Start Up No.1806: Clearview AI fined £7.5m, windfall tax on the way, is GDPR working?, crypto and race, Apple’s ‘DIY’ kit, and more


You might think that you can’t get in touch with Facebook’s customer service, but VR headset users can demonstrate how that’s wrong. CC-licensed photo by dronepicrdronepicr on Flickr.

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


UK fines Clearview just under $10m for privacy breaches • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

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The U.K.’s data protection watchdog has confirmed a penalty for the controversial facial recognition company, Clearview AI — announcing a fine of just over £7.5m today for a string of breaches of local privacy laws.

The watchdog has also issued an enforcement notice, ordering Clearview to stop obtaining and using the personal data of UK residents that is publicly available on the internet; and telling it to delete the information of UK residents from its systems.

The US company has amassed a database of 20 billion+ facial images by scraping data off the public internet, such as from social media services, to create an online database that it uses to power an AI-based identity-matching service which it sells to entities such as law enforcement. The problem is Clearview has never asked individuals whether it can use their selfies for that. And in many countries it has been found in breach of privacy laws.

…One thing to note is the level of fine is considerably lower than the £17M+ the ICO announced last fall in its provisional order against Clearview. We asked the regulator about the reduction — and it told us that reductions following a notice of intent to fine may be related to representations from the company, which it may consider before deciding on whether to issue the organisation with a final monetary penalty notice.

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Could be academic if Clearview refuses to pay, which it might well do given that it doesn’t have any operations in the UK now. Also unclear how the ICO will enforce the deletion of UK citizens from its database. How would it know? How would the ICO know? Meanwhile, a system closely resembling it is being used by Ukrainian soldiers to identify Russian prisoners of war. Not always a bad thing?
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Sunak orders plan for windfall tax on electricity generators • Financial Times

George Parker, Jim Pickard and Nathalie Thomas:

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has ordered officials to draw up plans for a possible windfall tax on more than £10bn of excess profits by electricity generators, including wind farm operators, on top of a hit on North Sea oil and gas producers.

Treasury officials are working on a scheme that would go well beyond Labour’s original windfall tax plan, as Sunak looks to raise billions of pounds of financial support for households struggling with soaring energy bills.

“North Sea oil and gas producers are only half the picture,” said one government insider. “The other half is that high gas prices have led to some pretty substantial windfall profits for all electricity generation.”

By pulling big power generators such as SSE, ScottishPower, EDF Energy and RWE into the scope of any windfall tax Sunak would sharply increase the revenue it brings in.

Sunak and Boris Johnson urgently want to set out measures to address rising energy bills and how to pay for them, officials say. An announcement could come this week or after the Jubilee bank holiday in early June.

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Adding in the generators isn’t going to be popular (with the generators), and will puzzle people: don’t the generators have to pay for the source of the fuel? If they’re using renewables, those have substantial paybacks – a wind farm isn’t cheaper in year 1 than a gas turbine.

But this (in general) has been predictable for weeks.
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How GDPR is failing • WIRED

Matt Burgess:

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Despite clear enforcement problems [detailed earlier in the article], GDPR has had an incalculable effect on data practices broadly. EU countries have made decisions in thousands of local cases and issued guidance to organizations to say how they should use people’s data. Spain’s LaLiga soccer league was fined after its app spied on users, retailer H&M was fined in Germany after it saved details about employees’ personal lives, the Netherlands’ tax body was fined over its use of a ‘blacklist,’ and these are just a handful of the successful cases.

Some of GDPR’s impact is also hidden—the law isn’t just about fines and ordering companies to change—and it has improved company behaviors. “If you compare the awareness about cybersecurity, about data protection, about privacy, as it looked like 10 years ago and it looks today, these are completely different worlds,” says Wojciech Wiewiórowski, the European Data Protection Supervisor, who oversees GDPR cases against European institutions, such as Europol.

Companies have been put off using people’s data in dubious ways, experts say, when they wouldn’t have thought twice about it pre-GDPR. One recent study estimated that the number of Android apps on Google’s Play store has dropped by a third since the introduction of GDPR, citing better privacy protections. “More and more businesses have allocated significant budgets to doing data protection compliance,” says Hazel Grant, head of the privacy, security, and information group at London-headquartered law firm Fieldfisher. Grant says that when GDPR decisions are made—such as Austria’s decision to make the use of Google Analytics unlawful—companies are concerned about what it means for them. “Four or five years ago, that enforcement wouldn’t have happened,” Grant says. “And if it had happened, maybe a few data protection lawyers would have known about it—it wouldn’t have been out there with clients coming to us saying we need advice on this.”

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From everything in the article, “failing” overstates it. “Struggling” might be a better word; regulators have big backlogs of cases, and some of the big companies are a bit unsure how well they comply. But if it has improved privacy, that has to be a plus.
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Hello? Hello? Is this Facebook? Anybody there? (Nope.) • WSJ

Kirsten Grind:

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You thought you had to wait forever to speak with a customer service representative? Facebook and Instagram serve nearly 3 billion users a day with a help desk that numbers closer to zero.

So pity John Bacon, a 72-year-old retiree of Cleveland, Ohio. Facebook disabled his account after it was hacked last year, and he expected to speak with someone about getting it up and running.

Mr. Bacon hunted for a customer help line or an email address and learned what many others before him have discovered: There are none. “I have never been able to speak to a human,” he said of what turned out to be a monthslong quest to restore his Facebook account.

Users of the free services in the empire of Meta Platforms Inc., which includes WhatsApp, sometimes go to great and unusual lengths to get help. Few succeed.

Customer service at TikTok and Twitter is about the same. Some Twitter users hope Elon Musk’s purchase of the company will help. “I beg you to please look at customer service,” one user recently tweeted at Mr. Musk, saying he had to send a letter to Twitter headquarters via FedEx for a minor problem.

Mr. Bacon said he patiently followed Facebook’s instructions. He changed his password, twice, and provided identification. Nothing happened.

…Meta hasn’t expanded its customer service to accommodate its billions of users because of the enormous scale and expense of the undertaking, according to people familiar with the company. It also has viewed a call center as its own security risk, a potential path for bad actors to gain access to accounts for criminal or other nefarious purposes.

…One idea that spread last year on Reddit and Quora involved buying a roughly $300 Oculus virtual-reality headset. Oculus, which is owned by Meta, has a dedicated customer-service line for the devices.

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Which turned out to be the least-cost path for Mr Bacon.

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Expert: monkeypox likely spread by sex at two raves in Europe • AP News

Maria Cheng:

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A leading adviser to the World Health Organization described the unprecedented outbreak of monkeypox in developed countries as “a random event” that appears to have been caused by sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.

Dr. David Heymann, who formerly headed WHO’s emergencies department, told The Associated Press that the leading theory to explain the spread of the disease was sexual transmission at raves held in Spain and Belgium. Monkeypox has not previously triggered widespread outbreaks beyond Africa, where it is endemic in animals.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission,” said Heymann.

That marks a significant departure from the disease’s typical pattern of spread in central and western Africa, where people are mainly infected by animals like wild rodents and primates and outbreaks have not spilled across borders.

Health officials say most of the known cases in Europe have been among men who have sex with men, but anyone can be infected through close contact with a sick person, their clothing or bedsheets. Scientists say it will be difficult to disentangle whether the spread is being driven by sex or merely close contact.

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OK, I did not have this on my bingo card. What’s unusual is how contagious this version seems to be.
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Why the crypto crash hit black Americans hard • The Economist

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The “crypto-crash” hit millions of investors. Some lost their life savings. The turmoil may have a particularly big impact on black Americans. They tend to earn less and have less savings than their white counterparts, on average. A survey released last month by Ariel Investments and Charles Schwab, two financial-services companies, found that 25% of black Americans own cryptocurrency, compared with 15% of white Americans. Young African-Americans are even more likely to have invested: almost two-fifths of those under 40 own cryptocurrency, compared with 29% of whites.

The Ariel-Schwab survey found that black respondents were more likely to be both new to investing and highly enthusiastic about crypto: 23% said excitement about cryptocurrency was the reason they started investing; just 10% of white respondents said the same. Black Americans are almost three times as likely to choose cryptocurrency as their first investment (11% versus 4%) and were twice as likely to describe it as the best investment overall (8% versus 4%). The survey also found that black Americans were less likely to invest in conventional financial products—meaning their portfolios may be overexposed to crypto.

Many people are drawn into the cryptosphere by the thrill of its high risks and potential for high reward. But black Americans are typically cautious investors: surveys indicate that they have a lower appetite than average for risk. They are, however, almost twice as likely to describe cryptocurrencies as a safe investment. Fully 30% of black investors believe crypto is regulated by the government (14% of white investors thought the same). In reality it is almost entirely unregulated.

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Would guess that everyone who didn’t already know this is surprised by it. (Via Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning.)
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DC attorney general Karl A. Racine sues Mark Zuckerberg for misleading privacy practices • The Washington Post

Cat Zakrzewski:

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DC Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) on Monday sued Mark Zuckerberg, seeking to hold the CEO of Facebook parent company Meta liable for data abuses and for misleading Facebook users about their privacy protections.

The suit, filed in DC Superior Court, alleges that Zuckerberg directly participated in decisions that enabled the Trump-allied political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to siphon the personal data of millions of users. Racine sued the company over its data practices in 2018 in a case that is ongoing, but he is now seeking to fine Zuckerberg personally over his role in the events.

“This unprecedented security breach exposed tens of millions of Americans’ personal information, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s policies enabled a multi-year effort to mislead users about the extent of Facebook’s wrongful conduct,” Racine said in a news release. “This lawsuit is not only warranted, but necessary, and sends a message that corporate leaders, including CEOs, will be held accountable for their actions.”

…Racine’s office said this new lawsuit is based on hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that his staff did not have access to until litigation during the Cambridge Analytica suit, including depositions of Facebook employees and other whistleblowers.

…The lawsuit argues that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the result of Zuckerberg’s vision to open up the Facebook platform to third party developers. It also alleges that he was aware of the potential harms that might result from sharing consumers’ data but failed to act on them. In one email discussing data leakage, Zuckerberg wrote “there is clear risk on the advertiser side,” according to the lawsuit.

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Honestly, this story is from Monday, May 23, 2022. Yes, the FTC settled in for $5bn in 2019. No, I don’t know how Racine is going to justify the tiny number of people in Washington DC who would have been affected for the time and money spent on this.
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YouTube removes more than 9,000 channels relating to Ukraine war • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:

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YouTube has taken down more than 70,000 videos and 9,000 channels related to the war in Ukraine for violating content guidelines, including removal of videos that referred to the invasion as a “liberation mission”.

The platform is hugely popular in Russia, where, unlike some of its US peers, it has not been shut down despite hosting content from opposition figures such as Alexei Navalny. YouTube has also been able to operate in Russia despite cracking down on pro-Kremlin content that has broken guidelines including its major violent events policy, which prohibits denying or trivialising the invasion.

Since the conflict began in February, YouTube has taken down channels including that of the pro-Kremlin journalist Vladimir Solovyov. Channels associated with Russia’s Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs have also been temporarily suspended from uploading videos in recent months for describing the war as a “liberation mission”.

YouTube’s chief product officer, Neal Mohan, said: “We have a major violent events policy and that applies to things like denial of major violent events: everything from the Holocaust to Sandy Hook. And of course, what’s happening in Ukraine is a major violent event. And so we’ve used that policy to take unprecedented action.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Mohan added that YouTube’s news content on the conflict had received more than 40m views in Ukraine alone.

“The first and probably most paramount responsibility is making sure that people who are looking for information about this event can get accurate, high-quality, credible information on YouTube,” he said.

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Google’s office has shut, but keeping YouTube going – and filtering the content – remains important. Notable how Twitter and Google have developed policies around “crises” (or “major violent events” in Google’s words).
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Apple shipped me a 79-pound iPhone repair kit to fix a 1.1-ounce battery • The Verge

Sean Hollister:

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Last month, Apple launched its Self-Service Repair program, letting US customers fix broken screens, batteries, and cameras on the latest iPhones using Apple’s own parts and tools for the first time ever. I couldn’t wait. I’d never successfully repaired a phone — and my wife has never let me live down the one time I broke her Samsung Galaxy while using a hair dryer to replace the screen. This time, armed with an official repair manual and genuine parts, I’d make it right.

That Apple would even let me buy those parts, much less read its manuals and rent its tools, is a major change of pace for the company. For years, Apple has been lobbying to suppress right-to-repair policies around the country, with the company accused of doing everything it can to keep customers from repairing their own phones. It’s easy to see this as a huge moment for DIY advocates. But having tried the repair process, I actually can’t recommend it at all — and I have a sneaking suspicion that Apple likes it that way.

The thing you should understand about Apple’s home repair process is that it’s a far cry from traditional DIY if you opt for the kit — which I did, once I saw the repair manual only contains instructions for Apple’s own tools. (You can just buy a battery if you want.)

I expected Apple would send me a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers; I own a mini iPhone, after all. Instead, I found two giant Pelican cases — 79 pounds of tools — on my front porch. I couldn’t believe just how big and heavy they were considering Apple’s paying to ship them both ways.

I lugged those cases onto a BART train to San Francisco and dragged them down the streets to our office. Then, I set everything out on a table and got started.

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The machines that Apple hired out are remarkable devices: proper industrial systems. How many does Apple have, one has to wonder?
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New ‘smart’ cheese rinds help fight Parmesan fraud • Food & Wine

Mike Pomranz:

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Like many European products, true “Parmesan” cheese has a protected designation of origin, and according to the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium (the official trade group for the cheese) the amount of fraud is almost as big as product sales: Authentic Parmigiano Reggiano sales are around $2.44bn while fraudulent cheese is a $2.08bn market.

But now, Parmigiano Reggiano has a new high-tech partner to fight against counterfeit cheese and it involves technology you shouldn’t even be able to notice. The Consortium has teamed up with Kaasmerk Matec — a leading producer of casein cheesemarks — and p-Chip — which creates digital tracing technology — to put tiny, food-safe transponders in legitimate wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano.

For the past two decades, Parmigiano Reggiano wheels have already featured a unique alphanumeric tracking code, but now, the Consortium has tested embedding p-Chip micro transponders into the casein label. As the Consortium explains, “The innovation combines food-safe Casein labels with the p-Chip micro transponder — a blockchain crypto-anchor that creates a digital ‘twin’ for physical items. This scannable new food tag is smaller than a grain of salt and highly durable, delivering next-generation visibility and traceability.”

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If they’re smaller than a grain of salt it won’t matter if you swallow it?
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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

1 thought on “Start Up No.1806: Clearview AI fined £7.5m, windfall tax on the way, is GDPR working?, crypto and race, Apple’s ‘DIY’ kit, and more

  1. I think the DC case is more than a test case really. i.e. Can the states (or DC) sue Facebook via going after the leadership directly since the Trump administration gave Facebook automatic immunity as part of that weak $5 bn deal? If it works, then it has lots of implications in other related cases (say the opioid epidemic).

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