Start Up No.1499: Apple may face EU antitrust on Spotify, YouTube punts on Trump, how Test & Trace failed pubs and restaurants, and more


There’s now a chess engine that fits into 1024 bytes – and is pretty good too. CC-licensed photo by Enrico Strocchi on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Please, AdGuard, not this one. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

EU set to accuse Apple of distorting competition in music streaming • Financial Times

Javier Espinozaa:

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The EU is set to bring antitrust charges against Apple for the first time, putting more pressure on the iPhone maker to change the way it runs its App Store.

According to several people familiar with the case, the EU will act on a complaint brought two years ago by the music streaming site Spotify, which said Apple was taking a 30% cut of its subscription fees for featuring it in the App Store and denying it the right to tell its users that other ways of upgrading were available.

Spotify also complained that Apple Music, the Cupertino company’s own music service, was able to undercut it on price because it did not have to pay the same 30% fee.

More recently, Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, had its hugely popular game thrown off Apple’s App Store after it started directing players to its own payment system. Epic has also filed a competition complaint against Apple in the EU.

Antitrust challenges around the world are threatening one of Apple’s fastest-growing and most profitable lines of business. Its suite of digital services — which include music and video, cloud storage, games and a growing range of other add-ons — is now Apple’s second-largest source of revenue after the iPhone, bringing in $15.8bn in sales in the three months to December.

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You have to wonder if the EC (which is likely to find for Spotify) will mandate that Apple doesn’t demand a 30% cut, or if it will demand something more dramatic. Given past form – Microsoft and browsers, Google and shopping – it will be less than Spotify wants.

Also worth noting: the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority is opening an investigation into “Apple’s conduct in relation to the distribution of apps…in the UK, in particular the terms and conditions governing app developers’ access to Apple’s App Store.”

The antitrust wave is growing, though these things usually come ten years too late to make the difference that’s desired.
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YouTube will lift Trump suspension when ‘risk of violence has decreased,’ CEO says • CNET

Richard Nieva:

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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said Thursday that former President Donald Trump will eventually be allowed to post videos on the platform again, after being suspended for almost two months.

Trump was suspended from YouTube on Jan. 12, days after the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, for breaking the company’s rules on inciting violence. The punishment prohibits Trump from uploading videos and livestreams and disables comments on his videos. Since then, YouTube has extended the suspension twice.

On Thursday, Wojcicki said the suspension won’t be permanent. “I do want to confirm that we will lift the suspension of the channel,” she said during an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC-based think tank. “We will lift the suspension of the Donald Trump channel, when we determine that the risk of violence has decreased.”

She said that moment hasn’t come, citing warnings on Wednesday from the Capitol police of another potential attack on Thursday. Some followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which baselessly contends that Satan-worshipping cannibals and pedophiles aimed to take down Trump, believe the former president would return to the White House on March 4. “It’s pretty clear that that elevated violence risk still remains,” Wojcicki said.

She said YouTube would make that judgement by considering several factors. That includes heeding government warnings, looking at increased law enforcement presence around the country and examining violent rhetoric on the platform.

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I’d guess that they’d wait until he’s clearly no possible threat, which could be a couple of years at least. The other stuff is just chaff.
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Study: employment rose among those in free money experiment • Associated Press

Adam Beam:

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After getting $500 per month for two years without rules on how to spend it, 125 people in California paid off debt, got full-time jobs and reported lower rates of anxiety and depression, according to a study released Wednesday.

The program in the Northern California city of Stockton was the highest-profile experiment in the U.S. of a universal basic income, where everyone gets a guaranteed amount per month for free. Announced by former Mayor Michael Tubbs with great fanfare in 2017, the idea quickly gained momentum once it became a major part of Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign for president.

Supporters say a guaranteed income can alleviate the stress and anxiety of people living in poverty while giving them the financial security needed to find good jobs and avoid debt. But critics argue free money would eliminate the incentive to work, creating a society dependent on the state.

Tubbs, who at 26 was elected Stockton’s first Black mayor in 2016 after endorsements from Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, wanted to put those claims to the test. Stockton was an ideal place, given its proximity to Silicon Valley and the eagerness of the state’s tech titans to fund the experiment as they grapple with how to prepare for job losses that could come with automation and artificial intelligence.

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That’s great – but if it’s about preparing people for a world without jobs, what’s the use of the fact that in this experiment they found jobs? Even so, it’s very like the finding that if you give homeless people homes, everything in their life starts to improve.
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Exclusive: this is the Sonos Roam, coming in April for $169 • The Verge

Chris Welch:

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Set to be priced at $169, the new device — it’s called the Sonos Roam — is much smaller than the Sonos Move, which was the company’s first foray into portable speakers. This product has a much closer resemblance to popular, take-anywhere Bluetooth speakers like the UE Boom.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the Roam, it measures 6.5 x 2.5 x 2.5 inches and weighs around a pound. It will come with a USB charging cable, and a wireless charging dock will be sold separately for $49. Like many of the company’s other speakers, the Sonos Roam will be available in either black or white.

The Verge has reached out to Sonos for comment. The new speaker first popped up in a Federal Communications Commission filing. Since then, Sonos has confirmed it will announce a new product on March 9th. Current plans call for the Roam to ship a month later on April 20th.

Like the Move speaker, the Sonos Roam will be able to play audio over both Wi-Fi (when at home on your regular Sonos system) and Bluetooth on the go. On Wi-Fi, the Roam will function like any recent Sonos speaker as part of a multi-room system. It runs on the company’s S2 platform that rolled out last year. There are built-in mics for hands-free voice commands for either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and AirPlay 2 is supported as well. Two Roams can be stereo paired when in Wi-Fi mode.

Battery life is expected to be around 10 hours on a full charge, and the Roam is fully waterproof, which will help it compete against the similarly-rugged competition.

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Far better size and pricing than the Move. These will cost about the same as the One, but I bet they sell better if the sound is any good at all.
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COVID-19: Test and Trace barely used check-in data from pubs and restaurants – with thousands not warned of infection risk • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:

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Data from hundreds of millions of check-ins by people who visited pubs, restaurants and hairdressers before lockdown was barely used by Test and Trace, according to a confidential report obtained by Sky News.

The report admits that the failure of the £22bn service to use the data for alerts or contact tracing meant “thousands of people” were not warned they might be at risk of infection, “potentially leading to the spread of the virus.”

To make matters worse, when coronavirus data from venues was used, public health officials encouraged pubs and restaurants to contact customers directly – a breach of data protection law which could leave businesses facing legal action.

The report says that lack of guidance from Test and Trace for local public health teams on how to use the data left businesses “being asked to, or volunteering, to contact customers and visitors”.

…”It is incredibly frustrating,” said Kate Nicholls, CEO of Hospitality UK. “Our teams worked really hard to capture that data on the understanding that it was going to be used should there be problems.

“To hear that it wasn’t used, and in fact we had further restrictions without really any clear evidence that there was a problem with hospitality, is a major cause for concern.”

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It’s becoming clear in retrospect what the major errors in the whole coronavirus response were. Misunderstanding of the mechanism by which it spread; calamitous rushed contracts for nonexistent PPE; useless Track & Trace. (The story is the same in the US.)
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The Kilobyte’s Gambit ♟️💾 1k chess game • Vole WTF

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• You play as White. Click on a piece, then click where to move.
• Supports castling, en passant & pawn promotion (to queen only).
• It won’t announce victory/defeat, only prevent any further moves.
• The entire ‘brain’ of the chess engine fits into 1024 bytes (only three times the length of this help text), including setting up the board & validating moves.

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Impressive as hell. How is it we can write this sort of stuff now, yet couldn’t years ago when 1 kilobyte was all the memory we had?
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Biden pushes EV chargers as six utilities plan a unified network • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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On Tuesday, [President Joe] Biden held a virtual meeting with CEOs from companies building charging infrastructure. The administration has set a goal to build more than 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations by 2030.

Also on Tuesday, a coalition of six electric utilities announced a new initiative that will help Biden achieve his goal. The companies are planning to build a “seamless network of charging stations” in and around the American South. The group plans to build chargers near major highways in every southern state, stretching as far west as Texas and as far north as Indiana, Ohio, and Virginia.

This is not a joint venture. Each utility will build and run its own charging stations. But the goal is to make them appear to the customer as a unified network.

The initiative is important because the limited number of fast chargers is an impediment to more widespread adoption of electric vehicles. It inherently takes longer to recharge an electric vehicle than to refill the gas tank of a conventional car. The problem is exacerbated if EV owners have to drive out of their way to get to a charging station.

As more chargers get built, EV owners will find it easier to find charging stations that are near useful amenities like grocery stores, restaurants, or playgrounds, allowing them to do something useful or fun while their cars recharge.

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Fast charging is really what’s needed to make the experience equivalent. But failing that, making the experience agreeable must be the next best thing.
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Watchy: the hackable $50 smartwatch • IEEE Spectrum

Stephen Cass:

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Watchy is based around an ESP32 microcontroller, a popular alternative to AVR- or Arm-based microcontroller because of its built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities that can be programmed via the Arduino IDE. Surrounding hardware includes a 1.5-inch e-paper display, a real-time clock module, a vibration motor, a three-axis accelerometer, and four control buttons.

Assembling the Watchy takes little time. It comes in just four components: a fully populated printed circuit board, a 200 milliampere-hour lithium polymer battery, the display, and a fabric wristband. Adhesive tape keeps the screen and battery in place.  A microUSB socket charges the battery and provides the link for uploading programs for new watch faces.

Slots on the central PCB are provided to thread a fabric watch strap through, but you may wish to 3D-print a case that allows standard watch straps to be used; if so, I recommend not taping the battery down to make it easier to position in the case.

Once I had everything put together, I followed Sqaurofumi’s instructions to install compiler support for the ESP32 along with the Watchy library and example face code. I soon ran into my first problem—none of the sample code would compile. A little poking around online revealed that the macOS version of the Arduino IDE currently has a compatibility problem with the ESP board. However, I was able grab the latest release candidate for the next version of the ESP library, and all was well.

At least until I tried to upload a face to the Watchy. Despite much fiddling, I could not get a response when I tried storing code in the Watchy’s flash memory. Wondering if this was another macOS problem, I fired up Windows 10 on my iMac, but no joy. Querying the official support forum on GitHub got a suggestion from Squarofumi that I test the connection using the “esptools” Python library by erasing the flash directly, but this also produced a negative result.

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Decades ago I read an article which said “Linux is only free if your labour has no value” and wondered what it meant. Watchy is only cheap if your labour has no value (and you don’t mind the adhesive tape vibe).
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Covid-19 variant in Brazil overwhelms local hospitals, hits younger patients • WSJ

Samantha Pearson and Ryan Dube:

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Researchers and doctors are sounding the alarm over a new, more aggressive coronavirus strain from the Amazon area of Brazil, which they believe is responsible for a recent rise in deaths, as well as infections in younger people, in parts of South America.

Brazil’s daily death toll from the disease rose to its highest level yet this week, pushing the country’s total number of Covid-19 fatalities past a quarter of a million. On Tuesday, Brazil reported a record 1,641 Covid fatalities. Neighbor Peru is struggling to curb a second wave of infections.

The new variant, known as P.1, is 1.4 to 2.2 times more contagious than versions of the virus previously found in Brazil, and 25% to 61% more capable of reinfecting people who had been infected by an earlier strain, according to a study released Tuesday.

With mass vaccination a long way off across the region, countries such as Brazil risk becoming a breeding ground for potent versions of the virus that could render current Covid-19 vaccines less effective, public-health specialists warned.

A more prolonged pandemic could also devastate the economies of countries such as Brazil, slowing growth and expanding the country’s already large debt pile as the government extends payouts to the poor, economists said.

“We’re facing a dramatic situation here—the health systems of many states in Brazil are already in collapse and others will be in the next few days,” said Eliseu Waldman, an epidemiologist at the University of São Paulo.

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One thing that those pushing “herd immunity through wide-scale infection” never appear to have considered is that you’d encourage new variants that would stay ahead of that immunity. P1 emerged in Manaus, where the original Covid strain ran riot earlier last year and a huge proportion of the population was infected.
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Project Azorian: the CIA mission to steal sunken sub K-129 • HistoryExtra

Josh Dean:

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One morning in November 1969, Curtis Crooke was in a meeting when three unexpected visitors came into the room and said they needed to talk to him.

The 41-year-old Crooke was in charge of all engineering for Global Marine, a deep-ocean drilling company known for innovative shipbuilding, and it was that expertise that the three men, all in dark suits, wanted.

They sat down and the one clearly in charge, John Parangosky, spoke. “We work for the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said. “I assume you know what that is.” Parangosky explained that Global Marine was the only company in the world that could complete a job that interested the CIA. Was it feasible, he wondered, to lift something weighing several thousand tons from the bottom of the ocean, at a depth of 15-20,000ft?

Crooke thought a minute. It sounded like a ridiculous problem, but not necessarily impossible. He said he’d have to get back to them. Once they left, he pulled out his copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships, a reference book to all naval vessels, flipped to the section on Soviet submarines, and smiled. The numbers matched up, more or less.

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Our “failed CIA plots” theme enters its stunning second day. We might get to the Bay Of Pigs if we go on long enough. (Thanks @paulguinnessy for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1499: Apple may face EU antitrust on Spotify, YouTube punts on Trump, how Test & Trace failed pubs and restaurants, and more

  1. Dear Charles Arthur — I’ve been reading your newsletter for several years. I’m not tech-y, but I find many of your links to be a useful and instructive portal to our world. I read this sobering article on Tablet by Norman Doidge that may be of interest to you: on the possibility that COVID-19 did, in fact, leak from a lab in Wuhan .

    Friendly wishes Jill

    On Fri, Mar 5, 2021 at 6:02 PM The Overspill: when there’s more that I want to say wrote:

    > charlesarthur posted: ” There’s now a chess engine that fits into 1024 > bytes – and is pretty good too. CC-licensed photo by Enrico Strocchi 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” >

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