Start Up No.1683: Apple offers DIY fixes, Amazon cuts up Visa, Taiwan proposes deepfake porn laws, peak phosphorus?, and more


The nation of Singapore seems to be sliding towards becoming a surveillance state run by its ruling party. CC-licensed photo by maja kuzmanovic on Flickr.

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


Beginning next year, Apple will send you parts and tools to fix your iPhone and Mac at home • TechCrunch

Brian Heater:

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Here’s a pleasant — and frankly unexpected — update from Apple. The company just announced Self Service Repair, a new program designed to let users perform common repairs on devices at home. Through the program, users with damaged devices will be sent “Apple genuine” tools and components — same as the ones they use at the Genius Bar.

The company will also be offering up online repair manuals (text, not video), accessible through the new Apple Self Service Repair Online Store. The system is similar to the one the company rolled out for Independent Repair Providers (of which there are currently 2,800 in the U.S. plus 5,000 Apple Authorized Service Providers), beginning with the iPhone 12 and 13, focused on display, battery and camera fixes. A similar service for M1 Macs will be launching “soon” after.

…Performing these tasks at home won’t void the device’s warranty, though you might if you manage to further damage the product in the process of repairing it — so hew closely to those manuals.

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That’s quite the warning, isn’t it. A very big step by Apple, though it seems more likely this will enable a cottage industry of repairers (who previously existed but were stymied by Apple’s designs of the past few years) than everyone DIYing their cracked screens. But maybe it will create a whole new generation of Haynes manuals. Though iFixit is sort of like that already.
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Scientists say we need to look into solar geoengineering now—before it’s too late • Singularity Hub

Edd Gent:

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One major plank of geoengineering is the idea of removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere, either through reforestation or carbon capture technology that will scrub emissions from industrial exhausts or directly from the air. There are limits to nature-based CO2 removal, though, and so-called “negative emissions technology” is a long way from maturity.

The other option is solar geoengineering, which involves deflecting sunlight away from the Earth by boosting the reflectivity of the atmosphere or the planet’s surface. Leading proposals involve injecting tiny particles into the stratosphere, making clouds whiter by spraying sea water into the atmosphere, or thinning out high cirrus clouds that trap heat.

In theory, this could reduce global warming fairly cheaply and quickly, but interfering with the Earth’s climate system carries unpredictable and potentially enormous risks. This has led to widespread opposition to even basic research into the idea. Earlier this year, a test of the approach by Sweden’s space agency was cancelled following concerted opposition.

But this lack of research means policymakers are flying blind when weighing the pros and cons of the approach, researchers write in a series of articles in the latest issue of Science. They outline why research into the approach is necessary and how social science in particular can help us better understand the potential trade-offs.

In an editorial, Edward A. Parson from the University of California, Los Angeles, notes that critics often point to the fact that solar geoengineering is a short-term solution to a long-term problem that is likely to be imperfect and whose effects could be uneven and unjust.

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This really is one from the Department Of Bad Ideas. Don’t know what it will do, can’t reverse it, but hey, why not?
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YouTube co-founder predicts ‘decline’ of the platform following removal of dislikes • The Verge

James Vincent:

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[Jawed] Karim has been getting his own message out in an unusual way: by editing the description to the first video ever uploaded to YouTube, a banal clip titled “Me at the zoo” which stars the 25-year-old Karim himself. Karim originally edited the description of the video a few days ago to read: “When every YouTuber agrees that removing dislikes is a stupid idea, it probably is. Try again, YouTube [face palm emoji].” But this morning he changed this description once again to give a more detailed condemnation:

“The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform,” writes Karim. “Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. […] The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre?”

It’s not the first time Karim has used the “Me at the zoo” video as an informal billboard for his opinions on the platform. In 2013, when YouTube announced it would use Google Plus to power comments — a move which many saw as a way for the search giant to force increased engagement for its doomed social network — Karim changed the video’s description to read: “why the fuck do i need a google+ account to comment on a video?”

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Predicting the decline of YouTube is a brave move. Predicting it over the removal of visible dislikes, even braver.
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No links about the blue site today! But YouTube certainly counts as a social network. How do they affect us? What do social networks do to democracy and journalism? Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.


Notes on newsletters • Benedict Evans

He’s thinking about email, and Substack, and discovery:

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How many lists can we all sign up to, after all? And who owns the reader?

The most striking thing for me, though, is that the history professor making $1m from her Substack (and note that ‘her Substack’ is their brand, not hers) reminds me almost exactly of the developer who put a Tetris clone on the iPhone app store in 2008 and made a fortune. Good luck trying that now. In every new, empty channel, the first people to offer something good can get rich. Once the channel fills up, the dynamics change. This happened to SEO, SEM, Facebook, Instagram, podcasts, D2C, Youtube, Tiktok and now newsletters. This is the cycle of life on the internet – any tool that makes it easy for everyone to create and reach an audience also means you’re competing with all the other everyones.

So, what does any content platform do when it has 100m users and 1m creators? The leader boards break, and search probably breaks too. Now what? Apple’s app store was paralysed by that for years. Yahoo’s directory was killed by search. FB built algorithms. Now see Substack. How does discovery work at scale? That isn’t just a high-quality problem – ‘what happens when there is more stuff on your platform than anyone can look at?’ is an essential, existential question. It can define the whole of what your product really means. What happens when email fills up – where does Substack’s own reader fit in?

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Singapore’s tech-utopia dream is turning into a surveillance state nightmare • Rest of World

Peter Guest:

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It’s a place where pilot projects hint at a future — just over the horizon — where the intractable problems of today are automated out of existence. Where vertical farms and “NEWater” made from treated sewage cut the island’s reliance on neighbouring Malaysia for food and water. Where robots care for the elderly and drones service freighters. Where warehouses and construction sites are staffed by machines, obviating the need for the migrant workers who make Singapore function, but make Singaporeans uncomfortable. Technology keeps them safe, fed and independent; secure in a scary world, but connected to it through telecoms and air travel.

That safety requires constant vigilance. The city must be watched. The smart cameras that are being trialled in Changi [jail] are just a part of a nationwide thrust towards treating surveillance as part of everyday life. Ninety-thousand police cameras watch the streets. By the end of the decade, there will be 200,000. Sensors, including facial recognition cameras and crowd analytics systems, are being positioned across the city. The technology alone isn’t unique — it’s used in many countries. But Singapore’s ruling party sees dangers everywhere, and seems increasingly willing to peer individually and en masse into people’s lives. 

“What [technology] will do for people is make our lives a hell of a lot easier, more convenient, more easily able to plug into the good life,” Monamie Bhadra Haines, an assistant professor at the Technical University of Denmark, who studies the intersection between technology and society. “But … the surveillance is what is here, now.”

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Very fine piece pointing out how easily this stuff slides from “for your own good” (surveilling prisoners in case they harm themselves) to “for our own good” (surveilling everyone in case they harm the ruling party).
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Amazon to stop accepting UK-issued Visa credit cards • The Guardian

Hilary Osborne:

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James Andrews, from the comparison website money.co.uk, said the decision would come as a blow to the millions of UK shoppers who had Visa credit cards, including customers of Barclaycard and HSBC.

“With American Express also rejected by many UK retailers, that means people looking for rewards on their spending or trying to split the cost of shopping with a 0% purchase card on Amazon will be effectively forced to choose a Mastercard,” he said.

“Hopefully, Visa and Amazon work out their differences before the ban comes into force on 19 January but in the meantime it would be wise to check your cards now.”

Card fees have long been an issue of contention between providers and retailers, and this month Visa and Mastercard increased their quoted fees for “card-not-present” (CNP) payments on credit cards to merchants in the EU after the removal of caps post-Brexit.

The British Retail Consortium said companies faced an estimated £150m increase in the cost of accepting cross-border card payments, with British retailers shouldering an extra £36.5m in fees, equivalent to £100,000 every day.

The Federation of Small Businesses said its members had experienced soaring fees in recent years.

Its national chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “Small businesses are almost always charged more for card terminals than big corporates – so when online giants start throwing down the gauntlet, you know the situation is becoming critical.”

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It’s not immediately obvious, but Amazon transactions are very CNP – you’re not even required to give your CVV (the three-digit number on the back). That means a lot of risk for Amazon. But it’s the interchange fees it’s annoyed about. If you want a truly financial wonkish take, Tom Noyes has it for you: the Amazon-Visa row isn’t just a UK thing, and it’s been going on for ages.
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Taiwan proposes maximum seven-year prison term for deepfake porn images • Taiwan News

Matthew Strong:

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Producers and distributors of deepfake footage replacing the faces of pornographic actors with those of other people could receive a prison sentence of up to seven years, according to a proposal unveiled by the Ministry of Justice.

The authorities promised a crackdown after a web influencer faced charges for allegedly using the faces of celebrities in porn videos. He reportedly made NT$10m (US$359,000) in profits from the illegal venture.

The proposed legislation still foresaw different levels of prison sentencing depending on the nature of the crime, CNA reported. The seven-year maximum sentence would be reserved for the production and distribution of deepfake images with a profit motive, the Ministry of Justice said. It added that five years would be the maximum term if no payment was involved.

If a couple shot an intimate video and one of the partners distributed it without the other’s consent, the maximum prison sentence would be two years.

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First mention here of deepfake porn: December 2017. I guess four years isn’t slow in legislative terms.
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Pulp Fiction’s Quentin Tarantino sued by Miramax over NFT project • CBR (Comic Book Resources)

Keegan Prosse:

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Miramax filed a lawsuit against Quentin Tarantino following the Pulp Fiction director’s recent announcement he plans to sell NFTs based on the 1994 cult film.

“Tarantino’s conduct has forced Miramax to bring this lawsuit against a valued collaborator in order to enforce, preserve, and protect its contractual and intellectual property rights relating to one of Miramax’s most iconic and valuable film properties,” the company wrote in its lawsuit, according to THR. “Left unchecked, Tarantino’s conduct could mislead others into believing Miramax is involved in his venture.”

The production company further alleged that Tarantino’s plan to release Pulp Fiction NFTs “could also mislead others into believing they have the rights to pursue similar deals or offerings” and explained that “Miramax holds the rights needed to develop, market, and sell NFTs relating to its deep film library.”

While Tarantino’s attorney responded by arguing the director was acting within his “Reserved Rights,” Miramax accused Tarantino of intentionally disregarding the agreement he signed and attempting to devalue the NFT rights to Pulp Fiction moving forward.

…Tarantino announced in early November that he planned to auction off a number of uncut scenes and original scripts from Pulp Fiction as NFTs. Among the collectibles are seven uncut scenes, original handwritten scripts and exclusive audio commentary from Tarantino. The director said at that time the NFTs would be built by the blockchain ecosystem known as the Secret Network and would be auctioned off on the marketplace OpenSea. As with all NFTs, each offering would come with a unique certificate of ownership.

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I like how the headline clarifies that it’s Pulp Fiction’s Quentin Tarantino, to distinguish him from all the other Quentin Tarantinos out there. However now that the lawyers for the film studios are involved in NFTs, things can only get worse.
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Peak phosphorus is worse than climate change • Climate Conscious

Dustin T. Cox:

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Phosphorus is a nutrient that is key to life, but the world has a finite supply, and that supply is running perilously short. Some studies estimate that global phosphorus reserves will run out within 50–100 years. And, as early as 2030, world phosphorus production will likely reach its peak. When that happens, food prices will steadily climb in conjunction with rising fertilizer costs. When the supply runs out, crops will fail and the food web will collapse. Phosphorus depletion is, therefore, an extinction level emergency more pressing than even global warming.

Seven nations control 90% of the world’s phosphorus supply. Morocco alone controls 75%, while the US, China, and a handful of other nations each have considerable reserves. The price of phosphorus has increased dramatically in the last 60 years, rising from $80 per ton in 1961 to over $700 per ton in 2015. Given the uneven distribution of phosphorus throughout the world, wealthy nations will likely starve last, though political strife and wars for food could imperil even the most insulated countries. PRIO (Peace Research Institute Olso) rates hunger as one of the most “reliable predictors of civil war.” If that is true, then even relatively stable nations, like the US, can expect their citizens to one day fight for their food.

… all 94 million acres of American corn crops are fertilized with phosphorus. Furthermore, each crop is reared through “insurance based farming” — the practice of “heaping on” phosphorus at a rate nine times greater than what we consume in food. The left over phosphorus, rather than finding its way to innovative phosphorus capture systems in American sewage processing facilities, remains in the soil, washes to the sea, and pollutes rivers, lakes, and streams.

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From the abstract of the linked article (from 2009):

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modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus derived from phosphate rock, which is a non-renewable resource and current global reserves may be depleted in 50–100 years. While phosphorus demand is projected to increase, the expected global peak in phosphorus production is predicted to occur around 2030.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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