around a traditional campfire, with many of the younger people listening in (noting that “elder” here is defined more by status than by age). Extra points go to those who are genuine, engaging and good at thinking out loud and leading a group. There is a subtle but definite set of hierarchies, though to the benefit of the conversation.

Tech is a major topic on Clubhouse, but there is also chatter about the NBA, South Asian cuisine, Nigerian politics, and dating advice, as well as many other topics. If you are a member, you can start your own room. Black voices are prominent.

Many of the virtues of Clubhouse stem from its software. Although the company has only about 10 people, the user experience is fun and empowering. For one thing, you can be involved immediately by the mere push of a single button, a kind of “one-click” listening.

Unlike a Zoom call, there is no video option, so it is more relaxing (or you can do the dishes while listening). The audience is represented by tiles with photos, so speakers feel the force of the crowd, which further encourages pleasant behavior. Room moderators can decide who has speaking rights and who does not. Practices of calling on people, and granting speaking rights, produce orderly discussions, though there are also more rowdy rooms with 30 or more people with speaking rights.

Members participate by invitation only, although membership has become increasingly easy to obtain since the service’s debut in spring 2020. Through access to your address book and the list of people you “follow,” Clubhouse connects you to conversations and people in a way that Zoom does not.

Recording conversations is against the rules. That lowers the risk of being canceled for a wayward remark. People still say bad things on Clubhouse, of course — but the people who get upset tend to go to Twitter to complain. The expectation is that moderators will restore order, and disgruntled listeners can just leave the room.

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So lovely to see someone who believes that there’s a social network where its wonderful design means bad things won’t happen, while admitting that bad things have already happened. Clubhouse is small. That’s why it hasn’t had huge rows. But they’ll come, don’t worry. (Especially now that Elon Musk has agreed to do an interview with, gods preserve us, Kanye West.)
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Apple Maps is getting Google and Waze-like accident reporting • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

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Apple is bringing accident, hazard, and speed check reporting to Apple Maps. The feature is currently only available to users with the iOS 14.5 beta, and is similar to user-reporting features found in Waze and Google Maps.

When you’re using the feature, you (or preferably a passenger) can press a new Report button in the bottom tray, and select what type of incident or hazard you’re reporting. You can even do this using Siri: I was also able to say “there’s a speed trap here” or “there’s something on the road.” MacRumors shows that the interface is available on the CarPlay version of Maps, too.

This user-centric reporting feature is now something that all the major maps app either have, or have in development. While this feature was popularized with Waze, it’s been available in Google Maps since April of 2019, so Apple is playing catch-up here (like it’s also trying to do by adding user-generated photos and reviews to Maps).

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A lone infection may have changed the course of the pandemic • WIRED UK

Matt Reynolds:

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natural selection might push the virus to transmit more easily, or become resistant to our immune response, but in the pressure-cooker environment of a single human body these changes can accelerate. Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge studied the evolution of Sars-CoV-2 in a man with lymphoma who had undergone chemotherapy and had been chronically infected with the virus for 102 days before dying.

After the man was treated with blood plasma from a recovered Covid-19 patient, at day 63 of his illness, the genetic makeup of the Sars-CoV-2 viruses within him started to shift. By day 82, viruses with a six-letter deletion in the spike gene were now the dominant population. This deletion – called ΔH69/V70Δ – also seems to be partly behind the increased transmission of the B.1.1.7 variant, as it makes it easier for the virus to enter host cells. The same mutation was also found in another chronically infected patient, a 47-year-old woman admitted to hospital in Saint Petersburg who has been ill for more than four months.

Within the man Gupta and his colleagues studied, the composition of the viral population kept changing. By day 86, the ΔH69/V70Δ population had been overtaken by a subset of Sars-CoV-2 with a different mutation in its spike gene. A week later both of these previous populations were barely anywhere to be seen and a new mutant had become the most populous strain.

For Gupta, this genetic tug-of-war is a likely explanation for the emergence of the UK variant. “What’s going on biologically within a person is probably going to explain this because there are very different selection pressures going on,” he says.

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In hindsight it’s obvious, and scientists were saying from early on that it was likely that the British variant emerged from a single, chronically infected person. But I don’t think we heard this sort of explanation before it happened. (Thanks G for the link.)
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Big Sur upgrade not enough free space = serious issue & possible data loss! • Mr Macintosh

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When you start the macOS Big Sur upgrade, the installer should first check to make sure your Mac has enough free space available. If the installer finds that you do not have enough free space for the upgrade, it will stop and not let you continue. You should see a pop up message showing you how much space is needed before you can attempt the upgrade again.

This free space check is NOT working. The upgrade will start even if you only have 1% of free space left and will fail. Your hard drive is now 100% full and the installer is now stuck in a boot loop attempting to finish the install. This leaves you unable access your data! I will go over all the details below and show you a fix at the end.

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Amazing that this was never spotted in all the development. But it’s a serious problem which has left some people with corruption or lost data.
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Authorities arrest SIM swapping gang that targeted celebrities • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

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Eight men were arrested across England and Scotland this week as part of a coordinated crackdown against a SIM swapping gang that has hijacked the identities and social media profiles of US celebrities.

The UK National Crime Agency, which made the arrests on Tuesday, said the gang targeted well-known sports stars, musicians, and influencers, primarily located in the US.

“These arrests follow earlier ones in Malta and Belgium of other members belonging to the same criminal network,” Europol, which coordinated the multi-national investigation, said today.

Officials said this gang engaged in SIM swapping attacks, where they tricked US mobile operators into assigning a celebrity’s phone number to a new SIM card under the attacker’s control.

While they had access to the victim’s phone number, the SIM swappers would reset passwords and bypass two-factor authentication on the victim’s accounts.

“This enabled them to steal money, bitcoin and personal information, including contacts synced with online accounts,” the NCA said.

Europol said the gang stole more than $100m worth of cryptocurrency using this method.

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This was more about targeting people who had cryptocurrency, it seems, and some of the big names got hit too. Quite an international gang – though the internet has made all that a lot simpler at least.
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TikTok sale to Oracle and Walmart is shelved as Biden reviews security • WSJ

John D. McKinnon and Alex Leary:

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A US plan to force the sale of TikTok’s American operations to a group including Oracle and Walmart has been shelved indefinitely, people familiar with the situation said, as President Biden undertakes a broad review of his predecessor’s efforts to address potential security risks from Chinese tech companies.

The TikTok deal—which had been driven by then-President Donald Trump—has languished since last fall in the midst of successful legal challenges to the US government’s effort by TikTok’s owner, China’s ByteDance.

Discussions have continued between representatives of ByteDance and US national security officials, the people said. Those discussions have centered on data security and ways to prevent the information TikTok collects on American users from being accessed by the Chinese government, they said.

But no imminent decision on how to resolve the issues surrounding TikTok is expected as the Biden administration determines its own response to the potential security risk posed by Chinese tech companies’ collection of data.

“We plan to develop a comprehensive approach to securing US data that addresses the full range of threats we face,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

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Larry Ellison came so close, SO close, to having it in his hand. But Trump’s administration could never hold focus. There is a case (being made by Ben Thompson and Matt Stoller) that TikTok does pose a security risk because who knows what the algorithm, controlled out of China, is doing?
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Elon Musk wants clean power. But Tesla’s carrying bitcoin’s dirty baggage • Reuters

Anna Irrera and Tom Wilson:

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The digital currency is created when high-powered computers compete against other machines to solve complex mathematical puzzles, an energy-intensive process that currently often relies on fossil fuels, particularly coal, the dirtiest of them all.

At current rates, such bitcoin “mining” devours about the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019, the latest available data from the University of Cambridge and the International Energy Agency shows.

Bitcoin production is estimated to generate between 22 and 22.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year, or between the levels produced by Jordan and Sri Lanka, according to a 2019 study in scientific journal Joule.

The landmark inclusion of the cryptocurrency in Tesla’s investment portfolio could complicate the company’s zero-emissions ethos, according to some investors, at a time when ESG – environmental, social and governance – considerations have become a major factor for global investors.

“We are of course very concerned about the level of carbon dioxide emissions generated from bitcoin mining,” said Ben Dear, CEO of Osmosis Investment Management, a sustainable investor managing around $2.2 billion in assets that holds Tesla stock in several portfolios.

“We hope that when Tesla’s bitcoin ventures are over, they will concentrate on measuring and disclosing to their market their full suite of environmental factors, and if they continue to buy or indeed start mining bitcoin, that they include the relevant energy consumption data in these disclosures.”

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Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (CBECI)

A useful reference about the amount of energy consumed by bitcoin – with upper and lower bounds, because it has to be a guess.
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bitcom • The World Is Yours*

Alex Hern:

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That long-run electricity cost is effectively built in to bitcoin. If more electricity is spent than the total value of the rewards, then eventually, the least efficient miners go bankrupt, because they’ve been spending money on electricity and computers and not winning any rewards. But if less electricity is spent than the total value of the rewards, then that means there’s money being left on the table. Imagine a daily raffle with a £25 grand prize, where you learned that only two other £1 tickets were sold each day. It’d make sense, in that situation, to start buying up to £23 worth of tickets each day – since in the long run, that’s how much you could expect to win.

(With bitcoin, in the really long run, there’s going to be interesting interactions between this system, the free-floating exchange rate between bitcoin and the real money people use to pay electricity bills, the fact that the block rewards, that 6.25BTC, halve every four years, and the ability of miners, the lottery entrants, to charge a small fee to validate transactions.)

All of which is to say that Bitcoin doesn’t just use energy, like anything else. It inherently uses a lot of energy. The already-large energy budget of the currency is only as small as it is because, regardless of its potential, it is barely used. If Bitcoin were to live up to its potential, if it were to – I don’t know, replace Visa, or the US dollar, or hamburgers – then that 6.25BTC reward wouldn’t be worth £200k, it would be worth £200m, or £2bn, and the energy budget would go up accordingly.

And so simply handwaving the problem away, saying “this isn’t wasteful because bitcoin isn’t a waste”, doesn’t cut it.

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The idea of bitcoin using more energy in line with its price going up is quite scary, yet borne out by the evidence. (The whole article is an excellent explainer about bitcoin’s madness.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Bridgewater Associates (re bitcoin yesterday) is “the largest hedge fund in the world” rather than some dopey financial analysis company (though I guess they do that too). Thanks, Neil Cybart.

Start Up No.1482: Huawei seeks US mercy, Israel’s Covid problem, how American cops block livestreams, how Covid kills coal, and more


The NHS Covid app averted an estimated 600,000 cases – and so perhaps 1,500 deaths. CC-licensed photo by Simon James on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. You can’t hurry, love. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Huawei’s CEO wants to talk to President Biden • The Verge

Sam Byford:

»

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei has called for a reset in relations between the US and the Chinese tech giant. Speaking to international media in China for the first time in more than a year, Ren expressed willingness to speak with President Biden and said he hoped for “open policies” from the new administration.

“I would welcome [a call from Biden]” Ren said in translated comments provided to The Verge and reported by CNBC, AFP, and the South China Morning Post. “I would talk with him about common development. Both the US and China need to develop their economies, as this is good for our society and financial balance.”

“Allowing US companies to supply goods to Chinese customers is conducive to their own financial performance,” Ren said. “If Huawei’s production capacity expanded, that would mean US companies could sell more. It’s a win-win situation. I believe the new administration will weigh and balance these interests as they consider their policies. We still hope to be able to buy a lot of US components, parts, and machinery so that US companies can also develop with the Chinese economy.”

Huawei is currently unable to do business with US companies because the Trump administration placed it on the Department of Commerce’s trade blacklist, citing national security fears. Among other issues, this means Huawei is unable to license Android from Google, severely hampering its smartphone business outside of China.

This prompted Huawei to sell off its Honor subsidiary in order to protect the brand and allow it to keep on producing smartphones, but Ren dismissed rumors that Huawei might do the same for its own smartphone division. “We will never sell our device business,” he said.

«

No, never sell, apart from the smartphone brand that they sold off last November, but no more than one. Well, two, perhaps.
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Researcher hacks Microsoft, Apple, more in novel supply chain attack • Bleeping Computer

Ax Sharma:

»

A researcher managed to breach over 35 major companies’ internal systems, including Microsoft, Apple, PayPal, Shopify, Netflix, Yelp, Tesla, and Uber, in a novel software supply chain attack.

The attack comprised uploading malware to open source repositories including PyPI, npm, and RubyGems, which then got distributed downstream automatically into the company’s internal applications.

Unlike traditional typosquatting attacks that rely on social engineering tactics or the victim misspelling a package name, this particular supply chain attack is more sophisticated as it needed no action by the victim, who automatically received the malicious packages.

This is because the attack leveraged a unique design flaw of the open-source ecosystems called dependency confusion.

For his ethical research efforts, the researcher has earned well over $130,000 in bug bounties.

Last year, security researcher Alex Birsan came across an idea when working with another researcher Justin Gardner.

Gardner had shared with Birsan a manifest file, package.json, from an npm package used internally by PayPal.

Birsan noticed some of the manifest file packages were not present on the public npm repository but were instead PayPal’s privately created npm packages, used and stored internally by the company.

On seeing this, the researcher wondered, should a package by the same name exist in the public npm repository, in addition to a private NodeJS repository, which one would get priority?

«

That is indeed sneaky. The enormous dependency on open source packages that can be altered maliciously (or accidentally badly) at pretty much any time is being demonstrated again and again.
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Lye-poisoning attack in Florida shows cybersecurity gaps in water systems • NBC News

Kevin Collier:

»

“Water facilities are particularly problematic,” said Suzanne Spaulding, the former chief cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security under former President Barack Obama. “When I first came into DHS and started getting the sector-specific briefings, my team said, ‘here’s what you’ve got to know about water facilities: when you’ve seen one water facility, you’ve seen one water facility.’”

There’s approximately 54,000 drinking systems in the U.S., which are run independently, either by local governments or small corporations. And that means thousands of different security setups, often run by generalists who are responsible for the technology of their particular water system.

“I’ve been to numerous water treatment facilities where there is one IT person or two IT people,” said Lesley Carhart, a principal threat analyst at the cybersecurity company Dragos. “And they have to handle everything from provisioning computers and devices that keep the infrastructure running to trying to do security.”

“Most are very conscious of it, but they’re just drowning,” she said. “They don’t know how to accomplish all the things they’re required to do to both keep things running from an IT perspective and also fill compliance checkboxes.”

All of the city’s cybersecurity services, including that of the water treatment plant, are managed by one man, city manager Al Braithwaite, Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly said in an email.

In the case of the Oldsmar attack, all the hackers needed to gain access was to log in to a TeamViewer account, which lets remote users take full control of a computer, which was associated with the plant. That let them open and toy with a computer with a program that sets the chemical content for the underground water reservoir that provides the drinking water for nearly 15,000 people.

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One person for the water system’s cybersecurity. Aaaargh.
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NHS Covid app prevented 600,000 infections, claim researchers • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw and Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan:

»

Gauging the effectiveness of Bluetooth-based proximity detection apps, which have been released by governments all over the world, has been complicated by the privacy protections built into the Google/Apple system.

The app’s anonymity means that it is impossible to say how many people have complied with its orders to isolate.

The Turing/Oxford researchers used the limited location information that users are asked to enter when they download the app — the first half of their area’s postcode — to compare app uptake between neighbouring local authorities.

That data was then compared with the overall number of Covid-19 cases reported by each local authority. The researchers found a strong correlation between app usage, which varies between 15 to 45% of the overall population, and case numbers in a given region.

The paper said that a statistical comparison of neighbouring areas with similar socio-economic or geographic properties suggested that there were 594,000 “averted infections”, but gave a range of 317,000 and 914,000 with a confidence interval of 95%.

Extrapolating from normal case fatality rates, that suggests thousands of deaths may have been prevented by the app, the researchers estimate.

“The main limitation of our analysis is that it is an observational study: no randomized or systematic experiment resulted in different app uptake in different places,” the paper noted. “It remains possible that changes in app use over time and across geographies reflect changes in other interventions, and that our analysis incorrectly attributes the effect to the app.”

«

Those under 64 – let’s assume that includes all the smartphone users – have 25% of deaths (New York data). So at 600,000 cases averted, if we assume a 1% overall death rate, that’s about 0.25 * 0.01 * 600,000 = 1,500 deaths averted.
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Is This Beverly Hills cop playing Sublime’s ‘Santeria’ to avoid being live-streamed? • Vice

Dexter Thomas:

»

Sennett Devermont was at the department to file a form to obtain body camera footage from an incident in which he received a ticket he felt was unfair. Devermont also happens to be a well-known LA area activist, who regularly live-streams protests and interactions with the police to his more than 300,000 followers on Instagram.

So, he streamed this visit as well—and that’s when things got weird.

In a video posted on his Instagram account, we see a mostly cordial conversation between Devermont and BHPD Sgt. Billy Fair turn a corner when Fair becomes upset that Devermont is live-streaming the interaction, including showing work contact information for another officer. Fair asks how many people are watching, to which Devermont replies, “Enough.”

Fair then stops answering questions, pulls out his phone, and starts silently swiping around—and that’s when the ska music starts playing. 

Fair boosts the volume, and continues staring at his phone. For nearly a full minute, Fair is silent, and only starts speaking after we’re a good way through Sublime’s “Santeria.”

Assuming that Fair wasn’t just trying to share his love of ’90s stoner music with the citizens of Beverly Hills, this seems to be an intentional (if misguided) tactic to use social media companies’ copyright protection policies to prevent himself from being filmed.

Instagram in particular has been increasingly strict on posting copyrighted material. Any video that contains music, even if it’s playing in the background, is potentially subject to removal by Instagram.

Most people complain about these rules. Beverly Hills law enforcement, however, seems to be a fan.

«

For every measure bringing accountability, there’s a countermeasure that seeks to evade it.
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Why are Covid cases rising in Israel, the most vaccinated country? • NY Mag

Noga Tarnopolsky:

»

Naftali Bennett, the former defense minister who coordinated much of the nation’s initial virus response and is now running to replace [PM Benjemin] Netanyahu, accused the government of adopting a strategy that, in his words, can be summed up as, “We’re not going to manage the crisis in this country, we’re going to put all our eggs in the one basket: vaccines,” he told Intelligencer. [Israel is using the Pfizer vaccine.]

“Israel’s entire strategy relies on the hope that no variant will escape the vaccine,” he continued. “If a mutation that can bypass the vaccine appears tomorrow, we’re in trouble.” 

On Thursday, at a cabinet meeting convened to debate the future of a partial, fraying lockdown, which is scheduled to end on Sunday, Netanyahu acknowledged that “the British mutation is running amok in Israel,” driving 80% of Israel’s recent COVID-19 fatalities.

Health experts, who have grown accustomed to being ignored by the government, oppose lifting the lockdown, imperfect as it is. The government’s COVID czar, Nachman Ash, warned that “if we leave this lockdown with the figures as they are, we will need another lockdown in two weeks.”

The advent of the British strain has been a game-changer for Israel. “The vaccines are a big success,” Ayman Seif, Israel’s deputy corona czar in charge of anti-COVID measures in the Arab community, told Intelligencer. “We began to see their effects, but it is not enough to curb the rise in contagion brought by the mutation.”

Netanyahu dubbed the mission to vaccinate the nation “Operation Getting Back to Life,” and promised Israelis they’d be COVID-free by late March, which is, coincidentally, when they will head to the polls in what is shaping up to be a tight race. On Thursday, he tweeted out that among those ages 60 and over, he said, referring to a group that has almost universally received the second dose of vaccine, “there has been a 26% decrease in the critical-care hospitalizations.”

While true, the numbers don’t seem as unequivocal as the prime minister indicated. A government study showed that 44% of cases diagnosed in Israel between Thursday and Friday were found among citizens younger than 19. Only 6.2% were found in those ages 60 and older. Rahav said that hospital beds left free by the inoculated over-60 population are being filled by the under-50 crowd. “The British variant of the coronavirus brought us to our knees,” she said. Her hospital’s COVID wards remain at capacity, with ever younger patients.

«

I wondered about this. And here’s the answer. But if Israel is struggling against the “British strain”, how is Britain going to cope? [Thanks G for the link.]
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Tesla’s self-driving claims are a problem for Biden • Los Angeles Times

Russ Mitchell:

»

While other driverless car developers — including General Motors’ Cruise, Ford’s Argo AI, Amazon’s Zoox, Alphabet’s Waymo, and independent Aurora — all take an incremental, slow rollout approach with professional test drivers at the wheel, Tesla is “beta testing” its driverless technology on public roads using its customers as test drivers.

Musk said last month that Tesla cars will be able to fully drive themselves without human intervention on public roads by late this year. He’s been making similar promises since 2016. No driverless car expert or auto industry leader outside Tesla has said they think that’s possible.

Although [Bryant Walker] Smith, [a professor and expert in autonomous vehicle law at the University of South Carolina] is impressed by Tesla’s “brilliant” ability to use Tesla drivers to collect millions of miles of sensor data to help refine its software, “that doesn’t excuse the marketing because this is in no way full self-driving. There are so many things wrong with that term. It’s ludicrous. If we can’t trust a company when they tell us a product is full self-driving, how can we trust them when they tell us a product is safe?”

[Paul] Eisenstein [publisher of the Detroit Bureau industry news site] is even harsher. “Can I say this off the record?” he said. “No, let me say it on the record. I’m appalled by Tesla. They’re taking the smartphone approach: Put the tech out there, and find out whether or not it works. It’s one thing to put out a new IOS that caused problems with voice dictation. It’s another thing to have a problem moving 60 miles per hour.”

«

As the article points out, the Trump administration simply punted on this; there wasn’t a proper director for the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration for the past four years. Now things need sorting out.
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Coal and COVID-19: how the pandemic is accelerating the end of fossil power generation • Phys.org

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:

»

“Coal has been hit harder by the pandemic than other power sources—and the reason is simple,” explains lead author Christoph Bertram from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). “If demand for electricity drops, coal plants are usually switched off first. This is because the process of burning fuels constantly runs up costs. The plant operators have to pay for each single ton of coal. In contrast, renewable power sources such as wind and solar plants, once built, have significantly lower running costs—and keep on operating even if the demand is reduced.”

This way, fossil fuels were partly squeezed out of the electricity generation mix in 2020 and global CO2 emissions from the power sector decreased around 7%. By looking at India, the U.S. and European countries alone, a more dramatic picture emerges: In these key markets, where monthly electricity demand declined by up to 20% compared to 2019, the monthly CO2 emissions decreased by up to 50%.

The researchers estimate that it’s likely that emissions will not reach the all-time high of 2018 again. “Due to the ongoing crisis, we expect that 2021 electricity demand will be at about 2019’s levels, which, given ongoing investments into low-carbon generation, means lower fossil generation than in that year,” says co-author Gunnar Luderer from PIK. “As long as this clean electricity generation growth exceeds increases in electricity demand, CO2 emissions from the power sector will decline. Only if we saw unusually high demand for electricity along with surprisingly few additions of renewable power plants from 2022-2024 and beyond, fossil fuel generation would rebound to pre-pandemic levels.”

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What I think of bitcoin • Bridgewater Associates

Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, which is a financial analysis company (as far as I can make out – its website is pretty vague):

»

Regarding privacy, it appears that Bitcoin will unlikely be as private as some people surmise. It is, after all, a public ledger and a material amount of Bitcoin is held in a non-private manner. If the government (and perhaps hackers) want to see who has what, I doubt that privacy could be protected. Also, it appears to me that if the government wanted to get rid of its use, most of those who are using it wouldn’t be able to use it so the demand for it would plunge. Rather than it being far-fetched that the government would invade the privacy and/or prevent the use of Bitcoin (and its competitors) it seems to me that the more successful it is the more likely these possibilities would be. Starting with the formation of the first central bank (the Bank of England in 1694), for good logical reasons governments wanted control over money and they protected their abilities to have the only monies and credit within their borders. When I a) put myself in the shoes of government officials, b) see their actions, and c) hear what they say, it is hard for me to imagine that they would allow Bitcoin (or gold) to be an obviously better choice than the money and credit that they are producing. I suspect that Bitcoin’s biggest risk is being successful, because if it’s successful, the government will try to kill it and they have a lot of power to succeed.

«

There’s plenty in there, plus some excellent graphs about the value of bitcoin compared to gold, and how much extra is being added compared to existing assets.
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Is Substack the media future we want? • The New Yorker

Anna Wiener:

»

Depending on which source you consult, Substack might be “reinventing publishing,” “pioneering a new ‘business model for culture,’ ” or “attempting to build an alternative media economy that gives journalists autonomy.” It is “writers firing their old business model” or “a better future for news.” Substack’s C.E.O., Chris Best, has said that the company’s intention is “to make it so that you could type into this box, and if the things you type are good, you’re going to get rich.” Hamish McKenzie, one of Substack’s co-founders, told me that he sees the company as an alternative to social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “We started Substack because we were fed up about the effects of the social-media diet,” McKenzie said. Substack’s home page now reads, “Take back your mind.”

Substack, like Facebook, insists that it is not a media company; it is, instead, “a platform that enables writers and readers.” But other newsletter platforms, such as Revue, Lede, or TinyLetter (a service owned by Mailchimp, the e-mail-marketing company), have never offered incentives to attract writers. By piloting programs, like the legal-defense fund, that “re-create some of the value provided by newsrooms,” as McKenzie put it, Substack has made itself difficult to categorize: it’s a software company with the trappings of a digital-media concern. The company, which currently has twenty employees, has a lightweight content-moderation policy, which prohibits harassment, threats, spam, pornography, and calls for violence; moderation decisions are made by the founders, and, McKenzie told me, the company does not comment on them. Best has suggested that Substack contains a built-in moderation mechanism in the form of the Unsubscribe button.

It’s an interesting time for such a hands-off, free-market approach. The Internet is flooded with disinformation and conspiracy theories. Amazon’s self-publishing arm has become a haven for extremist content. The flattening effect of digital platforms has led to confusion among readers about what is reporting and what is opinion. Newsrooms at the Times and the Wall Street Journal have taken pains to distinguish their work from that found in the op-ed sections. Substack has advertised itself as a friendly home for journalism, but few of its newsletters publish original reporting; the majority offer personal writing, opinion pieces, research, and analysis.

«

Original reporting is expensive, and time-consuming, and just as with the blogosphere, few are going to take the risk. Though at least it monetises a bit better than blogs.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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:
»

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:
»

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:
»

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.

«

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:
»

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:
»

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.

«

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:
»

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:
»

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.”

«

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:
»

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.

«

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.

«

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

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.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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:

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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. 

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.”

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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:

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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?

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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:

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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):

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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

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.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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:

»

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?”

«

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:

»

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…)

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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:

»

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.

«

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

»

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.

«

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.

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.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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:

»

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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:

»

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.

«

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

 

»

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.”

«

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:

»

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.

«

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…”

Start Up No.1477: Bezos steps aside, more App Store scams, anti-Navalny synthetic fakes, IBM’s blockchain heads to zero, and more


The next iOS update will unlock your phone if you’re wearing a facemask – and an Apple Watch CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not stepping aside. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Email from Jeff Bezos to employees • About Amazon

Bezos is moving to become executive chairman and handing over the CEO reins to Andrew Jassy:

»

Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.

How did that happen? Invention. Invention is the root of our success. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal. We pioneered customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

I don’t know of another company with an invention track record as good as Amazon’s, and I believe we are at our most inventive right now. I hope you are as proud of our inventiveness as I am. I think you should be.

As Amazon became large, we decided to use our scale and scope to lead on important social issues. Two high-impact examples: our $15 minimum wage and the Climate Pledge. In both cases, we staked out leadership positions and then asked others to come along with us. In both cases, it’s working. Other large companies are coming our way. I hope you’re proud of that as well.

I find my work meaningful and fun. I get to work with the smartest, most talented, most ingenious teammates. When times have been good, you’ve been humble. When times have been tough, you’ve been strong and supportive, and we’ve made each other laugh. It is a joy to work on this team.

«

As someone quipped, he’s leaving to spend less time with Congress. Amazon’s at an odd inflexion point, bigger and more powerful than ever, but also facing employee unrest.
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Thread by @keleftheriou: how subscriptions create scams on the App Store •Thread Reader App

Kosta Eleftheriou is the developer of a Watch app which puts a keyboard on your watch:

»

The App Store has a big problem👇

You: an honest developer, working hard to improve your IAP [in-app purchase] conversions.
Your competitor: a $2M/year scam running rampant.

«

There have been so many stories like this one (which is well worth reading) – Eleftheriou points to some – that it’s still amazing Apple isn’t wiping these out left and right. If it is, it should say so.
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Inauthentic Instagram accounts with synthetic faces target Navalny protests • Medium

Digital Forensic Research Lab:

»

Prior to the January 23 protests, Navalny’s team announced plans for mass gatherings across Russia, publishing a list of cities, specific locations in those cities, and times. Moscow’s Red Square was not on the list of locations — the main protests in Moscow were planned for Pushkinskaya Square, which is approximately a 20-minute walk from Red Square. On the day of the protests, Russian authorities blocked Red Square, in a likely attempt to prevent demonstrators from approaching the Kremlin.

Immediately prior to the protests, posts geotagged Red Square on Instagram appeared to be flooded with content unrelated to the location. Geotags allow users to search for locations on the platform to see what kind of content was posted from the specific area. Search results display the latest posts geotagged with that particular location. In this case, Russian users might have been searching for the Red Square geotag to check for developments related to the January 23 protests, despite the Square not being the official demonstration location for these particular protests.

From January 17 onward, Instagram serach results for Red Square returnined the same type of images: profile pictures of various individuals. The DFRLab has determined these images are generated by StyleGAN, a type of neural network that can generate synthetic faces.

«

Notable that the systems for spotting synthetic faces are getting better. Of course, there’s quite a clue when you’re looking at accounts like these, where your first suspicion is that they’re fake.
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IBM Blockchain is a shell of its former self after revenue misses, job cuts: sources • CoinDesk

Ian Allison:

»

IBM has cut its blockchain team down to almost nothing, according to four people familiar with the situation.

Job losses at IBM escalated as the company failed to meet its revenue targets for the once-fêted technology by 90% this year, according to one of the sources.

“IBM is doing a major reorganization,” said a source at a startup that has been interviewing former IBM blockchain staffers. “There is not really going to be a blockchain team any longer. Most of the blockchain people at IBM have left.”

IBM’s blockchain unit missed its revenue targets by a wide margin for two years in a row, said a second source. Expectations for enterprise blockchain were too high, they said, adding that IBM “didn’t really manage to execute, despite doing a lot of announcements.”

A spokesperson for IBM denied the claims.

“Our blockchain business is doing well, thank you,” Holli Haswell, a director of public relations at IBM, said via email.

«

Not quite a denial about the shrinking job numbers – which the story puts at about 100 departures. Missing revenue targets by 90% is quite a miss. Enterprise blockchain seems to be Not A Thing.
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iPhone Face ID will soon work with masks – but only if you’re wearing an Apple Watch • Pocket-Lint

Dan Grabham:

»

Your Face ID iPhone will soon be able to unlock even if you’re wearing a mask. However, there’s a catch in that it will only do this if you’re wearing an Apple Watch that’s paired with the phone and unlocked.

One problem with having to wear face masks over your mouth and nose is that facial recognition doesn’t really work with them. That’s been a particular problem with newer iPhones (iPhone X, XS, XR, 11, 12) that rely on Face ID.

But that’s about to change with the next iteration of iOS 14, version 14.5. It’s now out as a developer beta for those who have access and will be publicly available over the coming weeks. iOS 14 was first released back in September.

Apple tells us that Face ID works just as you would expect with the new software. Your Apple Watch will give you some haptic feedback to let you know your iPhone has been unlocked. This is similar behaviour to using the Apple Watch to unlock your Mac which has been available for some time. Once again your Watch will need to be in close proximity to your iPhone.

«

So your iPhone unlocks your Watch, and then your Watch unlocks your iPhone. Apple only ever expected to do the first one. So it’s taken a little while to figure out the protocol.
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NYU researchers find no evidence of anti-conservative bias on social media • The Verge

Kim Lyons:

»

The report from NYU’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights says not only is there no empirical finding that social media companies systematically suppress conservatives, but even reports of anecdotal instances tend to fall apart under close scrutiny. And in an effort to appear unbiased, platforms actually bend over backward to try to appease conservative critics.

“The contention that social media as an industry censors conservatives is now, as we speak, becoming part of an even broader disinformation campaign from the right, that conservatives are being silenced all across American society,” the report’s lead researcher Paul Barrett said in an interview with The Verge. “This is the obvious post-Trump theme, we’re seeing it on Fox News, hearing it from Trump lieutenants, and I think it will continue indefinitely. Rather than any of this going away with Trump leaving Washington, it’s only getting more intense.”

The researchers analyzed data from analytics platforms CrowdTangle and NewsWhip and existing reports like the 2020 study from Politico and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, all of which showed that conservative accounts actually dominated social media. And they drilled down into anecdotes about bias and repeatedly found there was no concrete evidence to support such claims.

Looking at how claims of anti-conservative bias developed over time, Barrett says, it’s not hard to see how the “anti-conservative” rhetoric became a political instrument. “It’s a tool used by everyone from Trump to Jim Jordan to Sean Hannity, but there is no evidence to back it up,” he said.

«

Truly the most boring disinformation campaign is right-wingers complaining of being censored or ignored. Before social media, the Conservatives in the UK used it about the BBC (that it was biased against them, they were being ignored, and so on). It’s never true.
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The writing’s on the wall for Google Stadia – The Verge

Sean Hollister:

»

After 14 months, Google has decided it doesn’t want to be a game company anymore. Where once it had its own cloud-based console, controller, and the promise of homegrown triple-A games, it no longer wants to build its own games as of last Monday.

And though a Google spokesperson emphasizes that the company continues to “remain committed to Stadia as a platform,” it’s looking increasingly likely that platform won’t be a service where you sign up with Google to buy and rent cloud games.

Stadia boss Phil Harrison announced that Google was shutting down the company’s game studios in a memo today, and I think the exact wording of that memo is extremely telling. Go read it for yourself. I’ll wait.

Did you see the part about how Stadia is now a platform for Google’s partners? It’s pretty hard to miss: Harrison brings it up no fewer than five times in four paragraphs. In all but the very last paragraph, “partners” — not gamers — come first.

This suggests Google has realized an important truth: Stadia, like so many of Google’s other businesses, is optimally one where you aren’t the customer. The paying customers, if Google can get them, are game publishers themselves, and possibly ISPs that would like to deliver a cable-like bundle of games to go along with their cable-like bundles of shows.

Today, Harrison defines Stadia as a “technology platform for industry partners” — which suggests to me that he’s talking about turning Stadia into a white-label cloud gaming service.

«

That wouldn’t be such a bad future for Stadia. Or the white label version of it. Google doesn’t need to be in the game space. Perhaps this was the plan all along, or perhaps it just realised quite quickly that being a game studio wasn’t really going to fit with all its other interests. People are describing it as Google not having any idea what it’s up to, but quite possibly it did, and this is a smart way to utilise its cloud processing facilities without the pain of game hits and misses.
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Wikipedia’s new code of conduct targets harassment and misinformation • Engadget

K Holt:

»

The Wikimedia Foundation has announced the first Universal Code of Conduct to tackle misinformation and harassment on Wikipedia. The foundation says that the rules clearly spell out what behavior is acceptable.

The code explicitly prohibits Wikipedia users from deliberately adding false or biased information to articles, as well as harassing others on and off the platform. The use of slurs and stereotypes, doxxing, hate speech and threats of violence are all banned. In addition, the rules aim to stop the abuse of power, privilege or influence.

Editors are encouraged to assume edits were carried out in good faith, help newcomers and give credit where it’s due to show mutual respect for other users. The foundation also underscored its commitment to “creating spaces that foster diversity of thought, religion, sexual orientation, age, culture, and language to name a few.”

«

They seem like obvious things? I suppose though that having a code of conduct means that you can point to it when you ban someone for breaching it. Notable though that Wikipedia, by virtue of not using algorithmic targeting, has managed to stay largely free of the decline we’ve seen on social networks.
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Brexit witness archive: Philip Hammond • UK in a changing Europe

This is an interview about Brexit, as seen from inside the Tory administration that first triggered the referendum and then tried to figure out how the hell to do it. This is an interview with Philip Hammond, who was foreign secretary to David Cameron and then Chancellor to Theresa May – about whom he is repeatedly quite stingingly rude, in that British way. He’s also entertainingly rude about David Davis, who was one of the negotiators, and that’s worth quoting:

»

David Davis in particular had this very crude 1980s approach to negotiation. I know David quite well, I knew him before I went into politics – David’s backstory is that he was the trouble-shooter for Tate & Lyle. When there was a problem, they sent David Davis. Shut down a refinery, fire a load of people, get rid of the troublemakers: the bare-knuckle fighter. That’s how he liked to see himself. David Davis’ approach to negotiation is you slap it on the table, you lean across, and you eyeball them. If they don’t give way immediately, you say, ‘I’ll see you round the back.’ That was always his view on this. ‘We’ve got the money, they want our money, so we wave a cheque at them then we stick it in our back pocket and we say, ‘Right, show us what you’ve got’. In the end, they’ll want our money. They’ll want access to our market. How long is this going to take, 15 minutes? Give me 15 minutes in a room with these people. I’ll sort them out.’ That was his view of the world, and it was widely shared among the Brexiteers.

So they always assumed that this was entirely discretionary and we could just threaten to withhold it. That would give us this huge bargaining leverage. It never did.

«

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Tesla to recall 135,000 U.S. vehicles under pressure from auto safety regulators • Reuters

David Shepardson:

»

Tesla Inc has agreed to recall 134,951 Model S and Model X vehicles with touchscreen displays that could fail and raise the risk of a crash after US auto safety regulators sought the recall last month, according to a recall posted on a government website Tuesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made the unusual recall request in a formal Jan. 13 letter to Tesla, saying it had tentatively concluded the 2012-2018 Model S and 2016-2018 Model X vehicles pose a safety issue. Automakers usually agree to voluntary fixes before the auto safety agency formally seeks a recall.

The agency said touchscreen failures posed significant safety issues, including the loss of rearview or backup camera images, exterior turn-signal lighting, and windshield defogging and defrosting systems that “may decrease the driver’s visibility in inclement weather.”

…Tesla acknowledged the problem but said if the display was not working, “the driver can perform a shoulder check and use the mirrors. If the screen is not visible to control the climate control and defroster settings, the driver will be able to manually clear the windshield.”

«

So the thing that’s the big selling point – the touchscreen – Tesla says is just an optional add-on? Mixed messaging to say the least.
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Facebook knew calls for violence plagued ‘Groups,’ now plans overhaul • WSJ

Jeff Horwitz:

»

Facebook executives were aware for years that tools fueling Groups’ rapid growth presented an obstacle to their effort to build healthy online communities, and the company struggled internally over how to contain them.

The company’s data scientists had warned Facebook executives in August that what they called blatant misinformation and calls to violence were filling the majority of the platform’s top “civic” Groups, according to documents The Wall Street Journal reviewed. Those Groups are generally dedicated to politics and related issues and collectively reach hundreds of millions of users.

The researchers told executives that “enthusiastic calls for violence every day” filled one 58,000-member Group, according to an internal presentation. Another top Group claimed it was set up by fans of Donald Trump but it was actually run by “financially motivated Albanians” directing a million views daily to fake news stories and other provocative content.

Roughly “70% of the top 100 most active US Civic Groups are considered non-recommendable for issues such as hate, misinfo, bullying and harassment,” the presentation concluded. “We need to do something to stop these conversations from happening and growing as quickly as they do,” the researchers wrote, suggesting measures to slow the growth of Groups at least long enough to give Facebook staffers time to address violations.

… In a 2020 Super Bowl ad, it celebrated amateur-rocketry buffs, bouldering clubs and rocking-chair enthusiasts—brought together through Groups.

Nina Jankowicz, a social media researcher at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., said she became alarmed after hearing a Facebook representative advise a European prime minister’s social-media director that Groups were now the best way to reach a large audience on the platform.

“My eyes bugged out of my head,” said Ms. Jankowicz, who studies the intersection of democracy and technology. “I knew how destructive Groups could be.”

«

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: @Reynolds, who has direct experience working in the NHS, has a followup about Terence Eden’s suggestion on using LinkedIn to bug senior execs: “I always advise people having trouble with the NHS start by threatening to go to the Trust PALS department. And then go to PALS if that doesn’t solve the problem. Patient Advice and Liason Service short circuits the whole Org chart.”

Start Up No.1476: might Dunning-Kruger be fake?, SolarWinds hack hits US court system, what LinkedIn is really good for, and more


Tesla has copied an element of the KITT Knight Rider car – unfortunately, the least ergonomic one. CC-licensed photo by Dan Thornton on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Mostly harmless. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is probably not real • Office for Science and Society, McGill University

Jonathan Jarry:

»

I want the Dunning-Kruger effect to be real. First described in a seminal 1999 paper by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, this effect has been the darling of journalists who want to explain why dumb people don’t know they’re dumb. There’s even video of a fantastic pastiche of Turandot’s famous aria, Nessun dorma, explaining the Dunning-Kruger effect. “They don’t know,” the opera singer belts out at the climax, “that they don’t know.”

I was planning on writing a very short article about the Dunning-Kruger effect and it felt like shooting fish in a barrel. Here’s the effect, how it was discovered, what it means. End of story.

But as I double-checked the academic literature, doubt started to creep in. While trying to understand the criticism that had been leveled at the original study, I fell down a rabbit hole, spoke to a few statistics-minded people, corresponded with Dr. Dunning himself, and tried to understand if our brain really was biased to overstate our competence in activities at which we suck… or if the celebrated effect was just a mirage brought about by the peculiar way in which we can play with numbers.

…In 2016 and 2017, two papers were published in a mathematics journal called Numeracy. In them, the authors argued that the Dunning-Kruger effect was a mirage. And I tend to agree.

The two papers, by Dr. Ed Nuhfer and colleagues, argued that the Dunning-Kruger effect could be replicated by using random data.

«

😱😱😱

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Feds want to talk to Tesla about the Model S ‘yoke’ steering wheel • Roadshow

Sean Szymkowski:

»

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Roadshow on Friday it has reached out to Tesla following the news of its planned yoke-style steering wheel for the refreshed Model S electric sedan. The government agency did not say if the automaker has been in touch with regulators since it debuted the radical new wheel.

Tesla this week revealed the refreshed flagship sedan, along with a revamped Model X SUV, with the steering yoke grabbing eyeballs across the internet. Roadshow’s Editor-in-Chief Tim Stevens has laid out why the design is a likely safety risk, but US regulators will certainly get to the bottom of it. NHTSA told Roadshow that on first glance it “cannot determine if the steering wheel meets Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.” If Tesla’s in violation of the standards, the yoke will have to go.

«

I heard this being discussed on the most recent Accidental Tech Podcast, not having seen the wheel (it’s basically a rectangle), and couldn’t believe that Tesla could have been so stupid. But apparently it has. In user interface terms, it’s, well, a car crash. There isn’t even a stalk for triggering the turn indicators, and the buttons that do it are now on the steering wheel on the same side for both right and left. Unbelievable that any of this could get through a usability test of any sort.
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Russian hack brings changes, uncertainty to US court system • Associated Press

Maryclaire Dale:

»

Trial lawyer Robert Fisher is handling one of America’s most prominent counterintelligence cases, defending an MIT scientist charged with secretly helping China. But how he’ll handle the logistics of the case could feel old school: Under new court rules, he’ll have to print out any highly sensitive documents and hand-deliver them to the courthouse.

Until recently, even the most secretive material — about wiretaps, witnesses and national security concerns – could be filed electronically. But that changed after the massive Russian hacking campaign that breached the U.S. court system’s electronic case files and those of scores of other federal agencies and private companies.

The new rules for filing sensitive documents are one of the clearest ways the hack has affected the court system. But the full impact remains unknown. Hackers probably gained access to the vast trove of confidential information hidden in sealed documents, including trade secrets, espionage targets, whistleblower reports and arrest warrants. It could take years to learn what information was obtained and what hackers are doing with it.

It’s also not clear that the intrusion has been stopped, prompting the rules on paper filings. Those documents are now uploaded to a stand-alone computer at the courthouse — one not connected to the network or Internet. That means lawyers cannot access the documents from outside the courthouse.

«

This hack is putting the US back years. It’s amazing.
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Abusing LinkedIn for better customer service • Terence Eden’s Blog

From 2019, but Eden says he’s still using it:

»

When I have a complaint about a company, and regular customer services just can’t fix it, I cheat. I send a connection request [on LinkedIn, not Twitter] to the CEO, or head of customer service, or anyone senior who looks like they might actually hold some sway.

After a month of my energy company sending me incorrect bills, and several hours on hold, I cracked and connected to someone senior there.

A few messages later, it was all sorted.

Similarly, when an employer’s payroll company started messing me around, I went straight to the top. In this case, an executive had posted several times about their “award winning” team. So I left comments on their post asking if my poor experience with their company was typical of their service. Within a moment, I had a response.

«

Smart understanding of the real dynamics of the social networks.
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Analysis: Robinhood and Reddit protected from lawsuits by user agreement, Congress • Reuters

Tom Hals:

»

Robinhood is not legally bound to carry out every trade and the lawsuits will not succeed without evidence the company restricted trading for an improper reason, such as to favor certain investors, according to several legal experts.

The user agreement on Robinhood’s website says it “may at any time, in its sole discretion and without prior notice to Me, prohibit or restrict My ability to trade securities.”

Adam Pritchard, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said the lawsuits are very unlikely to gain traction.

“The contract says they can do it,” Pritchard said of the company’s decision to restrict trading. “That seems to be a big stumbling block to the breach of contract claim.”

«

You knew it would be in there somewhere, and so it is.
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How I learned to stop worrying and love Twitter’s Trump ban • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»

instead of worrying about the precedent Twitter set by “permanently suspending” the president, I lament all that might have been if Trump had been banned sooner. And I believe there’s only one lesson Silicon Valley’s luminaries should take away from Trump’s calamitous time on Twitter — it is a cautionary tale about all that can go wrong when digital innovation is stretched far beyond its original purpose.

Twitter was never meant to be used the way Trump used it, as an all-purpose bullhorn for governing a superpower, and as a result the company often found itself having to create special rules just for the president. Ordinary users might be punished for harassment or threats of violence, for instance, but Twitter gave “world leaders” like Trump special permission to behave badly. The company reversed course only after Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol; Trump’s tweets following the riot risked “further incitement of violence,” it said.

Trump’s case may be unique, for now, but why risk a replay? If I ran the company I’d push to make sure Twitter can never be used the way Trump used it.

The rule need not be partisan. Something far simpler would suffice: heads of state should not be allowed to tweet. The most powerful person in the world’s most visible lever on power should not be 280-character chunks of tossed-off thoughts published instantly, without review, on a medium run by a private company whose secret algorithms are designed to encourage outrage and reward cheap dunks.

«

Trump was an exception, but not a lone one. The benefit of this is that at least it doesn’t require any judgement by Twitter. Feels a bit brutal to lump Jacinda Ardern in with Trump, though.
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We spoke to a guy who got his dick locked in a cage by a hacker • Vice

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

»

Sam Summers was sitting at home with his penis wrapped in an internet-connected chastity cage when he got a weird message on the app that connects to the device. Someone told him they had taken control and they wanted around $1,000 in Bitcoin to give control back to Summers. 

“Initially, I thought it was my partner doing that,” Summers told Motherboard in a phone call. “It sounds silly, but I got a bit excited by it.” 

But when Summers called his partner, she told him it wasn’t her, even after he told her their safe word. That’s when he realized he had gotten hacked. His penis was locked in the cage, and he had no way out.

“Oh, shit, it’s real,” Summers said. “I started looking at the thing. There’s no manual override at all. It’s a chastity belt, I guess it kind of shouldn’t [have an override.] But when it’s a digital thing like that, it should have a key or something. But it obviously didn’t.”

«

A topic that I covered a while back, but here’s the interview with a victim. Appropriate that it should appear in Vice.
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‘Carbon-neutrality is a fairy tale’: how the race for renewables is burning Europe’s forests • The Guardian

Hazel Sheffield:

»

To investigate the subsidised European pellet trade and its impact on Baltic forests, we uploaded boundary files for Estonia’s Natura 2000 zones to Global Forest Watch, an online platform for monitoring forests, and found that per-hectare tree cover loss (the removal of the tree canopy rather than outright deforestation) in these areas accelerated after 2015. That was when the government adjusted park conservation rules to allow clear-cutting of up to one hectare at a time in some nature reserves.

Across Estonia, between 2001 and 2019, Natura 2000 areas lost more than 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of forest cover, an area more than twice the size of Manhattan. The last five years account for 80% of that loss. Further alterations to rules in other Estonian national parks are planned.

This acceleration appears to be taking a toll on bird species like the black grouse, woodlark and others. Woodland birds are declining at a rate of 50,000 breeding pairs a year, according to national records.

The clearances are also damaging the ability of Baltic forests to store carbon, and could be undermining climate goals by reducing the chance for Estonia and Latvia to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

In a country where the overwhelming majority of people say they regard nature as sacred, logging has led to protests or what the Estonian media calls the “forest war”. Residents of Saku, a small town 16 miles south of Tallinn, successfully fought to save an area of forest that was scheduled to be cut down this year by RMK, the state forest management company, which manages around half of Estonian forests

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Here’s a way to learn if facial recognition systems used your photos • The New York Times

Cade Metz and Kashmir Hill:

»

When tech companies created the facial recognition systems that are rapidly remaking government surveillance and chipping away at personal privacy, they may have received help from an unexpected source: your face.

Companies, universities and government labs have used millions of images collected from a hodgepodge of online sources to develop the technology. Now, researchers have built an online tool, Exposing.AI, that lets people search many of these image collections for their old photos.

The tool, which matches images from the Flickr online photo-sharing service, offers a window onto the vast amounts of data needed to build a wide variety of A.I technologies, from facial recognition to online “chatbots.”

“People need to realize that some of their most intimate moments have been weaponized,” said one of its creators, Liz O’Sullivan, the technology director at the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a privacy and civil rights group. She helped create Exposing.AI with Adam Harvey, a researcher and artist in Berlin.

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Why webcams aren’t good enough • Reincubate

Jeff Carlson:

»

Primarily this is about size: webcams are designed as small devices that need to fit onto existing monitors or laptop lids, so they use small camera modules with tiny image sensors. These modules have been good enough for years, generating accolades, so there’s little incentive to change. The StreamCam appears to have a better camera and sensor, with an aperture of f/2.0; aperture isn’t listed for the other cameras.

Contrast this technology with the iPhone, which also includes small camera modules by necessity to fit them into a phone form factor. Apple includes better components, but just as important, incorporates dedicated hardware and software solely to the task of creating images. When you’re taking a photo or video with an iOS device, it’s processing the raw data and outputting an edited version of the scene.

Originally, Logitech’s higher-end webcams, such as the C920, also included dedicated MPEG processing hardware to decode the video signal, but removed it at some point (without changing the model numbers or otherwise indicating the change except for an undated blog post). The company justified the change because of the power of modern computers, stating, “there is no longer a need for in-camera encoding in today’s computers,” but that just shifts the processing burden to the computer’s CPU, which must decode raw video instead of an optimized stream. It’s equally likely Logitech made the change to reduce component costs and no longer pay to license the H.264 codec from MPEG LA, the group that owns MPEG patents.

That brings us to the other factor keeping webcam innovation restrained: manufacturers aren’t as invested in what has been a low margin business catering to a relatively small niche of customers.

«

Easy to forget that for most PC companies, making PCs isn’t actually a high-margin business: when I looked into it in detail in 2014, the top five PC companies were making operating margins of about $15 per PC sold. No hurry to spend more than that extra on the webcam. (Link via John Naughton.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1475: how vengeful people ruin online reputations, the fake Huawei influencers, ransomware gang shuts down, and more


We have a definitive explanation for why RobinHood blocked purchases of Gamestop stock, despite demand. CC-licensed photo by Dicoplio Family on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Part 2 of 12. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A vast web of vengeance • The New York Times

Kashmir Hill on a man who found himself defamed online, and while digging in to :

»

Mr. Babcock stared at the photo in shock. He hadn’t seen it in decades, but he recognized it instantly. The woman’s name was Nadire Atas; this was her official work portrait from 1990, when she worked in a Re/Max real estate office the Babcock family owned outside Toronto. She had initially been a star employee, but her performance deteriorated, and in 1993 Mr. Babcock’s father had fired her. Afterward, she had threatened his father, according to an affidavit filed in a Canadian court.

Mr. Babcock felt lightheaded. A memory came back to him: When his mother died in 1999, the family had received vulgar, anonymous letters celebrating her death. A neighbor received a typed letter stating that Mr. Babcock’s father “has been seen roaming the neighbourhood late at night and masturbating behind the bushes.” The Babcocks had suspected Ms. Atas, who was the only person who had ever threatened them. (Ms. Atas denied making threats or writing the letters.)
Decades later, it appeared that she was still harboring her grudge — and had updated her methods for the digital age.

…These situations — where one angry person targets a large group of perceived enemies — are not uncommon. Maanit Zemel, a lawyer who specializes in online defamation, represents a group of 53 people who have filed a lawsuit saying they were attacked online by Tanvir Farid after he failed to get jobs at their companies. (Mr. Farid’s lawyer declined to comment.)

For victims, these sorts of attacks “can literally end their life and their career and everything,” Ms. Zemel said.

«

You don’t have to read much further before you begin wondering about a mental health test for people who want to post stuff on the internet.

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Inside a pro-Huawei influence campaign • The New York Times

Adam Satariano:

»

First, at least 14 Twitter accounts posing as telecommunications experts, writers and academics shared articles by Mr. Vermulst and many others attacking draft Belgium legislation that would limit “high risk” vendors like Huawei from building the country’s 5G system, according to Graphika, a research firm that studies misinformation and fake social media accounts. The pro-Huawei accounts used computer-generated profile pictures, a telltale sign of inauthentic activity.

Next, Huawei officials retweeted the fake accounts, giving the articles even wider reach to policymakers, journalists and business leaders. Kevin Liu, Huawei’s president for public affairs and communications in Western Europe, who has a verified Twitter account with 1.1 million followers, shared 60 posts from the fake accounts over three weeks in December, according to Graphika. Huawei’s official account in Europe, with more than five million followers, did so 47 times.

The effort suggests a new twist in social media manipulation, said Ben Nimmo, a Graphika investigator who helped identify the pro-Huawei campaign. Tactics once used mainly for government objectives — like Russia’s interference in the 2016 American presidential election — are being adapted to achieve corporate goals.

«

The use of AI-generated faces for this stuff is so prevalent. Of course, computer networks can’t detect them because the adversarial networks used to generate them spend half their time trying to detect fakes. Huawei hasn’t acknowledged this being its own work.
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Exclusive: China’s Huawei in talks to sell premium smartphone brands P and Mate – sources • Reuters

Julie Zhu, Yingzhi Yang and David Kirton:

»

China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd is in early-stage talks to sell its premium smartphone brands P and Mate, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said, a move that could see the company eventually exit from the high-end smartphone-making business.

The talks between the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker and a consortium led by Shanghai government-backed investment firms have been going on for months, the people said, declining to be identified as the discussions were confidential.

Huawei started to internally explore the possibility of selling the brands as early as last September, according to one of the sources. The two sources were not privy to the valuation placed on the brands by Huawei.

Shipments of Mate and P Series phones were worth $39.7bn between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, according to consultancy IDC.

However, Huawei has yet to make a final decision on the sale and the talks might not conclude successfully, according to the two sources, as the company is still trying to manufacture at home its in-house designed high-end Kirin chips which power its smartphones.

«

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China smartphone market declines 11% in 2020 as Huawei unable to revive supply • Canalys

»

The smartphone market in Mainland China finished 2020 with 84 million units shipped in Q4 2020, declining 4% year-on-year. That meant for the full year, the China market declined 11% to arrive at just over 330 million units, as market recovery was stalled by the rapid deterioration of Huawei’s performance as a result of US sanctions.

For Q4 2020, Huawei (including Honor) managed to ship 18.8 million units, and its market share declined to 22% from 41% in Q3 2020. Oppo rose rapidly into second place, shipping 17.2 million smartphones, growing 23% year-on-year. Vivo also showed strong year-on-year growth at 20%, and came in third at 15.7 million units. Apple also reported its best performance in China in recent years, shipping more than 15.3 million units in Q4, with 18% market share, up from 15% in Q4 2019. Xiaomi completed the top five, shipping 12.2 million units, growing 52% year-on-year.

«

Huawei’s loss very much Apple’s gain, especially as it was one of those years when also had a new phone design, which always helps sales.
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FonixCrypter ransomware gang releases master decryption key • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

The cybercrime group behind the FonixCrypter ransomware has announced today on Twitter that they’ve deleted the ransomware’s source code and plan to shut down their operation.

As a gesture of goodwill towards past victims, the FonixCrypter gang has also released a package containing a decryption tool, how-to instructions, and the ransomware’s master decryption key.

These files can be used by former infected users to decrypt and recover their files for free, without needing to pay for a decryption key.

Allan Liska, a security researcher for threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, has tested the decrypter at ZDNet’s request earlier today and verified that the FonixCrypter app, instructions, and master key work as advertised.

“The decryption key provided by the actors behind the Fonix ransomware appears to be legitimate, thought it requires each file to be decrypted individually,” Liska told ZDNet.

“The important thing is that they included the master key, which should enable someone to build a much better decryption tool,” he added.

«

All of this is very mysterious: why would an otherwise successful gang suddenly shut up shop and release their source code? Suggestions rolling around are that they’re either worried about imminently getting their collars felt; or they got hacked by a rival group.
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Suspected Russian hack extends far beyond SolarWinds software, investigators say • WSJ

Robert McMillan and Dustin Volz:

»

Close to a third of the victims didn’t run the SolarWinds software initially considered the main avenue of attack for the hackers, according to investigators and the government agency digging into the incident. The revelation is fueling concern that the episode exploited vulnerabilities in business software used daily by millions.

Hackers linked to the attack have broken into these systems by exploiting known bugs in software products, by guessing online passwords and by capitalizing on a variety of issues in the way Microsoft’s cloud-based software is configured, investigators said.

Approximately 30% of both the private-sector and government victims linked to the campaign had no direct connection to SolarWinds, Brandon Wales, acting director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said in an interview.

The attackers “gained access to their targets in a variety of ways. This adversary has been creative,” said Mr. Wales, whose agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is coordinating the government response. “It is absolutely correct that this campaign should not be thought of as the SolarWinds campaign.”

«

Think they’re stuck with the name. This seems to be a much, much, much bigger deal than anyone realised, which probably means that this will pretty much be the last we hear of it. It’s going to be one for the espionage world.
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The machine stops • The New Yorker

Oliver Sacks wrote this in 2014, before he died, but it wasn’t published until February 2019:

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A few years ago, I was invited to join a panel discussion about information and communication in the twenty-first century. One of the panelists, an Internet pioneer, said proudly that his young daughter surfed the Web twelve hours a day and had access to a breadth and range of information that no one from a previous generation could have imagined. I asked whether she had read any of Jane Austen’s novels, or any classic novel. When he said that she hadn’t, I wondered aloud whether she would then have a solid understanding of human nature or of society, and suggested that while she might be stocked with wide-ranging information, that was different from knowledge. Half the audience cheered; the other half booed.

Much of this, remarkably, was envisaged by E. M. Forster in his 1909 story “The Machine Stops,” in which he imagined a future where people live underground in isolated cells, never seeing one another and communicating only by audio and visual devices. In this world, original thought and direct observation are discouraged—“Beware of first-hand ideas!” people are told. Humanity has been overtaken by “the Machine,” which provides all comforts and meets all needs—except the need for human contact. One young man, Kuno, pleads with his mother via a Skype-like technology, “I want to see you not through the Machine. . . . I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”

He says to his mother, who is absorbed in her hectic, meaningless life, “We have lost the sense of space. . . . We have lost a part of ourselves. . . . Cannot you see . . . that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine?”

This is how I feel increasingly often about our bewitched, besotted society, too.

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Douglas Adams described this first. (The sad thing is that we can’t have any new Douglas Adams aphorisms.)
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China is now sending Twitter users to prison for posts most Chinese can’t see • WSJ

Chun Han Wong:

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Chinese authorities have sentenced more than 50 people to prison in the past three years for using Twitter and other foreign platforms—all blocked in China—allegedly to disrupt public order and attack party rule, according to a Wall Street Journal examination of court records and a database maintained by a free-speech activist.

The growing use of prison sentences marks an escalation of China’s efforts to control narratives and strangle criticism outside China’s cloistered internet. In the past, the suppression of views on foreign social media was enforced mostly through detentions and harassment, rarely by imprisoning people, human-rights activists say.

Courts records cited offending speech ranging from criticism of state leaders and the Communist Party to discussions of Hong Kong, the northwestern region of Xinjiang, and the democratically ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory. Among those whose Twitter accounts remained online or whose followings were cited in court records, their followers typically numbered in the hundreds or low thousands, though one had fewer than 30 followers when he was detained.

…Later that month, three men dressed as neighborhood volunteers showed up at Mr. Zhou’s apartment, saying they wanted to discuss pandemic controls. When he opened the door, the men rushed in along with seven uniformed police officers, pressed him onto the ground, and then took him away for interrogation about his Twitter use, he said.

Even though Mr. Zhou said he had only about 300 followers when he was detained, a local court ruled in November that he had egregiously damaged social order and handed him a nine-month prison sentence. “I felt helpless and indignant,” he said.

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Financial presentation of Alzheimer disease and related dementias • JAMA Network

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Question: are Alzheimer disease and related dementias (ADRD) associated with adverse financial outcomes in the years before and after diagnosis?

Findings: In this cohort study of 81,364 Medicare beneficiaries living in single-person households, those with ADRD were more likely to miss bill payments up to six years prior to diagnosis and started to develop subprime credit scores 2.5 years prior to diagnosis compared with those never diagnosed. These negative financial outcomes persisted after ADRD diagnosis, accounted for 10% to 15% of missed payments in our sample, and were more prevalent in census tracts with less college education.

Meaning: Alzheimer disease and related dementias were associated with adverse financial events starting years prior to clinical diagnosis.

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A comment on that page from someone who used to work in consumer fraud says that this matches what they see exactly: the inability to spot a scam often precedes a clear onset of Alzheimer’s by a handful of years.
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What’s happening with RobinHood? By @compound248 on Twitter • Thread Reader App

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Dear Media,

What’s happening with RobinHood?

A quick primer.

This is a “plumbing” issue. It is esoteric, even for those on Wall Street.

A very long thread on how the toilet is clogged

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This is also well-explained if you’re prepared to concentrate. Key points are that if you think you’re “buying” stock in RobinHood, actually you’re not – RobinHood owns it. And systems put in place to prevent a repeat of the Lehman Brothers domino effect is what got RobinHood into trouble.

Plus it was made even worse by margin trading on options, which have the ability to make things calamitous rather than just awful. RobinHood itself finally added a “you probably won’t understand this” blogpost to explain things, but the thread above is better.
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Robinhood, in need of cash, raises $1bn from its investors • The New York Times

Kate Kelly, Erin Griffith, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Nathaniel Popper:

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On Thursday, Robinhood was forced to stop customers from buying a number of stocks, like GameStop, that were heavily traded this week. To continue operating, it drew on a line of credit from six banks amounting to between $500m and $600m to meet higher margin, or lending, requirements from its central clearing facility for stock trades, known as the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation.

Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation, who asked to remain anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.

Robinhood, which is privately held, contacted several of its investors, including the venture capital firms Sequoia Capital and Ribbit Capital, which came together on Thursday night to offer the emergency funding, five people involved in the negotiations said.

“This is a strong sign of confidence from investors that will help us continue to further serve our customers,” Josh Drobnyk, a Robinhood spokesman, said in an email. Sequoia and Ribbit declined to comment.

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Robinhood’s PR is absolutely awful. It talks with marbles in its mouth. The message on the app – “let the people trade” – is simple. But everything is much more complicated than it makes out, and that hurts it as soon as the complexity begins intruding.
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