Start Up No.1729: iPhone privacy costs Meta $10bn, Windows on Apple’s ARM?, DeepMind tries coding, gas prices in context, and more

It’s a hit! The Nintendo Switch – which uses a processor from 2015 – has passed 100m sales faster thanany other console. CC-licensed photo by Mike Mozart on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Meet you in the metaverse. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Meta says Apple’s privacy changes could cost the company $10bn • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Brian X Chen:


The news, along with increased spending as Meta tries to focus on the new idea of a metaverse, dropped Meta’s stock price more than 26% on Thursday morning. Mr. Zuckerberg said Wednesday that Apple’s changes and new privacy regulations in Europe represented “a clear trend where less data is available to deliver personalized ads.”

Meta’s warning and its cratering stock price were reminders that even among tech giants, Apple holds extraordinary sway because of its control of the iPhone. And the tech industry received a clear notice that a long-planned shift in how people’s information may be used online was having a dramatic impact on Madison Avenue and internet companies that have spent years building businesses around selling ads.

“People can’t really be targeted the way they were before,” said Eric Seufert, a media strategist and author of Mobile Dev Memo, a blog about mobile advertising. “That breaks the model. It’s not just an inconvenience that can be fixed with a couple of tweaks. It requires rebuilding the foundation of the business.”

…Only 24% of iPhone users around the world have consented to being tracked by advertisers, according to data published in December by the analytics company Flurry. That means that a broad swath of iPhone users are evading the personal tracking preferred by advertisers.

It has been a dismaying shift for advertisers, which have for years tracked people online in order to determine how many sales their clients were making. Advertisers also rely on tracking to resurface products that consumers have viewed but not yet purchased, reminding them that it might be time to buy. But for privacy activists, the change is a welcome check against surveillance that puts power back into the hands of everyday technology users.


But: Snap and Twitter and Pinterest, which rely more on brand advertising, have all done better. Snap reported its first profit. It’s an ill wind that blows no good.
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Why Facebook’s daily users are falling for the first time as Gen Z and millennials jump ship to TikTok

Rhiannon Williams:


rumours of Facebook’s imminent demise are greatly exaggerated, as the company looks to the metaverse as its next great source of income – repackaging its business model of surveillance capitalism combined with targeted advertising, says Christian Fuchs, professor of media and communication studies and author of Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

“Facebook’s transformation into Meta and the announcement to create a metaverse is the attempt to expand the model of digital surveillance and targeted advertising from users’ platform use to their entire everyday life. This vision is not something radically new, but an expansion of Facebook’s existing model.

“TikTok only appears to be different from Facebook. It is combining the sale of targeted ads with in-app purchases,” he added. “TikTok is just like Facebook: part of the world of platform capitalism that commodifies and commercialises the internet. It is time for true alternatives to this model.”

The social network isn’t facing the same fate that MySpace or Friends Reunited suffered before it because even if it continued losing a million daily users each quarter, it would still take 500 years to vanish entirely, [your friendly Overspill editor Charles] Arthur points out, explaining that Facebook’s inexorable rise was born from offering something different to Google, which in turn was the orthogonal response to Microsoft’s PC dominance.

“The solution to beating Google wasn’t to create another search engine, it was to create social networks,” he says.

“So, beating Facebook doesn’t lie in being a site where people write things – it’s being TikTok with an incredibly powerful algorithm that watches every tiny move you make to serve you more engaging video.

“But Facebook is still safe for now. There’s a long way to go before they’re scrabbling around for users. It’s not a MySpace scenario. We hit peak Google a few years ago, but Google doesn’t show any signs of going away.”


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Metaverse of madness • Digits to Dollars

Jay Goldberg:


while most people who spend the day working behind VR goggles need a day to re-adjust to reality, it does seem that VR has made real advances.

By contrast, AR is still a work in progress as it presents serious technical challenges. For instance, the compute and battery for AR glasses still need a great amount of miniaturization. Most implementations we have seen are either unwieldy or limited in functionality. Placing a digital overlay on top of a real world image is incredibly difficult. The graphics have to refresh quickly enough to allow for free movement of the head, otherwise the lag creates nausea as users see two out-of-sync worlds simultaneously. This requires immense graphics processing – for which see above regarding miniaturization. It also requires very high bandwidth, low latency data connections.

This last part is probably why we hear so much about the metaverse personally. From our position entrenched deep in the telecom networking world, the solution to this bandwidth/latency problem is 5G!

The telecom operators and, especially, their equipment vendors are grasping at any opportunity they can to extol the virtues of 5G (which are otherwise fairly limited), and many of them have grasped AR fiercely. Unfortunately for them 5G is only part of the solution, the other technical challenges and the required software and content are just not ready yet.


Sure that “metaverse” and 5G are going to be mentioned together a lot more in the next few years. Some of them might even be actual uses.
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100 million and counting: Nintendo affirms that Switch is still mid-cycle • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:


Nintendo’s latest financial report to investors, issued as an overview of its fiscal year’s third quarter, came with a momentous announcement for the veteran video game and console producer: Switch has joined the 100 million-worldwide-sales club.

What’s more, Switch’s current tally of 103.5m means the device has leapfrogged over both the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo Wii in terms of sales. The count makes the Switch Nintendo’s highest-selling home console of all time. While Sony’s PS4 and PS2 console families continue to hold higher sales counts, neither got to the 100m mark as quickly as Switch, which only needed 57 months to do so (March 2017 to December 2021).

The only console family to get to the 100 million-global-sales mark faster is Nintendo’s own portable DS platform, which needed only 51 months. The DS, which came out in 2004, launched at a lower $149 price point and went lower from there, while Switch has never sold for less than $199.

In a statement to investors, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa affirmed that the Switch console, as it nears its fifth anniversary, is “in the middle of its lifecycle.” Furukawa said nearly the exact same thing a few months earlier when Switch crossed the 90 million-sales mark.


As reader Ravi pointed out to me, the Switch has the computing power of a 2015 Android tablet. (It’s using the Tegra X1, released May 2015.) And yet here it is.
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Can you run Windows on ARM on an Apple Silicon Mac after all? It depends •

Wes Miller works at Directions On Microsoft, which untangles the everlastingly tricky questions about Windows licensing:


To help our customers understand what was and was not correct in terms of licensing Windows on ARM, I recently reached out to Microsoft and asked, specifically, if a user purchased a retail license for Windows 10 or Windows 11, and used that to activate a WIP or other install of Windows 10 on ARM or Windows 11 on ARM, respectively, was it properly licensed? (A single retail license of Windows Pro, for example, can license one physical PC, or one virtual machine – but not both.)

Microsoft’s very helpful and comprehensive response, via email, is below:


Yes customers can use retail copies to run Windows 10/11 on Macs, including ARM Macs. The Windows retail EULA does not have any use rights restrictions on the type of device you install Windows on. Note that the EULA does stipulate that not all versions of Windows are supported on all device types, so theoretically customers could run into compatibility issues with performance & support case by case, but this is not a licensing restriction. Customers can find more details on compatibility at


I also asked a couple volume-licensing related questions that are a bit nerdy for a blog post, but I will discuss in an upcoming report at work. In a nutshell, Microsoft’s licensing perspective seems to me to be pretty clear, that “a Mac is a Mac”.

So why the hokey title then? Why did I say “it depends?” It comes down to support…


Plus the fact that you can’t install it anyway. (No Boot Camp yet, on Apple Silicon Macs.)
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What happens if a cryptocurrency exchange files for bankruptcy? • Credit Slips

Adam Levitin:


First, the custodially held cryptocurrency is property of the bankruptcy estate—that’s the new legal entity that springs into existence upon the filing of the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy estate accedes to all of the debtor exchange’s property rights, and those include, at the very least, the exchange’s possessory interest in the cryptocurrency.

But wait, you bluster, the custodial agreement clearly says that I am the owner, that it’s my property, that I retain title to it. Yup, but that’s not how the law actually works. Just because they wrote that doesn’t mean it’s true.

For starters, the idea of “ownership” is a little more tricky. It’s not a binary concept in law. Legal thinking generally conceives of ownership as a bundle of sticks, and the sticks can be separated and doled out to different folks. For example, I might “own” an estate called Blackacre, but I can rent the back 40 to you, lease the westfold to your cousin, give you brother fishing rights in the stream, your sister an easement to cross the forest, and the bank a mortgage (that’s a contingent property interest). I still “own” Blackacre, but lots of other folks have property interests in it.  Same story with crypto. Once deposited with the exchange, the customer does not have the possessory interest and, as explained below, the customer might not have any interest at all, because the transaction could well be deemed a sale, not a deposit.

At the very least, the cryptocurrency exchange has a possessory interest in the cryptocoins. If that’s all there is, you might get your coins back, but it won’t be immediate or automatic, and you won’t be able to trade in the interim. 

Things get much worse, however, if the exchange has any right to use the cryptocurrency—to rehypothecate it or to use its staking rights—that too is property of the estate.  Not to pick on Coinbase, but under its staking arrangement it gets  a 25% “commission” on any staking rewards and it indemnifies the customer for any slashing losses. The shared gains and internalized losses sure looks like an investment partnership there. 


But why worry? Because 50 crypto exchanges went bust in the first ten months of 2020.
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Why are gas bills so high and what’s the energy price cap? • BBC News


Why have gas prices gone up?
A worldwide squeeze on energy supplies has pushed the price of gas prices up to unprecedented levels:
• a cold winter in Europe in 2020/21 put pressure on supplies and reduced the the amount of gas stored
• a relatively windless summer in 2021 made it difficult to generate wind energy
• increased demand from Asia – especially China – put pressure on liquefied natural gas supplies

The UK is relatively hard-hit because about 85% of homes have gas central heating, and gas generates a third of the country’s electricity.

Why have energy firms collapsed?
When wholesale gas prices spiked, many energy suppliers collapsed – affecting millions of households.

This is largely because the energy price cap prevented them passing on all of their increased costs to customers.

When their supplier went bust many households were switched to a more expensive deal with another supplier.

In the past, consumers have been encouraged to shop around when bills rise.

But at the moment better offers – especially fixed deals – are not available.People already on fixed deals are advised to stay put.

Other households are being encouraged to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.


I think the graph from Trading Economics for the natural gas prices tells the whole story. Prices for natural gas have never been this high.
UK gas prices over past 25 years
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Twitter is testing a new ‘Articles’ feature • Engadget

Mariella Moon:


Based on a new discovery by Jane Manchun Wong… Twitter is working on a new feature that would cater to the needs of those who want to share their thoughts on the website in one lengthy article. 

Manchun Wong, known for finding experimental features within apps, discovered the existence of a “Twitter Articles” tab. The name itself signifies a long-form format for the social network that has long only allowed people to post bite-sized text messages, but its exact nature is a mystery for now. It’s also unclear whether it will be available to everyone, if it does make it to wide release, or if it will be exclusive to Twitter Blue subscribers. 

Not everyone’s keen on the idea either. Someone pointed out that it might reduce engagement on Twitter, since a thread of tweets often get multiple reactions and responses from the same users. A Twitter spokesperson told CNET that the company is “always looking into new ways to help people start and engage in conversations” and that it will share more soon.


Manchun Wong has a really good track record, so if she’s spotted it, then it is being prepared for launch. Not quite sure why people can’t just do what celebrities do, and write it in a Note and then screenshot that.

Or else Twitter will have stopped being a microblog and just become a blog.
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Google and Apple might be forced to open up their platforms for third-party app stores and payments • Android Police

Ryne Hager:


The Open App Markets Act has advanced out of Senate Judiciary committee. In short, that means the bill — which would require Apple to allow sideloading of apps on iPhones, and force both Google and Apple to allow third-party billing on their app stores and third-party app stores on their platforms — is one step closer to becoming law. It’s particularly important to note (and particularly concerning for Apple and Google) that the act got plenty of bipartisan support.

If you haven’t been following the news for this particular act, it’s understandable. Until now, it wasn’t clear how serious we might need to take it. Plenty of bills proposed in Congress die in the committee stage. The topically related American Innovation and Choice Online Act received less across-the-aisle support, though it also passed this committee stage.

The details for the Open App Markets Act are still generally subject to change before (and if) they are passed into law, but the current details indicate that it would require app store providers with over 50 million US customers to meet basic requirements, including allowing customers to install apps from outside those stores, not to prevent third-party billing (or to try to influence that billing unfairly with other practices), and to allow third-party app stores, among other competition-friendly changes.


Still has some way to go, but there might be some reason for Apple (and slightly less, Google) to get concerned about this.
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Google AI outfit DeepMind says new coding bot rivals humans • The Register

Simon Sharwood:


Alphabet-owned AI outfit DeepMind claims it has created an AI that can write programming code, find novel solutions to interesting problems, and do it at the level of the mid-ranking human entrants in coding contests.

Dubbed “AlphaCode” and detailed in a pre-print paper [PDF], the tool is said to advance on previous automated coding efforts by displaying the ability to tackle “problems that require a combination of critical thinking, logic, algorithms, coding, and natural language understanding.”

Previous efforts to create code that codes haven’t been able to reach that level of sophistication, but have done decently when asked to handle simple maths or programming chores.


One programming task it was set is essentially to see if you can make one text string match another by typing characters and backspace. Simple enough, but programming that is much harder. AlphaCode ranked in “the top 54.3% of entrants” in a programming contest, which suggests there’s could be a lot of programmer unemployment in the near future. Sure, AlphaGo didn’t put any professional Go players out of work, and AlphaFold hasn’t put any X-ray crystallographers out of work (as far as I know), but coding is a different game. (Although I’ve literally heard “code that writes code is coming for coders’ jobs!” for just short of 40 years now.)

Of course it all depends on the problem to be coded being described correctly. Which is often remarked on.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

• 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.

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