Start Up No.1733: hands off in the Meta-verse, how Melania Trump bought her own NFT, Myanmar searching for VPNs, and more


Many Facebook Groups supporting trucking protests in Canada are organised by a single, hacked account. Why hasn’t Facebook acted? CC-licensed photo by michael_swanmichael_swan on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Aren’t they sweet? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


The hacked account and suspicious donations behind the Canadian trucker protests • Grid News

Anya van Wagtendonk, Benjamin Powers and Steve Reilly:

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The entity behind some of the largest Facebook groups supporting the protests is an unknown person or persons who used the Facebook account of a Missouri woman. She says her account on the platform was hacked and stolen.

The account launched a handful of Facebook groups for the protest, all between Jan. 26 and 28, before the trucker convoy reached Ottawa. With a combined following of more than 340,000 members and more than 7,500 posts, the group names were variations on a theme: “Convoy to Ottawa 2022,” “Convoy for Freedom 2022,” “Freedom Convoy/Ottawa 2022 for Canada,” “Freedom Convoy 2022” and “2022 Official Freedom Convoy to Ottawa.”

Facebook groups are organized by administrators. Grid found that the only administrator account for these groups belonged to the Missouri woman. Reached briefly by phone on Monday, she said her account was hacked and she was not involved with the groups.

“Someone stole my identity on Facebook,” she said. “I don’t know how they [did] it.”

The woman, whom Grid is not naming because she is the victim of apparent identity theft, said her daughter set up a new account for her. A new Facebook account with the woman’s name appeared in October 2021 with the post: “New account. Last one got hacked.”

The groups were disabled Monday afternoon as Grid was reporting this story. Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about the hacked account. “We continue to see scammers latch onto any hot-button issue that draws people’s attention, including the ongoing protests,” Margarita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said in a statement to media outlets on Monday.

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Great stuff, Facebook. All this stuff explodes and it takes journalists to look at a couple of older posts and figure out that the account was hacked. And does it take any action? Oh nooooo.
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Meta establishes four-foot “personal boundary” to deter VR groping • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

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In the real world, the idea of personal space is ingrained from a young age and enforced mainly by unspoken interpersonal contract and subtle social pressure. In the world of virtual reality, on the other hand, Facebook parent Meta is now using software to enforce a 4-foot zone of “personal space” for each avatar in its metaverse-style social spaces.

As detailed in a recent blog post, Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues spaces now include a default personal boundary that “prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions.”

The system, in effect, sets up an invisible cylinder with a 2-foot radius that surrounds each avatar; if user movement would cause two cylinders to overlap, “the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary” without any other overt feedback. Two users will be able to jointly reach outside their personal boundary for interactions like a high-five or fist-bump, Meta writes. Having the system on by default will “help to set behavioral norms—and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR,” Meta writes.

The new announcement comes a few months after a New York Times story calling attention to the problem of “harassment and assaults” in the VR world. But the general issue is much older than that, with writers making public complaints of virtual groping since at least 2016, when affordable consumer-grade virtual reality was still a new and much-hyped concept.

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Meta/Facebook said that this “builds upon existing harassment measures”. O tempora, o mores.
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Analyzing the very bizarre sale of Melania Trump’s $170,000 NFT • Vice

Jordan Pearson:

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The $170,000 purchase of an NFT collection auctioned by Melania Trump was made by the entity that originally put the NFT up for sale, according to blockchain records. 

The former first lady got into NFTs last year, launching her own website and lining up a slate of auctions. On Jan. 11, Trump started auctioning the “Head of State Collection, 2022” on the Solana blockchain, a package deal that paired the “iconic white millinery masterpiece worn by Mrs. Trump” (a wide-brimmed hat she wore during a 2018 visit with French President Emanuel Macron) with a watercolor of her wearing it, as well as an NFT. The opening bid, according to a press release, was “the equivalent of $250,000” denominated in SOL tokens (1,800 SOL at the time) and a “portion” of the proceeds would be used to “provide foster care children with access to computer science and technology education.”

After the auction’s conclusion, the New York Times ran a piece describing the sale as attracting a few bids all around 1,800 SOL, ultimately ending with somebody purchasing the NFT for 1,800 SOL worth $170,000 at the time (now $200,000), a price far below the figure touted by the auction’s press release and which the paper described as “deflated results” due to a wider crash in the price of cryptocurrencies. 

Now, according to Solana blockchain records reviewed by Motherboard and shared with an independent researcher, we know who bought the NFT collection: Melania Trump herself, or at least, whoever set up the auction for her.

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I do love that the blockchain lets these circular scams be revealed. Though there are so many more of them than you’d ever expect.

And how very surprising that a Trump should be mixed up in a highly questionable fraud-adjacent transaction.
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You’re listening to KUOW … like it or not: mysterious glitch has Mazda drivers stuck on public radio • GeekWire

Kurt Schlosser:

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Drivers of certain vehicles in Seattle and other parts of Western Washington are shouting at their car radios this week. Not because of any particular song or news item that’s being broadcast, but because an apparent technical glitch has caused the radios to be stuck on public radio station KUOW.

The impacted drivers appear to all be owners of Mazda vehicles from between 2014 and 2017. In some cases the in-car infotainment systems have stopped working altogether, derailing the ability to listen to the radio at all or use Bluetooth phone connections, GPS, the rear camera and more.

According to Mazda drivers who spoke with GeekWire, and others in a Reddit thread discussing the problem, everyone who has had an issue was listening to KUOW 94.9 in recent weeks when the car systems went haywire.

KUOW sounded unsure of a possible cause; at least one dealership service department blamed 5G; and Mazda told GeekWire in an official statement that it identified the problem and a fix is planned.

“I see the Mazda symbol, like it’s coming on,” said Stephanie Marquis of Olympia, Wash., who was sitting in her car trying to get her dashboard screen to work. “It just keeps rebooting. Now it’s black. It’s like it’s trying to turn on but it won’t turn on.”

…Marquis said she took her car to the dealer in Olympia and was told the problem may be related to KUOW “switching to 5G.” She called Mazda’s corporate offices and was on hold for over an hour before a rep told her he would look into it and call her back. She never heard back.

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And what was it? Mazda: “Between Jan 24 and 31, a radio station in the Seattle area sent image files with no extension, which caused an issue on some 2014-2017 Mazda vehicles with older software,” the Mazda statement said. “Mazda North American Operations (MNAO) has distributed service alerts advising dealers of the issue.”
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IRS was wrong to give in to hysteria and drop use of facial verification to fight fraud and protect consumers • ITIF

Daniel Castro:

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The primary reason detractors give for opposing the IRS’s use of facial recognition is their “serious concerns about privacy,” although the details of those privacy concerns are a bit murky. After all, the IRS maintains extensive records about taxpayers’ most sensitive financial information, so the idea of the agency also having access to a database of selfies does not seem particularly risky. Some objected to the IRS using a private company, ID.me, to operate its facial verification system, arguing that the company might misuse this information. But again, the IRS routinely uses contractors, including to process sensitive taxpayer information, and requires them to adhere to strict privacy controls and subjects them to penalties for violations, so there is no particular reason why facial recognition presents unique privacy risks.

Critics also claim that the IRS should not use facial recognition because “research shows people of color are more likely to be misidentified.” Here too, the evidence does not support the claims, as independent testing by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has shown that the best performing facial recognition algorithms have high accuracy rates across most demographics. In addition, the specific company’s algorithm used by ID.me has performed very well in these tests, with little variation based on demographics.

Moreover, the implication of these incorrect claims about facial recognition’s “bias” seems to be that the IRS would underserve communities of color by locking them out of important government services, which shows just how little the critics understand the technology.

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You can sort of guess what sort of companies will be in the ITIF’s supporters list. [ITIF = Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.] It’s somewhat tin-eared, to say the least, to think that having a facial recognition system on all the nation’s taxpayers wouldn’t attract some negative responses.
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Myanmar junta using draft law to conduct searches for VPNs • Radio Free Asia

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane, English version by Joshua Lipes:

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Myanmar junta officials are stopping people to see if their mobile phones use privacy software to access websites like Facebook that regime opponents have used to coordinate protests, including an upcoming “Silent Strike” marking the one-year anniversary of the coup that brought the military in power, sources said.

The junta earlier this month ordered all ministries and internet service providers to comment by Jan. 28 on a proposed cybersecurity law that carries a sentence of up to three years in prison and 500,000 kyats (U.S. $280) for any resident of Yangon found in possession of unauthorized Virtual Private Network (VPN) software.

But residents said officials have already begun stopping passersby and demanding access to their phones, even though the legislation has not been approved.

VPNs, which anonymize a user’s Internet Protocol (IP) address, can be used to bypass location-specific firewalls that would otherwise block access to certain websites. Since seizing power in a coup on Feb. 1, 2021, the junta has restricted the country’s internet.

Residents of Yangon told RFA’s Myanmar Service that authorities recently began targeting VPNs because people are using them to organize the strike scheduled for next week.

“They stopped our motorcycle and asked for our phones to check if we were using VPN software,” a woman who spoke on condition of anonymity said of an encounter with police in Yangon’s Thanlyin township on Wednesday morning.

“Luckily, there was no VPN on my phone. I deleted it some time ago because I didn’t use it much. When they didn’t find it on my phone, we were allowed to leave, but they took away the phones of those who had the software. There were so many people stuck there, but I don’t know what happened [to them].”

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How Telegram became the anti-Facebook • WIRED

Darren Loucaides:

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In the world of social media, Telegram is a distinct oddity. Often rounding out lists of the world’s 10 largest platforms, it has just around 30 core employees, had no source of ongoing revenue until very recently, and—in an era when tech firms face increasing pressure to quash hate speech and misinformation—exercises virtually no content moderation, except to take down illegal pornography and calls for violence. At Telegram it is an article of faith, and a marketing pitch, that the company’s platform should be available to all, regardless of politics or ideology. “For us, Telegram is an idea,” Pavel Durov, Telegram’s Russian founder, has said. “It is the idea that everyone on this planet has a right to be free.”

Campo shared that faith—but as Telegram’s head of growth, business, and partnerships, he also bore the brunt of its complications. In the mid-2010s, when the media began referring to Telegram as the “app of choice” for jihadists, it was [Elies] Campo who fretted most about ISIS’ use of the platform. He says he often feels like an anxious parent when messaging Durov. “I’m the nag,” Campo says. What troubled him now was how the influx of insurrection-adjacent Americans would play in the media and with the business partners he had to deal with.

So he wrote a long message to Durov. “Good evening Pavel,” he recalls it opening. “Have you been looking at what’s happening in the US? Have you seen Trump is being blocked on other social networks?” He warned that the US far right’s embrace of Telegram could “potentially eclipse” a far more flattering story that was, by sheer coincidence, driving its own stampede of new users onto the platform.

…While Telegram has plenty of channels and groups dedicated to apolitical subjects like Bollywood movies and Miami’s tech scene, it has proven particularly well suited to activism. Its blend of private messaging and public channels makes it a perfect organizing tool: ideal for evangelizing in public and then plotting in secret. “I call it the one-two punch,” says Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who studies Telegram. “You can do both propaganda and planning on the same app.”

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Today’s long read.
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Let’s face it, LinkedIn might be the best social network right now • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

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I’m ready to speak my truth: I like LinkedIn. Actually, I love LinkedIn.

At least once a day I open the app, not to look for a job or to wish a colleague from a decade ago a happy work anniversary. But because—unlike in my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds—the conversation is meaningful, the people are civil and there’s no politics. At least not anymore.

LinkedIn recently started testing a no-politics setting, which I enabled. It filters out content about political parties and candidates, election outcomes, ballot initiatives and more. The Microsoft-owned company has made the setting available to some U.S. users over the past few months.

“If they find it effective, if it’s helping them better accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish on LinkedIn, then we’ll roll it out to more,” LinkedIn chief executive Ryan Roslansky told me in an exclusive video interview.

The feature is one of many that the professional social network has been adding while it enjoys the fruits of the quit-pocalypse—I mean the massive upheaval in the labor market that has been best described as The Great Reshuffle. Just look at Microsoft’s last quarter: LinkedIn revenue was up 37% year over year, and new hires made through the service more than doubled.

But here’s the shocker: It isn’t just seasoned professionals flocking to this decidedly uncool corner of the internet.

“We’re seeing a lot of Gen Z join the network right now,” Mr. Roslansky told me, adding that job moves are up nearly 70% for users ages 16 to 22, vs. just 7% for users over 55. “We’re seeing the platform evolve much more to cater to them.”

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When I wrote Social Warming, I realised that LinkedIn – despite its network – simply wasn’t a contributor to the general problem of anger. Partly that’s because of the way it prevents people connecting (you need some sort of close-ish connection to get in touch) and partly because its focus on “business” means that anger is out of place.

However, you can’t apply that to every social network.
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RealityOS offers the clearest signal that Apple is serious about an AR headset • Macworld

Michael Simon:

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iOS developer Rens Verhoeven has spotted a reference to realityOS in the App Store upload logs that likely signals Apple’s augmented reality/virtual reality headset is well along in development. Rumors have swirled for years that Apple is working on an Oculus-style mixed-reality device that will strap multiple displays and cameras to our face, but Apple has characteristically been mum about its existence.

RealityOS could be a placeholder name, but it matches up with Apple’s naming convention — tvOS, watchOS, macOS, etc. We still don’t know what the device will be called, but Apple Reality has been floated as a possible name. It could also apply to an expansion of Apple’s current ARKit framework for the iPad and iPhone, but we’d be shocked if Apple’s AR headset wasn’t running realityOS.

Rumors say that the initial release could be a high-priced niche placeholder as Apple works to bring the tech to the masses over the next several years.

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Everyone’s writing AR/VR OSs. Probably the next big landrush. Bear in mind that every time there’s been an OS goldrush, only two have come through from the many that have started: Windows and MacOS on desktop, Windows and Linux on servers, iOS and Android on mobile. So if Apple succeeds in this (and if it’s a significant space), whose OS will be the other one for AR devices?
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Wisconsin Foxconn deal: race to bottom in corporate subsidies is over • CNBC

Scott Cohn:

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“At the end of the day, economic development and site selection is not about a race to the bottom — about who can do it cheaper than another person — it really is a decision about the best value,” said Christopher Lloyd, a site selection consultant at McGuireWoods in Richmond, Virginia, and chairman of the Site Selectors Guild, an industry trade group.

He said Wisconsin is among many states that have moved away from headline-grabbing incentives in their pitches to companies, selling things like infrastructure and workforce.

“They want to show that we can deliver on many of these fronts to companies. So, give us a shot,” he said.

Back in Wisconsin, they are still dealing with the downsides of the big gamble on Foxconn.

Because the company never met its hiring targets, the state did not have to pay any of the $2.85bn in incentives it had promised in the original deal. But close to $1bn has already been spent on infrastructure and land acquisition, with large portions of those costs falling to the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County, both of which saw their debt downgraded.

Like the state, the village is also attempting to renegotiate its agreement with Foxconn.

“Everything’s on the table,” Village president Dave DeGroot told WTMJ-TV in April.

Meanwhile, Foxconn has been doing light manufacturing on the site, which includes four buildings and a giant glass sphere that the company originally planned as a data centre, but apparently only contains an auditorium.

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An empty sphere for people to talk to each other, rather than a world-class manufacturing site. Somehow descriptive of the Trump years. (Thanks Mark C for the link.)
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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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