Start Up No.1626: Apple’s internal culture conflict, China’s three-hour game-kid mandate, study says trolls always trolls, and more


Very soon, Instagram will demand to know when your birthday falls – but don’t expect it to buy you a cake. CC-licensed photo by Dark Dwarf on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Also not a prime number. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How workers at Apple are building a movement • Protocol

Anna Kramer:

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When Apple security engineer Cher Scarlett opened the anonymous worker forum Blind on Friday afternoon, she saw that one of the most popular posts accused her of ruining the company. When we chatted just a few minutes later, I asked her how she was doing and she could only respond with a long sigh.

Scarlett has become the de-facto face of the new #AppleToo movement, a group of workers who have gathered together to ask their peers and former Apple employees to share their stories of issues in the workplace, ranging from harassment and discrimination to bullying and feeling unheard by management. #AppleToo first shared its callout for stories just over a week ago, and the group has already received nearly 500 varying reports from people all across the company. The most common theme from the stories? Workers who feel as if they’ve been ignored by human resources.

“There’s this culture within Apple that is very rewarding of secrecy and loyalty, and when I have read some of these posts about me, it’s very much seeping through, people are feeling that I’m leaking confidential data.” But Scarlett doesn’t see it that way — she works in corporate security and legal, and she said that she would never leak product information (and that her direct team supports her, and condemns the abuse she’s receiving). Talking publicly about issues within the workplace is, to her, an entirely different question.

While #AppleToo is not a union per se, the group’s website says that it wants to use the power of a collective movement to bring attention to the hundreds of Apple workers who have long felt invalidated by the company. Scarlett, who had a well-known online presence in the software world even before she became an Apple worker, is the group organizer who has spoken the most publicly, and who publicly led the effort to create the informal pay equity survey against Apple’s wishes.

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This is indicative of a big cultural shift – but an external one, in society, which has happened among those who have grown up in the past 20 years or so. They’re not prepared to stay quiet about conditions in the way that those who worked there in the 70s, 80s, 90s were. Quite how Apple, the company with its particular, peculiar structure adapts (or doesn’t?) is going to be quite the question for the next few years.
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China limits videogames to three hours a week for young people • WSJ

Keith Zhai:

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China on Monday issued strict new measures aimed at curbing what authorities describe as youth videogame addiction, which they blame for a host of societal ills, including distracting young people from school and family responsibilities.

The new regulation, announced by the National Press and Publication Administration, will ban minors from playing videogames entirely between Monday and Thursday. On the other three days of the week, and on public holidays, they will be only permitted to play between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

The announcement didn’t offer a specific age for minors, but previous regulations targeting younger videogamers have drawn the line at 18 years old.

Enforcement measures weren’t detailed, but in response to previous moves by the government to limit videogame playing by young people, Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the world’s largest videogame company by revenue, has used a combination of technologies, automatically booting off players after a certain period of time and using real-name registration and facial-recognition technology to limit game play for minors.

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South Korea tried something similar a few years back, banning “children” from playing games after midnight, with age verification done by credit card details. Led to a lot of children learning their parents’ credit card numbers; had no effect on time spent playing games. China might be a bit different, of course, in its enforcement.

The US right wing is going to go nuts about this. On the one hand, it’s exactly what they think should be done. On the other, they’ll hate the idea of copying something China does. (The authoritarian nature of it will be neither here nor there to them, of course.)
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Disgraced Theranos founder will blame ‘abusive’ ex-boyfriend in fraud trial • The Guardian

Richard Luscombe:

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The disgraced founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos plans to blame emotional and sexual abuse by her former boyfriend, also a senior executive at the company, at her federal fraud trial beginning next week, according to legal papers published on Saturday.

Elizabeth Holmes, 37, says she is not responsible for decisions she made as head of the company because her mind was impaired by “manipulation” from Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, 56, the chief operating officer of Theranos who faces a separate fraud trial next year.

Holmes and Balwani, who was also the company’s president, have both pleaded not guilty to charges they defrauded investors, doctors and patients.

The filing in US district court in San Jose, California, by Holmes’s lawyers was published on Saturday by NPR. It outlines for the first time her strategy to defend herself against claims she ripped off patients and investors for hundreds of millions of dollars. It says Holmes is likely to take the stand.

The trial, delayed earlier this year by Holmes’s pregnancy, is scheduled to begin on Tuesday and last several months.

Jurors will hear allegations that Holmes raised more than $700m from investors on claims Theranos invented a revolutionary machine that could conduct hundreds of laboratory tests from a single finger-prick of blood, but was actually using other companies’ technology for the tests. The company folded in 2018.

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They’re being tried separately – Holmes, then Balwani. Which gives Holmes, ever the slippery customer, the chance to blame the empty seat. And presumably will do the same for Balwani.
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Why doesn’t the United States have test abundance?! • Marginal REVOLUTION

Alex Tabarrok:

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We have vaccine abundance in the United States but not test abundance. Germany has test abundance. Tests are easily available at the supermarket or the corner store and they are cheap, five tests for 3.75 euro or less than a dollar each. Billiger! In Great Britain you can get a 14 pack for free. The Canadians are also distributing packs of tests to small businesses for free to test their employees.

In the United States, the FDA has approved less than a handful of true at-home tests and, partially as a result, they are expensive at $10 to $20 per test, i.e. more than ten times as expensive as in Germany. Germany has approved over 50 of these tests including tests from American firms not approved in the United States. The rapid tests are excellent for identifying infectiousness and they are an important weapon, alongside vaccines, for controlling viral spread and making gatherings safe but you can’t expect people to use them more than a handful of times at $10 per use.

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The contrast in test availability between the US and UK is pretty dramatic. Then again, the comments on the post show that it probably wouldn’t help much. They don’t believe all this “science” malarkey.
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Online trolls also jerks in real life, says Aarhus University study • Gizmodo

Tom McKay:

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The internet doesn’t turn people into assholes so much as it acts as a massive megaphone for existing ones, according to work by researchers at Aarhus University.

In a study published in the American Political Science Review, the researchers used representative surveys and behavioral studies from the U.S. and Denmark to establish the reason why people broadly perceive the online environment as more hostile than offline interaction. A pre-print version of the article is available.

The team considered the mismatch hypothesis, which in the context of online behavior refers to the theory that there is a conflict between human adaptation for face-to-face interpersonal interaction and the newer, impersonal online environment. That hypothesis more or less amounts to the idea that humans who would be nicer to each other in person might feel more inclined to get nasty when interacting with other pseudonymous internet users. The researchers found little evidence for that.

Instead, their data pointed to online interactions largely mirroring offline behavior, with people predisposed to aggressive, status-seeking behavior just as unpleasant in person as behind a veil of online anonymity, and choosing to be jerks as part of a deliberate strategy rather than as a consequence of the format involved. They also found some evidence that less hostile people simply aren’t as interested in talking about politics on the internet. These results were similar in both the U.S. and Denmark, even though the two countries have very different political cultures with differing levels of polarization. (For example, a hostile far-right mob organized on social media didn’t recently storm the Danish Parliament.)

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Surely by now you’ve bought Social Warming, my latest book, on how social networks drive us all a little bit mad – even if we don’t use them.


ARM China reportedly seizes IP, relaunches as an ‘independent’ company • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska:

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The onetime CEO of ARM China, Allen Wu, has reportedly seized control of ARM’s Chinese business venture, ARM China. Mr. Wu is accused of attempting to launch his own company, Alphatecture, by leveraging his position at ARM China to do so. Companies were reportedly offered discounts on ARM China products if they would invest in Alphatecture. Investors and ARM agreed to oust Wu for this behavior in a board vote, 7-1, but Wu still possessed the seal of the company, which makes him its legal representative as far as Chinese law is concerned.

Wu hired security to keep ARM employees from entering ARM China, fired employees who did not wish him to take over the company, and has sued ARM China to declare his own dismissal as CEO illegal. This means Allen Wu (person) is suing Allen Wu (ARM China). As Devin Patel reports, ARM has responded by refusing to transfer any IP from its new products. The newest CPU core ARM China has access to is the Cortex-A77.

Wu has responded in turn by holding an event declaring that 安谋科技 (this appears to mean ARM Limited) is an enormous success, and that it would soon ship a new “XPU” line of products consisting of AI accelerators and processing units, image signal processors, security processors, and video processors. Most of this equipment is targeting the IoT market.

Patel claims that Softbank’s “short-sighted profit-driven behavior” is at the root of this problem. In 2018, Softbank agreed to cede control of ARM’s Chinese operations to the ARM China joint venture. ARM/Softbank owns 49% of the company while the Chinese own 51 percent. The Chinese government’s goal for the merger, according to Nikkei Asia, was “[T]o secure sources of technology, especially for some sensitive chips that later go into government or other security uses,” an anonymous chip executive stated.

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I used to ask ARM how it would protect its IP from people in China who would want it. I guess now it’s finding out.
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Asking people for their birthdays • Instagram Blog

Pavni Diwanji is VP of Youth Products:

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We’ve been clear that we want to do more to create safer, more private experiences for young people. To do that we need to know how old everybody is on Instagram, so we’ve started asking people to share their birthday with us if they haven’t shared it previously.

This information allows us to create new safety features for young people, and helps ensure we provide the right experiences to the right age group. Recent examples include changes we made in March to prevent adults from sending messages to people under 18 who don’t follow them, and last month we started to default new accounts belonging to people under the age of 16 into a private setting.

…First, we’ll start to ask you for your birthday when you open Instagram. We’ll show you a notification a handful of times and if you haven’t provided us with your birthday by a certain point, you’ll need to share it to continue using Instagram. This information is necessary for new features we’re developing to protect young people.

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Interesting: other services tend to demand your age in order to give you access to adult content (ie check you’re over 18). But this is demanding your age for the benefit of those under 16.
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Scepticism grows in El Salvador over pioneering Bitcoin gamble • The Guardian

Mat Youkee:

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The ratings agency Moody’s downgraded El Salvadoran debt over fears of “weakened governance” evidenced by the new law, and the IMF – with which the government is negotiating a $1bn loan – published a blogpost highlighting the risks of adopting crypto as national currency.

“The shift from euphoria to scepticism has been very fast,” says Castañeda.

The potential benefits identified by the Bank of America are probably overstated. A paper by Johns Hopkins University says the cost of remittances via Bitcoin will be higher than traditional methods, and a July survey found that nearly two-thirds of El Salvadorans would not be open to accepting payment in Bitcoin.

Eric Grill, CEO of Chainbytes, which produces Bitcoin ATMs, told the Guardian that his plan to relocate manufacturing to El Salvador had faced serious challenges in sourcing parts. Local geothermal energy experts say Bukele’s plan to power energy-intensive Bitcoin mining activities from the country’s volcanoes are wildly optimistic.

The government insists that El Salvadorans will be free to exchange their Bitcoin for US dollars, which the country adopted as national currency in 2001, and has proposed a $150m fund to ensure convertibility. Given popular scepticism, however, critics say this is unlikely to be sufficient. It would also open the door for illegal actors to convert Bitcoin – which rose to prominence on Silk Road, an online black market, and prides itself on the anonymity of transactions – to dollars via a national bank and thereby launder their gains.

Perhaps the biggest concern, however, is that it exposes a population with little financial education – for the most part, without an economic safety net – to the fate of the highly volatile cryptocurrency markets.

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Goes legal tender on September 7. Questions: how long will it take to be clear whether it has “worked” or not? And how precisely do we judge whether it has worked?
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People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones • MIT Technology Review

Will Douglas Heaven:

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Like many students, Liri has had several part-time jobs. A 23-year-old in Israel, she does waitressing and bartending gigs in Tel Aviv, where she goes to university.

She also sells cars, works in retail, and conducts job interviews and onboarding sessions for new employees as a corporate HR rep. In Germany.

In 2020, AI-synthetic media started moving away from the darker corners of the internet.
Liri can juggle so many jobs, in multiple countries, because she has hired out her face to Hour One, a startup that uses people’s likenesses to create AI-voiced characters that then appear in marketing and educational videos for organizations around the world. It is part of a wave of companies overhauling the way digital content is produced. And it has big implications for the human workforce.

Liri does her waitressing and bar work in person, but she has little idea what her digital clones are up to. “It is definitely a bit strange to think that my face can appear in videos or ads for different companies,” she says.

Hour One is not the only company taking deepfake tech mainstream, using it to produce mash-ups of real footage and AI-generated video. Some have used professional actors to add life to deepfaked personas. But Hour One doesn’t ask for any particular skills. You just need to be willing to hand over the rights to your face.

Hour One is building up a pool of what it calls “characters.” It says it has around 100 on its books so far, with more being added each week. “We’ve got a queue of people that are dying to become these characters,” says Natalie Monbiot, the company’s head of strategy.

Anyone can apply to become a character. Like a modeling agency, Hour One filters through applicants, selecting those it wants on its books. The company is aiming for a broad sample of characters that reflect the ages, genders, and racial backgrounds of people in the real world, says Monbiot. (Currently, around 80% of its characters are under 50 years old, 70% are female, and 25% are white.)

To create a character, Hour One uses a high-resolution 4K camera to film a person talking and making different facial expressions in front of a green screen. And that’s it for the human part of the performance. Plugging the resulting data into AI software that works in a similar way to deepfake tech, Hour One can generate an endless amount of footage of that person saying whatever it wants, in any language.

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Two GPT-3 AIs talking to each other • Reddit

It’s two AI-generated deepfaked human faces talking to each other. Someone said that “it’s like every room in Clubhouse” (remember Clubhouse? Anyway), which if true makes me very happy that I never joined Clubhouse.
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Climate target too low and progress too slow: top scientist • Phys.org

Marlowe Hood:

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The world must sharply draw down greenhouse gas emissions and suck billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air if today’s youth are to be spared climate cataclysm, a top scientist has warned.

“This reality is being ignored by governments around the world,” said James Hansen, who famously announced to the US Congress 30 years ago that global warming was underway.

“To say that we are ‘moving in the right direction’ just isn’t good enough anymore,” he said in an interview.

Head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies until 2013, Hansen and his 18-year-old granddaughter—who is suing the US government for contributing to the problem—delivered that message this week at UN climate negotiations in Bonn.

Thousands of diplomats at the 12-day, 196-nation talks are haggling over the fine print of a “user’s manual” for a treaty that will go into effect in 2020.

Inked in the French capital in 2015, the Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit).

With the planet out of kilter after only one degree of warming—enough to amplify deadly heatwaves, superstorms and droughts—the treaty also vows to explore the feasibility of holding the line at 1.5ºC.

“That is a good impulse, because if we go to 2ºC, it is guaranteed that we will lose our shorelines and coastal cities,” said Hansen. “The only question is how fast.”

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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