Start Up No.1598: Wikipedia gets enterprising for money, was Emirati princess kidnapped via NSO Pegasus?, Twitter tries dislikes, and more

if you’ve ever wondered why Elon Musk is so rich, it’s not because of Tesla’s profits – they’re almost nonexistent. CC-licensed photo by Maurizio Pesce on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Fairly sure we never suggested people should “rip it up”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Wikipedia is finally asking big tech to pay up • WIRED

Noam Cohen:


Wikipedia is seeking to rebalance its relationships with Google and other big tech firms like Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, whose platforms and virtual assistants lean on Wikipedia as a cost-free virtual crib sheet.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates the Wikipedia project in more than 300 languages as well as other wiki-projects, is announcing the launch of a commercial product, Wikimedia Enterprise. The new service is designed for the sale and efficient delivery of Wikipedia’s content directly to these online behemoths (and eventually, to smaller companies too).

Conversations between the foundation’s newly created subsidiary, Wikimedia LLC, and Big Tech companies are already underway, point-people on the project said in an interview, but the next couple of months will be about seeking the reaction of Wikipedia’s thousands of volunteers. Agreements with the firms could be reached as soon as June.

“This is the first time the foundation has recognized that commercial users are users of our service,” says Lane Becker, a senior director at the foundation, who has been ramping up the Enterprise project with a small team. “We’ve known they are there, but we never really treated them as a user base.”

…Once you concede that big platforms will control the flow of commerce and information online, you can focus on how to get your cut. A proud Silicon Valley holdout, the Wikimedia Foundation is finally doing just that. But of course, for a project like Wikipedia and other industries whose products have been siphoned by the platforms, the flip side of Big Tech-funded stability is the threat of dependency. Wikipedia will now necessarily be orienting itself to the demands of the commercial internet, even if it comes in return for sizable payments to support a better, stronger, more diverse community.


It’s not as radical as changing the licence to prevent unpaid commercial use, but it’s a sensible move to broaden the revenue base.
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Emirati princess phone number appeared on list that included targets of powerful spyware • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


The princess had been careful, so she left her phone in the cafe’s bathroom. She’d seen what her father could do to women who tried to escape.

She hid in the trunk of a black Audi Q7, then jumped into a Jeep Wrangler as her getaway crew raced that morning from the glittering skyscrapers of Dubai to the rough waves of the Arabian Sea. They launched a dinghy from a beach in neighboring Oman, then, 16 miles out, switched to water scooters. By sunset they’d reached their idling yacht, the Nostromo, and began sailing toward the Sri Lankan coast.

Princess Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, the 32-year-old daughter of Dubai’s fearsome ruler, believed she was closer than ever to political asylum — and, for the first time, real freedom in the United States, members of her escape team said in interviews.

But there was one threat she hadn’t planned for: The spyware tool Pegasus, which her father’s government was known to have used to secretly hack and track people’s phones. Leaked data shows that by the time armed commandos stormed the yacht, eight days into her escape, operatives had entered the numbers of her closest friends and allies into a system that had also been used for selecting Pegasus surveillance targets.

“Shoot me here. Don’t take me back,” she’d screamed as soldiers dragged her off the boat, roughly 30 miles from the shore, according to a fact-finding judgment by the United Kingdom’s High Court of Justice. Then she disappeared.


It’s like something out of a film, but not one with a good ending. Two odd things happened around the broader story of NSO/Pegasus on Wednesday: NSO said it wouldn’t answer any more media inquiries, while Amnesty International said that the list of numbers it had weren’t necessarily all of people who’d been hacked by Pegasus. Both rather odd moves.
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Investigation: how TikTok’s algorithm figures out your deepest desires • WSJ


A Wall Street Journal investigation found that TikTok only needs one important piece of information to figure out what you want: the amount of time you linger over a piece of content. Every second you hesitate or rewatch, the app is tracking you.


They set up a group of bots, each programmed to show interest in slightly different things, and set them loose on TikTok. The algorithm then did what algorithms do – watch what they showed interest in, tuned to the finest degree. And, as you can probably guess, the algorithm tended to lead them down rabbit holes of deeper and deeper obsession. Dogs? Sure. Depression? Sure. Suicidal ideation? Why not. Oh, no, that shouldn’t be there, the moderators say. Except it is.

There’s no accompanying story (yet?). One wonders how much ByteDance is cooperating, or not, with this.
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Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise? • The BMJ

Richard Smith was the editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) until 2004:


Ian Roberts, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, began to have doubts about the honest reporting of trials after a colleague asked if he knew that his systematic review showing the mannitol halved death from head injury was based on trials that had never happened. He didn’t, but he set about investigating the trials and confirmed that they hadn’t ever happened. They all had a lead author who purported to come from an institution that didn’t exist and who killed himself a few years later. The trials were all published in prestigious neurosurgery journals and had multiple co-authors. None of the co-authors had contributed patients to the trials, and some didn’t know that they were co-authors until after the trials were published. When Roberts contacted one of the journals the editor responded that “I wouldn’t trust the data.” Why, Roberts wondered, did he publish the trial? None of the trials have been retracted.

Later Roberts, who headed one of the Cochrane groups, did a systematic review of colloids versus crystalloids only to discover again that many of the trials that were included in the review could not be trusted. He is now sceptical about all systematic reviews, particularly those that are mostly reviews of multiple small trials. He compared the original idea of systematic reviews as searching for diamonds, knowledge that was available if brought together in systematic reviews; now he thinks of systematic reviewing as searching through rubbish. He proposed that small, single centre trials should be discarded, not combined in systematic reviews.


The suggestion here is that on average about 20% of medical trials are fatally flawed or untrustworthy – more in some regions. Yet very few are ever retracted, and just float about in the literature.
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Ministers cut off funding to chip factory after sale to Chinese-owned firm • Daily Telegraph

James Titcomb:


Ministers have cut off taxpayer-funded payments to Britain’s biggest microchip factory after its sale to a Chinese-owned technology company.

UK Research and Investment (UKRI) has suspended grants to Newport Wafer Fab under Government instructions after its sale to Nexperia, The Telegraph understands.

It comes after it emerged that the company had been involved in more than a dozen publicly-backed projects before its sale to Nexperia, including a £5.2m defence initiative.

Earlier this month, Netherlands-based Nexperia took control of Newport Wafer Fab, based in South Wales. 

The Dutch company is owned by Wingtech, a Chinese company partially owned by Beijing-backed investors.

Boris Johnson has ordered Sir Stephen Lovegrove, the National Security Advisor, to review the deal, with a decision expected within weeks.

Pressure on the Government to act rose yesterday after it emerged that Newport Wafer Fab is part of a scheme to use advanced semiconductor technology to support cutting edge radar and satellite systems, alongside defence companies Leonardo, MBDA and Arris.

In total, Newport Wafer Fab is involved in more than a dozen Government-funded programmes worth around £55m, according to one source close to the deal.


The numbers involved seem small, but it’s still the largest (last?) wafer fab company in the UK.
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Twitter for iOS begins testing dislike button for some users • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:


Last year, Twitter’s chief product officer Kayvon Beykpour confirmed that the social network was “exploring” the idea of adding a dislike button to the app. Now, it appears that Twitter is in the early stages of testing a dislike/downvote button for some users on iOS.

Twitter confirmed this new test in a tweet posted to the Twitter Support account. The company says that some users on iOS will see new upvote and downvote options on tweets. Downvotes will not be shown publicly, while upvotes will be shown as likes, the company says, implying that the feature is only intended for internal metrics.

According to Twitter, the goal of this new test is to “understand the types of replies you find relevant” in a conversation. The prompt that appears to users in the Twitter for iOS app reads as follows:

Dislikes aren’t public or visible to the author, while Likes are. They both help us understand what people think is valuable to the conversation.

Twitter is testing multiple different designs for this new feature, including upvote and downvote buttons, likes and dislikes, and pairing the classic heart with a downvote…


Immediately a lot of people are worried about “hate-bombing” of tweets (pick a divisive topic and those on either side are certain that their opponents will deploy this mercilessly). Presumably that will happen and the algorithm will learn to ignore it. But what is the purpose? To downgrade certain sorts of users? To build a bigger idea about what sort of tweets are regarded as good or bad? The latter is very grandiose.
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The pain of the never-ending work check-in • WSJ

Rachel Feintzeig:


Caroline Kim Oh, a leadership coach based near New York City, says that in recent years, many of her clients have started feeling like meetings are just something that happens to them.

“You have no control over your workday,” she says. “They’re just popping up.”

Working from home and living through a crisis seems to have made it worse. In an April survey from meeting scheduling tool Doodle, 69% of 1,000 full-time remote workers said their meetings had increased since the pandemic started, with 56% reporting that their swamped calendars were hurting their job performance.

Constant check-ins have become some bosses’ version of micromanaging, a way to keep tabs on workers they don’t trust. Coordination that used to happen by swiveling your chair or walking across the hall now requires extra formality and time for everyone still spread out across home offices. Plus, there’s the sense that empathetic leaders should stay in touch during moments of transition, whether that’s as the world was shutting down last year or as we head back to headquarters now.

The message to managers is often, “Hey, check in with your employees. See if they’re OK. Care more,” says Ms. Kim Oh, the executive coach. Sometimes caring more means saving a worker from one more Zoom, she adds.

What happens next? If we all go back to work five days a week, we might return to those efficient, in-person check-ins, says Raffaella Sadun, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied meeting loads before and during the pandemic. But organizations testing a hybrid set-up should brace for a mess.


Love the illustration.
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Biden official: ‘We don’t know exactly why’ ransomware gang vanished from the web • POLITICO

Nahal Toosi:


The Biden administration does not know exactly why ransomware gang REvil, thought to be based in Russia, has vanished from the dark web, a senior official said Tuesday.

But the United States will continue to place pressure on criminal groups like REvil, as well as governments, such as Russia, that are responsible for the territory where these groups operate, the administration official added.

The Biden administration official’s comments, given in an interview with POLITICO, were the clearest yet to suggest that the United States did not play a direct role in taking down REvil’s websites and other online infrastructure in recent days.

REvil is suspected of targeting a meat supplier and a major information-technology vendor in recent months. The move hit businesses in the United States and beyond by locking them out of their systems while REvil demanded money to stop the attack.

When pressed on whether the administration has taken any action against such cyber criminals in Russia, the senior official would not say.

On REvil specifically, “We have certainly noticed that they’ve stood down their operations. We don’t know exactly why,” the official said. “But we’re still pressing on Russia to take action against the cyber criminals that are operating on its territory. We’re not declaring victory.”


That adds to the mystery. Or perhaps REvil just thought that they’d collected enough money, and things were getting too tricky.
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The nightmare of our snooping phones • The New York Times

Shira Ovide:


“Data privacy” is one of those terms that feels stripped of all emotion. It’s like a flat soda. At least until America’s failures to build even basic data privacy protections carry flesh-and-blood repercussions.

This week, a top official in the Roman Catholic Church’s American hierarchy resigned after a news site said that it had data from his cellphone that appeared to show the administrator using the L.G.B.T.Q. dating app Grindr and regularly going to gay bars. Journalists had access to data on the movements and digital trails of his mobile phone for parts of three years and were able to retrace where he went.

I know that people will have complex feelings about this matter. Some of you may believe that it’s acceptable to use any means necessary to determine when a public figure is breaking his promises, including when it’s a priest who may have broken his vow of celibacy.

To me, though, this isn’t about one man. This is about a structural failure that allows real-time data on Americans’ movements to exist in the first place and to be used without our knowledge or true consent. This case shows the tangible consequences of practices by America’s vast and largely unregulated data-harvesting industries.

…I am exasperated that there are still no federal laws restricting the collection or use of location data. If I made a tech to-do list for Congress, such restrictions would be at the top of my agenda.

…Losing control of our data was not inevitable. It was a choice — or rather a failure over years by individuals, governments and corporations to think through the consequences of the digital age. We can now choose a different path.


You can, though the question is whether the sclerotic American legislative process will. (Thanks G for the pointer to the original story.)

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Why Elon Musk is so rich: two economies. Two sets of rules • O’Reilly

Tim O’Reilly:


Elon Musk’s wealth doesn’t come from him hoarding Tesla’s extractive profits, like a robber baron of old. For most of its existence, Tesla had no profits at all. It became profitable only last year. But even in 2020, Tesla’s profits of $721 million on $31.5 billion in revenue were small—only slightly more than 2% of sales, a bit less than those of the average grocery chain, the least profitable major industry segment in America.

No, Musk won the lottery, or more precisely, the stock market beauty contest. In theory, the price of a stock reflects a company’s value as an ongoing source of profit and cash flow. In practice, it is subject to wild booms and busts that are unrelated to the underlying economics of the businesses that shares of stock are meant to represent.

Why is Musk so rich? The answer tells us something profound about our economy: he is wealthy because people are betting on him. But unlike a bet in a lottery or at a racetrack, in the vast betting economy of the stock market, people can cash out their winnings before the race has ended.


Musk’s riches, therefore, depend on his cashing out at the right time.
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Flexible computer processor is the most powerful plastic chip yet • New Scientist

Matthew Sparkes:


In recent decades, processors have reduced in size and price to the point that they are now commonly used in everything from televisions to washing machines and watches. But almost all chips manufactured today are rigid devices created on silicon wafers in highly specialised and costly factories where dozens of complex chemical and mechanical processes take up to eight weeks from start to finish. Now, Arm has developed a 32-bit processor called PlasticARM with circuits and components that are printed onto a plastic substrate, just as a printer deposits ink on paper.

James Myers at Arm says the processor can run a variety of programs, although it currently uses read-only memory so is only able to execute the code it was built with. Future versions will use fully programmable and flexible memory.

“It won’t be fast, it won’t be energy efficient, but if I’m going to put it on a lettuce to track shelf life, that’s the idea,” he says. “We’re still looking for the applications, just like the original processor guys in the 1970s. Is this about smart packaging? Is it going to be gas sensors that can tell you whether something is safe to eat or not? It could be wearable health patches, that’s a fun project we’re looking at.”

Flexible chips have been created before, but Arm’s device is the most powerful yet demonstrated. It has 56,340 components packed into less than 60 square millimetres. This gives it around 12 times more components to carry out calculations than the previous best flexible chip.


That 60 sq mm needs to come down by an order of magnitude to be commercially viable. Still, in 2015 they were 4900 sq mm. So, heading in the right direction.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

TikTok? You’ll understand how it works if you read Social Warming, my new book.

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