Start Up No.1553: Apple seeks early ruling v Epic, Google AMP is dead, Amazon teams with Tile, what Google I/O missed, and more


How much is everyone looking forward to getting back to commuting? Not very much, apparently. CC-licensed photo by Brian Sawyer on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Nearly essential. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Still a little time to
preorder Social Warming, out June 24.


Apple asks court to rule iOS is not an ‘essential facility’ • The Verge

Russell Brandom:

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After two and a half weeks in court, Apple is taking aim at one of the central elements of Epic’s antitrust case. In a filing Tuesday night, Apple asked the court to dismiss one of the 10 counts alleged in the initial complaint, arguing Epic had failed to establish any evidence for the charge that Apple had violated the essential facilities doctrine by failing to provide access to software distribution tools on iOS.

“At trial, Epic adduced no proof in support of this claim,” Apple’s filing reads. “On the contrary, Epic’s principal expert expressly disclaimed any opinion on essential facility, and (in response to a direct question from the Court) rejected the notion that iOS should be treated as a public utility. The Court should enter judgment for Apple on this claim.”

Filed as a motion for partial findings, Apple is pushing to split off the essential facilities charge from the other nine charges made in Epic’s initial complaint. In essence, Apple believes it can win a quick victory on this specific point. That won’t settle the case entirely since the other nine charges still require a ruling, but it would be an unexpected and embarrassing loss for Epic.

…The essential facilities doctrine is a long-standing element of antitrust law that prevents dominant firms from using bottleneck services to box out competitors. In a foundational example from 1912, a railroad consortium prevented competitors from offering passage to and from St. Louis by denying access to switching yards around the city. The Supreme Court ruled that the arrangement was an illegal restraint of trade, establishing that companies must provide reasonable use of facilities that are essential for competitors.

In its complaint, Epic argues that app distribution on iOS is the same kind of bottleneck, charging that Apple has used its control over the iOS platform to prevent Epic and other competitors from offering competing app stores.

…But Apple is now countering that Epic has reasonable access to iOS through the App Store itself — and that iOS customers are plainly not essential to the operation of its business since the company has been broadly successful without them.

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Another win surely in the offing for Apple’s lawyers here, but the extent to which the workings (and money!) of the App Store have been laid bare, along with all the embarrassing emails. Epic has had to bear that too, but not quite so badly.
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Google AMP is dead! AMP pages no longer get preferential treatment in Google search • Plausible Analytics

Marko Saric:

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Google is rolling out a significant change as a part of their page experience ranking algorithm in June 2021.

From the release of the Core Web Vitals and the page experience algorithm, there is no longer any preferential treatment for Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in Google’s search results, Top Stories carousel and the Google News. Google will even remove the AMP badge icon from the search results.

You can now safely ignore Google AMP when building a more diverse and more exciting web without any artificial restrictions set by the adtech giant.

Here’s what Google had to say:

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The Top Stories carousel feature on Google Search will be updated to include all news content. This means that using the AMP format is no longer required and that any page, irrespective of its Core Web Vitals score or page experience status, will be eligible to appear in the Top Stories carousel.

We’re also bringing similar updates to the Google News app, a key destination for users around the world to get a comprehensive view of the important news of the day. As part of the page experience update, we’re expanding the usage of non-AMP content to power the core experience on news.google.com and in the Google News app.

Additionally, we will no longer show the AMP badge icon to indicate AMP content

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That’s a surprise. Pushback from publishers? Wary of antitrust?
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Commuting is psychological torture • Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil:

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So how has not having to commute every day changed people’s lives this year and in the recent past? Here’s some of what people told me below. Responses have been lightly edited or condensed. There are a lot of them so you know maybe you don’t have to read them all but who cares.

• No one’s stopping anyone who works from home from going out and riding in circles on the subway for 30 minutes before they go back to their desk.

• I save roughly $100 a month now. I have time in the morning to take my dog for a long walk every day. I have time in the evening to cook dinner. Commuting is psychological torture and my physical and mental health is significantly better without it.

• The three hours I spent commuting is now an extra hour of sleep, 30 minutes of exercise, two meals with my family, and 30 minutes of more actual work. I’m happier, healthier, and a better employee, but these effing vampires want me to be in the office more for some reason.

• Any unpaid commute is wage theft.

• When my wife and I were both commuting into the city we spent over $650 on monthly passes for trains that were on time 80% of the time if we were lucky. I doubt I’ll ever take a city job again.

• I love to drive 30 minutes to stare at a different computer.

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And plenty more where that came from. People really don’t like commuting.
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Google just fixed the worst thing about dealing with hacked passwords • BGR

Chris Smith:

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Chrome’s password manager already checks saved passwords against lists of compromised credentials to determine whether hackers have obtained access to any of your online accounts. Whenever it finds a breached account, it notifies users to change their password, and this is where the tedious process begins.

But you have to navigate to the app or service in question, and manually change the password to something else that’s unique and strong, and then update the password in your password manager apps, Chrome included. The process isn’t difficult, but it’s tedious enough for some people to postpone changing the password to later and then forget about doing it.

Google announced at I/O 2021 a feature that only Google would be able to pull off. Google can automatically change the password of a breached account, performing the same steps above automatically on supported sites. All you need to do is tap a button when Google tells you an account was breached. That’s the new “Change password” option from the Assistant.

“When you tap the button, Chrome will not only navigate to the site but also go through the entire process of changing your password,” Google explains in a blog post. Users can still get involved in the process or do it manually from the start. But Google Assistant simplifies all that.

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When it arrives, that’s going to be a terrific feature. (iOS is currently telling me that a gazillion passwords have been exposed in a breach. But: 2FA.)
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Amazon partners with Tile to take on Apple AirTags • CNBC

Jon Fortt and Fahiemah Al-Ali:

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Amazon announced Friday that it is partnering with Tile, a company that makes trackers for lost items, and Level, which makes smart locks, to use those devices to enhance its tracking network based on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology.

The strength and number of devices on a given tracking network is key to its accuracy. That’s part of the reason why many think Apple’s tracking network will be so strong since it relies on more than 1 billion iPhones, iPads and Macs to help with lost item tracking.

Tile has also been vocal against Apple’s entry into the lost-item tracking space, recently telling Congress that it and other app developers are “afraid” of Apple’s policies for third-party apps and hardware accessories.

Amazon’s partnership will allow it beef up its tracking network, called Sidewalk, by letting Tile and Level devices tap into the Bluetooth networks created by millions of its Echo products. Tile will start working with Amazon’s network beginning June 14.

…Sidewalk rolled out late last year and is billed as a free network sharing service throughout neighborhoods that uses Echo devices as “bridges” to share a small fraction of a users’ low-bandwidth Wi-Fi with devices like Echo devices and Ring cameras.

…Amazon said Sidewalk will also strengthen Tile’s existing in-home finding experience with Alexa. Customers can say, “Alexa, find my keys” and their Tile tracker will start ringing from a coat pocket or from under the bed signaling where to find their lost item.

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Don’t know why Amazon doesn’t just buy Tile. Perhaps because that would spoil Tile’s complaint to Congress that it’s the small guy getting beaten up by big Apple.
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Insider Q&A: Sophie Zhang, Facebook whistleblower

Barbara Ortutay talks to the woman who was looking at election malfeasance and interference inside Facebook – in her spare time:

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Q: How did you get into the work you did?

A: When I joined the company I was, like many people, deeply affected by Russia 2016. And I decided to start looking for overlap between inauthentic activity and political targets. And I started finding many results in many places, particularly what we call the global South, in Honduras, Brazil, India.

Honduras got my attention because it had a very large amount (of inauthentic behavior) compared to the others. This was very unsophisticated activity we are talking about. Literal bots. And then I realized that this was essentially a troll farm being run quite openly by an employee of the president of Honduras. And that seemed extraordinarily awful.

Q: Then what did you do?

A: I talked about it internally. Essentially everyone agreed that it was bad. No one wants to be defending this sort of activity, but people couldn’t agree on whose job it was to deal with it.

I was trying desperately to find anyone who cared. I talked with my manager and their manager. I talked to the threat intelligence team. I talked with many integrity teams. It took almost a year for anything to happen.

Q: You’ve said there is a priority list of countries. What happens to countries that aren’t on that list?

A: It’s not a hard and fast rule. Facebook does takedowns in small countries, too. But most of these takedowns are reactive, by which I mean they come from outside groups — tips from opposition groups, tips from NGOs, reporter investigations, reports from the CIA, etc. What happened in this case was that no one outside the company was complaining.

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Classic big company behaviour: it’s totally internally focussed unless driven by something external, and responsibilities dribble around if they aren’t part of the mission forced from the top.
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US small towns take on energy-guzzling bitcoin miners • Reuters Foundation

Avi Asher-Schapiro:

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In mid-April, nearly 150 local environmentalists marched to the gates of Greenidge Generation, a bitcoin mining facility in upstate New York, in a last-ditch effort to block its expansion.

Their objection: that the creation of the cryptocurrency, an energy-intensive process in which computers compete to solve mathematical puzzles, may harm efforts to limit global warming.

Three days later, the planning board in the small town of Torrey voted 4-1 to allow Greenidge Generation to more than double the number of machines it has mining bitcoin.

“Everything we want to do to fight climate change could be erased,” Yvonne Taylor, one of the march’s leaders, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

…In 2018, Plattsburgh, New York, imposed a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining, after it became the city’s top power consumer.

And earlier this month, lawmakers introduced a proposal to suspend cryptocurrency mining operations for three years throughout New York state, as it carries out a review of the industry’s environmental impact.

Officials also recently took steps to limit that impact in Missoula County, Montana, where operations take advantage of cheap electricity from a local hydropower plant.

“At a certain point, this industry was using about a third of all of the county’s electricity,” said Diana Maneta, the county’s sustainability officer.

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Climate change meant Hurricane Sandy caused $8bn more damage • New Scientist

Karina Shah:

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Rising sea levels, linked to climate change, are known to worsen the effects of coastal storms by intensifying storm surges and increasing floods. Benjamin Strauss at Climate Central in New Jersey and his colleagues have now estimated the economic costs of human-induced sea level rise on Hurricane Sandy [in late 2012].

The team focused on the damage in the US, using a flood model that simulated the actual water levels during Hurricane Sandy on the US east coast. The group then compared this with the simulation of how much damage there would have been without human-induced sea level rise – estimated as 10.5cm in total between 1900 and 2012.

There was a difference of $8.1bn in damages between the real costs to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and costs for scenarios without human-induced sea level rise. However, this could have been as high as $14bn using higher estimates for human-induced sea level rise.

“Climate change is already harming us a lot more than we may realise,” says Strauss. “Most, if not all, coastal floods around the world today, and especially for the last half century, have been made worse.”

The team’s model also estimates that between 40,000 and 131,000 more people in the US were exposed to flooding than would have been the case in the absence of human-induced sea level rise. This equates to approximately 36,000 housing units.

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Everything we didn’t see at Google I/O • Android Authority

Eric Zeman:

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The Google I/O keynote has come and gone and was chock full of exciting news.

Among the announcements, we learned about a fresh design for Android 12, with upgrades to your privacy, and about Google’s new partnership with Samsung to revitalize Wear OS. We also saw how Google Photos would surface old memories and take better photos of people of color.

While there was plenty to love during the Google I/O keynote, there was also plenty left out of the presentation. Here’s a look at what Google didn’t show us — nor even talk about! — during its I/O keynote.

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Stadia, Chrome and Chrome OS, Pixel Buds, the Pixel itself, Android tablets, and the in-house Whitechapel chip that will drive the phone. You wouldn’t really expect them to talk about hardware, so the phones, earphones and chip wouldn’t come up. But tablets and Stadia – nothing new happening there.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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