Start Up No.1766: Nokia’s Russian surveillance legacy, LinkedIn’s AI marketers, DMA comes into focus, lower AirPod demand?, and more

The NHS is to start testing of an AI system to predict levels of A&E admissions. CC-licensed photo by Lydia on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. State of preparedness. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

When Nokia pulled out of Russia, a vast surveillance system remained • The New York Times

Adam Satariano, Paul Mozur and Aaron Krolik:


For more than five years, Nokia provided equipment and services to link SORM [System for Operative Investigative Activities] to Russia’s largest telecom service provider, MTS, according to company documents obtained by The New York Times. While Nokia does not make the tech that intercepts communications, the documents lay out how it worked with state-linked Russian companies to plan, streamline and troubleshoot the SORM system’s connection to the MTS network. Russia’s main intelligence service, the F.S.B., uses SORM to listen in on phone conversations, intercept emails and text messages, and track other internet communications.

The documents, spanning 2008 to 2017, show in previously unreported detail that Nokia knew it was enabling a Russian surveillance system. The work was essential for Nokia to do business in Russia, where it had become a top supplier of equipment and services to various telecommunications customers to help their networks function. The business yielded hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, even as Mr. Putin became more belligerent abroad and more controlling at home.

For years, multinational companies capitalized on surging Russian demand for new technologies. Now global outrage over the largest war on European soil since World War II is forcing them to re-examine their roles.

…Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russian intelligence and digital surveillance who reviewed some of the Nokia documents at the request of The Times, said that without the company’s involvement in SORM, “it would have been impossible to make such a system.”

“They had to have known how their devices would be used,” said Mr. Soldatov, who is now a fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.


Well, if you sell a telecoms system in an authoritarian country then it’s always likely to be used for surveillance. Hardly a surprise. But if Nokia won’t, Huawei or ZTE will.

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The latest marketing tactic on LinkedIn: AI-generated faces • NPR

Shannon Bond:


At first glance, Renée DiResta thought the LinkedIn message seemed normal enough.

The sender, Keenan Ramsey, mentioned that they both belonged to a LinkedIn group for entrepreneurs. She punctuated her greeting with a grinning emoji before pivoting to a pitch for software.

“Quick question — have you ever considered or looked into a unified approach to message, video, and phone on any device, anywhere?”

DiResta wasn’t interested and would have ignored the message entirely, but then she looked closer at Ramsey’s profile picture. Little things seemed off in what should have been a typical corporate headshot. Ramsey was wearing only one earring. Bits of her hair disappeared and then reappeared. Her eyes were aligned right in the middle of the image.

“The face jumped out at me as being fake,” said DiResta, a veteran researcher who has studied Russian disinformation campaigns and anti-vaccine conspiracies. To her trained eye, these anomalies were red flags that Ramsey’s photo had likely been created by artificial intelligence.

That chance message launched DiResta and her colleague Josh Goldstein at the Stanford Internet Observatory on an investigation that uncovered more than 1,000 LinkedIn profiles using what appear to be faces created by artificial intelligence.


But, for once, not pushing disinformation; they’re just bots used for marketing purposes. A sort of visual spam: respond eagerly and you’ll be put on a phone to a real human who’ll try to sell you something.

The next step, presumably, is that GPT-3 gets hooked up to a voice synthesizer and the human gets cut out of the phone call bit.
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NHS England deploys pilot AI tool to forecast A&E admissions • Computer Weekly

Brian McKenna:


The NHS is deploying a demand forecasting tool from artificial intelligence (AI) firm Faculty that will predict accident and emergency admissions and help it better accommodate post-pandemic backlogs for elective procedures.

The same firm was involved in building a Covid-19 “early warning system” in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. That was also used to forecast hospital admissions.

…Faculty said data about factors such as Covid prevalence and public holidays improved the accuracy of the model behind the tool. Their ambition is to include weather data sources in future iterations.

The tool was co-developed with frontline clinical and operational staff in nine pilot NHS trusts. It is being rolled out to more than 100 NHS trusts.

Myles Kirby, director of health and life sciences at Faculty, said: “Since our work with the NHS began two years ago, Faculty has been driven by one goal – to help improve patient care.

“By better forecasting patient demand, we are helping staff tackle treatment backlogs by showing them who is set to be admitted, what their needs are, and which staff are needed to treat them.”


Would have been nice to know how well it did in the Covid forecasting.
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The EU tries to loosen Big Tech’s grip • Financial Times

The FT’s editorial board:


Big Tech finally has commandments to abide by. Among them: thou shalt not bundle products, and thou shalt permit interoperability between different systems. Penalties for transgressions include a fine of up to 20% of a company’s global turnover, or even a break-up of businesses for recidivists. The advent of the Digital Markets Act in the EU, the text of which was finalised last week, means a user of Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service could text a friend who uses a different service. It means Apple must allow its smartphone users to pick apps from beyond its own App Store. It is the biggest overhaul of the digital marketplace in 20 years, and it is welcome.

Having these ground rules laid down — so-called ex-ante regulation — is a departure from the system until now, where what is deemed to be problematic behaviour is retrospectively enforced by citing breaches of broad-brush antitrust law. Even though the EU has taken a much more expansive view of competition law than the US, traditional antitrust laws that define consumer harm through the lens of prices have not kept pace with the digital economy, where personal data is bartered for ostensibly free services, and where a marketplace’s main producers are also its gatekeepers.

The DMA is one strand of twin policies to help redress the balance in favour of consumers and competitors; the forthcoming Digital Services Act will focus on privacy and how Big Tech should use personal data. The pieces of legislation mark a watershed moment, not least because they put tech gatekeepers in the same camp as other “utility” sectors such as finance, energy and telecoms that must follow ex-ante regulation because of their size and importance to consumers’ daily lives.


I think there are going to be a lot of unintended consequences from this. It’s welcome in some ways (bundling can forestall innovation) but rather as GDPR and cookies have put a ton of roadblocks in our way, and the benefits are hard to see, so I think we’ll be complaining about the DMA in the years to come.

Quick recap from Axios of some of what the DMA brings: • Require companies to obtain “explicit consent” to target ads based on personal data
• Require that instant messaging platforms like Apple’s iMessage and Meta’s WhatsApp exchange messages with smaller services
• Require large platforms to give users freedom to select a browser, search engine and personal voice assistant of their choice.
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Volodymyr Zelensky in his own words • The Economist


On March 25th 2022 Ukraine’s president spoke in person to The Economist in what he and his staff have taken to calling “the fortress”. Here are highlights of what he told us—switching freely between English, Ukrainian and Russian. We have edited them for clarity.

The Economist: You are an actor and president. Now you are being called a 21st-century Churchill. It’s an extraordinary change. How did it happen?

Volodymyr Zelensky: I think that these changes happened already in Ukraine when they elected me. It’s what [the people] wanted. They saw my honest position on everything. Like your father says, if you don’t know how to do something this way or that way, be honest and that’s it. You have to be honest, so that people believe you. You don’t need to try. You need to be yourself. And maybe, after you show who you are, maybe people will love you more than before, because they see that you are not so strong or are lazy at times. No, each time don’t lie and show people who you are exactly. And it’s important not to show that you are better than who you are.

TE: Did you always have it in you to be so brave? To be such a strong person?

VZ: It’s not about being brave. I have to act the way I do. I have to do it this way. None of us was ready for the war before it began. You can’t say, “If I were the President of Ukraine, then I would do it this way”, because you can’t imagine what it would mean. And you can’t imagine even how you will do it. That’s what it was like in this case with me. And all of the people around me.


Good to have him in his own words.
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Heardle, that daily musical intros game


• Listen to the intro, then find the correct artist & title in the list.

• Skipped or incorrect attempts unlock more of the intro

• Answer in as few tries as possible and share your score!


The whole -dle thing is an entire ecosystem now.
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Who’s driving that food delivery bot? It might be a Gen Z gamer • Los Angeles Times

Ronald White:


In a low-light Culver City control room, Lily Shaw is getting her pilot mood on.

A can of mint Guayaki Yerba Mate sits near her carefully manicured fingers. “Good jams to get pumped” from alt rock band Slothrust blast on her earbuds. Horn-rimmed, blue-light filtering glasses protect her eyes. Her favored chartreuse Xbox controller stands ready to command her laptop.

Shaw is set for her mission: piloting an order of burritos and doughnuts along Santa Monica sidewalks to a hungry customer.

It’s not exactly “Top Gun,” but Shaw’s job at delivery startup Coco highlights a little-known fact about the autonomous delivery robot industry, which is projected to mushroom in growth over the next few years. Those cute sidewalk-traveling ice chests on wheels aren’t completely autonomous, unlike the Roomba roaming your house.

For all their AI and other advanced technology, such sidewalk robots — suddenly all over certain neighborhoods and college campuses — are backed by armies of human minders who track the last-mile delivery vehicles the way parents hover over toddlers taking their first steps. These behind-the-scenes workers monitor, drive, troubleshoot, rescue and — when things go terribly wrong — may hop on a bike or scooter to complete the delivery themselves.

California has become a proving ground for several sidewalk delivery robot startups like Coco, which was born two years ago in the living room of UCLA alumni Zach Rash and Brad Squicciarini, both now 24 and riding a pandemic-related desire for contact-free delivery. A recent partnership with Segway is promising to unleash thousands of the pink vehicles in multiple cities.


The picture accompanying the article of Shaw’s POV is fascinating. It’s real Ender’s Game stuff, if Enders wound up navigating around potentially hostile people.
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It’s just Oscars takes all the way down • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick on the Will-Smith-slapping-Chris-Rock kerfuffle:


I used to even watch award shows or televised live events hoping for this kind of thing to happen. But now, the very thought of having the same “have you seen X meme or Y take” conversation, which now happens both online and off, feels completely draining. Even if I still find the memes super funny.

I assume, like most parts of America, this viral fatigue is connected to the Trump administration. Sorry, we gotta go there. The interplay between viral content, celebrity, live television, and unscripted chaos really started in America with Kanye West’s 2009 “Imma let you finish” moment, but I’d argue went fully mainstream as a trope for American media to acknowledge and seize upon with Miley Cyrus’s 2013 twerking incident.

By the next year, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were hosting the Golden Globes via a drinking game, and ever since, the only thing that has kept American award shows even barely relevant is their potential for memes, and, more recently, discourse. And this idea — a celebrity, a stage, a live feed, and Twitter — was central to Trump’s campaign and his whole time in office. I mean, what was the Trump administration if not a constant series of unscripted awards show moments?

Unfortunately, at least for me, I actually don’t see this general trend reversing…


Fabulous, especially the description of the Trump administration. If only he hadn’t been president, things might have been tolerable (which is to say, ignorable).
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A $350,000 Bored Ape NFT was just sold for only $115 • The Block

Osato Avan-Nomayo:


A Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) NFT has just been sold for 115 DAI ($115) in what appears to be either a costly mistake or a hack.

Data from OpenSea shows the previous owner with the moniker “cchan” accepting a 115 DAI bid on Monday for BAYC #835. That’s 99.9% lower than the current floor price — the lowest price one is available to buy — of the popular NFT collection.

The same owner also sold Mutant Ape #11670 for 25 DAI ($25) to the same buyer. The floor price for mutant apes is 22.6 ETH ($76,000). While it is not immediately clear why the owner would accept such low offers, the situation seems to be a mistake with cchan confusing DAI for ETH. There were three other high-value bids for the Bored Ape between 75 ETH and 106 ETH placed by other collectors that were not accepted.

The floor price for BAYC sits at 106 ETH ($350,000) as of the time of writing. But the NFT in question sports sunglasses and a cigarette, several traits that mean it would typically sell higher than the current floor price. (It’s hard to specify exactly how much it specific NFT should be valued — a wider problem that has been perplexing NFT traders when it comes to using them for loans).

Apart from being sold much lower than the floor price, the sale also represents a major loss for cchan, seeing as the BAYC NFT was initially acquired for 16 ETH in August last year.

Since the purchase, the new buyer has claimed the Ape tokens from the ApeCoin airdrop. They received 12,136 Ape tokens ($180,000).

What’s strange about this whole situation is that the previous owner had to approve their wallet to be able to interact with DAI. That means a transaction will have popped up asking them to approve the use of the stablecoin — a sign that the payment wasn’t being made with ETH. They then sold both the Bored Ape and the Mutant Ape within a minute of each other, suggesting they had decided to accept both offers in one go.

While this might suggest that this was a deliberate move (for some unbeknown reason), a glance at the buyer’s wallet shows otherwise. The buyer has been continously placing bids in DAI on multiple Bored Ape NFTs, seemingly looking to trick someone into believing the offer is in ETH and accepting the purchase. This suggets the seller fell into the intentional trap.

It’s also possible that the seller had their account compromised.


I love that the possibilities are (translated into normal currencies) “they thought they were being offered dollars, not rubles” or “they were hacked”, and that these are the default expectations. Looks to me like a scam, since the buyer grabbed the ApeCoin their new ownership entitled them to. And it’s all legit.
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Apple to cut iPhone, AirPods output amid Ukraine war uncertainty • Nikkei

Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li:


Apple launched the iPhone SE as its first 5G-capable budget phone less than three weeks ago but is now telling multiple suppliers that it aims to lower production orders by about 2m-3m units for the quarter, citing weaker-than-expected demand, four people told Nikkei Asia. The U.S. tech giant also reduced orders for its AirPods earphones by more than 10m units for all of 2022, as the company predicted lukewarm demand and wanted to reduce the level of inventories.

The company shipped about 76.8m units of AirPods in 2021, Counterpoint Research data showed, but people with knowledge of the situation said overall shipments for 2022 could likely see a decline.

Apple also asked suppliers to make a couple of million fewer units of the entire iPhone 13 range than previously planned, but said this adjustment was based on seasonal demand.

These moves by the world’s most powerful chip and component procurer underline the mounting pressure on the tech industry following the onset of the Russia-Ukraine war, which has compounded the yearslong chip shortage that has hit a string of industries from smartphones to PCs to automobiles.

Numerous governments, from the US and the EU to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, have imposed economic sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, and the supply chain has been rocked by turmoil in the oil, energy and raw materials markets.


Always wary of “Apple has cut demand…” stories, but the supply chain issues behind this one seem solid enough, and there’s probably going to be a new whiplash effect through the European tech industry. (And don’t forget Ukraine’s xenon!)
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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?

Read Social Warming, my latest book, and find answers – and more.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

1 thought on “Start Up No.1766: Nokia’s Russian surveillance legacy, LinkedIn’s AI marketers, DMA comes into focus, lower AirPod demand?, and more

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