Start Up No.1548: new ad man riles Apple staff, how Covid wrecked medical trials, the real price of bitcoin, Musk the Martian, and more

The Peloton brand has huge customer loyalty, but it’s priced beyond most peoples’ reach. Is technology exacerbating economic splits? CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster 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 suspected. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Here’s the news: I’ll be narrating the audio version of Social Warming, my forthcoming book, published in the UK on 24 June (August in the US). Also available in print.

Living in the future is a class issue • Ed Zitron’s Where’s Your Ed At

Ed Z:


Peloton and Tonal are both sold out for months, meaning that anyone putting down these thousands of dollars must be able to part with that money, but also be able to part with it for several months with no value add, or take on the debt necessary to complete the purchase. And if they don’t use it after taking on that debt, selling it on is both burdensome and difficult in and of itself, especially with Tonal. The common defense of these products is that they are cheaper than a gym membership, which makes sense until you recognize the upfront cost and the total lack of utility of these connected devices without a subscription. There is the opportunity to get more value out of them if you spent a similar amount on going to the gym (if you use them as such, they are significantly cheaper than a personal trainer), but with a significantly higher up front financial burden and a mandatory monthly fee.

This isn’t new – it’s always been the case that early adopters are privileged, because they can afford more things and can also afford for said things to not be as good, and thus upgrade to better things when they come along. New, exciting and futuristic tech is always expensive, then over time becomes cheaper as companies begin to work out ways to strip out features or use cheaper materials, or said materials somehow become cheaper. Then again, there’re also companies like Peloton that raised prices so that people would think the bike was better.

Hero – while significantly cheaper – still requires a $50-100 downpayment on the device and a $30-a-month subscription to physically organize and dispense your pills. Hero (or something like Hero) should be in the hands of every senior, as approximately 125,000 deaths and 10% of hospitalizations are caused by a lack of nonadherence to medicine (this article is from 2017, but I can’t imagine things have improved). But it isn’t – it’s a tech-enabled, WiFi-powered $30-a-month per person device (as you can’t use one device for two people’s medicines). While yes, you could use reminders and other things, having taken care of two elderly people and their litany of medicines, it is both extremely taxing and a matter of life and death to get medicines right.


As he points out, the feeling is that the current trajectory of technology (or at least, the technology we’re seeing come out of Silicon Valley) is towards things that satisfy people with plenty of money. Which means the gap in quality of living widens all the time. Where’s the democratising force?
unique link to this extract

Apple employees circulate petition demanding investigation into ‘misogynistic’ new hire • The Verge

Zoe Schiffer, Casey Newton and Elizabeth Lopatto:


A group of Apple employees has written a petition asking for an investigation into the hiring of Antonio García Martínez — a former Facebook product manager and author of the book Chaos Monkeys.

In the petition, the employees expressed concern about García Martínez’s views on women and people of color. His hiring “calls into question parts of our system of inclusion at Apple, including hiring panels, background checks, and our process to ensure our existing culture of inclusion is strong enough to withstand individuals who don’t share our inclusive values,” they write.

García Martínez, who has also written for Wired, was the product manager for Facebook’s ad targeting team from 2011 to 2013. Most of the things the Apple employees have expressed concern about come from Chaos Monkeys itself. (The book is dedicated to “all my enemies.”) The autobiography traces García Martínez going from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. García Martínez has described the book as “total Hunter S. Thompson/Gonzo mode.” The employees, in the petition, view it differently: they say it’s racist and sexist.


This has the potential to go abruptly very badly for Apple. Martinez has never been shy about expressing his opinions, or his opinion of other people’s opinions. He may be a terrific hire in terms of what he can do for the company’s advertising push, but he’s probably not even had his orientation day and things are blowing up. And Apple, like Google, is discovering the levels of dissent in its ranks.
unique link to this extract

App Store stopped over $1.5bn in suspect transactions in 2020 • Apple Newsroom


In 2020 alone, Apple’s combination of sophisticated technology and human expertise protected customers from more than $1.5 billion in potentially fraudulent transactions, preventing the attempted theft of their money, information, and time — and kept nearly a million risky and vulnerable new apps out of their hands.

…In 2020, nearly 1 million problematic new apps, and an additional nearly 1 million app updates, were rejected or removed for a range of reasons like those.

A smaller but significant set of these rejections was for egregious violations that could harm users or deeply diminish their experience. In 2020 alone, the App Review team rejected more than 48,000 apps for containing hidden or undocumented features, and more than 150,000 apps were rejected because they were found to be spam, copycats, or misleading to users in ways such as manipulating them into making a purchase.

Some developers perform a bait and switch: fundamentally changing how the app works after review to evade guidelines and commit forbidden and even criminal actions. When such apps are discovered, they’re rejected or removed immediately from the store, and developers are notified of a 14-day appeals process before their accounts are permanently terminated. In 2020, about 95,000 apps were removed from the App Store for fraudulent violations, predominantly for these kind of bait-and-switch maneuvers.


Transparently trying to reset the discussion; at least the numbers are useful. As John Gruber says, Apple’s essentially saying that it has a “five nines” success on this; but why not aim for “nine nines”?
unique link to this extract

Gold is now a green Bitcoin, and both are disastrous • Crypto Lucid

Franck Leroy:


Fewer and fewer Bitcoin proponents still claim that this crypto can be used as a daily currency. Bitcoin is now considered a purely speculative asset, like gold.

So how does bitcoin mining compare to gold mining from an environmental perspective?

For energy usage, nothing can beat Bitcoin. Mining 1$ of bitcoin consumes 2 to 7 times more energy than mining gold.

…We estimate that, each year, around 12 000 tons of specific electronic devices are produced and destroyed. More that 80% of the weight is metal (iron, aluminum, copper, …).

This means than around 10 000 tons of metal is extracted and transformed each year only for the bitcoin mining industry. This is 4 times more than the amount of gold extracted each year (around 2500 tons).

Also, the value of bitcoin production is 1/6 of gold production (17 B$ vs 100 B$). Hence, overall, 1$ of Bitcoin requires 24 times more mining of metal than 1$ of gold.


These numbers go up and down, of course, with the “price” of bitcoin (and gold), nut never in bitcoin’s favour. Trouble is, it’s now become a barnacle on the world’s energy supply, and there’s no obvious way to get it off. Closing exchanges might help, but would probably only mean the exchanges shifted to countries uninterested in closing them – which encouraged them, in fact.

unique link to this extract

How COVID broke the evidence pipeline • Nature

Helen Pearson:


[Emergency medicine specialist Simon] Carley compares the time before and after COVID-19 to a choice of meals. Before the pandemic, physicians wanted their evidence like a gourmet plate from a Michelin-starred restaurant: of exceptional quality, beautifully presented and with the provenance of all the ingredients — the clinical trials — perfectly clear. But after COVID-19 hit, standards slipped. It was, he says, as if doctors were staggering home from a club after ten pints of lager and would swallow any old evidence from the dodgy burger van on the street. “They didn’t know where it came from or what the ingredients were, they weren’t entirely sure whether it was meat or vegetarian, they would just eat anything,” he says. “And it just felt like you’ve gone from one to the other overnight.”

Kari Tikkinen, a urologist at the University of Helsinki who had run clinical trials in the past, was equally shocked early last year to talk to physicians who were so confident that untested therapies such as hydroxychloroquine were effective that they questioned the need to test them in clinical trials. It was “hype-based medicine”, he says — fuelled by former US president Donald Trump, who announced last May that he had started taking the drug himself. “It very quickly got ahead of us, where people were prescribing any variety of crazy choices for COVID,” says Reed Siemieniuk, a doctor and methodologist at McMaster University.

Many doctors and researchers did race to launch clinical trials — but most were too small to produce statistically meaningful results, says Tikkinen, who leads the Finnish arm of SOLIDARITY, an international clinical trial of COVID-19 treatments coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Hydroxychloroquine was the most-tested drug according to a database of 2,900 COVID-19 clinical trials called COVID-NMA: it was tested in 250 studies involving nearly 89,000 people (see ‘Too many trials?’). Many are still under way, despite convincing evidence that the drug doesn’t help: the RECOVERY trial concluded that hydroxychloroquine should not be recommended to treat COVID-19 in June last year.


unique link to this extract

China’s population grows at slowest rate in decades • Financial Times

Sun Yu, Tom Mitchell and Thomas Hale:


China’s population grew at its slowest rate in decades in the 10 years to 2020, according to census data released on Tuesday, which also showed that births declined sharply last year.

The nation’s once-in-a-decade census, which was completed in December, showed its population increased to 1.41bn in 2020 compared with 1.4bn a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

The Financial Times reported last month that the Chinese government would reveal the first year-on-year population decline in 60 years in the census data. People close to the NBS said the initial population figure came in at less than 1.4bn, but was revised up.

The official figures released on Tuesday showed the population grew just 5.4% from 1.34bn in 2010 — the lowest rate of increase between censuses since the People’s Republic of China began collecting data in 1953.


China is facing the demographic timebomb that the developed world is up against – but a key problem is that its population is (comparatively) poor as well as ageing. Plus there’s the suspicion, raised last week, that it is fiddling the census numbers and that the figure is actually shrinking. Though when you’re trying to count more than a billion people, any semblance of accuracy past a couple of significant figures is a monstrous feat in itself.
unique link to this extract

WhatsApp to restrict features if you refuse Facebook data sharing • Bleeping Computer

Sergiu Gatlan:


WhatsApp published a new FAQ on its website, reinforcing the May 15th deadline to accept the new privacy changes and saying that “no one will have their accounts deleted or lose functionality” because of the policy update.

“We’ve spent the last several months providing more information about our update to users around the world,” WhatsApp said in a statement. 

“In that time, the majority of people who have received it have accepted the update and WhatsApp continues to grow.”

Users will keep receiving reminders to accept sharing their data with Facebook for the next several weeks, reminders that will ultimately become persistent.

“At that time, you’ll encounter limited functionality on WhatsApp until you accept the updates,” the company added.

As WhatsApp’s statement details, users who will not accept the privacy updates will gradually see their accounts’ functionality restricted:

• You won’t be able to access your chat list, but you can still answer incoming phone and video calls. If you have notifications enabled, you can tap on them to read or respond to a message or call back a missed phone or video call.
• After a few weeks of limited functionality, you won’t be able to receive incoming calls or notifications, and WhatsApp will stop sending messages and calls to your phone.


So this has rolled around again. However, the counter is this Bloomberg story: “Facebook ordered to stop collecting German WhatsApp data“:


a regulator in the nation said the company’s attempt to make users agree to the practice in its updated terms isn’t legal.

Johannes Caspar, who heads Hamburg’s privacy authority, issued a three-month emergency ban, prohibiting Facebook from continuing with the data collection. He also asked a panel of European Union data regulators to take action and issue a ruling across the 27-nation bloc. The new WhatsApp terms enabling the data scoop are invalid because they are intransparent, inconsistent and overly broad, he said



Might not be quite over in Germany, and by extension the EU. Everywhere else, though, gets to like it or lump it.
unique link to this extract

The Martian • No Mercy / No Malice

Scott Galloway:


Is Mr. [Elon] Musk a net positive for society? 100% yes. It’s the word “net” that is the problem. We do basic math on a person/firm, issue a thumbs up/down, and decide (if thumbs up) to ignore the externalities. This is tantamount to deciding pesticides are a net good (they are), so we should disband the EPA.

Naked examples of Musk’s influence/externality: the tweeted endorsements of his favored assets. Bitcoin is a trillion-dollar cryptocurrency that could reshape the world economic order … and Musk can manipulate it with (many) fewer than 280 characters.

Researcher Lennart Ante found “significantly abnormal returns of up to 18.99%” after Musk tweeted about bitcoin. “I believe that cryptocurrency traders are looking for role models and validation,” Ante told us when we asked him about his research. But, “we are facing a moral dilemma” he pointed out, between free speech and the protection of investors. When Musk changed the bio of his Twitter account to “#bitcoin” on January 29, the cryptocurrency rose from $32,000 to more than $38,000. Is it free speech? Yes. Does that mean it won’t destabilize the markets and end badly?

I. Don’t. Know.

…The theory of relativity dictates that massive objects distort the space-time continuum, and light and matter slide toward it. Musk has become a similar celestial force in our markets — but in this case, the graviton particles are genius, attention, id, and capital.

…If there is a glitch in the matrix, it’s us. One in five U.S. households with children is food insecure, and we have a man telling his 53 million acolytes to purchase a digital currency so he can sell it at a profit to pad the earnings of a company that’s worth more than automakers producing 60 times the vehicles. And why wouldn’t he? When you tell an innovator he’s Jesus Christ, he’s inclined to believe you.

Once we idolized astronauts and civil rights leaders who inspired hope and empathy. Now we worship tech innovators that create billions and move financial markets. We get the heroes we deserve.


unique link to this extract

How to keep your Android device immune to malicious vaccine themed apps • HOTforSecurity

Cristina Popov:


Attackers are exploiting the COVID-19 vaccine apps to deploy malware to Android devices. Since the outburst of the pandemic, they haven’t missed any opportunity to spread malware via Covid19-themed emails, apps, websites and social media.

But now, Bitdefender researchers have found multiple apps taking advantage of mobile users looking for information about the vaccines or seeking an appointment to get the jab.

Sometimes disguised in or invisibly attached to legit digital products, these fake applications are ready to take over the device after just a few taps. Google has been trying to vet all vaccination-related applications properly, but some fell through the cracks.


So they need.. antivirus? (Thanks G for the link.)
unique link to this extract

“Running Orders” by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha • Poetry Foundation


They call us now,
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass-shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think, Do I know any Davids in Gaza?
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.


This isn’t the whole of the poem. I recommend the whole highly.
unique link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.