Start Up No.1730: technology’s FOMO bullies, Apple yields minimally to Holland, how Russia-Ukraine could end, PelotoNike?, and more

A ransomware attack means that Hula Hoop snacks, and a number of others, are on delay for between two and seven weeks. CC-licensed photo by Andrew Rees on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Not the invading type. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Beware the FOMO bullies of technology • The Atlantic

Charlie Warzel:


“Web3” does feel more like investors pumping a stock than it does an organic movement. Still, I worry about developing a mindset that goes beyond reflexive skepticism and into a kind of calcified naysaying. My career was born out of a love for new gadgets and services, and the connections and experiences they foster. Then I saw how platforms like Twitter and Facebook could influence how we saw ourselves and one another—and not always for the better.

So far, my experience with Web3 is different. A lot of its projects seem like unnecessarily complex and theoretical financialized tools in search of broader utility; “play-to-earn” blockchain-based games such as Axie Infinity represent, for me, a dystopian vision of leisure, if not a new era of “bullshit jobs.” Non-fungible tokens don’t personally appeal to me and, as some have shown, the technology does not appear to be fully decentralized. Decentralized autonomous organizations—described by some as an internet community or a group chat with a shared bank account—are perhaps the most interesting application of blockchain technology, but I still struggle to see how they aren’t just a new riff on LLCs. Many of them also seem chaotic.

Perhaps worst of all, I find so much of Web3 deeply inaccessible. When I took the time to set up a crypto wallet and participate in the new economy, the experience was devoid of thrill. I didn’t feel that sense of hope and potential that came when I first logged onto the internet, logged into Facebook, downloaded a song on Napster, or held a smartphone in my hand and checked my email away from a computer.

That itself can feel sad, even unsettling, given Web3’s revolutionary framing. I’d like to think that my instincts toward hucksterism and hype cycles are well attuned. Over the years, I’ve watched tech optimists—including some of the very boosters of Web3—get blinded by their ego, greed, or naivete. But there’s a part of me that worries about my own capacity to imagine the future. What if even now, at just 34 years old, I’ve become the guy who [as David Letterman did interviewing Bill Gates about the newfangled ‘internet’ in 1995] says “Does radio ring a bell?”

…Web3 will likely influence the direction of the internet incompletely and unpredictably. But the FOMO-fueled marketing of this technology can still be deeply problematic: It strong-arms people into markets and ideas, attracting grifters, scammers, and the greedy while repelling those who want to build sustainable communities and products.


Warzel is always worth reading (and has now been folded back into The Atlantic, where his newsletter sort-of lives).
unique link to this extract

We found the real names of Bored Ape Yacht Club’s pseudonymous founders • Buzzfeed News

Katie Notopulos:


As the value of the asset they produced has skyrocketed, the identities of BAYC’s founders have become the subject of intense interest — not all of it positive. People have pointed out that apes in streetwear-inspired outfits and gold teeth is a racist trope (representatives for Yuga Labs vigorously denied this). Others have expressed concern that Seneca, the young Asian American artist who actually drew the main artwork, has been underacknowledged and undercompensated for her work. Nicole Muniz, the public-facing CEO of Yuga Labs, told BuzzFeed News, “Every single artist of the original five were compensated over a million dollars each.” (Seneca did not respond a request for comment.) This reveals a unique problem with the idea of a billion-dollar company run by an unknown person: How do you hold them accountable if you don’t know who they are?

BuzzFeed News can now reveal the identities of BAYC’s two main founders: Greg Solano, a 32-year-old writer and editor, and Wylie Aronow, a 35-year-old originally from Florida.

Neither man immediately responded to a request for comment.

BuzzFeed News searched public business records to reveal the identities of the two core founders, who go by the pseudonyms “Gordon Goner” and “Gargamel.” According to publicly available records, Yuga Labs, the company name behind BAYC, is incorporated in Delaware with an address associated with Greg Solano. Other records linked Solano to Wylie Aronow. Yuga Labs CEO Nicole Muniz confirmed the identities of both men to BuzzFeed News.

Speaking as Gordon Goner and Gargamel, the founders have given interviews to outlets like Rolling Stone and the New Yorker discussing the origin story of the idea of a group of rich apes living in a swamp clubhouse. The broad strokes of their biographies fit Solano and Aronow: They’re both in their 30s, met while growing up in Florida, and both had literary aspirations (one completed an MFA degree in creative writing, the other dropped out for health reasons, according to their interview in CoinDesk).


As you could predict, people got totally bent out of shape by Notopoulos committing an act of journalism and discovering publicly available (but slightly obscured) information about people who may be getting millions of dollars and are encouraging others to put real money into their not-useful things. The idea of “accountability” seems to shock some people. Predictably, they’re also people who boost NFTs. Why might that be?
unique link to this extract

Apple blasted over paltry 3% fee reduction for external payments in the Netherlands • Macworld

Michael Simon:


After announcing in mid-January that it would be complying with the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets order to allow alternate payment processing options in dating apps, Apple is now offering more details on how the new system will work.

Developers must first request a StoreKit External Purchase Entitlement or the StoreKit External Purchase Link Entitlement and provide the payment service provider’s name and website. Apple requires the PSP to offer broad payment support, including Apple Pay, and be able to split payments, “with the ability to pay commission directly to Apple at the developer’s request.”

The last bit is particularly important, because Apple will still be taking a 27% fee for every transaction made through an external store or link, just 3% less than using the App Store’s payment system. Apple describes it as “a reduced rate that excludes value related to payment processing and related activities.”


Most people will have no idea that Apple’s doing this. But third-party developers for Apple’s platform are furious. Apple is not just doing the least it could, it’s making it actively harder for apps to use a different payment system, and still taking a hefty chunk. It’s a disdain so lofty it’s barely visible from the ground.

(I don’t know why it’s dating apps specifically that Holland picked out for this special treatment. Clues welcome.)
unique link to this extract

Inside Google’s plan to salvage its Stadia gaming service • Business Insider

Hugh Langley:


When Google announced last year that it was shutting down its internal gaming studios, it was seen as a blow to the company’s big bet on video games. Google, whose Stadia cloud service was barely more than a year old, said it would instead focus on publishing games from existing developers on the platform and explore other ways to bring Stadia’s technology to partners.

Since then, the company has shifted the focus of its Stadia division largely to securing white-label deals with partners that include Peloton, Capcom, and Bungie, according to people familiar with the plans.

Google is trying to salvage the underlying technology, which is capable of broadcasting high-definition games over the cloud with low latency, shopping the technology to partners under a new name: Google Stream. (Stadia was known in development as “Project Stream.”)

The Stadia consumer platform, meanwhile, has been deprioritized within Google, insiders said, with a reduced interest in negotiating blockbuster third-party titles. The focus of leadership is now on securing business deals for Stream, people involved in those conversations said. The changes demonstrate a strategic shift in how Google, which has invested heavily in cloud services, sees its gaming ambitions.

Last year, Google entered conversations with Peloton to be a back-end provider for games running on the fitness company’s bikes, three people familiar with the situation said. Peloton unveiled the first of those games, titled “Lanebreak,” in summer and ran a closed demo late last year that was supported by Google’s technology.


Note it’s “salvage” rather than “revive”. Salvage is what you do with a holed or sunken ship. Google seems constantly unable to follow through on promising starts: it beat Apple to wearables, and squandered it by leaving it to OEMs. Its messaging approach has been haphazard, at best. And now this. Apple’s subscription games service seems to chug along, in part because it never promised to revolutionise the world; just to be an add-on.
unique link to this extract

How will the Russia-Ukraine crisis end? • Comment Is Freed(man)

Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of War Studies at King’s College London, making a guest post on his son’s Substack:


While it is not hard to identify differences of opinion among NATO members, [Vladimir] Putin is probably disappointed that the fractures are not deeper. Ukraine has obviously been bothered by the war scare most, not least because it raises a fearful prospect but also because continual mobilisation is draining both socially and economically. This is why Zelensky tried to encourage the US and the UK not to push their more alarmist scenarios too hard.

Even though Putin would have preferred more disarray on NATO’s side he has put some added stress on Ukraine; reminded everybody that Russia is a great power with a significant military clout; got more diplomatic attention than he has enjoyed for a while, with Western leaders paying court, and the possibility might of some modest improvements in Russian security; agreed a verbose communiqué with President Xi of China at the Olympics, which condemns NATO enlargement, along with ‘colour revolutions’; and has been able to use the build-up to cement a developing alliance with Belarus. The Belarusian dictator President Lukashenko once wished to keep his independence from Russia but lost that last year when Russia helped him clamp down on the opposition. He is now hosting exercises with Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border.

If Putin breaks off all diplomacy now then that would be the clearest sign that war was close. If he continues to explore possibilities with [US president Joe] Biden and [French president Emmanuel] Macron and others then in the event of an offensive it would be hard to explain why he is embarking on a war he has said he does not want. It is therefore at least possible that he will carry on developing a mixture of options, seeing if anything changes, taking what he can from the situation, until it is time to start bringing his troops back home. Some crises do just fade away.


unique link to this extract

Question Time showed that you can’t counter anti-vax myths with cold reason alone • The Guardian

Sonia Sodha:


research shows that the process of “myth-busting” – setting out a common false statement, then explaining why it is wrong – backfires because it counterintuitively reinforces and helps spread the myths.

This is why the premise of last week’s Question Time [a weekly audience asks/politicians answer panel show] was so flawed. The presenter of the BBC programme, Fiona Bruce, announced in mid-January that the programme wanted to explore why some people had chosen not to be vaccinated against Covid and specifically invited them to apply to be an audience member on the programme.

Understanding why some people have not yet been vaccinated despite the wealth of evidence that the vaccines are safe, effective and save lives is hugely important to improving take-up. But there are numerous research reports on this, to which a current affairs programme such as Question Time has little to add. And if the objective was instead to increase understanding and build empathy among viewers, its tribal format, in which rhetorical flourish is deployed to score quick wins over opponents, could not be less well suited to the task. In response to widely aired concerns, the programme said it would vet potential audience members to allow ordinary unvaccinated members of the public through while filtering out the fanatics.

This is to misunderstand that the expression of reasonable-sounding doubts can be a much more effective transmitter of misinformation than ranting and raving. And sure enough, the programme ended up falling into a number of disinformation traps.

…Question Time also bought into another piece of conventional wisdom that disintegrates on close examination: the idea that on most issues people can be divided into tribes based on their fixed beliefs. The whole endeavour was based on the premise that “the unvaccinated” are a group of people who have been “unrepresented” on our national broadcaster, as if they share a coherent set of attitudes. But people have not yet been vaccinated for all sorts of reasons. Imagine thinking it useful to sort a Question Time audience on the basis of other unhealthy behaviour, such as smoking or excessive drinking.


unique link to this extract

Exclusive: iPhone flaw exploited by second Israeli spy firm, sources say • Reuters

Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter:


A flaw in Apple’s software exploited by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group to break into iPhones in 2021 was simultaneously abused by a competing company, according to five people familiar with the matter.

QuaDream, the sources said, is a smaller and lower profile Israeli firm that also develops smartphone hacking tools intended for government clients.

The two rival businesses gained the same ability last year to remotely break into iPhones, according to the five sources, meaning that both firms could compromise Apple phones without an owner needing to open a malicious link. That two firms employed the same sophisticated hacking technique – known as a “zero-click” – shows that phones are more vulnerable to powerful digital spying tools than the industry will admit, one expert said.

“People want to believe they’re secure, and phone companies want you to believe they’re secure. What we’ve learned is, they’re not,” said Dave Aitel, a partner at Cordyceps Systems, a cybersecurity firm.

Experts analyzing intrusions engineered by NSO Group and QuaDream since last year believe the two companies used very similar software exploits, known as ForcedEntry, to hijack iPhones.


What’s odd about this is that ForcedEntry exploits a very particular weakness in Apple’s GIF processing. I don’t know enough about the discovery process for bugs to be sure, but it seems distinctly unlikely that two Israeli hacking companies should have separately found precisely the same mechanism for breaking into iPhones.
unique link to this extract

KP Snacks ‘compromised’ by ransomware cyberattack and ‘cannot safely process orders’ • betterRetailing

Jack Courtez:


KP Snacks has been hit by a cyberattack causing delays and cancelations to deliveries that could last “until the end of March at the earliest”.

A letter from KP Snacks sent to store owners on 2 February said its systems had been “compromised by ransomware” and it “cannot safely process orders or dispatch goods”.

KP Snacks revealed the hack wiped out its IT and communications systems begining on 28 January. “We have teams working through the resolution, but it is unknown when this will be resolved,” the letter read.

Messages sent by Nisa to partnered stores on 1 February, and seen by betterRetailing told local shops to “expect supply issues on base stock and promotions until further notice”.

The hack means supply of top selling brands including McCoy’s, Hula Hoops, Tyrrells, Space Raiders, Skips, Butterkist, Pom-Bears, Nik Naks and KP Nuts is at risk.

The wholesaler added: “Initial discussions have highlighted that no orders will be being placed or delivered for a couple of weeks at least and service could be affected until the end of March at the earliest.”

Nisa said it was introducing ordering caps in order to “manage what stock we do have”.

Files seen by cybersecurity site Bleeping Computer showed KP Snacks listed on hacker group Conti’s confidential ‘data leak page’. The site alleged that examples of KP Snacks related “credit card statements, birth certificates, spreadsheets with employee addresses and phone numbers, confidential agreements, and other sensitive documents” were shown on the data leak page.


I should point out that the website has an “Age Verification” system to make sure you’re 18 or older before you can read such salacious details. (See how well you get on at persuading it of your age.) Meanwhile, Britain’s diet might be marginally better for the next few weeks.
unique link to this extract

Estimate to rip and replace Huawei, ZTE networking gear in US carriers more than tripled since 2020 • PhoneArena

Alan Friedman:


As recently as last summer, the FCC said that ripping out Huawei and ZTE’s networking gear would cost it $1.9bn, an estimate originally calculated in 2020. But on Friday Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told Congress that the wireless providers involved in the program requested $5.6 bn to be reimbursed for the cost of “ripping and replacing” the insecure networking equipment.

The FCC issued a press release on Friday which noted that the goal of the “The Supply Chain Reimbursement Program” is to reimburse advanced communications providers for the reasonable expenses these companies laid out for the “removal, replacement, and disposal of covered communications equipment and services.”

While the figure that the rural carriers are seeking is more than triple the amount that the FCC earmarked for this program, the actual amount that will be spent for the rip and replace could still be lower than the inflated new figure. In the press release, Chairwoman Rosenworcel noted that Congress has yet to set aside the $5.6bn that the carriers are asking for.


Wonder if it’s a shortage of people to do the work, or if Nokia and Alcatel have hiked their prices. That’s a pretty dramatic change. (Huawei and ZTE don’t agree that their equipment is insecure, but the Trump admin said they weren’t to be trusted.)
unique link to this extract

Amazon and Nike said to be considering Peloton bid • FT

James Fontanella-Khan, Sara Germano, Dave Lee and Patrick McGee:


Amazon and Nike have not held any talks with Peloton and the considerations are preliminary, according to people briefed on the matter. They added that the decision to look at Peloton was opportunistic given its market value collapsed from nearly $50bn 12 months ago to less than $8bn this week.

Any deal would be hard to get done without the backing from John Foley, Peloton’s co-founder, and other insiders due to the company’s dual-class shareholder structure, which gives them veto power on all big decisions.

Other buyers are also likely to emerge, said those briefed on the matter, potentially including Apple and large private equity buyers.

Peloton was riding high at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, when thousands of people started using its signature stationary bike amid lockdowns.

On Friday, its share price jumped 30% in after-hours trading after The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was considering a bid for the company. The Financial Times first reported Nike’s decision to evaluate a deal.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on “rumours and speculation”. Nike did not return a request for comment. Peloton declined to comment.

Blackwells Capital, which owns less than 5% of Peloton, has accused Foley of mismanagement, including misleading investors and hiring his wife in an executive role, a decision that the hedge fund claimed cost $40bn in shareholders’ wealth.


There’s not the faintest chance that Apple would bid for it – why would it want to make stationary bikes and treadmills? It never buys hardware companies, Beats excepted. It could make some sense for Amazon, but Nike feels like a better fit, as the premium version of the brand, where the subscription would work well.
unique link to this extract

• 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.