Start Up No.1761: big tech’s antitrust loss, Facebook fails Rohingya again, Russians rush for Wikipedia, Belgium nukes on, and more

A team of Ukrainian soldiers rescued AP journalists from Mariupol because they didn’t want them captured by Russians and forced to recant falsely. CC-licensed photo by manhhai on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Almost renewable. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘I don’t wish it on my worst enemy’: people in Calgary detail life with an electricity load limiter • CBC News

Lucie Edwardson:


Josie Gagne was stumbling in the dark, sobbing while on the phone with an Enmax customer assistant, as she tried to locate the tiny orange button under the utility meter that would restore heat inside. 

It was the shock that got her. The young single mother with two kids under two returned home one winter day last year to find a note on her door from Enmax. She’d fallen behind on bills; the home was now on a limiter, capping her electricity.

The furnace was off and at that point, she had no idea what a limiter even was.

“I’m freaking out. I’m crying, thinking ‘What am I going to do?'” she said. “It’s the middle of winter, it’s still cold outside. How am I going to feed my children when my oven doesn’t work?”

Rising utility bills have community advocates worried the number of Calgarians facing this scenario will increase, and many don’t know what a load limiter is. It’s often the first step before disconnection. 

Several Calgary residents flagged the issue while sharing their utility bill experiences with CBC Calgary through text messaging, and on Calgary Kindness, a mutual aid Facebook group.

They’ve shared their personal stories with CBC journalists so others know what to expect.

Contributors said they were scared their fridge would lose power and their groceries would rot. They relied on air fryers, barbecues or a hot plate to make it through.

The extra fees — $52 for the notice, $52 to remove the limiter — only made it worse.


It’s always the poorest who are expected to pay the most for the basics. It’s so, so wrong. And Calgary, in Canada, gets really, really cold. But for a lot of people in the UK, the rise in electricity prices in the autumn is going to be devastating unless something happens to ease it.
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How Big Tech lost the antitrust battle with Europe • FT via Ars Technica

Javier Espinoza:


many [European] companies across Europe are pinning their hopes on the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the EU’s first overhaul of the rules that govern competition on the Internet in 20 years. It is one of two major pieces of technology legislation in the works in Brussels; the other is the Digital Services Act (DSA), which will cover areas such as privacy and data use.

It is the DMA which presents the greatest immediate threat to the digital empires built by so-called gatekeepers such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft over the past two decades. Lawmakers are expected to finalize the act’s wording and scope as soon as this week in a push to open up markets captured by Big Tech and allow local rivals to flourish.

The antitrust legislation has the potential to transform completely how these giant companies do business, disabling their core strategy of integration that has allowed them to tie in users, dominate markets, and capture billions of euros in revenues.

Aimed at firms with an individual market capitalization above €65bn, the act will set out for the first time the rules of how large online platforms must compete in the EU’s market. It could, for example, force Google to give users the choice of alternative email providers when installing a new smartphone or Apple to open its app store to competing services.

It also gives regulators much sharper teeth—granting them broad investigatory powers, with the ability to hand out fines of up to 10% of global turnover for infringements or even in extreme circumstances to force repeat offenders to break up their businesses.


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‘Kill more’: Facebook fails to detect hate against Rohingya • AP News

Victoria Milko and Barbara Ortutay:


A new report has found that Facebook failed to detect blatant hate speech and calls to violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority years after such behavior was found to have played a determining role in the genocide against them.

The report shared exclusively with The Associated Press showed the rights group Global Witness submitted eight paid ads for approval to Facebook, each including different versions of hate speech against Rohingya. All eight ads were approved by Facebook to be published.

The group pulled the ads before they were posted or paid for, but the results confirmed that despite its promises to do better, Facebook’s leaky controls still fail to detect hate speech and calls for violence on its platform.


Facebook is too big for Facebook to control, pt 994,039,548.
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World passes 1 terawatt of solar installations – enough to power the whole of Europe • The Independent

Anthony Cuthbertson:


There are now enough solar panels installed throughout the world to generate 1 terawatt (TW) of electricity from the sun, according to the latest estimates, marking a major milestone for renewable energy adoption.

This solar capacity is enough to meet the electricity demands of nearly every country in Europe combined, though distribution and storage limitations mean it is still only a small fraction of global energy supply.

Calculations based on BloombergNEF figures by photovoltaics publication PV Magazine estimated that the world’s solar capacity passed 1TW on Tuesday, meaning “we can officially start measuring solar capacity in terawatts”.

In a country like Spain, which has roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, this would be the equivalent to 3,000TW-hours.

This is just under the combined electricity consumption of all major countries in Europe (including Norway, Switzerland, UK and Ukraine) – roughly 3,050TWh.

The European Union currently delivers around 3.6% of its electricity needs from solar power, while the UK is slightly higher at 4.1%.

BloombergNEF estimates that solar power will account for roughly 20% of the European energy mix by 2040, based on current market trends.


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Russians are racing to download Wikipedia before it gets banned • Slate

Annie Rauwerda:


On March 1, after a week of horror in Ukraine, reports came out that Russia’s censorship office had threatened to block Russian Wikipedia. A 32-year-old who asked to be called Alexander soon made a plan to download a local copy of Russian-language Wikipedia to keep with him in eastern Russia.

“I did it just in case,” he told me over Instagram Messenger before sharing that he and his wife are “working on moving to another country” with their two dogs, Prime and Shaggy. (Instagram has been blocked in Russia, but many continue to access it using virtual private networks. On Monday, the Russian government officially declared Facebook and Instagram “extremist organizations.”)

Alexander is neither a regular Wikipedia editor nor a die-hard enthusiast, but he wants a source of information based on reliable and neutral sources, and independent of the Kremlin. He likes reading Wikipedia to learn about all sorts of topics—from the frivolous (Mozart and scatology) to the complex (geopolitics)—and he considers Wikipedia more trustworthy than the Russian media. After complaining about his crumbling life and disillusionment with his country, he was quick to share a note of sympathy for Ukraine: “I almost feel ashamed to discuss the struggles that we have in Russia these days.”

Alexander wasn’t the only Russian citizen to make a local copy of Wikipedia. Data suggests that after the threats of censorship, Russians started torrenting Wikipedia in droves. Currently, Russia is the country with the most Wikipedia downloads—by a landslide. Before the invasion, it rarely broke the top 10, but after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, it has kept a solid hold on first place.

The 29-gigabyte file that contains a downloadable Russian-language Wikipedia was downloaded a whopping 105,889 times during the first half of March, which is a more than 40-fold increase compared with the first half of January. According to Stephane Coillet-Matillon, who leads Kiwix, the organization that facilitates these downloads, Russian downloads now constitute 42% of all traffic on Kiwix servers, up from just 2% in 2021. “We had something similar back in 2017 when Turkey blocked Wikipedia,” he said, “but this one is just another dimension.”


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20 days in Mariupol: the team that documented city’s agony • AP News

Mstyslav Chernov, video journalist, and Evgeniy Maloletka:


The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.

We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.

Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: “Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?”

I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. “We’re here to get you out,” they said.

The walls of the surgery shook from artillery and machine gun fire outside, and it seemed safer to stay inside. But the Ukrainian soldiers were under orders to take us with them.

…We reached an entryway, and armored cars whisked us to a darkened basement. Only then did we learn from a policeman why the Ukrainians had risked the lives of soldiers to extract us from the hospital.

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” he said. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

The officer, who had once begged us to show the world his dying city, now pleaded with us to go.


That was March 15. It took them days to get out. An incredible story of survival.
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A drowning world: Kenya’s quiet slide underwater • The Guardian

Carey Baraka:


One of the first scientists to realise that something was wrong with the lakes was a geologist named Simon Onywere. He came to the topic by accident. Between 2010 and 2013 he had been studying Lake Baringo, Kenya’s fourth-largest lake by volume. The bones of residents of the area around the lake weaken uncommonly fast, and Onywere was investigating whether this may be linked to high fluoride levels in the water. Then, in early 2013, while he was meeting with residents of Marigat, a town near the lake, one old man stood up. “Prof,” he said. “We don’t care about the fluoride. What we want to know is how the water has entered our schools.”

Curious to know what the man was talking about, Onywere visited the local Salabani primary school. There, he found the lake lapping through the grounds of the school. Nonplussed, he took out his map. He looked at the location of the lake and the location of the school, and wondered how the lake had moved 2km without it becoming news.

Onywere rushed back to Nairobi, where he and his colleagues at several Kenyan universities studied recent satellite images of the lake. The images showed that the lake had, in the past year, flooded the area around it. Then Onywere searched for images of some of the lakes nearby: Lakes Bogoria, Naivasha and Nakuru. All of these had flooded. As he extended his search, he saw that Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, had flooded, too. So had Lake Turkana, the largest desert lake in the world.


This is a mystery, in a country we might normally think of as very dry (it isn’t, in fact).
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Belgium on verge of delaying 2025 nuclear power exit • Reuters via Daily Energy News

Philip Blenkinsop:


Belgium may extend the life of its nuclear sector, deferring an exit planned for 2025 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine forced a rethink by the governing coalition.

Energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten presented a note to core cabinet members on Wednesday, which broadcaster RTBF said referred to a bill to be approved by the end of March extending the lives of the two newest reactors by up to 10 years.

Van der Straeten, a Green lawmaker, told parliament on Thursday that Belgium had to be open-minded as long as operator Engie could ensure safety, affordability and security of supply if the reactors’ lives were prolonged.

“I can confirm we have had contacts and exchanges with Engie about the prolongation of the 2 gigawatts,” she said. “There is no mandate for negotiations with Engie today. That is on the table of the government tomorrow.”

The minister is expected to set out on Friday a plan to reduce Belgium’s reliance on fossil fuels, notably from Russia, with an increase of offshore wind parks, more solar panels and a reduction of gas and oil heating by 2026.


The two reactors are 35% of Belgium’s nuclear capacity (of 5.9 GW); its total installed capacity is 24.1 GW, of which 11.3 GW is renewables. So that’s about 8 GW of carbon-emitting capacity to cover. Not trivial, but in just one month Russia has been very successful in accelerating the adoption of renewables and nuclear.
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Personal attacks decrease user activity in social networking platforms • ScienceDirect

Rafa Urbaniak et al:


We conduct a large scale data-driven analysis of the effects of online personal attacks on social media user activity.

First, we perform a thorough overview of the literature on the influence of social media on user behavior, especially on the impact that negative and aggressive behaviors, such as harassment and cyberbullying, have on users’ engagement in online media platforms. The majority of previous research were small-scale self-reported studies, which is their limitation. This motivates our data-driven study.

We perform a large-scale analysis of messages from Reddit, a discussion website, for a period of two weeks, involving 182,528 posts or comments to posts by 148,317 users. To efficiently collect and analyze the data we apply a high-precision personal attack detection technology.

We analyze the obtained data from three perspectives: (i) classical statistical methods, (ii) Bayesian estimation, and (iii) model-theoretic analysis. The three perspectives agree: personal attacks decrease the victims’ activity.

The results can be interpreted as an important signal to social media platforms and policy makers that leaving personal attacks unmoderated is quite likely to disengage the users and in effect depopulate the platform. On the other hand, application of cyberviolence detection technology in combination with various mitigation techniques could improve and strengthen the user community.


This does broadly apply for Twitter (there are countless people who have “stepped back” because they are weary of abuse). I’m unsure about Reddit’s position as “social media” here, though; it’s topic-based rather than user-based. But if the findings are robust, well…
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Anonymous: how hackers are trying to undermine Putin • BBC News

Joe Tidy:


The Anonymous hacktivist collective has been bombarding Russia with cyber-attacks since declaring “cyber war” on President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. Several people operating under its banner spoke to the BBC about their motives, tactics and plans.

Of all the cyber-attacks carried out since the Ukraine conflict started, an Anonymous hack on Russian TV networks stands out.

The hack was captured in a short video clip which shows normal programming interrupted with images of bombs exploding in Ukraine and soldiers talking about the horrors of the conflict.
The video began circulating on the 26 February and was shared by Anonymous social media accounts with millions of followers. “JUST IN: #Russian state TV channels have been hacked by #Anonymous to broadcast the truth about what happens in #Ukraine,” one post read. It quickly racked up millions of views.

The stunt has all the hallmarks of an Anonymous hack – dramatic, impactful and easy to share online. Like many of the group’s other cyber-attacks it was also extremely hard to verify.
But one of the smaller groups of Anonymous hackers said that they were responsible, and that they took over TV services for 12 minutes.

The first person to post the video was also able to verify it was real. Eliza lives in the US but her father is Russian and called her when his TV shows were interrupted. “My father called me when it happened and said, ‘Oh my God, they’re showing the truth!’ So I got him to record it and I posted the clip online. He says one of his friends saw it happen too.”


If you were a normal Russian and saw that, I wonder whether it wouldn’t make you feel more embattled – to go along with the sanctions and the emptying supermarket shelves. The question of how you pierce an incorrect narrative about the world can just as truthfully be asked about Americans who think the 2020 election was “stolen”.
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Alaska Airlines is using iPad Pros for airport check-ins • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:


The iPad Pro check-in stations are part of a range of new technologies that Alaska is field-testing in San Jose. They also include self-serve drop-off points where you can hand over checked bags once you’ve tagged them. And passengers on departing international flights can choose to use facial recognition at the gate rather than wrestle with passports and boarding passes, shaving precious seconds off the embarking process.

“What we’re doing in San Jose is really testing our lobby vision out and using it as a tech incubator to test various ideas,” says Charu Jain, Alaska’s senior vice president of merchandising and innovation. The airport’s location in the heart of Silicon Valley makes it ideal for reaching folks who are eager to get early access to the latest tech, she adds. But the airline’s goal is to turn its learnings into a new, time-saving experience that will benefit travelers everywhere it flies.

Along with being a big deal for the airline, the use of iPad Pros at San Jose is a meaningful moment for Apple. Since its 2010 launch, the iPad has made high-profile inroads in homes, offices, and schools. With enterprise implementations such as Alaska’s, the tablet is tackling new frontiers where the competition might consist of specialized, proprietary hardware and software rather than a Microsoft Surface or Samsung Galaxy Tab. And it needs to excel in scenarios that demand rock-solid reliability and the ability to manage whole fleets of devices in an efficient, centralized way.


They’re a ton pricier than the Galaxy Tab. Yet Alaska just seems to like them – maybe because customers are more familiar with them.
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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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