Start Up No.1796: YouTubers go after PC scam callers, mugged for crypto, speed limiters redux, Apple’s China shift, and more


Among dog breeds, Great Pyreneans aren’t interested in toys – but a new DNA study says that like all other breeds, they really do like humans. CC-licensed photo by Aiko, Thomas & Juliette+IsaacAiko%2C Thomas %26 Juliette+Isaac on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Override that! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Tech YouTubers are stepping up a war against Indian scam call centers • PC Gamer

Wes Fenlon:

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Former NASA engineer Mark Rober builds some awesome stuff on his YouTube channel, like devious squirrel mazes, but his most popular video series is the annual glitter bomb, a beautifully over-engineered fake package that douses porch pirates with a shower of glitter and fart spray. In an unexpected twist, last year’s glitter bomb video also helped police catch and arrest someone involved in a phone scam scheme, and Rober’s spent the subsequent year digging into just how these phone scam operations work. In a new video he shows off the extensive results of that effort, including hiring double agents to infiltrate several phone centers in India and hacking their security camera footage.

And of course he got off a stink bomb, too.

For Rober, this crusade started when he teamed up with another YouTuber, Jim Browning, to try to send a glitter bomb to a scammer operation. Browning’s whole channel, which has 3.7 million followers, is devoted to identifying the call centers behind tech support scams and refund scams. These scams typically target the elderly and less computer-savvy folks and usually rely on the scammers gaining remote access to your computer and then tricking them into giving up personal information like their bank account login. “Refund” scams make people believe they’ve been overcompensated with some bogus refund and trick them into sending cash in the mail to the scammers.

The people who receive those cash packages in the United States are essentially underlings in these scam operations, so after getting a glitter bomb in their hands last year, Rober set his sights on the call centers themselves. With Browning’s help, they were able to gain access to the CCTV of the infiltrated call centers, while another YouTube pair, Trilogy Media, traveled to Kolkata, India to run operations on the ground.

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Great to hear that YouTubers are going after them. When I wrote about these scammers in 2010, it wasn’t new; yet people keep falling for it. Maybe the YouTubers can hassle them away, finally.
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‘Crypto muggings’: thieves in London target digital investors by taking phones • The Guardian

Rob Davies:

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Thieves are targeting digital currency investors on the street in a wave of “crypto muggings”, police have warned, with victims reporting that thousands of pounds have been stolen after their mobile phones were seized.

Anonymised crime reports provided to the Guardian by City of London police, as part of a freedom of information request, reveal criminals are combining physical muscle with digital knowhow to part people from their cryptocurrency.

One victim reported they had been trying to order an Uber near London’s Liverpool Street station when muggers forced them to hand over their phone. While the gang eventually gave the phone back, the victim later realised that £5,000-worth of ethereum digital currency was missing from their account with the crypto investing platform Coinbase.

In another case, a man was approached by a group of people offering to sell him cocaine and agreed to go down an alley with them to do the deal. The men offered to type a number into his phone but instead accessed his cryptocurrency account, holding him against a wall and forcing him to unlock a smartphone app with facial verification. They transferred £6,000-worth of ripple, another digital currency, out of his account.

A third victim said he had been vomiting under a bridge when a mugger forced him to unlock his phone using a fingerprint, then changed his security settings and stole £28,700, including cryptocurrency.

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This will naturally lead to more cases of this happening; crooks aren’t stupid, and they can definitely read or listen to the radio. Though the value of the stolen crypto is currently plummeting due to peculiar things to do with a dollar currency peg that, like all currency pegs, isn’t holding. We’ll see how that’s playing out tomorrow.
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Heartbeat • net.wars

Wendy M Grossman:

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Part of Alito’s argument [in the draft rejecting Roe v Wade making abortion legal in the US] is that abortion is not mentioned in either the Constitution or the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, or Fourteenth Amendments Roe cited. Neither, he says, is privacy; that casual little aside is the Easter egg pointing to future human rights rollbacks.

The US has insufficient privacy law, even in the health sector. Worse, the data collected by period trackers, fitness gizmos, sleep monitoring apps, and the rest is not classed as health data to be protected under HIPAA. In 2015, employers’ access to such data through “wellness” programs began raising privacy concerns; all types of employee monitoring have expanded since the pandemic began. Finally, as Johana Bhuiyan reported at the Guardian last month, US law enforcement has easy access to the consumer data we trustingly provide to companies like Apple and Meta. And even when don’t provide it, others do: in 2016, anti-choice activists were caught snapping pictures of women entering clinics, noting license plate numbers, and surveiling their smarphones via geofencing to target those deemed to be “abortion-minded”.

“Leaving it to the states” – Alito writes of states’ rights, not of women’s rights – means any woman of child-bearing age at risk of living under a prohibitive regime dare not confide in any of these technologies.

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Certainly makes one happy to not be in the US. Given privacy isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, maybe laws offering privacy will be struck down as unconstitutional. Nothing seems impossible in the US now, except trending towards sense.
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Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) • European Transport Safety Council

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For years, speed has been recognised as one of the three main contributing factors to deaths on our roads. And for more than a decade, ETSC has been advocating the benefits of Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA), a driver assistance system that a 2014 Norwegian study found to be the ‘most effective’ in saving lives.

ISA uses a speed sign-recognition video camera and/or GPS-linked speed limit data to advise drivers of the current speed limit and automatically limit the speed of the vehicle as needed. ISA systems do not automatically apply the brakes, but simply limit engine power preventing the vehicle from accelerating past the current speed limit unless overridden. Vehicles with this kind of ISA system factory fitted are already on sale – helped in part by Euro NCAP’s decision to reward extra points for vehicles that include ISA.

The technology has also been boosted by the increasing use of hardware on vehicles such as GPS, front facing cameras and manual speed limiting systems. With this hardware already used by other systems on the vehicle, ISA becomes a simple matter of adding additional software.

The European Union agreed in 2019 to make an overridable version of ISA, along with a number of other vehicle safety measures, mandatory on new models of car sold in the EU from 2022.

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Overspill readers have been on the case, and found more examples of cars with this *overridable* warning system: Mazdas and <a href=”Skodas. Any more surprising ones? (Ferraris? Porsches?)

So we’ve established that you can override it. Will that stop the “spy in your car” stories? I’m doubtful – it still seems too good a story for silly season (when Parliament isn’t sitting).
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Is Motorola working on a rollable smartphone? • Pocket Lint

Cam Bunton:

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Motorola was among the first major manufacturers to launch a folding smartphone with a flexible display, by leveraging the nostalgia around one of its most iconic and most popular phones: the RAZR. 

The third generation RAZR is due to land soon – according to recent rumours – but it could be joined by a very different kind of phone at some point in the future. 

A recent report claims that Moto is developing a rollable smartphone, codenamed Felix. This would take a similar form to the Oppo X 2021, which features a flexible display that rolls out from within one of the edges to expand to a larger size. 

The news comes from Evan Blass – an historically reliable leaker – in an article at 91Mobiles, which claims that this phone is in the very early stages of development, but that the company doesn’t even have a working hardware prototype yet. 

That likely means a launch is some way off. In fact, the report claims it would be surprising if the phone was launched in the next 12 months. It’s likely some time away, and Motorola could scrap its plans in the meantime. 

If true, and the phone makes it to market, it could be proof that Oppo’s idea for an expanding display, rather than an folding display, has some legs.

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The idea of a smartphone you can roll up makes a lot more sense than a foldable one, to be honest. Folding induces a very tight radius (or a lot of stretching); that’s sure to cause damage over time.

A rollable, by contrast, can have a relatively large radius of curvature for the screen, and you don’t have the problem of “which screen do you use when it’s folded?” The screen’s just bigger or smaller.
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They’re all good dogs, and it has nothing to do with their breed • The New York Times

James Gorman:

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After conducting owner surveys for 18,385 dogs and sequencing the genomes of 2,155 dogs, a group of researchers reported a variety of findings in the journal Science on Thursday, including that for predicting some dog behaviours, breed is essentially useless, and for most, not very good. For instance, one of the clearest findings in the massive, multifaceted study is that breed has no discernible effect on a dog’s reactions to something it finds new or strange.

This behaviour is related to what the nonscientist might call aggression, and would seem to cast doubt on breed stereotypes of aggressive dogs, like pit bulls. One thing pit bulls did score high on was human sociability – no surprise to anyone who has seen internet videos of lap-loving pit bulls. Labrador retriever ancestry, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have any significant correlation with human sociability.

This is not to say that there are no differences among breeds, or that breed can’t predict some things. If you adopt a Border collie, said Elinor Karlsson of the Broad Institute and the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, an expert in dog genomics and an author of the report, the probability that it will be easier to train and interested in toys “is going to be higher than if you adopt a Great Pyrenees.”

…The researchers found 11 specific DNA regions associated with behavior. This finding could assist in the study of human genomics, although the researchers are just scratching the surface of the relationship between both species’ genomes. A region that affected the likelihood of a dog howling, for example, is associated in humans with language development. And a region connected to enjoying being around humans is also present in human DNA, where it is associated with long-term memory.

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Having owned three Pyrenees, I can vouch: they care not one whit for toys. But, like all the rest, they are good dogs.
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Apple’s China engineers keep products flowing as Covid shuts out US staff • WSJ

Yoko Kubota:

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Before the pandemic, Apple sent hundreds of U.S. engineers each month to China to oversee the contract manufacturers that build most of its products.

Now, in a shift, the global technology giant relies more on local engineers.

Most US-based Apple engineers have been shut out of China for the past two years by rigid border controls intended to keep the Covid-19 virus at bay. New iPhone models in 2020 were delayed, but since then Apple has largely kept up with its annual product cycle thanks to focusing on localization, people familiar with the matter said.

Apple’s China-based engineers have taken on greater responsibilities to keep the cycle going, the people said. The transfer of power underscores the growing technical expertise of China’s workforce, honed over decades as Apple and other foreign companies have trained generations of engineers and technicians.

The iPhone maker has also adopted some technology, including live-streaming, that helps staff based at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., remotely follow what’s happening on China’s factory floors, the people said. Apple has used iPads to communicate and augmented-reality tools to help technical experts in Cupertino check factory issues, one of the people said.

Most Apple products are made at plants scattered across China by manufacturers such as Foxconn Technology Group and Pegatron Corp.

Key decisions and core tasks such as product design still remain centered in Cupertino, the people said. And some engineers have managed to visit China, if only a small fraction of previous numbers, one of the people said.

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I’m sure I didn’t dream it: Apple used to have a block booking of airline seats between San Francisco and China each day, or possibly week, because it was simpler for people to just turn up and fly than to figure out who might need to go each day. Can’t find the story confirming it, though. But that’s how closely Apple wanted its US engineers working with its Chinese ones. (There’s also the oft-told story of Tim Cook, early in his time at Apple, pointing out a supply chain problem in China to someone in a meeting in the US. A few minutes later, Cook looked over at the man and said “Why are you still here?” The man headed for a plane.)
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People trust AI fake faces more than real ones, research suggests • Freethink

Victoria Masterson:

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Fake faces created by artificial intelligence (AI) are considered more trustworthy than images of real people, a study has found.

The results highlight the need for safeguards to prevent deep fakes, which have already been used for revenge porn, fraud and propaganda, the researchers behind the report say.

The study – by Dr Sophie Nightingale from Lancaster University in the UK and Professor Hany Farid from the University of California, Berkeley, in the US – asked participants to identify a selection of 800 faces as real or fake, and to rate their trustworthiness.

After three separate experiments, the researchers found the AI-created synthetic faces were on average rated 7.7% more trustworthy than the average rating for real faces. This is “statistically significant”, they add. The three faces rated most trustworthy were fake, while the four faces rated most untrustworthy were real, according to the magazine New Scientist.

The fake faces were created using generative adversarial networks (GANs), AI programmes that learn to create realistic faces through a process of trial and error.

The study, AI-synthesized faces are indistinguishable from real faces and more trustworthy, is published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

It urges safeguards to be put into place, which could include incorporating “robust watermarks” into the image to protect the public from deep fakes.

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I’m sure everyone who wants to fool the public with a deep fake will dutifully put a watermark on it. There’s a panel of pictures from the paper of real and “synthetic” faces. Some of the real faces you’d swear are not.
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‘Buy now, pay later’ sends TikTok generation spiraling into debt • SF Gate

Joshua Bote:

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One video, posted in September last year by TikTok user Lillian Bradford, features her in a faux-fur coat and gold earrings. “I was fully under the impression that I only owed maybe $300 max on Afterpay,” the text reads. Then a screenshot pops up with her balance: more than $2,000. (In an interview with the Daily Mail, the influencer later said the “video was a joke” that she did not anticipate would go viral.)

This new breed of lending firm bills itself as a friendlier, more responsible way to spend than credit cards; in an interview with SFGATE, an executive from industry leader Afterpay even suggested the loans are just a way to budget better.

The marketing pitch is certainly working. In 2021, Americans spent more than $20 billion through buy now, pay later services, an ever-increasing chunk of the $870 billion-a-year online shopping pie. 

In California alone, 91% of all consumer loans issued in 2020 — defined by the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation as loans for “personal, family or household purposes” such as car, utility or medical loans — were buy now, pay later loans, also known as point-of-sale loans. 

Gen Z, in particular, has fallen in love with the short-term loans, spending 925% more now through point-of-sale services than in January 2020. But coupling nearly instantaneous loans with an influencer-addled social media culture that prioritizes exorbitant spending and normalizes debt could be further jeopardizing the financial futures of young people through just four easy payments.

…While these services may be a responsible alternative to credit card debt for a good chunk of consumers, it seems increasingly likely that, without regulations, this kind of debt will burden the most financially vulnerable, just as credit cards, payday loans and layaway have in the past. In 2021, Klarna launched a “Fill up now. Pay later” program with Chevron and Texaco gas stations, which gained media attention earlier this year; a recent Ipsos poll, funded by Afterpay, found that respondents were interested in using buy now, pay later for dental work, car repairs and even rent.

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No sign yet of people being overburdened with them. Though maybe as inflation rises it will become tighter, and as interest rates rise it will become harder to sustain such cheap loans.
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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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