Start Up No.1677: Instagram’s bitcoin hostage videos, the fake science papers, Volvo v Tesla, the sleep tracking question, and more


The phone charger maker Anker has seen sales jump since Apple and Samsung stopped including chargers in the box with new phones. What are people doing with the old ones? CC-licensed photo by Nenad Stojkovic on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Not guest edited. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Hostage-style bitcoin scam videos are spreading across Instagram • Vice

Joseph Cox:

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Hackers are forcing Instagram users to film hostage-style videos instructing their followers to participate in fraudulent get-rich-quick Bitcoin schemes as part of a new kind of scam that’s spreading across the Facebook-owned app.

The news follows Motherboard reporting last week on how a scammer forced one victim to film a video with the promise of getting their money back after sending the fraudster Bitcoin. After filming the video, however, the scammer broke into the victim’s Instagram account and sent the video to their friends and posted it from their profile to try and scam others. After we published the story, more Instagram users got in touch with Motherboard saying they’ve been hacked and forced to shoot similar videos, indicating the issue appears to be more widespread on the social network with victims describing personal, professional, reputational, and financial damage. Multiple victims also complained about the troublesome Instagram account recovery process and the lack of direct communication from the company.

“Hey you guys, I just got back from a long day of work, but Ashly just helped me invest $1,000 and got me back $8,500,” Emma Zoller, who was forced to make one of the clips, says to the camera during her video. “What an amazing way to end the day, and I feel so blessed and appreciative for this process. It’s guaranteed. I suggest doing it.”

But Ashly is a fraudster. The scam started when Zoller saw her best friend post about making money from Bitcoin in an Instagram Story, according to a chronology of the events written and shared by Zoller’s mother with Motherboard. Zoller clicked a link the friend’s account sent her, and a hacker took over her account. The link appears to spoof a legitimate Instagram page.

Initially, the hacker demanded that Zoller send them a nude video to regain access to the account.

“I am bawling my eyes out. I can’t take a nude video,” Zoller wrote to the Ashly account. “I am going to kill myself, please you stole everything from me. Please give me my Instagram back please.”

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Turn on two-factor authentication, and get your family and friends to as well. Wonder if Instagram will actually figure this out and stop the videos spreading.
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Scammers impersonate guest editors to get sham papers published • Nature

Holly Else:

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Hundreds of articles published in peer-reviewed journals are being retracted after scammers exploited the processes for publishing special issues to get poor-quality papers — sometimes consisting of complete gibberish — into established journals. In some cases, fraudsters posed as scientists and offered to guest-edit issues that they then filled with sham papers.

Elsevier is withdrawing 165 articles currently in press and plans to retract 300 more that have been published as part of 6 special issues in one of its journals, and Springer Nature is retracting 62 articles published in a special issue of one journal. The retractions come after the publishers each issued expressions of concern earlier this year, covering hundreds of articles.

Science-integrity experts expect that more investigations will come in the months ahead as other titles realize that they have been duped.

“It is very worrying,” says Guillaume Cabanac, a computer scientist at the University of Toulouse in France, who has worked to uncover nonsense science papers in special issues. He adds that it is shocking to see such papers in journals from ‘flagship’ publishers and that “it is not only predatory journals that publish bullshit”.

A Springer Nature spokesperson said that an investigation had revealed “deliberate attempts to subvert the trust-based editorial process and manipulate the publication record”. They added that they did not yet know who was responsible (Nature is editorially independent of its publisher).

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They seem to relate to “Environment and low carbon transportation” in the Arabian Journal of Geosciences, for Springer (I’m now gagging to read “Air dust pollution and online music teaching effect based on heterogeneous wireless network” but it’s retracted).

Puzzle is what the people who do this are up to. Seems to be so they can raise the profile of low-impact researchers.
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Why charging phones is such a complex business, with Anker CEO • The Verge

Nilay Patel puts questions to Steven Yang, the charger company’s CEO:

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Q: Apple and Samsung do not have chargers in the box anymore. We should talk about the international regulatory pressure to reduce e-waste, but I am curious from the nuts and bolts level: if companies are not including chargers in the box, does that result in more charger sales for Anker?

Yes — a lot more, because this is a new category. Previously, a lot of users didn’t buy a charger by itself. Per our survey, about 50% of those users still just go back to using their old chargers, because they have saved some over the years. But more and more people are starting to shop for individual chargers. Of course, a large fraction of them will go to the device brand — for example, they will go buy an Apple or Samsung charger. Still, that gives us a chance as a third-party charger brand to reach those users. It is a chance to inform them about the superiority of our charger: the small size, the high power durability, and the interoperability to charge all their devices from all the brands.

Q: This brings us back to the e-waste question: the idea was that, since consumers probably have a charger already from a previous phone, manufacturers can take the charger out of the box, reducing e-waste. But you are saying consumers are responding to these mandates by buying a lot more chargers. Do you think that the box mandates have resulted in a meaningful effect on e-waste?

First of all, when chargers aren’t in the box, that’s already a lot of savings. Let’s say that for a hundred people, we saved a hundred chargers already. Per our survey, around 50% of people will reuse their old chargers so they won’t buy any more, but there is still a fraction of users whose old chargers are slow-charging chargers.

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Who are these people who don’t reuse their old chargers? I don’t understand them. At all.
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A quarter of new Volvos are now plug-in hybrids or battery EVs • Ars Technica

Jonathan Gitlin:

»

Volvo sold a total of 581,464 cars [worldwide] between January and October of this year, despite supply chain problems that have affected production. Of those cars, 148,068 [25.4%] were either plug-in hybrid or battery electric, with the vast majority (129,803) being plug-in hybrid versions of the 60 series and 90 series vehicles.

With only two battery-electric Volvos on sale (the XC40 Recharge and C40 Recharge), it’s not surprising that BEVs made up a smaller percentage at just 3.1%, or 18,261 cars in total.

Here in the US, the automaker sold 104,066 vehicles, of which 12,906 were plug-in hybrids and another 5,225 were fully electric.

«

So about 17% were hybrid or electric in the US. Tesla’s total world sales for the same three quarters was 627,481. It’s bigger than all of Volvo, and selling only battery electrics. Volvo’s market cap: $59.52bn. Tesla’s market cap: $1 trillion.

The market cap is the market’s estimate of the total future profits of a company before it goes phut. For Volvo, the market seems to think (based on its $5bn profit for this year) that it has another ten years to go.
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Google gives the Nest Hub another year to convince you sleep tracking’s worth paying for • Android Police

Will Sattelberg:

»

More than six months after release, Google has returned to give the Nest Hub a boost for sleep tracking — along with some more details on when the feature might cost money to use.

Sleep staging is the most significant improvement here, utilizing new algorithms to help chart your progression during the night. The Nest Hub uses its Soli sensors to more accurately detect both the quality and duration of each of your stages of sleep: light, deep, REM, and awake. In the morning, you’ll receive a complete chart showing exactly when you were fully asleep, along with exact time periods for all four stages.

According to Google’s AI blog, improved training is the biggest difference between this new iteration and the original feature. Sleep tracking now predicts the user’s sleep stages rather than looking for a basic sleep-wake status. Using public data from multiple sleep studies, the company utilized more than 10,000 sessions with polysomnography data to build its new algorithm.

…When the second-gen Hub initially hit store shelves in the spring, Google made it clear that sleep tracking wouldn’t be free forever. Part of our hesitance in recommending the sleep tracking at all was the promise of a switch to a subscription model, and we’re finally learning what that might entail with this upgrade. Although Nest Hub users will be able to keep using sleep tracking for free through 2022, the feature will require a paid Fitbit Premium subscription sometime in 2023.

That plan is pretty expensive — $9.99 per month or $80 annually — especially when you consider that not every Nest Hub owner has a Fitbit.

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PSA: sleep tracking isn’t even worth zero. You can’t act on it, and can’t even be sure it’s tracking you correctly.
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Running down to zero battery breaks Google Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:

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Now that lucky buyers have had time to play with their new Pixel 6 smartphones, we’re starting to see some issues. Unfortunately, most of the issues seem to stem around the fingerprint sensor, which we noted was fairly weak in our Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro reviews.

Disappointingly, it appears there’s more bad news for the Google Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor now. According to multiple users on Reddit, a dead battery can permanently disable your phone’s fingerprint sensor.

In the thread, you can see many different people all telling the same story: their Pixel 6 died from an empty battery and, upon rebooting, the fingerprint sensor became non-operational. So far, it appears the only way to fix the problem once it occurs is a factory reset, which is not exactly convenient.

However, at least one person claims they faced the issue without losing battery power. This suggests a dead battery could be a trigger for some other issue instead of the root cause.

Thankfully, there’s already an official Google issue tracker for this problem. That tracking page has even more people discussing the issue.

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Most phone “issues” are overblown and irrelevant, but this one seems like an absolutely terrible oversight.
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Samsung develops industry’s first LPDDR5X DRAM • Samsung Global Newsroom

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Samsung Electronics, the world leader in advanced memory technology, today announced that it has developed the industry’s first 14-nanometer (nm) based 16-gigabit (Gb) Low Power Double Data Rate 5X (LPDDR5X) DRAM, designed to drive further growth throughout the high-speed data service applications including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and the metaverse.

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“What should the press release say to make it seem new and buzzy?”
“Metaverse, definitely.”
“Anything else?”
“5G, I guess. Oh, yes, and AI.”

Notice what it doesn’t seem to be any good for? (Hint: starts with “block”, ends with “chain”.) Thus shall you know what manufacturers consider important for their field.
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Facebook whistleblower fears the metaverse • Associated Press

Raf Casert and Kelvin Chan:

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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen warned Tuesday that the “metaverse,” the all-encompassing virtual reality world at the heart of the social media giant’s growth strategy, will be addictive and rob people of yet more personal information while giving the embattled company another monopoly online.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Haugen said her former employer rushed to trumpet the metaverse recently because of the intense pressure it is facing after she revealed deep-seated problems at the company, in disclosures that have energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world to crack down on Big Tech.

“If you don’t like the conversation, you try to change the conversation,” the former product-manager-turned-whistleblower said. The documents she has turned over to authorities and her testimony to lawmakers have drawn global attention for providing insight into what Facebook may have known about the damage its social media platforms can cause. She is in the midst of a series of appearances before European lawmakers and regulators who are drawing up rules for social media companies.

Meta, the new name for the parent company of Facebook, denied it was trying to divert attention away from the troubles it faces by pushing the metaverse. “This is not true. We have been working on this for a long time internally,” the company said in a statement.

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Wouldn’t doubt that the metaverse thing has been in the works for a long time, as I pointed out yesterday (Zuckerberg bought Oculus, an essential element for the metaverse, in 2014).

It would be quite the thing if Haugen turned out to be right about this, wouldn’t it.
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Social networks are everywhere. Read Social Warming, my latest book, which looks at the way they influence our lives and thinking.


Chinese military builds dummy American aircraft carrier, warships – CNN

AnneClaire Stapleton, Hannah Ritchie and Mitch McCluskey:

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China’s military has constructed mockups in the shape of a US Navy aircraft carrier and US warships, possibly for target practice, according to Maxar satellite images reviewed by the independent United States Naval Institute (USNI).

Satellite images from China’s northwest Xinjiang region appear to show a full-scale outline of a “Ford-class” aircraft carrier currently being constructed for the US Navy, and the shapes of at least two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers at a new target range complex in the Taklamakan Desert, according to the USNI, a private, non-profit, professional military association.

The complex has repeatedly been used for ballistic missile testing, according to USNI and Maxar Technologies, a space technology company.

“This new range shows that China continues to focus on anti-carrier capabilities, with an emphasis on US Navy warships,” USNI reported.

Militaries around the world regularly build mock-ups of real-world targets such as iconic landmarks, warships, and aircraft carriers.

China’s anti-ship ballistic missile programs are overseen by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF). CNN has reached out to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense for comment.

In a news briefing Monday, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said the US Defense Department was aware of media reports about the mockups but was instead focused on its own preparedness to support a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

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Just prepping for the sea off Taiwan in a few years’ time.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: it was wrong to say that Jane Brambauer is a professor of law at the University of Arizona. Her name is Jane Bambauer. (Thanks Wendy G.)

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