Start Up No.1635: the Apple-Epic decision in detail, correcting slanted Nazi histories on Wikipedia, how DeepMind plotted to break from Google, and more


What if – and bear with us here – a fully-funded Kickstarter could discern whether we live in a Matrix-style simulation? Well, they have the funds. CC-licensed photo by Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas @ University of Texas at Austin on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Emerging from qualifying. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


What does it all mean?: a look at Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ decision in the Epic versus Apple trial • MacStories

John Voorhees:

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even though Epic sought a different remedy that the Court ruled was unavailable under federal law, the Judge went out of her way to punish Apple under state law for what she concluded was anti-competitive behavior. To top it off, Judge Gonzalez Rogers issued a nationwide injunction for a violation of a single state’s law. It’s a ruling that’s as aggressive an application of state law as the ruling on federal antitrust is careful to avoid being overturned on appeal.

The behavior that led the Court to conclude that Apple has violated California state law is what it refers to as anti-steering provisions codified in Section 3.1.1 of the App Review Guidelines, which says:

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If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase. Apps may not use their own mechanisms to unlock content or functionality, such as license keys, augmented reality markers, QR codes, etc. Apps and their metadata may not include buttons, external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms other than in-app purchase.

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This is the same behavior that was at the center of an investigation by the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which was settled when Apple said it would allow developers of ‘reader’ apps to ‘share a single link to their website to help users set up and manage their account.’ Instead of a single link in a narrow category of apps, Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ decision goes further. She concluded that the:

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…evidence shows Apple’s anti-steering restrictions artificially increase Apple’s market power by preventing developers from communicating about lower prices on other platforms.

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Which is going to be very consequential, of course. How soon? And yet Mark Gurman at Bloomberg reckons that it will only affect about 1% of its annual revenues, which are around $360bn. So, $3.6bn! Most (all?) of which is profit. (Epic, which perhaps doesn’t know when it’s well off, is appealing the decision.)
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Apple won a battle to lose the war • 500ish

M.G. Siegler:

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I’m really not sure Apple sees this. They’re failing to read the room and more importantly, the courtroom. They’re going to interpret this court order [from the Epic trial] in the way that best serves Apple, obviously. But others are going to challenge that, obviously. Regardless of who wins, it just continues the bad vibes yielding bad blood within Apple’s own developer community. And it’s going to keep the pressure on them, politically.

I mean, someone inside Apple must see all of this. It’s obvious. But hubris is blinding those in the position to do something about it, clearly. Apple should just take a look around, see which way the wind is blowing, and make some major changes to appease the courts and to please their developers. End this.

They should open things up to win these arguments on the product side of the equation — something which they’re uniquely situated to do thanks to about two dozen aspects of the iPhone. They should compete on the playing field in which they already have home field advantage.

And that’s the craziest part of all of this. They would undoubtedly still win far more often than not. Both because of those inherent iPhone advantages, but also because their product offerings on the in-app and Apple Pay side are very good! Let them stand on their merits! That, in turn would also likely help Apple in a number of ways!
But they don’t see it that way. And the bigger fear is that they don’t see it at all. Instead, we’re about to battle about what the definition of a link is. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll get into the weeds of MFNs. Appeal after appeal. Delay after delay. Buy time for other revenue to fill in the inevitable gaps. Meanwhile, all of this will just continue the appearance that a $2.5 trillion company is nickel-and-diming their developers to death. Not a great look.

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MG is among many longtime Apple observers and analysts who think that its 30% slice and banning of in-app content purchases of “reader” content” will either be taken down by Apple, or by regulation, and that Apple ought to prefer its own way. I do too. It could probably muddle by on 5%. It will disappoint the markets, but will strengthen it in the long term.
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One woman’s mission to rewrite Nazi history on Wikipedia • WIRED

Noam Cohen:

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When Ksenia Coffman started editing Wikipedia, she was like a tourist in Buenos Aires in the 1950s. She came to learn the tango, admire the architecture, sip maté. She didn’t know there was a Nazi problem. But Coffman, who was born in Soviet-era Russia and lives in Silicon Valley, is an intensely observant traveler. As she link-hopped through articles about the Second World War, one of her favorite subjects, she saw what seemed like a concerted effort to look the other way about Germany’s wartime atrocities.

Coffman can’t recall exactly when her concern set in. Maybe it was when she read the article about the SS, the Nazi Party’s paramilitary, which included images that felt to her like glamour shots—action-man officers admiring maps, going on parade, all sorts of “very visually disturbing” stuff. Or maybe it was when she clicked through some of the pages about German tank gunners, flying aces, and medal winners. There were hundreds of them, and the men’s impressive kill counts and youthful derring-do always seemed to exist outside the genocidal Nazi cause. What was going on here? Wikipedia was supposed to be all about consensus. Wasn’t there consensus on, you know, Hitler?

A typical person might have thought, Something is wrong on the internet again. What a bummer. Next tab. But Coffman is the person who finishes the thousand-page Holocaust novel. Whatever she chooses to spend her time on—powerlifting, fragrance collecting, denazification—she approaches the assignment like a straight-A student.

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There’s tons of wonderful detail in this. For journalists, it’s also an example of a fabulous story hiding in plain sight: Cohen probably found it when someone noticed that Nazi entries were being corrected (a better word than the headline’s “rewrite”) on Wikipedia. Then you follow the dots.
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Inside DeepMind’s secret plot to break away from Google • Business Insider

Hugh Langley and Martin Coulter:

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From the start, DeepMind was thinking about potential ethical dilemmas from its deal with Google. Before the 2014 acquisition closed, both companies signed an “Ethics and Safety Review Agreement” that would prevent Google from taking control of DeepMind’s technology, The Economist reported in 2019.

…In 2017, at a company retreat at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort in Scotland, DeepMind’s leadership disclosed to employees its plan to separate from Google, two people who were present said.

At the time, leadership said internally that the company planned to become a “global interest company,” three people familiar with the matter said. The title, not an official legal status, was meant to reflect the worldwide ramifications DeepMind believed its technology would have.

Later, in negotiations with Google, DeepMind pursued a status as a company limited by guarantee, a corporate structure without shareholders that is sometimes used by nonprofits. The agreement was that Alphabet would continue to bankroll the firm and would get an exclusive license to its technology, two people involved in the discussions said. There was a condition: Alphabet could not cross certain ethical redlines, such as using DeepMind technology for military weapons or surveillance.

In 2019, DeepMind registered a new company called DeepMind Labs Limited, as well as a new holding company, filings with the UK’s Companies House showed. This was done in anticipation of a separation from Google, two former employees involved in those registrations said.

Negotiations with Google went through peaks and valleys over the years but gained new momentum in 2020, one person said. A senior team inside DeepMind started to hold meetings with outside lawyers and Google to hash out details of what this theoretical new formation might mean for the two companies’ relationship, including specifics such as whether they would share a codebase, internal performance metrics, and software expenses, two people said.

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Never came to anything, but shows there’s some trouble in AI paradise.
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Do we live in a virtual reality? by Tom Campbell • Kickstarter

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Using the video game analogy, we propose an investigation based on the assumptions: 

1. The system performing the simulation (in either physical reality or virtual reality) is finite (i.e., has limited information processing resources no matter how great those resources may be). All video games have finite resources and currently accepted Quantum Theory supports the finite nature of physical reality;
2. To achieve low computational complexity (due to finite resources) such a system would, as in a video game system, render the content only when (at that moment) the required information becomes available to the player;
3. In a video game, the (game box) processor cannot be part of the virtual reality it is creating. It follows that if physical reality is a simulation, the computations required to create the physical reality cannot be determined by mechanisms that are part of the physical reality created. 

Guided by these assumptions, the proposed experiments describe variations of the universally accepted wave/particle duality experiment—which when successfully performed—will test whether our currently accepted concept of physical reality will respond as if it were a simulation (Virtual Reality). 

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This is a real Kickstarter; “1,127 backers pledged $236,590 to help bring this project to life.” Apparently they’re going to run the double slit experiment a lot? And the games box will struggle to decide if it should be a wave or a particle this time? (If anyone has a better analysis of what’s going on here, please share.)
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Revealed: Google illegally underpaid thousands of workers across dozens of countries • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

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Google executives have been aware since at least May 2019 that the company was failing to comply with local laws in the UK, Europe and Asia that mandate temporary workers be paid equal rates to full-time employees performing similar work, internal Google documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian show.

But rather than immediately correct the errors, the company dragged its feet for more than two years, the documents show, citing concern about the increased cost to departments that rely heavily on temporary workers, potential exposure to legal claims, and fear of negative press attention.

Google executives and attorneys at one point pursued a plan to come into compliance slowly and at the least possible cost to itself, despite acknowledging that such a move was not “the correct outcome from a compliance perspective” and could place the staffing companies it contracts with “in a difficult position, legally and ethically”.

Google admitted the failures and said it would conduct an investigation after being contacted by the Guardian.

“While the team hasn’t increased the comparator rate benchmarks for some years, actual pay rates for temporary staff have increased numerous times in that period,” said Spyro Karetsos, Google’s chief compliance officer, in a statement. “Most temporary staff are paid significantly more than the comparator rates.”

…Globally, Google spends about $800m annually on temporary workers.

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Could cost up to $100m, shared among about 100,000 people.
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“Congratulations Emma Raducanu for winning…” • Twitter

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Congratulations Emma Raducanu for winning the Winter National Tour 10&U event at Cambridge! #Bromleytennisacademy

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February 11 2013. Eight years and seven months later… (Plus what a great advert for Twitter, where link rot is totally down to the owner of the account, and whether they choose to delete their tweets.)
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Where’s our Singapore-on-Thames? Brexit backers feel let down by high-tax PM • The Sunday Times

Oliver Shah:

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Libertarian Conservative donors who backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 general election, hoping he would deliver a low-tax, lightly regulated version of Britain after Brexit, are bitterly disappointed by the Tories’ lurch to the left on fiscal issues. Last week’s confirmation of a new £12bn annual levy on earnings to fund health and social care came on top of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement in March that corporation tax would rise from 19% to 25% by 2023.

Defending the manifesto-breaking increase in national insurance contributions, Johnson said that “a global pandemic wasn’t in our manifesto either”. While most backers are sympathetic to the demands placed on the Treasury by the £400bn cost of battling Covid, Thatcherite traditionalists are adamant that raising taxes is not the way to tackle them. They believe in growing the economy by incentivising entrepreneurs through low taxes. Yet their vision of a freewheeling Singapore-on-Thames, unshackled from Europe, is being replaced by something looking ominously more like Sweden.

“One thinks back with nostalgia to Tony Blair’s days, which were pro-business,” said Robin Birley, founder of the 5 Hertford Street private members’ club favoured by the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Symonds.

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No, I never expected to hear Tories thinking dreamily back to (left-wing Labour) Tony Blair’s days either. It is true that the Johnson tax rise on the working young, if added to their university fees, will see them on marginal tax rates of 50%. It’s certainly “more like Sweden”, but the ominous part is that the older and richer (such as Mr Birley) aren’t also being taxed equitably.
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The Onion understands social measurement better than marketers do • Nineteen Insights

Nate Elliott, in March 2018:

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We knew comedian Judah Friedlander understood corporate social strategy better than most brands. Now we also know The Onion understands social measurement better than most brands.

Their article “Report: We Don’t Make Any Money If You Don’t Click The F*cking Link” contains more truth than most social marketing performance reports. It explains that “liking or commenting on a post contributes jackshit to our bottom line” and that “unless you actually visit the website, there eventually won’t be one, you ungrateful pricks.” Despite these truths, 57% of social marketers say engagement is their top metric.

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I wonder if this has changed at all in the intervening couple of years. Doesn’t feel that way.
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About Automated account labels • Twitter blog

Twitter is running a test on some new labelling for automated accounts:

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Examples of automated accounts you might see on Twitter include bots that help you find vaccine appointments and disaster early warning systems. When these accounts let you know they’re automated, you get a better understanding of their purpose when you’re interacting with them.

When accounts send automated Tweets to share relevant information about content on another account, automated labels help you identify good bots from spammy ones and are all about transparency. 

Right now, a limited number of people are participating in an invitation-only test which allows them to identify their automated accounts with this label. We hope this added context helps you trust the content you see.

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There’s a couple of examples of what this looks like at Terence Eden’s blog.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified


• 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 latest book, and find answers – and more.


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