Start Up No.1769: Facebook bug boosted bad content, TSMC sees slowdown, wind v misinformation, Wyze’s slow hack, and more

If you’ve got 5G, have you found a use for it that goes beyond what you could do with 4G? Because people are starting to think there isn’t. CC-licensed photo by Jeanne Menjoulet on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not retreating, just advancing backwards. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook News Feed bug mistakenly elevates misinformation, Russian state media • The Verge

Alex Heath:


The engineers first noticed the issue last October, when a sudden surge of misinformation began flowing through the News Feed, notes the report, which was shared inside the company last week. Instead of suppressing dubious posts reviewed by the company’s network of outside fact-checkers, the News Feed was instead giving the posts distribution, spiking views by as much as 30% globally. Unable to find the root cause, the engineers watched the surge subside a few weeks later and then flare up repeatedly until the ranking issue was fixed on March 11th.

In addition to posts flagged by fact-checkers, the internal investigation found that, during the bug period, Facebook’s systems failed to properly demote nudity, violence, and even Russian state media the social network recently pledged to stop recommending in response to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The issue was internally designated a level-one SEV, or Severe Engineering Vulnerability — a label reserved for the company’s worst technical crises, like Russia’s ongoing block of Facebook and Instagram.

Meta spokesperson Joe Osborne confirmed the incident in a statement to The Verge, saying the company “detected inconsistencies in downranking on five separate occasions, which correlated with small, temporary increases to internal metrics.” The internal documents said the technical issue was first introduced in 2019 but didn’t create a noticeable impact until October 2021. “We traced the root cause to a software bug and applied needed fixes,” said Osborne, adding that the bug “has not had any meaningful, long-term impact on our metrics.”


Once again: Facebook has grown so complex that it’s beyond Facebook’s control. Possibly separate, or possibly exactly the same thing: “Facebook fails to label 80% of posts promoting bioweapons conspiracy theory“.
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TSMC says demand for smartphones, PCs starting to slow • Nikkei Asia

Cheng Ting-Fang:


Consumer electronics demand is showing signs of slowing amid geopolitical uncertainties and COVID-related lockdowns in China, the chairman of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. said on Wednesday.

The slowdown is emerging in areas “such as smartphones, PCs, and TVs, especially in China, the biggest consumer market,” TSMC Chairman Mark Liu said. A key Apple supplier, TSMC is the world’s biggest contract chipmaker and a barometer of global electronics demand.

Liu also warned that the cost of components and materials are rising sharply, pushing up production costs for tech and chip companies. “Such pressure could eventually be passed on to consumers,” Liu said on the sidelines of an industry event where he was speaking in his capacity as chair of the Taiwan Semiconductor Industry Association.

Taiwan’s semiconductor industry is the world’s second-largest chip economy by revenue, behind only the US.

“Everyone in the industry is worried about rising costs across the overall supply chain… The semiconductor industry already and directly experienced that cost increase,” Liu said, adding that the industry is also concerned about macroeconomic uncertainties this year.

TSMC, however, is not likely to change its growth target and capital expenditure this year, he said.

“Despite the slowdown in some areas, we still see robust demand in automotive applications and high-performance computing as well as internet of things-related devices,” he said. “We still cannot meet our customers’ demand with our current capacity. We will reorganize and prioritize orders for those areas that still see healthy demand.”


This isn’t looking good. If PCs and smartphones slow down, that’s basically the drivers for a big chunk of the electronics industry.
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Why leaders won’t tell Europeans to put on a sweater to beat Putin • POLITICO

Karl Mathiesen and Zia Weise:


No one wants to be Europe’s Jimmy Carter. 

As Europe struggles with an energy crisis triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine, few politicians are keen on telling their citizens to cut their energy use.

Germany’s Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck on Wednesday became a rare exception when he told his people: “We are doing the utmost. Do the same. Save energy. With a great community effort by the government and the people in this country, the companies and the citizens, we can already become more independent from Russian energy imports.”

The EU sends about €800m a day to Russia for oil and gas imports, according to the Bruegel think tank. The Ukrainian government wants that stopped, arguing the cash is helping fuel Vladimir Putin’s war machine, but most EU governments are loath to risk their economies and the ire of their voters even when confronted with bombed Ukrainian cities and dead civilians.

It’s not that there’s a dearth of ideas. The International Energy Agency and the European Commission have put forward a smorgasbord of policies in recent weeks. These include lowering thermostats in homes by a degree to cut gas consumption and slashing oil demand by cutting speed limits, introducing car-free Sundays, offering free public transport and getting people to work from home.

The IEA said its measures could cut EU oil demand by 6% in four months and Russian gas imports by a third by the end of the year, while the Commission has proposed its own cluster of actions it says could slash demand for Russian gas by two-thirds this year.

National government agencies have also echoed the IEA. Germany’s federal environment agency said earlier this month that turning down thermostats by 2ºC would reduce Russian gas imports by 7%.  

This week, the president of the French energy regulator, Jean-François Carenco, joined the chorus of voices calling for measures to cut energy — which, as Habeck also pointed out, would have the side effect of saving people money. “Whether it is by lowering the heating, the air conditioning, the lights, there is an emergency and everyone must make an effort,” Carenco told Les Echos.


Carter was in charge during the US energy crisis. He took to the airwaves and declared that the Arab oil embargo was the “moral equivalent of war”. His critics reduced it to the abbreviation. He lost the election.
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Misinformation is stopping renewable energy projects • NPR

Julia Simon:


On a winter night in early 2016, Jeremy Kitson gathered in his buddy’s large shed with some neighbors to plan their fight against a proposed wind farm in rural Van Wert County, Ohio. The project would be about a mile from his home.

From the beginning, Kitson — who teaches physics and chemistry at the local high school — knew he didn’t want the turbines anywhere near him. He had heard from folks who lived near another wind project about 10 miles away that the turbines were noisy and that they couldn’t sleep.

“There were so many people saying that it’s horrible, you do not want to live under these things,'” Kitson says.

He and his neighbors went on the offensive. “I was just like, there’s got to be a way to beat ’em,” he says of the developer, Apex Clean Energy. “You got to outsmart them. You got to figure out the science. You got to figure out the economic arguments. You got to figure out what they’re going to say and figure out how to counter it.”

At the shed, according to Kitson, they agreed that part of their outreach would involve posting information on a Facebook community page called “Citizens for Clear Skies,” which ultimately grew to more than 770 followers.

In between posts selling anti-wind yard signs and posts about public meetings opposing local wind projects, there were posts that spread false, misleading and questionable information about wind energy. Links to stories about wind turbine noise causing birth defects in Portuguese horses. Posts about the health effects of low frequency infrasound, also called wind turbine syndrome. Posts about wind energy not actually reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Photos of wind turbines breaking, burning and falling — some in nearby counties and states, but some in Germany and New Zealand. According to 2014 data from the Department of Energy, the most recent available, out of the then-40,000 turbines in the U.S., there had been fewer than 40 incidents.

Kitson, the administrator of the Facebook page, says he knows that these accidents aren’t typical. “Those events are not likely. We know that,” Kitson says. But Kitson has seen a broken piece of a fallen turbine blade himself, which got him worrying about how the fiberglass might affect the integrity of the soil and the crops.


There’s a photo in the story showing a “no wind farms” sign amid huge tracts of snow. Sure, turn down free energy; freeze if you like. The fact that Kitson is described as a physics and chemistry teacher concerns me too.
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First ‘gapless’ human genome map is unveiled, years after earlier effort • WSJ

Amy Dockser Marcus:


Scientists have unveiled what they call the first truly complete map of a human genome, filling in significant gaps that persisted for almost 20 years and setting the stage for new discoveries about human evolution and fresh insights into cancer, birth defects and aging.

The newly mapped regions, described in six papers published this week in the journal Science, include parts of the genome that had long been uncharacterized because of the limits of DNA-sequencing technology.

“This is the first gapless sequence of a human genome,” Dr. Eric Green, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, said Thursday at a press event about the new map. The institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, was a major funder of the project.

The scientists behind the research identified 99 new genes that likely code for proteins essential to human life, along with 2,000 more whose function is unclear.

Exploiting the new map for medical care would likely take years of additional research, said Wendy Chung, a Columbia University geneticist who wasn’t involved in the effort. But the map “gets us to the starting line,” she said, adding, “We have patients with diseases that we know are genetic but we haven’t been able to identify. I hope this map will help us fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge.”

The scientists also corrected thousands of errors in an earlier map of human DNA, which has served as a reference for doctors, geneticists and researchers since its completion in 2003. That landmark effort, the result of the $3bn Human Genome Project, sought to read every letter of a person’s DNA but even with refinements made in the ensuing years is believed to have found only about 92% of them.


The human genome is one of those eternal false summits. You think you’ve got there, but it takes a bit more effort and refinement. A bit more effort and refinement. And on and on. Genomics (figuring out what genes lead to what) is improving, but far more slowly than expected.
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Government’s choice for Ofcom chair says he does not use social media • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


The 79-year-old Conservative peer chosen to oversee regulation of the internet has said he does not use social media but is aware of how it works thanks to his children.

Michael Grade confirmed to MPs that he was not on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and had never been tempted by a “dance video” on TikTok. Despite this he said he had enough understanding of the key issues to be chair of the media regulator, Ofcom, which has been tasked with implementing the forthcoming online safety bill that will impose new standards on tech companies.

He told parliament: “I wouldn’t say I have no experience – I have three kids. I have a 23-year-old student son who is never off his screen. I do understand the dynamics. We can’t be experts in every single aspect of the turf that Ofcom has to patrol.”

The SNP MP John Nicolson suggested Lord Grade’s “lack of engagement with such an important part of contemporary life” could prove problematic when regulating the internet. Grade’s career was mainly spent in broadcast television at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

While discussing so-called cancel culture, Grade also defended the right of Laurence Fox, the actor turned anti-lockdown campaigner, to express his views. He said: “I have known his family. His grandfather and my father were partners in business going back a long way. I admire his courage in speaking out and contributing to the debate. I don’t necessarily agree with what he says, but I admire him speaking out.”


Another triumph for the gerontocracy. Look, folks, I was available, and I have kids who use all the social networks. I watch TV too. But at least it’s not Paul Dacre.
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Man spared prison for ‘grossly offensive’ tweet after Captain Sir Tom Moore’s death • ITV News Anglia


A man has been spared jail for sending a “grossly offensive” tweet about Captain Sir Tom Moore which celebrated the fundraiser’s death.

Joseph Kelly, 36, posted on Twitter that “the only good Brit soldier is a deed one, burn auld fella buuuuurn” on 3 February last year, the day after the 100-year-old of Bedfordshire died.

Kelly, of Castlemilk, Glasgow, was found guilty of sending the message following a trial at Lanark Sheriff Court in January and returned to the court for sentencing on Wednesday, where he was handed a community payback order.

Sheriff Adrian Cottam told Kelly he passed the “custody threshold” but there was a presumption against prison if there was an alternative. He sentenced him to a community payback order comprising 18 months of supervision and 150 hours of unpaid work, and said the punishment should act as a deterrent to others.

Sheriff Cottam said: “My view is, having heard the evidence, that this was a grossly offensive tweet. The deterrence is really to show people that despite the steps you took to try and recall matters, as soon as you press the blue button that’s it. It’s important for other people to realise how quickly things can get out of control. You are a good example of that, not having many followers.”


1) Personally, I’m not “grossly offended”. It’s hardly as if Kelly was threatening to burn the corpse. And he had a handful of followers.

2) This is the most ridiculous action, given the noise that government ministers have made about “freedom of speech”. Not that much, eh?

3) I’m significantly offended by the suggestion that Moore’s family has not acted according to their responsibilities to the charity. If they’re guilty, will they go to prison, as nearly happened to Kelly?

4) If the tweet’s grossly offensive, why is repeating it OK?
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I’m done with Wyze • The Verge

Sean Hollister:


I just threw my Wyze home security cameras in the trash. I’m done with this company.

I just learned that for the past three years, Wyze has been fully aware of a vulnerability in its home security cameras that could have theoretically let hackers access your video feeds over the internet — but chose to sweep it under the rug. And the security firm that found the vulnerability largely let them do it.

Instead of patching it, instead of recalling it, instead of just, you know, saying something so I could stop pointing these cameras at my kids, Wyze simply decided to discontinue the WyzeCam v1 this January without a full explanation. But on Tuesday, security research firm Bitdefender finally shed light on why Wyze stopped selling it: because someone could theoretically access your camera’s SD card, steal the encryption key, and start watching and downloading its video.

Since I published this editorial, several people have reached out to explain the issue isn’t nearly as bad as you might have imagined reading my words — that hackers would likely have to be inside your home network, or you would have had to make an egregious mistake by configuring your firewall to provide internet access to the camera’s virtual port.

…Wyze isn’t the only smart home company that’s danced around something like this: when randos actually did access people’s Google Nest security cameras (due to password issues, not a hack), Google didn’t fulfill its responsibility to properly warn its customers either.

Here’s another question: Why on earth would Bitdefender not disclose this for three whole years, when it could have forced Wyze’s hand?


The latter seems like the most pertinent question. Bitdefender could have lit the whole thing up. In a response, it said that it didn’t want to expose customers, without mitigation. Hollister points out it could just have put out a press release saying there was a vulnerability without specifying what. Wyze also leaked 2.4 million customers’ data in 2019. Oh well.

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How Google and Amazon bankrolled a ‘grassroots’ activist group of small business owners to lobby against Big Tech oversight • CNBC

Eamon Javers and Meghna Maharishi:


Clay Montgomery owns a small blacksmith shop called “Arrow M Enterprises” outside of Mingus, Texas, where he manufactures hand-forged metal works and grilling tools. He also sells a spicy barbeque sauce and a meat rub called “Bite My Butt.”

In recent years, Montgomery’s blacksmith shop has been listed as a member of a Washington, D.C.-based trade group called the “Connected Commerce Council” that claims to lobby on behalf of small businesses. On its website, the council describes itself as a non-profit membership organization with a single goal: “to promote small businesses’ access to essential digital technologies and tools.”

The group, which campaigns against aggressive regulation of big tech companies, also says it wants to ensure “policymakers understand the essential intersection of technology and small business,” according to its website.

But there’s just one problem: Montgomery says he’s not a member and, in fact, has never heard of the Connected Commerce Council. The blacksmith told CNBC he would never join a tech lobbying group in Washington. “Technology is not exactly my forte,” he said.

Montgomery isn’t the only small business owner bewildered to find their names listed as a member of the Connected Commerce Council, which also goes by “3C.” More than 20 other “members” contacted by CNBC said they similarly had never heard of the council and did not know why they were on their membership list.


So calamitously bad. Why do these giants think there’s any need to fake things like this? There’s a sort of inherent failure in the whole system. This involves lots of money, so that means multiple people signing off and approving it. How does that happen?
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5G Skeptic • ongoing

Tim Bray:


My home office is on our boat, anchored in central Vancouver. I pay my mobile provider more for extra data and do all my work via a hotspot on my aging Pixel 4. The phone calls what it sees “LTE+” (I don’t claim to understand what that means) which de facto gives me lots of tens of Mbits/sec, plenty enough for heavy Internet geeking with streamed background music, and watching ball games (remember, I’m semi-retired). Interestingly, the Marina also provides a WiFi signal which is pathetically slow and unreliable compared to the 4G data; the notion that WiFi is the gold standard for wireless Internet is pretty well over.

Our family has a cabin an hour’s boat-ride from Vancouver on the shores of Howe Sound. We have “Smart Hub Rural Internet”, which delivers a solid 15-25M down and 10+ up. Plenty enough for four people.

So, I’m having trouble seeing what problem I have that 5G will solve.

Speed? · Granted: Like many people, at home we have “fiber” Internet which offers hundreds of M so that our family of four can all stream and game at the same time, no problem.
Question: How often do you need more than the 50M or so LTE offers in a situation where it’s cheaper to provide it with 5G than with a wired connection?

Bandwidth · This is one that I can sort of believe in. In a football stadium or a big conference keynote, it is possible to provide decent WiFi coverage (I’ve experienced it). Is 5G a cheaper or better way to do that? I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound crazy.


There are plenty of tweets included as replies in the post, with a couple suggesting it can work for rural broadband. Pricey, though. In general, though, nobody at all can figure out what it’s better for.
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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

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