Start Up No.1822: US DoJ blocks Facebook ad tool, dark mode not so good, Strava’s mystery users, US’s semiconductor slump, and more


The All-England Club, aka Wimbledon, hopes that having lots more data will make spectators more interested in matches. But which data, exactly? CC-licensed photo by Matthias Rosenkranz on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Yes, Facebook again. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Facebook will stop using an advertising tool in settlement with US government • The Guardian

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Facebook will change its algorithms to prevent discriminatory housing advertising and its parent company will subject itself to court oversight to settle a lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice on Tuesday.

In a release, US government officials said that Meta, formerly known as Facebook, reached an agreement to settle the lawsuit filed the same day in Manhattan federal court.

According to terms of the settlement, Facebook will stop using an advertising tool for housing ads that the government said employed a discriminatory algorithm to locate users who “look like” other users based on characteristics protected by the Fair Housing Act, the Justice Department said. By 31 December, Facebook must stop using the tool once called “Lookalike Audience”, which relies on an algorithm that the US said discriminates on the basis of race, sex and other characteristics.

Facebook also will develop a new system over the next half-year to address racial and other disparities caused by its use of personalization algorithms in its delivery system for housing ads, it said.

According to the release, it was the justice department’s first case challenging algorithmic discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Facebook will now be subject to justice department approval and court oversight for its ad targeting and delivery system.

US Attorney Damian Williams called the lawsuit “groundbreaking.” Assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke called it “historic”.

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Only housing ads? But the court oversight is quite a thing.
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Dark mode isn’t as good for your eyes as you believe • WIRED UK

Laurie Clarke:

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A big driver of dark mode is aesthetics. One Twitter user’s assessment: “Night mode Twitter just 1000% more dope than regular one”, is pretty representative of the internet’s reaction to dark mode. Spotify, which selected a dark background as its standard mode, chose this look after testing different designs on its users, who were overwhelmingly in favour of this shady aesthetic. “We believe that when you have music or art that’s very colourful and very artistic, and you have beautiful cover art for music, that it really shows more clearly visible in a product like this, when it’s about entertainment,” Michelle Kadir, director of product development at Spotify, told Fast Company.

But beyond style, the widespread roll-out of dark mode has triggered a slew of dubious claims about its proposed benefits, covering assertions that it helps concentration, eye strain and battery life. The question is, does the average computer user stand to gain anything from slipping into this shadowy mode? Here, we unpack some of the most prominent claims about dark mode, and whether they stack up.

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Reduces eye strain? Not really. Makes text easier to read? Nope. Extends battery life? OK, if you’re using OLED. Helps concentration? Maybe. Better ahead of bedtime? Yeah, but just try not staring at a screen for an hour.

Personally, don’t use it.
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Why America will lose semiconductors • Semi Analysis

Dylan Patel:

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The critical software needed to be used to design chips is called EDA and it all comes from the US. Cadence, Synopsys, and Mentor Graphics (now owned by Siemens) are located in the US. Without this software, it is impossible to design modern chips.

American companies like Texas Instruments and Intel hold leading market shares in their respective fields while manufacturing their own chips. The four largest companies that design chips for external sale and use contract manufacturers are also American. They are Qualcomm, Broadcom, Nvidia, and AMD.

But that dominance is shifting away to countries that pose as geopolitical risks. US share of chip manufacturing is at an all-time low. The US will lose the semiconductor industry unless immediate action is taken. This is a national security crisis.

…While startups and IPOs don’t necessarily indicate innovation, they are one of the corner stones of it. Not all startups will succeed, and it’s very likely the stricter funding models of US based startups will mean they are more likely to succeed, but the disparity is a big issue. America isn’t the land of entrepreneurship anymore, despite continuing to dominate other areas of the world such as Europe. It’s China.

Why are there so few semiconductor startups in the US? The US private market of venture capital and angel investing is completely off its rockers investing in software platform based “tech” companies. While this type of investing is fine, these same venture capital and angel investors have completely ignored the semiconductor and hardware space. We here at SemiAnalysis have seen it firsthand as we have helped a few firms in the semiconductor industry raise money. It’s extremely difficult to convince venture capitalists to invest in startups, even if they have promising technology and exceptional track records.

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Meta’s new digital fashion marketplace will sell Prada, Balenciaga and Thom Browne • Vogue Business

Maghan McDowell:

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Hours after Facebook changed its name to Meta in October, Meta tweeted at Balenciaga: “Hey @Balenciaga, what’s the dress code in the metaverse?” Now, Balenciaga is playing ball.

“When Meta tweeted, we were instantly into it,” said Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit in a release. “Web3 and Meta are bringing unprecedented opportunities for Balenciaga, our audience and our products, opening up new territories for luxury.”

Balenciaga, along with Prada and Thom Browne, is among the first to sign on to sell digital fashion in a new Meta-created avatar store where people can buy clothing for their avatars to wear on Instagram, Facebook and Messenger. Eventually, other designers will be able to independently offer digital clothing for sale in the marketplace. The items for sale in the avatar store will range from $2.99 to $8.99 to start. A Meta spokesperson said that it did “not have details to share” on if or how it would share revenue with designers.

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So, so awful. Fortnite for adults, but only the vain ones. And in a world where Vogue exists, you know they exist too.
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Shadowy Strava users spy on Israeli military with fake routes in bases • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

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Unidentified operatives have been using the fitness tracking app Strava to spy on members of the Israeli military, tracking their movements across secret bases around the country and potentially observing them as they travel the world on official business.

By placing fake running “segments” inside military bases, the operation – the affiliation of which has not been uncovered – was able to keep tabs on individuals who were exercising on the bases, even those who have applied the strongest possible account privacy settings.

In one example seen by the Guardian, a user running on a top-secret base thought to have links to the Israeli nuclear programme could be tracked across other military bases and to a foreign country.

The surveillance campaign was discovered by the Israeli open-source intelligence outfit FakeReporter. The group’s executive director, Achiya Schatz, said: “We contacted the Israeli security forces as soon as we became aware of this security breach. After receiving approval from the security forces to proceed, FakeReporter contacted Strava, and they formed a senior team to address the issue.”

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Strava keeps on cropping up like this. It’s almost the perfect spying system, making its users involuntarily spy on themselves, again and again. Strava doesn’t know – and can’t tell – if uploads are legitimate.
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‘Right now we don’t need luxury’: Chinese consumers re-evaluate their spending • Financial Times

Annachiara Biondi and Naomi Guo:

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“I am 70% happy, 20% traumatised and 10% vigilant,” says Andrew, a 28-year-old science researcher from Shanghai of his post-lockdown state. His salary hasn’t been affected by the lockdown, but he has become more strict in his spending, buying less as a whole and focusing more on higher-quality goods, including luxury goods. “I am glad life is getting better. I get to go to work, buy things and live more or less like a modern city dweller. Yet it’s hard to not be traumatised for anyone who has experienced what has happened in Shanghai. I am pessimistic towards ‘life returning to normal’. It’s never going back to the old normal and I’d rather be vigilant and prepared.” 

This sense of uncertainty correlates with analysts’ suggestions that the recovery in Chinese luxury spending will take longer than in 2020, when it quickly bounced back in the second half of the year. The recent restrictions in Shanghai, which in some cases meant brands had as much as 40% of their Chinese store network closed, was duly noted in the latest financial results of luxury conglomerates Kering, LVMH and Richemont.

Despite a generalised confidence in the resilience of Chinese luxury consumers, executives sounded a note of caution. “We must expect that China’s re-emergence after lockdown will not be as dramatic,” said Richemont chair Johann Rupert on a call with analysts in May. “China’s growth rate has slowed down. I’m not sure that any society undergoing that lockdown will be able to grow six, seven or five%. So yes, it will be a while before they will return.”

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China sneezes, and the luxury world catches a cold.
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Wimbledon hoping big data will improve fan experience • The Guardian

Paul MacInnes:

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Alexandra Willis, the All England Club’s director of communications and marketing, said the idea had come about before Covid. “We found that most fans didn’t watch tennis the rest of the year,” she said. “They also hadn’t heard of most of the players [and] this was a specific barrier to engagement.”

Spectators at Wimbledon fortnight, as well as television viewers and app users, will have access to Win Factor, a tool that will aggregate data from a number of sources to better predict a player’s chances of victory in a given match. Fans will be able to input their own match predictions while being encouraged to scour more information on some of the game’s lesser-known players.

“Leveraging technology to help fans become more informed, engaged and involved throughout the Wimbledon fortnight is at the core of our strategy to ensure we … keep Wimbledon relevant,” Willis said, admitting the tournament needs to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. “We can’t just celebrate the past, we need to look forward.”

Wimbledon will be leaning on IBM, its technology partner of 33 years, to provide the information. While the technology company boasts of its artificial intelligence capabilities it also has staff physically recording stats courtside on every Wimbledon match and says it has 9.2m tennis datapoints on record. Another data tool uses AI to scour media sources to gauge “sentiment” on players, leaving open the possibility that a tabloid scandal could have an unwelcome effect on a player’s Win Factor chances.

The new features are part of Wimbledon’s response to a challenge faced by many sports, that of trying to court a modern audience. Following Formula One’s successful rejuvenation, the All England Club – alongside other tennis bodies – have secured a deal with Netflix to produce a Drive to Survive-style series that will chronicle events at the grand slams, while also drawing out some of the game’s personalities.

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There’s only one datapoint you need to predict who’ll win:% of second serves won. Whoever has the higher percent, aggregated over their previous matches, will win. (Former tennis journalist says.) The other stuff is mostly fluff.
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Colombia’s new president Gustavo Petro pledges to keep fossil fuels in the ground • Climate Change News

Joe Lo:

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Colombia has elected its first left-wing president, setting the Latin American nation on a path to wind down its fossil fuel production. 

Leftist Gustavo Petro was voted in Sunday night alongside Goldman prize-winning environmental campaigner Francia Marquez, the nation’s first black and second female vice-president.

In his manifesto, Petro committed to “undertake a gradual de-escalation of economic dependence on oil and coal”. He committed not to grant any new licenses for hydrocarbon exploration during his four-year mandate and to halt all pilot fracking projects and the development of offshore fossil fuels.

“These are not baby steps but huge steps towards the transition and reducing fossil fuels,” said Colombian environmentalist Martin Ramirez.

If Petro formalises his commitments to phasedown fossil fuel production, Colombia could become the largest fossil fuel producer to do so.

At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year, Costa Rica and Denmark launched an alliance of countries committed to phasing out oil and gas production known as the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance , collectively accounting for 0.2% of global oil production. Colombia produces around 1% of the world’s coal, oil and gas.

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In barrels per day, it produces about 900,000 per day. Every barrel generates about 0.43 tonnes of CO2. So if Petro (what an apposite name) carries this out, it would be 387,000 tonnes of CO2 not emitted per day. As a tree absorbs about 21kg of CO2 per year, that would be the equivalent of about 12 million trees.

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iOS 16 will let iPhone users bypass Captchas in supported apps and websites • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Tapping on images of traffic lights or deciphering squiggly text to prove you are human will soon be a much less common nuisance for iPhone users, as iOS 16 introduces support for bypassing CAPTCHAs in supported apps and websites.

The handy new feature can be found in the Settings app under Apple ID > Password & Security > Automatic Verification. When enabled, Apple says iCloud will automatically and privately verify your device and Apple ID account in the background, eliminating the need for apps and websites to present you with a CAPTCHA verification prompt.

Apple recently shared a video with technical details about how the feature works, but simply put, Apple’s system verifies that the device and Apple ID account are in good standing and presents what is called a Private Access Token to the app or website. This new system will offer a better user experience for tasks such as signing into or creating an account, with improved user privacy and accessibility compared to CAPTCHAs.

“Private Access Tokens are a powerful alternative that help you identify HTTP requests from legitimate devices and people without compromising their identity or personal information,” said Apple, in the description of a WWDC 2022 video related to the topic.

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Guess it’s down to all the Android users now to count the bicycles, tractors and “sidewalks” on the planet.
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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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