Start Up No.1496: how email brings us down, Twitter plans ‘Super Follows’, Apple Watch hits 100 million, and more


The Biden administration is dramatically raising the theoretical price per tonne of carbon emitted. That’s going to have a lot of effects. CC-licensed photo by John Englart on Flickr.

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

Biden is hiking the cost of carbon. It will change how the US tackles global warming • The Washington Post

Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis:

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The administration plans to boost the figure it will use to assess the damage that greenhouse gas pollution inflicts on society to $51 per ton of carbon dioxide — a rate more than seven times higher than that used by former president Donald Trump’s administration. But the number, known as the “social cost of carbon,” could reach as high as $125 per ton once the administration conducts a more thorough analysis.

In a recent interview, Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, said the administration is setting an initial price to inform its policies “and then work more diligently about what the actual cost might be as we move forward, and get the information that we need to be able to do that.”

The ultimate figure will be incorporated into decisions across the federal government, including what sort of purchases it makes, the kind of pollution controls it imposes on industry and which highways and pipelines are permitted in the years to come. Just as important, the move sends a powerful signal to the private sector and to ordinary Americans that the choices the country makes now could lock in disastrous consequences on both current and future generations — or help to avert the worst impacts.

“A new social cost of carbon can tip the scales for hundreds of policy decisions facing the federal government,” said Tamma Carleton, assistant professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “Any policy, project or regulation that lowers emissions will now have a higher dollar value, reflecting the many benefits future Americans enjoy when emissions fall today.”

“Confronting climate change will cost money,” she said. And putting a higher price on global warming’s damages, she added, “highlights the large hidden costs of doing nothing.”

While this is not a new tax that consumers would have to pay, it would make it harder for fossil fuel projects to win government approval by factoring in their long-term costs to society.

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E-mail is making us miserable • The New Yorker

Cal Newport:

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When employees are miserable, they perform worse. They’re also more likely, as the French labor minister warned, to burn out, leading to increased health-care costs and expensive employee turnover. A Harvard Business School professor found that giving a group of management consultants predictable time off from e-mail increased the percentage of them who planned to stay at the firm “for the long term” from forty% to fifty-eight%. E-mail’s power to makes us unhappy also has more philosophical implications. There are two hundred and thirty million knowledge workers in the world, which includes, according to the Federal Reserve, more than a third of the U.S. workforce. If this massive population is being made miserable by a slavish devotion to in-boxes and chat channels, then this adds up to a whole lot of global miserableness! From a utilitarian perspective, this level of suffering cannot be ignored—especially if there is something that we might be able to do to alleviate it.

Given these stakes, it’s all the more surprising that we spend so little time trying to understand the source of this discontent. Many in the business community tend to dismiss the psychological toll from e-mail as an incidental side effect caused by bad in-box habits or a weak constitution. I’ve come to believe, however, that much deeper forces are at play in generating our mismatch with this tool, including some that get at the very core of what drives us as humans.

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Though of course not the daily email in which this link appears. Don’t need to say that.
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Twitter to launch subscription service Super Follows, aims to double revenue by 2023 • WSJ

Sarah E. Needleman:

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Dantley Davis, Twitter’s head of design and research, said that “an audience-funded model where subscribers can directly fund the content that they value most is a durable incentive model that aligns interests of creators and consumers.”

Twitter disclosed the new business models at an online event for analysts, its first in several years, and said they are part of Twitter’s broader goal of reaching at least $7.5 billion in revenue or more by 2023, up from the $3.7 billion it made last year, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company is projecting its daily user base to grow to at least 315 million by the end of 2023, or around 20% annually between now and then.

Shares in Twitter rose 5% in Thursday trading.

Moving into subscriptions could be a way for Twitter to rely less on advertising, which accounted for 86% of the company’s total revenue in 2020. Last month Twitter said it reached a deal to buy newsletter platform Revue Holding BV, tapping into a trend of tech companies providing content creators with tools to make money. The growing space includes other newsletter startups such as Substack Inc. and Rocket Science Group LLC’s Mailchimp.

With tipping, Twitter would join several other social-networking companies that offer users the opportunity to show support for one another or groups of users. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube, Amazon.com Inc.’s live-streaming service Twitch and chat platform Discord Inc. allow users to purchase digital perks for this purpose.

Though it is working to build other lines of business, Twitter has added and improved tools for advertisers looking to market on the platform. The company has said one way it hopes to grow is by appealing to more small-business advertisers. Most of its advertisers are large companies.

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So! Which Twitter accounts do you follow that you’d actually pay for?
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Some of biggest Android VPN services’ user data hacked • CyberNews

“Cybernews Team”:

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The VPN services whose data has been allegedly exfiltrated by the hacker are SuperVPN, which is considered as one of the most popular (and dangerous) VPNs on Google Play with 100,000,000+ installs on the Play store, as well as GeckoVPN (10,000,000+ installs) and ChatVPN (50,000+ installs).

The forum user is selling deeply sensitive device data and login credentials – email addresses and randomly generated strings used as passwords – of more than 21 million VPN users for an undisclosed sum. 

We reached out to SuperVPN, GeckoVPN, and ChatVPN and asked the providers if they could confirm that the leak was genuine but we have received no responses at the time of writing this report.

The author of the forum post is selling three archives, two of which allegedly contain a variety of data apparently collected by the providers from more than 21,000,000 SuperVPN, GeckoVPN, and ChatVPN users, including:
• Email addresses
• Usernames
• Full names
• Country names
• Randomly generated password strings
• Payment-related data
• Premium member status and its expiration date

The forum post author is also offering potential buyers to sort the data by country. The random password strings might indicate that the VPN user accounts could be linked with their Google Play store accounts where the users downloaded their VPN apps from. 

…Based on the samples we saw from the second archive, it appears to contain user device information, including:
• Device serial numbers
• Phone types and manufacturers
• Device IDs
• Device IMSI numbers

If the data sold by the threat actor is genuine, it appears that the VPN providers in question are logging far more information about their users than stated in their Privacy Policies.

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Remember how podcasts used to be stuffed with ads for VPNs? I still don’t trust them.

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Far-right platform Gab has been hacked—including private data • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

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On Sunday night the WikiLeaks-style group Distributed Denial of Secrets is revealing what it calls GabLeaks, a collection of more than 70 gigabytes of Gab data representing more than 40 million posts. DDoSecrets says a hacktivist who self-identifies as “JaXpArO and My Little Anonymous Revival Project” siphoned that data out of Gab’s backend databases in an effort to expose the platform’s largely right-wing users. Those Gab patrons, whose numbers have swelled after Parler went offline, include large numbers of Qanon conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and promoters of former president Donald Trump’s election-stealing conspiracies that resulted in the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.

DDoSecrets cofounder Emma Best says that the hacked data includes not only all of Gab’s public posts and profiles—with the exception of any photos or videos uploaded to the site—but also private group and private individual account posts and messages, as well as user passwords and group passwords. “It contains pretty much everything on Gab, including user data and private posts, everything someone needs to run a nearly complete analysis on Gab users and content,” Best wrote in a text message interview with WIRED. “It’s another gold mine of research for people looking at militias, neo-Nazis, the far right, QAnon, and everything surrounding January 6.”

DDoSecrets says it’s not publicly releasing the data due to its sensitivity and the vast amounts of private information it contains. Instead the group says it will selectively share it with journalists, social scientists, and researchers. WIRED viewed a sample of the data, and it does appear to contain Gab users’ individual and group profiles—their descriptions and privacy settings—public and private posts, and passwords. Gab CEO Andrew Torba acknowledged the breach in a brief statement Sunday.

…Among the users whose hashed passwords appeared to be included in the data were those for Donald Trump, Republican congresswoman and QAnon-conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene, MyPillow CEO and election-conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, and disinformation-spouting radio host Alex Jones.

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So this shows that its security is pretty weak, but it’s hard to see that this will make any difference unless they carefully pick who they disclose to: most of the grim behaviour on Gab is right there in the open.
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SmartThings starts saying goodbye to its hardware • Stacey on IoT

Stacey Higginbotham:

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If you own a 2013 SmartThings hub (that’s the original) or a SmartThings Link for the Nvidia Shield TV, your hardware will stop working on June 30 of this year. The device depreciation is part of the announced exodus from manufacturing and supporting its own hardware and the Groovy IDE that Samsung Smartthings announced last summer.

…I get that a lot of y’all are going to be upset over this news, especially because transitioning hubs and routines is a pain. If you’d rather abandon the SmartThings ship entirely then we have a list of alternative hubs you can find, although many of them are tough to find in stock owing to chip shortages and supply delays. I’m going to use this moment to argue for companies to put expiration dates on their products so buyers can evaluate how long they should expect a device to last, especially for something like a hub which can require hours of programming and setting up.

Those who purchased the first version of the hub in 2013 to see it stop working after seven years is annoying, but it doesn’t feel like an affront. It’s still pretty early to determine what the lifetime of a smart home hub should be. Based on the discounting plan, Samsung seems to think three years is sufficient, although that seems pretty limited to me. For a hub device, five years feels like a good minimum, and I might even hope it would last a decade. But I am cheap and hate to reprogram my home automation.

The thing I most like about this news is that Samsung is thinking about the death of these products and planning for recycling.

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If you can in effect hot-swap a new hub for the old, then OK. But not if it involves a ton of reprogramming. That’s going to be the next obstacle for smart homes: what happens when pieces of gear in a complex system reach the end of their lives at different times, until you’re constantly swapping things out and replacements in.
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Biden can’t fix the chip shortage any time soon. Here’s why • The Washington Post

Jeanne Whalen, Reed Albergotti and David J. Lynch:

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Many of the factors contributing to the shortfall are tied to recent events like the pandemic and the cold snap that slapped Texas and sidelined two chip factories in Austin. But the growing presence of chips in devices large and small foreshadows a supply problem not easily resolved by warmer weather or presidential executive orders. New semiconductor factories are among the most complex manufacturing facilities to build, costing billions of dollars and taking years to construct.

That means much of the world’s electronics industry will continue to depend heavily on existing factories, many of them in Taiwan — a reliance that critics say looks increasingly risky as the island’s tensions with China rise. One Taiwanese company, TSMC, produces 70% of the global auto industry’s supply of a key type of chip called a microcontroller, according to research firm IHS Markit.

“You have an entire global electronics supply chain that is dependent on Taiwan, and it’s 100 miles offshore of China,” said Stacy Rasgon, a semiconductor analyst at the financial services firm AllianceBernstein. “Given everything going on with geopolitical tensions, that’s becoming a strategically untenable position.”

That has helped spark bipartisan calls for government subsidies to encourage construction of more chip factories in the United States, which today hosts 12% of global semiconductor manufacturing.

The supply pinch has hit auto manufacturers particularly hard because they use many chips designed years ago that are lower-priority items for semiconductor makers. Those chips yield lower profit margins than the newer, pricier semiconductors that power 5G smartphones and video games, which are also in high demand worldwide and dominate many manufacturing lines.
The global auto industry will produce 1.5 million to 5 million fewer vehicles this year than originally planned because of the supply constraints, according to the consulting firm AlixPartners. Some analysts predict that could raise auto costs for consumers and threaten jobs in a sector that employs hundreds of thousands of Americans.

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TSMC more and more looks like a basket containing too many eggs. Globalisation is great until it puts your critical infrastructure under the purview of a potentially hostile power.
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Clubhouse users spend hours on the app. What’s the appeal? • Los Angeles Times

Sam Dean:

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Many have been drawn by simple curiosity, or the promise of hopping into a room with a favorite celebrity. Some are chasing fame and exposure to the growing crowd. Others are there because it’s their job to figure out what’s going on in the social tech world. For the most part, only the most popular performers are making money on the app, by soliciting tips from fans via payment apps.

And then there are those scammers.

The grifts run the gamut from the most basic — persuading people to pay for invitations to the app, or to join a room or a club — to multi-phase chicanery.

Users claiming to be business experts have run pitch rooms, Harfoush said, where they invite hopeful entrepreneurs to outline their dreams for a new business on stage, and then go register related domain names with the intent of selling them back to the hopefuls at a markup. Fake literary agents promise aspiring authors that they’ll edit their manuscripts and connect them with publishers, for an upfront fee.

Other users claiming to be music producers invite aspiring beatmakers to present their tracks live for critique, and then simply steal the tracks as their own. And motivational speakers are using Clubhouse as a new venue to convince anyone that they can learn how to become a millionaire — if only they pay thousands of dollars for an exclusive executive coaching seminar. Audience plants, fake time limits and other hard-sell tactics abound.

The anti-grift squad makes a point of not naming bad actors in their weekly sessions, in part to avoid another risk that’s emerged as Clubhouse has grown: harassment and retaliation. Users with significant follower bases can coordinate mass blockings and reportings of users who accuse them of wrongdoing (or whom they simply dislike), which can result in temporary suspension. Clubhouse declined to comment for this article.

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Apple Watch is now worn on 100 million wrists • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart:

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More than 100 million people wear an Apple Watch. Based on my estimates, Apple surpassed the important adoption milestone this past December. The Apple Watch has already helped usher in a new paradigm shift in computing, and Apple is still only getting started with what is possible on the wrist. New services designed specifically for Apple Watch (such as Fitness+) are being released. The wrist’s utility continues to be unveiled thanks to new hardware and software features revolving around health monitoring.

It took five-and-a-half years for the Apple Watch installed base to surpass 100 million people. As shown in the figure, the installed base’s growth trajectory has not been constant or steady over the years. Instead, the number of people entering the Apple Watch installed base continues to accelerate. The 30 million new people that began wearing an Apple Watch in 2020 nearly exceeded the number of new Apple Watch wearers in 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined.

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Certainly I notice a growing number of people wearing an Apple Watch who I wouldn’t have expected to where I live in the UK (not in a city). The launch of Fitness+ is fortunately timed: I’ve been trying it out, and realise that it gives you the encouraging feeling that you’re doing the workout with a group, not just with an instructor. And in These Times, that’s a strong positive.

The doubts about the Apple Watch at its launch were reasonable: the fashion missteps (blame Jony Ive) were, quickly enough, erased in favour of exercise and health. I wonder if Tim Cook had some input into that: he’s a lot more into fitness than fashion.
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How a 10-second video clip sold for $6.6m • Reuters

Elizabeth Howcroft and Ritvik Carvalho:

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In October 2020, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile spent almost $67,000 on a 10-second video artwork that he could have watched for free online. Last week, he sold it for $6.6 million.

The video by digital artist Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, was authenticated by blockchain, which serves as a digital signature to certify who owns it and that it is the original work.

It’s a new type of digital asset – known as a non-fungible token (NFT) – that has exploded in popularity during the pandemic as enthusiasts and investors scramble to spend enormous sums of money on items that only exist online.

Blockchain technology allows the items to be publicly authenticated as one-of-a-kind, unlike traditional online objects which can be endlessly reproduced.

“You can go in the Louvre and take a picture of the Mona Lisa and you can have it there, but it doesn’t have any value because it doesn’t have the provenance or the history of the work,” said Rodriguez-Fraile, who said he first bought Beeple’s piece because of his knowledge of the U.S.-based artist’s work.

“The reality here is that this is very, very valuable because of who is behind it.”

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2001 internet: haha! Copyright is dead, everything can be replicated infinitely, your content has no value!

2021 internet: we really like digital things that are unique, how much can we pay?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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