Start Up No.1507: the FTC’s 2013 mistakes on Google, the turbine-less wind turbine, WHO says Covid started on farms, and more


Your second Covid vaccination shot may make you feel worse than the first. Why? CC-licensed photo by Puddin Tain on Flickr.


Pre-orders! They’re good for books. You can preorder my forthcoming book (due 24 June) Social Warming: the dangerous and polarising effects of social media. (If you do that on smile.amazon.co.uk then Amazon eventually donates some money to a charity you choose.)


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 12 links for you. A warhead in every pot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Washington fumbled the future • POLITICO

Leah Nylen on what documents show about how the FTC’s economists argued against taking antitrust action against Google back in 2013:

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Nearly a decade ago, the documents show, the FTC’s investigators uncovered evidence of how far Google was willing to go to ensure the primacy of the search engine that is the key to its fortunes, including tactics that European regulators and the U.S. Justice Department would later label antitrust violations. But the FTC’s economists successfully argued against suing the company, and the agency’s staff experts made a series of predictions that would fail to match where the online world was headed:

— They saw only “limited potential for growth” in ads that track users across the web — now the backbone of Google parent company Alphabet’s $182.5 billion in annual revenue.

— They expected consumers to continue relying mainly on computers to search for information. Today, about 62% of those queries take place on mobile phones and tablets, nearly all of which use Google’s search engine as the default.

— They thought rivals like Microsoft, Mozilla or Amazon would offer viable competition to Google in the market for the software that runs smartphones. Instead, nearly all US smartphones run on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

— They underestimated Google’s market share, a heft that gave it power over advertisers as well as companies like Yelp and Tripadvisor that rely on search results for traffic.

The FTC’s decision to let Google off the hook reflected an era when the Obama administration had a close relationship with Silicon Valley and Americans held largely positive views toward the emerging tech giants. But the documents also demonstrate how the Obama-era FTC took a cautious approach to antitrust enforcement, deferring to the wisdom of the agency’s economists over its lawyers — an attitude anti-monopoly advocates are now questioning as Congress considers sweeping changes to antitrust laws.

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I was reporting on the topic at the time, and the investigative part of the FTC was all in favour of taking antitrust action against Google, on the basis that it was favouring its own results and suppressing rivals. The economists were against taking action. The FTC commissioners went with the economists.

The point about smartphones is amazing. By mid-2012 iOS and Android had 85% of the US smartphone installed base, and all rivals were in single digits.
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Good vibrations: bladeless turbines could bring wind power to your home • The Guardian

Jillian Ambrose:

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“We are not against traditional windfarms,” says David Yáñez, the inventor of Vortex Bladeless. His six-person startup, based just outside Madrid, has pioneered a turbine design that can harness energy from winds without the sweeping white blades considered synonymous with wind power.

The design recently won the approval of Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, which named Vortex on a list of the 10 most exciting startups in the energy sector. Equinor will also offer the startup development support through its tech accelerator programme.

The bladeless turbines stand at 3 metres high, a curve-topped cylinder fixed vertically with an elastic rod. To the untrained eye it appears to waggle back and forth, not unlike a car dashboard toy. In reality, it is designed to oscillate within the wind range and generate electricity from the vibration.

…“Our technology has different characteristics which can help to fill the gaps where traditional windfarms might not be appropriate,” says Yáñez.

These gaps could include urban and residential areas where the impact of a windfarm would be too great, and the space to build one would be too small. It plugs into the same trend for installing small-scale, on-site energy generation, which has helped homes and companies across the country save on their energy bills.

This could be wind power’s answer to the home solar panel, says Yáñez.

“They complement each other well, because solar panels produce electricity during the day while wind speeds tend to be higher at night,” he says. “But the main benefit of the technology is in reducing its environmental impact, its visual impact, and the cost of operating and maintaining the turbine.”

The turbine is no danger to bird migration patterns, or wildlife, particularly if used in urban settings. For the people living or working nearby, the turbine would create noise at a frequency virtually undetectable to humans.

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Three metres high really isn’t much. You could put a few in the back garden. Hang some washing between them. Win-win-win.
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WHO points to wildlife farms in southern China as likely source of pandemic • WBUR News

Michaelenn Doucleff:

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many [wildlife] farms are located in or around a southern province, Yunnan, where virologists found a bat virus that’s genetically 96% similar to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19. Second, the farms breed animals that are known to carry coronaviruses, such as civet cats and pangolins.

Finally, during the WHO’s mission to China, [Peter] Daszak said the team found new evidence that these farms were supplying vendors at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where an early outbreak of COVID-19 occurred.

The market was shut down overnight on Dec. 31, 2019, after it was linked to cases of what was then described as a mysterious pneumonia-like illness.

“There was massive transmission going on at that market for sure,” says Linfa Wang, a virologist who studies bat viruses at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. He’s also part of the WHO investigative team. Wang says that after the outbreak at the Huanan market, Chinese scientists went there and looked for the virus.

“In the live animal section, they had many positive samples,” Wang says. “They even have two samples from which they could isolate live virus.”

And so Daszak and others on the WHO team believe that the wildlife farms provided a perfect conduit between a coronavirus-infected bat in Yunnan (or neighboring Myanmar) and a Wuhan animal market.

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The part about testing in the Wuhan market finding positive samples is completely new to me. In more than a year of reports about this, I’ve never heard that before. Equally, the suggestion that Covid actually developed at one of the big animal farms makes far more sense than that it leaked from a lab. Every other zoonosis (animal to human disease) has started that way – by natural animal-human contact.
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New Nest Hub features clever sleep tracking to make it the ultimate bedside assistant • Pocket Lint

Chris Hall:

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the biggest change is in how Google is positioning this device. It still has no camera, so Google sees this as a bedside device, able to ensure your privacy because there’s no camera that might initial a call while you’re enjoying a little private time in the bedroom.

What Google is adding is sleep tracking. That’s seen the addition of Google’s Soli hardware to the Nest Hub, so that it can use the Motion Sense technology to track your sleep.

Soli uses a type of radar that can detect motion and interpret that. Previously, Google used it for some motion control on the Pixel 4, although that seemed a little silly – offering hands-free gestures on a device that you essentially always operate when you’re holding it.

Now Soli will be set to task to detect motion patterns and breathing of the person sleeping closest to the Nest Hub to power the new Sleep Sensing functions.

On top of motion, Nest Hub can also listen out for noises – coughing or snoring – while being able to monitor light conditions and temperature. In that way, it will monitor how you sleep and the conditions you’re trying to sleep in.

To protect your privacy, none of this raw data is sent out to Google services, everything happens on the Nest Hub itself.

From this information, Google will present you with a sleep summary – and having learnt your sleeping habits and monitored the quality of your sleep for a couple of days, can make suggestions to improve your sleep.

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Apparently the team discussed whether to put a camera in it for about two minutes. “Nobody wants a camera in the bedroom,” one said, in a statement of the blindingly obvious. And they moved on.

I’m still completely unconvinced that you can “improve” your sleep, apart from going to bed earlier, not using your phone in bed, and waking up later.
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The Telegraph’s approach to performance pay won’t reward clickbait • One Man And His Blog

Adam Tinworth says we’ve got it all wrong about the Telegraph moves quoted in The Guardian:

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The Telegraph’s [editor] Chris Evans is clearly not talking about clickbait, or even traffic:

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“It seems only right that those who attract and retain the most subscribers should be the most handsomely paid,” and noted that working out the details would be “complicated” so that “we’re not ready to do that … yet”.

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Notice nothing in that quote specifies traffic: just retaining and attracting subscribers. I’ve been working with paywalled sites for nearly 25 years, and those measures are way more indicative of such sites’ success than raw traffic, much of which will never convert to paying subscribers.

…I’m much less worried about this leading to clickbait than the Twitter commentariat. Clickbait is common, easy to replicate, and available everywhere — you really don’t need to pay for it. The Sun’s short-lived paywall experiment proved that nicely. Conversely, the role of breadth of journalism in keeping readers subscribing has been a key element in the success of, say, The Times. Generally, speaking, that which attracts and converts readers can be quite different from what keeps them subscribing.

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TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround • Ars Technica

Patrick McGee and Yuan Yang:

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the state-backed China Advertising Association, which has 2,000 members, has launched a new way to track and identify iPhone users called CAID, which is being widely tested by tech companies and advertisers in the country.

ByteDance, the owner of the social video app TikTok, referred to CAID in an 11-page guide to app developers obtained by the Financial Times, suggesting that advertisers “can use the CAID as a substitute if the user’s IDFA is unavailable.”

People close to Tencent and ByteDance confirmed the companies were testing the system, but both companies declined to comment.

Several efforts are under way to get around Apple’s rules, but CAID is the biggest challenge to them yet, and the iPhone maker declined to comment directly on it. But in a move that sets the stage for a major confrontation, Apple denied that it would grant any exceptions.

“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” the company said. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.”

One person familiar with the situation said Apple would be able to detect which apps use the new tool and block them from its App Store in China if it wanted to.

But Zach Edwards, founder of Victory Medium, a tech consultancy, said: “They can’t ban every app in China. If they did it would effectively trigger a series of actions that would get Apple kicked out of China.”

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(Originally in the Financial Times.)
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Facebook explores paid deals for new publishing platform • Axios

Sara Fischer:

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Facebook will soon begin testing partnerships with a small group of independent writers for its new publishing platform, sources tell Axios.

The platform, which includes tools for journalists to build actual websites, in addition to newsletters, will be tested with a small group of writers, some of whom Facebook plans to pay to help get the tools off the ground.

The publishing platform, which has yet to be officially named, is free-to-use, and will be integrated with Facebook Pages, sources say.

The Pages integration will allow writers, journalists, and other types of professional experts to publish content outside of text, like live videos and “Stories” status updates.

In time, Facebook plans to build tools within the platform that allow writers to monetize their websites and newsletters with subscriptions, and possibly other forms of revenue down the line.

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And if you believe this will last any length of time, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Facebook has pulled this sort of bait-and-switch many times before. The biggest was over video views, where it produced false statistics about how long people were spending watching videos. For videos that were less popular, it produced average viewing times that were *longer* than the videos – giving the false impression that those videos were somehow doing really well.

Any writer is going to be at the mercy of Facebook’s recommendation algorithm. And recommendations can go down as well as up.
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Why the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine can make you feel lousy • Mercury News

Lisa Krieger:

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Q: Why does the second dose cause more problems?

Grace Lee, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine: The first shot teaches your immune cells to recognize the virus; it’s revving up. With the second shot, there are more immune cells ready and waiting to launch a major defense. The muscle ache and fever come from inflammation; your immune cells are sending out an alarm in the form of chemicals called cytokines.

“Your immune system is ‘primed’ with dose one. You’re getting ‘boosted’ with dose two. That reflects your body’s quick response. … Your body is seeing it for the second time and remembering it, and is developing the powerful immune response that it needs to respond to infection.”

Q. What can I do to counter the side effects?

GL. Don’t be tempted to skip your second dose. The Pfizer-BioNTech shots are spaced 21 days apart; the Moderna shots are 28 days apart. While the first dose provides some protection around 12 days, you won’t be fully protected until two weeks after your second dose.

If possible, schedule the second dose when you can get some extra rest. If you experience intense side effects, it’s safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Ice may help a sore arm. Serious allergic reactions are very rare.

Q: Are there age differences in the response?

William Schaffner, M.D., professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine: Older adults tend to have a milder response than younger people because “their immune systems are not responding as vigorously as a young person’s, but they still get 95% protection from the virus.”

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Dropbox will have a free password manager in April — if you’ve got 50 or fewer passwords • The Verge

Ian Carlos Campbell:

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Dropbox is adding a new feature on top of its usual offerings of storage and file sharing for free Basic accounts. Dropbox Passwords, the password management feature the company introduced for paying customers in 2020, will be free for Dropbox Basic accounts in April — with a new, arbitrary limit of 50 passwords that makes it seem suspiciously like a way to upsell you on a paid Dropbox account.

Now that LastPass is putting a device limit on its free plans, many are looking for a free alternative, and Dropbox Passwords will indeed allow you to sync your passwords across three devices for free. Like other password managers, it exists as a web browser extension, a mobile app on iOS and Android, and desktop applications on MacOS, Windows, and Linux. But other free password managers, like Bitwarden, offer unlimited passwords for free.

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Dropbox is all about the upsell these days. It’s quite exhausting to have to keep fighting it off. Steve Jobs was dismissive of it, calling it “a feature, not a product”. It’s a really good feature, but Jobs was right. Apple has built both into its ecosystem.
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China Signal users report difficulty accessing messaging app • Bloomberg

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Signal, an encrypted messaging app that competes with the likes of Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp, appears to have been blocked in China, the latest move by Beijing to crack down on social media platforms.

From Monday night, Signal users reported difficulties using the app in China without the help of a virtual private network, or VPN, which allows users to mask their location and access banned foreign communication services like Gmail and Twitter. Previously, no such software was needed to access Signal.

It isn’t immediately clear if this is a permanent ban, as Chinese regulators have been known to sometimes ramp up controls as a trial run only to ratchet them down later. The Cyberspace Administration of China didn’t respond immediately to a faxed request for comment Tuesday morning. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment when asked about access to the app at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.

Signal has been a popular tool among political dissidents and journalists seeking a communication method that minimizes the risk of messages being intercepted by government censors and bad actors. In particular, the app has gained traction among China’s mainly Muslim Uyghur diaspora.

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Google Play drops commissions to 15% from 30%, following Apple’s move last year • TechCrunch

Manish Singh:

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The Android-maker said on Tuesday that starting July 1, it is reducing the service fee for Google Play to 15% — down from 30% — for the first $1m of revenue developers earn using Play billing system each year. The company will levy a 30% cut on every dollar developers generate through Google Play beyond the first $1m in a year, it said.

Citing its own estimates, Google said 99% of developers that sell goods and services with Play will see a 50% reduction in fees, and that 97% of apps globally do not sell digital goods or pay any service fee.

Google’s new approach is slightly different from Apple, which last year said it would collect 15% rather than 30% of App Store sales from companies that generate no more than $1m in revenue through the company’s platform. That drop doesn’t apply to iOS apps if a developer’s revenue on Apple platform exceeds $1m.

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So imagine a company that gets gross revenues of $2m. With Apple, it keeps $1.4m. With Google, it keeps $1.55m. Not trivial – that’s about a whole developer’s salary.

Far more interesting is that 97%/99% quote. So only 3% of all apps charge. And 99% of those 3% don’t generate more than $1m. (If I’m interpreting the – slightly confusing? – statement correctly.) So 1% do. With just shy of 3 million apps on the Play Store, that means about 30,000 apps generating over $1m.

That suggests that Google Play generates gross revenues of $30bn. Which is about where estimates put it.
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iOS security fixes could soon be delivered separately from other updates, beta code suggests • 9to5Mac

Filipe Esposito:

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Apple has never been flexible when it comes to iOS updates. While users can choose not to install an update, you will be left without security fixes if you don’t install the latest version of iOS available. Although Apple still updates iOS 12 for older iPhones and iPads, devices currently supported by the company don’t have the option to run this operating system with the latest security updates.

A new section added to the iOS software update menu indicates that Apple will provide standalone security updates for iPhone and iPad users. Users would be able to choose whether they want to install only security updates or full iOS updates.

Although we don’t yet have more details about this change, macOS already offers a similar method of updates. When you have a Mac running an older version of the operating system, such as macOS Mojave, Apple delivers separate security updates so that users can get security patches and bug fixes without having to install the latest macOS version available.

The new code found in iOS 14.5 also mentions that once you download a specific update, such as a security update, you may need to delete it before installing another available iOS update. It’s hard to tell how exactly Apple plans to implement this in iOS, but one possibility is to continue offering security updates for iOS 14 after the release of iOS 15, so that users can choose to not update to the latest major version, but keep receiving important security patches.

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Long overdue, though there’s no indication on quite how “soon” this might actually happen. As this points out, the capability is there on the desktop, so must be feasible on the phone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1506: Berners-Lee calls for nicer networks, Telegraph mulls PPC journalism, carmakers try to delay electric future, and more


Hydrogen power! It’s the future. Or is it? CC-licensed photo by JOHN LLOYD 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. This is for everyone. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Tim Berners-Lee: ‘We need social networks where bad things happen less’ • The Guardian

Harris interviews the web inventor:

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“After Brexit and Trump, I think a lot of people realised: ‘We need to have a web that spreads more truth than rubbish.’ And at that point, the Web Foundation said: ‘It’s not just about getting the web to everyone, it has to serve humanity in a positive way.’”

This basic argument has now belatedly started to make its way into politics, something seen in both an increasingly loud conversation about the responsibilities of the big platforms for misinformation and hate speech – and the accompanying conversation about tackling the same platforms’ huge concentrations of power. On this stuff, Berners-Lee’s opinions are delicately balanced. To take two topical examples, he is opposed to Australia’s plans to force tech giants to pay news organisations even for the use of links to their articles (“the right to link is really important – it’s just part of free speech, and it makes the web functional”), though when I ask him about the possibility of Google and Facebook being forcibly broken up, he sounds at least open to the idea.

Dominance of the web by a tiny handful of companies, he reminds me, is hardly new, but over the years, things have always shifted. Look at the history of browsers: Netscape was succeeded by Internet Explorer, which in turn was nudged aside by Google Chrome and Apple’s Safari.

To that, there is an obvious riposte. The position of the 21st century’s big players looks very different.

“I think what the American public and lawmakers are doing … I think they’re aware of that,” he replies. “And they know from experience with big oil and with [the American telecoms utility] AT&T, that there have been times when US governments have broken up large companies. There’s a lot of discussion of that right now, and so that is a possibility.”

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Daily Telegraph plans to link journalists’ pay with article popularity • The Guardian

Archie Bland:

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An email sent by the editor, Chris Evans, last Thursday told staff that “in due course” the outlet wants to use the “Stars” system, which scores stories published online according to factors such as how many subscriptions they drive and how many clicks they get, “to link performance to reward” using subscription data.

Evans said: “It seems only right that those who attract and retain the most subscribers should be the most handsomely paid,” and noted that working out the details would be “complicated” so that “we’re not ready to do that … yet”.

But staff are said to be up in arms about the proposals, with some registering their objections in meetings held to explain the plans since Evans’ email was sent.

Executives “tried to convince everybody that it’s just experimental, not a big deal”, one journalist told the Guardian. “They were squirming at the questions. Everyone is just hoping it’s one of those mad ideas that eventually they quietly chuck out. Everyone is outraged. People feel compromised.”

Another said: “I’d call the mood mutinous. If you’re writing royal stories or big political news or coronavirus stuff or you’re famous then you’re going to get huge numbers. Most reporters are at the mercy of editors and it’s not their fault if they’re getting assigned boring things – and now that’s going to affect their pay packet.”

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I’m going to write a story about how Perverse Incentives led to Unintended Consequences. Though Matt Round (who runs Vole.wtf – which recently featured the chess game inside 1k of Javascript) suggested, half-ironically, the journalists should also be able to decide where and how many ads are placed on their stories. It’s not unreasonable: if you’re going to pay them in this way, give them agency too.

Don’t expect too much “journalism”, though.
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Conspiracy theory books about Covid are all over Amazon • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko:

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Conspiracy theorist David Icke’s lies about COVID-19 caused Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Spotify to ban him. But on Amazon, Icke, who believes in the existence of lizard people, is recommended reading.

Despite being filled with misinformation about the pandemic, Icke’s book The Answer at one point ranked 30th on Amazon.com’s bestseller list for Communication & Media Studies. Its popularity is partly thanks to the e-commerce giant’s powerful recommendation algorithms that suggest The Answer and other COVID conspiracy theory books to people searching for basic information about the coronavirus, according to new research shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News.

“Amazon is doing the least, by a substantial measure, of any of the major platforms to deal with the misinformation and conspiracy theories around the COVID-19 virus,” Marc Tuters, an assistant professor of new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam, told BuzzFeed News.

“For creators and consumers of conspiracies, Amazon.com is a one-stop shop,” said Tuters, who co-led the team that included researchers and students at King’s College London, the University of Amsterdam, and the Digital Methods Initiative Winter School, in association with the infodemic.eu project.

The problem highlights how Amazon’s search and book promotion mechanisms often direct customers to COVID-19 conspiracy titles. Tuters does not advocate for banning the books but says Amazon needs to follow the lead of other platforms and elevate reliable information about COVID-19.

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I’m sure Amazon will get onto this right away. Uh-huh. Top of the list. Got a star by it. Must-do. Real A+ priority. Got it marked down for, oh, 2030 or so.
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A hacker got all my texts for $16 • Vice

Joseph Cox:

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I didn’t expect it to be that quick. While I was on a Google Hangouts call with a colleague, the hacker sent me screenshots of my Bumble and Postmates accounts, which he had broken into. Then he showed he had received texts that were meant for me that he had intercepted. Later he took over my WhatsApp account, too, and texted a friend pretending to be me.

Looking down at my phone, there was no sign it had been hacked. I still had reception; the phone said I was still connected to the T-Mobile network. Nothing was unusual there. But the hacker had swiftly, stealthily, and largely effortlessly redirected my text messages to themselves. And all for just $16.

I hadn’t been SIM swapped, where hackers trick or bribe telecom employees to port a target’s phone number to their own SIM card. Instead, the hacker used a service by a company called Sakari, which helps businesses do SMS marketing and mass messaging, to reroute my messages to him. This overlooked attack vector shows not only how unregulated commercial SMS tools are but also how there are gaping holes in our telecommunications infrastructure, with a hacker sometimes just having to pinky swear they have the consent of the target.

“Welcome to create an account if you want to mess with it, literally anyone can sign up,” Lucky225, the pseudonymous hacker who carried out the attack, told Motherboard, describing how easy it is to gain access to the tools necessary to seize phone numbers.

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There are some stupefyingly stupid companies in the US which think that nobody will tell lies to gain advantage. Or do know it, and like to pretend it’s not their problem actually, even though they’re the conduit.

Foolish too how the carriers allow this to happen.
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Car industry lobbied UK government to delay ban on petrol and diesel cars • The Guardian

Jasper Jolly:

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The government announced in November that it would move forward a ban on the sale of pure internal combustion engine cars from 2040 to 2030, but said that it would allow the sale of hybrid vehicles until 2035, in a significant victory for the car industry.

Carmakers including BMW, Ford, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and McLaren argued strongly against a ban earlier than 2040, in written submissions to the government obtained by the Guardian. They also said plug-in hybrid cars should be exempted from the earlier deadline. Some of the claims made by the firms contradicted findings by environmental campaigners.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), a lobby group, claimed in private modelling that a 2030 ban would cause UK car sales to drop from 2.3m in 2025 to only about 800,000 in that year. The 2035 ban would reduce UK car sales to about 1.2m in that year, it claimed, compared with more than 2m if a 2040 deadline was allowed.

BMW, which also owns Mini and Rolls-Royce factories in the UK, said there was “no scientific evidence to support such ambitious market uptake in the UK” for the previous 2040 ban, let alone an earlier date. A BMW spokesman said the claim related to modelling of consumer demand for electric cars.

The government decision to bring forward the deadline was partly based on advice from scientists on the Committee on Climate Change, which argued a total ban – including for hybrids – was needed by 2032 for the UK to meet its decarbonisation goals.

Ministers admitted in December they had relented on plans to ban hybrids in 2030, partly because of the threat to British car factories, most of which produce hybrids. Honda and Ford both raised the spectre of job losses in manufacturing as part of their evidence.

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Hybrids are still, essentially, fossil-fuel driven vehicles. As Greg Archer of the thinktank Transport & Environment points out, they’re fighting a battle that’s already lost.
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The hydrogen revolution is real and it will change the world • Daily Telegraph

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

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The message from hard-headed industrialists at this year’s “energy Davos” surprised even those who keep up with this fast-moving technology. The switch to hydrogen is a fact on the ground; it is accelerating fast; it is heading for much lower costs than sceptics suppose; and future scale is vast.

Along the way, the oil “supermajors” are reinventing themselves for net-zero life, finding a green raison d’être by deploying their engineering and offshore know-how to lock carbon underground and unlock hydrogen above ground. They are no longer the perennial climate villains depicted by the green Taliban. Subtler moral judgment is required.

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are also reinventing themselves, aiming to become mass global exporters of zero-carbon fuels for ships, aircraft, or Asian power plants. Abu Dhabi is already developing desert solar power for $1.35 per megawatt hour, tantamount to free energy. This will be converted into hydrogen by Siemens through electrolysis to make clean synthetic jet fuel. Carbon-free air travel is in sight.

Seifi Ghasemi heads the US conglomerate Air Products, the world’s biggest commercial producer of hydrogen. He manufactures mostly dirty “grey hydrogen” from fossils for refineries, industrial uses, or to make ammonia for fertilizers.

Ghasemi is hardly a green romantic. Aged 76, he knows his hydrogen and has seen it all. His conclusion is that this cycle is different from past episodes. Net-zero targets and the Sino-Western hydrogen race have changed the political landscape, and with it the cost calculus. So have rising carbon prices. EU emissions contracts have doubled since October to nearly €42 a tonne. This really bites.

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The oil supermajors are reinventing themselves, are they? Evans-Pritchard is quite excited about this. But he’s been excited about a lot of things; the evidence doesn’t always agree.
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Google Voice is about to get a lot more frustrating to use • Android Police

Michael Crider:

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The slow, painful stagnation of Google’s call forwarding service continues. An update to the support text for Google Voice says that soon SMS forwarding for Google Voice will no longer operate. That will leave the Google Voice app, on your phone or the web, as the only place that they’re visible. Google says that carriers are beginning to block these messages, which is, indeed, something we’ve observed over the last few weeks.

This is particularly bad news for those of us who’ve been using Google Voice as effectively our only phone number, forwarding it to new SIMs and devices as we get them. Phones tend to lean on their default texting app for integration into a lot of other services. The Google Voice app usually covers those, but it isn’t particularly friendly with the rest of Android outside of the notification basics. For example, my Fitbit Versa 3 doesn’t detect it as an option for a default text message app—I have to use the generic notification system instead. An end to SMS forwarding will add a bit of a headache there.

Google’s support page doesn’t give a specific timeframe for when SMS forwarding will end, leaving Voice users in a familiar limbo.

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Google is great at getting a v1 out of the door, and often times the v2 as well. But it has enormous problems staying interested in products, and there’s always a question about what its overarching strategy is. How does Google Voice help its mission statement of “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”? Well.. it might help get a call from somewhere else? Sort of? The truth is, things are getting difficult (because of the carriers) and Google’s looking like it has lost interest.
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Texas power cut at Samsung fab line will hit world smartphone production • TrendForce

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The Line S2 fab of Samsung in Austin, Texas sustained a power interruption, which has forced it to suspend operation since mid-February, under the impact from the winter storm. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that the capacity utilization rate for the entire fab is not expected to climb back to over 90% until the end of March. In particular, Samsung manufactures several products that are highly important for the production of smartphones, including the Qualcomm 5G RFIC, Samsung LSI OLED DDIC, and Samsung LSI CIS Logic IC. Supply-wise, the first two products sustained the brunt of the winter storm’s impact, and global smartphone production for 2Q21 is therefore expected to drop by about 5% as a result.

…the Qualcomm RFIC is primarily supplied to smartphone brands to be used in 5G handsets. This product is delivered to clients as part of either AP bundles or 5G modems. The winter storm’s impact on the production of the Qualcomm RFIC is expected to take place in 2Q21, resulting in a 30% decrease in 5G smartphone production for the quarter.

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The Texas administration’s determination to let the free market have its way with electricity supply is echoing down the years.
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Vaccine efficacy, statistical power and mental models • Insight

Zeynep Tufekci:

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There is, of course, a relationship between mild COVID—or breakthrough cases, getting symptoms of COVID despite being vaccinated—in that if you aren’t even getting mild disease, you are certainly not getting severe consequences. But the converse is not true: an inability to prevent mild disease does not necessarily signal an inability to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death. That would be the case if vaccinations and the immune system, indeed, had operated like a wall; if a wall can’t stop a five-foot wave because it is too short, it certainly can’t stop a nine-foot wave.  

Instead, though, the immune system is a tiered (and very complicated) system. The first line of defense is those antibodies that we keep hearing of (which are important and significant for our purposes here, also easier to measure) that attach to the invading pathogen and are, well, neutralizing (Hence neutralizing antibodies). But there is another component to our immune system, called T cells, which kick into action after an infection has occurred. They work to clear out the infected cells (which have become little factories producing the virus). 

…I certainly don’t have to pretend to understand all the complexities of the immune system which, my Atlantic colleague Ed Yong referred to as the place where “intuition goes to die.” But his whole article is absolutely worth reading for the non-specialist because the important message is this: the immune system is not a wall with a specific height that fails if the wave is taller. It’s a tiered system with very complex interactions. If the initial response falls short and “breakthrough” disease occurs despite vaccination, that does not mean that severe disease is necessarily more likely to occur – that “the wall” had been overcome the way a wave washed over the sea wall protecting the Fukushima plant.

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This point, about why the vaccine prevents some forms but not others, is all about our mental model of the immune system as something that gets overwhelmed, as she points out.
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Vaccines seem to help the symptoms of Long Covid • Elemental

Akiko Iwasaki:

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Back when I first learned about long Covid in June 2020, I proposed three possible mechanisms that might be causing it: 1) a persistent viral reservoir; 2) “viral ghost,” which are fragments of the virus (RNA, proteins) that linger after the infection has been cleared but are still capable of stimulating the immune system; and 3) an autoimmune response induced by the infection. Of course, other mechanisms may also contribute.

Since then, many studies have provided support for all three of these mechanisms. Research has shown that viral reservoirs are present in tissues, viral RNA is found in non-respiratory tissues and is associated with inflammation, and diverse autoantibodies are detected in some Covid patients.

The three mechanisms of long Covid I proposed above are not mutually exclusive, and all three may benefit from the vaccines. If the first is true, vaccine-induced T cells (immune cells that attack and kill infected cells) and antibody responses may be able to eliminate the viral reservoir. If the second is true, vaccine-induced immunity may be able to eliminate the viral ghost if such viral components are associated with the spike protein, which the virus uses to gain entry into cells. If the third is true, the vaccine might divert autoimmune cells, as I will describe below.

I suspect that people with long Covid have varying degrees of all three mechanisms taking place. Thus, long Covid consists of multiple types of diseases. By understanding which mechanism(s) are causing long Covid within each person, suitable treatment can be given.

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Principally of interest to people who have or know those with Long Covid, but the amount we’re adding to our knowledge of the immune system over the past year is amazing.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Robert Colvile’s surname was mispelt in yesterday’s post. He also answered a question on Twitter: if existing v nonexisting databases are what makes Test & Trace work (or not), what does he say about Wales, where it succeeded? His response: Wales used existing infrastructure, while England (where it went bad) didn’t.

Start Up No.1505: the deepfake cheerleader mom, electric charging grows up, NFT auction mystery deepens, Adobe’s “Enhance” really does, and more


The beautiful, classic lines of the compact cassette were invented by the late Lou Ottens. CC-licensed photo by Scott Schiller 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. Could Phil Dunphy help? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Woman created ‘deepfake’ videos to force rivals off daughter’s cheerleading squad: police • pennlive.com

Jana Benscoter:

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Police arrested a 50-year-old Bucks County woman March 10 for sending her teen daughter’s cheerleading coaches fake photos and videos depicting her rivals naked, drinking, or smoking, to try to get them kicked off the squad, according to media reports.

Raffaela Spone, of Chalfont, was charged with two misdemeanors, Hilltown Township Police officers said. Spone is facing three counts of cyber harassment of a child and three counts of harassment.

An investigation last year led officers to discover that Spone had sent harassing text messages directly to the teenagers as well, police said. As the investigation continued, more teenagers came forward, who were all part of a traveling cheerleading group — Victory Vipers — based in the Doylestown area.

“Spone last year created the doctored images of at least three members,” according to the affidavit. There were no indications that Spone’s daughter knew what her mother was doing.

The teenagers told officers Spone sent them “manipulated images,” and in an anonymous message, said that Spone “urged them to kill themselves,” Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hilltown police were contacted by one of the teenager’s parents in July, and then two more families came forward with a similar account. They told officers they and their coaches received text messages that depicted them naked, drinking, and smoking a vape, according to the Philly Inquirer.

Some of the teenagers were “sent photos of themselves in bikinis, with accompanying text saying the subjects were “drinking at the shore,” court records show.

The videos were analyzed, and detectives were able to determine they were “deepfakes” — digitally altered but realistic-looking images — created by mapping the girls’ social media photos onto other images, the Philly Inquirer reported.

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Well, I guess it’s really out of the lab now. She doesn’t seem (based on a search) to be any great computer whiz.
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Great news for the UK’s electric-vehicle driving community (which will soon be all of us) • Status-Q

Quentin Stafford-Fraser (who has been driving an EV since 2015 – doughty soul):

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Ecotricity still maintained the monopoly on the motorway service stations, so the places where you needed the fastest and best chargers had the slowest and the worst.

Until now.

Yesterday, there was an announcement that this monopoly was going to end.

And today, joint announcements from Ecotricity and Gridserve say that they’re going to collaborate on renewing the Electric Highway. (Did Dale Vince jump, one can’t help wondering, or was he pushed?) Anyway, this is excellent news.

Gridserve, for those who don’t know, created the UK’s first fully-electric forecourt, which I visited soon after it opened. Like everybody else, I was suitably impressed, so it’s great to see them grow.

The Fully Charged Show has an interview with the CEOs of the two companies.

The key item to take away here is that most of the UK’s motorways will soon be well-equipped with 350kW chargers capable of adding vast amounts of range to the big batteries of today’s newer cars, in the time it takes to visit the loo and get a coffee.

The Gridserve forecourt was actually the last place I charged my old BMW before replacing it, so in a sense, this merger of its first and last charge-suppliers seems somehow appropriate, and my ownership of that car is a bit reminiscent of the early days of the web: it spanned the era from when EV-driving was new and exciting to when it started becoming mainstream, in a very small number of years.

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The cars are only half the story; the chargers are the rest, just as driving an internal combustion car is going to be a challenge without a network of fuel stations. We take them for granted, but they weren’t always there.
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Metakovan, the mystery Beeple art buyer, and his NFT/DeFi scheme • Amy Castor

Castor digs into the peculiar transaction last week where an artwork was “bought” for a ton of Monopoly money:

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MetaKovan [the buyer, who Castor believes is actually Vignesh Sundaresan] is also behind Singapore-based Metapurse, a crypto-based investment firm. Metapurse’s mission, according to its website, is to “democratize access and ownership to artwork.” The firm also purchased Beeple’s “Everdays: 20 Collection” artworks for $2.2m in December.

Metapurse has taken these Beeple artworks, or NFTs, along with a few virtual museums, and combined everything into a “massive bundle.” Would you like to invest in this wonderful package? You can—by buying B20 tokens.

This blog post on the Metapurse substack lays out the grand plan:

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“We believe we truly achieved this with B.20 – the name of a massive NFT bundle we are fractionalizing so that everyone can have ownership over the first large scale public art project within the metaverse. It is important to note that we’re fractionalizing ownership, not the assets themselves. These fractions will be available as 10 million B.20 tokens, and can be referred to as the “keys” to this digital vault.”

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At the end of the day, this is all about “number go up.” The B20 token is pumped up in value, so holders and Metapurse can benefit when they go to sell the token—get more ETH, buy more NFTs, rinse, repeat.

The distribution is something to pay attention to. Metakovan has 59% of all the B20 tokens. Why does he own the majority of tokens? As he explains it, that’s so that no one person can own 100% of all of the B20 tokens—and snatch up all this wonderful artwork for themselves. No, this is meant to be decentralized, if you can get your head past Metakovan controlling the token supply.

What’s interesting is that Beeple, the creator of the artwork, is actually a business partner of MetaKovan’s. He owns 2% of all the B20 tokens. I’m sure there is no conflict of interest here.

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But what, you might ask, about Christie’s? Surely the venerable auction house, which is being “paid” in Monopoly money (having waived the standard requirement that its cut of the payment should be in good old folding fiat money) will be annoyed at being used in this way?

Well.. maybe not. Auction houses have seen business fall off a cliff, as you’d expect for places reliant on groups of people sitting close together inside rooms. Being involved in this and getting constantly namechecked means it can be down wid da kidz; and if this sort of thing happens again they can demand payment in real money.
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Adobe Photoshop’s ‘Super Resolution’ made my jaw hit the floor • Petapixel

Michael Clark:

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I have seen a bit of reporting out there on this topic from the likes of PetaPixel and Fstoppers, but other than that the ramifications of this new feature in ACR have not been widely promoted from what I can see. The new Super Resolution feature in ACR essentially upsizes the image by a factor of four using machine learning, i.e. Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The PetaPixel article on this new feature quoted Eric Chan from Adobe:

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Super Resolution builds on a technology Adobe launched two years ago called Enhance Details, which uses machine learning to interpolate RAW files with a high degree of fidelity, which resulted in images with crisp details and fewer artifacts. The term ‘Super Resolution’ refers to the process of improving the quality of a photo by boosting its apparent resolution,” Chan explains. “Enlarging a photo often produces blurry details, but Super Resolution has an ace up its sleeve: an advanced machine learning model trained on millions of photos. Backed by this vast training set, Super Resolution can intelligently enlarge photos while maintaining clean edges and preserving important details.

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What does this mean practically? Well, I immediately tested this out and was pretty shocked by the results. Though it might be hard to make out in the screenshot below, I took the surfing image shown below, which was captured a decade ago with a Nikon D700 — a 12MP camera — and ran the Super Resolution tool on it and the end result is a 48.2MP image that looks to be every bit as sharp (if not sharper) than the original image file. This means that I can now print that old 12MP image at significantly larger sizes than I ever could before.

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Wow, indeed. The article goes into detail about how it’s done. Essentially, AI is now going to fill in the micro-detail that wasn’t there.
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Elon Musk says Tesla revoked access for some drivers testing ‘full self-driving’ • Business Insider

Kevin Shalvey:

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Friday said the carmaker had expanded the public testing pool for its Full Self-Driving software to about 2,000 vehicle owners but also revoked access for drivers who didn’t pay close attention to the road.

Tesla “revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road,” Musk said on Twitter late Friday. “No accidents to date.”

Musk didn’t offer further details about how many drivers have lost access, or how Tesla made decisions about pulling access. Insider has reached out to the company for comment.

Musk’s statement followed a Friday report saying the National Transportation Safety Board chairman called for increased scrutiny of self-driving software.

On Friday, CNBC reported that NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt had in February sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking for updated requirements for carmakers testing software like Tesla’s on public roads.

Sumwalt’s letter mentioned Tesla by name 16 times, as CNBC reported. He wrote that Tesla was testing its software on public roads “with limited oversight or reporting requirements.”

He added: “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of [automated vehicle] testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users.”

A week ago, Musk said Tesla would double the size of its public beta testing program for version 8.2 of its software. “Still be careful, but it’s getting mature,” he said.

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If you have to keep your attention on the road, it’s not really self-driving, is it? And it really never will be, as Tesla has admitted. Musk is successfully fooling about 2,000 people all of the time, but the rest – no.
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Apple discontinues original HomePod, will focus on mini • TechCrunch

Matthew Panzarino:

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The original HomePod was a feat of audio engineering that Apple spent over five years developing. In order to accomplish its development, the team at Apple built out a full development center near its headquarters in Cupertino, with a world-class development environment with a dozen anechoic chambers, including one of the bigger anechoic chambers outside of academic use in the US. I visited the center before its release, noting that Apple took it the extra mile to get the incredibly complex series of tweeters and woofer that built its soundspace…

…The major gripe for the speaker at the time was the $349 price, which was at the top end of the home speaker market, especially those with embedded home assistants. A price drop to $299 mitigated that somewhat, but still put it at the top of the pricing umbrella for the class. Apple’s HomePod mini, launched last year, has been well received. Our Brian Heater said that it had ‘remarkably big sound’ for the $99 price.

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So the discontinuation implies that Apple couldn’t find a price for the original HomePod where it would both make an adequate profit and people would buy it in sufficient numbers. Yet it can for the HomePod mini. Given the difference in sound quality, that’s a loss for everyone. (If you like them enough, they’re available “while stocks last”, just like the iMac Pro. Unless Apple is going to introduce a new cheaper better version of both of them later this month.)

Rene Ritchie suggests that Apple should offer something that does a bit more – allow Bluetooth, or line-in, or both. Or be a router-speaker. The lack of inputs on the HomePod (and mini) suggests it’s “Ived”: a victim of the ex-head of design’s desire to make devices that ignored the world outside Apple’s tiny one.
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The vaccine programme has one key thing Test and Trace doesn’t. And it’s not money • The Sunday Times

Robert Colvile:

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Something almost no one outside government appreciates is that the British state, like all its modern counterparts, is essentially a collection of databases. Throughout the pandemic, its policy successes have largely come where there are good databases, and its failures where there are not.

The furlough scheme worked because of PAYE. The expansion of universal credit relied on the existing benefits system. The “shielding list” of vulnerable patients was compiled by blending six data sets from NHS Digital.

Good data is also the secret sauce of the vaccination rollout. The jabbers could move seamlessly down the age and risk cohorts, because GPs had the appropriate patient lists. There have still been huge challenges in distributing the vaccines and tracking down the unregistered, but the data gave us an enormous head start.

The central problem with Test and Trace, by contrast, was that it didn’t have a database. When the pandemic hit, Apple and Google developed a joint framework for contact-tracing apps, which would ping you if someone you met later tested positive. But they wouldn’t let your phone share those details with the government — hence Matt Hancock’s abortive attempt to develop a homegrown alternative.

The trackers and tracers therefore had to map out the nation’s social network from a standing start, getting individual contact lists from every person who had tested positive to find out who else needed testing and quarantine. Public Health England even managed to lose 16,000 cases because it built its database with a stone-age version of Microsoft Excel and the file grew too large.

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As Colville points out, it was “have database/don’t have database” that made the difference, not private v public.
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Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94 • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey:

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Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

Ottens’s idea was that the cassette tape that should fit in the inside pocket of his jacket. In 1963 the first tape was presented to the world at an electronics fair in Berlin with the tagline “Smaller than a pack of cigarettes!”

Photographs of the invention made their way to Japan, where substandard copies started to emerge. Ottens made agreements with Sony for the patented Philips mechanism to be the standard.

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Really he should be buried next to Laszlo Biro.
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Facebook is studying vaccine hesitancy, new documents show • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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Facebook is conducting a vast behind-the-scenes study of doubts expressed by U.S. users about vaccines, a major project that attempts to probe and teach software to identify the medical attitudes of millions of Americans, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The research is a large-scale attempt to understand the spread of ideas that contribute to vaccine hesitancy, or the act of delaying or refusing a vaccination despite its availability, on social media — a primary source of health information for millions of people. It shows how the company is probing ever more nuanced realms of speech, and illustrates how weighing free speech vs. potential for harm is more tenuous than ever for technology companies during a public health crisis.

…The research explores how to address that tension by studying these types of comments, which are tagged “VH” by the company’s software algorithms, as well as the nature of the communities that spread them, according to the documents. Its early findings suggest that a large amount of content that does not break the rules may be causing harm in certain communities, where it has an echo chamber effect.

The company’s data scientists divided the company’s U.S. users, groups and pages into 638 population segments to explore which types of groups hold vaccine hesitant beliefs. The document did not identify how Facebook defined a segment or grouped communities, but noted that the segments could be at least 3 million people.

Some of the early findings are notable: Just 10 out of the 638 population segments contained 50% of all vaccine hesitancy content on the platform. And in the population segment with the most vaccine hesitancy, just 111 users contributed half of all vaccine hesitant content.

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Wouldn’t it be simplest to block those 111 users? A lot of the problem would be solved. On the 1-9-90 principle (1% of users generate 90% of content, broadly), it would make a huge difference.
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‘No 10 was a plague pit’: how Covid brought Westminster to its knees • The Guardian

Jessica Elgot:

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One of the few people still working in a high-profile job in Westminster who had experience of tackling a pandemic was the shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

“I was actually in Downing Street for swine flu 10 years ago,” the Labour MP said. “I remember when I first heard of the virus in Wuhan I thought: I wonder if that’s going to be like swine flu. But I obviously didn’t appreciate at that point it would be off the scale.”

Ashworth asked for his first briefing with Whitty in January 2020. By February he was doing “nothing else” but studying the trajectory of the virus, he said. But it was when the health minister Nadine Dorries was confirmed to have Covid on 10 March that the magnitude of the crisis fully dawned on some of those in government.

“The moment we realised this is probably more widespread in the country than we thought is when Nadine Dorries tested positive,” one health official said.

At the time, people were only meant to get tested if they had been to one of the affected areas. “So the original assumption was, she hasn’t been to Italy or China so she hasn’t got Covid, even if she’s got some symptoms. And then she tested positive and I remember thinking: hang on, is this thing spreading much more widely than the people realise?”

On 11 March, the day after Dorries tested positive, Liverpool played Atlético Madrid in front of a crowd of tens of thousands at Anfield. It was also the day of Rishi Sunak’s first budget.

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The Sunak budget probably infected more people, proportionally. Dorries as the Typhoid Mary of the Tory party is fitting. Note how once Boris Johnson got infected and then seriously ill, those in charge lied relentlessly to the public – as they had done pretty much from the start.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1504: Apple sues former staffer over media leaks, Netflix to stop password sharing, Facebook’s AI problem, and more


Some British internet connections are being surveilled in a secret Home Office trial. Who decides if it goes nationwide? CC-licensed photo by Nenad Stojkovic 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. So far, not subject to a public inquiry. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The UK is secretly testing a controversial web snooping tool • WIRED UK

Matt Burgess:

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For the last two years police and internet companies across the UK have been quietly building and testing surveillance technology that could log and store the web browsing of every single person in the country.

The tests, which are being run by two unnamed internet service providers, the Home Office and the National Crime Agency, are being conducted under controversial surveillance laws introduced at the end of 2016. If successful, data collection systems could be rolled out nationally, creating one of the most powerful and controversial surveillance tools used by any democratic nation.

Despite the National Crime Agency saying “significant work” has been put into the trial it remains clouded in secrecy. Elements of the legislation are also being challenged in court. There has been no public announcement of the trial, with industry insiders saying they are unable to talk about the technology due to security concerns.

The trial is being conducted under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, dubbed the Snooper’s Charter, and involves the creation of Internet Connection Records, or ICRs. These are records of what you do online and have a broad definition. In short, they contain the metadata about your online life: the who, what, where, why and when of your digital life. The surveillance law can require web and phone companies to store browsing histories for 12 months – although for this to happen they must be served with an order, approved by a senior judge, telling them to keep the data.

The first of these orders was made in July 2019 and kickstarted ICRs being trialled in the real world, according to a recent report from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner. A second order, made to another internet provider as part of the same trial, followed in October 2019. A spokesperson for the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office says the trial is ongoing and that it is conducting regular reviews to “ensure that the data types collected remain necessary and proportionate”. They add that once the trial has been fully assessed a decision will be made on whether the system will be expanded nationally.

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Apple sues former employee leaking trade secrets to media • AppleInsider

Wesley Hilliard:

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The former materials lead at Apple has been sued by the company, with the complaint addressing alleged misappropriation of trade secrets that were then sold to an unnamed publication in exchange for favorable coverage of a startup.

The leaks and rumors industry built around Apple can be a dangerous one. Simon Lancaster, former materials lead at Apple, has been accused of accessing data outside of his job’s scope then selling it to a media outlet.

A court document made public on Thursday describes the accusation:

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Despite over a decade of employment at Apple, Lancaster abused his position and trust within the company to systematically disseminate Apple’s sensitive trade secret information in an effort to obtain personal benefits. He used his seniority to gain access to internal meetings and documents outside the scope of his job’s responsibilities containing Apple’s trade secrets, and he provided these trade secrets to his outside media correspondent.

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Apple claims that the media venue published the stolen trade secrets in assorted articles, citing a “source” at Apple. The suit also alleges that Lancaster traded the information for benefits, including positive coverage of his new company.

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We’re all wondering who the mysterious correspondent is, aren’t we. The court document alleges that the first contact was November 29 2018, so that’s a date to conjure with. Stories beginning from December 2018?
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Let’s redesign the laptop for a work-from-home era • WSJ

Dan Weil:

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What developments are coming to laptops to make remote work easier? And what developments should be coming? Here’s what a variety of experts had to say about that.

1. Improve the way we look on camera…

The better we get at videoconferencing, the more we notice bad videoconferencing and poor camera angles. Innovation in software will make us all look better on camera.

There’s already software to edit the view of the pupil of your eye so it looks like you’re focused on the camera. It’s not a big leap to think software will scan our faces and present a virtual camera view that shows us at our most flattering angle with a little motion thrown in for realism.

Going a step further, more workers who are in continuous meetings don’t want to stare into a camera or at a single screen all day. Having more than one camera—think a production studio for the home office—could enable meeting software to smoothly switch automatically from one camera to another depending on where you focus your eyes.

We should also see an evolution of tablet and laptop design to improve the way we look on camera. If you have a device with a detachable keyboard, you can already position your screen and its camera on a stand to get a better angle. Separating the laptop camera so you can put it anywhere is a logical step.

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Improving the camera quality and positioning alone would make a huge difference. Better noise cancellation, better wireless and more security are all among the suggestions. But with cameras making such a difference now, that’s what we need. If Apple’s next new laptops have the crummy old cameras, it’ll be a big swing-and-miss.
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He got Facebook hooked on AI. Now he can’t fix its misinformation addiction • MIT Technology Review

Karen Hao:

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I began video-calling [one of Facebook’s AI directors,] Joaquin Quiñonero regularly. I also spoke to Facebook executives, current and former employees, industry peers, and external experts. Many spoke on condition of anonymity because they’d signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation. I wanted to know: what was Quiñonero’s team doing to rein in the hate and lies on its platform?

But [Facebook’s AI communications director Ari] Entin and Quiñonero had a different agenda. Each time I tried to bring up these topics, my requests to speak about them were dropped or redirected. They only wanted to discuss the Responsible AI team’s plan to tackle one specific kind of problem: AI bias, in which algorithms discriminate against particular user groups. An example would be an ad-targeting algorithm that shows certain job or housing opportunities to white people but not to minorities.

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

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The lets-not-talk-about-that-we-want-to-discuss-this approach is completely familiar to every journalist who has spoken to Facebook, Google, Apple. This is a super-long feature, so allow some time.
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How Google’s new Career Certificates could disrupt the college degree • Inc.com

Justin Bariso:

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This morning, Google is announcing the next steps in its plan to disrupt the world of education, including the launch of new certificate programs that are designed to help people bridge any skills gap and get qualifications in high-paying, high-growth job fields–with one noteworthy feature: 

No college degree necessary.

The new tools could be a game changer for a growing number of people who consider the current educational system broken, or for the millions of Americans who are currently unemployed, much due to fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has led to a truly horrible year,” Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai tells Inc. in an interview. “But it has also created profound shifts along the journey to digital transformation in ways no one could have imagined.”

The plan includes:
• The release of three new Google Career Certificates on Coursera in project management, data analytics, and user experience (UX) design
• A new Associate Android Developer Certification course
• Over 100,000 need-based scholarships
• Partnerships with more than 130 employers working with Google to hire graduates of its certificate program
• A new Google Search feature that makes it easier for people to find jobs for their education level, including no degree and no experience

Most enrollees will finish in six months or less, putting the cost at about $240 for U.S. students. Some may need only three months, cutting that cost in half. Google is offering 100,000 need-based scholarships in the U.S.

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We’ll know this is a success when Google hires someone who has completed this rather than a college degree, I guess.
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Google Maps will soon let you draw on a map to fix it • The Verge

Mitchell Clark:

»

If you’ve ever been frustrated by a road simply not existing on Google Maps, the company’s now making it easier than ever to add it. Google will be updating its map editing experience to allow users to add missing roads and realign, rename or delete incorrect ones. It calls the experience “drawing,” but it’s closer to using the line tool in Microsoft Paint. The updated tool should be “rolling out over the coming months in more than 80 countries,” according to a blog post.

Currently, if you try to add a missing road, you can only drop a pin where the road should be and type in the road’s name to submit that information to Google. The new tool should make it easier to not only add missing roads, but to make corrections such as fixing a road’s name or its direction (for example, if the road is one-way but Google Maps says it isn’t).

«

Gosh, it’s like being able to make the map. You could become a map maker. With Google. A Google Map Maker. Except they shut that down four years ago, after someone added “an Android robot urinating on the Apple logo and a separate feature saying “Google review policy is crap”.

I’m sure it’ll all be completely fine this time though.
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Beeple NFT Everydays sells at Christies auction for $69m in Ether • Bloomberg

James Tarmy and Olga Kharif:

»

When Christie’s announced the sale last month, it made waves when it revealed that it would accept cryptocurrency as payment; the caveat was that the buyer’s premium had to be in a traditional currency. 

But as the days went on and people continued to push the price even higher, that policy changed.

“We are accepting [a buyer’s premium of] Ethereum for this purchase,” Davis says. “I feel like that’s actually the biggest deal of this whole thing, secretly.”

Speaking a day before the sale closed, Davis said he was “90% sure” that the final buyer would be paying in cryptocurrency. Christie’s didn’t immediately confirm if that was the case once the sale concluded.

Given the wild volatility of cryptocurrencies, Christie’s may be taking a risk accepting its premium in Ethereum. The second-biggest digital coin lost 50% of its value on Feb. 22, sinking as low as $700. As of 10:11 a.m. EST on Mar. 11, Ether was trading at $1,815 to the dollar, a roughly 160% growth over the prior week.

«

So basically they paid in Monopoly money. Going to be fun watching Christie’s trying to turn that into hard cash. Or maybe it will pass-the-parcel, buying other digital things with the pretend-money.
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The past, present, and future of Google’s Chrome OS • Fast Company

JR Raphael:

»

Right now, the reality is that Chromebooks can do an awful lot—the vast majority of what most typical computer users need, I’d contend—but figuring out which of Chrome OS’s many available tools is appropriate for any given purpose isn’t always easy. With the platform’s power and versatility has come a level of complication that’s at direct odds with the simplicity it initially set out to achieve. It’s a struggle I hear about from Chromebook owners constantly, and it’s a critical challenge for Google to address.

Let’s say, for instance, you wanted to use the task management app Todoist on your Chrome OS computer. You could simply go to the Todoist website or create a shortcut to that website on your desktop—or, if you know how to find it, you could use the Todoist progressive web app, which turns the Todoist website into a more neatly packaged, offline-capable program.

You could also install the similarly offline-capable Todoist Android app from the Google Play Store—or you could find the Todoist Chrome extension in the Chrome Web Store (which, like the Play Store, is preinstalled and serves as a de facto Chromebook app market).

That’s the kind of confusion Chromebook users face daily with app selection, and countless similar examples exist. Even people who might not explicitly realize such overlapping options are available often end up stumbling onto the limitations that come up when they pick an app type that isn’t entirely optimal for performing the task at hand on a Chromebook. It frequently takes thought and research to figure out which version of a program is best for which purpose, and that’s a lot to ask of a typical computer owner.

[VP of ChromeOS John] Solomon and [UX lead John] Maletis acknowledge this challenge. They say they’re working to address it, in a way that (ahem) a certain astute writer observed as a likely-seeming progression last April: by turning the Play Store into an all-purpose discovery tool where Chromebook owners can go to find whatever programs they need without having to think about the type of app they’ll end up getting.

«

ChromeOS is big: about 65% of them go to education, 20% to consumers, but they were 27% of US computer sales in 2020.
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Amazon takes lead as connected TV device sales reach new peak • Strategy Analytics

»

Global sales of connected TV devices soared to a new record in Q4 2020, reaching 109.1m units, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics’ TV Streaming Platforms service. According to the report, Amazon became market leader for the first time with sales of 13.2m devices and a market share of 12.1%. Samsung slipped into second place while Sony remained third after the launch of its new PS5 games console.

Overall in 2020 sales of connected TV devices (smart TVs, streamers, games consoles) reached 305.3m units, an annual increase of 7.6%, as locked down residents sought comfort in big screen entertainment. Strategy Analytics predicts further growth in 2021 as TV viewers continue to migrate towards internet-based video platforms and away from traditional broadcast and pay TV services.

«

That must be heading for an installed base of around a billion units: nearly 600 million sold in the past two years, and these gadgets have been going for nearly a decade. The real war is between the makers of smart TVs and the makers of these devices: TV makers want to avoid becoming completely replaceable, device makers want to make them replaceable. Samsung, Sony, LG, Hisense and TCL, of course, are playing both sides.
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Netflix begins test to crack down on password sharing outside your household • The Streamable

Jason Gurwin:

»

Earlier this week, some Netflix subscribers began to notice that it might be a bit harder to “borrow” someone’s password.

In the prompt, customers are told that “If you don’t live with the owner of this account, you need your own account to keep watching.” In order to continue, they need to verify the account with a E-mail or Text Code, or create a new account with a 30-Day Free Trial.

We’ve heard the test right now is only on TV devices. A Netflix spokesperson told The Streamable, “This test is designed to help ensure that people using Netflix accounts are authorized to do so.” It isn’t clear if users in the test all need to be on the same IP address to be considered in the same household.

According to Netflix terms, an account can only be shared with members of your household: “The Netflix service and any content viewed through our service are for your personal and non-commercial use only and may not be shared with individuals beyond your household.”

Until now, Netflix has not done anything to police this except to set limits on simultaneous streaming. Their Basic plan ($8.99) allows streaming on a single device, while the Standard plan ($13.99) offers streaming on up to 2 devices, and the Premium plan ($17.99) on up to 4 devices. However, they don’t limit you on the number of devices a single account can be logged into.

There has been talk that companies will be become more aggressive on password sharing, as the industry becomes more mature.

«

In parallel, Alex Hern was accidentally included in a test Spotify has been running to see if how sensitive people are to higher prices if it offers various different account configurations.

Hey, fellow frogs: is this water getting warmer?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. 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

Start Up No.1502: Russia’s vaccine disinformation campaign, Biden gets antitrustful, Huawei slashes smartphone orders, empty Olympics?, and more


The US saw fewer traffic jams in 2020 – but road deaths jumped. Why? CC-licensed photo by Florian 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. Not a member of the Society of Editors. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Russian disinformation campaign aims to undermine confidence in Pfizer, other Covid-19 vaccines, US officials say • WSJ

Michael R. Gordon and Dustin Volz:

»

Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a campaign to undermine confidence in Pfizer’s and other western vaccines, using online publications that in recent months have questioned the vaccines’ development and safety, US officials said.

An official with the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which monitors foreign disinformation efforts, identified four publications that he said have served as fronts for Russian intelligence. The websites played up the vaccines’ risk of side effects, questioned their efficacy, and said the US had rushed the Pfizer vaccine through the approval process, among other false or misleading claims.

Though the outlets’ readership is small, US officials say they inject false narratives that can be amplified by other Russian and international media.

“We can say these outlets are directly linked to Russian intelligence services,” the Global Engagement Center official said of the sites behind the disinformation campaign. “They’re all foreign-owned, based outside of the United States. They vary a lot in their reach, their tone, their audience, but they’re all part of the Russian propaganda and disinformation ecosystem.”

In addition, Russian state media and Russian government Twitter accounts have made overt efforts to raise concerns about the cost and safety of the Pfizer vaccine in what experts outside the US government say is an effort to promote the sale of Russia’s rival Sputnik V vaccine.

…The foreign efforts to sow doubts about the vaccine exploit deep-seated anxieties about the efficacy and side effects of vaccines that were already prevalent in some communities in the U.S. and internationally.

«

Just as in the 2016 US presidential election, and the Brexit vote: there’s no need to create division; just amplify what’s there already. The number of people who, on seeing official suggestions backed up by data, insist that the opposite must be true, is amazing, particularly around vaccination. A common theme is “look how many people have died soon after being vaccinated!” Which rather ignores the age of the first cohort to receive it. (Plus the same people are always insisting that the flu is much more deadly than it really is. They can’t seem to decide which narrative to go with. So they use both.)
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Huawei to more than halve smartphone output in 2021 • Nikkei Asia

Naoki Watanabe and Hideaki Ryugen:

»

Huawei has notified suppliers that it plans to order enough components for 70m to 80m smartphones this year, according to people at multiple suppliers. The range represents more than a 60% decline from the 189m smartphones Huawei shipped last year.

The company’s component orders have been limited to those for 4G models as it lacks US government permission to import components for 5G models. Some of the suppliers indicated the figure could be lowered to nearly 50m units.

The embattled Chinese tech giant last year fell to No. 3 in the global smartphone industry, behind Samsung Electronics and Apple, according to research company IDC. Huawei is likely to lose further ground this year amid the US export restrictions.

Huawei declined to answer Nikkei inquiries regarding the matter.

Huawei in November sold its Honor budget brand to a consortium of more than 30 Chinese companies in a bid to help Honor regain access to critical components and parts subject to the U.S. restrictions.

Honor says it has resecured business relationships with key suppliers, including AMD, Intel, MediaTek, Micron Technology, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, SK Hynix and Sony. It launched the V40 5G smartphone in China last month.

«

Brutal. And Biden seems to be in no hurry to restore the status quo ante. Equally, China’s government doesn’t, as far as we can tell, seem to be in much hurry to push for it. A reminder that Huawei’s CFO remains on bail in Canada, charged with evading sanctions, while two Canadians are in Chinese jail, apparently as retaliation.
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How to put out democracy’s dumpster fire • The Atlantic

Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev:

»

Perhaps the most apt historical model for algorithmic regulation is not trust-busting, but environmental protection. To improve the ecology around a river, it isn’t enough to simply regulate companies’ pollution. Nor will it help to just break up the polluting companies. You need to think about how the river is used by citizens—what sort of residential buildings are constructed along the banks, what is transported up and down the river—and the fish that swim in the water. Fishermen, yachtsmen, ecologists, property developers, and area residents all need a say. Apply that metaphor to the online world: Politicians, citizen-scientists, activists, and ordinary people will all have to work together to co-govern a technology whose impact is dependent on everyone’s behavior, and that will be as integral to our lives and our economies as rivers once were to the emergence of early civilizations.

The internet is not the first promising technology to have quickly turned dystopian. In the early 20th century, radio was greeted with as much enthusiasm as the internet was in the early 21st. Radio will “fuse together all mankind” wrote Velimir Khlebnikov, a Russian futurist poet, in the 1920s. Radio would connect people, end war, promote peace!

Almost immediately, a generation of authoritarians learned how to use radio for hate propaganda and social control. In the Soviet Union, radio speakers in apartments and on street corners blared Communist agitprop. The Nazis introduced the Volksempfänger, a cheap wireless transistor set, to broadcast Hitler’s speeches; in the 1930s, Germany had more radios per capita than anywhere else in the world. In America, the new information sphere was taken over not by the state but by private media companies chasing ratings—and one of the best ways to get ratings was to promote hatred. Every week, more than 30 million would tune in to the pro-Hitler, anti-Semitic radio broadcasts of Father Charles Coughlin, the Detroit priest who eventually turned against American democracy itself.

In Britain, John Reith, the visionary son of a Scottish clergyman, began to look for an alternative: radio that was controlled neither by the state, as it was in dictatorships, nor by polarizing, profit-seeking companies. Reith’s idea was public radio, funded by taxpayers but independent of the government. It would not only “inform, educate and entertain”; it would facilitate democracy by bringing society together…

«

The question is, what’s the social media equivalent of the BBC? It’s not Wikipedia, though that is a sort of publicly coordinated page.
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Scoop: Biden taps another Big Tech trustbuster • POLITICO

Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri, Eugene Daniels and Rachael Bade:

»

President Joe Biden has decided to nominate Lina Khan, a Columbia University legal scholar championed by anti-Big Tech activists, to the Federal Trade Commission.

Along with the recent hiring of Tim Wu as an economic adviser inside the White House — also first reported in Playbook — the addition of Khan signals that Biden is poised to pursue an aggressive regulatory agenda when it comes to Amazon, Google, Facebook and other tech giants.

An FBI agent this week was making calls to Khan’s associates for her background check, the final part of the vetting process before a major administration job is officially announced. Sources confirmed Khan is headed to the FTC if she survives Senate confirmation.

The addition of Khan and Wu represents a massive shift in philosophy away from the era of Barack Obama, who proudly forged an alliance between the Democratic Party and Big Tech.

At the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, a top Obama adviser marveled that Google’s Eric Schmidt, then the company’s CEO, had worked so closely with the Obama campaign on its tech infrastructure that the work and advice should have been considered a massive in-kind donation. In office the Obama White House and Silicon Valley had a symbiotic relationship.

The ascendance of Khan and Wu, two of the most important intellectuals in the recent progressive antitrust revival, signals a break with that past and hints that Biden is sympathetic to the left’s view that Obama’s laissez-faire policies helped engender the populist backlash that ended with Donald Trump’s election.

«

Khan is the author of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox“, written when she was a law student, about how Amazon’s predatory pricing might violate antitrust law – or, if it didn’t, the law needed to be changed. Khan was one of the people behind the tough questions coming from Democrats when Apple, Amazon and Google were in front of Congress late last year.

As the story says, having both Khan and Wu inside the administration is quite a signal. Though I really don’t think that laissez-faire policies around tech had anything to do with Trump getting in.
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Japan to keep foreign spectators away from Tokyo Olympics, Kyodo says • US News

David Dolan and Chris Gallagher:

»

Japan has decided to stage this summer’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics without overseas spectators due to public concern about COVID-19, Kyodo news agency said on Tuesday, citing officials with knowledge of the matter.

The Tokyo 2020 games organising committee said in response that a decision would be made by the end of March.

The Olympics, postponed by a year because of the pandemic, are scheduled for July 23 to Aug. 8 and the Paralympics from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Kyodo said the government had concluded that welcoming fans from abroad would not be possible given public concern about the coronavirus and the detection of more contagious variants in many countries, Kyodo cited the officials as saying.

The opening ceremony of the torch relay would also be held without any spectators, Kyodo said.

“The organising committee has decided it is essential to hold the ceremony in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima behind closed doors, only permitting participants and invitees to take part in the event, to avoid large crowds forming amid the pandemic,” Kyodo said, quoting the officials.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto has said she wants a decision on whether to let in overseas spectators before the start of the torch relay on March 25.

«

It’s going to be very weird. So many questions. Will some of the countries boycott it? Will some of the athletes be excluded for failing Covid tests? What sort of tests will they be? Will immunised athletes be exempt from tests? Will only immunised athletes be allowed? How is this thing going to work, just at the competitor level? And that’s before you get to the officials, of whom there have to be loads.
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Traffic congestion dropped by 73% in 2020 due to the pandemic • Ars Technica

Jonathan Gitlin:

»

In 2020, the average US driver spent 26 hours stuck in traffic. While that’s still more than a day, it’s a steep decline from pre-pandemic times; in 2019 the average American sacrificed 99 hours to traffic jams. Around the world, it’s a similar story. German drivers averaged an identical 26 hours of traffic in 2020, down from 46 the year before. In the UK, 2019 sounded positively awful, with 115 hours in traffic jams. At least one thing improved for that island nation in 2020: its drivers only spent 37 hours stationary in their cars.

This data was all collected by traffic analytics company Inrix for its 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard that tracks mobility across more than 1,000 different cities around the world based on travel times, miles traveled, trip characteristics, and the effect of crashes on congestion in each city.

And unless you’ve spent the past 12 months in a cave—in which case, gee, do I have some crappy news for you—you’ll instinctively know that there were big declines in traffic in 2020, and in particular a drop in people traveling to downtowns and central business districts.

Still, traffic didn’t actually disappear completely, and averages hide a lot in a country as large as the United States. The worst traffic of 2020 was experienced in New York City, up from 4th worst in 2019, where drivers lost 100 hours to traffic jams. But New Yorkers still spent 28% less time stuck in traffic, traveled 28% fewer miles, and experienced 38% fewer crashes than in 2019.

«

Yet, weirdly, US road deaths seem to have increased by about 8%, the biggest increase in 13 years. Why? The suspicion is that people saw open roads and drove more recklessly.

In the UK, by contrast, road deaths seem to have fallen, at least to the first half of 2020, by about 14%.
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Self-flying drones are helping speed deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines in Ghana • The Verge

James Vincent:

»

This month, COVID-19 vaccines were delivered by drone for the first time in the West African nation, allowing the medicine to reach remote areas underserved by traditional logistics.

Deliveries were made by US firm Zipline, which started couriering blood and drugs in Rwanda in 2016. Since then, the company has expanded its operations to Ghana in 2019 and the US in 2020, delivering medical supplies and PPE in North Carolina last May. Now, Ghana’s government has tapped Zipline to deliver the first vaccines supplied to Africa by the COVAX initiative, a project launched with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that developing countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“The reason Ghana was the first country to receive the COVAX vaccine is that they had the strongest application, and the reason they had the strongest application is they can guarantee the delivery of this vaccine to any health facility or hospital in the country at low cost and very high reliability,” Zipline’s CEO Keller Rinaudo told The Verge.

…Zipline operates four distribution centers in Ghana, each of which is part drone airport and part medical warehouse, housing a fleet of 30 fixed-wing drones as well as medical supplies. The aircraft fly to their destination autonomously, drop off packages via parachute, and return home.

Zipline says each distribution center can make deliveries in a 22,500 sq km surrounding area (8,750 sq mi). Since 2019, the company has made more than 50,000 deliveries in Ghana, including more than 1m vaccines, and claims its services can reach 12 million people — just over a third of the country’s total population. Zipline’s drones can deliver to hospitals, but also to temporary mobile clinics that will be used to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in the country’s more remote areas.

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Apple hit by privacy complaint by leading French tech association • Sifted

Chris O’Brien:

»

France’s startup association has filed a privacy complaint against Apple alleging that the latest version of iOS is collecting users’ data without their permission. 

France Digitale, which represents the nation’s entrepreneurs and VCs, on Tuesday asked the country’s privacy watchdog, the Commission Nationale de L’informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) to investigate iOS 14 for privacy violations.

According to the complaint, Apple may be violating Europe’s GDPR rules because it is collecting user data for ad tracking services without explicitly asking permission.

The allegations would seem to contradict not just Apple’s image as a privacy-friendly company, but also the widespread praise iOS 14 has received for a new feature that will limit ad-tracking for apps. The move also represents an escalation of tensions between Apple and France Digitale, which has gone public with its criticism of the iPhone-maker in recent weeks for what it has described as abusive App Store practices that are harming startups.

“We are using all legal tools that are in our hands in order to make them sit at the table and realize that they need to reset their relationship with startups,” France Digitale CEO Nicolas Brien told Sifted. “The very first legal tool is this complaint with the privacy watchdog, but there will be others.”

Responding to news of the complaint, a spokesperson for Apple said: “The allegations in the complaint are patently false and will be seen for what they are, a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers.”

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That’s quite the salty response from Apple.
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Sonos Roam officially announced for $169, preorders start now • The Verge

Chris Welch:

»

I haven’t heard the thing firsthand, so I can’t yet say how it compares to a UE Boom, JBL Charge, or one of Bose’s portable speakers. Sonos has packed the Roam with “two Class-H amplifiers.” There’s a tweeter for high frequencies and a “custom racetrack” mid-woofer — similar in shape to what’s in the Arc soundbar — that “ensures faithful playback of mid-range frequencies and maximizes low-end output.”

Sonos is also bringing automatic Trueplay to the Roam, so it will tune audio output for the best results based on whatever room or environment that the speaker is in. (It does this by using the built-in mics, which are also there for the purpose of hands-free Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.) Two Roams can be set up as a stereo pair over Wi-Fi, but unfortunately, this option isn’t available when you’re playing music over Bluetooth.

Unlike the Move, which made you choose between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes, the Roam takes advantage of both connections at once. You can play something from your phone with Bluetooth on the Roam and extend it across your whole multiroom Sonos system. (Yes, the company confirmed to me that this is also an easy way to get Bluetooth-enabled turntables playing on all your Sonos speakers.) Apple’s AirPlay 2 is also supported, and as always, you can play audio from a ton of services through the Sonos mobile app.

The Roam can last for up to 10 hours of audio playback on a charge, and a USB-C charging cable comes in the box. As I said last week, Sonos is also selling a wireless charging stand — the Roam attaches to it magnetically — but you can use any Qi wireless charger that will fit the speaker when it’s standing up, so that’s nice. When not in use, the Roam can last for up to 10 days of standby time.

…Another neat Roam trick is called Sound Swap. Just hold the play / pause button on the top for three seconds, and the Roam will pass the music it’s playing to whatever other Sonos speaker in your system is closest. The way Sonos achieves this is clever: when Sound Swap is activated, all of your Sonos speakers will emit a high-pitched frequency that people (and dogs, I’m told) can’t hear. This is how the Roam figures out which one is nearby.

«

Sound Swap, like Trueplay before it, seems to be the sort of little extra tweak that could help you stay in its ecosystem. (You’d need to be in it for Sound Swap to be useful.)
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You’re on allocation • Digits to Dollars

Jay Greenberg on the reality of the chip shortage that’s hitting everyone at the moment:

»

In the ensuing months, as conditions worsened, chip customers have responded in all the normal ways, as have the suppliers. The problem is that restarting a manufacturing line is not as simple as flipping a switch. It takes time to restart, and especially in China, long closures meant the loss of staff, with weeks required to train replacements. Machines have to be retooled and cleaned, inventories restocked etc. For their part, customers have taken a whole host of measures to ensure supply. The tech press is full of stories of companies doing everything they can do jump ahead of the line. Suppliers are putting customers “On Allocation”, meaning only sending out a portion of orders, with a rank ordering of customers.

The dirty secret of chip industry practices is double ordering. Maybe a company buying a 100,000 parts from a supplier is not enough to get the supplier’s attention, but 200,000 makes the buyer a top priority customer. So the customer orders 200,000 parts, vaulting them to first in line. You can see where this is headed. Whenever the shortages ease, the customer cancels half their order. And since chips diminish in value quickly (thank you Moore’s Law), the supplier is stuck with inventory of a part that it probably now has to discount. We have not reached that point in the cycle, but we think customers are so desperate that they are not only double ordering but likely triple ordering. When the bubble bursts, the problem is going to be that much larger.

Now some people are arguing that these shortages will persist into 2022. We think that is unlikely. Anecdotally, both of our clients who were suffering supply shortages in October found that their suppliers resolved their shortages far faster than feared, with parts available much sooner than the worst case scenarios.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1501: CDC says the vaccinated can mix indoors, MWC aims for June, the loss of the internet commons, encode a parachute!, and more


Should we be thanking Imogen Heap for her 2016 efforts, now that NFTs are a thing for art? CC-licensed photo by Lee Jordan 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. Fifteen hundred plus one! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

CDC says fully vaccinated people can take fewer precautions • Axios

Marisa Fernandez:

»

there’s early evidence that suggests vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection and are potentially less likely to transmit the virus to other people. At the time of its publication, the CDC said the guidance would apply to about 10% of Americans.

“If grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family, even if they have not been vaccinated … so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference on Monday.

A fully vaccinated person — someone who’s been vaccinated two weeks after receiving their last dose — should still take standard precautions like masking and social distancing when in public.

Those who are vaccinated are allowed to:
• Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
• Visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
• Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure to COVID-19, if asymptomatic.

«

The US CDC is clearly a lot happier to let vaccinated people to mix than the UK, where (as our next link shows) things remain much tighter.
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The painful politics of vaccination • Financial Times

Tim Harford:

»

It isn’t often I receive an email that makes me smoulder with rage. This one did, which was strange since it was perfectly polite. My correspondent wanted to know why he wasn’t allowed to meet his friends indoors for coffee. They were in their early seventies and vaccinated. Was there really a risk?

Inoffensive enough, you might think. But the question sat in my stomach and burned.

If you want to think clearly about the world, you need to notice your emotional responses to new information. I have become so convinced of this, I made it the central point of the first chapter of my book. So it was time to take my own advice. Why was I so angry?

It may have been a quick bit of mental arithmetic. The vaccines seem to be very good at preventing serious illness — just how good depends on the vaccine, and what exactly we mean by “serious illness”. But let’s assume they reduce the risk of death by a factor of 20.

The other thing that reduces the risk of Covid death by a factor of 20? Being about 20-25 years younger. A vaccinated 70-year-old has roughly the same low risk of death as an unvaccinated 47-year-old. Those numbers may not be exactly right, but for this particular unvaccinated 47-year-old, they were close enough to trigger a severe emotional reaction.

I have not been hanging out with my 47-year-old friends — and that is not because I fear death. It’s to prevent the virus from spreading, and thus protect the people who are most vulnerable. So it has been for all of us, on and off, for a year. And let’s not even talk about our fraying-under-the-strain children, vastly less at risk of Covid-19 complications than any 70-year-old will ever be, no matter how well vaccinated.

That was why I smouldered. We have all been making extraordinary sacrifices to protect vulnerable people, and here was one of these people, suddenly feeling invulnerable (but, actually, no more invulnerable than I), complaining that his freedom had not instantly been restored.

…I did not write an angry response to my correspondent. I simply reminded him that we do not yet have complete confidence that vaccinated people are not infectious. The latest numbers on that question look very encouraging, but we cannot yet be sure that vaccinated people pose no risk to others.

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Smartphone lobby wants conference for 50,000 people in June • Bloomberg

Nate Lanxon:

»

The global wireless industry is planning to allow tens of thousands of international visitors to congregate for its flagship Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona in June, more than a year after it was axed due to the pandemic.

The GSMA trade body said everyone present will have to show a negative Covid-19 result to access the Fira Gran Via venue and repeat the test every 72 hours. Rapid testing centers will be made available on site and organizers are considering using hotels for more.

Additional measures being put in place for one of Europe’s most important business gatherings include a new contact tracing mobile app, real-time occupancy monitoring, improved air conditioning at the venue, and an increased number of on-site medical staff.

“We believe that we can have around 45,000 to 50,000 attendees, as of today,” Stephanie Lynch-Habib, the GSMA’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview on Monday, adding that visitor interest is expected to be strong.

“About 80% of our top 100 clients committed to a three-year participation when we canceled last year,” she said.

The show will be a test of whether the pandemic is under control enough to make vast in-person events viable, and safe. MWC Barcelona, which in 2019 attracted 109,000 attendees from 198 countries, was one of the first major European conference casualties when it was axed in February last year.

«

Ericsson has already said it will withdraw entirely, citing health and safety concerns. These days, requiring a negative test simply isn’t enough. What’s the betting that in a couple of weeks they’ll have upped the requirement to a double vaccination certificate?
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The enclosure of internet commons • Hey.com

David Heinemeier Hansson, CEO of Hey:

»

When we view our growing trouble with the monopolist abuses from app stores through this historical lens, things start to make more sense. Apple and Google are simply acting like the lords that in the early capitalist era decided that what used to be free or at least cheap –– distributing software over the internet –– now suddenly needed to be taxed at 30%. Such that the already grotesque capitalist accumulation they had managed – to the literal tune of trillions! – could continue to grow. Or as Hickel calls it: a fix.

This naturally caused the commoners, app developers, to become squeezed in the process. To either run a third faster, cap the capacity to grown by a third, or turn to other unsavory business models, like loading up their apps with ads and trackers, such that they could sell privacy, attention, and data instead of selling software.

It’s particularly ironic that it should be Apple that has lead both this enclosure movement and the specific pivot to ad-infested software. Given how they were themselves were able to escape Microsoft’s dominance of the 90s due to the rise of the cross-platform internet, and because they pride themselves on caring oh-so-much about privacy in advertisement (and certain aspects of their platform design).

To be fair, the enclosure of the internet commons isn’t entirely down to Apple (and Google). But they are a very large part of the story. Just like Facebook managed to enclose the social networks that had long existed outside of their walls with blogs, newsletters, rss, irc, and other open pastures. Or Google’s other enclosure project that eventually turned internet search from a mission to find the best results on the internet to a for-sale catalogue of ads and Google’s own properties.

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You may be able to guess that he’s not pleased about it all.
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Encode Mighty Things • Noah Liebman

»

NASA JPL engineers landed a rover on Mars.

People from around the world decoded the message in the parachute they designed.

I just made this small tribute to their work.

«

If you need to design a parachute (or maybe a paperfold?) for something that’s going to be dropped in a remote location while being watched internationally by a drone, here’s the page for you.

Challenge: can you get every piece of the chute to be brown? And can you get every piece to be white?
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Tesla emails admit current ‘full self-driving beta’ will always be a Level 2 system • The Drive

Rob Stumpf:

»

Promises of hands-free driving and robotaxis have swirled in the dreams of drivers and investors ever since Tesla first teased the possibility of a consumer-grade autonomous vehicle. Despite this promise, Tesla has yet to release a fully autonomous car for the public to purchase. It does, however, still allow customers to buy the promise of the “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) set of features for their vehicles which currently fit the SAE definition of Level 2 partial autonomy.

So what exactly is Tesla teasing in its newest “FSD Beta” Advanced Driver-Assistance System (ADAS) build? As it turns out, a recently uncovered series of emails between Tesla and the California Department of Motor Vehicles indicates that while the automaker’s ADAS systems are greatly improving, hands-free driving is not coming to a Tesla near you in the immediate future.

Last October, Tesla released an over-the-air update to limited participants which it called “FSD Beta,” something which many understood to be an early release of Tesla’s long-promised hands-off suite. By December, around 200 individuals were granted access to the program, 54 of whom were non-Tesla employees (though this likely changed, as CEO Elon Musk reported that Tesla had nearly 1,000 people participating in the beta by January). Those included in the FSD Beta began driving their vehicles around and recording the vehicle’s performance to post online.

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The videos posted online aren’t too impressive for “self-driving”: “swerving in traffic and stopping mid-turn”. It’s very much the counter to Robert Scoble’s excited post from two weeks ago about “just HOW ADVANCED Tesla is”. Always dilute Scoble’s excitement about stuff by a factor of 10 or so.
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A leading critic of big tech will join the White House • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:

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President Biden on Friday named Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor, to the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, putting one of the most outspoken critics of Big Tech’s power into the administration.

The appointment of Mr. Wu, 48, who is widely supported by progressive Democrats and antimonopoly groups, suggests that the administration plans to take on the size and influence of companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, including working with Congress on legislation to strengthen antitrust laws. During his campaign, Mr. Biden said he would be open to breaking up tech companies.

…Mr. Wu has warned about the consequences of too much power in the hands of a few companies and said the nation’s economy resembled the Gilded Age of the late 1800s.

“Extreme economic concentration yields gross inequality and material suffering, feeding the appetite for nationalistic and extremist leadership,” Mr. Wu wrote in his 2018 book, “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

“Most visible in our daily lives is the great power of the tech platforms, especially Google, Facebook and Amazon,” he added.

…His role, with a focus on competition policy, will be a new one in the National Economic Council. Mr. Wu will also focus on competition in labor policy, such as noncompete clauses enforced by companies, and concentration in power in agriculture and the drug industry.

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Biden, together with the House of Representatives, looks very serious about antitrust and tech companies.

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Someone is hacking the hackers • Gizmodo

Lucas Ropek:

»

In the latest in a string of “hits” on Russian dark web forums, the prominent crime site Maza appears to have been hacked by someone earlier this week.

This is kind of big news since Maza (previously called “Mazafaka”) has long been a destination for all assortment of criminal activity, including malware distribution, money laundering, carding (i.e., the selling of stolen credit card information), and lots of other bad behavior. The forum is considered “elite” and hard to join, and in the past, it has been a cesspool for some of the world’s most prolific cybercriminals.

Whoever hacked Maza netted thousands of data points about the site’s users, including usernames, email addresses, and hashed passwords, a new report from intelligence firm Flashpoint shows. Two warning messages were then scrawled across the forum’s home page: “Your data has been leaked” and “This forum has been hacked.” 

KrebsOnSecurity reports that the intruder subsequently dumped the stolen data on the dark web, spurring fears among criminals that their identities might be exposed (oh, the irony). The validity of the data has been verified by threat intelligence firm Intel 471.

This hack comes shortly after similar attacks on two other Russian cybercrime forums, Verified and Exploit, that occurred earlier this year. It’s been noted that the successive targeting of such high-level forums is somewhat unusual. Criminal hackers have been known to hack each other, but is that what is happening here?

«

Answer: nobody knows. Intelligence services? Law enforcement? Other criminal hackers? Hackers for good? It only takes one suitably annoyed or determined person to do it. Then they just have to stay ahead of those trying to take revenge.
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The new Google Pay repeats all the same mistakes of Google Allo • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

The new Google Pay app came out of beta this week, and it marks the first step in a major upheaval in the Google Pay service. Existing Google Pay users are about to go through a transition reminiscent of the recent move from Google Music to YouTube Music: Google is killing one perfectly fine service and replacing it with a worse, less functional service. The fun, confusing wrinkle here is that the new and old services are both called “Google Pay.”

Allow us to explain.

The old Google Pay service that has been around for years is dying. The app will be shut down in the US on April 5, and if you want to continue using New Google Pay, you’ll have to go find and download a totally new app. NFC tap-and-pay functionality won’t really change once you set up the new app, but the New Google Pay app won’t use your Google account for P2P payments anymore. You’ll be required to make a new account. You won’t be able to send any money to your new contacts until they download the new app and make a new account, too. On top of all that, the Google Pay website will be stripped of all payment functionality in the US on April 5, and New Google Pay won’t support doing anything from the web. You won’t be able to transfer money, view payment activity, or see your balance from a browser.

In addition to less convenient access and forcing users to remake their accounts, New Google Pay is also enticing users to switch with new fees for transfers to debit cards. Old Google Pay did this for free, but New Google Pay now has “a fee of 1.5% or $.31 (whichever is higher), when you transfer out money with a debit card.”

«

Google really hasn’t got any finesse at doing these switchovers. Amadeo’s conclusion:

»

For long-term Google users, the new Google Pay is yet another annoying transition they’ll have to explain to friends and family. This is an occurrence that’s getting more frequent and more annoying in recent years, thanks to similar Google shutdowns of Google Play Music, Cloud Print, Inbox, Works with Nest, the ongoing Hangouts situation, and many others. That’s to say nothing of the crazy history of this payment service, which used to be Google Wallet, then Android Pay, then Google Pay, and now it’s a totally different Google Pay.

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Not your keys, not your Kings Of Leon • Forbes

David Birch on NFTs and business possibilities:

»

The opportunities for disruptive business models are real and substantial. Here’s an example, continuing the music theme. A band is going to play a concert. There are 10,000 seats in the venue and 100,000 members of their fan club. So the band randomly distribute the tickets to the members of the fan club who pay $50 each for them (this is all managed through smart contracts). And that’s it. Neither the band, nor the venue, nor anyone else has to do anything more.

The members of the fan club can decide whether to go to the concert, whether to buy some more tickets for friends, whether to give their ticket to charity or whatever. They can put their tickets onto eBay and the market will clear itself. The tickets cannot be counterfeited or copied for the same reason that a Bitcoin cannot be counterfeited or copied: each of these cryptographic assets belongs to only one cryptographic key (“wallet”) at one time, and whoever has control of that key has control of the ticket.

The news that the American rock band Kings of Leon have decided to launch their new album as an NFT (and other forms) does, I think, flag up that there are new business models forming through the combination of fintech and fungibility. As Rolling Stone explained, the band is actually selling three different kinds of tokens: one is a special album package, a second type offers front-row seats for life at the band’s concerts and a third is for exclusive audiovisual art (the smart contracts were developed by a company called YellowHeart). I can see why fans might buy these, but I can also see why speculators might buy them too: I might be tempted to part with some considerable sum of money for a lifetime front row seat for my favourite band, especially if I could simply and safely lend or trade it away at any time.

«

Although people were dismissive of Imogen Heap’s attempts to put music on the blockchain in 2016, that’s precisely what seems to be happening. That, and versions of art.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1500: explaining Google’s cookie-free future, why Square bought Tidal, Microsoft Exchange users suffer huge hack, and more


People are going to be sharing narrow pavements with a lot more fast-moving, heavy delivery robots. Will humans always get right of way? CC-licensed photo by Eric Fischer 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. Fifteen hundred! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google’s ‘privacy-first web’ is really a Google-first web • OneZero

Will Oremus:

»

Google will still track users’ behavior on its own services — and, as you might have noticed, it happens to have rather a lot of services. In general, making it harder for websites to track users across the web will place more emphasis on “first-party data,” which is the data that companies collect while users are on their own sites or apps. Between Android, Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, Google Home, etc., it’s hard to think of a company with more first-party data than Google. And as the Platform Law Blog’s Dimitrios Katsifis points out: “By operating Google Search, Google is effectively able to follow users’ browsing activity beyond its properties; it knows what the user is looking for, and has full visibility into the search result the user clicks on.

And then there are the alternative tracking frameworks that Google is developing. My OneZero colleague Owen Williams has a very good, plain-language explainer on those approaches, which revolve around the idea of putting users into groups based on their browsing rather than tying their individual website histories to their identity. Some versions seek to preserve the infamous (yet relatively effective) practice of “retargeting,” in which users are targeted repeatedly with ads for an item they once viewed on a shopping site; other versions would dispense with it.

The possible approach that Google specifically mentioned in its blog post is called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, which the company claims can be 95% as effective as cookies. (Google has a white paper explaining it in detail if you’re into that kind of thing.) FLoC has some supporters but also some vehement detractors: The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Bennett Cyphers called it a terrible idea, arguing that it will replace old privacy flaws with new ones and “exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting.”

Merits aside, it’s clear that Google is positioning itself for a more privacy-conscious future in ways that seek to preserve its dominance — likely at the expense of a slew of smaller rivals.

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There’s more on this in the EFF’s writeup. Your profile will vanish into the machine learning morass: your profile might be ever-shifting. Cookies will go, but your privacy won’t come back.
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Why did Jack Dorsey’s Square buy Tidal, Jay-Z’s failed music service? • Vox

Peter Kafka:

»

It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with Square + Tidal rollouts in the future: A Square-enabled way for artists to sell T-shirts on tour, or even when they’re not on tour, for instance.

More intriguingly, given Dorsey’s love of All Things Blockchain, and the current mania over NFTs, it won’t be surprising to see Square + Tidal work on their own NFT scheme. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are blockchain-enabled digital pieces of … anything that investors and speculators and collectors are hoovering up at a crazy rate. Even if none of this makes sense to you, you may have heard about people paying real money — a lot of money — for digital ephemera like cartoon cat GIFs or animated trading cards of NBA players dunking or blocking. It’s a thing, for now.

So you can picture the Jay-Zs of the world selling songs, or snippets of songs, or the digital version of a lyric scribbled on a napkin, as NFTs, in deals that let Square and the artist get part of the deal.

If they get it out fast enough — while NFT mania booms — it’s easy to imagine many more headlines like these, except you’ll replace “Grimes” with “Beyonce” or whomever: “Grimes sold $6 million worth of digital art as NFTs”

As long as you’re okay with the purely speculative hype around these kinds of sales and stories — and the understanding that some investors, including people who don’t fully understand what they’re doing, are going to make a lot of money, and some will get burned badly (see: GameStop, and also Cryptokitties, an early NFT gambit/gimmick that was kind of hot in 2018 and then cooled off but may be hot again) — then this all seems … okay? Maybe … good?

«

As someone pointed out on Twitter, if your response to NFTs is “this is great, we can make things scarce again rather than being uncountably easy to reproduce and spread” then maybe you need to rethink your worldview. Though you can think that it makes digital art easier to validate. (Bitcoins, strictly speaking, are not NFTs because they are divisible.)
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At least 30,000 US organizations newly hacked via holes in Microsoft’s email software • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

At least 30,000 organizations across the United States — including a significant number of small businesses, towns, cities and local governments — have over the past few days been hacked by an unusually aggressive Chinese cyber espionage unit that’s focused on stealing email from victim organizations, multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecurity. The espionage group is exploiting four newly-discovered flaws in Microsoft Exchange Server email software, and has seeded hundreds of thousands of victim organizations worldwide with tools that give the attackers total, remote control over affected systems.

On March 2, Microsoft released emergency security updates to plug four security holes in Exchange Server versions 2013 through 2019 that hackers were actively using to siphon email communications from Internet-facing systems running Exchange.

In the three days since then, security experts say the same Chinese cyber espionage group has dramatically stepped up attacks on any vulnerable, unpatched Exchange servers worldwide.

In each incident, the intruders have left behind a “web shell,” an easy-to-use, password-protected hacking tool that can be accessed over the Internet from any browser. The web shell gives the attackers administrative access to the victim’s computer servers.

…Microsoft’s initial advisory about the Exchange flaws credited Reston, Va. based Volexity for reporting the vulnerabilities. Volexity President Steven Adair said the company first saw attackers quietly exploiting the Exchange bugs on Jan. 6, 2021, a day when most of the world was glued to television coverage of the riot at the US Capitol..

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With email, you might as well assume that everything is open and hacked already. It’s become once again the equivalent of writing on a postcard. If you want to send something securely, Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram and in a different way Slack can all fill the gap. Seriously, why email?
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What the coronavirus variants mean for the end of the pandemic • The New Yorker

Dhruv Khullar:

»

Like all viruses, Sars-CoV-2 will continue to evolve. But [Jason] McLellan [a structural biologist at the University of Texas at Austin] believes that it has a limited number of moves available. “There’s just not a lot of space for the spike to continue to change in ways that allow it to evade antibodies but still bind to its receptor,” he said. “Substitutions that allow the virus to resist antibodies will probably also decrease its affinity for ace-2”—the receptor that the virus uses to enter cells. Recently, researchers have mapped the universe of useful mutations available to the spike’s receptor-binding area. They’ve found that most of the changes that would weaken the binding ability of our antibodies occur at just a few sites; the E484K substitution seems to be the most important. “The fact that different variants have independently hit on the same mutations suggests we’re already seeing the limits of where the virus can go,” McLellan told me. “It has a finite number of options.”

Over time, Sars-CoV-2 is likely to become less lethal, not more. When people are exposed to a virus, they often develop “cross-reactive” immunity that protects them against future infection, not just for that virus, but also for related strains; with time, the virus also exhausts the mutational possibilities that might allow it to infect cells while eluding the immune system’s memory. “This is what we think happened to viruses that cause the common cold,” McLellan said. “It probably caused a major illness in the past. Then it evolved to a place where it’s less deadly. But, of course, it’s still with us.” It’s possible that a coronavirus that now causes the common cold, OC43, was responsible for the “Russian flu” of 1889, which killed a million people. But OC43, like other coronaviruses, became less dangerous with time. Today, most of us are exposed to OC43 and other endemic coronaviruses as children, and we experience only mild symptoms. For Sars-CoV-2, such a future could be years or decades away.

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Call for a Full and Unrestricted International Forensic Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19

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Based on our analysis, and as confirmed by the global study convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese authorities, there is as yet no evidence demonstrating a fully natural origin of this virus. The zoonosis hypothesis, largely based on patterns of previous zoonosis events, is only one of a number of possible SARS-CoV-2 origins, alongside the research-related accident hypothesis.

Although the “collaborative” process of discovery mandated by the World Health Assembly in May 2020 was meant to enable a full examination of the origins of the pandemic, we believe that structural limitations built into this endeavor make it all but impossible for the WHO-convened mission to realize this aspiration.

In particular, we wish to raise public awareness of the fact that half of the joint team convened under that process is made of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that international members of the joint team had to rely on information the Chinese authorities chose to share with them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both the Chinese and international members of the joint team.

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This is signed by 26 scientists unsatisfied with the WHO’s inquiry into the possibility that the original SARS-Cov-2 virus escaped from one of two labs dealing with dangerous pathogens. Pretty much everyone isn’t happy about the WHO’s investigation, because there wasn’t really one.

My own position is that every other zoonosis that we have ever identified is the result of random contact between humans and animals in the natural world. That means the null hypothesis is that it happened in the natural world, by chance. The “lab leak” hypothesis has to overturn that by showing evidence of a leak. I feel that the people who have been so certain it must be a lab leak are jumping the gun.

A full investigation? I’m all for it. But you’d need to show a lot of steps – specifically, the presence of the virus itself ahead of any identification of any case in the outside world – to confirm it.
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Walker ‘stunned’ to see ship hovering high above sea off Cornwall • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

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There are only so many polite words that come to mind when one spots a ship apparently hovering above the ocean during a stroll along the English coastline.

David Morris, who captured the extraordinary sight on camera, declared himself “stunned” when he noticed a giant tanker floating above the water as he looked out to sea from a hamlet near Falmouth in Cornwall.

The effect is an example of an optical illusion known as a superior mirage. Such illusions are reasonably common in the Arctic but can also happen in UK winters when the atmospheric conditions are right, though they are very rare.

The illusion is caused by a meteorological phenomenon called a temperature inversion. Normally, the air temperature drops with increasing altitude, making mountaintops colder than the foothills. But in a temperature inversion, warm air sits on top of a band of colder air, playing havoc with our visual perception. The inversion in Cornwall was caused by chilly air lying over the relatively cold sea with warmer air above.

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In case you haven’t seen it, the picture – truly outstanding, not faked – tells a thousand words about the inversion of light rays by temperature:


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Sidewalk [pavement – Ed.] robots get legal rights as “pedestrians” • Axios

Jennifer Kingson:

»

Fears of a dystopian urban world where people dodge heavy, fast-moving droids are colliding with the aims of robot developers large and small — including Amazon and FedEx — to deploy delivery fleets.

“The sidewalk is the new hot debated space that the aerial drones were maybe three or five years ago,” says Greg Lynn, CEO of Piaggio Fast Forward, which makes a suitcase-sized $3,250 robot called gita that follows its owner around.

“There’s also a lot of people trying to deploy robots on bike lanes” where the bots can go faster than on sidewalks, he said.

States like Pennsylvania, Virginia, Idaho, Florida and Wisconsin have passed what are considered to be liberal rules permitting robots to operate on sidewalks — prompting pushback from cities like Pittsburgh that fear mishaps.

In Pennsylvania, robot “pedestrians” can weigh up to 550 pounds and drive up to 12 mph. “Opposition has largely come from pedestrian and accessibility advocates, as well as labor unions like the Teamsters,” says the Pittsburgh City Paper. The laws are a boon to Amazon’s Scout delivery robot and FedEx’s Roxo, which are being tested in urban and suburban settings.

“Backers say the laws will usher in a future where household items show up in a matter of hours, with fewer idling delivery vans blocking traffic and spewing emissions,” says Wired.

Some technology evangelists think these laws are a spectacularly bad idea. The National Association of City Transportation Officials — NACTO — says the robots “should be severely restricted if not banned outright.”

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It’s only going to take a few cases of old folks being bumped by these things and everyone’s going to be all riled up. “Pedestrian and accessibility advocates” indeed.
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Inside the ‘Covid Triangle’: a catastrophe years in the making • Financial Times

Anjli Raval:

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Manish Shah knew it was only a matter of time before he was struck by coronavirus.

When the pandemic first hit the UK, the pharmacy where he works in Dagenham, east London, put in strict protocols on mask-wearing and physical distancing. But as the more aggressive variant of the virus raged through this part of the capital over the winter, more and more sick people turned to Shah for help.

“A lot of minicab and Uber drivers came to see me. They showed classic symptoms of the virus, but they kept saying things like: ‘Just give me something for the sore throat, cough syrup or something,’” he says. “I told them time and again to get a Covid test, but they just did not want to get a test or go to the doctor because they knew they could not afford to isolate.”

The pharmacy’s NHS contract meant that staff had to provide clinical services in partnership with local primary care networks. “We could not refuse anyone, even those not wearing a mask,” says Shah. “This is how I got the virus.”

…While coronavirus has inflicted extraordinary suffering across the country, the corner of east London in which Shah lives and works has been so pummelled that it has become known as the “Covid Triangle”. At one point during the peak of the second wave, the three boroughs that made up this triangle — Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Newham — were competing for the highest rate of infections in the whole country. In Barking and Dagenham, one in 16 people was reported to be infected.

Within this area, a high proportion of the workforce are either essential staff who cannot stay at home — like Shah — or those forced out to work by job insecurity. “Others that worked in takeaway restaurants told me: ‘I have to go into work, otherwise they will find someone else and I won’t have a job,’” he says. “These people had to keep going because of their financial circumstances.”

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Not paywalled. Terrific in-depth reporting about how the seeds of this problem were sown long, long ago.
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Saudi Arabia’s plan to rule $700bn hydrogen market • Bloomberg

Verity Ratcliffe:

»

the world’s biggest crude exporter doesn’t want to cede the burgeoning hydrogen business to China, Europe or Australia and lose a potentially massive source of income. So it’s building a $5 billion plant powered entirely by sun and wind that will be among the world’s biggest green hydrogen makers when it opens in the planned megacity of Neom in 2025.

The task of turning a patch of desert the size of Belgium into a metropolis powered by renewable energy falls to Peter Terium, the former chief executive officer of RWE AG, Germany’s biggest utility, and clean-energy spinoff Innogy SE. His performance will help determine whether a country dependent on petrodollars can transition into a supplier of non-polluting fuels.

“There’s nothing I’ve ever seen or heard of this dimension or challenge,” Terium said. “I’ve been spending the last two years wrapping my mind around ‘from scratch,’ and now we’re very much in execution mode.”

Hydrogen is morphing from a niche power source — used in zeppelins, rockets and nuclear weapons — into big business, with the European Union alone committing $500 billion to scale up its infrastructure. Huge obstacles remain to the gas becoming a major part of the energy transition, and skeptics point to Saudi Arabia’s weak track record so far capitalizing on what should be a competitive edge in the renewables business, especially solar, where there are many plans but few operational projects.

But countries are jostling for position in a future global market, and hydrogen experts list the kingdom as one to watch.

…Saudi Arabia possesses a competitive advantage in its perpetual sunshine and wind, and vast tracts of unused land. Helios’s costs likely will be among the lowest globally and could reach $1.50 per kilogram by 2030, according to BNEF. That’s cheaper than some hydrogen made from non-renewable sources today.

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How ironic that the country (and region) which happened to have the best natural resources for the petrochemical era also has the best natural resources for the solar era.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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.

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. 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:

»

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:

»

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:

»

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

»

• 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:

»

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

Start Up No.1498: Google says it will stop ad tracking, the deepfake TikTok Tom Cruise, does vaccination cure long Covid?, and more


Anyway, the CIA wanted to put a plutonium-powered sensor atop this mountain. Instead, it’s probably in a glacier. CC-licensed photo by Anirban Biswas 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google to stop selling ads based on your specific web browsing • WSJ

Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey:

»

Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry.

The Alphabet company said Wednesday that it plans next year to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from site to site across the internet.

The decision, coming from the world’s biggest digital-advertising company, could help push the industry away from the use of such individualized tracking, which has come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and faces scrutiny from regulators.

Google’s heft means that its move is also likely to stoke a backlash from some competitors in the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure their effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital ad spending of $292bn, according to Jounce Media, a digital-ad consultancy.

“If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” David Temkin, the Google product manager leading the change, said in a blog post Wednesday.

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The blogpost is unequivocal:

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Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.

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This is jawdropping stuff, and it’s impossible not to wonder: what’s Google’s real plan here? It’s like the tale of the French diplomat who was famous for his subtle, clever dealings; when he died, one rival said “hmm, I wonder what he intended by that?”

Obvious questions: does this mean that all the insistence on tracking (“to serve you relevant ads”) was wasted, and isn’t worth doing? If not, how will Google keep on doing tracking? Or if it wasn’t wasted and they aren’t going to keep on doing the tracking, how will they make the ads pay as well as they used to?

The timing – just ahead of Apple introducing its IDFA ad-tracking-opt-in requirement in iOS 14.5 – is surely not accidental. Google may have been working on this for some time, and realised that 14.5 will put a lot of rivals at a disadvantage, and is getting out ahead of it.
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Consumers deserve a data dividend • Oracle corporate blog

Ken Glueck is executive VP at Oracle:

»

consumers are shamefully under-compensated for the data they generate as they go about their daily life, both virtual and physical. Consumers are told that the trade of their personal data in exchange for “free” services is a fair one. It is not. The marginal cost of any of these services is effectively zero yet the ad revenue generated from consumer data easily exceeds $200bn. On the other side of the market Google’s privacy policy and terms of service guarantees its cost to acquire consumer data is zero. It’s a taking. The only one actually getting something for free is Google.

And that’s not all. The most subtle unfairness of this exchange is that consumers never stop paying, and the amount of data taken from them keeps rising. The data extracted from consumers now wildly exceeds the value of what they receive. What’s worse, Google’s data collection is increasingly untethered from a user’s underlying activity. For instance, on an Android phone, Google collects a range of location and sensor information irrespective of what services or apps the user has active, without their direct action, via processes hidden in the background.

Much of this consumer data is not, or should not, be Google’s to take in the first place. The “consent” for this data collection comes from the “notice” provided by “privacy policies,” which in turn embeds Google’s all-encompassing terms of service. So, not unlike the shrink-wrap licenses of the 1980’s, Google’s click-wrap licenses—or contracts of adhesion—give Google cart blanche to collect whatever user data it desires, whenever it desires. Boiled down to its simplest terms, the consideration consumers receive for their highly valuable stream of data is worth a lot more than what Google is providing.

«

Why, you might wonder, is Oracle (jilted suitor of TikTok) griping about Google? Because it has a long-running lawsuit, presently being considered by the US Supreme Court, accusing Google of breaking the copyright around the APIs for Java. And while it waits for that judgment, it might as well snipe at Google in other ways.

Wildly ironic, considering the link before, that Oracle chose today, of all days, to post this.
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Tom Cruise isn’t on TikTok: it’s a shockingly-realistic deepfake • PetaPixel

Jaron Schneider:

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A TikToker is using deepfake technology to impersonate Tom Cruise on the social media platform and the results are so realistic that some may mistakingly believe it actually is the famed actor. This latest situation has again raised concerns about the creation and use of deepfakes.

While the account is clearly making folks aware that this isn’t the real Tom Cruise — the username is deeptomcruise, for starters– those not paying attention can easily mistake what they’re seeing for the genuine article. Even without seeing the username, the video isn’t quite perfect (The Verge notes that the lip-syncing is off in places and the voice isn’t quite right).

The most recent video, uploaded four days prior to publication, is the most realistic of the batch and depicts the Cruise impersonater performing a magic trick.

Again, looking closely reveals that something is amiss, but no doubt this video would fool many and it’s clearly close enough to raise the alarm as multiple publications have weighed in on the account that is once again causing some to question the legality of deepfakes.

Overall, the account has more than 10 million views, 1.1 million likes, and over 370,000 followers. On Tuesday afternoon, coverage of the account reached a fever pitch and was trending on Twitter.

According to TikTok’s own terms of service, the Tom Cruise impersonation videos should be a violation:

»

You may not: […]
impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent you or your affiliation with any person or entity, including giving the impression that any content you upload, post, transmit, distribute or otherwise make available emanates from the Services

«

Yet days after the initial story of the account’s viral spread broke, the videos remain on the platform.

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Seem to have been taken down now. They’re really, really impressive. We’ve come a long way in the three years since the first deepfake videos began appearing on porn sites.
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The dark legacy of the CIA’s bungled plot to have famous climbers plant nuclear-powered sensors in the Himalayas • Defector

Patrick Redford:

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China’s nuclear test announced the country as the world’s fifth nuclear-armed nation, though unlike France, the USSR, and the United Kingdom, the Chinese nuclear program was a black box for American intelligence. Recently declassified government files show, for example, that the U.S. was shocked to learn that the bomb was fueled by uranium, not plutonium. Military-industrial honchos were left scratching their heads as to how to gather intelligence, until a chance meeting between General Curtis LeMay and mountaineer Barry Bishop at a Washington D.C. cocktail party led to one of the most quixotic, unsuccessful operations in the CIA’s long history of screwups.

Bishop was part of the first American team to summit Mt. Everest the year prior, and according to Pete Takeda’s fascinating 2007 Rock And Ice story, he gushed about the unobstructed views he enjoyed from the world’s (arguably) tallest mountain. Takeda writes that LeMay put the pieces together and, “From this casual exchange emerged an unlikely inspiration: Recruit America’s best high-altitude climbers to place a nuclear powered observation device atop the world’s greatest mountain range.” The hope was that a transceiver could pick up radio communications between Chinese nuclear personnel, remaining functional for years off of the heat from decaying plutonium isotopes. Per Takeda, the CIA’s device was an “oven-sized metal bin with five radiating fins” that weighed 125 pounds and was topped by a six-foot long antenna. If this sounds like a crude product of ’60s nuclear frenzy, consider that NASA’s Perseverance rover is scooting around on Mars thanks to this exact sort of battery.

«

There’s also a writeup over at Rock & Ice (which this piece borrows heavily from, but has the better headline) going into some more detail about what might have happened to the device. A clue: nothing good, especially if you live near a glacier at the bottom of Nanda Devi.
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Long COVID patients say they feel better after getting vaccinated • The Verge

Nicole Wetsman:

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“I started getting texts and calls from some of my colleagues saying hey, are your patients with long COVID reporting that they’re feeling better after the vaccine?” says [Daniel] Griffin, an infectious diseases clinician and researcher at Columbia University. When he started talking with patients, he saw that they were. “It’s not 100 percent, but it does seem like to be around a third,” he says.

Early reports from Griffin and others hint that people with persistent symptoms may improve after getting vaccinated. Information is still limited, and the data is largely anecdotal — but if the pattern holds, it could help researchers understand more about why symptoms of COVID-19 persist in some people, and offer a path to relief.

Many of Griffin’s patients who improved had significant side effects after their first shot of either the Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. That’s common in people who’ve had COVID-19 before — they already have some level of antibodies, so the first shot acts more like a second booster. Then, his patients with chronic symptoms started to report that their sense of smell was improving or that they weren’t as fatigued. “For some of them it was short lived. But for a chunk, it actually persisted — they went ahead, got their second shot out, and are saying, wow, they really feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Griffin says.


There are plausible biological reasons vaccination could help people with long COVID, says Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University. Scientists still don’t know for sure why some people have chronic symptoms, but one theory is that the virus or fragments of the virus stick around in their body. They’re not contagious, but the leftovers continue to irritate the immune system. Vaccination could clear those out. “Potentially, those remnants are removed because you’re generating a lot of antibodies,” Iwasaki told The Verge.

«

There are a number of reports to this effect. That’s very encouraging.
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CDC’s draft guidelines for vaccinated Americans call for small steps toward normal life • POLITICO

Erin Banco:

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The CDC guidance, which could be released as early as Thursday, will include recommendations that Americans limit their social interactions to small gatherings in the home with other fully vaccinated individuals, wear masks in public and adhere to other public-health measures such as social distancing for the foreseeable future.
But the agency’s advice is likely to disappoint many who hoped the increasing pace of inoculations would allow some common restrictions to be relaxed immediately for vaccinated people.

The document will include a series of scenarios for Americans to consider, including where they socialize, with whom they can socialize with and what to consider when making plans. It will also include a section on travel.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, as well as CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky previewed the guidance at a press conference with reporters Monday. Fauci said while the guidelines were still being finalized, “doubly vaccinated” Americans could gather within the home safely.

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk — the relative risk is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home.”

«

Hardly thrilling. A whole lot of doubly vaccinated people, and you finally think they might be able to leave their masks off? That doesn’t show that much confidence in the vaccine.
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Colleges that require coronavirus screening tech struggle to say whether it works • The New York Times

Natasha Singer and Kellen Browning:

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Before the University of Idaho welcomed students back to campus last fall, it made a big bet on new virus-screening technology.

The university spent $90,000 installing temperature-scanning stations, which look like airport metal detectors, in front of its dining and athletic facilities in Moscow, Idaho. When the system clocks a student walking through with an unusually high temperature, the student is asked to leave and go get tested for Covid-19.

But so far the fever scanners, which detect skin temperature, have caught fewer than 10 people out of the 9,000 students living on or near campus. Even then, university administrators could not say whether the technology had been effective because they have not tracked students flagged with fevers to see if they went on to get tested for the virus.

The University of Idaho is one of hundreds of colleges and universities that adopted fever scanners, symptom checkers, wearable heart-rate monitors and other new Covid-screening technologies this school year. Such tools often cost less than a more validated health intervention: frequent virus testing of all students. They also help colleges showcase their pandemic safety efforts.

But the struggle at many colleges to keep the virus at bay has raised questions about the usefulness of the technologies. A New York Times effort has recorded more than 530,000 virus cases on campuses since the start of the pandemic.

«

More Covid theatre: you can have the virus but not have a temperature, and possibly be spreading it. Not linking the positive temperature results to the virus outcome is just mindboggling, though. (Thanks G for the link.)
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The ‘LitterCam’ that’s watching you • BBC News

Justin Rowlatt:

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CCTV cameras will soon have a new target – litter louts.

AI software can now match footage of motorists throwing rubbish to their car’s number plate and issue an automatic fine of £90.

The first trial of the potentially controversial new system will begin in Maidstone in Kent in a few weeks with other councils expected to follow.

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Can even, they say (and show) detect a cigarette butt being thrown out of a window, which is quite an extreme interpretation of “littering”. Automatic numberplate recognition then records the car details.
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flowchart.fun

 

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this app works by typing
new lines create new nodes
indentation creates child nodes
and any text: before a colon+space creates a label
[linking] you can link to nodes using their ID in parentheses
like this: (1)
lines have a default ID of their line-number
but you can also supply a custom ID in brackets
like this: (linking)

«

Your diversion for today. Creates lovely, possibly silly, possibly useful flowcharts (though not decision trees).
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Oakland bans the use of combustion engine-powered leaf blowers and string trimmers • City of Oakland

 

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Prohibition on Combustion Engine-Powered Leaf Blowers and String Trimmers Ordinance (OMC 8.64)

Combustion engine-powered leaf blowers and string trimmers are those powered by an internal combustion or rotary engine using gasoline, alcohol, or other liquid or gaseous liquid. These devices pose significant health hazards to both equipment operators and Oakland residents, including the discharge of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, unburned fuel, and ozone. They also contribute to climate change by emitting carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, and generate significant noise pollution, a paramount concern for Oakland residents.

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So it’s the noise more than the greenhouse gases? Oakland is, officially, a city with about 433,000 residents. That’s probably quite a lot of leaf blowers and strimmers, which (because they use two-stroke engines) will pollute as badly as a large car does.

So this ordinance, passed in January, might seem silly. But it will have real impact.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Fosco Marotto, the CTO of Gab, posted on Hacker News explaining that his “simple” coding error that led to Gab getting comprehensively hacked was in fact a very complicated coding error where he’d been completely aware of the risks of SQLi but had thought that all the data that would be presented to the query would be sanitised (as it’s known). Which goes to show that SQLi, like rust, never sleeps. (Thanks Seth for the link.)