Start Up No.1751: life under surveillance, Coinbase blocks 25,000 Russian addresses, Tesla FSD doesn’t, YouTube Kids’ flaws, and more

As sanctions have begun to bite, it might be a while before you see planes from Russian airline Aeroflot in European or British airports. CC-licensed photo by Rich Bowen on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. In a convoy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

My wife tracked me, for journalism • The New York Times

Trevor Timm is the husband of Kashmir Hill, who tracked him (with his consent) using AirTags, Tiles and other stuff:


Despite what some readers said in the comments section of the article and on social media, I have a trusting wife, and I was happy to play a small role in highlighting the privacy implications of emerging technology. But when I heard and saw all of these misinterpretations about my day, I couldn’t help but think of all the people who might be surveilled without their consent, whether it’s by a spouse, an employer or law enforcement.

My mind kept wandering back to a Times investigation about a deadly incident in Kabul. In August, the Pentagon announced a drone attack against a driver who was suspected of having a bomb in his car, posing a threat to troops at the airport in Kabul. At the time, the defense officials called it a “righteous strike.” Journalists on the ground would later conclusively show the victim was not a terrorist; he was an aid worker.

The reporting showed that, while watching drone footage, military personnel misinterpreted almost every movement the man made during the day. What military officials said was a possible visit to an ISIS safe house was, the reporting showed, a day spent driving colleagues at an aid organization to work. Based on misinterpreted data, he and his family, including several children, were killed by a U.S. drone.

My experience, of course, was as different from his as possible. I was never in the slightest danger. Looking at the maps afterward, though, it was unnerving to realise that the devices knew where I was, but that they had no idea what I was doing.


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Coinbase touts blacklist of 25k Russia-linked addresses allegedly tied to illicit activity • Coindesk

Danny Nelson:


Coinbase is blocking 25,000 Russian-linked crypto addresses it believes are tied to illicit activity, Chief Legal Officer Paul Grewal said in a late Sunday blogpost.

That figure accounts for years of sanctions and compliance efforts against Russian bad actors. In other words, it is not specific to the war in Ukraine. Coinbase said it has not seen a surge in illicit activity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Grewal said.

Exchanges have been under pressure to closely monitor Russian-linked crypto activity in the days following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Much of that is due to crypto’s purported risk as a tool for sanctions evasion. Coinbase and other industry participants say those fears are overblown.

“Digital assets have properties that naturally deter common approaches to sanctions evasion,” Grewal wrote in the blog post. He later claimed those properties “can actually enhance our ability to detect and deter evasion compared to the traditional financial system.”

Coinbase cast the 25,000 blocks as evidence of its “proactive” work in rooting out bad actors. It said it can anticipate threats, block sanctioned individuals from engaging with the company and detect attempts at evasion.


It was a week ago that Coinbase was refusing to ban all Russian accounts because it would punish ordinary citizens and that its mission is to “increase economic freedom in the world”. But now we discover there are accounts it will act against. And it knows they’re Russian. So what has it known, and for how long?
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How Russia’s airline industry was pushed to the brink in a week • Financial Times

Philip Georgiadis, Sylvia Pfeifer, Ian Smith and Steff Chávez:


Flag carrier Aeroflot, which took delivery of its first western aircraft from Airbus when Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin, on Saturday announced it would stop all international flights other than to Belarus. S7, Russia’s second-largest airline, has also scrapped flights outside domestic airspace.

The industry’s mushrooming crisis is “unprecedented, unpredictable and unforecastable,” said Max Kingsley-Jones of Ascend by Cirium, the aviation consultancy.

With no clarity on how long the sanctions from US and EU authorities will remain in place, experts warned that in a worst-case scenario Russian domestic carriers’ schedules would shrink to levels not seen in three decades.

The EU’s sanctions prohibit the sale, transfer, supply or export of aircraft or any components, while the US has introduced export restrictions including on Russia’s aerospace sector.

“The Russian aviation sector is now on a footing that is similar to North Korea and Iran — and similar to where it was under Soviet rule,” noted Rob Stallard, an analyst at Vertical Research Partners.

Russia’s carriers have been hit just as they were drawing a line under the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Expectations of a steady and sustained rebound in domestic demand has been replaced, at least for now, by extreme volatility.

In a sign of the concern, the US, French and UK governments this week advised their citizens to leave the country while commercial flights were still available.

Yet with economists predicting that the Russian economy will soon be driven into a deep recession, local aviation executives are braced for a sharp decline in domestic demand.

“There will naturally be a serious correction in demand,” said one executive. “There are a lot of reasons, including stress for the economy.”

Late on Friday, rating agency Fitch cut Aeroflot’s credit rating from BB to B-, predicting the sanctions would “severely disrupt its business”. Aeroflot declined to comment.


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Tesla Full Self Driving (FSD): what is it not so good doing? • CleanTechnica

Arthur Hasler has been using the Tesla FSD beta for the past six weeks, and covered about 2,000 miles:


Where Does FSD (Beta) Fail Completely?

Note: These failures are consistent, so I know when to disable the software and drive manually. Some may be caused by errors in the database. However, in item #1, it can see the stop signs — which I know, because they are visualized for me — but it apparently doesn’t use the visual distance information to calculate position accurately.

At some stop signs, it will stop 10 or 15 feet too early. (This may have improved slightly since V10.5.)
• There is one stop sign turning from 1650 W onto Snow Canyon Parkway in Saint George, Utah, where FSD (Beta) will always run the stop sign. Oh my! Note: this is the only stop sign where I have seen this behavior.
Right Lane Bias: Exiting from I-15 at 1600 N in Orem, Utah, 1600 N street narrows from two lanes to one lane at a stoplight. FSD (Beta) will consistently not just fail to make the merge but will actively put the car in wrong (righthand) lane. Recently, I saw the same behaviour in another location.
Right Lane Bias: When making a turn or going across an intersection, your car will sometimes turn into a bike lane or other wide lane on the right. It will find the correct land after ~50 ft.
Right Side Bias: Particularly on a freeway merge when the lane is still double width, your car will cling to the white line on the right. This is unnerving because a normal driver will tend toward the left hand dotted white line where you need to be when the merge is complete. Note: This also occurs with regular Tesla Autosteer.
Parking Lot Behaviour: You can engage FSD (Beta) in the Walmart or UPS parking lot, but good luck having it actually find its way out. In tight quarters, the steering wheel will jiggle and jerk like a Nervous Nellie and it’s as likely to find its way into a blind corner as it is find its way out. [Editor’s note: I have never played with FSD in such circumstances, so this is especially interesting to read.]


It all makes it sound like something to keep avoiding. FSD always seems like one of those problems where the edge cases are, paradoxically, the ones that come up surprisingly often; that more driving is edge-case handling than we realise. And let’s all wonder how it would cope with roundabouts (Hasler says that it tends to creep forward too slowly when approaching intersections, which would be a problem on a roundabout).
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How YouTube Kids cleaned up its act • WSJ

Yoree Koh:


YouTube Kids was introduced in 2015. Former employees say it was an effort to show parents and regulators that the company took children’s safety seriously while grabbing its next generation of users.

Employees at YouTube Kids were divided on the best way to build a product specifically for children, the former employees said. Employees debated how big a role, if any, humans should play in picking what videos are allowed in the children’s version, they said. The founding engineers backed an open platform and were against employees selecting content, these people said, while others argued that a product made for children couldn’t be left solely to an algorithm.

The feeling among many product managers and engineers was that if a platform was 99% safe, that was enough, according to one former executive. The point was to find a way to avoid human curation, the person said.

The employees pushing for little editorial interference won out.

Within months, users were spending an average of 90 minutes a day watching videos, smashing internal goals, according to two former executives. Like its parent site, YouTube Kids was self-governed: It relied on users to flag inappropriate or troubling content and was subject to minimal review by human moderators.

Controversy and negative publicity followed. Watchdog groups and parents identified disturbing videos in which popular cartoon characters from Mickey Mouse and Paw Patrol to Peppa Pig were put in obscene or violent situations. Researchers chronicled the prevalence of videos they deemed to have little educational merit, such as “unboxing” videos that showed children and adults opening new toys.

“I would’ve flunked it when it launched,” said Josh Golin, executive director of Fairplay, a group that advocates reducing companies’ interactions with children.

By late 2018, YouTube executives acceded to more editorial intervention and began to pour more resources into YouTube Kids.


Amazing that anyone seriously thought they could create a childrens’ channel solely run by algorithm. The level of solipsistic belief in their ability is hard to credit.
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Fraud is flourishing on Zelle. The banks say it’s not their problem • The New York Times

Stacy Cowley and Lananh Nguyen:


Consumers love payment apps like Zelle because they’re free, fast and convenient. Created in 2017 by America’s largest banks to enable instant digital money transfers, Zelle comes embedded in banking apps and is now by far the country’s most widely used money transfer service. Last year, people sent $490bn through Zelle, compared with $230bn through Venmo, its closest rival.

Zelle’s immediacy has also made it a favorite of fraudsters. Other types of bank transfers or transactions involving payment cards typically take at least a day to clear. But once crooks scare or trick victims into handing over money via Zelle, they can siphon away thousands of dollars in seconds. There’s no way for customers — and in many cases, the banks themselves — to retrieve the money.

Nearly 18 million Americans were defrauded through scams involving digital wallets and person-to-person payment apps in 2020, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, an industry consultant.

“Organized crime is rampant,” said John Buzzard, Javelin’s lead fraud analyst. “A couple years ago, we were just starting to talk about it” on apps like Zelle and Venmo, Mr. Buzzard said. “Now, it’s common and everywhere.”

The banks are aware of the widespread fraud on Zelle. When Mr. Faunce called Wells Fargo to report the crime, the customer service representative told him, “A lot of people are getting scammed on Zelle this way.” Getting ripped off for $500 was “actually really good,” Mr. Faunce said the rep told him, because “many people were getting hit for thousands of dollars.”


But here’s the twist: Zelle is owned and operated by the banks which wash their hands of the fraud. At least in the UK the financial regulator is tough on the banks, and often rules against them. Even so, fraud is widespread.
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Librarian’s lament: digital books are not fireproof • ZDNet

Chris Freeland is a librarian, and director of the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries program:


The disturbing trend of school boards and lawmakers banning books from libraries and public schools is accelerating across the country. In response, Jason Perlow made a strong case last week for what he calls a “Freedom Archive,” a digital repository of banned books. Such an archive is the right antidote to book banning because, he contended, “You can’t burn a digital book.” The trouble is, you can.

A few days ago, Penguin Random House, the publisher of Maus, Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, demanded that the Internet Archive remove the book from our lending library. Why? Because, in their words, “consumer interest in ‘Maus’ has soared” as the result of a Tennessee school board’s decision to ban teaching the book. By its own admission, to maximize profits, a Goliath of the publishing industry is forbidding our non-profit library from lending a banned book to our patrons: a real live digital book-burning.

We are the library of last resort, where anyone can get access to books that may be controversial wherever they happen to live – an existing version of Perlow’s proposed “Freedom Archive.” Today, the Internet Archive lends a large selection of other banned books, including Animal Farm, Winnie the Pooh, The Call of the Wild, and the Junie B. Jones and Goosebumps children’s book series. But all of these books are also in danger of being destroyed.


This isn’t really a digital book-burning though, if the book is widely available in exactly the same way (electronically) but just through a different outlet, and paid (as it’s still in copyright, the author/publisher gets to decide about lending methods). It’s not “censorship” to ask to be paid for your work, and the lazy conflation of what governments do with what creators do, by people who get paid by other means, helps nobody.
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Six key lifestyle changes can help avert the climate crisis, study finds • The Guardian

Matthew Taylor:


[“The Jump” campaign co-founder Tom] Bailey said as the world reaches the edge of ecological collapse, it needed a workable alternative to this ‘universal consumer society’ in the next decade.

“The research is clear that governments and the private sector have the largest role to play but it is also equally clear from our analysis that individuals and communities can make a huge difference.”

The Jump campaign asks people to sign up to take the following six “shifts” for one, three or six months:

• Eat a largely plant-based diet, with healthy portions and no waste

• Buy no more than three new items of clothing per year

• Keep electrical products for at least seven years

• Take no more than one short haul flight every three years and one long haul flight every eight years

• Get rid of personal motor vehicles if you can – and if not keep hold of your existing vehicle for longer

Make at least one life shift to nudge the system, like moving to a green energy, insulating your home or changing pension supplier

The campaign was officially kicked off on Saturday and Bailey said there was already a growing movement emerging in response to the evidence with Jump groups up and running around the country.


No more than three items of clothing per year? Long haul and short haul flights essentially never? There’s no way that people are going to make these sacrifices unless the items are put beyond reach by price. And if that’s the case, we’re all in big trouble for some other reason.
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Amazon opens a Whole Foods with the next step in automation • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang:


“Would you like to sign in with your palm?”

That was the question a cheerful Amazon employee posed when greeting me last week at the opening of a Whole Foods Market in Washington’s Glover Park neighborhood. She blithely added, “You can also begin shopping by scanning the QR code in your Amazon app.”

“Let’s go for the palm,” I said.

In less than a minute, I scanned both hands on a kiosk and linked them to my Amazon account. Then I hovered my right palm over the turnstile reader to enter the nation’s most technologically sophisticated grocery store.

For the next 30 minutes, I shopped. I picked up a bag of cauliflower florets, grapefruit sparkling water, a carton of strawberries and a package of organic chicken sausages. Cameras and sensors recorded each of my moves, creating a virtual shopping cart for me in real time. Then I simply walked out, no cashier necessary. Whole Foods — or rather Amazon — would bill my account later.

More than four years ago, Amazon bought Whole Foods for $13 billion. Now the Amazon-ification of the grocery chain is physically complete, as showcased by the revamped Whole Foods store in Glover Park.


The picture it shows, with cameras dangling from the roof, seems to me to shift the vibe from reassuring untroubled shop to spookily monitored surveillance trap.
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Everything we expect to see from tomorrow’s Apple event • MacRumors

Juli Clover:


Apple is set to hold its first event of 2022 on Tuesday, March 8 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time (1800GMT). Apple’s spring events often aren’t as exciting as the September and October events, but it’s nice to have new devices on the horizon in the new year.

For the 2022 spring event, we’re expecting a refreshed version of the iPhone SE, a new iPad Air, and at least one new Apple silicon Mac. We’ve rounded up everything that we might see at the March 8 event below, including last minute rumors.


iPhone SE 5G, a new iPad Air, an updated ARM-based Mac mini (with M1 Max/Pro chips?), perhaps an updated ARM-based 13in MacBook Pro (sans TouchBar), maybe a new 27in display that doesn’t cost the earth, and perhaps a differently coloured iPhone (green)?

Strange times to be launching such things, but then the iPod was launched only a month or so after 9/11.
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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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