Start Up No.1782: how to speed up your fibre, the price of pumping crypto, UK’s stalled tech Brexit plan, US loses to spam, and more

More than 100 million households are watching Netflix accounts using shared passwords, the company says. CC-licensed photo by jekneejeknee on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Netflix says 100 million+ non-paying households use shared passwords • Variety

Todd Spangler:


There’s a whole lot of password-sharing going on across Netflix’s customer base — and the streaming giant is eager to pocket a big chunk of change from the freeloading masses.

In reporting a huge subscriber miss — with a net loss of 200,000 for Q1 and a projected drop of 2 million for the second quarter — Netflix said that members who are sharing their login credentials outside the home are contributing to its slowing growth in 2021. The company estimated that legitimate Netflix passwords are being shared in violation of its rules with more than 100 million non-paying households worldwide, including over 30 million in the US and Canada alone.

“Account sharing as a percentage of our paying membership hasn’t changed much over the years, but, coupled with [the slowing pace of broadband and connected TV adoption] means it’s harder to grow membership in many markets — an issue that was obscured by our COVID growth,” Netflix said in its letter to shareholders.

Netflix said it is focused on “how best to monetize sharing,” calling it “a big opportunity as these households are already watching Netflix and enjoying our service.”

Last month, Netflix announced the launch of tests in three Latin America countries (Chile, Costa Rica and Peru) to address password sharing. Customers are able to add up to two Extra Member accounts for about $2-$3/month each, on top of their regular monthly fee. According to estimates by Wall Street firm Cowen & Co., if Netflix rolls the program out globally, it could reap an incremental $1.6bn in global revenue annually.


This is going to move up the agenda pretty quickly. The North American customers in particular seem like they could be the low-hanging fruit: if Netflix moves to crack down on password sharing, it’s not as if it has lost money, because the original account is still there. Expect lots of argument, just like in the days of CDs/downloads and piracy, about whether this is a revenue-loser for Netflix or not.

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If fibre is blazing fast, why is your home network still slow? Here’s how to fix it • WSJ

Nicole Nguyen:


When setting up your connection, your internet service provider installs a little box, called an optical network terminal.

…The router [from your ISP] and cables you choose could slow you down. Look for text printed on the side of your Ethernet cable. You’ll need at least a Category 5e cable (abbreviated as “Cat 5e”), which supports a gigabit connection for up to 100 meters, said Dane Jasper, chief executive of Sonic, an independent internet-service company in Northern California. (It is also my fiber broadband provider.)

Category 6e cables can support even faster multi-gigabit connections at longer lengths. If you’re looking to future-proof your house, he advises deploying Cat 6e cable. Monoprice is a good source for budget-friendly cables in a variety of colors.

Your router also needs to support high speeds. Visit the manufacturer’s website and look for “gigabit” in the model’s name or description. If not, you’ll need a new one. (More on that below.) Also, if you are relying on equipment from your service provider, you should consider buying your own, which could be better, and even cheaper over time.

The most reliable way to get the fastest internet possible? Connect your device to Ethernet. You can check your speeds at

When my laptop is connected to Wi-Fi and I’m sitting right under my gigabit-capable Eero Pro 6 router, my best download speeds are up to 600 megabits per second. Uploads peak around 320 Mbps. But with an Ethernet cord, both are much closer to the one-gigabit target.

For devices that don’t move around your home but are in fixed locations, use Ethernet, Mr. Jasper said. This includes TVs, game consoles or the computer at your desk.


The Cat 6e point is worth bearing in mind – lots of the cables you get won’t be anywhere near that.
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Leaked “shill price list” shows wild world of crypto promos • Vice

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Jordan Pearson and Jason Koebler:


On Monday, an independent researcher who exposes hacks and scams in the world of crypto published a purported list of influencers and how much they charge to “shill” crypto projects on Twitter. The list quickly went viral, starting a conversation about how essentially any cryptocurrency project can simply pay influencers to retweet or promote their projects to hundreds of thousands or millions of people on social media. 

The spreadsheet includes dozens of influencers including current and former professional athletes and Lindsay Lohan, many with tens of thousands of followers and in some cases verified accounts. Motherboard reviewed the Twitter feeds of dozens of the accounts on the list, and many of them claim in their profiles that they promote crypto projects. Some of them say, specifically, that they “shill” crypto. Some of them are self-claimed “crypto promoters” or “crypto influencers.” Many have contact info for paid partnerships or promotions. Others don’t, and even advise that their tweets are “not financial advice.” 

All of the accounts Motherboard reviewed regularly promote obscure coins, NFTs, and other cryptocurrency projects.

The prices on the list vary. According to the spreadsheet, retweets are less expensive than “shill tweets.” There is also a column for “package deal” which includes two shill tweets and a retweet. Prices generally range from a few hundred dollars for a retweet to as much as $25,000 for a shill tweet from Lohan. The spreadsheet is also selling a shill tweet from “all accounts” for $80,000.


Betcha they get paid in real actual money like the kind they accept down at the cornershop, though.
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2015: ‘Out of my mouth comes unimpeachable manly truth’ • The New York Times

In 2015, Gary Shteyngart (a former Russian) embarked on an experiment:


For the next week, I will subsist almost entirely on a diet of state-controlled Russian television, piped in from three Apple laptops onto three 55-inch Samsung monitors in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. (If I have to imbibe the TV diet of the common Russian man, I will at least live in the style of one of his overlords.) Two of the monitors are perched directly in front of my bed, with just enough space for a room-service cart to squeeze in, and the third hangs from a wall to my right. The setup looks like the trading floor of a very small hedge fund or the mission control of a poor nation’s space program. But I will not be monitoring an astronaut’s progress through the void. In a sense, I am the one leaving the planet behind.

I will stay put in my 600-square-foot luxury cage, except for a few reprieves, and will watch TV during all my waking hours. I can entertain visitors, as long as the machines stay on. Each morning I will be allowed a walk to the New York Health & Racquet Club on West 56th Street for a long swim. Vladimir Putin reportedly takes a two-hour swim every morning to clear his head and plot the affairs of state. Without annexing Connecticut or trying to defend a collapsing currency, I will be just like him, minus the famous nude torso on horseback.

Ninety% of Russians, according to the Levada Center, an independent research firm, get their news primarily from television. Middle-aged and older people who were formed by the Soviet system and those who live outside Moscow and St. Petersburg are particularly devoted TV watchers. Two of the main channels — Channel 1 and Rossiya 1 — are state-owned. The third, NTV, is nominally independent but is controlled by Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of the giant energy company that is all but a government ministry. Executives from all three companies regularly meet with Kremlin officials.


A warning: it’s not short. But it is entertaining.
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Distractions plague UK’s post-Brexit tech plan • POLITICO

Annabelle Dickson, Vincent Manancourt and Samuel Stolton:


The EU’s Digital Markets Act, Brussels’ own answer to anti-competitive abuses by the world’s largest technology platforms, was recently adopted by the EU institutions. Pursuing more of a broad-brush approach, the new EU rules roll out a series of prohibitions and obligations for some of the world’s largest tech platforms, including the likes of Google, Meta, Apple and Amazon. However, it will likely be early 2024 before platforms will be forced to comply with the rules.

In the UK, the digital [DCMS] and business [BEIS] departments, which are jointly responsible for the plan, are still locked in discussions with Johnson’s inner circle about when a digital competition bill will go through parliament, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.

Even if an announcement is made next month, officials fear it could be 2023 before MPs actually legislate.

No. 10 wants another piece of legislation, the digital department’s media bill which allows for the sale of publicly-owned broadcaster Channel 4, to be given priority, according to one official privy to discussions.

The sale of the channel is being seen by some as an unnecessary distraction designed to appease Tory MPs furious about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic. Even the Conservative chair of the digital committee in the U.K. parliament, Julian Knight, questioned whether the government’s proposed sale of Channel 4 was being done in an act of “revenge” for “biased coverage” of Brexit.

“A delay to the competition bill would matter,” said Ben Greenstone, a former senior official in the digital department who now runs the consultancy Taso Advisory. 

“If we accept that there is a desire to have a post-Brexit tech strategy, I think you can’t have said ‘we’re bringing forward all these world leading pieces of legislation on content, competition and data,’ and then pull your punches on competition just after the EU has landed theirs. It is a remarkably bad look.”


It’s all so, so far away. The Online Harms Bill almost certainly won’t get Royal Assent before 2023. They only have two problems: they don’t know what they want to do, and don’t know how to do it.
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The inevitability of connecting everything • Terence Eden’s Blog

The aforesaid Eden:


About a million years ago, my undergraduate dissertation was on Ubiquitous Computing. I (foolishly) took out a section about a smart toilet-roll-holder which automatically ordered more paper as it was getting low. And a smart toilet which called the cops after detecting illicit substances in the user’s urine.

Adding sensors and transmitting that data is cheap. For all the jokes about WiFi fridges – I’d quite like my dishwasher to send me a push notification when it is done. And, yeah, I wouldn’t mind if it ordered new salt and rinse-aid when it is running low.

An ultrasonic sensor in my recycling bin’s lid would let me know that I shouldn’t bother going outside because the bin is already full. It could even form a mesh network with the other bins to let the refuse collectors know how busy they’ll be each morning. Perhaps it would refuse to open if I tried to add something which didn’t have an RFID chip indicating its recyclablility.

Digital photo frames with a built in lens could do facial recognition of the person looking at the photo – and can then display the photos best tuned to them.

Shoes which know how many miles you’ve walked – and can discreetly alert you to foot odour.

A jacket which has a large flexible display to show people what cool music your phone is sending to your headphones. And a camera on the back to snap photos of people who are checking out your arse.

A sensor in your stomach that tells you that it was last night’s leftovers which gave you gas.

A sensor in your belt that tells you your bladder capacity isn’t sufficient for the rest of the movie you’re watching.

Paving stones which report footfall – and light your way back to your car. You follow the yellow-brick road, I’m following the pulsing polka-dots.


He’s got a few more, and they’re both spooky and logical. Always assuming, of course, that the servers for the sensors keep working. On which topic…
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Shameful: Insteon looks dead—just like its users’ smart homes • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


The smart home company Insteon has vanished.

The entire company seems to have abruptly shut down just before the weekend, breaking users’ cloud-dependent smart-home setups without warning. Users say the service has been down for three days now despite the company status page saying, “All Services Online”. The company forums are down, and no one is replying to users on social media.

As Internet of Things reporter Stacey Higginbotham points out, high-ranking Insteon executives, including CEO Rob Lilleness, have scrubbed the company from their LinkedIn accounts. In the time it took to write this article, Lilleness also removed his name and picture from his LinkedIn profile. It seems like that is the most communication longtime Insteon customers are going to get.

Insteon is (or, more likely, “was”) a smart home company that produced a variety of Internet-connected lights, thermostats, plugs, sensors, and of course, the Insteon Hub. At the core of the company was Insteon’s propriety networking protocol, which was a competitor to more popular and licensable alternatives like Z-Wave and Zigbee. Insteon’s “unique and patented dual-mesh technology” used both a 900 MHz wireless protocol and powerline networking, which the company said created a more reliable network than wireless alone. The Insteon Hub would bridge all your gear to the Internet and enable use of the Insteon app.

Insteon technically has a parent company, Smartlabs Inc., though Smartlabs and Insteon seem to share the same executives. Smartlabs Inc. owns the website, which primarily sells Insteon equipment, and it actually licenses the Nokia name for “Nokia Smart Lighting,” which just seems to be rebranded Insteon equipment.


Time for a law where companies that go bust have to open source their code? Though you’d still need some sort of server system in this case. Recall how Wink shifted abruptly to a subscription service in July 2020, having been free, which displeased a lot of people.

The smart home pool seems to be drying up.
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China’s costly exceptionalism • The Atlantic

Michael Schuman:


That the communist party is willing to cause a humanitarian crisis in the name of preventing a humanitarian crisis says a lot about the motivations behind its zero-COVID policy. The fact is, the government has real and legitimate concerns about what might happen without it. China still has more than 50 million residents over 60 who are not fully vaccinated and are therefore especially vulnerable in an uncontrolled outbreak. Loosening up would risk quickly overwhelming the health-care system, which is ill-equipped for a raging pandemic: China has only one-sixth the intensive-care-unit capacity of the US and less than one-fifth the number of nurses on a per-capita basis, according to a January report by Morgan Stanley.

Signs of strain are apparent in Shanghai. Videos purportedly of a children’s COVID ward that emerged on Chinese social media showed sick babies stacked up in cribs with a handful of obviously harried adults attempting to care for them. Under such conditions, the possibility that COVID, if unchecked, could kill millions in China is very real.

Xi compounded this already grim situation with his pursuit of Chinese exceptionalism. To promote China’s technology, and along with it global influence, Beijing chose to vaccinate its population with only homemade jabs. The Chinese vaccines are based on older technology than Western competitors’ and are known to be less effective, especially against the more recent coronavirus variants. A study by two Hong Kong universities released in December showed that even three shots of China’s popular Sinovac vaccine were insufficient to protect against the Omicron variant. Xi thus left his population undervaccinated and vulnerable, and it was clearly political. Fosun Pharma, a major Chinese drugmaker, could have manufactured the more effective BioNTech vaccine for China as part of a partnership with the German firm, and planned to build a factory large enough to churn out 1 billion doses annually. Fosun distributed the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, but Beijing’s regulators never approved it for use on the mainland.

Vaccines are not a cure-all, as we’ve seen around the world. But a better-vaccinated populace might have allowed Xi more flexibility on managing COVID policy. Instead, he finds himself shutting down major business and industrial centers in an already sagging economy. No less a figure than the premier, Li Keqiang, has issued repeated warnings about the risks to economic growth in recent days. Political threats lurk here too.


I’m reminded of War Of The Worlds, where human efforts come to naught, but the microbes conquer those who think they’ve got all the weapons.
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“Please someone help me.” FaceTime users bombarded with group call spam • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


FaceTime users are getting bombarded with group calls from numbers they’ve never seen before, often as many as 20 times in short succession during late hours of the night.

Griefers behind the pranks call as many as 31 numbers at a time. When a person receiving one of the calls hangs up, a different number will immediately call back. FaceTime doesn’t have the ability to accept only FaceTime calls coming from people in the user’s address book. It also requires that all numbers in a group call must be manually blocked for the call to be stopped.

“I got my first facetime spam starting 4 days ago,” one user reported to an Apple support forum earlier this month. “It has been non-stop, over 300 numbers blocked so far. My 3 year old daughter has been accidentally answering them and going on video without a t-shirt on.”

The high volume of callbacks appears to be the result of other people receiving the call dialing everyone back when the initial call fails shortly after answering. As more and more people receive follow-on calls, they too begin making callbacks.

Apple provides surprisingly few ways for users to stop the nuisance calls. As noted earlier, users can block numbers, but this requires manually blocking each individual person on the group call. That’s not an effective solution for people receiving dozens of group calls, often to a different group of people in a short period of time, often in the wee hours.

A user can also turn off FaceTime in iOS settings or in the macOS app, but that prevents users from receiving wanted calls as well. Last, people can uncheck their phone number under the FaceTime setting “where you can be reached.” Once again, however, this will prevent wanted calls that are initiated using the user’s number.

As the Apple support thread above shows, the nuisance group calls date back at least to last year and have persisted nonstop since then.


Wonder if Apple will fix this in a hurry, or slow-walk it for a fix some time much later this year (everything for the next big iOS release will already have been picked by now, with WWDC only two months away). Meanwhile Google hasn’t figured out how to stop spammy Google Drive “notifications”. And talking of spam..

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Americans are drowning in spam • Axios

Margaret Harding McGill and Sara Fischer:


The average American received roughly 42 spam texts just in the month of March, according to new data from RoboKiller, an app that blocks spam calls and texts.

Spammers like using text messages because of their high open rates — and are now even mimicking targets’ own phone numbers to get them to click malicious links, the New York Times reported.
What they’re saying: “Just like with robocalls, it’s extremely easy to deploy [spam texts] in enormous volume and hide your identity,” Will Maxson, assistant director of the FTC’s division of marketing practices, told Axios.

“There’s a large number of actors all over the world trying to squeeze spam into the network from almost an infinite number of entry points all the time.”

It’s not just texts. Every form of spam is on the rise.

• There were more spam calls last month than in any of the previous six months, per YouMail’s Robocall Index
• Spam emails rose by 30% from 2020 to 2021, according to a January report from the Washington Post
• There was an unprecedented increase in social media scams last year, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission. Many scams were related to bogus cryptocurrency investments.

Experts attribute the sharp increase in spam to the pandemic. People’s increased reliance on digital communications turned them into ready targets.

The Federal Communications Commission saw a nearly 146% increase in the number of complaints about unwanted text messages in 2020. And it’s working: Americans reported losing $131m to fraud schemes initiated by text in 2021, a jump over 50% from the year before, according to data from the FTC.


Seems like the plan to prevent phone number spoofing isn’t going that well, then.
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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: Citizenlab said that “a device connected to the No.10 office network” was infected with the Pegasus spyware, but a subsequent investigation of the phones, including the Prime Minister’s, didn’t identify which one(s). Yesterday’s edition asserted that it was Johnson’s. We don’t know that for sure.

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