Start Up No.1613: how Facebook failed on football, how the giant DeFi hack was done, Taliban besiege Clubhouse (yup), and more


The Goodreads site is being used for bad things (specifically, extortion) against some unlucky authors, in another moderation challenge. CC-licensed photo by Dav Yaginuma on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. It’s a good number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How Facebook failed to stem racist abuse of England’s soccer players • The New York Times

Ryan Mac and Tariq Panja:

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In May 2019, Facebook asked the organizing bodies of English soccer to its London offices off Regent’s Park. On the agenda: what to do about the growing racist abuse on the social network against Black soccer players.

At the meeting, Facebook gave representatives from four of England’s main soccer organizations — the Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League and the Professional Footballers’ Association — what they felt was a brushoff, two people with knowledge of the conversation said. Company executives told the group that they had many issues to deal with, including content about terrorism and child sex abuse.

A few months later, Facebook provided soccer representatives with an athlete safety guide, including directions on how players could shield themselves from bigotry using its tools. The message was clear: It was up to the players and the clubs to protect themselves online.

The interactions were the start of what became a more than two-year campaign by English soccer to pressure Facebook and other social media companies to rein in online hate speech against their players.

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The piece is good inasmuch as it details what happened. Yet Twitter’s blogpost about the racist abuse on its platform after the 2021 Euros event gives a much clearer meta-view:

1: “the UK was – by far – the largest country of origin for the abusive Tweets we removed on the night of the Final and in the days that followed.”
2: “our data suggests that ID verification would have been unlikely to prevent the abuse from happening – as the accounts we suspended themselves were not anonymous. Of the permanently suspended accounts from the Tournament, 99% of account owners were identifiable.”
3: “only 2% of the Tweets we removed following the Final generated more than 1000 Impressions (Impressions are the number of views a Tweet receives before being removed).”

The NYT story treats the abuse as more like weather – raining racist abuse again, it’s such a mystery! – when we really need to understand why the climate is like it is.
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Poly Network recovers over $258m of stolen funds in largest DeFi hack • FX Street

Ekta Mourya:

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Poly Network expects to recover stolen funds after writing a letter asking the hacker to return the funds. Currently, less than 1% of the funds have been recovered. 

On August 10, a hacker drained the cross-chain protocol Poly Network of hundreds of millions of dollars. Over $600m in several cryptocurrencies, Ethereum, Binance smart chain tokens, and stablecoins were stolen.  

The heist included $273m in Ethereum tokens, $253m in tokens on Binance Smart Chain, and $85m in USD coin (USDC). In the aftermath of the attack, Poly Network reached out to exchanges and miners on its Twitter handle and requested them to blacklist the stolen funds. 

Tether was the swiftest to blacklist the stolen USDT, worth $33m. Binance, OKEx and other exchanges extended support to Poly Network in the hours following the hack. Among exchanges and protocols coming out in support of the cross-chain protocol, SlowMist stood out since the blockchain security firm claimed to have the hacker’s identity (ID) information. 

SlowMist’s initial investigation revealed that the hacker used Hoo, a less popular Chinese cryptocurrency exchange, to gather funds for the attack. From Hoo, the blockchain security firm was able to obtain details of their digital footprint. 

Poly Network then reached out to the hacker through an open letter on Twitter, describing the magnitude of the hack and asking them to establish communication and work together to return the stolen funds. 

The team behind the Poly Network prepared a multi-sig address controlled by a known Poly address and identified three addresses where the attacker could return funds.

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DeFi = decentralised finance. That is, doing all the transactions with “smart contracts” – essentially, little chunks of code triggered by certain conditions. Problem is, the interaction of all those bits of code can be unpredictable, and lead to hacks through a form of impersonation (in this case). Many other flaws exist; they just haven’t been found yet.
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Goodreads’ problem with extortion scams and review bombing • Time

Megan McCluskey:

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few months after posting a message on Goodreads about the imminent release of a new book, Indie author Beth Black woke up to an all-caps ransom email from an anonymous server, demanding that she either pay for good reviews or have her books inundated with negative ones: “EITHER YOU TAKE CARE OF OUR NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS WITH YOUR WALLET OR WE’LL RUIN YOUR AUTHOR CAREER,” the email, shared with TIME, read. “PAY US OR DISAPPEAR FROM GOODREADS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD.”

Black, who has self-published both a romance novel and a collection of short stories in the past year, didn’t pay the ransom. “I reported it to Goodreads and then a couple hours later, I started noticing the stars dropping on my books as I started getting all these 1-star reviews,” she says. “It was quite threatening.”

Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of “review bombing” their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.

Black says she had posted about the upcoming book in a Goodreads community group, and had sent PDF copies to self-proclaimed reviewers. According to Black, the pressure to rack up reviews on Goodreads and Amazon led to her becoming the target of a cyber-extortion attack.

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We’re so far into the internet, and moderation – dealing with the humans – rather than trying to get machines and technology turns out to be the real problem again and again.
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Samsung Galaxy Watch4: the last chance for Wear OS • Forbes

Barry Collins:

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The awkward union of Samsung and Google feels like the last throw of the dice for Wear OS. If Samsung can’t make a success of it, who else will? But is there enough in the Samsung Galaxy Watch4 (yes, they’ve dropped the space between ‘Watch’ and ‘4’) to deliver an upswing in Wear OS’s fortunes?

The official press release for the Galaxy Watch4 describes the operating system as “the new Wear OS Powered by Samsung, built jointly with Google”, which tells you something about the backstage politics, if nothing else. Samsung wants you to know it’s not just putting up the hardware.

What evidence is there of Samsung’s involvement in software design? Well, the Galaxy Watch4 is tightening the integration between Samsung smartphone and watch.

For instance, a new feature called One UI Watch automatically installs the Wear OS version of an app on your watch if it’s installed on your Samsung phone, which saves fiddling around with the Google Play Store on the watch.

Other settings, such as do-not-disturb hours and blocked callers, are automatically synced with the watch, so you shouldn’t be woken by the Galaxy Watch4 in the small hours. An Auto Switch feature also lets Samsung earbuds toggle between audio from your Samsung phone and earbuds.

The message here is clear: Samsung is trying to deliver the same joined-up experience you get with an Apple iPhone/Watch/AirPod combo.

Samsung is also making heavy play of its own services, sitting alongside those of Google.

«

If Samsung can’t make this happen, then indeed, that party’s over.
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Ah, so this is where I hid the advert for Social Warming, my latest book.


Why Instagram’s creatives are angry about its move to video • The Guardian

Amelia Tait:

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In late July, hobbyist photographer and self-proclaimed “sunrise hunter” Sam Binding conducted an experiment. After visiting Somerset Lavender Farm to catch the sun peeking over the purple blossoms, the 40-year-old from Bristol uploaded the results to both Instagram and Twitter. Two days later, he used the apps’ built-in analytics tools to assess the impact of his shots. On Instagram, a total of 5,595 people saw his post – just over half of his 11,000 followers. On Twitter, his post was seen by 5,611 people, despite the fact he has just 333 followers on the site.

This confirmed Binding’s hunch that although most people believe that Instagram is a place to share photos and Twitter is a place to share words, that may no longer be the case. When it launched in 2010, Instagram courted the artistic community, inviting respected designers to be among its initial users and naming its very first filter X-Pro II, after an analogue photo-developing technique. In her 2020 book No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, technology reporter Sarah Frier documents how Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom wanted Instagram to be an outlet for artists (in a high-school essay, Systrom wrote that he liked how photography could “inspire others to look at the world in a new way”).

But Facebook bought Instagram in 2012. Systrom departed as CEO in 2018. And three weeks before Binding uploaded his lavender pics, the new head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, posted a video to his personal social media accounts. “I want to start by saying we’re no longer a photo-sharing app.”

«

And that is being proved over and over. One thing about Instagram that’s crucially different from just about every other social network, I noticed when writing Social Warming, is that it doesn’t have any method for content to go viral. That has its benefits – you don’t get ideologues building up huge follower numbers through the algorithm – but equally when the algorithm demotes you, for reasons you can’t understand, then there’s no recourse. You’re swinging in the dark.
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Taliban members are reportedly running Clubhouse chatrooms • NY Post

Theo Wayt:

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As the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan, some members of the Islamist terrorist group are apparently making time to log on to Clubhouse, a trendy audio-based social media app. 

Taliban spokespeople are running chatrooms within the app where they discuss religion and their plans for the future of Afghanistan, which is rapidly falling into the extremist group’s control amid the withdrawal of American troops, Agence France-Presse reported. 

“The Taliban called me rude and cut my mic after I spoke the truth about them,” Haanya Saheba Malik, an Afghan Clubhouse user who joined a Taliban room, told AFP. “They openly declared those of us calling for human rights infidels and deserving of death.”

Clubhouse’s terms of service forbid “immoral, racist, or discriminatory” behavior based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.” 

But the app — which is backed by A-list investors like Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global Management, as well as celebrity entrepreneur Audrey Gelman — appears to have allowed the group to operate on the platform for at least two weeks.

«

They can have Lashnagard, but not Clubhouse! For a slightly more nuanced version (can you do nuance with the Taliban?) which suggests that Afghans are tuning in to ask what the Taliban intend to bring to the country, here’s the AFP story (hosted on Spacedaily).

Not sure it’s going to help Clubhouse’s valuation to be big in Afghanistan, though.
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Pay cut: Google employees who work from home could lose money • Reuters

Danielle Kaye:

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Google employees based in the same office before the pandemic could see different changes in pay if they switch to working from home permanently, with long commuters hit harder, according to a company pay calculator seen by Reuters.

It is an experiment taking place across Silicon Valley, which often sets trends for other large employers.

Facebook and Twitter also cut pay for remote employees who move to less expensive areas, while smaller companies including Reddit and Zillow (ZG.O) have shifted to location-agnostic pay models, citing advantages when it comes to hiring, retention and diversity.

Alphabet’s Google stands out in offering employees a calculator that allows them to see the effects of a move. But in practice, some remote employees, especially those who commute from long distances, could experience pay cuts without changing their address.

“Our compensation packages have always been determined by location, and we always pay at the top of the local market based on where an employee works from,” a Google spokesperson said, adding that pay will differ from city to city and state to state.

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Nothing is going to be quite the same.
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Wagner: scale of Russian mercenary mission in Libya exposed • BBC News

Ilya Barabanov & Nader Ibrahim:

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A BBC investigation has revealed the scale of operations by a shadowy Russian mercenary group in Libya’s civil war, which includes links to war crimes and the Russian military.

A Samsung tablet left by a fighter for the Wagner group exposes its key role – as well as traceable fighter codenames.

…The tablet was left behind by an unknown Wagner fighter after the group’s fighters retreated from areas south of Tripoli in spring 2020.

Its contents include maps in Russian of the frontline, giving confirmation of Wagner’s significant presence and an unprecedented insight into the group’s operations. There is drone footage and codenames of Wagner fighters, at least one of whom the BBC believes it has identified. The tablet is now in a secure location.

A comprehensive list of weapons and military equipment is included in a 10-page document dated 19 January 2020, given to the BBC by a Libyan intelligence source and probably recovered from a Wagner location.

The document indicates who may be funding and backing the operation. It lists materiel needed for the “completion of military objectives” – including four tanks, hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles and a state-of-the-art radar system.

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Logical, when you think about it: easier to read than a phone, more portable than a laptop. Though it also shows that things have moved on. When Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbotabad, part of the haul included a PC. But that was 2011.
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The same post-truth politics of Brexit and Covid now threaten Britain’s climate change response • The i

Ian Dunt:

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Climate change policy has become a key area of opposition for the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Sweden Democrats and Alternative for Germany. 

You can see the same process happening here. In his new slot on GB News this week, Nigel Farage branded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report climate “alarmism” and said he “questioned the obsession with carbon dioxide and its direct link to global warming”. 

This message fits easily into the fake binary opposition established by Brexit, of an out-of-touch metropolitan elite versus the authentic people of the country. The Tory MPs on WhatsApp on Tuesday were busy sharing private polling which showed that 47% of petrol drivers supported the Conservatives, while around 70% of electric car drivers backed Labour.  

It also highlights a psychological tendency on the Conservative backbenches which seeks to deny long-term casual effects and present a simplified fairy story in place of complex real-world dynamics. We saw this during the Brexit debates, when prominent Leavers rubbished the idea that customs borders involved bureaucracy and delays, only to now see them brought disastrously to life in UK exports to Europe and trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.  

We then saw it during the Covid emergency, when many of the same figures railed against lockdowns, only to then watch cases spiral out of control due to the ensuing delay to government action. 

We’re now in danger of the precise same thing happening again. The European Research Group of Tory MPs acted as a vanguard of Brexit missionary zeal during the break from Europe. The Covid Recovery Group did the same against the second lockdown. Now a new group is being formed – presumably entitled something suitably Orwellian like the Environmental Research Group – to challenge the goal of net-zero carbon emissions. 

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Very likely the complaint will be that China’s “doing nothing” or the US is “doing nothing” or Germany is “doing nothing”, so why should we? There are lots of countries that can be accused of “doing nothing”.
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Vodafone latest UK carrier to reintroduce roaming charges in Europe after Brexit • The Verge

James Vincent:

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Vodafone has announced it will reintroduce roaming charges in Europe for UK mobile customers from January next year. It’s the latest UK carrier to reintroduce the fees after the country’s departure from the European Union, and it follows a similar U-turn from EE in June. All major carriers in the country previously said they had no plans to introduce roaming fees in Europe after the Brexit vote.

The fees will apply to any Vodafone customers who sign up to or change their contract from August 11th, 2021, with the fees applying from January 6th, 2022. Costs are dependent on the specific plan, but most customers will pay £2 ($2.77) a day to use their UK allowance of calls, texts, and data in Europe, or £1 a day if access is bought in eight- or 15-day bundles.

Roaming charges were abolished in the European Union on June 15th, 2017, but after the UK voted to leave the EU, it had to renegotiate its trade agreements with the bloc. These did not include free mobile roaming, allowing UK carriers to reintroduce fees if they wished.

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Sunlit uplands. Well, for the mobile carriers, anyway.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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