Start Up No.1821: Facebook’s Haugen seeks non-profit, spot the drowning kid!, EU’s unplanted trees, Brexit’s miss, and more

New research suggests that seven hours of sleep is ideal for those in middle age and older. CC-licensed photo by Adam Goode on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not paid for. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Frances Haugen: From whistleblower to watchdog • POLITICO

Mark Scott:


Nine months after the former project manager at the world’s largest social network published troves of internal corporate documents, which painted a picture of senior executives and engineers playing fast and loose with how harmful content spread online, she is now raising up to $5m to start a nonprofit organization aimed at boosting accountability within these platforms.

“Before (my revelations), each of us could only see what was on our own screen,” Haugen told Digital Bridge, POLITICO’s transatlantic tech newsletter. “What changed with the disclosures is that we now know what’s going on beyond our own screens. It changed the calculations on how we all approach these companies.”

That shift — the ability to take a wider view of social media’s roles — is baked into her organization, which she plans to call Beyond the Screen. Currently, it’s running on a shoestring budget with only three full-time employees, including Haugen and two other colleagues, who are split between Puerto Rico and Argentina.

Not surprisingly, Haugen wants to pull back the curtain on a number of potentially harmful practices that were made public through her disclosures to the U.S. government and scores of media organizations around the world. For its part, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, denies it promotes its own financial gain over the well-being of its billions of users worldwide.

Still, the former Facebook employee, who has spent the last six months testifying to both American and European politicians, as well as championing the need for greater oversight of social media (and not just Facebook), has a three-pronged plan as her follow-up to last year’s revelations. She told POLITICO her group had secured some early-stage funding from donors, though she declined to comment on which organizations were now backing her.


Logical that she would do this: there’s only so long you can go around making the speeches before the costs mount up unsustainably.
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Google says it’s time for longtime small-business users to pay up • The New York Times

Nico Grant:


While the cost of the paid service [about $6 per month per email address] is more of an annoyance than a hard financial hit, small-business owners affected by the change say they have been disappointed by the ham-handed way that Google has dealt with the process [of ending the free offering, in place since 2008]. They can’t help but feel that a giant company with billions of dollars in profits is squeezing little guys — some of the first businesses to use Google’s apps for work — for just a bit of money.

“It struck me as needlessly petty,” said Patrick Gant, the owner of Think It Creative, a marketing consultancy in Ottawa. “It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who received something for free for a long time and now are being told that they need to pay for it. But there was a promise that was made. That’s what compelled me to make the decision to go with Google versus other alternatives.”

Google’s decision to charge organizations that have used its apps for free is another example of its search for ways to get more money out of its existing business, similar to how it has sometimes put four ads atop search results instead of three and has jammed more commercials into YouTube videos. In recent years, Google has more aggressively pushed into selling software subscriptions to businesses and competed more directly with Microsoft, whose Word and Excel programs rule the market.

After a number of the longtime users complained about the change to a paid service, an initial May 1 deadline was delayed. Google also said people using old accounts for personal rather than business reasons could continue to do so for free.

But some business owners said that as they mulled whether to pay Google or abandon its services, they struggled to get in touch with customer support. With the deadline looming, six small-business owners who spoke to The New York Times criticized what they said were confusing and at times vacillating communications about the service change.


“And then I tried to call Google customer support” is the punchline to a painful joke.
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EU’s three billion trees by 2030 goal: where we stand •

Esther Snippe and Kira Taylor:


In May 2020, the European Commission published its biodiversity strategy, which included the aim to plant three billion new trees by 2030 to help tackle climate change and create jobs.

“That’s our promise. To plant three billion trees. The right trees, in the right place, for the right reason. It’s one part of our efforts to fight climate change and stop biodiversity loss,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment commissioner.

According to the EU executive, planting three billion additional trees across the EU by 2030 will increase the area of forest and tree coverage, increase the resilience of forests and their role in reversing biodiversity loss while mitigating climate change and helping adaptation to global warming.

These trees should be planted in forests, agricultural areas, urban and peri-urban areas and along infrastructure corridors, provided they are the right species and are planted in full respect of ecological principles, according to the EU.

“Tree planting is particularly beneficial in cities, while in rural areas it can work well with agroforestry, landscape features and increased carbon sequestration,” reads the EU’s biodiversity strategy.

Two years on, however, the EU is far from that goal. A tracker launched in December 2021 to monitor progress shows that, as of 15 June, the EU has planted 2,946,015 trees – not even 1% of the three billion goal.

That means there are 2,997,053,985 left to plant in the next seven and a half years.


Going to guess this is not quite according to plan. There’s plenty more in the article about what hasn’t been done.
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Top five lifeguard rescues • YouTube

You remember the article “Drowning doesn’t look like drowning“? This is a YouTube collection of five instances where someone is drowning in a crowded pool. And the lifeguard spots it. But you won’t, or wouldn’t if there weren’t a gigantic red arrow pointing to them. But even with the big red arrow, they mostly don’t look like they’re drowning.

One to read, and a video to watch, ahead of all the swimming we’re doing this summer.

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Biden plan for EV chargers on highways meets scepticism in rural West • WSJ

Jennifer Hiller:


The US government wants fast EV-charging stations every 50 miles along major highways. Some Western states say the odds of making that work are as remote as their rugged landscapes.

States including Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Colorado are raising concerns about rules the Biden administration has proposed for receiving a share of the coming $5bn in federal funding to help jump-start a national EV-charging network. The states say it will be difficult, if not impossible, to run EV chargers along desolate stretches of highway.

“There are plenty of places in Montana and other states here out West where it’s well more than 50 miles between gas stations,” said Rob Stapley, an official with the Montana Department of Transportation. “Even if there’s an exit, or a place for people to pull off, the other big question is: is there anything on the electrical grid at a location or even anywhere close to make that viable?”

The Biden administration is trying to accelerate the rollout of fast chargers to help speed adoption of electric vehicles—which auto makers from Volkswagen AG to Ford Motor Co. plan to produce en masse in coming years—and to help reassure drivers that they can recharge quickly and won’t run out of power on the open road.


Tricky: you do need the infrastructure. But if EV range keeps lengthening, do they really need that many? Yet there are already queues building up for chargers in some parts of the country, and owners are getting upset.
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Why people are trolling their spam texts • MIT Technology Review

Tanya Basu:


The other night, I received a mysterious WhatsApp message. “Dr. Kevin?” it began, the question mark suggesting the sender felt bad for interrupting my evening. “My puppy is very slow and won’t eat dog food. Can you make an appointment for me?”

I was mystified. My name is not Kevin, I am not a veterinarian, and I was in no position to help this person and their puppy. I nearly typed out a response saying “Sorry, wrong number” when I realized this was probably a scam to get me to confirm my number.

I did not respond, but many others who received similar texts have. Some are even throwing it back at their spammers by spinning wild tales and sending hilarious messages to frustrate whoever is on the other side. They’re fighting back with snark, and in some cases posting screenshots of their conversations online. 

Spam texts are on the rise, and so are the number of people who are striking back through “scambaiting,” which refers to “the act of wasting an offender’s time,” says Jack Whittaker, a PhD student in sociology at the University of Surrey who is studying the phenomenon. However, experts say responding defeats the point, as it opens a person up to even more spam texts.

Spam texts seeking to scam their recipients into giving up valuable information are not new. Some of the earliest digital spam was sent via email chain letters, the most notorious being for scams in which someone impersonating a Nigerian prince claimed to need the receiver’s help in depositing a large sum of money. 

Once smartphones became common, scammers switched to texting. And in 2022, spam texts are much more personal. Often they mimic a misdirected text, perhaps addressing the receiver by the wrong name or using a generic first line (“How’s it going” or “I had fun tonight!” are common) to prompt a response.


Definitely the best response is not to reply. Let other people wreck their phone number by messing about with the scammers. The mistake is in thinking that the scammers are stupid and won’t get it. They aren’t, and they will.
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What Brexit promised, and Boris Johnson failed to deliver • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:


So far, Britain has chosen the hardest, most expensive version of Brexit available, one that leaves the country divided and its businesses disadvantaged, without having bothered to do anything that would actually alter the basic nature of the economy. Brexit, then, turned out to be both more radical than its supporters claimed, leaving the British economy indisputably worse off, and far less radical than its opponents warned.

In [the Hilary Mantel novel] Wolf Hall, Cardinal Wolsey realises he really should go to Yorkshire himself at some point, given that he is the archbishop of York and has never actually visited his see. His goal is not to help build that archdiocese, however, but to divert income from his northern monasteries to fund two new colleges in the south. How little things change.

Today, as in Wolsey’s time, almost all of Britain’s great institutions and national assets remain in the south, promoted and protected by those in charge in London: the City of London’s finance sector, Heathrow Airport, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the pharmaceutical and technology industries, all of the country’s world-class museums, its biggest media companies, its highest law courts. The U.K.’s only core economic asset that remains outside the south is the oil and gas industry in Scotland, and even that is disappearing.

It hasn’t always been this way. During the Victorian era, parts of northern England were genuinely wealthy. Thanks to the industrial revolution, Liverpool, Newcastle, Glasgow, and Belfast were centers of the world. Today, they are fine cities, but have once again fallen behind their European counterparts. Although we don’t like to admit it, they are poor. As the economist Torsten Bell told me recently: “Yes, this is what failure looks like.”


McTague’s point is that the “levelling up” agenda (which was the second of the Tory slogans in the 2019 election) simply hasn’t happened, and keeps not happening:


Johnson seems to grasp the historic nature of the challenge while also being singularly useless at being able to do anything about it.


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Seven hours of sleep is optimal in middle and old age, say researchers • University of Cambridge


In research published in Nature Aging, scientists from the UK and China examined data from nearly 500,000 adults aged 38-73 years from the UK Biobank. Participants were asked about their sleeping patterns, mental health and wellbeing, and took part in a series of cognitive tests. Brain imaging and genetic data were available for almost 40,000 of the study participants.

By analysing these data, the team found that both insufficient and excessive sleep duration were associated with impaired cognitive performance, such as processing speed, visual attention, memory and problem-solving skills. Seven hours of sleep per night was the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive performance, but also for good mental health, with people experiencing more symptoms of anxiety and depression and worse overall wellbeing if they reported sleeping for longer or shorter durations.

The researchers say one possible reason for the association between insufficient sleep and cognitive decline may be due to the disruption of slow-wave – ‘deep’ – sleep. Disruption to this type of sleep has been shown to have a close link with memory consolidation as well as the build-up of amyloid – a key protein which, when it misfolds, can cause ‘tangles’ in the brain characteristic of some forms of dementia. Additionally, lack of sleep may hamper the brain’s ability to rid itself of toxins.

The team also found a link between the amount of sleep and differences in the structure of brain regions involved in cognitive processing and memory, again with greater changes associated with greater than or less than seven hours of sleep.


Maybe this can put some sort of end to all the sleep tracking things. Go to bed at a time, alarm seven hours or so later, bish bash bosh.
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The return of industrial warfare • Royal United Services Institute

Alex Vershinin:


The winner in a prolonged war between two near-peer powers is still based on which side has the strongest industrial base. A country must either have the manufacturing capacity to build massive quantities of ammunition or have other manufacturing industries that can be rapidly converted to ammunition production. Unfortunately, the West no longer seems to have either.

Presently, the US is decreasing its artillery ammunition stockpiles. In 2020, artillery ammunition purchases decreased by 36% to $425m. In 2022, the plan is to reduce expenditure on 155mm artillery rounds to $174m. This is equivalent to 75,357 M795 basic ‘dumb’ rounds for regular artillery, 1,400 XM1113 rounds for the M777, and 1,046 XM1113 rounds for Extended Round Artillery Cannons. Finally, there are $75m dedicated for Excalibur precision-guided munitions that costs $176K per round, thus totaling 426 rounds. In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.

The US is not the only country facing this challenge. In a recent war game involving US, UK and French forces, UK forces exhausted national stockpiles of critical ammunition after eight days.

Unfortunately, this is not only the case with artillery. Anti-tank Javelins and air-defence Stingers are in the same boat. The US shipped 7,000 Javelin missiles to Ukraine – roughly one-third of its stockpile – with more shipments to come. Lockheed Martin produces about 2,100 missiles a year, though this number might ramp up to 4,000 in a few years. Ukraine claims to use 500 Javelin missiles every day.


They don’t call it the military-industrial complex for nothing. Ukraine is certainly a proxy war for, essentially, Nato against Russia, and it’s showing that both struggle to keep their troops equipped.
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Police linked to hacking campaign to frame Indian activists • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:


POLICE FORCES AROUND the world have increasingly used hacking tools to identify and track protesters, expose political dissidents’ secrets, and turn activists’ computers and phones into inescapable eavesdropping bugs. Now, new clues in a case in India connect law enforcement to a hacking campaign that used those tools to go an appalling step further: planting false incriminating files on targets’ computers that the same police then used as grounds to arrest and jail them. 

More than a year ago, forensic analysts revealed that unidentified hackers fabricated evidence on the computers of at least two activists arrested in Pune, India, in 2018, both of whom have languished in jail and, along with 13 others, face terrorism charges. Researchers at security firm SentinelOne and nonprofits Citizen Lab and Amnesty International have since linked that evidence fabrication to a broader hacking operation that targeted hundreds of individuals over nearly a decade, using phishing emails to infect targeted computers with spyware, as well as smartphone hacking tools sold by the Israeli hacking contractor NSO Group.

But only now have SentinelOne’s researchers revealed ties between the hackers and a government entity: none other than the very same Indian police agency in the city of Pune that arrested multiple activists based on the fabricated evidence.

“There’s a provable connection between the individuals who arrested these folks and the individuals who planted the evidence,” says Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, a security researcher at SentinelOne who, along with fellow researcher Tom Hegel, will present findings at the Black Hat security conference in August. “This is beyond ethically compromised. It is beyond callous. So we’re trying to put as much data forward as we can in the hopes of helping these victims.”


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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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