Start Up No.1669: Facebook goes full Meta, Apple sales crimped by supply chain, YouTube v Roku gets nasty, and more

Wildfires in Siberia are being prompted by global heating, but is Russia really committed to phasing out its carbon emissions? CC-licensed photo by Tatiana Bulyonkova on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Part of the metachorus. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

• How important are algorithms in what we see on social networks?
• Why does angry content seem to dominate what we see?
• Do social networks affect what politicians choose to say?
• What can we do about it?
• Does it matter in countries where social media use is low?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Facebook changes corporate name to Meta • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:


The change was accompanied by a new corporate logo designed like an infinity-shaped symbol that was slightly askew. Facebook and its other apps, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, will remain but under the Meta umbrella.

The move punctuates how Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive, plans to refocus his Silicon Valley company on what he sees as the next digital frontier, which is the unification of disparate digital worlds into something called the metaverse. At the same time, renaming Facebook may help distance the company from the social networking controversies it is facing, including how it is used to spread hate speech and misinformation.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about our identity” with this new chapter, Mr. Zuckerberg said, speaking at a virtual event on Thursday to showcase Facebook’s technological bets on the future. “Over time, I hope we’re seen as a metaverse company.”

With the change, Mr. Zuckerberg telegraphed that his company was going beyond today’s social networking, which Facebook has been built on since it was founded 17 years ago. Having Facebook as the corporate name when the company now owned many apps and was fundamentally about connecting people was no longer tenable, he said.

That was especially the case, Mr. Zuckerberg said, as Facebook has committed to building a composite universe melding online, virtual and augmented worlds that people can seamlessly traverse. He has said that this concept, known as the metaverse, can be the next major social platform and that several tech companies will build it over the next 10-plus years.


Ten years? In 2011, Instagram was just getting going (Facebook bought it the next year), WhatsApp was a couple of years old but already a top 20 (iOS) app, Facebook had 430 million mobile users, the newest iPhone was the 4S, with the newfangled “Siri” assistant. Things can change, though I’m always dubious about people’s willingness for the disintermediation implied by full-scale metaversing. (Meanwhile, Wikipedia is on the case.)
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The Facebook Papers’ missing piece • Platformer

Casey Newton:


The coverage so far — my own included — reflects a naïveté about the role of Workplace posts in Facebook’s internal culture, this former [Facebook] employee told me. Some posts are simply much more credible than others, they said, based on a variety of factors. But because the names (and therefore job titles) of employees are redacted in the documents, it can be very difficult to sort out how much credibility to assign to any particular file.

Of course, Facebook executives have been saying this publicly since the Wall Street Journal began publishing the Facebook Files. But the former employee walked me through what they called “the posting culture” of Facebook in a way I found illuminating. Their point wasn’t that the documents aren’t newsworthy — just that reporters should add more context when reporting on them. In particular, Workplace — a clone of Facebook that the company uses to manage its internal collaboration, and sells as a service to other companies — shapes the organization in ways that are rarely commented upon.

Casey Newton: So what’s your beef with the coverage?

Former Facebook integrity employee: Something missing from the Facebook Papers discourse is placing Workplace posts in the proper organizational context.

These are being described as Facebook Papers and Facebook Files and Leaked Documents, but really the right way to understand them (for the most part) is they are posts and comment threads. And I think that the hyper-collaborative culture driven by Workplace is probably alien to a lot of people, who don’t understand the Poster’s culture that thrives at Facebook.

CN: I would love to hear more about this.

FFIE: Basically: anyone can post anything about anything at any time, and their posts might be good or bad or not terribly well thought out, and they might not have very much context about the thing they’re posting about.

So a lot of what is getting described as “internal debate” is really just posters posting because they are procrastinating from doing their real job. It doesn’t mean it’s not important or not worth looking at, but a lot of the Facebook Papers are given a lot more gravitas than they probably deserve. These are off-the-cuff conversations between people who for the most part are not involved with deliberations or decision-making, but just wanted to weigh in because an announcement post happened to come across their (algorithmically sorted and optimized for engagement) Workplace feed.


Facebook uses Facebook to organise its internal debate. I think there’s a clue to the problem.
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Apple announces record fourth quarter • Six Colors

Jason Snell:


The company generated $83.4bn in revenue. (The previous two fiscal fourth quarters showed very low growth over the previous year, so this year’s 29% increase in revenue year-over-year is especially impressive.)

iPhone sales were $38.9bn, up 47% versus the year-ago quarter. It was a very good year for the iPhone business. Services were $18.3bn, continuing their relentless growth pace at 26% above the year-ago quarter.

Wearables sales were $8.8bn, up 12% versus the year-ago quarter. That’s a good number out of context, but actually the slowest year-over-year growth rate for the category in almost five years. It’s a very seasonal business, though, so to truly judge the state of Apple’s wearables business, we should wait until the holiday quarter.

iPad sales were $8.3bn, up 21% versus the year-ago quarter. The iPad business has averaged almost $8bn in sales per quarter over the last year. We’ve seen six straight quarters of year-over-year growth for the iPad, 10 of 12, and 14 of 18.

Mac sales were $9.2bn, up 2% versus the year-ago quarter. Despite the Mac’s smaller year-over-year growth number, it’s important to keep in mind that last year’s fourth quarter was the best Mac quarter ever at the time, and now this is a new all-time record quarter in terms of Mac revenue.


These quarterly iPhone numbers may be slightly distorted (upwards) because rollout came later last year, as I recall. That would mean there were four really good quarters.

In three months’ time, we’ll see what the effect of the new MacBook Pros has been. Substantial, I’d guess, but nothing like the release of an iPhone. Tim Cook also said the company could have sold even more but for supply chain woes (not his exact words).
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Missing the point: when AI manipulates free speech, censorship is not the solution • OneZero



If you’re going to understand the problem that Frances Haugen is describing, you have to begin with technology. And there is no better technology story to begin with than the one Pro Publica broke four years ago.

In that story, Pro Publica described how Facebook had begun offering a new category of users to Facebook advertisers: “Jew-haters.” Anyone eager to reach “Jew-haters” now had a simple way to do so: Facebook would give you access to the people they had identified as “Jew-haters,” at least if you paid them the right price. Your “Jew-hating” content could then be safely delivered to them, and only to them. Perfect market efficiency, and yes, this actually happened.

When the story broke, Facebook acted astonished and then acted quickly to turn off this (to the racists, at least, very valuable) feature of the Facebook advertising platform. But Facebook didn’t fire the author of that category. It didn’t even dock his pay. Because that category was authored by the one employee (other than Zuckerberg) that Facebook will never fire: its AI. It was Facebook’s genius AI that had decided that advertising to “Jew-haters” was a good idea. It was Facebook’s genius AI that had crafted that category and then had begun to offer it to Facebook’s advertising users.

Now you could, of course, describe the decision by Facebook to terminate the category “Jew-haters” as “censorship.” A category of speech is speech; deciding to ban it is the decision to ban speech. You could say that all this was just more evidence of the Vast Leftwing Conspiracy that is so effectively destroying free speech in America today.

Or you could simply say that this was an example of Facebook censoring no one’s speech — because literally, no one had spoken. A machine, trained on a simple objective — maximize ad revenue — had discovered a technique that helped it do just that. Of course, it had used speech to achieve that objective — “Jew-haters.” But to describe what that machine had done as “to speak” or “speech” is just to confuse that vital and democratically critical ideal with the output of a profit-maximizing device. Machines don’t speak; people do.


A smart piece; irresistible too for its swipe at the reliably idiotic and incoherent Glenn Greenwald.
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Dropbox clarifies that a native Apple Silicon app is coming in 2022 after forum outrage • The Verge

Chaim Gartenberg:


Dropbox will finally be updating its Mac app to natively support Apple Silicon sometime in the first half of 2022, the company confirmed today. A previous forum thread saw Dropbox staffers claim that a native app would require “a bit more support before we share your suggestion with our team.”

The months-old thread was resurfaced in a post by developer Mitchell Hashimoto on Twitter (spotted by MacRumors), sparking complaints from Dropbox users who were disappointed by the impression that the company would only develop the app if enough customers asked for it. While Dropbox technically does work with Apple Silicon hardware thanks to Apple’s Rosetta 2 software translation layer, it’s not as power- or memory-efficient as it could be if it ran natively.

In response to the confusion, Dropbox’s CEO Drew Houston clarified that the service is “certainly supporting Apple Silicon” and that it’s been “working for a while on a native M1 build which we aim to release in H1 2022.” Houston also apologized for the support thread responses, which he called “not ideal.”


Dropbox has gradually grown in unpopularity on the Mac it demands all sorts of access (effectively, root) that people are wary about. Though it doesn’t quite say why, it seems to be because it needs to see every file and file location that has been changed, to determine whether any of those is in the Dropbox folder.

If you don’t like all those demands, you can try Maestral, an open source app that uses the Dropbox API. It seems less intrusive. Just don’t try to make it sync to the folder that is already your Dropbox folder; create a different one. (Of course, you can just use the Dropbox website. Or use something other than Dropbox, but it’s popular.)
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What can we expect from Russia at COP26? • openDemocracy

Natalie Sauer:


Russia could aim to slash its greenhouse gas emissions by 79% from current levels by 2050, according to Kommersant, which has seen the draft of the new net-zero strategy.

Under the strategy’s “intense scenario” of Russian climate change policy, the country’s emissions are set to peak by 2030, rising only by 0.6%. By comparison, Russia’s previous plan would have seen emissions increase through 2050 and not drop to net zero for another 80 years, until 2100. 

But expert opinion is cautious about how far Russia’s green turn really goes.

Bobo Lo, an associate research fellow at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), says that “Fossil fuels are Russia’s great comparative advantage, and it is unthinkable to me that it would voluntarily give this up.” “Saying is one thing, doing is quite another!” he adds.

Lo pointed out that Russia’s 2035 Energy Strategy currently forecasts a 50% increase in gas production to 2035, and the 2035 Coal Production Strategy also envisages a surge in coal production.

“How is any of this compatible with a net-zero commitment? It isn’t, but then again 2060 is a long way away,” Lo says. “By that time, these commitments will have been overtaken by events.”

Russian energy minister Nikolay Shulginov told the Russian Energy Week forum two weeks ago that the 2060 net-zero target meant that the country would have to diversify its energy mix and revise the 2035 Energy Strategy.

But rather than a genuine ecological transition, Lo reads Russia’s new commitment as an attempt to “be seen as an upstanding member of the international community”, noting that it’s important for the Russian leadership not to be “an outlier at a time when there is broad consensus on the threat global warming poses”,


Siberia is warming fast, and wildfires are getting out of control there. The ideal would be to find a way to reward Russia (and other oil/gas companies) for not extracting their fossil fuels. Though that would also need us to not want to burn them.
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Why you should delete your Facebook app • Forbes

Zak Doffman:


A week ago, I warned iPhone users that Facebook still captures location data using the metadata from your photos and your IP address, even if you update your settings “never” to track your location. Facebook admits to this harvesting, refusing to be drawn on why that’s so wrong when users specifically disable location tracking.

Now security researchers have suddenly warned that Facebook goes even further, using the accelerometer on your iPhone to track a constant stream of your movements, which can easily be used to monitor your activities or behaviors at times of day, in particular places, or when interacting with its apps and services. Alarmingly, this data can even match you with people near you—whether you know them or not.

Just like the photo location data, the most serious issue here is that there is absolutely no transparency. You are not warned that this data is being tracked, there is no setting to enable or disable the tracking; in fact, there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn off the feature and stop Facebook (literally) in its tracks.

Researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk warn that “Facebook reads accelerometer data all the time. If you don’t allow Facebook access to your location, the app can still infer your exact location only by grouping you with users matching the same vibration pattern that your phone accelerometer records.”

The researchers say the issue impacts Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, albeit with WhatsApp, it’s possible to disable the feature and the platform assured me that no data ever leaves a user’s device. “In Facebook and Instagram,” Mysk told me, “it is not clear why the app is reading the accelerometer—I couldn’t find a way to disable it.” That means you need to delete the app and access Facebook via your browser instead.


*snarky voice* Isn’t called Facebook any more
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Global regulators back tougher rules to prevent criminals from using crypto • WSJ

Alexander Osipovich:


Cryptocurrency firms could be forced to take greater steps to combat money laundering under new guidelines released on Thursday by the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that coordinates government policy on illicit finance.

The task force called on governments to broaden regulatory oversight of crypto firms and force more of them to take measures such as checking the identities of their customers and reporting suspicious transactions to regulators.

The FATF’s guidelines don’t have the force of law, and would need to be implemented by national regulators in each country. Still, the Paris-based group is influential in setting standards for government policies against money laundering and financing of terrorism, and its guidelines could shape new crypto regulations around the world. More than three dozen countries are FATF members, including the U.S., China and much of Europe.

Representatives of the crypto industry criticized the guidelines, saying they would undermine privacy, stifle innovation or simply not work in the context of blockchain and digital-asset technology.


Lot of “could be” and “don’t have the force of law” in there. It’s also all the countries which aren’t the members of FATF that make the difference if you’re trying to stop criminals.
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YouTube is about to pull its apps from Roku, and the fight is going all the way to Congress • CNBC

Steve Kovach:


YouTube is leaving Roku. And now the fight between the two companies has caught the attention of members of Congress attempting to push their Big Tech antitrust legislation.

After a months-long fight between Roku and YouTube’s parent company Google, Google announced Thursday that it would no longer allow Roku customers to download the YouTube or YouTube TV apps to their devices starting Dec. 9. (Roku customers who already have YouTube or YouTube TV installed will still be able to use those apps normally.) That means anyone who buys a new Roku device after Dec. 9 will not be able to install YouTube apps.

It’s the latest battle between a Big Tech giant and a smaller technology firm trying to compete with each other. And, like many other smaller tech companies, Roku claimed Google is using its dominant market power to force unfavorable terms on a competitor.

In the meantime, an email sent from a Google executive to Roku as the two sides were negotiating their agreement counters Google’s public statement that it didn’t ask Roku for special treatment before allowing YouTube apps on Roku devices.


The reason why Google is antsy about this is that Roku has managed, quietly, to become a serious player in the streaming business – which has put Google’s nose badly out of joint. So Google is using the heft it has in that space, known as YouTube, to get what it wants. Screenrant has a similar writeup.
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Teenage Engineering’s jaw-dropping ‘computer-1’ PC case sells out in minutes • Input Mag

Alejandro Medellin:


If you’ve built a PC case in the last few years, you know that choices are limited. Though plenty of brands, such as Razer, make PC cases, they all look the same: black, rectangular, and with a glass side panel. It’s boring! The computer-1, Teenage Engineering’s first PC chassis, is anything but.

For starters, the case’s flat-pack design means you have to build it yourself. And it stands out — the case is painted in a vibrant orange RAL 2004 powder-coated finish. The other thing: the PC case is small, built for mini ITX motherboards.

TINY PC — The computer-1 is only available in the mini-ITX form factor. If you’re eyeing this case for your PC build, you’ll need a mini-ITX motherboard. To achieve such a small size, the motherboard typically sacrifices extra RAM slots, PCIe connectors, though that depends on the motherboard. The other thing about mini-ITX builds is that they’re incredibly cramped to build in, making it harder for first-time PC builders. If you already have a PC with a larger ATX or micro-ATX motherboard, your only option is to buy a mini-ITX motherboard to fit this case. That being said, the smaller footprint and unique design has beyond excited. Just look at it!


Seems the utilitarian look is back in.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1668: Facebook knew of political ad risk, adtech’s new watchers, phones leaked GPS after opt-out, SpaceX’s leaky toilet, and more

Now for the bad news: some carbon offset projects don’t offset carbon at all, because they go into projects that would be built anyway. CC-licensed photo by Land Rover Our Planet on Flickr.

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

Facebook knew ads, microtargeting could be exploited by politicians. It accepted the risk • The Washington Post

Cristiano Lima:


Facebook has long resisted calls to scrap political advertising on the platform and limit targeted messaging amid fears the tools might be used to sow discord. The company defends those policies as a way to safeguard free expression and online organizing efforts.

But internally, staffers acknowledged the cost of the services is that politicians will likely exploit them to spread misinformation and target vulnerable users, according to documents reviewed by The Technology 202 as part of the Facebook Papers investigation. 

“We will definitely see misinfo from political parties and candidates that we will not fact-check, which will hurt public trust,” read a slide deck from early 2020 assessing product risks, including misinformation in ads. “We also expect custom audiences for political and social issue ads to be used to narrowcast misinfo to vulnerable communities.” 

The documents, disclosed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and provided to Congress in redacted form by Haugen’s legal counsel, were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including The Washington Post. Together they provide an unparalleled look into how the tech giant weighs trade-offs between safety and profit.

…Internal documents show Facebook staffers determined its hands-off approach to political ads and to targeting ads and other political content to users posed significant risks. 

A Feb. 25, 2020, slide deck titled “US 2020 Product Risk Assessment — Update” rated the “residual risk” posed by misinformation in Facebook ads as “high,” even if the company managed to “execute perfectly” the interventions it was weighing to mitigate the threat, such as increasing fact-checking by its third-party partners.


Notable that Zuckerberg looked most uncomfortable in front of Congress in October 2019 when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grilled him about lying in political ads.

This is where the danger of Facebook’s approach is biggest. This is how it undermines democracy.
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Facebook’s next billion-dollar idea? Clothing in the metaverse • Protocol

Hirsh Chitkara:


Facebook has gone through the wringer in recent weeks. Luckily Mark Zuckerberg sees a billion-dollar opportunity at the end of the tunnel: digital clothes in the metaverse.

Zuckerberg said in the Q3 2021 earnings call Monday: “If you’re in the metaverse every day, then you’ll need digital clothes, digital tools, and different experiences. Our goal is to help the metaverse reach a billion people and hundreds of billions of dollars of digital commerce this decade.”

He also referred to the metaverse as the “holy grail of online social experiences” and said it’s something he’s “wanted to build since even before I started Facebook.”

The idea of making billions of dollars from virtual outfits isn’t without precedent. Epic Games, for instance, has generated more than $9bn in annual revenue from Fortnite, a free-to-play game that makes money in part by selling character “skins” to players for virtual tokens. Roblox employs a similar business model and generated $454m in revenue for Q2 2021, up 127% year-over-year.

But both Fortnite and Roblox target younger audiences who have already become accustomed to the idea of paying money (often from their parents) for virtual outfits. Facebook wants to target a much larger segment of the population. Zuckerberg referred to the metaverse in the earnings call as “the next computing platform.” He said it could help Facebook reduce its “dependence on delivering our services through competitors,” which suggests it would be more akin to a mobile operating system than a video game.


Second Life, for the second time. Though with tech, it’s always about timing.
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For more:

• 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?

Buy Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Do carbon offsets offset carbon? • Cesifo Network

Raphael Calel, Jonathan Colmer, Antoince Dechezleprêtre and Matthieu Glachant:


We develop and implement a new method for identifying wasted subsidies, and use it to provide systematic evidence on the misallocation of carbon offsets in the Clean Development Mechanism—the world’s largest carbon offset program.

Using newly constructed data on the locations and characteristics of 1,350 wind farms in India—a context where it was believed, ex ante, that the Clean Development Mechanism could significantly increase development above baseline projections—we estimate that at least 52% of approved carbon offsets were allocated to projects that would very likely have been built anyway.

In addition to wasting scarce resources, we estimate that the sale of these offsets to regulated polluters has substantially increased global carbon dioxide emissions.


*buries head in hands* The paper does introduce the neat idea of BLIMPs – Blatantly Infra-marginal Projects. They’re projects which are no more profitable than others, but get subsidies they don’t actually need. The problem comes when “offsets” are applied to BLIMPs, ie projects that were going to get built anyway.

Without effective offsets, though, a lot of “net zero” plans crumble to nothing. Because offsets are the “net” in “net zero”.
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We’re ready to rip out the beating heart of the disinformation economy • Check My Ads Institute

Nandini Jammi and Claire Atkin:


It’s almost Halloween, so here’s a spooky riddle: What’s scarier than Facebook fueling a global disinformation crisis? Answer: The hundreds of obscure adtech companies hanging out behind the scenes piping billions of dollars to everyone with a computer and a conspiracy theory.

All eyes are on Facebook this week, but let’s put a pin in that as we discuss the other half of the horror story. While Facebook pushes users towards the most inflammatory content on the web, there’s an entire ecosystem of advertising platforms you’ve likely never heard of that converts all that traffic into a virtually unlimited supply of ad dollars.

We call it the disinformation economy, and it looks roughly like this:

A Lumascape of the disinformation economy

Q: But Claire and Nandini, this is a boring and unintelligible map of the adtech landscape. Did you maybe download the wrong image?

Nope. We’re saying that this right here — the advertising supply chain — is the ATM of the disinformation economy. And it’s a world that is just as sinister as Facebook, if not more.

…This industry directly finances the spiraling production of misleading and inflammatory online content across the open web, funnelling anywhere between $250m to $2.6bn to disinformation efforts every year.

In other words, they print money for the bad guys.


Notice how hard it is to be precise about how much money goes to the bad guys: adtech is fiendishly hard to follow. But this matters.
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Location data firm got GPS data from apps even when people opted out • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:


Huq, an established data vendor that obtains granular location information from ordinary apps installed on people’s phones and then sells that data, has been receiving GPS coordinates even when people explicitly opted-out of such collection inside individual Android apps, researchers and Motherboard have found.

The news highlights a stark problem for smartphone users: that they can’t actually be sure if some apps are respecting their explicit preferences around data sharing. The data transfer also presents an issue for the location data companies themselves. Many claim to be collecting data with consent, and by extension, in line with privacy regulations. But Huq was seemingly not aware of the issue when contacted by Motherboard for comment, showing that location data firms harvesting and selling his data may not even know whether they are actually getting this data with consent or not.

…In recent years, both Apple and Google have given users more control over which permissions they give to specific apps. In the case of Huq, the Android-level permissions to allow or block Huq-affiliated apps access to GPS data are working as expected, but settings within the apps include options for opting-out of that location data then being shared with others. These app-level data sharing opt-outs are being ignored, according to the AppCensus’ and Motherboard’s tests.

Huq is based in the UK and claims to collect and process over one billion mobility events every day, and says it sources that data from 161 different countries, according to the company’s website. Like many other firms in the location industry, Huq sells access to or products based upon that harvested location data to a range of different sectors, including local governments, financial investors, retail, and real-estate, its website adds. An article from the Financial Times published earlier this month about UK drivers flocking to petrol stations used data from Huq.

Huq obtains this data by paying app developers to include its software development kit (SDK) in apps, a bundle of code that transfers location data to Huq. Huq sources data from both iOS and Android devices.


Frameworks and SDKs are a terrible source of infiltration. It’s where the web is at its least trustworthy.
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Police arrest 150 suspects after closure of dark web’s largest illegal marketplace • The Verge

James Vincent:


A 10-month investigation following the closure of the dark web’s largest illegal marketplace, DarkMarket, has resulted in the arrest of 150 suspected drug vendors and buyers.

DarkMarket was taken offline earlier this year as part of an international operation. The site boasted some 500,000 users and facilitated around 320,000 transactions, reports the EU’s law enforcement agency, Europol, with clientele buying and selling everything from malware and stolen credit card information, to weapons and drugs. When German authorities arrested the site’s alleged operator in January this year, they also seized valuable evidence of transactions which led to this week’s arrest of key players.

According to the US Department of Justice and Europol, Operation Dark HunTor saw law enforcement make numerous arrests in the United States (65), Germany (47), the United Kingdom (24), Italy (4), the Netherlands (4), France, (3), Switzerland (2), and Bulgaria (1). More than $31.6m in cash and cryptocurrencies were seized during the arrests, as well 45 firearms and roughly 234kg of drugs including cocaine, opioids, amphetamine, MDMA, and fentanyl. According to the DoJ: “A number of investigations are still ongoing.”

As part of the operation, Italian authorities also shut down two other dark web marketplaces — DeepSea and Berlusconi — arresting four alleged administrators and seizing €3.6m ($4.17m) in cryptocurrency.


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Photoshop’s journey to the web •

Thomas Nattestad and Nabeel Al-Shamma:


Adobe previously brought Spark and Lightroom to the web and had been interested in bringing Photoshop to the web for many years. However, they were blocked by the performance limitations of JavaScript, the absence of a good compile target for their code, and the lack of web capabilities. Read on to learn what Chrome built in the browser to solve these problems.

WebAssembly and its C++ toolchain Emscripten have been the key to unlocking Photoshop’s ability to come to the web, as it meant that Adobe would not have to start from scratch, but could leverage their existing Photoshop codebase. WebAssembly is a portable binary instruction set shipping in all browsers that was designed as a compilation target for programming languages. This means that applications such as Photoshop that are written in C++ can be ported directly to the web without requiring a rewrite in JavaScript. To get started porting yourself, check out the full Emscripten documentation, or follow this guided example of how to port a library.

Emscripten is a fully-featured toolchain that not only helps you compile your C++ to Wasm, but provides a translation layer that turns POSIX API calls into web API calls and even converts OpenGL into WebGL. For example, you can port applications that reference the local filesystem and Emscripten will provide an emulated file system to maintain functionality.


It quickly gets complicated, as you see, but the TL;DR is that Google, through Chrome, has worked very hard to make it possible to run Photoshop on Chrome. Only Chrome (and clones) so far, and probably for a while; would Apple have much interest in not having Photoshop as an installable app on the Mac? Google, meanwhile, would love Photoshop to run on Chromebooks.
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SpaceX’s latest engineering challenge: a leaky toilet • The New York Times

Joey Roulette:


[SpaceX’s] Crew Dragon has more interior space than a minivan, but less than a studio apartment, and there is no proper bathroom. Instead, it has a device on its ceiling that astronauts use to relieve themselves — remember, there’s no up or down in microgravity. The device creates suction using an internal fan, crucial to ensuring human waste goes in the right direction in the weightlessness of space. Some officials vaguely said the toilet problem involved the fan, prompting even more questions.

A closely held secret no more.

A tube that funnels urine into a tank broke loose during the Inspiration4 mission and leaked into the fan, which sprayed the urine in an enclosed area beneath Crew Dragon’s floor, Bill Gerstenmaier, a SpaceX official who once oversaw human spaceflight for NASA, told reporters on Monday night. He said the four passengers didn’t notice anything was wrong during the mission.

“We didn’t really even notice it, the crew didn’t even notice it, until we got back,” Mr. Gerstenmaier said. “When we got the vehicle back, we looked under the floor and saw the fact that there was contamination underneath the floor of Inspiration4.”

SpaceX completed a fix for the toilet aboard the capsule being used for Sunday’s launch. The redesign means there are no tubes that could come “unglued” as they did during the Inspiration4 flight, Mr. Gerstenmaier said. NASA is expected to sign off on the new design on Friday.
But the toilet predicaments haven’t stopped there. Another Crew Dragon capsule that docked to the space station in April with four astronauts aboard has the same plumbing system as the Inspiration4 capsule. SpaceX engineers feared the same “contamination” might have occurred on that spacecraft.

The engineers’ suspicions were correct.

NASA astronauts living on the station snaked a borescope device — a cable with a tiny camera at the end — underneath the capsule’s floor and discovered traces of urine in places it shouldn’t be, Mr. Gerstenmaier said.


Grim. But also the sort of thing that will kill you on a longer journey – say, to Mars. Or even the Moon. The followup to hubris can be pretty horrible.
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Possible leak of private keys · Issue #103 · ehn-dcc-development/hcert-spec • GitHub

Emanuel Elaface:


On various groups (Telegram mainly) are circulating several forged Green Pass with valid signature, I attach two here.

— image redacted – available from the security team —

— image redacted – available from the security team —

I verified with my application and found that these two certificates are signed with the keys corresponding to these two public keys…

…There is the possibility that a database of private keys is compromised and this may ends up in a break of the chain of trust in the Green Pass architecture. I am not sure to who this should be reported, so I write this here.


These would be the private keys required to create Covid passports valid Europe-wide. Looks like that’s stuffed then.
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Why it could be a good idea to ditch your running watch • CNN

Lauren Kent:


recent studies show that obsessively tracking fitness metrics can lead to negative mindsets and outcomes.

“There is certainly evidence out there that people are becoming obsessed by it – people who used to have an interest in their sport and got enjoyment out of the sport, but now that’s switching to the data,” said Eoin Whelan, a senior lecturer in business information systems at the National University of Ireland. His research explores the psychology behind engagement with social media and fitness tracking apps.

“People are getting more enjoyment out of gathering the data and analyzing that and sharing it with other people,” Whelan told CNN, adding that there is a big element of social comparison for those who use fitness tracking apps. “People will compare themselves to people who are better than them, who are running faster or running longer. And ultimately we know that makes them feel bad.”

Whelan also noted that people who are very reliant on smartwatches, fitness trackers or fitness apps are more likely to skip their workout if the batteries on their tracking device are dead.

“It’s like we can’t interpret our own body signals. We are becoming very dependent on the technology to actually do that for us,” Whelan said. “Some of the athletes that I coach, you can ask them a simple question like ‘how did you sleep last night?’ and they can’t answer unless they look at the data.”

It’s not all negative, though. Whelan’s research also shows there are many upsides to using fitness trackers. In fact, some runners gain motivation by comparing themselves to others, or they build online communities that help them reach their goals. So ditching the data might not be best for everyone.


We’re compelled to rank ourselves in things that matter to us; this is just another example. And, numbers!
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up No.1667: much more from the Facebook Papers, Iran suffers fuel cyberattack, a real giant iPod, Cobol’s problem, and more

Expect to see a lot of Tesla Model 3s on offer if you’re hiring a car from Hertz in the future – it just ordered 100,000 of them, more than a tenth of its existing fleet. CC-licensed photo by Raymond Wambsgans on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Never cleaner. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Facebook failed the world • The Atlantic

Ellen Cushing:


Reading these documents [the Facebook Papers/Files] is a little like going to the eye doctor and seeing the world suddenly sharpen into focus. In the United States, Facebook has facilitated the spread of misinformation, hate speech, and political polarization. It has algorithmically surfaced false information about conspiracy theories and vaccines, and was instrumental in the ability of an extremist mob to attempt a violent coup at the Capitol. That much is now painfully familiar.

But these documents show that the Facebook we have in the United States is actually the platform at its best. It’s the version made by people who speak our language and understand our customs, who take our civic problems seriously because those problems are theirs too. It’s the version that exists on a free internet, under a relatively stable government, in a wealthy democracy. It’s also the version to which Facebook dedicates the most moderation resources. Elsewhere, the documents show, things are different. In the most vulnerable parts of the world—places with limited internet access, where smaller user numbers mean bad actors have undue influence—the trade-offs and mistakes that Facebook makes can have deadly consequences.

According to the documents, Facebook is aware that its products are being used to facilitate hate speech in the Middle East, violent cartels in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia, extremist anti-Muslim rhetoric in India, and sex trafficking in Dubai. It is also aware that its efforts to combat these things are insufficient. A March 2021 report notes, “We frequently observe highly coordinated, intentional activity … by problematic actors” that is “particularly prevalent—and problematic—in At-Risk Countries and Contexts”; the report later acknowledges, “Current mitigation strategies are not enough.”

In some cases, employees have successfully taken steps to address these problems, but in many others, the company response has been slow and incomplete. As recently as late 2020, an internal Facebook report found that only 6% of Arabic-language hate content on Instagram was detected by Facebook’s systems. Another report that circulated last winter found that, of material posted in Afghanistan that was classified as hate speech within a 30-day range, only 0.23% was taken down automatically by Facebook’s tools. In both instances, employees blamed company leadership for insufficient investment.


Insufficient investment by a company that posted $9bn in profits in its latest quarter. And Cushing’s point, that the version Americans get is the very best version – the most attuned to their customs, their mores, their ethos – is all the more terrifying when you mull it over.

Other versions of this story: Politico; NY Times on India; WSJ on India.

By the way, the Guardian is now included in the Facebook Papers sharing group. Apparently American publications didn’t like the idea of it being involved at the start; the exclusion wasn’t Haugen’s idea.
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Facebook prioritized ‘angry’ emoji reaction posts in news feeds • The Washington Post

Jeremy Merrill and Will Oremus:


Five years ago, Facebook gave its users five new ways to react to a post in their news feed beyond the iconic “like” thumbs-up: “love,” “haha,” “wow,” “sad” and “angry.”

Behind the scenes, Facebook programmed the algorithm that decides what people see in their news feeds to use the reaction emoji as signals to push more emotional and provocative content — including content likely to make them angry. Starting in 2017, Facebook’s ranking algorithm treated emoji reactions as five times more valuable than “likes,” internal documents reveal. The theory was simple: Posts that prompted lots of reaction emoji tended to keep users more engaged, and keeping users engaged was the key to Facebook’s business.

Facebook’s own researchers were quick to suspect a critical flaw. Favoring “controversial” posts — including those that make users angry — could open “the door to more spam/abuse/clickbait inadvertently,” a staffer, whose name was redacted, wrote in one of the internal documents. A colleague responded, “It’s possible.”

The warning proved prescient. The company’s data scientists confirmed in 2019 that posts that sparked angry reaction emoji were disproportionately likely to include misinformation, toxicity and low-quality news.


Not widely known: Facebook introduced the change because of users in Myanmar, who only had the option to “Like”, which they dutifully did (they thought it meant the same as “I’ve read this”) on everything – especially hate speech. (As I document in Social Warming.)

Facebook also couldn’t read what they were writing in posts because the Zawgyi font they used isn’t Unicode and doesn’t translate. So it needed icons – emoji – to see what they were saying. And then things got worse.
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Will the SEC add to Facebook’s woes? • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:


Whistle-blowers have filed at least nine complaints to the agency, which has oversight of public companies like Facebook, using a selection of the internal documents to argue that Facebook misled investors with a rosier picture of the company than they knew to be true. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) can impose big fines for misleading investors and impose restrictions on corporate leaders.

A case from securities regulators is probably far from a slam dunk, several legal experts said. The accusations in the complaints don’t appear to be quite as clear-cut as many other accounting and fraud cases taken up by the agency, they said.

The S.E.C. declined to say whether it had opened an investigation. Even such a move could be problematic for Facebook, leading to depositions of top executives and forcing the company to share private communications and other business documents.

But to win a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading investors, regulators would have to prove that executives had intended to hide or lie about problems. Regulators would also have to prove that the information revealed by Ms. Haugen, or turned up in an investigation, could have changed trading or voting decisions by shareholders if it had been shared.

It would be even more difficult to hold top executives personally responsible. Regulators would have to demonstrate that Mr. Zuckerberg or other executives had explicit knowledge that Facebook was hiding or lying about information that could sway investors.

“The argument that Facebook prioritized profits isn’t convincing, because that’s what companies do,” said Howard Fischer, a former trial lawyer for the S.E.C. “There will very likely be an investigation because it’s so high profile, but it’s hard to see a clear case.”


It’s unlikely unless they get someone on tape saying they’re planning to con investors, basically. The SEC would be cautious of overreach.
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Facebook removed the News Feed algorithm in an experiment. Then it gave up • Big Technology

Alex Kantrowitz:


Everyone seems to hate Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. Critics want to do away with it, and Congress may strip Facebook’s legal protections for the content it amplifies. Yet only now, after years of speculation, do we have an idea of what Facebook would look like without it. 

In February 2018, a Facebook researcher all but shut off the News Feed ranking algorithm for .05% of Facebook users. “What happens if we delete ranked News Feed?” they asked in an internal report summing up the experiment. Their findings: without a News Feed algorithm, engagement on Facebook drops significantly, people hide 50% more posts, content from Facebook Groups rises to the top, and — surprisingly — Facebook makes even more money from users scrolling through the News Feed.

…Turning off the News Feed ranking algorithm, the researcher found, led to a worse experience almost across the board. People spent more time scrolling through the News Feed searching for interesting stuff, and saw more advertisements as they went (hence the revenue spike). They hid 50% more posts, indicating they weren’t thrilled with what they were seeing. They saw more Groups content, because Groups is one of the few places on Facebook that remains vibrant. And they saw double the amount of posts from public pages they don’t follow, often because friends commented on those pages. “We reduce the distribution of these posts massively as they seem to be a constant quality compliant,” the researcher said of the public pages.

The experiment was still in progress at the time of the report, but the researcher indicated that things were going poorly. “Things are trending down,” they said in an internal forum, adding a chart showing declining user sessions. Even though the researcher kept the “integrity pass” in place, or the first layer of the algorithm that sorts for integrity ahead of engagement, they said that “integrity bad metrics still shot through the roof.”


Counterintuitive. But worth knowing.
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Given everything that’s going on with the Facebook papers, maybe now is the time to buy Social Warming, my latest book, about the toxic effects of social networks.

A prototype original iPod • Panic Blog

Cabel Sasser:


there was lots of portable MP3 playing competition (like the titular Nomad in “less space than a Nomad“), but the iPod was one of the first times Apple showed up and did what we now think of as their standard move — they made The Apple Version®. It was personal, well-designed, innovative, meaningful, the sum of which was more than specs and checklists. We (I? The industry?) needed that. I have fond memories of Dave (who now works on Playdate) reverse-engineering the iPod database storage format so that you could use Audion to load songs onto it. I remember how plain fun it was to use — that click wheel, the original fidget toy! It was cool that I could use it as a tiny portable hard drive. The iPod was really good.

To celebrate, I want to show you something you’ve never seen before.

Now, there are a lot of mysteries in the Panic Archives (it’s a closet) but by far one of the most mysterious is what you’re seeing for the first time today: an original early iPod prototype.

We don’t know much about where it came from. But we’ve been waiting 20 years to share it with you.

…Clearly, this revision of the prototype was very close to the internals of the finished iPod. In fact, the date there — September 3rd, 2001 — tells us this one was made barely two months before it was introduced.


It’s absolutely HUGE – about nine times the size of the actual first iPod, and at least twice the depth – and a real horrible banana yellow. Verified as real by Tony Fadell, who came to Apple with the iPod idea.
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Why you should read “Read Max” by Max Read • Substack

The aforementioned Max Read:


A few weeks ago, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, told Recode’s Peter Kafka “We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroyed. And I think social media is similar.” Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, had been the subjects of a series of scathing Wall Street Journal articles, the most striking of which demonstrated that — as the Journal’s headline put it — “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls,” and Mosseri was attempting to explain that while, yes, Instagram might “destroy value” (“value” understood here to be, I guess, the emotional well-being of young women?) ultimately, its cosmic balance-sheet is in the black, presumably because those young women will buy things from advertisers to make themselves feel better.

This was a classically Facebook self-defense, by which I mean it was (1) glib, (2) disingenuous, and (3) utterly unconvincing. For starters, you need a fucking license to drive a car, and Mosseri’s comparison leads pretty easily to the conclusion that, for Facebook’s value proposition to make any sense, anyone who wants to have a Facebook account should be required to take a timed written test, and then a quick spin around a mocked-up licensing version of the site with a government proctor watching over their shoulder, to ensure that they weren’t a danger to themselves or others. 

On the podcast, Kafka pointed out that the auto industry is heavily regulated, and Mosseri said that Facebook would welcome regulation, which, as a well-resourced incumbent, it no doubt would, at least on the provider side. (Poster licenses didn’t come up, as far as I could tell.) But even within their relatively onerous regulatory framework, cars have a staggering death toll: they kill more than a million people a year directly, and countless more through their contributions to carbon emissions and good old-fashioned particulate pollution. This is still not really kind of technology that I think I would seek to compare my product to, though I recognize that for Facebook “cars” represents an upgrade from “cigarettes” or “heroin.”


Now people are starting to get properly angry about this.
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The climate denial is coming from inside Facebook’s house • Gizmodo

Brian Kahn:


In the midst of the hottest October in human history, a question popped up on an internal Facebook message board. “Policy for Misinformation – Climate Change Denial?”

The question sparked a discussion, including with an employee arguing that Facebook allowing climate denial posts to run unchecked on the platform made sense because the science around a specific type of ulcer once shifted.

The post, available here, is part of a tranche of documents released by whistleblower Francis Haugen’s legal team that Gizmodo and other outlets have received access to. (You can see what we’ve turned up so far.) The names of “low-level” Facebook employees are redacted, so it’s unclear who specifically engaged in the debate over climate change denial content. But the chats are illuminating in just how hands-off Facebook has been with climate denial, and how even within a company committed to net zero emissions by 2030, a laissez-faire attitude about perpetuating denial still reigns in some corners.

The internal logs are from 2019, a year before Facebook opened its climate science information center page for business.


As Gizmodo points out, climate change has real effects. But there are still people in Facebook – who posted in response to the question – prepared to say “welllll, scientific consensus has changed in the past, you know.” And then, of course, allow it even though it’s misinformation.
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Iran says cyberattack causes widespread disruption at gas stations • Reuters


A cyberattack disrupted the sale of heavily subsidised gasoline in Iran on Tuesday, state media reported, causing long queues at gas stations across the country weeks before the anniversary of 2019 street protests that followed fuel price hikes.

Iran says it is on high alert for online assaults, which it has blamed in the past on its arch-foes United States and Israel. The United States and other Western powers meanwhile have accused Iran of trying to disrupt and break into their networks.

“The disruption at the refuelling system of gas stations … in the past few hours, was caused by a cyberattack,” state broadcaster IRIB said. “Technical experts are fixing the problem and soon the refuelling process…will return to normal.”

The oil ministry said only sales with smart cards used for cheaper rationed gasoline were disrupted and clients could still buy fuel at higher rates, the ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.

“This attack was probably carried out by a foreign country. It is too early to announce by which country and in which way it was done,” Abolhassan Firouzabadi, secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace, told state TV.


Very unclear though whether this really is foreign hackers, or dissidents inside Iran. It would be a strange thing for a foreign state to do.
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New York Times journalist Ben Hubbard hacked with NSO’s Pegasus after reporting on previous hacking attempts • The Citizen Lab

Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Siena Anstis, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert:


New York Times journalist Ben Hubbard was repeatedly targeted with NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware over a three-year period from June 2018 to June 2021. The targeting took place while he was reporting on Saudi Arabia, and writing a book about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The targeting resulted in Pegasus infections in July 2020 and June 2021. Notably, these infections occurred after Hubbard complained to NSO Group that he was targeted by the Saudi-linked KINGDOM Pegasus operator in June 2018.

While we attribute the 2020 and 2021 infections to NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware with high confidence, we are not conclusively attributing this activity to a specific NSO Group customer at this time. However, we believe that the operator responsible for the 2021 hack is also responsible for the hacking of a Saudi activist in 2021.

Some forensic artifacts that we connect to NSO Group are present on Hubbard’s device as early as April 2018, although we are unable to confirm whether this represents a genuine infection attempt or a feasibility test.

A phone number belonging to Hubbard also reportedly appeared on the Pegasus Project list in July 2019. Unfortunately, forensic evidence is not available for this timeframe.


Unlike the Iran hack, it’s staringly obvious who was behind this one, and why. It’s remarkable how despite having no official diplomatic relations, there’s technology exchange (mostly one-way: from Israel to Saudi Arabia) against a common enemy, Iran.

And, of course, New York Times journalists.
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Hertz orders 100,000 Tesla Model 3 Cars for rental fleet; Tesla stock surges • Bloomberg

Erik Schatzker:


Hertz Global Holdings Inc., barely four months out of bankruptcy, placed an order for 100,000 Teslas in the first step of an ambitious plan to electrify its rental-car fleet. Tesla’s shares soared, pushing the automaker’s value past $1 trillion for the first time.

The cars will be delivered over the next 14 months, and Tesla’s Model 3 sedans will be available to rent at Hertz locations in major U.S. markets and parts of Europe starting in early November, the rental company said in a statement. Customers will have access to Tesla’s network of superchargers, and Hertz is also building its own charging infrastructure.

It’s the single-largest purchase ever for electric vehicles, or EVs, and represents about $4.2bn of revenue for Tesla, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be identified because the information is private. While car-rental companies typically demand big discounts from automakers, the size of the order implies that Hertz is paying close to list prices. 

“How do we democratize access to electric vehicles? That’s a very important part of our strategy,” Mark Fields, who joined Hertz as interim chief executive officer earlier this month, said in an interview. “Tesla is the only manufacturer that can produce EVs at scale.”


18 months ago it was considering selling big chunks of its rental fleet of 730,000 vehicles. Which also shows you how significant this purchase is: that’s a big slice of the whole fleet. That comment about Tesla being the only EV maker at scale is significant too. Everyone else is miles (or kilometres) behind.
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COBOLing together UI benefits: how delays in fiscal stabilizers impact aggregate consumption • SSRN

Michael Navarrete is from the department of Economics at the University of Maryland:


The United States experienced an unprecedented increase in unemployment insurance (UI) claims starting in March 2020, mainly due to layoffs caused by COVID-19. State unemployment insurance systems were inadequately prepared to process these claims. Those states using an antiquated programming language, COBOL, to process UI claims experienced longer delays in benefit disbursement.

Using daily card consumption data from Affinity Solutions, I employ a two-way fixed effects estimator to measure the causal impact of COBOL-induced delays in UI benefits on aggregate consumption.

In this paper, I show that while aggregate consumption (as measured by credit and debit card purchases of consumption goods) fell precipitously in all states at the start of the pandemic and remained below pre-pandemic levels for months, this drop in consumption was significantly larger in states that run their UI benefit systems using COBOL.

I estimate that average consumption in COBOL-states fell 4.4 percentage points more than non-COBOL states between mid-March and mid-September of 2020. Using this estimate, I calculate that the failure to invest in updating UI benefit systems in COBOL states caused U.S. real GDP to fall by an extra $181bn (in 2012 dollars) during this time period.


If that’s the cost to the states of using Cobol, imagine what it’s costing banks.
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Tesco opens first “just walk out” store to take on Amazon • Retail Gazette

Sahar Nazir:


Tesco has opened its first “just walk out” store, giving customers the chance to buy groceries without having to scan items or visit a till.

The supermarket’s GetGo store has opened in Holborn, central London, and follows a small trial of a similar store at Tesco head office in Welwyn Garden City.

Weight sensors in the shelves work with an AI system that can track an individual’s movement around the store and monitor the items they pick up via cameras, which follow each shopper.

The AI system works by building a unique skeleton outline of each person rather than using facial recognition.

Shoppers must download the app to use the store, where they check in by scanning a QR code generated on their phone.

Once inside, shoppers can pick up the items they want without scanning them. The bill is automatically charged to a shopper’s Tesco account when they leave. Cigarettes and alcohol are sold in a separate zone where a member of staff, about a dozen of whom are on duty on any day, is present to check that shoppers meet age restrictions.


So Tesco gets just as much information as Amazon – who, what, when, where (well, only one “where” presently). The idea of the “skeleton outline” isn’t one I’d heard before.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: An error in yesterday’s edition: Frances Haugen was impressed by Jeff – not Ben – Horwitz of the WSJ.

Start Up No.1666: Facebook in the spotlight again, making wood sharper than steel, Google ad antitrust case, GHGs hit record, and more

A new process can make wooden knives that are harder and sharper than steel – and even go in the dishwasher. CC-licensed photo by Michael Randall on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. The number of the kilobeast. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The mailbox and the megaphone • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:


Now that it’s broadly understood that Facebook is a social disease, what’s to be done? In “How to Fix Social Media”, an essay in the new issue of The New Atlantis, I suggest a way forward. It begins by seeing social media companies for what they are.

Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are engaged in two very different communication businesses. They transmit personal messages between individuals, and they broadcast information to the masses. They’re mailbox, and they’re megaphone. The mailbox business is a common carriage business; the megaphone business is business with a public calling. Disentangling the two businesses opens the way for a two-pronged regulatory approach built on well-established historical precedents.


The essay is pretty long (though not paywalled); yet the two paragraphs above give a very clear picture of the problem and the possible solution(s), in Carr’s eyes.
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We were the unpaid janitors of a bloated tech monopoly • Garbage Day

Ex-Buzzfeed writer Ryan Broderick:


In the beginning of my time abroad [from 2015-2019], there was always the feeling that the internet was doing something to the way democracies functioned, but it was unclear how. Mainstream American news outlets were convinced that 4chan had suddenly invented racism, but 4chan’s estimated daily traffic in 2018 was around 20 million pageviews — big, but not huge. And, plus, it’s almost exclusively in English.

So I started documenting 4chan-like sites in other countries, like South Korea’s incel hub Ilbe Storehouse, Spain’s radicalized car forum Forocoches, France’s Gamergate-esque jeuxvidé (, or Brazil’s school shooter fan site Dogolachan. But, again, these sites were small and there was very little proof that they were accomplishing the “meme magic” that they claimed they were.

So, then, for a while, there was the hunch that maybe these sites were working in conjunction with other platforms. I spent months hiding out in far-right Discord servers, watching users in French and German network with English-speaking extremists. My Discord handle was in so many extremist servers that during a platform-wide purge around 2019, my account was banned and I had to email Discord and explain that I wasn’t a neo-Nazi, just a reporter who was hiding out in all those rooms. They brought my account back online, which was nice.

I investigated troll farms, astroturfing campaigns, WhatsApp misinformation, Telegram groups, bad YouTubers, toxic fandoms, and conspiracy theories like PizzaGate and QAnon and antivaxxers. Every single time, regardless of the country, regardless of the conflict, when faced with hard numbers on traffic and user engagement, there was pretty much only one thing large enough online to actually mobilize people: Facebook.

Around 2016, it became increasingly hard to deny that the platform was acting as a vacuum for the darkest, most wildly out of control content on the internet, which it was then spitting back out to billions of users.


Five years later…
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How Frances Haugen became a power player in the Facebook Leaks • The New York Times

Ben Smith:


there was an uncomfortable moment on October 7, when a communications firm working with Ms. Haugen invited [Ben] Horwitz [the WSJ journalist to whom she originally leaked content] and two of his editors to a Zoom call with a group that would grow to include journalists from 17 other US media outlets.

On the call, Ms. Haugen offered to share redacted versions of the trove of Facebook documents under an embargo to be set by the group. The firm, which was founded by the former Barack Obama aide Bill Burton, would help manage the process. After she made her pitch, Mr. Horwitz and his colleagues found themselves in a strange position: The source who had provided them with the stuff of so many exclusive scoops now seemed to be going rogue.

“This is a little awkward,” Jason Dean, an editor at The Journal, said on the call, according to three participants.

The Journal team left before the call was over. Since then, journalists at The Atlantic, The Associated Press, CNN, NBC News, Fox Business and other outlets including The New York Times have been poring over the first tranche of Ms. Haugen’s documents, along with a parallel group in Europe, with a plan to publish their findings on Monday (though stories began trickling out Friday night).

We live in a time of mega-leaks, enabled by the same digital technology that allows us to surveil one another and document our lives as never before. These leaks have given the leakers and their brokers a new kind of power over the news media, raising tricky questions about how their revelations should enter the public sphere. There are questions, in particular, on the balance of power between the sources of vital information and the reporters who benefit from them.


Not only me who found it odd that The Guardian was excluded while tech middleground site The Verge was included. Haugen hasn’t explained how participants were chosen, as far as I can see.
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Here are all the Facebook Papers stories • Protocol

David Pierce and Anna Kramer:


Monday morning’s news drop was a doozy. There was story after story about the goings-on inside Facebook, thanks to thousands of leaked documents from Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who wants the information within those files to spread far and wide. Haugen was also set to speak in front of the British Parliament on Monday, continuing the story that is becoming known as The Facebook Papers.


They linked to them all (as of Monday) so I don’t have to; I could have filled today’s edition three or four times over with Facebook stories. There are a lot.
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Could there be a book any more topical just now than
Social Warming, my book published this year about the (often unintended) effects of social networks on society?

Scientists have found a way to harden wood to make a knife that rivals steel • CBC Radio

Mark Crawley:


[Materials scientist Teng] Li added that the knife can be sharpened when it becomes dull, and even survive the dishwasher.

The process of making hardened wood is really quite simple, said Li. Wood gets much of its strength from cellulose, the substance that makes up the fibres of the wood.

Cellulose itself is a remarkably strong material, whose strength relative to its density is “higher than almost all the metals and alloys in the world,” said Li.

But cellulose comprises only 40% to 50% of wood. So the first step in developing a higher-density wood-based material was to reduce the components that weren’t cellulose. In particular they targeted lignin, which acts like a kind of glue in normal wood, binding fibres together.

“We use chemicals to partially remove lignin. And after the first step the wood becomes soft, flexible and somewhat squishy,” said Li.

“So the second step is that we apply pressure. We also increase the temperature. The purpose of that is to really densify the natural wood and also remove the water, reducing its thickness to around 20% of the original natural wood.”


Can also be used to create wooden nails, which won’t rust. Written up as a scientific paper. What’s not specified is how much extra pressure is needed.
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Scandalous Google antitrust suit accuses company of market manipulation, collusion, and worse • Android Police

Will Sattelberg:


Thanks to some newly-unredacted filings first unsealed on Friday, we’re finally getting a good idea as to how Google runs its advertising business, including claims of collusion, manipulation, shady deals, and more.

There’s a lot to break down in these documents, ranging from claims of market manipulation to the sheer size and scope of just how large Google’s ad exchange truly is (via Patrick McGee). However, the biggest — and likely most impactful — story here is a possible case of collusion.

According to this [court] report, Google and Facebook allegedly joined together in secret on an initiative known as “Jedi Blue.” Starting in 2017, as Facebook looked to shift away from Google’s “waterfall” ad buys to an alternative method known as “header bidding,” Google requested the social network stick to its auction style, where each publisher would get a chance to buy impressions at increasingly reduced prices. In exchange, Facebook was offered specific quotas on how often it would win in those bidding auctions, complete with manipulated minimum spending.

If this all sounds pretty bad so far, you aren’t wrong — and Google knows it. As reported in these filings, the company was terrified of how header bidding would affect its own ad exchange, even as it publicly announced it wasn’t concerned. Employees also knew that, should this information ever get out to the press, it would result in overwhelmingly negative coverage. One employee reportedly proposed a “nuclear option” that would cut its exchange rates to nothing.


Also written up at Ad Exchanger. Mindbendingly complex for the uninitiated 🙋‍♂️.
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Greenhouse gas concentrations hit new record in 2020 • Los Angeles Times

Jamey Keaten:


Greenhouse gas concentrations hit a new record high last year and increased at a faster rate than the annual average for the last decade despite a temporary reduction during pandemic-related lockdowns, the World Meteorological Organization reported Monday.

In its annual report on heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the United Nations weather agency also pointed to signs of a worrisome new development: Parts of the Amazon rainforest have gone from being a carbon “sink” that sucks carbon dioxide from the air to a source of CO2 because of deforestation and reduced humidity in the region, it said.

According to the report, concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide were all above levels in the pre-industrial era before 1750, when human activities “started disrupting Earth’s natural equilibrium.”

…”The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin contains a stark, scientific message for climate change negotiators at COP26,” World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said of his agency’s report. “At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius [2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels.

“We are way off track,” he said.


No surprise that GHG concentrations hit a record: there’s nothing taking them out of the atmosphere, and they last hundreds of years. This is the problem with trying to slow down warming: all we’re doing is adding to it.
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From homes to cars, it’s now time to electrify everything • Yale E360

Saul Griffith:


The supply-side climate challenge is a question of a relatively small number of giant machines, including coal mines, LNG terminals, pipelines, refineries, and natural gas- and coal-fired power plants, all of which are owned by corporations. The demand-side climate challenge involves a very large number of relatively small machines. In the United States, it’s our 280 million cars and trucks, our 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves, ovens, and cooktops.

…To address global warming in time to keep the Earth livable, we need to get to zero emissions as soon as possible. It should be obvious that we can’t “efficiency” our way to zero and that we need to transform our way to no emissions. Starting on the demand side, this leads to a clear conclusion: we must electrify everything. And quickly. And we must supply all those new electric machines on the demand side with cleanly generated electricity on the supply side.

…We still have a slim chance of keeping global warming under 2ºC (3.6ºF), without changing entirely the fabric of everyday living. It may not be everyone’s version of climate success, but it is possible to help avoid extreme warming with a substitution of the machines in our lives. To do so, we need to achieve a close to 100% adoption rate of the right technologies as we replace the fossil-fueled machines we use today.

Fortunately, technologies now exist for the majority of these things. Electric cars currently have sufficient range, and are close enough to cost-parity at the dealership, that we can imagine that transition. The cost per mile drops significantly, too. Air-source heat pumps have such high performance now that they beat traditional furnaces and boilers in many climates. The modern induction cooking experience is better than cooking with gas. It is not yet true in the US that rooftop solar is the cheapest energy source, but it is true in Australia, and the difference has to do with regulations.


The more I hear phrases like “we still have a slim chance” the more I think we don’t have a chance absent an amazing deus ex machina which we would probably like even less than the warming.
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Danger: UXC – these seven perils, including exploding capacitors, can kill your power supplies • EEJournal

Steven Leibson:


John Dyson [is] the Business Development Manager for Advance Product Services (APS), a British company specializing in the repair, refurbishment, and replacement of old power supplies. Dyson regularly posts photos of old power supplies. Dead ones. Now you might think there’s nothing notable about old, dead power supplies, but the photos Dyson posts show badly wrecked power supplies that have died catastrophically because of component failure, neglect, and downright abuse.

The failed power supplies depicted in Dyson’s photos reminded me of the “Danger: UXB” TV series because many of the photos showed exploded and badly burned components, and there was one big, recurring theme in the photos: the failure began with an exploding capacitor. So my fevered brain immediately realized that every power supply in operation today contains multiple UXCs – unexploded capacitors. Many capacitors have little timers inside just counting down the seconds until they explode.

What particularly fascinated me about Dyson’s series of posts is that they depict failed power supplies that have given up the ghost after providing decades of reliable service. They died from old age.

Some of the power supplies in Dyson’s posts died from component failures; others died from spikes and surges that sneak through the power main’s protection circuits; some died from aged and embrittled solder joints; and others failed after dust and dirt buildup overwhelmed cooling systems or as water and pollution have eaten away circuit board traces or created conductive paths between them. There are myriad ways for old power supplies to die, it appears, and APS has spent two decades fixing these old supplies and, better for us, chronicling and photographing the failures.


When your device blows up or melts down (and there are some gory internal – to the machine – pictures), tick it off against these failure modes. Rather as in House it’s always (never) lupus, in power supply failure it’s always (near enough) capacitors.
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Malware found in npm package with millions of weekly downloads – The Record by Recorded Future

Catalin Cimpanu:


A massively popular JavaScript library (npm package) was hacked and modified with malicious code that downloaded and installed a password stealer and cryptocurrency miner on systems where the compromised versions were used.

The incident was detected on Friday, October 22. It affected UAParser.js, a JavaScript library for reading information stored inside user-agent strings. According to its official site, the library is used by companies such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Slack, IBM, HPE, Dell, Oracle, Mozilla, Shopify, Reddit, and many of Silicon Valley’s elites. The library also regularly sees between 6 million and 7 million weekly downloads, according to its npm page.

“I believe someone was hijacking my npm account and published some compromised packages (0.7.29, 0.8.0, 1.0.0) which will probably install malware,” said Faisal Salman, author of the UAParser.js library.

Hours after discovering the hack, Salman pulled the compromised library versions—to prevent users from accidentally infecting themselves—and released clean ones.

Analysis of the malicious code revealed extra scripts that would download and execute binaries from a remote server. Binaries were provided for both Linux and Windows platforms.

“From the command-line arguments, one of them looks like a cryptominer, but that might be just for camouflage,” a GitHub user said on Friday.

But on Windows systems, the scripts would also download and execute an infostealer trojan (possibly a version of the Danabot malware) that contained functionality to export browser cookies, browser passwords, and OS credentials, according to another GitHub user’s findings.


Once again, the way that the modern internet (or at least the Javascript-powered part of it) is lots of Jenga blocks, where any block might be taken out and replaced with a malicious one, goes mostly unnoticed. Good thing that there were people watching this, but even so there are inherent risks.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1665: a new Facebook whistleblower (with whistle), YouTube’s slow train to truth, inside Apple’s chips, and more

A Facebook account set up to follow right-wing news sources quickly spiralled into being shown wilder, lunatic content, internal research found. CC-licensed photo by Mike MacKenzie on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Click with care. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

What Facebook knew – and when – about how it radicalized users • NBC News

Brandy Zadrozny:


In summer 2019, a new Facebook user named Carol Smith signed up for the platform, describing herself as a politically conservative mother from Wilmington, North Carolina. Smith’s account indicated an interest in politics, parenting and Christianity and followed a few of her favorite brands, including Fox News and then-President Donald Trump.

Though Smith had never expressed interest in conspiracy theories, in just two days Facebook was recommending she join groups dedicated to QAnon, a sprawling and baseless conspiracy theory and movement that claimed Trump was secretly saving the world from a cabal of pedophiles and Satanists.

Smith didn’t follow the recommended QAnon groups, but whatever algorithm Facebook was using to determine how she should engage with the platform pushed ahead just the same. Within one week, Smith’s feed was full of groups and pages that had violated Facebook’s own rules, including those against hate speech and disinformation.

Smith wasn’t a real person. A researcher employed by Facebook invented the account, along with those of other fictitious “test users” in 2019 and 2020, as part of an experiment in studying the platform’s role in misinforming and polarizing users through its recommendations systems.

That researcher said Smith’s Facebook experience was “a barrage of extreme, conspiratorial, and graphic content.” 


This is going to be a very Facebook-heavy week. Could have filled this edition just with Facebook links. Here are a couple more (besides the ones excerpted below).

Inside Facebook, Jan. 6 violence fueled anger, regret over missed warning signs • Washington Post

Internal alarm, public shrugs: Facebook’s employees dissect its election role • NY Times

Facebook’s internal chat boards show politics often at centre of decision making • WSJ
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Haugen claims backed by new Facebook whistleblower filing with SEC • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg:


As the company sought to quell the political controversy during a critical period in 2017, Facebook communications official Tucker Bounds allegedly said, according to the affidavit, “It will be a flash in the pan. Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move onto something else. Meanwhile we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine.”

Bounds, now a vice president of communications, said in a statement to The Post, “Being asked about a purported one-on-one conversation four years ago with a faceless person, with no other sourcing than the empty accusation itself, is a first for me.”

Facebook spokeswoman Erin McPike said in a statement, “This is beneath the Washington Post, which during the last five years competed ferociously with the New York Times over the number of corroborating sources its reporters could find for single anecdotes in deeply reported, intricate stories. It sets a dangerous precedent to hang an entire story on a single source making a wide range of claims without any apparent corroboration.”

…The whistleblower told The Post of an occasion in which Facebook’s Public Policy team, led by former Bush administration official Joel Kaplan, defended a “white list” that exempted Trump-aligned Breitbart News, run then by former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon, and other select publishers from Facebook’s ordinary rules against spreading false news reports.

When a person in the video conference questioned this policy, Kaplan, the vice president of global policy, responded by saying, “Do you want to start a fight with Steve Bannon?” according to the whistleblower in The Post interview.

Kaplan, who has been criticized by former Facebook employees in previous stories in The Post and other news organizations for allegedly seeking to protect conservative interests, said in a statement to The Post, “No matter how many times these same stories are repurposed and re-told, the facts remain the same. I have consistently pushed for fair treatment of all publishers, irrespective of ideological viewpoint, and advised that analytical and methodological rigour is especially important when it comes to algorithmic changes.”

He added, “There has never been a whitelist that exempts publishers, including Breitbart, from Facebook’s rules against misinformation.”


The Bounds response is not what you’d call a categoric denial. The Facebook statement has no heft at all – whistleblowers are always going to be single sources. The Kaplan response is categoric, but I don’t trust him.
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For more on how social networks radicalise people (and how much faster it happens than offline), read Social Warming, my latest book – which also has suggestions on how to fix them.

How many users does Facebook have? The company struggles to figure it out • WSJ

Sam Schechner and Jeff Horwitz:


Facebook said in its most recent quarterly securities filings that it estimates 11% of its monthly active users world-wide—which totaled 2.9 billion for its flagship platform in the second quarter—are duplicate accounts, with developing markets accounting for a higher proportion of them than developed ones. On its website for advertisers, Facebook says its estimate for an ad’s audience size depends in part on the number of accounts users have, but it doesn’t quantify the impact.

The internal Facebook research documents on users with multiple accounts—spanning from 2017 through earlier this year—offer a more expansive view into how the company has handled the phenomenon.

Facebook has long called itself a “real identity platform” and bars users from having multiple personal accounts. Unlike Twitter Inc. and other platforms without such rules, the company requires users to have just one master account under a real name. Facebook says the policy helps prevent impersonation and scams.

The memos viewed by the Journal suggest that most instances of multiple accounts stem from users being locked out of their main accounts or making mistakes when signing in, and Facebook says it tries to redirect these users back into their primary accounts. But data cited in the documents show that a quarter to a third of duplicates have been what Facebook calls “persistent SUMA,” where a user continues to operate multiple accounts.

“It’s not a revelation that we study duplicate accounts, and this snapshot of information doesn’t tell the full story,” Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said, adding that duplicate accounts pose a challenge for many large digital platforms, and that advertisers use Facebook because it gives them desired results.


Facebook is hating these stories. It never quite knows where they’re going to come next, and all it can do is say things aren’t that bad. Makes you wonder when there would ever be something that they said: yes, this is indeed bad.
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YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki built a $1 trillion empire by not being Facebook • Business Insider

Hugh Langley and Rob Price:


As if guided by the opposite of Zuckerberg’s famous maxim (“move fast and break things”), Wojcicki’s YouTube tends to move slowly and avoid making waves — at least when it comes to setting the agenda for the rest of the industry.

It wasn’t until more than a month after the polls closed in 2020 that YouTube cracked down on misinformation about the election results. YouTube was also the last of the big social-media companies to ban Trump’s account after the US Capitol riot on January 6.

In September, the company announced a ban on all videos that include misinformation about any vaccines, mimicking a policy Facebook introduced in February. YouTube could have been first: It had consulted with Stanford University and other external bodies over the idea of building an outright vaccine-misinformation policy several years ago, a person familiar with those conversations said, but YouTube demurred. It took a pandemic for the platform to take a stand.

The cautious approach isn’t always unreasonable, given the nature of the issues confronting global platforms like YouTube. Sometimes decisions on high-profile issues don’t fall into neat categories. Spending time to consider the various implications, rather than reacting instantly, is sensible, according to some people inside and outside of YouTube. “A lot of this stuff has never been considered before by society or industry,” said one source.

A YouTube insider described the level of polarized content during the 2020 US elections that the platform needed to deal with as unprecedented. “We were flying blind,” the employee said. “There’s literally no playbook.”


But notice how the platforms, including YouTube, never err on the side of caution about allowing content. They err on the side of caution about *removing* content. Possibly the argument they make to themselves is that this reduces customer complaints. But it also boosts use until they can inch towards a very slow removal.
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Russia strengthens its internet censorship powers • The New York Times

Adam Satariano and Paul Mozur:


Russia’s boldest moves to censor the internet began in the most mundane of ways — with a series of bureaucratic emails and forms.

The messages, sent by Russia’s powerful internet regulator, demanded technical details — like traffic numbers, equipment specifications and connection speeds — from companies that provide internet and telecommunications services across the country. Then the black boxes arrived.

The telecom companies had no choice but to step aside as government-approved technicians installed the equipment alongside their own computer systems and servers. Sometimes caged behind lock and key, the new gear linked back to a command center in Moscow, giving the authorities startling new powers to block, filter and slow down websites that they did not want the Russian public to see.

The process, underway since 2019, represents the start of perhaps the world’s most ambitious digital censorship effort outside China. Under President Vladimir V. Putin, who once called the internet a “C.I.A. project” and views the web as a threat to his power, the Russian government is attempting to bring the country’s once open and freewheeling internet to heel.


Used against Twitter and, separately, against Putin opponent Alexei Navalny.
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A look inside Apple’s silicon playbook • Ars Technica

Steven Levy:


[senior hardware technology VP Johny] Srouji explained how his journey at Apple has been one of conscious iteration, building on a strong foundation. A key element of the company’s strategy has been to integrate the functions that used to be distributed among many chips into a single entity—known as SOC, or system-on-a-chip.

“I always fundamentally felt and believed that if you have the right architecture, then you have a chance to build the best chip,” he says. “So we started with the architecture that we believe would scale. And by scaling, we mean scaling to performance and features and the power envelope, whether it’s a watch or iPad or iMac. And then we started selectively figuring the technologies within the chip—we wanted to start owning them one by one. We started with the CPU first. And then we went into the graphics. Then we went into signal processing, display engine, etcetera. Year over year, we built our engineering muscle and wisdom and ability to deliver. And a few years later, when you do all this and you do it right, you find yourself with really good architecture and IP you own and a team behind you that is now capable of repeating that recipe.”

[Senior hardware engineering VP John] Ternus elaborates: “Traditionally, you’ve got one team at one company designing a chip, and they have their own set of priorities and optimizations. And then the product team and another company has to take that chip and make it work in their design. With these MacBook Pros, we started all the way at the beginning—the chip was being designed right when the system was being thought through. For instance, power delivery is important and challenging with these high-performance parts. By working together [early on], the team was able to come up with a solution. And the system team was actually able to influence the shape, aspect ratio, and orientation of the SOC so that it can best nest into the rest of the system components.” (Maybe this helped convince Apple to restore the missing ports that so many had longed for in the previous MacBook.)

Clearly these executives believe the new Macs represent a milestone in Apple’s strategy.


Described like that, you could almost believe that the reason Apple took so long to remedy all the flaws in the MacBook Pros is that it was too busy working on how the new SOC-based systems should integrate everything.
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British entrepreneur sells company to Twitter • BBC News


British entrepreneur Nick D’Aloisio, who sold the mobile app Summly to Yahoo for $30m (£21.73m) at the age of 17, has sold his latest company to Twitter.

The Sphere group chat app was founded by Mr D’Aloisio and Tomas Halgas. It connects strangers interested in common topics, has been sold for an undisclosed amount and will close in November. Its 20 or so staff will join Twitter to integrate their community features into the social network.

The company started as a question and answer app that allowed users to instantly chat to paid experts. At the end of 2018, almost 500,000 people were using that version of the platform.

However, Mr D’Aloisio said he found himself drawn to the community aspect of the app which brought strangers interested in the same topics together. “What was interesting was that people were talking so often throughout the day, and it wasn’t just talking to their friend on Facebook, but someone they had not met before about something they were interested in,” he told the BBC.

…”[Twitter] are as excited as us to try and figure out this problem around online communities,” said Mr D’Aloisio. “It’s not only a hugely interesting problem, but also a necessity. All groups have the potential to become genuine communities. But most groups suffer from problems in online communication that prevent community-building – things like awkward silences, conversations going off-topic, and vitriol.

“However, we learned over the past two years that a group can transform into a community if its members feel their participation is welcomed.”


I think I briefly met D’Aloisio when he sold Summly; at the time there were lots of doubts about how involved he had really been in its creation. Evidently he’s good at having the right idea just ahead of the right time.
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Finally, Facebook can say it’s not the most toxic social network • The Guardian

Marina Hyde has Facebook’s PR approach down to a T:


is there a more exciting player in the prebuttal space than Facebook, whose attempts to get out in front of the fortnightly exposés of its behaviour are fast becoming a totally non-ominous part of the early 21st-century powerscape? Of course, many of us have long accepted that when the firm finally causes the apocalypse, the event will be succeeded by a video of Facebook VP Nick Clegg going: “We will do better.” I am now beginning to think the event may even be preceded by a Clegg video announcing: “We will learn from this. Find out from WHAT when the darkness falls next week.”

For now, Facebook is only convincingly troubled by “disinformation” if it’s about itself. We don’t know what will emerge next week, but we can be almost sure how the firm will react to it. The usual MO of Facebook’s chiefs has been to deny they even did the thing they’re being accused of, until the position becomes untenable. At that point, they concede they did whatever it was on a very limited scale, until that position becomes untenable. Next up is accepting the scale was more widespread than initially indicated, but with the caveat that the practice has now come to an end, until that position is the latest to become untenable.

Clear evidence that the practice never came to an end and, in fact, only became more widespread will come with aggressive reminders that it is not and never has been technically illegal. If and when whatever-it-is has been proved to be technically illegal after all, Facebook will accept the drop-in-their-ocean fine, with blanket immunity for all senior officers, and move back to step one in the cycle. We get rinsed; they repeat.


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US conducts ‘successful’ test of hypersonic missile technology • AFP via Yahoo News


The United States successfully tested hypersonic missile technology, a new weapons system which is already being deployed by China and Russia, the US Navy said Thursday.

The test, conducted Wednesday at a NASA facility in Wallops, Virginia, is a “vital step in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile,” the navy said in a statement.

“This test demonstrated advanced hypersonic technologies, capabilities, and prototype systems in a realistic operating environment,” it said.

Hypersonic missiles, like traditional ballistic missiles, can fly more than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5).

But they are more maneuverable than their ballistic counterparts and can trace a low trajectory in the atmosphere, making them harder to defend against.


Surprising how quickly this announcement followed the revelation, last week, that China had done the same. A new flavour of Mutually Assured Destruction: never to be used, always to be held as a threat.
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Exclusive: governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline • Reuters

Joseph Menn and Christopher Bing:


According to three people familiar with the matter, law enforcement and intelligence cyber specialists were able to hack REvil’s computer network infrastructure, obtaining control of at least some of their servers.

After websites that the hacker group used to conduct business went offline in July, the main spokesman for the group, who calls himself “Unknown,” vanished from the internet.

When gang member 0_neday and others restored those websites from a backup last month, he unknowingly restarted some internal systems that were already controlled by law enforcement.

“The REvil ransomware gang restored the infrastructure from the backups under the assumption that they had not been compromised,” said Oleg Skulkin, deputy head of the forensics lab at the Russian-led security company Group-IB. “Ironically, the gang’s own favorite tactic of compromising the backups was turned against them.”

Reliable backups are one of the most important defences against ransomware attacks, but they must be kept unconnected from the main networks or they too can be encrypted by extortionists such as REvil.


Fabulous hoisting with own petard for a ransomware group to get caught through compromised servers and backups.
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Conti Statement 10.22.2021 •

A statement from one of the eastern European ransomware gangs about the US attacking the REvil ransomware gang:


As a team, we always look at the work of our colleagues in the art of pen-testing, corporate data security, information systems, and network security. We rejoice at their successes and support them in their hardships.

Therefore, we would like to comment on yesterday’s important announcement by the US law enforcement about the attack on the REvil group.

We want to remark the following:

First, an attack against some servers, which the US security attributes to REvil, is another reminder of what we all know: the unilateral, extraterritorial, and bandit-mugging behavior of the United States in world affairs.

However, the fact that it became a norm does not presume that it should be treated like one. Unlike our dearest journalist friends from the Twitter brothel, who will sell their own mother for a bone from bankers or politicians, we have the guts to name things as they are. We have a conscience, as well as anonymity, while our skills allow us to say something that many “allied” governments are afraid of saying:

With all the endless talks in your media about “ransomware-is-bad,” we would like to point out the biggest ransomware group of all time: your Federal Government. There is no glory in this REvil attack. First, because REvil has been dead in any case, but secondly, because the United States government acted as a simple street mugger while kicking a dead body.

Let’s break it down point by point. There was an extraterritorial attack against some infrastructure in some countries.


Simply the funniest thing you’ll read all week. (It’s hard even to be sure if they know it’s ironic.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Ian C points out that, the site shown last week which lets you (fairly) seamlessly edit pictures online, limits the size of the retouched pictures that you download to about 150KB – OK for a phone, but not to print. (The site’s owner is probably trying to limit bandwidth costs.) Looks like you’ll need that pricey image editor after all.

Start Up No.1664: Twitter says its algorithm has a rightwing bias, Google cuts Play Store fees, “waning” immunity isn’t, and more

The popularity of *that* programme has led ISPs in various to demand money from Netflix. What, for encouraging people to use their products? CC-licensed photo by Huw Gwilliam on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

• 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?

Preorder Social Warming, my forthcoming book, and find answers – and more.

Twitter algorithms bias toward right-wing content – Protocol

Anna Kramer:


Twitter is publicly sharing research findings today that show that the platform’s algorithms amplify tweets from right-wing politicians and content from right-leaning news outlets more than people and content from the political left.

The research did not identify whether or not the algorithms that run Twitter’s Home feed are actually biased toward conservative political content, because the conclusions only show bias in amplification, not what caused it. Rumman Chowdhury, the head of Twitter’s machine learning, ethics, transparency and accountability team, called it “the what, not the why” in an interview with Protocol.

“We can see that it is happening. We are not entirely sure why it is happening. To be clear, some of it could be user-driven, people’s actions on the platform, we are not sure what it is. It’s just important that we share this information,” Chowdhury said. The META team plans to conduct what she called a “root-cause analysis” to try to discover the “why,” and that analysis will likely include creating testable hypotheses about how people use the platform that could help show whether it’s the way users interact with Twitter or the algorithm itself that is causing this uneven amplification.

Twitter didn’t define for itself what news outlets and politicians are “right-leaning” or belong to right-wing political parties, instead using definitions from other researchers outside the company. The study looked at millions of tweets from politicians across seven countries and hundreds of millions of tweets of links from news outlets, not tweets from the outlets themselves.


At a guess, right-wing outrage content triggers people’s selfish responses more than the left-wing kind, which (sweeping generalisation) tends to be about failure to share. Good to see Twitter acknowledging this, though.
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Google lowers Play Store fees for subscriptions and music streaming apps • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


As regulatory pressure on the Play Store for Android increases, Google is once again making changes to its business structure. It has announced that more categories of apps will be eligible to pay significantly less than the usual 30% fee. The company is announcing that all subscription-based apps will now pay a fee of 15%. It’s also says that “ebooks and on-demand music streaming services” will be “eligible” for a fee “as low as 10%.”

Google’s stated reason for the cheaper prices on ebooks and music streaming apps is that “content costs account for the majority of sales” and that the rates “recognize industry economics of media content verticals.” It’s unstated but also surely true that regulatory pressure and public pressure from companies like Spotify have factored in to Google’s decision. Currently, signing up for a Spotify subscription on Android redirects you to Spotify’s website to enter your payment information.

The lower fee structure for music streaming is still at Google’s discretion, both for which apps are eligible and how low that fee will be. When asked how exactly developers can know if they qualify for the reduced fees, a Google spokesperson said, “Developers can review program guidelines and express interest now and we’ll follow up with more information if they are eligible.”

As for subscriptions, Google’s previous structure was similar to Apple’s: 30% the first year, 15% thereafter. The new change simplifies that by offering 15% right off the bat and is likely a strong incentive for developers to switch over from one-time payments to subscriptions.


Ball very much in Apple’s court now. How long before Google lowers it again to 5% – five years, perhaps?
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Worldcoin launches a global cryptocurrency that will be given to every person on earth • VentureBeat

Dean Takahashi:


Worldcoin is unveiling a new global cryptocurrency that will be given to every human on earth. It has raised $25m at a $1bn valuation. [ie it sold 2.5% of its shares for $25m.]

Coming out of stealth today, the company is unveiling hardware device, dubbed an Orb, for the first time, along with testing data that suggests it could onboard its first billion people into crypto within the next two years.

Cofounded by Alex Blania, Sam Altman and Max Novendstern, Worldcoin plans to create a new global digital currency that is fairly distributed and used by as many people as possible. Its investors include Andreesen Horowitz, the big Silicon Valley investment company that has made a  lot of cryptocurrency bets. Altman is president of Y Combinator and CEO of OpenAI.

To rapidly get its new currency into the hands of as many people as possible, the project lets everyone claim a free share of it. While a globally adopted cryptocurrency would open social and economic doors for billions of people, cryptocurrency as a technology is still in the early stages of adoption, so far only reaching about 3% of the world’s overall population. Worldcoin hopes to change this, rapidly, the company said.


This sounds like the setup for a fairly terrible film, or the McGuffin for one. I can see Tom Cruise or Matt Damon or Angelina Jolie being in a last-minute dash for the Orb, which has been stolen by… (Note: requires iris scanning. To create a hash. In a database. For everyone on earth. OK. Perhaps a Bond movie?)

Anyway, we’ll see quite how that “every person on earth” one goes. Tie it to carbon emissions and you might have something. No word meanwhile on how El Salvador is doing with its bitcoin experiment.
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The good part about “waning” immunity • The Atlantic

Katherine J. Wu:


Antibodies are supposed to peter out; that’s why they always do. Still, even as our antibodies are dwindling in absolute quantity, these scrappy molecules are enhancing their quality, continuing to replace themselves with new versions that keep improving their ability to bring the virus to heel. Months after vaccination, the average antibody found in the blood simply has higher defensive oomph. “That’s why I hate the word waning,” Jennifer Gommerman, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, told me. “Antibody levels are declining, but something good is happening too: The immune response is evolving.”

The focus on antibody counts alone actually does a disservice to our understanding of immunity, experts told me. Like a block of wood being hewn into a sharper blade, vaccinated immune systems can hone their skills over time. Part of waning certainly does mean fewer. But it can also mean better.

A couple weeks after vaccination, a group of immune defenders called B cells starts to pump out antibodies en masse. But many of these early antibodies are, as Bhattacharya told me, “really crappy” at their jobs. Their raison d’être is to be clingy—the Y-shaped molecules hook their tips onto a specific hunk of SARS-CoV-2’s anatomy, and hang on for dear life. The better they are at glomming on, the better chance they have of waylaying the threat. Sometimes it’s a solo act: Antibodies alone can grab on so firmly that they block the virus from hacking into a cell, a process called neutralization. Or they’ll use the stems of their Ys to flag down other members of the immune system in a destructive assist.


Worth reading to understand what’s going on, since “waning immunity” is on so any people’s lips. Although: apparently a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine gives you 96% better protection than the first two doses do. And the two doses give 95% better protection than nothing. (Thanks G for the link.)
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ISPs want more money because so many people are streaming Squid Game • Vice

Karl Bode:


ISPs around the world claim the unprecedented bandwidth demands Netflix’s Squid Game is placing on their broadband networks means they should be getting more money. But experts say that’s not how telecom networks work, suggesting that already cash-flush telecom giants are just positioning themselves for an underserved hand out.

The popular South Korean thriller, a not so thinly-veiled critique of late-stage capitalism, tracks a group of indebted people who compete in deadly children’s games for cash. According to Netflix, Squid Game is the most popular show in company history, the number one program in 94 countries, and has been watched by 142 million households. [Depending on “watched”; see yesterday’s edition – CA]

ISPs around the world also claim the show’s popularity is driving a massive surge in bandwidth consumption, and they want their cut. 

In South Korea, Internet service provider SK Broadband sued Netflix earlier this month, claiming that between May and September the ISP’s network traffic jumped 24 times to 1.2 trillion bits of data processed every second. This surge is Netflix’s fault, the ISP insists, and Netflix should be held financially responsible.

In the UK, British Telecom executives have been making similar complaints, insisting that Netflix should be forced to help pay for the surge in network traffic caused by the show.

But broadband experts say that’s not how broadband networks actually work. “It makes no sense for ISPs to cry victim because they provide a popular service, and are expected to provide it,” John Bergmayer, telecom expert at consumer group Public Knowledge told Motherboard.


How dare Netflix encourage people to use ISPs’ services!
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China conducted two hypersonic weapons tests this summer • Financial Times

Demetri Sevastopulo:


On July 27 the Chinese military launched a rocket that used a “fractional orbital bombardment” system to propel a nuclear-capable “hypersonic glide vehicle” around the earth for the first time, according to four people familiar with US intelligence assessments.

The Financial Times this week reported that the first test was in August, rather than at the end of July. China subsequently conducted a second hypersonic test on August 13, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Three people familiar with the first test in July said it stunned the Pentagon and US intelligence because China managed to demonstrate a brand new weapons capability, although they declined to elaborate on the details.

One person said government scientists were struggling to understand the capability, which the US does not currently possess, adding that China’s achievement appeared “to defy the laws of physics”. 

Space and missile experts have been debating the Chinese test since the FT revealed the event at the weekend. Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said China appeared to have developed a new innovation, but stressed the need to maintain a degree of scepticism. “We should be open to the reality that China is also capable of technological innovation,” he said.


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Could search engines be fostering some Dunning-Kruger? • Ars Technica

John Timmer:


Many of us make jokes about how we’ve outsourced part of our brain to electronic devices. But based on a new paper by the University of Texas at Austin’s Adrian Ward, this is just a variation on something that has been happening throughout human history. No person could ever learn everything they need to know. But that’s OK, according to Ward: “No one person needs to know everything—they simply need to know who knows it.”

Over time, we’ve developed alternatives to finding the person who has the information we need, relying on things like books and other publications. The Internet simply provides electronic equivalents, right?

Not entirely, according to Ward’s latest results. Based on data he generated, it seems that search engines now return information so quickly and seamlessly that we tend to think we remembered information that we actually looked up. And that may be giving us unjustified confidence in our ability to pull facts out of our brain.

Ward’s hypothesis is based on the idea that we probably categorize the recall process based on how easy it is. Wading through all the extraneous information in a book to find the single nugget we require can be arduous, even when the book is right at hand. While it can sometimes be difficult to latch onto a fact in our memory, it’s generally much more convenient. For the easy-to-recall items—like the lyrics to annoying pop songs from our high school years—it’s often instantaneous.

Of the two, Ward argues, Internet searches are more like remembering something, in that they’re generally quick, don’t have a lot of extraneous information, and are displayed via interfaces that are easy to process. “Thinking with Google,” he writes, “which delivers information as unobtrusively as possible, may simply feel more like thinking alone.”


Needs a graph in the rise of Dunning-Kruger effect alongside number of Google searches carried out.
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Apple’s product design has improved since Jony Ive left • Bloomberg

Alex Webb:


Take the iPhone. The latest iterations have ditched the curved edges that made the display liable to crack if dropped on its side. Or the Apple TV remote, whose symmetry made it visually appealing, but meant that users often inadvertently pressed the wrong buttons by holding it upside down. The design was revamped in May.

“Since Jony Ive left, there’s not that gravitational force driving aesthetic before function,” Paul Found, a lecturer in industrial design at the University for the Creative Arts in Canterbury, England. “Those who have taken over are now listening to what customers are saying.”

Apple has long maintained an obstinacy when it comes to design, as my colleague Mark Gurman wrote in August. That can be an attribute: the academic Roberto Verganti praised the approach in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article with the headline “Apple’s Secret? It Tells Us What We Should Love.” Indeed, should Apple become too beholden to consumer wishes, it might lose what has helped make it a success: the iconoclasm captured in the “Think Different” advertising slogan. And Apple devices’ appeal, and ability to charge premium prices, lies partly in their design.

But there is merit in sometimes listening to your customers, particularly when the pendulum has swung too far away from function and towards form. After all, you’re liable to lose professional customers – architects, musicians, film-makers – if they can’t plug their laptops into external monitors. And professional users can afford to pay for the top-of-the-range devices that are more profitable to Apple.

Dieter Rams, a significant influence on Ive, compiled 10 principles for “Good Design.” Number three was “good design is aesthetic”. Apple seems to have remembered numbers two and four: “good design makes a product useful” and “good design makes a product understandable”.


I mean, it’s hard to disagree. The New Yorker profile of Ive in February 2015 seems, in retrospect, to have marked the ebbing of his tide of influence – even interest? – in the company. Takes a long time to correct course, because hardware is slow to design and change.
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Strong evidence for the continued contribution of lead deposited during the 20th century to the atmospheric environment in London of today • PNAS

Resongles, Dietze, Green et al, led from Imperial College London:


Although leaded gasoline was banned at the end of the last century, lead (Pb) remains significantly enriched in airborne particles in large cities. The remobilization of historical Pb deposited in soils from atmospheric removal has been suggested as an important source providing evidence for the hypothetical long-term persistency of lead, and possibly other pollutants, in the urban environment.

Here, we present data on Pb isotopic composition in airborne particles collected in London (2014 to 2018), which provide strong support that lead deposited via gasoline combustion still contributes significantly to the lead burden in present-day London.

Lead concentration and isotopic signature of airborne particles collected at a heavily trafficked site did not vary significantly over the last decade, suggesting that sources remained unchanged. Lead isotopic composition of airborne particles matches that of road dust and topsoils and can only be explained with a significant contribution (estimate of 32 ± 10 to 43 ± 9% based on a binary mixing model) of Pb from leaded gasoline.


Possibly ineradicable. Not widely known: the same man invented CFCs (ozone hole creators) as created leaded petrol (engine backfire preventers). Now, if you give you a time machine and tell you to go back in history and kill one person…
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Some photobomber ruined your selfie? There’s a ketchup stain on your shirt? You want to replace some text or graphic? is a free web application that lets you cleanup your photos with a quick & simple interface.

It uses LaMa, an open-source model from Samsung’s AI Lab to automatically and accurately redraw the areas that you delete. has been built by the engineering team at ClipDrop and it’s open-source under the Apache License 2.0.


Neat; it’s not Photoshop, but doesn’t come encumbered with a giant costly licence either. Another one for the bookmarks. (Sure that someone can turn it into a little app?)
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Supply challenges dampen growth in the PC market • IDC


Global shipments of Traditional PCs, inclusive of desktops, notebooks, and workstations, reached 86.7 million units during the third quarter of 2021 (3Q21), up 3.9% from the prior year according to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. This marks the sixth consecutive quarter of growth for the PC market as the onset of the pandemic has led to a surge in demand while also contributing to component shortages and other supply challenges.

“The PC industry continues to be hampered by supply and logistical challenges and unfortunately these issues have not seen much improvement in recent months,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile and Consumer Device Trackers. “Given the current circumstances, we are seeing some vendors reprioritize shipments amongst various markets, allowing emerging markets to maintain growth momentum while some mature markets begin to slow.”

“Bottlenecked supply chains and ongoing logistic challenges led the U.S. PC market into its first quarter of annual shipment decline since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Neha Mahajan, senior research analyst, Devices and Displays at IDC. “After a year of accelerated buying driven by the shift to remote work and learning, there’s also been a comparative slowdown in PC spending and that has caused some softening of the U.S. PC market today. Yet, supply clearly remains behind demand in key segments with inventory still below normal levels.”


I’d overlooked this – it’s more than a week old. Gartner puts the growth at 1%, to 84.1m, and has now started including Chromebooks in its figures (it didn’t before, while IDC ..did?, which was sometimes helpful to figure out Chromebook sales). Just as, it says, shipments of them have declined due to lower demand in education. Counterpoint Research also reckons there have been six quarters of growth, and puts the shipments at 84.2m.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1663: what’s really watched on Netflix, peak oil coming in 2025, Facebook’s coming name change, and more

The ingredients for blue paint – and for the cans to hold it – are the latest supply chain victims. CC-licensed photo by Nineta on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Using precious blue. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

From Friends to Squid Game – why Netflix viewing figures matter • The Guardian

Jim Waterson, the Guardian’s media editor, wrote this week’s edition of its Techscape newsletter, so of course he wrote about something that intersects media and technology:


if you believe Netflix, who occasionally drip-feed out positive ratings stories when it suits them, by last night Squid Game had been watched by 142 million households, making it one of the biggest hits ever.

But we’ve only got Netflix’s word to go on for that figure. And even then, Netflix currently defines a viewer as someone who watched the first two minutes of a show’s opening episode. Did you put Squid Game on for a few minutes to check out the hype then get bored? Well, you might be surprised to find you’re counted to be just as much a “fan” of the show as someone who watched all nine episodes back-to-back.

…What are the truly unifying television moments that bind a society together? It’s hard to be sure. Because we can’t get the data out of Netflix.

Except … one small family business based in Bristol has worked out how to do just that. The staff at Digital i, an analytics firm, realised that while Netflix won’t release viewing figures, it does release data to members of the public about their personal viewing history.

It’s true, you can see an overview of your recent Netflix viewing history, or you can download every bit of data that Netflix holds on you by visiting this link. In my case, it reveals that I was really binge-watching an awful lot of episodes of The Good Wife in 2015.

Digital i realised that if they could convince thousands individuals to willingly hand over this personal viewing history in return for a small payment, the company can effectively create a statistically rigorous survey panel, then use this to create audience “ratings” for Netflix shows and sell this data to rivals. At the moment they have users signed up in five major European countries but they hope to expand globally.

“We’re trying to level the playing field for Netflix competitors,” said Sophia Vahdati from the company, who says their customers include the likes of BBC and ITV.

Her company has shone a light on one of Netflix’s biggest secret: how much of their audience is viewing endless repeats of old shows, because people binge high-profile original series in such a short period of time.


The revelations are amazing. Except: predictably, nobody watches credits, and The Irishman did badly.
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Paintmakers are running out of the colour blue • Bloomberg Quint

Tara Patel:


Dutch paint maker Akzo Nobel NV is running out of ingredients to make some shades of blue, the latest fallout from the global supply-chain disruptions that are spreading across manufacturers.

“There is one basic color tint that is extremely difficult to get,” chief executive officer Thierry Vanlancker said in an interview Wednesday after publishing third-quarter earnings. “It’s creating complete chaos.”

In addition to the bluish hue, Akzo Nobel is having trouble sourcing the tinplate used to make metal cans, forcing the Amsterdam-based company to ship empty pots from one country to another for filling. It also called a force majeure on deliveries of some exterior wall paints because an additive needed to make them waterproof is unavailable.

The supply-chain snarls that have sown disarray across industries are raising prices and creating shortages of some basic household products. Paint makers, which typically rely on hundreds of additives and chemicals, have warned for months of higher costs and logistical issues.

Akzo Nobel earlier Wednesday said the spiraling costs and materials shortages will last through the middle of next year.


Yet another one that you might not have had one your supply chain bingo card.
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Oil demand set to peak by 2025. Renewables are vastly underfunded • Fortune

Sophie Mellor:


Oil demand will peak in 2025, years earlier than previously expected, the International Energy Agency said in its World Energy Outlook on Tuesday.

But while the transition away from oil is arriving sooner than expected, IEA executive director Fatih Birol warned that this year will see the second-largest annual increase in CO2 emissions in history, leading to an “unsustainable economic recovery” from COVID-19.

The IEA’s call of peak oil comes as fossil fuel prices spike across the globe. A surge in demand caused by economies leaving COVID-19 lockdowns has coincided with sluggish supply resulting from kinked supply chains and low investment in oil and gas production—the effects of nations’ green pledges and a price crash in recent years. At more than $80 a barrel, oil is near a seven-year high, and gas prices in the U.S. have tripled in the past 18 months.

Looking forward, the issue will be matching rising demand without turning back to fossil fuels, the IEA said. While international pledges to lower investment in oil and gas are aligned with plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the IEA said that investment in renewable energy must be tripled to close the gap between expected supply and demand.


Notable because the IEA has, for years (decades?) been utterly pessimistic about renewables, optimistic about fossil fuels, for no reason anyone can figure out. (It might be the sponsorship from countries with fossil fuel interests?)
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Facebook plans to change company name to focus on the metaverse • The Verge

Alex Heath:


Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story.

Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones. In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”


Hell of a scoop. Sounds like it’s going to do an Alphabet, same as Google did – create an umbrella company and perhaps give clues to what’s happening inside the various companies. Or perhaps not. Means the metaverse stuff can happen separately from Facebook, and stand or fall. One suggestion, mentioned in the story (and used to tag the story – by people who know?) is “Horizon”.
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November 2003: Facemash creator survives ad board • The Harvard Crimson

Katharine Kaplan, in November 2003:


The creator of the short-lived but popular Harvard version of the Am I Hot or Not? website said he will not have to leave school after being called before the Administrative Board yesterday afternoon.

Mark E. Zuckerberg [due to graduage in] ’06 said he was accused of breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy by creating the website,, about two weeks ago.

The charges were based on a complaint from the computer services department over his unauthorized use of on-line facebook photographs, he said.

Zuckerberg said he will not be forced to withdraw or leave school for any amount of time, but declined to elaborate on whether the board took some lesser action.

He said he was notified on Nov. 3 that his case would appear before the Ad Board, the day after he decided to take the site down, partly due to sharp criticism of the site’s use of ID photos and ranking students according to attractiveness.


Kaplan, who wrote the piece, has gone on to greater things – a PhD and research in sleep studies. That Zuckerberg guy, on the other hand, never graduated.
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For more about how Facebook started, and the effect it and other social networks have had on all of us for more than a decade, read Social Warming, my latest book.

Pixel 6 and 6 Pro: a first look at Google’s shot at a premium Android phone • The Verge

Dan Seifert:


The other big thing to note [besides a low price] with the Pixels is their new processor, a custom-designed ARM SoC (System on a Chip) that Google is calling Tensor. Google says it’s competitive with the Snapdragon 888 from Qualcomm, which is what you find in basically every other high-end Android phone available right now.

There’s a lot going on with this processor. The most important piece is that there’s a custom TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) for AI built right into the chip and many main processing pipelines. In addition, there are two high-power application cores, two mid-range cores, four low-power cores, a dedicated coprocessor for security, a private compute core, and an image processing core. The Pixel 6 pairs the new chip with 8GB of RAM, while the 6 Pro has 12GB.

…By the way, Google’s rules for reviewers and influencers dictate that today, we can write about hardware impressions and specs but not provide any details on software, performance, or image quality. It’s meant to provide a sort of hands-on experience — rest assured, we will have much more to say in the full review.


Let’s wait for the full review to hear about its on-device language processing.
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The Myspace Top 8 is destroying society • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick:


at Myspace’s height, the British press launched a massive campaign against the risks of being emo. The Daily Mail declared that, “no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo.”

None of this is to downplay the very real issues young Myspace users had — predators, revenge pornography, cyberbullying, and being convinced that wearing a children’s extra-large T-shirt with a white belt and purple skinny jeans was a good look. But I want to put this new explosion of TikTok panics in perspective. None of these issues, or even the more outlandish nonsense about Satanic viral trends or compulsive tics, are new.

And what’s even more frustrating is that a lot of this stuff eclipses the new real problems TikTok users are grappling with, like being bombarded nonstop by conspiracy theories, cults actively recruiting on the app, content that promotes body dysmorphia, and that weird increasingly popular fad where some very young users are seemingly pretending to have dissociative identity disorder.

In many ways, these technopanics are the best indication that TikTok is dethroning apps like Facebook or Instagram as America’s main social platform. First, the cool new thing is discovered by teenage girls. Then it’s considered a punchline. Then, when it’s no longer a punchline, it’s a crisis. It happened with Myspace and it’s happening with TikTok and it will happen with whatever comes next. And every time we do this dance, complete with endless hysterical Good Morning America segments about what kids are secretly doing online, it just means we’ve missed another opportunity to actually make the internet better for teenagers. Which, I know, sounds like a revolutionary idea, doesn’t it?


Insightful, as ever, about the circularity and repetitiveness of these technopanics.
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‘We are losing a national treasure’: desperate Lebanese cut ancient trees for heating • The National News

Sunniva Rose:


Last month, policeman Abdelhakim Assayed was shocked to discover that a large, centuries-old fir tree on a high plateau near his home in north Lebanon had been cut down and carried away overnight.

“If you had seen it, you would have cried,” he said, as he walked around the small branches scattered around what was left of the tree’s trunk. “It’s like killing your child.”

Mr Assayed, 40, suspects that like hundreds of other trees that have been illegally felled in recent weeks, the fir tree was chopped up and sold locally as firewood, which is openly sold in the streets as winter approaches. With the country’s crisis making heating unaffordable for many, concerns mount that the situation is getting worse.

When The National visited the forest, which lies nearly 2,000 metres above sea level in the region of Fneidek, a dozen freshly chopped tree trunks, as well as still standing trees missing most of their branches, were visible.

…“People are ignorant,” said Mr Assayed. “They don’t know the value of a tree, and they’ll do whatever they can to stay warm this winter.”

The municipality of the town of Fneidek, which owns the forest, is at a loss over how to deal with this new phenomenon, which threatens to deprive the region of its sense of identity and heritage, said Mr Assayed. “If the situation remains like this, the forest will be gone in three or four years. Lebanon without trees is not worth anything. We’re going to become a desert.”

Filing police reports has little impact because of delays in the local judiciary, said the mayor, Samih Abdelaziz Abdelhay. The 56-year-old school director blames the government, not local people.


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As electric car makers ante up billions, software is ace in the hole • IEEE Spectrum

Robert Charette:


Not only are EV makers chasing the same limited number of customers, they are also pursuing an even more limited supply of software and systems engineers with smart mechatronics and robotics expertise. Software’s complexity in current ICE vehicles is staggering, with many vehicles having 150 million lines or more of code. However, future EVs will likely have triple or more the lines of code as advanced autonomous driving features become available.

Complicating the expertise issue further is that new EVs (and ICE vehicles) are increasingly “cyber-physical systems.” Simply put, cyber-physical systems unify the physical world with the world of information technology. Vehicles as cyber-physical systems are not mere self-contained and isolated entities but are ones that will evolve in capability over a decade or more often in response to other evolving systems such as transportation infrastructure, manufacturer monitoring or dealer management systems, the Internet, and other vehicles.

Today’s connected vehicles create up to 25 gigabytes of data per hour, a small portion of which is being shared outside the vehicle. However, by 2030, when vehicles could be interacting with scores or more external systems over a range of communication channels, that amount may reach four terabytes per hour, all of which will be captured, analyzed and monetized by multiple remote third-party systems.

“Much of that future data, perhaps up to 90%, will be unstructured,” observes Jeff Fochtman, Senior Vice President of Business and Marketing at data storage company Seagate Technology, given it will be originally generated by a vehicle’s camera, lidar, radar and or ultrasonic sensors. The amount, type and usefulness of the data poses unique challenges for automakers in deciding which data to store, how to store it, and where to store it.


A new kind of driver shortage: software drivers. Brm-tish.
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Exile from Dongletown • Six Colors

Jason Snell:


If Mac laptops come in eras, one just ended.

It started in 2016 with the release of MacBook Pro models featuring butterfly keyboards, the Touch Bar, and a minimal selection of USB-C ports. It ended on Monday with the announcement of new MacBook Pro models that roll back most of the major changes introduced in 2016, putting the MacBook Pro in a new state of grace that recalls the middle of the last decade.

If you can, cast your mind back to the 2015 MacBook Pro. It had all of these features, due to be deprecated in 2016:
• MagSafe charging port
• HDMI port
• SD card slot
• 2 Thunderbolt and 2 USB-A ports
• Physical function keys

Now consider the 2021 MacBook Pros, which have:
• MagSafe charging port
• HDMI port
• SD card slot
• Three Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 ports
• Physical function keys

Although Apple removed the dreadful “butterfly” keyboard in 2019-2020, the rest of the issues with this era of MacBook Pro remained. They’re largely gone now.


There really were five years of Apple completely not listening to its customers on the Mac. Interesting that all the doomy predictions of Apple losing its way after Steve Jobs died didn’t really come to pass, except on the Mac, where the design team overrode the common sense that had previously prevailed. The iPhone was too big and important (and simple?) to screw with, but the Mac could be played with.

(Snell had a joke about the Dongletown Port Authority – because you needed dongle for all the ports on the machines because they were undifferentiated USB-C.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1662: account recovery is hard on purpose, the echo chamber misconception, COP26’s empty promise, and more

Hotels and restaurants in the UK are contending with double-digit inflation on goods and services, which could feed through to retail – and households. CC-licensed photo by J Mark Dodds on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Recovering locked Facebook accounts is a nightmare. That’s on purpose • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:


Hackers target social media accounts because they want to spread scams, phishing links or misinformation, said Jon Clay, vice president of threat intelligence at cybersecurity firm Trend Micro.

When bad actors get their hands on social media account credentials, it’s often through phishing attacks that trick people into entering their passwords or by buying stolen credentials in shady corners of the Internet, Clay said. But sometimes, they exploit the very tools that help people get back into hacked accounts. That’s why the account recovery process is so complex, according to Facebook head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher.

“Any system that we build to help users get their accounts back, we also have to recognize that it becomes a threat vector for threat actors to exploit,” he said.

Facebook uses a combination of automated systems and actual people to help users when they get locked out, it said. As for its notoriously hard-to-navigate review process, Gleicher said, the company “needs to improve,” and that those improvements are in the works. The company would not share details or a timeline. “This is an industrywide problem,” Gleicher said.

But the difficulty of balancing security and recovery is only part of the story, said Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert and public policy lecturer at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.

Schneier said that Facebook could solve its account recovery problems with additional security features. For example, if the company required people to set up two-factor authentication, hackers couldn’t take over accounts with just a stolen email-and-password combination. But mandatory security stops would introduce friction into the user experience, and that’s bad for Facebook’s data-harvesting business, Schneier said.


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New research shows social media doesn’t turn people into assholes (they already were), and everyone’s wrong about echo chambers • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:


[Professor Michael Bang] Petersen makes a really fascinating point regarding echo chambers. I’ve been skeptical about idea of online echo chambers in the past, but Petersen says that people really have it all backwards – and that we’re actually much more likely to live in echo chambers offline than online, and we’re much more likely to come across different viewpoints online.


One way to think about social media in this particular regard is to turn all of our notions about social media upside down. And here I’m thinking about the notion of ‘echo chambers.’ So we’ve been talking a lot about echo chambers and how social media creates echo chambers. But, in reality, the biggest echo chamber that we all live in is the one that we live in in our everyday lives.

I’m a university professor. I’m not really exposed to any person who has a radically different world view or radically different life from me in my everyday life. But when I’m online, I can see all sorts of opinions that I may disagree with. And that might trigger me if I’m a hostile person and encourage me to reach out to tell these people that I think they are wrong.

But that’s because social media essentially breaks down the echo chambers. I can see the views of other people — what they are saying behind my back. That’s where a lot of the felt hostility of social media comes from. Not because they make us behave differently, but because they are exposing us to a lot of things that we’re not exposed in our everyday lives.


And then this upside down view of echo chambers also explains why people feel like the internet is a more hostile place full of assholes and trolls. It’s more that it’s because we’re now being exposed to these points of view and can respond. As he notes, this kind of hostility actually happens all the time, but it’s usually just not witnessed by more than a couple people at a time. Now, online, it’s witnessed by a much larger audience, and so we overcorrect and think that it’s making people worse.


None of this, I’d point out, invalidates what I say in Social Warming. Exposure to more of this stuff bugs us in subtle ways, and makes things worse.
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For more on how social networks affect us (and our politicians and journalists, and the way they do their work), read Social Warming, my latest book.

Flooding could leave billions of US municipal debt under water • Financial Times

Kate Duguid:


New York-based climate research firm First Street Foundation last week published data showing that US infrastructure — including roads, hospitals and power stations — is at a greater risk of flooding than has previously been estimated. This has serious implications for state and city coffers, for property values, and for mortgage-backed securities and municipal bonds.

Louisiana, Florida and West Virginia have some of the worst flood prospects in the contiguous US, the First Street Foundation data show. In Louisiana, 45% of all critical infrastructure facilities, a category which includes hospitals, fire stations, airports and power plants, are at risk of being rendered inoperable by flooding this year.

Also at risk of shutdown are 39% of roads and 44% of social infrastructure — schools, government buildings and houses of worship. In some cities in Louisiana, such as Metairie and New Orleans, the risk for all those categories is near 100%.

Municipal debt has long been a haven asset class, popular with long-term investors including pension funds and insurance companies. While the default rate on muni bonds has historically been low, it could rise as cash-strapped cities struggle to keep up with the costs of extreme weather damage.


So what becomes a “haven asset class” when everything’s underwater, in both senses?
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Boris Johnson’s secret COP26 weapon may have to be shame • CNN

Luke McGee:


For COP26 to be considered a success, Johnson and Alok Sharma, his COP26 President, will need to see delegates commit to limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrialization temperatures, as opposed to the 2C upper limit stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement. He’ll also want dozens more pledges for net zero — where countries emit no more greenhouse gases than they remove from the atmosphere — which realistically requires halving emissions globally by 2030. Of particular importance will be commitments from countries who are growing their economies off the back of fossil fuels, such as Saudi Arabia, and China, which is using coal to power its pandemic comeback.

On top of that, he is hoping rich countries will also honor their commitment to transfer $100 billion annually to the Global South to help countries there deal with the crisis they had little hand in creating. Putting an end date on burning coal, boosting plans on electric vehicles and finalizing the Paris Agreement rulebook – which is still not finished six years after the landmark deal was struck – would also mean success.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, one might assume that agreement on these issues would be simple. Unfortunately, politics and science have a complicated relationship with one another and, in 2021, multilateralism relies as much on political self-interest as it does on indisputable facts.

“When it comes to climate policy, politics and physics are having an argument that physics will win,” says Tom Burke, chair of E3G, an independent climate think tank.


But politics will think it has won. Unfortunately. Johnson spouts lines that sound exactly like you’d expect from a journalist used to banging out thousand-word columns to a deadline, rather than a subtle politician able to persuade people to agree with him.
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Restaurants and hotels facing ‘terrifying’ 18% inflation, MPs told • The Guardian

Joanna Partridge:


Restaurants and hotels are wrestling with “terrifying” inflation running as high as 18%, bosses have warned, as supply chain disruption and labour shortages wreak havoc in the hospitality sector.

Ian Wright, chief executive of industry body the Food and Drink Federation, told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee that the rate bodes ill for the retail industry.

“In hospitality, which is a precursor of retail, inflation is currently running somewhere between 14% and 18%. That is terrifying,” he said.

“Inflation is a bigger scourge than almost anything else because it discriminates against the poor.”

Wright cautioned that the food and drink sector expects current challenges to last for several years.

“Six months ago, almost all our businesses thought it was transitory. Now every business I know is expecting this to last until 2023 and into 2024, every single one,” he said.

During a hearing about the impact of the supply chain crisis on consumers and business, Wright recalled high rates of inflation in the late 1970s, when he saw a supermarket employee change prices twice within an hour. “We really cannot go back to that. It took us 15 years to recover,” Wright said.


Always salutary to be reminded that (a) inflation does exist after all (b) it isn’t evenly spread between sectors.
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Apple’s new $19 polishing cloth is sold out until late November • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


Alongside the 14in and 16in MacBook Pro models, Apple introduced a $19 “Polishing Cloth” that’s designed to be used with Apple devices.

Made from a “soft, nonabrasive material,” the cloth is suitable for Apple displays, including the nano-texture glass of the Pro Display XDR. It’s also suitable for use with the mini-LED display of the new MacBook Pro models and all manner of iPhones, iPads, and Macs.

Those who were hoping to get a Polishing Cloth with their MacBook Pros and who have not already ordered may be out of luck, as initial supplies have sold out. If ordered today, the Polishing Cloth will not arrive until November 18 to November 24, which is quite a long wait for a piece of cloth.


OK, ridiculous in isolation. But if you’re buying a new MacBook Pro with its fancy-schmancy screen (🙋‍♂️), you’re at least $1,999 in the hole, so this is just a single percentage point extra. (I didn’t know there was a cloth and haven’t ordered one.)
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Ex-minister predicts ‘huge battleground’ over UK’s plan to set internet content rules • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


In an interview with TechCrunch, Ed Vaizey — a former Conservative Party MP, now Lord Vaizey of Didcot, who was head of the culture, comms and creative industries department, as it was then, between 2010 and 2016 — predicted a huge tug-of-war to influence the scope of the Online Safety Bill, warning that parliamentarians everywhere will try to hang their own “hobby horse” on it.

The risk of over regulation or creating a disproportionate burden for startups vs tech giants is also real, Vaizey suggested, setting out several areas that he said would require a cautious approach.

“In theory it’s just going to be the big platforms that will be regulated,” he said of the scope of the Online Safety Bill, which was published in draft form back in May — and which critics are warning will be catastrophic for free speech.

“Some platforms that should be regulated could potentially not be be regulated. But you’re right that people are concerned that, in effect, there’s a paradox — that it could help the Facebooks of this world because the regulatory hurdles that get going might be too big. And if anyone is capable of being regulated it’s Facebook, as opposed to a startup. So I think that’s something we have to be very careful of.


I’d overlooked that Vaizey had been peered. This interview was a week ago, before the stabbing to death of David Amess MP at his constituency surgery (a consultation with constituents, individually). Now people, especially MPs, are trying to hang all sorts of things onto the OSB: dubbing it “David’s Law” and suggesting killing anonymity. Kneejerk reactions produce bad laws.
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What does Google think the minimum wage is? • Terence Eden’s Blog

The man himself:


Suppose you are worried that you are being under-paid. You go off to Google and search for “minimum wage uk”. Here’s what Google thinks is the appropriate thing to show you.

Let’s count all the ways this is useless:

• The UK doesn’t use the Euro as its currency – it uses the Pound
• Minimum wage is always expressed per hour – not per month
• Comparisons with other countries don’t take into account tax rates
• Historical wages might be of interest – but users often prefer recent information
• The “Explore More” link goes to a page which doesn’t feature the minimum wage.

In short, this is an utterly feeble attempt to surface knowledge. Google have misinterpreted the query, discovered irrelevant but authoritative data, and surfaced that.

But, perhaps we should blame the user. Why can’t they be more precise in their query? Why don’t they ignore Google’s hype about machine learning, big data, rockstar engineers, and knowledge graphs? Yes! The user is to blame! They should be more explicit in what they’re searching for…


Inspired by a thread by Matthew Somerville, who reckons all that money spent on machine learning isn’t showing much benefit there. The post made it to Hacker News, where of course there were lots of uncomprehending Americans.
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Lawmakers give Amazon ‘final chance’ to clear up testimony • Associated Press

Matt Ott and Marcy Gordon:


House lawmakers are threatening to seek a criminal investigation of Amazon, saying the tech giant has a “final chance” to correct its executives’ previous testimony on its competition practices.

The lawmakers sent a letter Monday to Amazon President and CEO Andy Jassy saying they were giving the company until Nov. 1 to “correct the record” and provide new documents and evidence. The missive marks an escalation in the bipartisan battle against Amazon by the House Judiciary Committee panel that has investigated the market dominance of Big Tech.

The letter says the antitrust subcommittee is considering referring the case to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. It accuses the world’s biggest online retailer of at least misleading Congress and possibly outright lying.

It cites recent media reports detailing Amazon’s alleged practice of undercutting the businesses that sell on its platform by making “knock-offs,” or very similar products, and boosting their presence on the site.

The reports directly contradict the sworn testimony of Amazon executives and other statements to Congress, the letter says. It was signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the antitrust panel.

“We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” the letter said.


The Reuters report about Amazon India watching what sells and making its own knockoffs is probably a big part of this. Tricky for Amazon.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1661: the ‘dead internet’ conspiracy theory, Apple’s new chips, stop Escobar’s hippos!, Canon’s ink lawsuit, and more

The glowing strip above the standard keys is gone on the new MacBook Pros: sayonara, Touch Bar, you were not loved by professionals. CC-licensed photo by Ryo Igarashi on Flickr.

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

The ‘dead-internet theory’ is wrong but feels true • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:


Let me explain. Dead-internet theory suggests that the internet has been almost entirely taken over by artificial intelligence. Like lots of other online conspiracy theories, the audience for this one is growing because of discussion led by a mix of true believers, sarcastic trolls, and idly curious lovers of chitchat. One might, for example, point to @_capr1corn, a Twitter account with what looks like a blue orb with a pink spot in the middle as a profile picture. In the spring, the account tweeted “i hate texting come over and cuddle me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna hug you,” and then “i hate texting just come live with me,” and then “i hate texting i just wanna kiss u,” which got 1,300 likes but didn’t perform as well as it did for @itspureluv. But unlike lots of other online conspiracy theories, this one has a morsel of truth to it. Person or bot: Does it really matter?

Dead-internet theory. It’s terrifying, but I love it. I read about it on Agora Road’s Macintosh Cafe, an online forum with a pixelated-Margaritaville vibe and the self-awarded honor “Best Kept Secret of the Internet!” Right now, the background is a repeated image of palm trees, a hot-pink sunset, and some kind of liquor pouring into a rocks glass. The site is largely for discussing lo-fi hip-hop, which I don’t listen to, but it is also for discussing conspiracy theories, which I do.

…Peppered with casually offensive language, the post suggests that the internet died in 2016 or early 2017, and that now it is “empty and devoid of people,” as well as “entirely sterile.” Much of the “supposedly human-produced content” you see online was actually created using AI, IlluminatiPirate claims, and was propagated by bots, possibly aided by a group of “influencers” on the payroll of various corporations that are in cahoots with the government. The conspiring group’s intention is, of course, to control our thoughts and get us to purchase stuff.


I blame GPT-3. Wait, but what if GPT-3 started all this off? Recuuuuuuursion. (Thanks WendyG for the link.)
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Apple announces M1 Pro & M1 Max: giant new Arm SoCs with all-out performance • Anandtech

Andrei Frumusanu:


In terms of performance, Apple is battling it out with the very best available in the market, comparing the performance of the M1 Max to that of a mobile GeForce RTX 3080, at 100W less power (60W vs 160W). Apple also includes a 100W TDP variant of the RTX 3080 for comparison, here, outperforming the NVIDIA discrete GPU, while still using 40% less power.

Today’s reveal of the new generation Apple Silicon has been something we’ve been expecting for over a year now, and I think Apple has managed to not only meet those expectations, but also vastly surpass them. Both the M1 Pro and M1 Max look like incredibly differentiated designs, much different than anything we’ve ever seen in the laptop space. If the M1 was any indication of Apple’s success in their silicon endeavors, then the two new chips should also have no issues in laying incredible foundations for Apple’s Mac products, going far beyond what we’ve seen from any competitor.


Of course Apple is only about 5% of the market (though it’s going to see gigantic demand for the new machines: there have been a lot of would-be buyers essentially on strike while they waited for the Intel chips to be supplanted). But Intel is spooked: Intel’s CEO hopes someday to win Apple back. It’s nice to have dreams, Mr Gelsinger.
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The MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar is gone after five years. Good riddance • CNET

Stephen Shankland:


Five years ago, when Apple debuted the Touch Bar on its new MacBook Pro laptops, I was willing to give the consumer technology giant the benefit of the doubt. The narrow touch-sensitive display along the top of the keyboard certainly offered a surprising new user interface option. And I needed a new computer. This was a chance to try something new.

Alas, after months of daily use, I concluded the Touch Bar is far worse than the function keys it replaced. It’s an overengineered doodad that caused problems I never had with keyboards, and it offered features I never used.

No surprise, then: I’m delighted that Apple ditched the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro laptops it announced Monday at its October product event, where it also unveiled the AirPods 3 and a new HomePod Mini [in multiple colours].

When Apple announced it back when, then-design leader Jony Ive told CNET the Touch Bar is “the beginning of a very interesting direction.” Now it’s the merciful end.

I’m a touch typist but, despite its name, you can’t navigate the Touch Bar by touch. Controlling screen brightness and speaker volume is far slower with the Touch Bar than a conventional keyboard, requiring me to look down so I can jab the correct spot.


I wonder how much typing Jony Ive did. The Touch Bar never evolved. Apple could have been really brave and tried reprogrammable key caps with LEDs, but no. Too fiddly? So, rip all that up. Pretend it didn’t happen. Totally the Bobby in the shower play.
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Colombia sterilises drug lord Pablo Escobar’s hippos • BBC News


A group of hippos – an unwanted legacy following the death of notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar – are being sterilised.

Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993, illegally imported exotic animals, including a male and a female hippo – dubbed the “cocaine hippos”.

Since then, a growing population has been taking over the countryside near his former ranch, Hacienda Nápoles.

The Colombian government has so far sterilised 24 of more than 80 animals.

They have been treated with a chemical that will make them infertile.

Colombian environmentalists say the hippos, believed to be the biggest herd outside Africa, are an invasive species and have pushed away the native fauna.

Many have campaigned for the animals to be culled or sterilised.


“The death of a drug lord has led to an invasive megafauna population boom” really is the most unimaginable unintended consequence.
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Leave no trace: how a teenage hacker lost himself online • The Guardian

Huib Modderkolk:


It was while running another scan that Edwin [Robbe] noticed some outdated software at KPN. Holland’s biggest telecoms company was using HP Data Protector and hadn’t installed the update yet. Here was an open window. Did he dare sneak in? Why not take a quick peek inside his own internet provider? After all, KPN was a big fish and would earn him massive credit. Edwin took the gamble. He entered a random KPN IP address, ran his exploit and then, using a detour through the Japanese university, slipped inside KPN’s network.

He found himself in a far corner of the network, which is to say he was in, but still needed to open some doors. For instance, he couldn’t send commands directly from his own computer to KPN. Nor did he have full rights across the whole network. He couldn’t just walk around, because a firewall was blocking his way. But all this was child’s play. By moving a programme from his own PC on to the KPN computer, Edwin could bypass the wall. Now he was free to do as he pleased.

Stupid KPN, he thought to himself. The whole place was riddled with holes. Scanning the rest of the network from the KPN machine he’d accessed, Edwin saw the obsolete software being used in hundreds of places. Almost every computer server in the telecom provider’s vast network had a window open. The kid from Barendrecht strolled around unimpeded, and what he saw astonished him. He could control 514 computer servers. He could even access the core router, the backbone of KPN’s entire network. He could see the data of 2.1 million KPN customers. He could block hundreds of thousands of people from connecting to the national emergency telephone line. He could redirect internet traffic so that people who wanted to visit, say, a news site, would wind up somewhere completely different. Edwin could do whatever he wanted and KPN wouldn’t know a thing.


Absorbing; the story is from 2011, and his arrest in 2012, it’s a story that repeats again and again.
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Facebook says AI will clean up the platform. Its own engineers have doubts • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman, Jeff Horwitz and Justin Scheck:


Facebook executives have long said that artificial intelligence would address the company’s chronic problems keeping what it deems hate speech and excessive violence as well as underage users off its platforms.

That future is farther away than those executives suggest, according to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Facebook’s AI can’t consistently identify first-person shooting videos, racist rants and even, in one notable episode that puzzled internal researchers for weeks, the difference between cockfighting and car crashes.

On hate speech, the documents show, Facebook employees have estimated the company removes only a sliver of the posts that violate its rules—a low-single-digit percent, they say. When Facebook’s algorithms aren’t certain enough that content violates the rules to delete it, the platform shows that material to users less often—but the accounts that posted the material go unpunished.

The employees were analysing Facebook’s success at enforcing its own rules on content that it spells out in detail internally and in public documents like its community standards.

The documents reviewed by the Journal also show that Facebook two years ago cut the time human reviewers focused on hate-speech complaints from users and made other tweaks that reduced the overall number of complaints. That made the company more dependent on AI enforcement of its rules and inflated the apparent success of the technology in its public statistics.

According to the documents, those responsible for keeping the platform free from content Facebook deems offensive or dangerous acknowledge that the company is nowhere close to being able to reliably screen it.


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Oh, Facebook. Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. And all the other social network. Understand why they make everyone that little bit more angry: read my book Social Warming.

Ghanaian fisheries at risk of collapse, experts warn • Africa Defense Forum

ADF staff:


Ghana’s small pelagic fish populations, such as sardinella, have dropped 80% in the past two decades. One species, sardinella aurita, already is fully collapsed. Without governmental intervention, full collapse of Ghana’s fisheries is likely in less than 10 years, Max Schmid, chief operating officer of EJF, told ADF.

As in other areas of West Africa, Ghanaian artisanal fishing boats are targeted by larger industrial trawlers. About 70% of those interviewed by EJF said industrial trawlers had damaged their fishing gear.

Ghana’s marine fisheries support more than 2.7 million people — almost 10% of the population. More than 100,000 fishermen and 11,000 canoes operate in the country, but average annual income has dropped up to 40% per artisanal canoe in the past 15 years or so, according to the EJF. An additional 500,000 Ghanaians work in fish processing, distribution and marketing.

The foreign trawlers mostly are owned by Chinese companies that illegally use Ghanaian front companies so they can fish. According to EJF, Chinese companies finance about 90% of industrial trawlers in the country.

Ghana has long struggled to properly police its waters.

The European Union in May issued Ghana a “yellow card” after concluding that the country’s level of development and engagement against IUU fishing was inadequate. A yellow card is a warning that sanctions may be imposed if the country does not improve efforts to halt IUU fishing.


It’s Ghana’s fault when big Chinese trawlers come into its waters? Hardly a great idea to sink them. You’d think the EU might help rather than telling it off.
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Canon sued for $5m for disabling scanner when multi-function printers run out of ink • TechSpot

Zak Islam:


Canon, best known for manufacturing camera equipment and printers for business and home users, is being sued for not allowing customers to use the scan or fax functions in multi-function devices if the ink runs out on numerous printer models. David Leacraft filed a class action lawsuit against Canon USA, alleging the company engaged in deceptive marketing and unjust enrichment practices.

Leacraft decided to file the lawsuit upon discovering a Pixma MG2522 printer he purchased, advertised as an “all-in-one” machine, would not function as a scanner when ink cartridges are either low or empty. Moreover, faxing capabilities would not work when certain printers ran out of ink as well.

Of course, ink is not required to perform scanning or faxing documents, so the complaint stresses these features should function regardless of ink levels. As such, the lawsuit, which involves more than 100 class members, seeks at least $5,000,000 in awards.

One of the alleged violations in the complaint includes unjust enrichment; the lawsuit states that Canon has disabled these functions to increase profits by selling replacement ink cartridges.


Fabulous overreach. Canon really deserves to lose. Also – only $5m?
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Rediscovering the social graph: Instagram is the new Facebook • Medium

Sameer Singh:


Since its acquisition, Instagram helped continue Facebook’s run of success and scaled to more than 1 billion users, with an enviable social graph. Oddly enough, it now appears to be in the same position that Facebook found itself in during the early 2010s. It has added multiple feature sets that were initially pioneered by competitors like Snapchat and TikTok. As a consequence, users need to navigate four different ways to create content — posts, stories, reels, and going live. In addition, a significant and growing share of Instagram engagement is from creators and influencers “broadcasting” to their followers.

In fact, Instagram is mulling key product changes to lean into this behavior and compete with broadcast networks like TikTok. The flip side of these changes is that they will dilute the social graph even further. This leaves a clear opening for a new wave of “unbundlers” to recreate a social graph — one for sharing photos with your real friends.

Unsurprisingly, capital has poured into startups attempting to do exactly this— including Poparazzi (take pictures of your friends) and BeReal (take pictures at the same time every day).
This brings me to Lapse — my latest investment. Lapse allows users to create collaborative photo rolls with friend groups — pictures are only revealed in a rapid-fire GIF (a “lapse”) after the roll is complete.

Unlike Instagram, Lapse aims to get users to take imperfect and authentic pictures — ones that are better suited for consumption among closed groups. This way, it disincentivizes broadcasting behavior in favor of direct connections— a social graph. This isn’t an easy feat to pull off. It requires a deep understanding of product, pop culture, and social dynamics. And that’s exactly what Lapse’s founders, Ben and Dan, bring to the table.


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‘Affordable choice’: Government fires up plan to drive down cost of clean heat • BusinessGreen News

James Murray:


The much-delayed Heat and Buildings Strategy package includes a new £450m grant scheme to encourage households to switch to heat pumps and other low carbon heating systems, £60m of innovation funding to help drive down the cost of heat pump technologies, and a goal to end the installation of conventional gas boilers by 2035.

However, the plans sparked a mixed response from business groups and environmental campaigners, with some welcoming the clear market signal that gas boilers are to be replaced by cleaner technologies and others warning the current proposed levels of funding are unlikely to deliver on the government’s targets to slash building emissions and deliver 600,000 heat pumps installations a year from 2028.

The much-anticipated document is expected to be formally published tomorrow, and is due to be swiftly followed by the release of the government’s similarly long-awaited Net Zero Strategy, which will set out how the UK intends to deliver on its long term decarbonisation goals. This evening’s announcement also comes just hours after the Treasury published new Sustainability Disclosure Requirements (SDR), which will apply to large companies, as well as pension schemes, investment products, and asset managers and owners.


Classic government action: fund it, but not enough that it’s actually going to get there. See also: fusion (though that is more of a stretch).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1660: facial recognition reaches UK schools, Facebook v hate speech, LinkedIn exits China, the end of cheap British chicken?, and more

The best-known observation from Scotty of Star Trek explains why we’ve made so little progress with carbon capture and storage. CC-licensed photo by Pineapples101 on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

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

Facial recognition cameras arrive in UK school canteens • Financial Times

Cynthia O’Murchu:


Facial recognition computers have found an unlikely new niche: scanning the faces of thousands of British pupils in school canteens.

On Monday, nine schools in North Ayrshire will start taking payments for school lunches by scanning the faces of pupils, claiming that the new system speeds up queues and is more Covid-secure than the card payments and fingerprint scanners they used previously.

“It’s the fastest way of recognising someone at the till — it’s faster than card, it’s faster than fingerprint,” said David Swanston, the managing director of CRB Cunninghams, the company that installed the systems.

“In a secondary school you have around about a 25 minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils. So we need fast throughput at the point of sale.” He said the average transaction time was cut to five seconds per pupil.

Many British schools have used other biometric systems, such as fingerprint scanners, to take payments for years, but privacy campaigners said there was little need to normalise facial recognition technology, which has been criticised for often operating without explicit consent.

“It’s normalising biometric identity checks for something that is mundane. You don’t need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch,” said Silkie Carlo of the campaign group Big Brother Watch.


Facial recognition use ebbs and flows, like the tide, except that it inches higher and higher every time it flows in.
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How Facebook hides how terrible it is with hate speech • WIRED

Noah Giansiracusa is an assistant professor of mathematics and data science at Bentley University and the author of “How Algorithms Create and Prevent Fake News: Exploring the Impacts of Social Media, Deepfakes, GPT-3, and More”:


In testimony to the US Senate in October 2020, Mark Zuckerberg pointed to the company’s transparency reports, which he said show that “we are proactively identifying, I think it’s about 94% of the hate speech we ended up taking down.” In testimony to the House a few months later, Zuckerberg similarly responded to questions about hate speech by citing a transparency report: “We also removed about 12 million pieces of content in Groups for violating our policies on hate speech, 87% of which we found proactively.” In nearly every quarterly transparency report, Facebook proclaims hate speech moderation percentages in the 80s and 90s like these. Yet a leaked a document from March 2021 says, “We may action as little as 3-5% of hate … on Facebook.”

Was Facebook really caught in an egregious lie? Yes and no. Technically, both numbers are correct—they just measure different things. The measure that really matters is the one Facebook has been hiding. The measure Facebook has been reporting publicly is irrelevant. It’s a bit like if every time a police officer pulled you over and asked how fast you were going, you always responded by ignoring the question and instead bragged about your car’s gas mileage.

There are two ways that hate speech can be flagged for review and possible removal. Users can report it manually, or AI algorithms can try to detect it automatically. Algorithmic detection is important not just because it’s more efficient, but also because it can be done proactively, before any users flag the hate speech.

The 94% number that Facebook has publicly touted is the “proactive rate,” the number of hate speech items taken down that Facebook’s AI detected proactively, divided by the total number of hate speech items taken down. Facebook probably wants you to think this number conveys how much hate speech is taken down before it has an opportunity to cause harm—but all it really measures is how big a role algorithms play in hate-speech detection on the platform.

…It’s a bit like if every time a police officer pulled you over and asked how fast you were going, you always responded by ignoring the question and instead bragged about your car’s gas mileage.


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Want to understand social networks, and our interactions with them, better? Read Social Warming, my latest book, for the explanation of how tribalism, outrage and algorithms interact to make us all a bit angrier.

LinkedIn closes down China site • Financial Times

Eleanor Olcott and Demetri Sevastopulo:


The Microsoft-owned company announced on Thursday it was closing the localised version of its popular networking website after “facing a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China”.

LinkedIn has 53m users in the country, making up about 7% of its total user base. Microsoft does not disclose how much China contributes to LinkedIn’s revenues, which Microsoft recently said had passed an annual level of $10bn.

LinkedIn said it would replace the Chinese version of its website with a new job-board service called “InJobs”, without any of the social media functions of the full LinkedIn site. On this stripped-back version, Chinese users will not be able to share posts or news articles.

LinkedIn was called in by the country’s internet regulator in March and ordered to clean up its online content. In the same month, the company said it was “temporarily pausing new member sign-ups for LinkedIn China” as it tried to become compliant “with local law”.

Several human-rights activists and writers who focus on China have had their profiles blocked in the country in recent months for posting “prohibited content”, according to the company.

The Biden administration welcomed LinkedIn’s move and accused Beijing of forcing companies to be “complicit in its repression and authoritarian practices”.

A senior US official said: “We welcome this news by LinkedIn to not play into the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] hand. The private sector and the international community should oppose PRC’s weaponising of its markets to stifle free expression and support human rights.”


Looked inevitable once the profile-blocking began.
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Britain’s chicken king says the 20-year binge on cheap food is over • Reuters

Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Macaskill:


Britain’s 20-year binge on cheap food is coming to an end and food price inflation could hit double digits due to a tidal wave of soaring costs that are crashing through the supply chain, Britain’s biggest chicken producer said.

As it emerges from the twin crises of Brexit and Covid, the world’s fifth largest economy is facing an acute shortage of truckers, butchers and warehouse workers that has exacerbated global supply chain strains.

“The days when you could feed a family of four with a £3 ($4) chicken are coming to an end,” Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of the 2 Sisters Group and known as the “Chicken King” said in a statement.

“In relative terms, a chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago. How can it be right that a whole chicken costs less than a pint of beer? You’re looking at a different world from now on where the shopper pays more.”

Boparan, who produces around a third of all poultry products consumed in the United Kingdom, said he didn’t think the British government could fix all the problems or control inflation. He said the constriction of labour supply would lead to wage inflation and that he would invest in automation.

“Less labour means less choice, core ranges, empty shelves and wage inflation, and this isn’t going to change,” he said. “Right now I need to be honest about what this means for the consumer as inflation could reach double digits.”


Only 20 years? Feels like we’re heading back to 1973 and the pre-Common Market membership. Blaming it on Covid isn’t going to wash when the country’s being encouraged to think there’s nothing to fret about.
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Cybersecurity experts sound alarm on Apple and EU phone scanning plans • The New York Times

Kellen Browning:


More than a dozen prominent cybersecurity experts on Thursday criticized plans by Apple and the European Union to monitor people’s phones for illicit material, calling the efforts ineffective and dangerous strategies that would embolden government surveillance.

In a 46-page study, the researchers wrote that the proposal by Apple, aimed at detecting images of child sexual abuse on iPhones, as well as an idea forwarded by members of the European Union to detect similar abuse and terrorist imagery on encrypted devices in Europe, used “dangerous technology.”

“It should be a national-security priority to resist attempts to spy on and influence law-abiding citizens,” the researchers wrote.

The technology, known as client-side scanning, would allow Apple — or, in Europe, potentially law enforcement officials — to detect images of child sexual abuse in someone’s phone by scanning images uploaded to Apple’s iCloud storage service.

When Apple announced the planned tool in August, it said a so-called fingerprint of the image would be compared against a database of known child sexual abuse material to search for potential matches.

But the plan sparked an uproar among privacy advocates and raised fears that the technology could erode digital privacy and eventually be used by authoritarian governments to track down political dissidents and other enemies.


The list of authors for the paper is like a Who’s Who of cryptographers and security experts – Whitfield Diffie (of Diffie-Hellman), Matt “Clipper killer” Blaze, Bruce Schneier, Cambridge University’s Ross Anderson, Ronald Rivest, and more. One notable comment in the paper: that companies want more end-to-end encryption to avoid the cost of content moderation of content on their messaging servers.
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April 2021: Carbon capture’s litany of failures laid bare in new report • RenewEconomy

Ketan Joshi:


Carbon capture, an attempt to stop the release of carbon dioxide at the point of generation when fossil fuels are burned, has developed a well-earned reputation of false promise over the past few decades.

As RenewEconomy reported last year, there are a litany of predictions from the past few decades suggesting carbon capture – particularly for burning coal to make electricity – would be ascendant, and that was always just around the corner.

paper focusing on America’s carbon capture and storage industry has just been released that paints roughly the same picture, while carving out some possible future roles for CCS, even among the hype of the previous decades. “While many projects essential to commercializing the technology have been proposed, most (over 80%) end in failure”, the authors wrote in December 2020.

By gathering up data and conducting a systematic and empirical analysis of CCS projects, the largest analysis to date, the paper creates a database of CCS plants that were proposed and never built, along with plants that eventually did get built and are operational:

Figure 1. Global proposed vs. implemented annual CO2 sequestration (main figure), and global implemented annual CO2 sequestration by type (inset). Both are in million tons of CO2 per annum (Mtpa). More than 75% of proposed gas processing projects have been implemented. The corresponding figures for other industrial projects and power plant projects are approximately 60% and 10%, respectively

It’s buried in the caption, but that’s a measly 10% of carbon capture plants completed, for power generation.


Rather like fusion, CCS is always just around the corner, constantly evasive because of the physics involved: it’s very dispersed in the atmosphere, and lots of energy is needed to tear the carbon from each carbon dioxide molecule.

Even so, the COP26 meeting is probably going to be in denial of one of Scotty’s most famous aphorisms. (Random fact: James Doohan, who played Scotty, lost one finger – the middle right – when he stormed Juno Beach on D-Day.)
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US Treasury said it tied $5.2bn of BTC transactions over ten years to ransomware payments • The Record by Recorded Future

Catalin Cimpanu:


The financial crimes investigation unit of the US Treasury Department, also known as FinCEN, said today it identified [a total of] approximately $5.2bn in outgoing Bitcoin transactions potentially tied to ransomware payments.

FinCEN officials said the figure was compiled by analyzing 2,184 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed by US financial institutions over the last decade, between January 1, 2011, and June 30, 2021.

…FinCEN report included some historical data on past ransomware attacks, most of the organization’s investigation focused on the first half of 2021 and the analysis of recent trends.

According to FinCEN:

• Financial institutions filed 635 SARs in the first half of 2021 related to suspected ransomware activity
• The SARs referenced 458 suspicious transactions amounting to $590m
• The H1 2021 figure exceeds the value reported for the entirety of 2020, which was $416m, showing an uptick in ransomware activity
• The average amount of reported ransomware transactions per month in 2021 was $102.3m
• Based on SARs data, FinCEN said it identified 68 different ransomware variants active in H1 2021.


See? Bitcoin is used for real-world transactions!
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Porsche Taycan EV outsells flagship 911 sports car • CNBC

Lora Kolodny:


In a sign that drivers are increasingly embracing battery electric models, sales of the Porsche Taycan surpassed those of the company’s influential, high performance 911 series, according to numbers the company released Friday.

The Taycan is Porsche’s first battery electric vehicle, and was introduced in the fall of 2019. The company launched its 911 high-performance sports car in 1964.

…Deliveries of the Taycan hit 28,640, and deliveries of the 911 sports car hit 27,972 during the same period.

The Taycan, a four-door, dual motor sports car, was seen as a high-priced competitor to Tesla’s newer Model S sedans at the time of its debut.

…In its statement on Friday, Porsche (which is part of the Volkswagen Group) also revealed its Cayenne series of mid-size, luxury crossover sport utility vehicles remained best-sellers for the company.

Cayenne deliveries hit 62,451 in the first three quarters of 2021, followed by the Macan which hit deliveries of 61,944 vehicles. Besides the fully electric Taycan, Porsche sells a number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, but the company did not break out sales numbers for each model.


So the fuel-driven SUV is still outselling it by a factor of about two. Interesting psychology question: are the buyers set on having a Porsche, but want to be green(er) and get an electric one, even though its charging network (a key factor) is significantly worse than Tesla’s? Or do they decide to go electric, and eventually land on Porsche after examining the options?
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New MacBook Pro features breakdown: everything rumors say we can expect • MacRumors

Hartley Charlton lists what’s expected from Apple’s “not the iPhone or iPad” event (10am Pacific, 6pm UK):


• 14in and 16in models with the same performance across both machines
• Slimmer bezels and no MacBook Pro logo below the display
• Mini-LED displays with ProMotion and resolutions of 3024 x 1964 and 3456 x 2234, resulting in higher contrast and brightness, as well as smoother on-screen motion. A camera and sensor notch at the top edge of the display is also a possibility
• 1080p webcam for improved video calls, up from 720p on the current models
• Flatter design, more akin to the design of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13
• Six ports, including two Thunderbolt ports and a MagSafe charging port on the left side of the machine, and an HDMI port, a Thunderbolt port, and SD-card reader on the right side of the machine. This means that there are three Thunderbolt ports expected, one less than on current high-end MacBook Pros
• No OLED Touch Bar, with full-size physical function keys instead
• “M1X” chip with a 10-core CPU that features eight high-performance cores and two energy-efficient cores, along with 16-core and 32-core GPU options, and support for up to 64GB of RAM
• Improved thermal design for the 14in model, mirroring the improvements that came to the 16in model in 2019, including a larger heat pipe and heat sink, as well as added thermal pads
• High-Power Mode to optionally boost performance when not connected to power
• 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage as standard with the base configurations
• Larger battery for the 14in model and a slightly smaller battery for the 16in model, relative to the current models
• MagSafe charging like older MacBook Pro models, now featuring faster charging speeds and a redesigned power brick.


For real Apple enthusiasts, the appearance of new MacBook Pros is a form of Christmas. Which, given how supply chains are behaving just now, might be when the machines start arriving if you order them straight away.
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Left to rot: collapsed Surfside condo born of botched construction and evidence of money laundering • USA Today

Monique O. Madan, Pat Beall, Katie Wedell, Erin Mansfield, Sudiksha Kochi and Dan Keemahill:


early condo sales exhibit telltale signs of a money laundering scheme. Experts said cutting corners on construction often accompanied money laundering. At Champlain South, engineers noted an incorrectly designed pool deck and improperly constructed support columns. Money laundering might have meant that some early buyers weren’t living in the condo building or concerned with its long-term maintenance.   

“The era we’re talking about is when Miami suddenly came out of the ashes. So how do you rush to fulfill the demand? You cut corners. You attached roofs with paper clips. You bribe the inspectors,” said Jorge Valdes, who was not involved in Champlain South but helped build dozens of homes, apartment complexes and high-rises in the Miami region as a chief money launderer for the Medellin Cartel.

The reporting reveals that troubling evidence of the building’s decay emerged earlier and was ignored longer than previously known. Residents noted flooding in the garage in 1981, the year the tower opened. By 1996, they were making repairs to the concrete in the garage ceiling. In 2016, as construction rumbled on a new condo next door, a Champlain South resident was shaken off a treadmill.   

Homeowner association records and interviews with residents show that these problems were addressed in isolation, a series of seemingly small problems that no one connected until 2018, when an engineering report laid out construction errors that investigators are examining to determine if they contributed to the collapse.


If they have to knock down (or even examine) every Florida condo suspected of being built with drug money, there’s going to be nothing left. Mr Valdes might be able to help pinpoint them?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified