Start Up No.1587: Vestager warns Apple on app stores, boring news means fewer views, superforecasting China v Taiwan, and more


A video has surfaced showing a Larry David skit that was planned for Apple’s WWDC 2014. Seen today, it’s even more uncomfortable. CC-licensed photo by Keng Susumpow on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. No, not beloved uncle. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


On the other hand, you could
buy Social Warming, my latest book.


EU’s Vestager warns Apple against using privacy, security argument to limit competition • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

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“I think privacy and security is of paramount importance to everyone,” Vestager told Reuters in an interview.

“The important thing here is, of course, that it’s not a shield against competition, because I think customers will not give up neither security nor privacy if they use another app store or if they sideload,” she said.

Vestager indicated that she was open to changes in her proposal, which needs input from EU countries and EU lawmakers before it can become law.

“I think that it is possible to find solutions to this,” she said.

Vestager also said Apple’s privacy changes, unlike Google’s plan to block a popular web tracking tool called “cookies” which formed part of her investigation into the Alphabet unit’s digital advertising business opened last month, were not in her crosshairs for now.

Apple rolled out an update of its iOS operating system in April with new privacy controls designed to limit digital advertisers from tracking iPhone users.

“As I have said, I think actually several times, that it is a good thing when providers give us the service that we can easily set our preferences if we want to be tracked outside the use of an app or not as long as it’s the same condition for everyone. So far, we have no reason to believe that this is not the case for Apple,” she said.

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Vestager is making it pretty clear that Apple’s App Store is going to be obliged, as Google was, to be open to rival app stores if she can make the case that it has a dominant market position (which she probably will). Which means it will have to compete on its merits. The 30% slice is probably going a long way down in that case.
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Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media • Axios

Neal Rothschild and Sara Fischer:

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In the months since former President Donald Trump left office, media companies’ readership numbers are plunging — and publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.

Outlets most dependent on controversy to stir up resentments have struggled to find a foothold in the Biden era, according to an Axios analysis of publishers’ readership and engagement trends.

Web traffic, social media engagement and app user sessions suggest that while the entire news industry is experiencing a slump, right-wing outlets are seeing some of the biggest plunges.

A group of far-right outlets, including Newsmax and The Federalist, saw aggregate traffic drop 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months, according to Comscore data.

Lefty outlets including Mother Jones and Raw Story saw a 27% drop.

Mainstream publishers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters dropped 18%.

App visits tell a similar story. Both right-leaning (including Fox News, Daily Caller) and left-leaning (including Buzzfeed News, The Atlantic) saw considerable average drops in app user sessions over this time period at 31% and 26%, respectively, according to Apptopia data.

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Be right back, got to search around for my microscopic violin.
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Will China invade Taiwan? • UnHerd

Tom Chivers asked an anonymous group of proven superforecasters about possible likelihoods, and outcomes:

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a Chinese invasion of Taiwan has the potential to be really bad. The superforecasters put together some conditional forecasts as well – that is, predictions of the form “How likely is event X if event Y happens?” So, for instance, if there is a conflict between China and Taiwan, how likely is the US to come to Taiwan’s defence, and how likely would China be to preemptively attack US forces?

The median estimate for how likely the US is to come to Taiwan’s aid if there were an invasion is 83%. So we are talking about a very high probability that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would lead to armed conflict between the world’s two superpowers. They also think it’s about 75% likely that the US would try to sink Chinese invasion ships, and say it’s reasonably likely that China would preemptively attack the US forces in the region if they did attack.

What might the knock-on effects be, if the world’s largest economies end up in a shooting war? Well: the US imports about $470 billion’s worth of goods from China a year. The superforecasters’ median estimate is that that would drop by 20%, or, roughly speaking, $100 billion. That’s the equivalent of the entire economy of Ecuador or Kenya. It would mean a huge blow to the world economy and probably push millions of people back into poverty. Huge US firms such as Nike or Apple would most probably stop manufacturing goods in China, again undoing decades of economic growth that has driven the rise of the Chinese middle class.

And what’s more, it’s very far from obvious that the US would win. If a war were to break out over Taiwan before 2026, the median estimate is that there’s a 57% chance of Chinese victory; if the war were to break out between 2031 and 2035, when China has had another decade to build up its military relative to the US, the estimate is 66%.

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Just putting this here so you know how much to worry.
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Intuit sabatages the US Child Tax Credit • Pluralistic

Cory Doctorow:

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The Child Tax Credit is a seriously good piece of policy, in which America’s poorest families are eligible for $2-3k/year in subsidies, a move projected to cut American child poverty in half.

There’s one problem: the IRS has no idea how to reach America’s poorest families.

Many of the people eligible for CTC don’t file tax returns and even if they did, they’d have no contact with the IRS, because the tax-prep monopoly killed all attempts to create a “free file” system where the IRS sends you a prefilled return with the info they already have.

When I say “sabotaged,” I’m not speaking hyperbolically. The tax-prep industry, led by Intuit, led the fight for 20 years, with their cultlike leader Brad Smith at the forefront of a bribery and intimidation campaign.

Intuit worked with its co-monopolists to develop a private sector “free file” program that was supposed to offer free tax-prep services to the poorest Americans, but it was a con.

The company developed a sophisticated dark-patterns storefront to trick Americans into paying for the service they promised to provide for free. Free file was supposed to cover half of Americans, but only 3% figured out how to use it.

Free file predated upon poor people, but it especially targeted people with disabilities, students and retirees.

Eventually, thanks to Propublica’s dogged reporting, the IRS ended its noncompete agreement with Intuit.

But the IRS has been starved for decades by anti-tax extremists and is seemingly dependent on predatory monopolists – think of how, in the wake of the Equifax breach, the IRS awarded its $7.5m, no-bid antifraud contract…to Equifax.

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That’s only the beginning: he then goes on to examine the software. When Doctorow is angry, he gets properly angry.
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Pandemic contradictions: a sign of false information • You Can Know Things

Kristen Panthagani PhD:

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One of the reasons false information and pandemic rumors can be so confusing and exhausting is the high degree of self-contradiction. Granted, not everyone believes every rumor simultaneously, but overall self-contradiction is often a hallmark of inaccurate information, and exposure to many different self-contradicting narratives (often with lots of emotion attached to them) can be highly disorienting and confusing. Here are a few examples I’ve run into over the last year…

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Includes such greatest hits as “Spike protein shedding from vaccination makes it dangerous to be around vaccinated people” vs “spike protein shedding from COVID infection is no big deal and there’s no need to social distance or wear a mask.” Also “SARS-CoV-2 is not that dangerous” and “SARS-COV-2 is so good at making humans sick that it was clearly engineered.”

The number of contradictory statements is amazing, really.
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More thoughts on Six Spaces and transgression • TEST

Matt Locke, in May 2010:

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Matt Mckeown’s infographic showing Facebook’s shifting privacy policy is a great example of platform transgression – a technology shifting information from one register to another without clearly signposting this transgression to the user.

Likewise, user transgression is when someone shifts someone elses information from one register to in a way that wasn’t expected. A common illustration of this is newspapers taking photographs from Flickr without respecting the copyright limitations that users had put in place when uploading the photo. Loaded magazine was recently cleared of breach of privacy by the PCC following a complaint from a woman who uploaded a picture of herself to Bebo in 2006. Over the next few years her picture was circulated widely on forums, and she became an internet meme as the ‘Epic Boobs’ girl. When Loaded magazine called for their readers to help track her down, she claimed the article had caused her considerable upset. But the PCC claimed that as the picture was so widely distributed online already (appearing in the top 3 Google searches for ‘boobs’) the Loaded article could not be considered to infringe her privacy, although it would have been a different case if they had taken it directly from her Bebo profile in 2006. It was the gradual disemmination of her image between groups of users online that made it ‘public’ – not her original act, which she probably imagined to be for a group that she controlled, but groups who could access and share her image without her knowledge or control.

What is remarkable about the Epic Boobs and Facebook transgressions is that they are gradual and hard for the person involved to track. In an analogue media world, the transgression between registers is sharp and obvious – a newspaper would have had to contact you to get a copy of a photo for them to use, and your personal photographs couldn’t become a global property without you knowing about it. We now live in an age where transgression is insidious and invisible, where users can’t understand the potential risks of sharing until it’s caused them significant pain.

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This is following on, of course, from Dany Green’s post from 2003 yesterday about public, private and secret registers in real life and online.
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Check out the scrapped Larry David skit filmed for WWDC 2014 • Cult of Mac

Luke Dormehl:

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Larry David once played a verbose, neurotic app approval officer in a skit for Apple. But curb your enthusiasm (womp womp) … the video never aired. Clearly someone at Apple didn’t think it was pretty, pretty, pr-et-ty good enough to be shown to customers.

However, the video — apparently shot as a possible intro for 2014’s Worldwide Developers Conference — has been leaked online by Sam Henri-Gold of the dearly departed Unofficial Apple Archive, a former repository of Apple videos no longer around. While Henri-Gold only shared a snippet, the whole video was later posted to YouTube.

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The article acts all surprised that this wasn’t used, but it’s absolutely evident: it makes app approval look completely arbitrary, and Larry David as an image of who’s doing the approval wouldn’t really benefit Apple. Plus some of the phrases he uses would send shivers down Apple PR’s spine.

Probably a million dollars there on the screen in front of you. (Script, salaries, full crew, locations, two or three-day shoot.)
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HIV vaccine trial starts at Oxford • University of Oxford

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The goal of the trial, known as HIV-CORE 0052, is to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of the HIVconsvX vaccine – a mosaic vaccine targeting a broad range of HIV-1 variants, making it potentially applicable for HIV strains in any geographical region.

Thirteen healthy, HIV-negative adults, aged 18-65 and who are considered not to be at high risk of infection, will initially receive one dose of the vaccine followed by a further booster dose at four weeks.

The trial is part of the European Aids Vaccine Initiative (EAVI2020), an internationally collaborative research project funded by the European Commission under Horizon 2020 health programme for research and innovation.

Professor Tomáš Hanke, Professor of Vaccine Immunology at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, and lead researcher on the trial, said: ‘An effective HIV vaccine has been elusive for 40 years. This trial is the first in a series of evaluations of this novel vaccine strategy in both HIV-negative individuals for prevention and in people living with HIV for cure.’

While most HIV vaccine candidates work by inducing antibodies generated by B-cells, HIVconsvX induces the immune system’s potent, pathogen obliterating T cells, targeting them to highly conserved and therefore vulnerable regions of HIV – an “Achilles heel” common to most HIV variants.

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Using the mRNA vaccine method.
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The end of EU migration will reshape the UK economy • Financial Times

Sarah O’Connor:

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It is ironic that we are only learning just how big a deal European migration was for the UK at the moment we are confronted by life without it. For an insight into how the era of EU free movement transformed some corners of the economy, you could do worse than to study the factories that process our food.

This sector, heavily reliant on workers from the EU, was always going to face a reckoning, since the government’s new post-Brexit immigration regime has put a stop to most low-paid migration. But the pandemic has hastened the crunch by prompting many EU workers with settled status to go home (no one knows how many). In meat processing, where EU workers account for more than 60% of staff, employers are complaining of acute labour shortages.

Employers often lament that Britons just don’t apply for these jobs. But a look at current job adverts offers an insight into why. Twelve-hour shifts in food factories are common, often in patterns of “four on, four off”, with workers expected to do a mixture of day and night shifts. One for a bakery worker states: “You will work days or nights including weekends for 12 hours [sic] shift as follows: 6am to 6pm; 6pm to 6am.” Another warns applicants for its 12-hour night shifts (paid £9.12 per hour) that “you will be working on your feet for the duration of the shift”. Many state: “You will be required to be flexible to meet the demands of the business.”

It is hard to see how you could manage a job with long and variable hours like this if you had to arrange childcare in advance, or indeed had any responsibilities outside work. Even if you could, there are less demanding jobs with steadier shifts that pay a similar wage. Yet the food factory jobs have been manageable for a certain group of migrant workers who came without dependants and lived in shared accommodation.

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O’Connor also tweeted a graph showing that food prices in the UK are about 10% lower than the EU average – at least presently. But if those jobs can’t be filled at those prices, things seem likely to change.
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Audacity owner Muse Group responds to ‘spyware’ claims regarding the free and open-source audio editor • MusicRadar

Ben Rogerson:

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Muse Group, the owner of the free and open-source audio editor Audacity, has sought to clarify the terms of its updated privacy policy, which has led to claims that the software is now possible ‘spyware’.

Audacity was acquired by Ultimate Guitar creator Muse Group earlier this year, with the new owner pledging to improve its feature set while retaining its free and open-source status.

However, eyebrows were quickly raised when the company updated its Contributor License Agreement (CLA), which some in the Audacity community felt ran contrary to the values of the open-source ecosystem. Contributors were told that they needed to sign this in order to remain part of the Audacity project.

The new privacy policy has caused similar anger, with new data collection mechanisms sparking calls for people to uninstall the software and support the campaign to ‘fork’ Audacity. This would basically mean a new version of the software, created under open-source rules, but without the data collection.

Muse Group has now responded to these concerns, stating that they’re “due largely to unclear phrasing in the Privacy Policy”. It says that no data will be shared with third parties (“full-stop”) and that only very basic data – IP address, system info (OS and CPU type) and error reports – will be collected.

Muse says that it does not collect any data beyond this for any purpose, including passing on to any government or law enforcement agency. What’s more, it says that data will only be shared if a court compels it, and that IP addresses are only held for 24 hours.

The privacy policy was updated, Muse says, because of new features being introduced in the next version of Audacity (3.03). These include automatic updating and error reporting, both of which require the aforementioned ‘personal data’ to work.

Furthermore, we’re assured that the current version (3.02) does not collect any data, and that the new privacy policy does not apply to offline use of Audacity.

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The whole thing doe strike me as one of the classic storms in a teacup that the internet generates so handily and amplifies so effortlessly.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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