Start Up No.1721: Google sued over location ‘dark patterns’, Dutch fine Apple, even yet another NFT hacking for profit, and more


Why is it that decades-old songs by groups such as The Police have fans among much younger listeners – to the extent it crowds out newer music?CC-licensed photo by Elvire.R. on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. They’re very tasty. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


D.C., Washington, Texas and Indiana sue Google, alleging it deceived customers about location data • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski:

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Attorneys general from D.C. and three states plan to sue Google on Monday, arguing that the search giant deceived consumers to gain access to their location data.

The lawsuits, expected to be filed in the District of Columbia, Texas, Washington and Indiana, allege the company made misleading promises about its users’ ability to protect their privacy through Google account settings, dating from at least 2014. The suits seek to stop Google from engaging in these practices and to fine the company.

The complaints also allege the company has deployed “dark patterns,” or design tricks that can subtly influence users’ decisions in ways that are advantageous for a business. The lawsuits say Google has designed its products to repeatedly nudge or pressure people to provide more and more location data, “inadvertently or out of frustration.” The suits allege this violates various state and D.C. consumer protection laws.

“Google uses tricks to continuously seek to track a user’s location,” said D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D). “This suit, by four attorneys general, on a bipartisan basis, is an overdue enforcement action against a flagrant violator of privacy and the laws of our states.”

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The suit might not succeed, but it’s all part of the constant pressure that Google and Facebook are under.
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Dutch regulator says Apple’s plan for third-party in-app payments is insufficient, fines Apple €5m • MacRumors

Sami Fathi:

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The Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has ruled that Apple’s plan to allow App Store dating apps to use third-party payment methods for in-app purchases does not sufficiently meet the requirements of a previous ruling. As a result, the ACM has hit Apple with an initial €5m fine as a consequence, and fines will continue to be assessed at €5m per week up to a maximum of €50m until Apple complies.

Last week, following Apple’s announcement that dating apps in the Dutch App Store would have the option to let users use third-party payments for in-app purchases, the ACM said it would assess whether those changes meet the requirements of a previous ruling. The ACM had previously ruled that Apple’s App Store is unfair and Apple was engaging in anti-competitive business practices.

Apple’s announced changes fail to “satisfy the requirements,” the ACM said today in a press release. “At the moment, dating-app providers can merely express their ‘interest’. In addition, Apple has raised several barriers for dating-app providers to the use of third-party payment systems,” the ACM added, alluding to the fact that dating apps must first ask and receive approval for a special App Store entitlement to point users to third-party payment methods.

Apple’s plan also appears to require developers to choose between offering a third-party in-app purchase option or being able to direct users to outside payment options, and the ACM says Apple must allow developers to offer both options.

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So hard to figure out whether Apple can afford €50m, though it looks like a sacrifice to principle; one very much doubts that it’s getting that much revenue from Dutch dating apps.
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iCloud sync is randomly breaking • Revert to Saved

Craig Grannell:

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A week or so ago, [the Mac/iOS app] Cloud Battery stopped working for me. The app syncs device battery status across iCloud, providing alerts across all your devices — handy when one needs charging. Having just updated a bunch of them, I figured this was a bug in a nice but not critical piece of indie software and thought nothing more of it.

Then I needed to use Transloader for something. It worked – at first. But then it started throwing up sync errors. On iPhone, the app noted these were 503s. If you’re not familiar with arcane error codes, this one states a server is not able to handle a request. Since the ‘server’ in this case is iCloud, that was a concern. I switched two devices to a spare account and Transloader worked fine. I finished my work, albeit a day behind.

Then Soulver failed — suddenly and very badly. I needed to restart my iMac so was shutting down all my apps. Soulver threw up a permissions error. A week of input was wiped out in an instant. This was a shock on multiple fronts: in part because of the data loss, but also because Soulver is one of the most robust apps I use. It had never failed before.

I swapped messages with the app’s creator, who was mortified. I sent grabs of my iCloud Drive folder where Soulver’s ‘sheetbook’ was stored, which now had an exciting and mysterious new file. I moved the sheetbook to local storage and had had no further problems. I tested the old one several times on iCloud, and it went wrong half a dozen times. The culprit was clearly iCloud.

I griped about this on Twitter. It turned out, I wasn’t alone.

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Seems this has been going on since May 2021, and Apple either doesn’t know how to fix it or doesn’t know it’s happening.
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OpenSea bug allows attackers to get massive discount on popular NFTs • Coindesk

Eliza Gkritsi:

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A bug on the non-fungible tokens (NFT) marketplace OpenSea has allowed at least three attackers to secure massive discounts on several NFTs and make a huge profit.

The bug, which was discovered as early as Dec. 31, 2021, allowed the attackers to buy NFTs at older, lower prices, and sell them for a hefty profit. Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic wrote in a blog post that one attacker called jpegdegenlove “paid a total of $133,000 for seven NFTs – before quickly selling them on for $934,000 in ether. Five hours later, this ether was sent through Tornado Cash, a ‘mixing’ service that is used to prevent blockchain tracing of funds.”

NFTs are digital assets on a blockchain that represent ownership of virtual or physical items. OpenSea is one of the largest marketplaces for NFTs. Elliptic estimates the market value of the affected NFTs to be over $1 million.

Jpegdegenlove partially reimbursed two of the victims, sending them back a total of $75,000 on Monday, Elliptic said. Some users have been transferring their listed assets to other wallets to take them off the market place whilst avoiding the delisting fee, founder of NFT project freshdrops_io tweeted back in December.

But even though the item may appear to be off the OpenSea front end, it is still accessible on OpenSea APIs and Rarible, another NFT marketplace. CoinDesk could not reach OpenSea for comment on this story.

One NFT from the popular Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) collection was listed under its July 2021 price of 23 ether, and the attacker was able to sell it for 135 ether, making a quick profit of more than 100 ether, tweeted Tal Be’ery, Chief Technology Officer of ZenGo crypto wallet.

Asked about the bug, an OpenSea Discord admin confirmed to CoinDesk that “if you had an open listing that you never cancelled, or didn’t hit its expiration, it still exists.”

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Such an incredible oversight. On the plus side, the profit is a lot less now that the crypto market has dropped so precipitously.
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Cracking a $2 million crypto wallet • The Verge

Kim Zetter, on a pair of people who got some junkcoins in 2018, forgot the PIN to their hardware wallet, then wanted to get into it – except it would wipe after 16 failed attempts:

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The cryptocurrency data firm Chainalysis estimates that more than 3.7 million Bitcoins worth $66.5bn are likely lost to owners. Currency can be lost for many reasons: the computer or phone storing a software wallet is stolen or crashes and the wallet is unrecoverable; the owner inadvertently throws their hardware wallet away; or the owner forgets their PIN or dies without passing it to family members.

As the value of their inaccessible tokens rapidly rose in 2020, Reich and his friend were desperate to crack their wallet. They searched online until they found a 2018 conference talk from three hardware experts who discovered a way to access the key in a Trezor wallet without knowing the PIN. The engineers declined to help them, but it gave Reich hope.

“We at least knew that it was possible and had some directional idea of how it could be done,” Reich says.

Then they found a financier in Switzerland who claimed he had associates in France who could crack the wallet in a lab. But there was a catch: Reich couldn’t know their names or go to the lab. He’d have to hand off his wallet to the financier in Switzerland, who would take it to his French associates. It was a crazy idea with a lot of risks, but Reich and his friend were desperate.

COVID and lockdowns slowed their plans in 2020, but in February 2021, with the value of their tokens now $2.5m, Reich was making plans to fly to Europe, when suddenly they found a better option: a hardware hacker in the US named Joe Grand.

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I linked yesterday to a 36-year-old who believed she could increase her money tenfold in a few hours, and handed everything over to fraudsters. It’s hard not to think that the “financier in Switzerland” who wanted the physical hardware came from the same group. The rest of the story is quite fun, though.
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How big was the Tonga eruption? • Reuters

Manas Sharma and Simon Scarr:

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Breaking down the stages of the eruption into intervals allows us to plot the expansion of the enormous plume of material that volcanologists call an “umbrella cloud”.

Around the time of the initial eruption, a cloud measuring 38 km (24 miles) wide is thrust into the atmosphere. Its diameter already measures almost twice the length of Manhattan, New York. One hour later, it appears to measure around 650 km wide, including shock waves around its edge.

The scale of the umbrella cloud is comparable to the 1991 Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and is one of largest of the satellite era, according to Michigan Tech volcanologist Simon Carn in a NASA blog post.

The satellite images of the event show mostly ocean with scattered islands of Tonga and Fiji barely noticeable. Gauging the actual size of the eruption is difficult when in such a remote part of the South Pacific.

Here, we take the cloud of volcanic material and place it over well-known land masses and coastlines to get a true sense of just how big the eruption was.

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Pretty much covers France, or alternatively England. Big question whether we (or possibly the southern hemisphere) will now have a cool, rainy summer due to ash thrown into the jetstream and beyond.
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How Tonga’s broken internet cable will be mended • BBC News

Jane Wakefield:

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An undersea fibre-optic cable which connects Tonga to the rest of the world was severed during the eruption of a volcano.

New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs says it could take more than a month to repair the 49,889km (31,000miles) of cable in the South Pacific. The undersea eruption – followed by a tsunami – led to Tonga’s 110,000 people being cut off.

A 2G wireless connection has been established on the main island, using a satellite dish from the University of the South Pacific. But the service is patchy, and internet services run slowly.

The cable, which is operated by Tonga Cable, is believed to have broken about 37km (23 miles) offshore.
According to Reuters, fault-finding conducted by the company in the aftermath of the volcano seemed to confirm a cable break.

The process of mending it is actually quite simple, according to principal engineer at Virgin Media, Peter Jamieson, who is also vice-chairman of the European Subsea Cable Association.
“They will send a pulse of light from the island and a machine will measure how long it takes to travel and this will establish where the break is,” he explained. [A broken fibre reflects the light back to its source. – Overspill ed.] Then a cable-repair boat will be sent to the location of the first break.

It will use either an ROV (remotely-operated underwater vehicle) or a tool known as a grapnel (basically a hook on a chain) to retrieve the broken end. That will be re-joined to fresh cable on board the boat and then the same process will happen at the other end of the break. If all goes well, the whole process will take between five and seven days.

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Is old music killing new music? • The Atlantic

Ted Gioia:

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Old songs now represent 70% of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.

The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5% of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.

I encountered this phenomenon myself recently at a retail store, where the youngster at the cash register was singing along with Sting on “Message in a Bottle” (a hit from 1979) as it blasted on the radio. A few days earlier, I had a similar experience at a local diner, where the entire staff was under 30 but every song was more than 40 years old. I asked my server: “Why are you playing this old music?” She looked at me in surprise before answering: “Oh, I like these songs.”

Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.

…A decade ago, 40 million people watched the Grammy Awards. That’s a meaningful audience, but now the devoted fans of this event are starting to resemble a tiny subculture. More people pay attention to streams of video games on Twitch (which now gets 30 million daily visitors) or the latest reality-TV show. In fact, musicians would probably do better getting placement in Fortnite than signing a record deal in 2022. At least they would have access to a growing demographic.

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Wordle: the archive

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This is an archive for Wordle by Josh Wardle built on Katherine Peterson’s WordMaster

Made with love by Devang Thakkar.

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The layout is nicer than the working version (which is presently on word 220). If time is dragging, or 24 hours too long to wait for your hit, here you go. (Note: uses American spelling.)
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The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902 did not go as planned • Atlas Obscura

Shay Maunz on how the French colonial authorities, having laid nine miles of sewers in Hanoi that provided the perfect breeding ground for rats, hired locals to get rid of them:

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The bloodshed started swiftly. In the last week of April, 1902, 7,985 rats were killed—and that was just the beginning. The assassins continued to gain experience in the month of May, pushing the death toll above 4,000 each day. By the end of the month, the numbers were even more astounding. On May 30 alone, 15,041 rats met their end. In June, daily counts topped 10,000, and on June 21, the number was 20,112.

Let’s let that sink in: 20,112 rats killed in a single day.

…Eventually, the colonists realized that, even with this small army of paid rat killers, they were failing to make a dent in the rat population.

They proceeded to Plan B, offering any enterprising civilian the opportunity to get in on the hunt. A bounty was set—one cent per rat—and all you had to do to claim it was submit a rat’s tail to the municipal offices. That way, the government wouldn’t be overrun with bulky rat corpses. “I always think about that,” Dr. Vann says. “Who is the poor guy counting all these rat tails?”

The French were especially pleased with this arrangement because they’d been encouraging entrepreneurialism in Vietnam. And at first, it seemed to be working. Tails poured in. French ingenuity triumphed again.

But then there started to be curious sightings, all around town: rats, alive and healthy, running around without their tails.

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The entrepreneurialism got even more inventive. A very cautionary tale. Sorry.
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September 2016: Five ways of the corporate psychopath • Psychology Today

Dale Hartley:

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The Inuit people of Alaska have a word, kunlangeta, for “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women — someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” Anthropologist Jane Murphy revealed this in a study published in 1976. When she asked how the Inuit people dealt with a kunlangeta, one man told her, “Someone would have pushed him off the ice when no one was looking.”

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American readers (👋) may be wondering why “kunlangeta” is suddenly the talk of the town in the UK – well, of London, especially of Whitehall. It’s because Dominic Cummings, whom Substack preserve, used it obliquely to refer to Boris Johnson in his latest missive, as he explained that he was going to submit his evidence to the latest inquiry into Johnson’s behaviour in writing, so there could be no disagreement about its contents. (“It’s clear talking to people in No10 and 70 Whitehall that many officials are desperate to shove the kunlangeta off the ice this week,” he wrote.)

Have to say, those Inuits have a way with language. And that it’s interesting to discover that personality types are preserved through time and space. Before I’d looked it up I thought “kunlangeta” meant something like “walrus”, or possibly “dead meat”.
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• 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?

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


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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