Start Up No.1503: US video cameras hacked, why athletes are breaking records, Parler blocked from App Store again, the Test & Trace waste, and more

the Fukushima disaster was a lot less disastrous than people thought: local peoples’ health was not affected, a UN study found. CC-licensed photo by GLOBAL 2000 on Flickr.

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

Verkada hack exposes growing intimacy and danger of American surveillance • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


In one video, a woman in a hospital room watches over someone sleeping in an intensive-care-unit bed. In another, a man and three young children celebrate one Sunday afternoon over a completed puzzle in a carpeted playroom.

The private moments would have, in some other time, been constrained to memory. But something else had been watching: An Internet-connected camera managed by the security start-up Verkada, which sells cameras and software that customers can use to watch live video from anywhere across the Web.

With a single breach, those scenes — and glimpses from more than 149,000 security cameras — were suddenly revealed to hackers, who had used high-level log-in credentials to access and plunder Verkada’s vast camera network.

A hacker shared some of the materials with The Washington Post to spotlight the security threat of widespread surveillance technologies that subject the public to near-constant watch.

The cache includes real-world images and videos as well as the company’s voluminous client list, which names more than 24,000 organizations across a vast cross-section of American life, including schools, offices, gyms, banks, health clinics and county jails.

The breach, which was first reported by Bloomberg News, highlighted a central vulnerability undermining the modern Web: As more companies race to amass vast stores of sensitive data, they are also becoming more fruitful targets for attack and making it that much easier for thousands of unaware people to be suddenly exposed.

But it also revealed a sweeping change to the way America now watches itself: through the increasingly ubiquitous eyes of cheap, Internet-connected cameras, capturing our lives in ways many people may not realize — and etching them onto a Web that never forgets.


Think for a moment about how pervasive hacking is when it comes to customer databases. Not a day goes by without some big database of customer details – emails, addresses, phone numbers, orders – being hacked. We’re seeing a huge email hack of Microsoft Exchange accounts.

When internet cameras are everywhere, we’re going to see them being hacked with just as much regularity. The question becomes: how many of those cameras will be in your home, near your home, around your home?
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Parler blocked on Apple’s App Store after Capitol riot review • Bloomberg

William Turton and Mark Gurman:


Parler, the controversial conservative social media app, was denied re-entry to Apple’s App Store recently after it was kicked off the platform in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, documents obtained by Bloomberg show.

On Wednesday, Parler LLC cut its three remaining iOS developers, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company eliminated seven workers in total, most of whom were contractors. The other staff worked on Parler TV and quality assurance, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

When it initially removed Parler from the App Store in January, Apple asked the social network to change its moderation practices. Apple said that Parler’s new community guidelines, released when the service came back online Feb. 15, were insufficient to comply with the App Store rules.

“After having reviewed the new information, we do not believe these changes are sufficient to comply with App Store Review guidelines” Apple wrote to Parler’s chief policy officer on Feb. 25. “There is no place for hateful, racist, discriminatory content on the App Store.”


It really isn’t coming back, is it.
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Why are so many athletics records falling? • The Economist


Elliot Giles, a previously unheralded British middle-distance runner, won the men’s 800-metres race at an event in Poland last month. He did so in style. His time—one minute, 43.63 seconds—was the second-fastest indoor 800 metres in history. He took more than a second off the British record, which had stood for almost 40 years.

Mr Giles’s feat is the latest in a succession of impressive performances in track athletics. In February 2020 a Scottish 800-metre runner, Jemma Reekie, cropped four seconds off her personal best and ran the 11th-fastest indoor time ever. In October an Ethiopian, Letesenbet Gibey, took more than four seconds off the women’s world record in the 5,000 metres. An hour later a Ugandan, Joshua Cheptegei, reduced the men’s 10,000-metre record by six seconds. What do all of these athletes have in common? They were wearing next-generation running shoes.


The outcome of what we’ve been seeing for a while: next-generation shoes show that technology makes a difference.
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Fukushima radiation did not damage health of local people, UN says • The Guardian

Justin McCurry:


The latest report was released as Japan prepared to mark 10 years since a powerful earthquake triggered a tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier.

The incident forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people, many of whom have not returned to their homes 10 years later.

Concern over the potential health effects of the accident rose after reports of a high incidence of thyroid cancer in children living in Fukushima prefecture at the time of the disaster.

Unscear and other experts have attributed the higher rates to the use of highly sensitive ultrasound equipment and the large number of children who have been examined.

The first round of tests, conducted between 2011 and 2015, identified 116 cases of actual or suspected thyroid cancer among more than 300,000 people aged 18.

“On the balance of available evidence, the large increase … in the number of thyroid cancers detected among exposed children is not the result of radiation exposure,” Unscear said.

“Rather, they are the result of ultrasensitive screening procedures that have revealed the prevalence of thyroid abnormalities in the population not previously detected.”


So will Germany now recommission all the nuclear reactors that it took offline after this happened?
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Covid-19: NHS Test and Trace ‘no clear impact’ despite £37bn budget • BBC News

Nick Triggle:


The impact of NHS Test and Trace is still unclear – despite the UK government setting aside £37bn for it over two years, MPs are warning.

The Public Accounts Committee said it was set up on the basis it would help prevent future lockdowns – but since its creation there had been two more.

It said the spending was “unimaginable” and warned the taxpayer could not be treated like an “ATM machine”.

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the MPs’ report “defies logic”.

Baroness Dido Harding, head of the National Institute for Health Protection, which runs the system, pointed out it had been built from scratch and was now doing more tests than any other comparable country.

She said performance had been improving with more people who tested positive being reached and more of their close contacts being asked to isolate.

“It is making a real impact in breaking the chains of transmission,” she added.

But the MPs’ report questioned:
• An over-reliance on consultants, with some paid more than £6,600 a day
• A failure to be ready for the surge in demand for tests seen last September
• Never meeting its target to turn around tests done face-to-face within 24 hours
• Contact tracers only having enough work to fill half their time even when cases were rising
• A splurge on rapid tests with no clear evidence they will help.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said it was hard to point to a “measurable difference” the test-and-trace system had made.


The measurable difference it made is to leave a £37bn hole in the UK government’s bank account. MPs said there’s no evidence it has made any difference to the spread of the disease. Harding says that 80% of the money goes on testing. That still means there’s £7.4bn spent in less than a year on… what? It has cost more than the proposed HS2 train system, which many still feel is a terrible boondoggle. The Simpsons had their monorail, we have Track & Trace.
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Andi Schmied’s billionaire-espionage art project • The New Yorker

Nick Paumgarten:


Four years ago, during a three-month artist’s residency in Brooklyn, Andi Schmied, a photographer from Budapest, visited the Empire State Building and was surprised to see so many taller skyscrapers. She immediately wanted to shoot photos from their top floors, but she quickly learned that these glass minarets were mostly new luxury residences—private in the extreme. “What is my way to get in?” she wondered.


She pretended to be a super-rich Hungarian looking for a place to buy:


“ ‘Timeless yet contemporary’: this expression, whatever the hell it means, I heard in every single apartment,” she said. “The agents try to make the buyer feel that this apartment is the most unique thing you’ve ever seen. Everything is ‘handcrafted’ or ‘hand-selected,’ but the fact is these apartments are all the same.” Just about every one had, as its crowning indulgence, a soaking tub in front of a floor-to-ceiling window. The view, always stunning, even when it was obscured by clouds, often contained other new luxury towers, but the agents never called attention to them. They spoke of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State, or the fact that one could see planes taking off from all three major airports. “They talk about their own buildings as the most amazing thing on the planet,” Schmied said. “And yet they never mention them as something you would like to look at.”


It’s the most wonderful little tableau, and the photos are amazing. (One of the popular tags for this story is “oligarchy”. Schmied’s subterfuge to get to see the apartments is inspired.)
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Apple study affirms that women have cramps during periods • Gizmodo

Victoria Song:


Apple added period-tracking to the iOS Health app and launched a clinical study into women’s health back in 2019. Now, the Apple Women’s Health Study team has some preliminary data that affirms that, yes, there is an incredible variety of period symptoms suffered by menstruating people worldwide.

The findings were from the first 10,000 participants who enrolled in the study using the iPhone Research app and provided demographic data. Of that number, 6,141 participants recorded period symptoms and the most commonly tracked were abdominal cramps (83%), bloating (63%), and tiredness (61%).

Or, basically, things anyone who’s ever had a period could tell doctors if they just asked.

About half the participants also reported acne, headaches, mood swings, appetite changes, lower back pain, and breast tenderness. Some rarer symptoms included diarrhea, sleep changes, constipation, nausea, hot flashes, and ovulation pain.

One takeaway was that regardless of race, ethnicity, age, and geographic location, symptom frequency was nearly universal. The participants reported cramps, bloating, and tiredness as their most frequent symptoms, and in similar numbers.


Of course when the Health app launched originally in 2014 it didn’t have any way to track periods. Quite the oversight. As Song points out, this is some way to redress the balance.
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Twitter plans to let anyone start hosting Twitter Spaces in April • The Verge

Sean Hollister:


If you opened your phone this morning to see a Twitter app update, you might have been excited — and then confused — to see an advertisement for Twitter Spaces, the audio chat rooms that the social network recently launched to compete with the similar Clubhouse app. “Introducing Spaces,” the iOS update says, promising that “Now you can Tweet and Talk.”

But while you won’t actually find the ability to create a new Space unless you’re one of a select few, the company now says it’s planning to launch Spaces to everyone next month.

Amusingly, we overheard the news in a Twitter Space itself, hosted by the company. Twitter’s plans aren’t set in stone, but the gist is that they’re trying to get the product into a state where anyone can host a Twitter Space starting in April. April is the goal. In the meanwhile, users on both iOS and Android can both join and talk in existing Spaces.


I saw a suggestion that this is the event horizon for Clubhouse – that if it can’t get into this space (available on Android as well as iPhone, no need to get an invitation) by the time this launches, it’s going to be so far behind it can’t catch up. I don’t think so. Clubhouse is already established as a brand, and not just that; it’s a premium brand, exclusive, with cachet. You might be able to set up your own Space and try to drag a ton of people into it on Twitter, but Clubhouse will have the top slice and the desirability.

Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design (I’d like to know which it was for Clubhouse) the invitation-only-upload-all-your-contacts combination works very well to make your app desirable: Gmail used to use it, wayyyy back in 2004, and hasn’t done so badly.
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Shops return to rural Sweden but are now staff-free • BBC News

Maddy Savage:


Dark clouds loom over the pine forest surrounding Hummelsta, a town of 1,000 people that hasn’t had any local shops for a decade.

Since December, a red wooden container, about the size of a mobile home, has offered a lifeline. It’s a mini supermarket called Lifvs that locals can access round-the-clock.

“We haven’t had any shops here during the time we have been here, and getting this now is perfect,” says 31-year-old Emma Lundqvist who moved to Hummelsta with her boyfriend three years ago. “You don’t need to get into the city to buy this small stuff,” she adds, pointing to the packet of bacon she’s popped in for.

There’s a wide assortment of groceries available, from fresh fruit and vegetables to Swedish household staples like frozen meatballs, crisp breads and wafer bars. But there are no staff or checkouts here.
You open the doors using the company’s app, which works in conjunction with BankID, a secure national identification app operated by Sweden’s banks. Then, you can scan barcodes using your smartphone and the bill is automatically charged to a pre-registered bank card.

The store is part of the Lifvs chain, a Stockholm-based start-up that launched in 2018 with the goal of returning stores to remote rural locations where shops had closed down because they’d struggled to stay profitable.


This feels like Amazon could have a competitor. And if a random Swedish company can do it… couldn’t many more?
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‘Follow our podcast’: Apple Podcasts to stop using ‘subscribe’ • Podnews

James Cridland:


Apple Podcasts will no longer use the word “subscribe” in a few weeks. Listeners will be invited to “follow” their favourite podcasts instead. The new wording will be in iOS 14.5, which should be released later this month (and is available in beta). We expect Apple to communicate further with creators, and listeners, when this version of iOS is released.

This seemingly small change could dramatically affect the industry. Tom Webster from Edison Research says 47% of people who don’t currently listen to podcasts think that ‘subscribing’ to a podcast will cost money, describing it as a stone in the shoe of podcasting’s growth run. He tells Podnews: “Today, Apple, Spotify, and YouTube are the three most widely used services to play podcasts, and now the word Subscribe means ‘automatically download for free’ in exactly none of them. Podcasters will have no choice but to adapt their language accordingly or risk confusing listeners.”

Other larger podcast apps have already changed: Spotify and Audible use “follow”, Stitcher uses “+ follow”, and Amazon Music uses “♡ follow”. Meanwhile, Google Podcasts and Castbox use “+ Subscribe”, and Overcast and Castro uses “Subscribe”.


I had honestly never thought about this, but when you do, it’s obvious. Podcasts came from RSS, RSS uses the word “subscribe” (why? Ask Dave Winer, I guess?). Subscriptions are things you pay for. Language can make such a difference.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

2 thoughts on “Start Up No.1503: US video cameras hacked, why athletes are breaking records, Parler blocked from App Store again, the Test & Trace waste, and more

  1. “the invitation-only-upload-all-your-contacts combination works very well to make your app desirable: Gmail used to use it, wayyyy back in 2004, and hasn’t done so badly.”

    Google have tried to replicate that success multiple times – most obviously with Google Plus – and it hasn’t had many hits.

    • Well, you do need an offering that’s compelling too. G+ was quite the noise for a little while. Until people found out how dire it was, and they started forcing people to join – a sort of opt-out, if you even noticed you were in, and then a no-opt-out.

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