Start Up No.1773: Facebook plans virtual currency (again), Twitter edits?, AirTags one year on, go wild with WD-40, and more

The world’s probably got enough phone chargers, so it’s good news that another Android OEM won’t include them with new phones. CC-licensed photo by Blondinrikard Fröberg on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Day 40 of the two-day invasion. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook owner Meta targets finance with ‘Zuck Bucks’ and creator coins • Financial Times

Hannah Murphy:


Meta has drawn up plans to introduce virtual coins, tokens and lending services to its apps, as Facebook’s parent company pursues its finance ambitions despite the collapse of a project to launch a cryptocurrency.

The company, led by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, is seeking alternative revenue streams and new features that can attract and retain users, as popularity falls for its main social networking products such as Facebook and Instagram — a trend that threatens its $118bn-a-year ad-based business model.

Facebook’s financial arm, Meta Financial Technologies, has been exploring the creation of a virtual currency for the metaverse, which employees internally have dubbed “Zuck Bucks”, according to several people familiar with the efforts.

This is unlikely to be a cryptocurrency based on the blockchain, some of the people said. Instead, Meta is leaning towards introducing in-app tokens that would be centrally controlled by the company, similar to those used in gaming apps such as the Robux currency in popular children’s game Roblox.

According to company memos and people close to the plans, Meta is also looking into the creation of so-called “social tokens” or “reputation tokens”, which could be issued as rewards for meaningful contributions in Facebook groups, for example. Another effort is to make “creator coins” that might be associated with particular influencers on its photo-sharing app Instagram.


Not even vaguely close to the globe-spanning regulation-independent cryptocurrency idea of Libra, and for that reason quite likely to get approved and succeed.

“Zuck Bucks”, though. Eugh.
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Police records show women are being stalked with Apple AirTags across the country • Vice

Samantha Cole:


Police records reviewed by Motherboard show that, as security experts immediately predicted when the product launched, this technology has been used as a tool to stalk and harass women.

Motherboard requested records mentioning AirTags in a recent eight month period from dozens of the country’s largest police departments. We obtained records from eight police departments.

Of the 150 total police reports mentioning AirTags, in 50 cases women called the police because they started getting notifications that their whereabouts were being tracked by an AirTag they didn’t own. Of those, 25 could identify a man in their lives—ex-partners, husbands, bosses—who they strongly suspected planted the AirTags on their cars in order to follow and harass them. Those women reported that current and former intimate partners—the most likely people to harm women overall—are using AirTags to stalk and harass them. 

In one report, a woman called the police because a man who had been harassing her had escalated his behavior, and she said he’d placed an AirTag in her car. The woman said the same man threatened to make her life hell, the report said. 

…The fact that there are so many reports from people about AirTag stalking means Apple’s security measures, such as the notifications, are working as intended, said [director of cybersecurity at the EFF, Eva] Galperin. “It’s not that somebody has randomly found an AirTag. It’s that the anti-stalking mitigations that Apple has implemented are finally working, and the results are that some smaller subset of those people are then going to police,” she said. “So, yes, we did understand from the very beginning that this was going to be a major problem. But part of it I think is just reflected in the fact that stalking is a major problem.”


No evidence that they’re being used for human trafficking (phew) and where they’re attached to cars, it seems to be thieves trying to steal the car.
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Google bans apps with hidden data-harvesting software • WSJ

Byron Tau in Washington and Robert McMillan in San Francisco :


Google has yanked dozens of apps from its Google Play store after determining that they include a software element that surreptitiously harvests data.

The Panamanian company that wrote the code, Measurement Systems S. de R.L., is linked through corporate records and web registrations to a Virginia defense contractor that does cyberintelligence, network-defense and intelligence-intercept work for US national-security agencies.

The code ran on millions of Android devices and has been found inside several Muslim prayer apps that have been downloaded more than 10 million times, as well as a highway-speed-trap detection app, a QR-code reading app and a number of other popular consumer apps, according to two researchers who discovered the behavior of the code in the course of auditing work they do searching for vulnerabilities in Android apps. They shared their findings with Google, a unit of Alphabet, federal privacy regulators and The Wall Street Journal.

Measurement Systems paid developers around the world to incorporate its code—known as a software development kit, or SDK—into their apps, developers said. Its presence allowed the Panamanian company to surreptitiously collect data from their users, according to Serge Egelman, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute and the University of California, Berkeley, and Joel Reardon of the University of Calgary.

Modern apps often include SDKs written by little-known companies like Measurement Systems “that aren’t audited or well understood,” Mr. Egelman said. Inserting them is often enticing for app developers, who get a stream of income as well as detailed data about their user base.

“This saga continues to underscore the importance of not accepting candy from strangers,” Mr. Egelman said.


Reading between the lines, this was the NSA/CIA/FBI trying to track (potential) terrorists: they paid from $100 to $10,000 per month. Wonder if an audit will find similar on an app that far-right users like.
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Twelve clever things you never knew WD-40 could do • Lifehacker

Sarah Showfety:


Originally created as a rust-prevention solvent for use in the aerospace industry, WD-40 has become the go-to product for your home’s squeaky door hinges and stuck bike chains (Which can be counter productive as it then traps dirt and dust inside.) There’s some debate about what the product actually is, however—and what it should be used for.

If you believe the WD-40 website, the popular household fix-it spray “is a unique, special blend of lubricants.” If you believe the rest of the internet, it is not really a lubricant; rather a degreaser and water-displacing solvent. (According to the brand, the name does stand for Water Displacement, 40th formula.”) In addition to the lubricants it purportedly contains, it also has anti-corrosion agents and ingredients for “penetration and soil removal.”

Regardless of where you stand on its fundamental constitution, it’s hard to deny the product has a lot of practical uses around the house and garage—many that the average consumer of WD-40 may not be aware of.


If you think about it as a water repellent, you might be able to guess some of them. But it’s a useful list.
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I think Twitter thinks we like using it 😕 • Garbage Day

Ryan Broderick on Twitter’s vaguely promised addition of an edit button (“not because of a poll”):


as someone who makes A LOT of Twitter typos, I actually just think the entire need for a Twitter edit button would be fixed if you could thread tweets independently of when they were published. A typo or an error in a tweet really only matters in threads and it’s kind of weird you can only link together tweets with a reply.

Anyways, like I said, I have a lot of questions about how this would work and Twitter’s communications team has not provided really anything of substance about it, which is kind of wild seeing as how an edit button would fundamentally change the nature of the platform possibly more than anything else they’ve done since the jump from 140 characters to 280.

Ed Zitron, who writes a real good newsletter, felt similarly, tweeting, “I feel like there are ways they could’ve announced this that included significantly more detail. Twitter’s comms strategy remains completely confusing to me.”

I think the reason Twitter’s communication is so bad about this kind of stuff is because everything Twitter does comes from a wildly misinformed place of perceived user enthusiasm. And they’re actually one of the few major platforms that still operates this way. Facebook is basically a nation state now that treats its users with the same level of affection The Matrix treats its meat tubes. The only thing their communications team emphasizes in updates are abstractions — connection, local networks, value, etc. And Instagram is basically a mall, with most of their announcements and features focused on the financial impact for the platforms’ many business and influencers. But Twitter, the company, still seems to think that their website is a website used by people who enjoy it. Which is bizarre! It’s 2022. People don’t enjoy websites anymore because there’s only 5 left and they all realized that it’s more profitable to piss people off. And this is especially true for Twitter!

Twitter has ruined more lives than any other website that has maybe ever existed, including 4chan.


I’ve never wanted an edit button, but maybe that’s from having lived in a business where once the presses roll, there’s no undo. (Sometimes this has not worked to my advantage, but you live with it.) And as he points out, Twitter’s way of announcing the introduction is just weird.
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Twitter edits you(r website) • Kevin Marks

Marks has worked for all the big names (Apple, Google, BBC, BT) and done all the things, and knows all the problems that come from trying to do crowdpleasing things without thought:


With all the fuss about Twitter’s promised edit button, and how they might design it, we’re missing a disturbing development — Twitter is using its embedded javascript to edit other people‘s sites.


You need to read the post, but in the past when someone deleted a tweet (or the user was removed from Twitter *cough*Trump*cough*) any site that had embedded that tweet would still have a sort of shadow of it, without the Javascript that made clear it was from a live Twitter user. In that way, deleted tweets (and users) lived on. Twitter, however, feels that people who delete tweets want to remove them from view – so now those sites have empty spaces with a Twitter brand.

Marks objects. You can see the logic from Twitter’s (and the deleting user’s) perspective, though: isn’t control of what appears on their account up to them, not to the website that wants to include them?

The obvious result is going to be a lot more embedded screenshots of tweets, of course. Less readable, and essentially makes all the work by Twitter’s engineers to write code allowing embedding pointless.

(Next stage in the arms race: Twitter tries to stop people screenshotting tweets.)
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UK start-up achieves ‘projectile fusion’ breakthrough • Financial Times

Tom Wilson:


A British start-up pioneering a new approach to fusion energy has successfully combined atomic nuclei, in what the UK regulator described as an important step in the decades-long effort to generate electricity from the reaction that powers the sun.

Oxford-based First Light Fusion, which has been developing an approach called projectile fusion since 2011, said it had produced energy in the form of neutrons by forcing deuterium isotopes to fuse, validating years of research.

While other fusion experiments have generated more power for longer, either by using “tokamak” machines or high-powered lasers, First Light says its approach, which involves firing a projectile at a target containing the fuel, could offer a faster route to commercial fusion power.

“The value of this [result] is that it offers potentially a much cheaper, a much easier path to power production,” said chief executive Nicholas Hawker.

To achieve fusion, First Light used a hyper-velocity gas gun to launch a projectile at a speed of 6.5km per second — about 10 times faster than a rifle bullet — at a tiny target designed to amplify the energy of the impact and force the deuterium fuel to fuse.

The design of the target — a clear cube, a little over a centimetre wide, enclosing two spherical fuel capsules — is the key technology and is closely guarded by the company. “It is the ultimate espresso capsule,” Hawker told the Financial Times last year.

…First Light, which is one of several private fusion companies currently pursuing commercial power, said its next aim was to demonstrate net energy gain from a reaction, before developing a 150MW pilot plant at a cost of less than $1bn in the 2030s.

It has spent about $60m to date and raised a further $45m in funding in February from investors, including Tencent.


At least it’s cheap. As always, the trick is scaling up and getting it to happen continuously.

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Black market SIM cards turned a Zimbabwean border town into a remote work hub • Rest of World

Nyasha Bhobo:


the high cost of running a telecomms business in Zimbabwe — due to import tariffs on communications equipment, foreign currency risk, and weak infrastructure — has kept prices high for consumers. “Poor collateral infrastructure, like electricity, dissuades telecomms investment and [means] fewer players, which leads to higher costs,” Arthur Gwagwa, a leading Zimbabwe telecomms expert and lawyer, told Rest of World.

The cripplingly high cost of internet access has slowed adoption of digital services by individuals and businesses and prevented Zimbabweans from accessing educational materials and health services online, Gwagwa said.

But for people living near the border with Mozambique, there is a workaround. Enterprising traders cross over on foot or on motorbikes, bulk-buy Movitel SIM cards, and return to Chimanimani, where they distribute the SIMs to supermarkets and corner shops, where they are sold with a markup of more than 50%. 

The availability of affordable internet has made the unfashionable rural district into an attractive destination for people who need to be online for work. The area was hit by a tropical cyclone in 2019, which displaced more than 11,000 people in Chimanimani alone, bringing hundreds of NGO and health workers to the area to work on the relief. Many have stayed, taking advantage of the cheap internet access to work remotely. 

…Nollen Singo, founder of NGO Orphans Dreams, which gives free math lessons to children orphaned by the cyclone, said that he’s been able to stay in the region because the cheap internet allows him to connect to free education apps that can be used in the classroom. “It’s so helpful being able to access Khan Academy maths app or Buzzmath app online and tutor local orphaned kids,” Singo said.


Anyone who gets internet access always wants to retain it. The better you’ve had it, the less you’ll accept anything less. The ratchet effect is crucial.

(And in passing, ROW continues to show that the world is so very much bigger and more fascinating than Silicon Valley.)
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Realme won’t ship a charging brick with the upcoming Narzo 50A Prime • XDA Developers

Pranob Mehrotra:


An increasing number of Android OEMs are following Apple’s move to remove charging bricks from smartphone retail boxes. Samsung was the first to follow suit with its Galaxy S21 series last year, and now Realme has announced that it won’t offer a charging brick with the upcoming Narzo 50A Prime.

In a recent post on the Realme community forums, the company said that it will not include a wall charger with its next Narzo smartphone — the Narzo 50A Prime. The move is part of Realme’s newfound sustainability initiative and the goal to “achieve Double Zero targets like net-zero carbon emissions by 2025.”

In addition, Realme says that its decision to not ship a charging brick with the Narzo 50A Prime has given the company enough wiggle room to offer a couple of additional features on the device. The post states: “The decision to remove the charger from the box aided us in many ways. The narzo 50A Prime is a big leap in terms of chipset performance & screen revolution. It will also help us to add more upgrades to the device with the best price and offers in the same class!”


The significance is that Realme is not a premium brand. I think the dominoes will start to fall here: the environmental story is an easy one to tell, not shipping a charger cuts costs and packing weight and complication (need as many chargers as phones, got to get them together to pack, need to be sure they work), and people will shrug and use the charger they have.
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Ukraine Post #8: risk of nuclear war • Don’t Worry About The Vase

Zvi Mowshowitz considers The Bad Thing:


Russia still might choose to use a nuclear weapon, either to escalate-to-deescalate because Ukraine (or being able to claim a symbolic victory) was sufficiently existential, or because Putin thinks the West will simply fold.

Then there is the question of further escalation. Suppose Russia has used at least one nuclear weapon. Will [the conflict] go strategic?

That depends on a lot of things, most obviously what we do in response. Even then, assuming the use by Russia was tactical and does not threaten to turn the tide of battle, I presume that we almost certainly don’t use our nukes on them at all nor do we conventionally strike at Russian territory.

Using a nuclear weapon in response, or even conventionally striking Russia, is not necessary. We can win a conventional war even if Russia uses some number of tactical nuclear weapons, and the diplomatic fallout would be immense, especially if we did not answer in kind. Instead, I expect Russia to face additional conventional firepower combined with complete diplomatic and economic isolation, losing all the friends it has left with the possible exception of Iran. Our current sanctions may or may not pack sufficient punch, but the ultimate version of them really, really would pack quite a ton of punch. Russia would also be facing vastly superior conventional firepower, but we would have no desire to go to Moscow.

The logic of nuclear escalation is completely different when one side has zero interest in escalation even in the face of extreme provocation, because they have faith that they don’t need to do it and would not benefit from it.


“Tactical” nukes can go down to very, very low yields, in the single-digits-kiloton range; a use by Russia would essentially be an awful form of showing off, but would have been preceded by withdrawal of its troops to a very safe distance – which is part of why there’s some lingering unease about what’s happened in the north of the country. But with all the signs being that it’s instead trying to gird up to consolidate in the Donbas, maybe this branch of terrible outcomes has been avoided. At least for now.
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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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