Start Up No.1589: Zuckerberg and Sandberg v Pelosi, the Miami condo metaphor, EU fines car maker cartel €875m, and more


Indications are that Apple’s Touch Bar is not long for this world. It probably won’t be much missed. CC-licensed photo by Tony Webster on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Another greenhouse edition. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg’s partnership did not survive Trump • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang, in an extract from their forthcoming book about Facebook, look at what happened inside the company around the “slurring” (in fact, simply slowed down) Nancy Pelosi video in 2019:

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Inside Facebook, executives were ignoring the Pelosi staff’s calls because they were trying to formulate a response. The fact checkers and the A.I. hadn’t flagged the video for false content or prevented its spread. It was easy to fool Facebook’s filters and detection tools with simple workarounds, it turned out.

But the doctored video of Ms. Pelosi revealed more than the failings of Facebook’s technology to stop the spread of misleading viral videos. It exposed the internal confusion and disagreement over the issue of highly partisan political content.

Executives, lobbyists, and communications staff spent the next day in a slow-motion debate. Ms. Sandberg said she thought there was a good argument to take the video down under rules against disinformation, but she left it at that. Mr. Kaplan and members of the policy team said it was important to appear neutral to politics and to be consistent with the company’s promise of free speech.

…The conversations became tortured exercises in “what-if” arguments. Mr. Zuckerberg and other members of the policy team pondered if the video could be defined as parody. If so, it could be an important contribution to political debate. Some communications employees noted that the same kind of spoof of Ms. Pelosi could have appeared on the television show “Saturday Night Live.” Others on the security team pushed back and said viewers clearly knew that “S.N.L.” was a comedy show and that the video of Ms. Pelosi was not watermarked as a parody.

Employees involved in the discussions were frustrated, but they emphasized that a policy for just one video would also affect billions of others, so the decision could not be rushed.

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Zuckerberg then made the call: leave it up. At which point you realise that he’s lived an incredibly sheltered life, never truly vulnerable to what other people might capriciously decide to do.
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Google faces new antitrust lawsuit over Google Play Store fees • The Verge

Makena Kelly and Russell Brandom:

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The lawsuit, filed by 36 states and Washington, DC, in California federal court, challenges Google’s policy forcing Google Play app developers to pay a 30% commission fee on sales made through the app. Google recently expanded the fees to cover more digital goods purchased on the Play Store, taking particular aim at a number of prominent apps that had previously been able to sidestep the tax. The full complaint, which you can view here or at the bottom of this article, lists the defendants as Google, Alphabet, and subsidiaries in Ireland and Asia.

“It’s strange that a group of state attorneys general chose to file a lawsuit attacking a system that provides more openness and choice than others,” Google wrote in a blog post responding to the lawsuit. “This complaint mimics a similarly meritless lawsuit filed by the large app developer Epic Games, which has benefitted from Android’s openness by distributing its Fortnite app outside of Google Play.”

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Yes, had a link about this yesterday, but this one has Google’s response (puzzlement, mostly) and a link to the actual lawsuit. To me, the lawsuit looks like a complete failure (though of course Google did block Fortnite from Google Play when it put in an update that installed Epic’s app store).
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Poll: Do you think Apple should kill the MacBook’s Touch Bar? • 9to5Mac

José Adorno:

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Apple’s controversial Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro is reportedly in its final days, according to some recent rumors. What do you think about the OLED bar on the Macs?

Introduced with the redesigned MacBook Pro in 2016, the Touch Bar was one of several very controversial Apple decisions on its MacBook line. For example, Apple removed all the ports, leaving only USB-C and Thunderbolt ones available, introduced a flawed butterfly keyboard, and removed all the Function keys and the ESC button for this OLED panel.

As for 2020, when Apple introduced its first silicon on the Mac, the M1, the company has already been reversing some of its controversial decisions. For example, a year before, in 2019, with the , the company already brought back the scissor keyboard and the ESC button as well.

At the same time, Apple has always sold a more underpowered MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar. With the 2020 introduction of the M1 MacBook Pro, however, the company never gave an option of a MacBook Pro without this OLED panel.

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Only about 40% of respondents love the Touch Bar; I’d say it’s highly likely to be the next thing to go extinct. Even Apple doesn’t particularly love it, as the lack of attention to it down the years shows. It’s expensive, doesn’t actually add functionality, and people don’t like it. Same sort of thing as 3D Touch on the phone, really.
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Why the Miami condo collapse is a crisis for all of Florida • Slate

Mary Harris spoke to Danny Rivero, a reporter who has been on the scene of the Miami condo collapse since it happened and says that his initial shock is now turning to “grief – and anger”:

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Danny Rivero: There were structural deficiencies identified that probably went back all the way to the construction of this building. And a lot of it has to do just with the fact that the pool deck was built flat, which is a huge no-no. I mean, even me, as a non-construction person, knows you don’t build flat.

MH: Why?

DR: You don’t build flat because water accumulates on flat, and then it will seep down and cause structural damage. At least in Florida, you don’t build a flat roof. You build a sloped roof so that if it rains, it doesn’t pool on your roof and cause leaking. But what this engineer report found is that going back to the very beginning of this building basically, they built a concrete slab that was flat for the pool deck. And what that meant over years and decades is that water, as it accumulated from rain or from storm surges, which happen every once in a while, it was seeping down into that and causing changes at the geologic level. This was accumulating under there and causing issues on the pillars that the building stands on, that the whole property stands on.

MH: Do we know if residents in the building fought the repairs, said, “Maybe this isn’t necessary”?

DR: We do know, actually. USA Today had a fantastic story out on Monday evening—heartbreaking story too, though, because it really documents, over the course of the last couple years, the condo board had been pushing for residents to get on board for these repairs. And they couldn’t get people on the same page. And the longer they pushed it back, the higher the costs got, because the repairs—it accelerates if you don’t address it. And because it needed to be this collectivized kind of decision, they couldn’t reach that kind of decision and they couldn’t make the repairs that needed to be done.

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Siri, show me a metaphor for our inaction over things we know are happening. And note what he says: “This is going to force a wholesale reevaluation of the very places where millions of Floridians live.”
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We are not ready • Galaxy Brain

Charlie Warzel:

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our 21st century existence is characterized by the repeated confrontation with sprawling, complex, even existential problems without straightforward or easily achievable solutions. Theorist Timothy Morton calls the larger issues undergirding these problems “hyperobjects,” a concept so all-encompassing that it resists specific description.

You could make a case that the current state of political polarization and our reality crisis falls into this category. Same for democratic backsliding and the concurrent rise of authoritarian regimes. We understand the contours of the problem, can even articulate and tweet frantically about them, yet we constantly underestimate the likelihood of their consequences. It feels unthinkable that, say, the American political system as we’ve known it will actually crumble.

Climate change is a perfect example of a hyperobject. The change in degrees of warming feels so small and yet the scale of the destruction is so massive that it’s difficult to comprehend in full. Cause and effect is simple and clear at the macro level: the planet is warming, and weather gets more unpredictable.

…Climate coverage offers the clearest picture of this ‘unthinkability’ dynamic. In a clip from June 7th, CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli describes a heat wave stifling the east coast and the exceptional levels of draught in the West. His tone is urgent and the maps he’s gesturing to on the screen are alarming. He doesn’t mince words. “This is a climate emergency,” he tells one of the morning show anchors. It’s the kind of grim statement that you might imagine would evoke a bit of stunned silence.

Instead, the anchor smiles broadly and shakes his head in faux disbelief. “It’s very hot! I feel parched just talking about it!” he says in perfect, playful news cadence. Berardelli and the others on set offer up a classic morning show chuckle. Isn’t that something else! Banter! Onto the next segment.

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A must-read piece. First you start thinking about existential crisis, then you start doing something about it.
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WeChat deletes Chinese university LGBT accounts in fresh crackdown • Reuters

Pak Yiu:

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Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat social media platform has deleted dozens of LGBT accounts run by university students, saying some had broken rules on information on the internet, sparking fear of a crackdown on gay content online.

Members of several LGBT groups told Reuters that access to their accounts was blocked late on Tuesday and they later discovered that all of their content had been deleted.

“Many of us suffered at the same time,” said the account manager of one group who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“They censored us without any warning. All of us have been wiped out.”

Attempts by Reuters to access some accounts were met with a notice from WeChat saying the groups “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet”.

Other accounts did not show up in search results.

WeChat did not immediately respond to emailed questions.

Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder in China until 2001, when it became legal. However, this year, a court upheld a university’s description of homosexuality as a “psychological disorder”.

The LGBT community has repeatedly found itself falling foul of censors. The Cyberspace Administration of China recently pledged to clean up the internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups deemed a “bad influence”.

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China’s crackdowns are getting more and more aggressive.
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‘Heat dome’ probably killed 1bn marine animals on Canada coast, experts say • Inkl

Leyland Cecco:

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The “heat dome” that settled over western Canada and the north-western US for five days pushed temperatures in communities along the coast to 40C (104F) – shattering longstanding records and offering little respite for days.

The intense and unrelenting heat is believed to have killed as many as 500 people in the province of British Columbia and contributed to the hundreds of wildfires currently burning across the province.

But experts fear it also had a devastating impact on marine life.

Christopher Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, has calculated that more than a billion marine animals may have been killed by the unusual heat.

A walk along a Vancouver-area beach highlighted the magnitude of devastation brought on by the heatwave, he said.

“The shore doesn’t usually crunch when you walk on it. But there were so many empty mussel shells lying everywhere that you just couldn’t avoid stepping on dead animals while walking around,” he said.

Harley was struck by the smell of rotting mussels, many of which were in effect cooked by the abnormally warm water. Snails, sea stars and clams were decaying in the shallow water. “It was an overpowering, visceral experience,” he said.

While the air around Vancouver hovered around the high 30s (about 100F), Harley and a student used infrared cameras to record temperatures above 50C (122F) along the rocky shore.

“It was so hot when I was out with a student that we collected data for a little bit and then retreated to the shade and ate frozen grapes,” said Harley. “But of course, the mussels, sea stars and clams don’t have that option.”

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‘California is now in a new climate:’ Stanford scientist explains state’s heat wave, dry conditions • ABC7 Los Angeles

Luz Pena:

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Wildfires are unpredictable, but as the drought worsens and heat waves intensify scientists view these as red flags.

“California is now in a new climate. We are in a climate now where essentially, all of our years are warm years. We are getting these very severe heat waves as a result. We are getting rapid snow melt that means that water supply that we have counted on in the past is much less reliable and the vegetation is much drier,” said Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University Climate Scientist.

Dr. Diffenbaugh has been studying California’s climate for years and believes the wildfire risk is elevated. The heat wave hitting the Pacific Northwest is proof of that.

“We found for example that the autumn wildfire season is becoming much more severe and about a doubling of the frequency of wildfire weather during the autumn season and that is primarily from the warming,” said Dr. Diffenbaugh.

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EU fines German car cartel €875M over clean emissions technology • POLITICO

Simon Van Dorpe and Joshua Posaner:

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EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager on Thursday slapped German carmakers with an €875m ($1.03bn) fine for conspiring to limit the development of clean emissions technology.

Between 2009 and 2014, BMW, VW (Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche) and Daimler used so-called “circle of five” technical meetings to agree to hold back on technological innovations that could reduce harmful nitrogen oxide gases of diesel cars, Vestager said in a statement.

VW will need to pay the bulk of the penalty, €502m, despite being granted a 45% reduction for having cooperated with the investigators. BMW is fined the remaining €373m. Daimler got total immunity as it was the first participant in the cartel to denounce its existence.

“The five car manufacturers Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche possessed the technology to reduce harmful emissions … but they avoided to compete on using this technology’s full potential to clean better than what is required by law,” Vestager said in a statement.

The decision comes just before the European Commission will announce an important batch of legislative proposals to advance the EU Green Deal.

While Vestager’s focus as a competition commissioner is to ensure fair competition between companies, the fine for Germany’s powerful car makers is a strong message to industry that she will not hesitate to use her powers to pursue green objectives.

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Millions of barrels of oil safely reach port in major environmental catastrophe • The Onion

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In what may be the greatest environmental disaster in the nation’s history, the supertanker TI Oceania docked without incident at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port Monday and successfully unloaded 3.1 million barrels of dangerous crude oil into the United States.

According to witnesses, the catastrophe began shortly after the tanker, which sailed unimpeded across the Gulf of Mexico, stopped safely at the harbor and made contact with oil company workers on the shore. Soon after, vast amounts of the black, toxic petroleum in the ship’s hold were unloaded at an alarming rate into special storage containers on the mainland.

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A strange world where you need satire to remind you of what’s actually true. (This is from 2010, and like most Onion content, enduringly true.)
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Some locals say a bitcoin mining operation is ruining one of the Finger Lakes • NBC News

Gretchen Morgen:

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Summer on Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, is usually a time of boating, fishing, swimming and wine tasting. But for many residents of this bucolic region, there’s a new activity this season — protesting a gas-fired power plant that they say is polluting the air and heating the lake.

“The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub,” said Abi Buddington of Dresden, whose house is near the plant.

The facility on the shores of Seneca Lake is owned by the private equity firm Atlas Holdings and operated by Greenidge Generation LLC. They have increased the electrical power output at the gas-fired plant in the past year and a half and use much of the fossil-fuel energy not to keep the lights on in surrounding towns but for the energy-intensive “mining” of bitcoins.

…As investor criticism prompts some public companies to dump fossil fuel assets, private equity firms are ready buyers. In 2019, for example, powerhouse Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts, or KKR, acquired a majority stake in the troubled Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, a 400-mile fracking gas pipeline in British Columbia that has drawn citations from a regulator and protests from First Nations people whose land it crosses.

In a report last fall, the Environmental Assessment Office, a provincial agency, said the project failed to comply on 16 of 17 items inspected. As a result, Coastal GasLink was ordered to hire an independent auditor to monitor its work to prevent site runoff that can pollute streams and harm fish.

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A different sort of warming?
Social Warming, my new book.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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