Start Up No.1797: Apple kills off the last iPod, Musk says Trump’s Twitter will return, Google calls for US privacy law, and more


In bitcoin, El Salvador trusts – but its citizens don’t seem enamoured of the newly legal digital currency. CC-licensed photo by Blockzeit CH 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.


Why Twitter’s top lawyer has come under fire from Elon Musk • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Cat Zakrzewski, Will Oremus and Joseph Menn:

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Vijaya Gadde came reluctantly to the decision that cemented her reputation on the right as Twitter’s “chief censor.” For years, the company’s top lawyer had resisted calls to boot then-President Donald Trump from his favorite social media platform.

Even after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, Gadde explained during an emotional virtual company town hall on Jan. 8 that Trump hadn’t broken enough of Twitter’s rules against glorification of violence to merit a permanent ban of his account.

Three hours later, after her team produced evidence that Trump’s latest tweets had sparked calls to violence on other sites, Gadde relented, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. She reached then-CEO Jack Dorsey in French Polynesia, and they agreed to lower the boom.

“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account,” the company announced in a blog post, “… we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”

The ban on Trump, which continues to this day, is the most prominent example of the deeply polarizing decisions that have led conservatives to accuse Twitter of political censorship. As billionaire Elon Musk, a self-declared free-speech absolutist, seeks to acquire the social network, these decisions — and Gadde herself — are coming under fresh scrutiny.

Critics have derided her as Twitter’s “top censorship advocate,” a barb amplified by Musk, who tweeted a meme with a photo of Gadde that cast her as an icon of “Twitter’s left wing bias.” Musk’s legions of followers have tweeted calls for her firing, some of them racist. (Gadde, 47, is Indian American.)

Musk on Tuesday signaled he would undo the permanent ban on Trump if he completes the acquisition of Twitter, potentially undoing years of work from Gadde and her team. “I think that was a mistake,” he said at an event hosted by The Financial Times.

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Interesting that the trigger (we now learn) was that Trump’s tweets led to incitement to violence on other sites, not specifically on the ground. He has always been slippery as hell. Musk reinstating him is going to take things backwards for a while, always assuming Musk gets the finance together. I wonder if this time around people will learn to ignore Trump. They were pretty bad at it last time.
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Why can’t we tax billionaires on their shares but they can use them to buy stuff? • Twitter

Teddy Schleifer on Twitter:

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This from Trevor Noah on taxing billionaires is … pretty perceptive!

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Noah presents the Daily Show, and this take on the bizarre way that Elon Musk doesn’t get taxed on the “unrealised assets” of his Tesla shares – yet can use them to help fund a purchase – is very acerbic. (Can’t embed the video here; WordPress freaks out. Apologies.)
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The urgent necessity of enacting a national privacy law • Google blog

Kent Walker is Google’s president of global affairs:

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A Pew Research poll found that 75% of people [Americans] support government regulation of consumer data.

And the absence of a comprehensive federal privacy law has left a vacuum that states are trying to fill by scrambling to pass their own, often inconsistent, laws — a trend that actually risks fragmenting consumer protections.

People are counting on all of us to address this issue — and fast. The good news is that after many years of discussion, today, there seems to be a growing consensus on this. We are starting to see interest from both parties, from many different constituencies. They are coming together on how to do this well.

President Biden in his State of the Union address highlighted the importance of privacy, and there are growing reports that Congress is making progress toward comprehensive privacy legislation. We’ve long supported that goal, and we welcome the forward movement.

When data is misused, when consumers find their trust is misplaced, it hurts not just the whole digital ecosystem, but the potential for future innovation. And let me be clear: we at Google get it, and we’ve rethought and adapted our own approaches to product development to promote privacy and security.

For example, because digital services should keep your information for only as long as you find it helpful, we introduced auto-delete controls to let you easily delete your location history, web history, and YouTube history. Try to do that with any other business that holds data about you.

We were the first platform to make it easy for people to download or transfer personal data when they want to switch to other services. And today, we keep more people safe online than anyone else in the world — because if it’s not secure, it’s not private.

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Interesting world where Google wants the government to implement privacy laws. This was from April, before the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe (on the basis that Americans don’t have a constitutional right to privacy) was leaked.
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Most Salvadorans have already ditched their national bitcoin wallets • Rest of World

Luke Taylor:

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The launch of El Salvador’s national Bitcoin wallet, referred to as Chivo, has been a flop, with the majority of users having ditched it already, according to a paper published last month by economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study is among the first in-depth nongovernmental efforts to quantify the success of the country’s national cryptocurrency push. 

The study by the nonprofit, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, surveyed 1,800 households in cities and rural areas. Where Chivo may have had minor unexpected success is in banking the unbanked. Researchers say that those who continue using the Chivo Wallet are using it to hold and transfer dollars, El Salvador’s official currency, similar to how one uses any digital wallet or bank. Some respondents told the researchers that they use the app as a debit card for dollars, with 20% of Chivo users saying they now spend less cash.

“There is no experiment where a currency was introduced with such strong incentives and still failed,” Fernando Álvarez, an economist at the University of Chicago and one of the study’s authors, told Rest of World.

…Though around half of the Salvadorans surveyed have downloaded Chivo to date, with 40% of those downloads happening in September 2021, around 61% of those have abandoned it after withdrawing the $30 dollar sign-up incentive, the National Bureau of Economic Research found. Only 1.6% of all remittances were received in bitcoins via digital wallets in February 2022, according to El Salvador’s Central Bank.

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And the value of bitcoin has plummeted since September 2021. Oh well. How is Bukele going to deal with this? Just ignore it?
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The music lives on • Apple

Apple, announcing that “iPod touch will be available [only] while supplies last”:

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Since its introduction over 20 years ago, iPod has captivated users all over the world who love the ability to take their music with them on the go. Today, the experience of taking one’s music library out into the world has been integrated across Apple’s product line — from iPhone and Apple Watch to iPad and Mac — along with access to more than 90 million songs and over 30,000 playlists available via Apple Music.

“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. 

“Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to HomePod mini, and across Mac, iPad, and Apple TV.”

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Let’s not mention that the iPod Touch (first introduced in September 2007, because there was this new thing called the iPhone with a touch screen…, last updated May 2019, though never got Touch ID, let along Face ID) outlived the HomePod (b Feb 2018, d Mar 2021). The concept of the OG iPod, and then the iPod Touch, was so robust; lots and lots of kids got their first start on an iPod Touch. Clearly, market demand hasn’t stayed high enough; kids are just graduating straight to phones, presumably hand-me-downs.
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June 2002: MP3 players: It’s cool to be small

Back in the day, I reviewed multiple MP3 players over a two-week period, and this was the bit about the original iPod:

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What is really impressive, though, is the speed of song-loading. Firewire runs at up to 400 Mbits/s, rather than the 12 Mbits/s of USB. That means that you can fill up an iPod in about five minutes. Even smarter is that the Firewire connection recharges the battery, which does get the advertised 10 hours of playing time. (There’s also a separate mains charger.)

Turn it on and you really begin to see why Jonathan Ive, Apple’s head of design, has almost achieved godhead among his peers. What design would you pick to find one of 2,000 songs on something the size of a cigarette packet? The iPod solves that with a little scroll wheel between the central button and the outer four buttons (for on/off, backward, forward, and menu). You can whirl it around with a thumb and hit just the track you want in a few moments. Simple, and brilliant. Even the headphone lead is plenty long enough to put the player in a trouser pocket – a detail sometimes overlooked by others. I’ve struggled to find a design fault. OK, here it is: the headphone jack sticks straight up. In my world, it’ll get broken sooner or later.

So is the iPod worth it? If you own a PC and adore music on the move, then its cool quotient is beyond reproach; and the capacity beats most other players (though Creative Labs says its own are larger, but didn’t have one for testing). Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, you could buy other things with that money. So ask yourself: do you want to carry your music collection around with you? If so, it’s far ahead of the pack.

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That article reviews a Samsung MP3 player, the Yepp, which was pretty good (where did it go wrong, Samsung?); the previous week I looked at multiple less-good ones.
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Jan 2019: United Airlines takes down poster that revealed Apple is its largest corporate spender • 9to5Mac

Benjamin Mayo, in January 2019:

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United Airlines has released a statement following the circulation of a tweet that showed Apple as its largest account, spending $150m on flights every single year.

In a statement to Kif Leswing, United Airlines said that the information was displayed as part of a (intended to be) private project that has since been discontinued.

United said it contacted the companies featured in the banner and is ‘working to address their concerns’. Translation: Apple wasn’t very happy that this information leaked out.

The banner showed that Apple spends $150m annually with United, primarily with flights between San Francisco International and Shanghai Pudong airports.

It said that Apple buys 50 business class seats every single day, presumably to transport members of Apple engineering and manufacturing to visit production facilities in China.

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Thanks to all those who pointed to this after my failure yesterday to identify it. That $150m sounds like the drippiest drop in a big bucket for Apple ($12.5m per month, on average; think up your own “bet they spend more on X” example). And they’ve probably saved it for the past two years!
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The hi-tech DIY ‘pancreas’ that finally got my diabetes under control • Daily Mail Online

Dominic Nutt:

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The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin, and — like a growing number of people with type 1 diabetes — I’ve put together a system whereby a standard insulin pump and a blood glucose monitor ‘talk’ to each other via an algorithm downloaded on my phone.

This then administers a constantly re-calibrated insulin dose. The results have been life-changing. And now the NHS is piloting a scheme to see if more patients like me can benefit from a similar system.

…Currently, if you are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes], you will typically be given two forms of insulin: a long-acting one that you inject morning and night, plus a quick-acting insulin that you inject pretty much every time you eat carbs. You also get a blood glucose monitor. You prick your finger, squeeze out blood and put it on a strip that is read by an electronic device. This gives you the measurement for that moment but, crucially, can’t tell you whether your blood sugar level is rising or dropping.

…For ten years, I’ve had an insulin pump — a small electronic device with a thin tube which goes under the skin and releases regular insulin day and night. But while the amount of insulin it pumped out was constant, this was not matched to what I was doing or what I’d eaten, so I still had many hypos and hypers.

Then, two years ago, I paired this up to a system that constantly reads my blood sugar level via a small monitor on my arm — and, using a sophisticated algorithm on my phone, that reading controls my pump automatically, giving me the right dose of insulin.

The system was developed in 2013 by Dana Lewis, an insulin-dependent diabetic from America. She ‘hacked’ into her blood glucose monitor and fed in an algorithm to get it to make accurate calculations about her insulin dose. She could then apply these herself rather than make educated guesses, as most diabetics do. She shared this online with other diabetics, and together this community developed a system that got the algorithm to control her insulin pump directly. They called it ‘closing the loop’. They have posted this algorithm online, and anyone can download it for free. I got hold of it after a fellow diabetic told me about it.

…The NHS has just launched a closed-loop pilot scheme involving more than 800 diabetes patients, too.

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Dominic is a friend, so this is great to hear. Encouraging how medical advances can come out of patient hacktivism through the networked world.

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Day trader army loses all the money it made in meme-stock era • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Lu Wang:

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It’s ending as fast as it began for retail day traders, whose crowd-sourced daring was the pre-eminent story of pandemic equities.

Nursing losses in 2022 that are worse than the rest of the market’s, amateur investors who jumped in when the lockdown began have now given back all of their once-prodigious gains, according to an estimate by Morgan Stanley. The calculation is based on trades placed by new entrants since the start of 2020 and uses exchange and public price-feed data to tally overall profits and losses.

A craze born of the coronavirus outbreak and nurtured by Federal Reserve largesse is being laid low by a villain of identical lineage, inflation, which global central banks are racing to combat by raising the same interest rates they cut. The result has been a lumbering bear market in speculative companies that surged when the stimulus started flowing in March 2020.

“A lot of these guys started trading right around Covid so their only investing experience was the wacked-out, Fed-fuelled market,” said Matthew Tuttle, chief executive officer at Tuttle Capital Management LLC. “That all changed with the Fed pivot in November, but they didn’t realize that because they have never seen a market that wasn’t supported by the Fed,” he said. “The results have been horrific.”

…famous names from the height of the frenzy are nursing serious losses. AMC Entertainment Inc. is down 78% since June 2021. It’s lost 49% this year. Peloton Interactive Inc. is off 90% from its record. From the start of 2020 to last November, a basket of retail stock favored by retail trades that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. tracks more than doubled. This year, that basket has plunged 32%, more than twice the S&P 500’s decline.

…With personal savings as a percentage of disposable income having fallen back to pre-Covid levels, Vanda Research analysts including Giacomo Pierantoni are doubtful that individual investors will have much more financial and emotional capital to continue buying the dip aggressively.

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Baby needs new shoes, and those dead stocks don’t fit right.
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‘That doesn’t feel like $150 worth of groceries’ • Common Sense

Samuel Gregg, with a guest post on Bari Weiss’s Substack:

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a bag of groceries isn’t included in what’s called the “core inflation” measurement. That’s because energy and food prices are subject to sudden variations caused by events like crop failures or war. Fluctuations in the price of a carton of milk are not thought to tell us much about long-term inflationary trends. 

The problem is people still have to spend their hard-earned dollars on food and gas—and there’s no reason to assume that spiking inflation doesn’t affect that.

…In 2020, to counteract the pandemic’s impact, Donald Trump pushed through Congress two enormous stimulus packages mostly funded by increases in America’s already obscene public debt. The next year, Joe Biden pursued a similar path, claiming that stimulus packages were necessary to get the economy moving again.

Overhanging all this was a Federal Reserve that, from 2009 to 2014, deployed what’s called quantitative easing (QE)—the purchase of preset amounts of government bonds and other financial assets to inject money into the economy—to boost economic activity. When the government, in March 2020, shut down the economy, Jerome Powell’s Fed returned to quantitative easing programs on a scale that dwarfed previous efforts.

The result of all this money being pumped into the economy is higher prices and a decline in our money’s purchasing power.

…If greedy corporations could “jack up” prices whenever they wanted to, then they would do it all the time, over and over. But they don’t. That’s because, well, consumers have choices, and when things get too expensive, they stop buying those things. Suggesting otherwise is silly.

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Gregg is wrong to blame QE for inflation (wrong too in saying that “a bag of groceries” isn’t in the core inflation measurement). Pumping that sort of money (bonds) into an economy lowers prices. Supply chain hiccups and uneven demand is causing both supply- and demand-driven inflation. (Also, many American corporations are effectively monopolies, either regionally or locally, with the pricing power that implies.) Plus, inflation is bad all over, not just in the US. More myopia.

(The comments on the post are full of Trumpists, which tells you all you need to know about who reads – or at least feels strongly about – Weiss’s Substack.)
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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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