Start Up No.1688: Argentina embraces right to be forgotten, Facebook’s non-average effects, India fertility rate drops, and more


The US has put 27 Chinese companies on a blacklist for quantum computing technology, amid concerns that they could in future lead to military uses cracking encryption. CC-licensed photo by IBM Research on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. What have you done to my reactor? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


How Maradona’s stardom and a jar of cocaine trapped Natalia Denegri online • Rest of World

Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Leo Schwartz:

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The year is 1997, but the backing band looks trapped in the ’80s, all gas station sunglasses and button-downs. Although they play their instruments, the synthetic pop music sounds like a karaoke track. [Natalia] Denegri bounces around in a black halter top and skin-tight jeans, clutching a microphone, then reaches the chorus. “Who gave it to me?” she belts. “That’s what I want to know.”

The reference is not lost on the off-screen crowd, which erupts in exaggerated laughter, drowning out Denegri. “Attention in the studio!” implores the host, but the audience is too far gone.

Today, Denegri is a celebrated Argentinian actress and TV host, but this video is from a darker chapter of her life, when she was a young socialite trapped in the intoxicating orbit of football demigod Diego Maradona. The year before her ill-advised performance, Denegri was caught up in a scandal that gripped the nation, involving Maradona’s agent and a jar filled with cocaine. Her song, “Who Gave It To Me,” was a dirty double entendre referencing the episode, which is why the audience responded with such glee. She was 21 years old at the time. 

“As the years went by, I realized how I was used. I was a minor,” Natalia Denegri told Rest of World. “I had no idea what I was saying.”

She would rather everyone forget about that period of her life, when she became the spectacle of Argentina — sexualized, ridiculed, and denigrated in every corner of pop culture. She wants the video of her performance, and other links associated with her past, to be de-indexed from Google — removed from the search giant’s pages, so that they won’t so easily be found. 

The result is a high-profile legal case on the “right to be forgotten” — the first such case in Argentina, and one that embodies an ongoing debate between individual privacy and public interest, in a country where memory holds a particularly special significance.

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There’s a special poignancy about this topic in a country where people were made to vanish by the government for a long time. And, as the story makes clear, the judges have been making distinctions in their rulings around precisely that point.

But it still revolves around one question: if the content still exists on the original sites (as happens here and in Europe), what has really been removed? Only the ease of finding it. Not its existence.
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US blacklists Chinese quantum computing companies • Financial Times

Demetri Sevastopulo:

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The US has placed a dozen Chinese groups involved in quantum computing and other advanced technologies on an export blacklist, saying they pose a risk of gaining access to critical American technologies for the People’s Liberation Army.

The move, which makes it almost impossible for US companies to sell technologies to the listed companies, targeted a total of 27 entities, including 12 in China and two affiliated firms in Japan and Singapore. In addition to quantum computing, the list included companies in the semiconductor and aerospace industries.

Eight of the Chinese groups were specifically targeted to prevent them from accessing sensitive quantum-related technology, the US commerce department said, arguing they could help the PLA improve counter-stealth and counter-submarine applications and facilitate efforts to break US encryption.

The actions mark the latest effort by the Biden administration to make it more difficult for China to secure cutting-edge technologies with military applications. Last month, US intelligence officials warned American companies about Chinese efforts to access technology in areas including quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

“This is a sensible move and an important reminder of the scope and scale of China’s efforts to achieve technological breakthroughs that erode US national security,” said Martijn Rasser, a former CIA official who heads the technology and national security programme at the Center for a New American Security think-tank.

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The concern about quantum computing being that it could crack encryption in the blink of an eye. But it’s so far still completely impossible to say whether it’s near or far from doing that.
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The thousands of vulnerable people harmed by Facebook and Instagram are lost in Meta’s ‘average user’ data • The Conversation

Joseph Bak-Coleman is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington:

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As a researcher who studies collective behavior, I see no conflict between the research (methodological quibbles aside), leaks and people’s intuition. Social media can have catastrophic effects, even if the average user only experiences minimal consequences.

To see how this works, consider a world in which Instagram has a rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer effect on the well-being of users. A majority, those already doing well to begin with, find Instagram provides social affirmation and helps them stay connected to friends. A minority, those who are struggling with depression and loneliness, see these posts and wind up feeling worse.

If you average them together in a study, you might not see much of a change over time. This could explain why findings from surveys and panels are able to claim minimal impact on average. More generally, small groups in a larger sample have a hard time changing the average.

Yet if we zoom in on the most at-risk people, many of them may have moved from occasionally sad to mildly depressed or from mildly depressed to dangerously so. This is precisely what Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen reported in her congressional testimony: Instagram creates a downward spiraling feedback loop among the most vulnerable teens.

The inability of this type of research to capture the smaller but still significant numbers of people at risk – the tail of the distribution – is made worse by the need to measure a range of human experiences in discrete increments. When people rate their well-being from a low point of one to a high point of five, “one” can mean anything from breaking up with a partner who they weren’t that into in the first place to urgently needing crisis intervention to stay alive. These nuances are buried in the context of population averages.

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Subtle point, easily missed. Small average changes can mask big variations.
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Germany’s incoming government unveils plans to legalize cannabis and phase out coal • CNN

Sheena McKenzie, CNN:

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(CNN)Three German political parties have sealed a deal for a new government, with left-leaning Olaf Scholz the proposed next chancellor following lengthy coalition negotiations and a historic election that sees Angela Merkel stepping down after 16 years at the helm.

The incoming government’s vision for Germany includes plans to legalize cannabis. It also aims to phase-out coal by 2030 and have at least 15 million electric cars on the road by the same year. Mandatory Covid-19 vaccines would also be considered, amid soaring cases in the country.

Under the agreement announced in Berlin on Wednesday, Scholz, of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), will head a three-party coalition with partners the Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. It follows a close September election and two months of negotiations to form a new government.

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The stunning thing, though, is that they plan to phase out nuclear next year, and also aims to have 80% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030 (and have stopped its coal use at the same time). Utterly crazy: why not keep the nuclear plants going? Then you could stop the coal plants a lot sooner.

You have to ask: what are they smoking?
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UK risks Christmas alcohol shortage due to lack of drivers • Reuters (via Yahoo)

James Davey:

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Britain could face a shortage of alcohol this Christmas unless the government steps up its efforts to address a lack of heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers, the wine and spirits industry warned on Wednesday.

The prospect of limited alcohol lines follows panic buying at Britain’s fuel pumps, soaring heating prices and shortages of items ranging from consumer electronics to crisps and vegan sausage rolls.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) said 49 businesses including Moët Hennessy UK, Laurent-Perrier UK, Pernod Ricard UK, C&C Group and Matthew Clark, had put their names to a letter to transport minister Grant Shapps calling on him to take urgent action over HGV driver shortages and freight disruption.

“There is mounting concern amongst our membership that unless urgent action is taken, we will fall deeper into delivery chaos,” said WSTA CEO Miles Beale.

“We are already seeing major delays on wine and spirit delivery times which is pushing up costs and limiting the range of products available to UK consumers.”

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Supply chain slippage: now it’s serious.
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India’s fertility rate drops below 2.1, contraceptive prevalence up: NFHS • Hindustan Times

Rhythma Kaul and Anonna Dutt:

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India’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR), or the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime, has declined from 2.2 to 2 while the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) has increased from 54% to 67%, according data from the National Family Health Survey-5. The union health ministry released data for Phase-2 of the survey on Wednesday; data from Phase-1 was released in December 2020.

A TFR of 2.1 is termed the replacement rate, and means there will be neither an increase, nor a decrease in population.

As per the fourth edition of the survey conducted between 2015 and 2016, the TFR was 2.2. The fifth survey was conducted between 2019 and 2021 in two phases and reflects gains made in population control.

VK Paul, member (health), NITI Aayog, said NFHS-5 shows momentum towards achieving sustainable development goals is getting further accelerated. “Data from the survey would help the government achieve Universal Health Coverage,” he added.

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Indian population flatlines? You’d never have expected that. Put it together with China doing much the same and you have a strange, ageing world ahead.
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Meta delays encrypted messages on Facebook and Instagram to 2023 • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

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The owner of Facebook and Instagram is delaying plans to encrypt users’ messages until 2023 amid warnings from child safety campaigners that its proposals would shield abusers from detection.

Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire has been under pressure to abandon its encryption plans, which the UK home secretary, Priti Patel, has described as “simply not acceptable”.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has said private messaging is the “frontline of child sexual abuse online” because it prevents law enforcement, and tech platforms, from seeing messages by ensuring that only the sender and recipient can view their content – a process known as end-to-end encryption.

The head of safety at Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Meta, announced that the encryption process would take place in 2023. The company had previously said the change would happen in 2022 at the earliest.

“We’re taking our time to get this right and we don’t plan to finish the global rollout of end-to-end encryption by default across all our messaging services until sometime in 2023,” Antigone Davis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. “As a company that connects billions of people around the world and has built industry-leading technology, we’re determined to protect people’s private communications and keep people safe online.”

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There’s an interesting thread by David Thiel, ex-Facebook, to be read alongside it: he says Facebook was rushing ridiculously to try to implement this.
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Wear OS shoots up the market-share charts, now in striking distance of Apple • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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Counterpoint Research has a new report detailing the smartwatch market, and Wear OS is a huge winner. Just three months ago, Google and Samsung teamed up to resurrect Wear OS, with the new Wear OS 3.0 debuting on the Galaxy Watch 4. Counterpoint’s latest data has the partnership down as a resounding success, with Wear OS market share rocketing from 4% in Q2 2021 to 17% in Q3 2021.

Google and Samsung’s team-up was a complete reboot of both companies’ smartwatch strategies. Google was floundering at the bottom of the sales charts, having seemingly lost interest in Wear OS for years. The last major OS release was Wear OS 2.0 in 2018, and that had been stagnating on the market for years.

The major Wear OS tech partners from the early days, like Samsung, LG, Sony, and Motorola, had left the platform, with only fashion brands like Fossil hanging around to make watches. Qualcomm was the main SoC provider, and while Apple was revolutionizing the power you can get from a smartwatch SoC, Qualcomm wasn’t really putting in a full effort and strangled the Wear OS market for years with sub-par chips.

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Basically, the market is less split – Wear OS now has all of what was Samsung’s share. However, Counterpoint doesn’t include absolute figures (which would anyway be estimates) so one can’t tell whether the overall market is growing or static.
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Do recipe apps keep my data private? • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:

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Paper-and-ink cookbooks come with a few advantages compared to recipe apps: extra information about origins and ingredients, not having to incorporate your beeping phone into any good-for-the-soul cooking time, says cookbook author and critic Paula Forbes.

There’s also a third benefit: Analog cookbooks aren’t sending streams of information about you to third-party advertisers.

A new report from Mozilla Foundation, creator of the “Privacy Not Included” holiday shopping guide, found personal data streaming out of popular Android recipe apps, including precise location, detailed device information as well as scrolling and tapping behavior. Allrecipes Dinner Spinner, Recipes Home — Easy Recipes and Shopping List and Food Network Kitchen were the worst offenders in terms of the number of data requests from advertisers, according to the report.

It’s the latest example of the constant, behind-the-scenes monitoring that powers many of the apps we know and love. App-makers give your data to ad companies, which then combine that information with your activity on totally separate apps to target you with better ads.

…The most egregious tracking came from Recipes Home, according to Becca Ricks, the Mozilla researcher behind the report. She observed several different trackers, including Google and Facebook, collecting data from the app. Some advertisers collected her phone’s battery level, whether it was charging and whether headphones were plugged in, she said. One tracker repeatedly asked the app for data on how long people look at different ads.

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Sometimes live audio apps for rich people…are worse • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick follows up on Business Insider’s piece about Clubhouse’s gradual submergence, and says he never liked its premise, unlike Facebook or Twitter or TikTok:

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These massive companies might now control the internet thanks to the network effect of their currently huge audiences, but those audiences were built by average users. The magic alchemy of populating a functioning social network was done outside of Silicon Valley. Though it’s being limited all the time, users still have some power over platforms. There is, at least in theory, a world were Facebook/Meta could cease to exist if enough people stop using their products.

Clubhouse, by the very fact both its initial user base and its subsequent hype was basically dreamt up by Silicon Valley insiders, was, in my opinion, a test of whether or not venture capitalists had enough influence to dream up a new — honestly, very bad — social network and force it upon the rest of the internet. And, though they got very close to making “fetch” happen, so to speak, they, thankfully, failed.

How can we determine Clubhouse has failed? Well, per The Verge’s Hot Pod newsletter, only 40,000 people tuned in to listen to Oprah earlier this month. Seems not great. Also, the best way to find out if your social network has failed is by looking at the successes of similar, but divergent apps. In this case, both Twitter Spaces and Discord have dominated the live audio space this year. And both have done it in ways that don’t feel tied to West Coast Peloton owners missing the intimacy of a conference call during quarantine. Twitter Spaces and Discord, also, most crucially, wait for it… had user bases built organically over many years!

It’s also weirdly fitting that the NFT and, now, DAO boom aren’t happening on Clubhouse, but Discord. It’s clearly a sign that Clubhouse — in its current form — is cooked, but, also, the entire blockchain mania right now is, in many ways, just the new Clubhouse gold rush.

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Does Windows on Arm have a future? • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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While Microsoft has continued to plod along the WoA [Windows on Arm] path for the past five years, it has little to show for its efforts. 

In 2016, Microsoft wanted to give Intel some incentive (probably on the price and performance fronts), so it signed up Qualcomm to help build the WoA platform. There have been several announcements and a handful of Windows Arm PCs since. But that’s about it. 

The Windows PCs out there with Arm processors don’t have compelling power/battery life stories, in spite of rather fantastical battery-life claims by some PC makers (including Microsoft). And Microsoft has struggled to get x64 app emulation to work on Arm PCs, limiting their appeal.

On the server front, things seem a bit more promising. Microsoft officials have publicly said the company has several server-side Arm partners (including Qualcomm) and is running Windows Server on Arm servers inside its own datacenters. Microsoft is reportedly working on its own Arm chip for servers.

To be clear: I haven’t heard any rumors about Microsoft throwing in the towel on Windows on Arm PCs. And this year, it got Office working on Windows 11 on Arm devices using its ARM64EC technology. 

I’m just not sure Arm’s promises are going to justify continued investments by Microsoft and its partners to make WoA PCs a real alternative to x64 PCs.

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Surprising, at least to me, that Apple should be so much better than Microsoft at code translation: it has now created two very successful translators, both called Rosetta, in the past 15-odd years, once for the transition to Intel from PowerPC (a similar instruction set concept to Arm), and now to Arm from Intel. I’m guessing that Microsoft would have to include 32-bit x86 programs to have any hope, whereas Apple has just thrown them overboard.
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If you want to buy someone a Christmas book, I’d recommend Social Warming, my latest book. Unsurprisingly.


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1688: Argentina embraces right to be forgotten, Facebook’s non-average effects, India fertility rate drops, and more

  1. The annoying thing about stories like ‘Wear OS shoots up the market-share charts, now in striking distance of Apple’ is they can lead to perverse, meaningless conclusions.

    It also treats quite different things as being equal.

    Yes, there may be nearly as many WearOS watches sold as Apple Watches, but that doesn’t take into account some watchmakers, in effect, buy market share by not making much, or any, profit.

    It’s similar in the Android phone versus iPhone sales race. Android sells many more phones worldwide, but Apple makes all the money.

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