Start Up No.1594: MPs call for streaming ‘reset’, where’s the real climate change action?, tension inside the W3C, all about ∂, and more


Soon Facebook Messenger will let you hear what these sound like. Positive, right? CC-licensed photo by Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


MPs call for ‘complete reset’ of music streaming to protect artists • The Guardian

Lanre Bakare and Alex Hern:

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Record labels and the streaming sites are criticised in the report, which says that although streaming undoubtedly helped save the music industry after two decades of digital piracy, the companies have “leveraged structural advantages to achieve seemingly unassailable positions” in their markets.

The report refers to estimates that streaming services take 30-34% of revenues from a stream, with the label recouping 55% and the rest shared out between the recording artist, publisher and songwriter.

The MPs say they have “deep concerns about the position of the major music companies” and call on the government to ask the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate whether competition in the recorded music market is being distorted. They say the major labels: Sony, Universal and Warner Music, benefit at the expense of independent labels and self-releasing artists when it comes to playlisting.

“The issues ostensibly created by streaming simply reflect more fundamental, structural problems within the recorded music industry,” the report says. “Streaming needs a complete reset.”

The committee recommends “a broad yet comprehensive range” of legislative reforms to protect the rights of musicians and songwriters, who it says are getting poor returns from streaming – an industry that generates £600m in revenues a year.

The 121-page report backs calls for artists to have equitable remuneration from streams, which would mean their work is classified as a “rental” when it is played on platforms such as Spotify, which has a 44% market share compared with 25% each for Amazon Music and Apple Music.

The measure would mean streams are treated in a similar way to radio plays, with a collecting society recouping royalties on an artist’s behalf.

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It seems odd that we would just let the world burn • The New York Times

Ezra Klein:

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I spent the weekend reading a book I wasn’t entirely comfortable being seen with in public. Andreas Malm’s “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is only slightly inaptly named. You won’t find, anywhere inside, instructions on sabotaging energy infrastructure. A truer title would be “Why to Blow Up a Pipeline.” On this, Malm’s case is straightforward: Because nothing else has worked.

Decades of climate activism have gotten millions of people into the streets but they haven’t turned the tide on emissions, or even investments. Citing a 2019 study in the journal Nature, Malm observes that, measuring by capacity, 49% of the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure now in operation was installed after 2004. Add in the expected emissions from projects in some stage of the planning process and we are most of the way toward warming the world by 2º Celsius — a prospect scientists consider terrifying and most world governments have repeatedly pledged to avoid. Some hoped that the pandemic would alter the world’s course, but it hasn’t. Oil consumption is hurtling back to precrisis levels, and demand for coal, the dirtiest of the fuels, is rising.

“Here is what this movement of millions should do, for a start,” Malm writes. “Announce and enforce the prohibition. Damage and destroy new CO2-emitting devices. Put them out of commission, pick them apart, demolish them, burn them, blow them up. Let the capitalists who keep on investing in the fire know that their properties will be trashed.”

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That scenario reminds me strongly of the opening of John Brunner’s SF book The Sheep Look Up, where people are wrecking cars that run on petrol (or diesel). That doesn’t end well. But with the news recording “once in a generation” deadly floods in Germany, record temperatures in the US northwest, a drought in the western US.. what does it take exactly?
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A privacy war is raging inside the W3C • Protocol

Issie Lapowsky:

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On the other side [from the browser companies such as Apple, Mozilla and Google] are companies that use cross-site tracking for things like website optimization and advertising, and are fighting for their industry’s very survival. That includes small firms like [James] Rosewell’s, but also giants of the industry, like Facebook.

Rosewell has become one of this side’s most committed foot soldiers since he joined the W3C last April. Where Facebook’s developers can only offer cautious edits to Apple and Google’s privacy proposals, knowing full well that every exchange within the W3C is part of the public record, Rosewell is decidedly less constrained. On any given day, you can find him in groups dedicated to privacy or web advertising, diving into conversations about new standards browsers are considering.

Rather than asking technical questions about how to make browsers’ privacy specifications work better, he often asks philosophical ones, like whether anyone really wants their browser making certain privacy decisions for them at all. He’s filled the W3C’s forums with concerns about its underlying procedures, sometimes a dozen at a time, and has called upon the W3C’s leadership to more clearly articulate the values for which the organization stands.

His exchanges with other members of the group tend to have the flavor of Hamilton and Burr’s last letters — overly polite, but pulsing with contempt. “I prioritize clarity over social harmony,” Rosewell said.

To Rosewell, these questions may be the only thing stopping the web from being fully designed and controlled by Apple, Google and Microsoft, three companies that he said already have enough power as it is. “I’m deeply concerned about the future in a world where these companies are just unrestrained,” Rosewell said. “If there isn’t someone presenting a counter argument, then you get group-think and bubble behavior.”

But the engineers and privacy advocates who have long held W3C territory aren’t convinced. They say the W3C is under siege by an insurgency that’s thwarting browsers from developing new and important privacy protections for all web users. “They use cynical terms like: ‘We’re here to protect user choice’ or ‘We’re here to protect the open web’ or, frankly, horseshit like this,” said Pete Snyder, director of privacy at Brave, which makes an anti-tracking browser. “They’re there to slow down privacy protections that the browsers are creating.”

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Facebook advertisers impacted by Apple privacy iOS 14 changes • Bloomberg

Kurt Wagner:

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The new prompt from Apple Inc., which arrived in an iOS software update to iPhones in early June, explicitly asks users of each app whether they are willing to be tracked across their internet activity.  Most are saying no, according to Branch, which analyzes mobile app growth. People are giving apps permission to track their behavior just 25% of the time, Branch found, severing a data pipeline that has powered the targeted advertising industry for years.

“It’s been pretty devastating for I would say the majority of advertisers,” said Eric Seufert, a mobile analyst who writes the Mobile Dev Memo trade blog. “The big question is: Are we seeing just short-term volatility where we can expect a move back to the mean, or is this a new normal?”

Facebook advertisers, in particular, have noticed an impact in the last month. Media buyers who run Facebook ad campaigns on behalf of clients said Facebook is no longer able to reliably see how many sales its clients are making, so it’s harder to figure out which Facebook ads are working. Losing this data also impacts Facebook’s ability to show a business’s products to potential new customers. It also makes it more difficult to “re-target” people with ads that show users items they have looked at online, but may not have purchased.

A Facebook spokesman declined to share what percentage of its users have accepted the company’s tracking prompt, but roughly 75% of the world’s iPhone users have downloaded the newest operating system, according to Branch. Seufert estimated that in the first full quarter users see the prompt, the iOS changes could cut Facebook’s revenue by 7% if roughly 20% of users agree to be tracked. If just 10% of users grant Facebook tracking permission, revenue could be down as much as 13.6%, according to his models. The first full quarter with the prompt is the third quarter. Facebook reports second quarter earnings at the end of July.

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Well, we know what to look for now, don’t we?
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Microsoft reveals $31 per user per month price tag of one of the coming Windows 365 SKUs • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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Windows 365 will be available in Business and Enterprise flavors, Microsoft officials said this week. Derek Gabriel (@dsghi on Twitter) shared a screen capture of one of the Windows 365 Business SKUs that showed it would cost $31 per user per month. This is for the 2vCPU, 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage version for customers with up to 300 users. This particular SKU supports the desktop versions of Office apps, Outlook and OneDrive; the desktop version of Microsoft Teams; Visual Studio, Power BI and Dynamics 365; and to access and manage Cloud PC virtually.

I asked Microsoft to confirm that this $31 per user per month Windows 365 SKU is in its line-up. No word back so far. 

Update: Yep, the pricing is correct. “This is pricing for just one SKU. We have many more options, both in terms of configurations and price points, to share when the product becomes generally available on August 2,” a company spokesperson confirmed.

Microsoft officials haven’t yet said how many Windows 365 SKUs they plan to offer. They did publish yesterday a chart showing how they plan to target the coming SKUs, which will range from 1vCPU/2GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for users with simple needs like frontline workers, call center users, education/training and CRM access — to 8 vCPU, 32 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage for software developers, engineers, content creators and designers.

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So that’s not going to be cheap. Certainly fulfils Microsoft’s long-held dream of turning Windows into a subscription product, though.
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Emojis finally have a voice: introducing Soundmojis on Facebook Messenger • Messenger News

Loredana Crisan is VP of messaging products at FB Messenger (which Facebook just calls “Messenger”):

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Every day, people send more than 2.4 billion messages with emojis on Messenger. Emojis add color and vibrancy to Messenger chats all over the world, and we rely on them to say what words can’t. Now imagine if your emojis could talk, what sound would they make? Introducing Messenger’s latest expression tool: Soundmojis. Your chats just got a whole lot louder, just in time for World Emoji Day on July 17!

So, what is a Soundmoji? It’s a next-level emoji that lets you send short sound clips in a Messenger chat, ranging from clapping , crickets ,drumroll , and evil laughter , to audio clips from your favorite artists like Rebecca Black and your favorite TV shows and movies like Universal Pictures’ F9, NBC and Universal Television’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Netflix and Shondaland’s Bridgerton. “Ah, the drama of it all.”

To check out Soundmojis, head to your Messenger app, start a chat, tap the smiley face to open the expressions menu and select the loudspeaker icon. From there, you can preview and send your favorite Soundmojis again and again. 

We’re launching an entire Soundmoji library for you to choose from, which we’ll update regularly with new sound effects and famous sound bites. Each sound is represented by an emoji, keeping the visual emojis we all love in play, while bringing sound into the mix. Best of both worlds! 

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OK, so you have to turn it on. It would have been awful if it were the default. But like this, it could be a useful assistive technology for those with visual problems.
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Delta variant: everything you need to know • Uncharted Territories

Tomas Pueyo:

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The original Coronavirus variant has an R0 of ~2.71. Alpha—the “English variant” that caused a spike around the world around Christmas—is about 60% more infectious. Now it appears that Delta is about 60% more transmissible yet again. Depending on which figure you use, it would put Delta’s R0 between 4 and 9, which could make it more contagious than smallpox. Just to give you a sense of the dramatic consequence of such an increase in R, this is what two months of growth get you with the previous transmission rate of 2.7 vs. with an R of 6:

This is why so many graphs of cases look like rockets these days. Delta is very contagious.

Apparently, somebody in Australia was infected by the Delta variant just by walking past an infected person, in a 5- to 10- second encounter. Although this is probably an outlier, and we shouldn’t be scared of walking past other people as a rule of thumb, it illustrates how much more transmissible Delta is.

So that’s about transmission rates. What about fatality rates? It looks like the risk of death is 2x higher for Delta than for the original variant:

(Source)

To put this in context, catching the original COVID approximately doubled your likelihood of death at any age. That means catching Delta approximately triples it.

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Pueyo wrote the original viral (ha) article about how exponential growth meant that everyone in power was underestimating how quickly Covid was going to overwhelm nations. And he explains why the idea that more infectious would mean less deadly was misinformed.
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“Roadrunner” review: the haunting afterlife of Anthony Bourdain in a new documentary • The New Yorker

Helen Rosner:

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There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.”

In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

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Don’t worry, Twitter started the ethics panel as soon as the piece came out. The general sentiment seems to be that they don’t like it, or at least the undeclared nature of it.
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Worldwide foldable phone forecast, 2021–2025 • IDC

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The worldwide foldable phone market will reach a total of 4.0m foldable phones in 2021, up 106.6% from the 1.9m units shipped in 2020. Total foldable shipments worldwide will reach 13.9m units by 2025, resulting in a CAGR of 48.1% for 2020–2025.

“The overall adoption of foldable devices continues to slowly grow despite the initial setback we witnessed with the first batch of foldables unveiled back in 2019, said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker.

“Foldable models continue to improve in terms of design, durability, and functionality. Although high ASPs will be a deterrent in the near term, the gradual decline in prices as more models come to market will be a key driver of growth for the entire category. Moreover, if Apple does join the foldable game, which we have currently not included in our forecast, it will undoubtedly bring increased excitement and mass awareness to the category in a way that only Apple can.”

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Maybe it’s just me, but 4m in more than a billion feels like the tiniest drop in the biggest ocean.
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• Why do social networks drive us a little mad?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• How much of a role do algorithms play in affecting what we see and do online?
• What can we do about it?
• Did Facebook have any inkling of what was coming in Myanmar in 2016?

Order Social Warming, my new book, and find answers – and more.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: the Philip K Dick short story that I forgot to mention yesterday is War Game.

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