Start Up No.1833: social media threatens Kenya elections, Apple to offer “Lockdown” on phones, hacking Ronin, lockscreen ads?, and more

Sand is plentiful, but not infinite, and supplies are – perhaps surprisingly – coming under strain. CC-licensed photo by Joaquin Moreno on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. How do you remove barnacles? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Could fake news provoke violence in Kenya’s elections? • Coda Story

Rebekah Robinson:


Kenya’s general elections to elect a new President and members of the National Assembly will take place on August 9 and the race is close and tense. Much of the tension is the result of the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, throwing his support behind opposition leader Raila Odinga rather than William Ruto, the current deputy president.  

Waves of disinformation pushed by paid social media influencers have been a growing concern in the run-up to elections that some experts worry could lead to violent eruptions. The country is still haunted by clashes during the 2007 elections that left over 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), set up in the wake of the violence 15 years ago, rates the likelihood of electoral violence as just about “medium high risk,” while in Nairobi County, home to the capital city, the risk of violence is considered to be “very high.” 

While access to digital resources has grown exponentially, studies suggest that the political conversation online in Kenya is often toxic, particularly on TikTok. Research by Mozilla Foundation fellow Odanga Madung shows that “hate speech, incitement against communities, and synthetic and manipulated content…is both present and spreading on the platform.” TikTok, the report argues, needs to do more to implement its own rules on objectionable and inflammatory content. Kenya is one of the few countries in the region that has not deliberately shut down the internet.


The riots in 2007 make the US January 6 insurrection look like the mildest of tea parties. The potential for social media to really make things bad continues to grow in countries where democracy comes most under siege.
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Apple unveils new security setting to block Pegasus attacks on iPhones • The Washington Post

Joseph Menn:


Apple said Wednesday that it will introduce an innovative security feature to give potential targets of government hacking an easy way to make their iPhones safer.

The company said it would be releasing the new “Lockdown Mode” in test versions of its operating systems shortly, with full distribution in the fall as part of iOS 16 for iPhones as well as the operating systems for iPads and Mac computers.

The action follows waves of attacks documented by The Washington Post and others showing that iPhones were being hacked by Pegasus spyware distributed by the Israeli company NSO Group and then used to capture contact information and live audio. But while Pegasus prompted Apple to act, it is not the only spyware that would be hobbled by the new feature.

Once engaged, Lockdown Mode will block most types of attachments on messages and prevent the phone from previewing Web links, which are frequently used to transmit spyware. Locking a phone will disable wired connections to computers and accessories that are used to take control of devices that have been seized by police or stolen by spies.

Apple’s lockdown tactic resolves a long-standing tension in its design approach between security concerns and the pursuit of easy-to-use, highly functional capabilities. The extra usability made the phones more vulnerable to attack through iMessage, FaceTime and other software. Lockdown Mode gives users the choice of whether to maintain those features. When activated, it limits what the phone can do.


Or just buy a Nokia 3310?
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Confidence in US institutions down; average at new low • Gallup

Jeffrey Jones:


Americans are less confident in major U.S. institutions than they were a year ago, with significant declines for 11 of the 16 institutions tested and no improvements for any. The largest declines in confidence are 11 percentage points for the Supreme Court — as reported in late June before the court issued controversial rulings on gun laws and abortion — and 15 points for the presidency, matching the 15-point drop in President Joe Biden’s job approval rating since the last confidence survey in June 2021.

Gallup first measured confidence in institutions in 1973 and has done so annually since 1993. This year’s survey was conducted June 1-20.

Confidence currently ranges from a high of 68% for small business to a low of 7% for Congress. The military is the only institution besides small business for which a majority of Americans express confidence (64%). Confidence in the police, at 45%, has fallen below the majority level for only the second time, with the other instance occurring in 2020 in the weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

This year’s poll marks new lows in confidence for all three branches of the federal government — the Supreme Court (25%), the presidency (23%) and Congress.


Arguably because two of the three branches don’t represent the majority – both the Supreme Court and Senate are terribly unrepresentative of the population.
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March 2021: the clown king: how Boris Johnson made it by playing the fool • The Guardian

Edward Docx, in March 2021:


Would-be biographers of Johnson might do worse than to read Paul Bouissac, the leading scholar on the semiotics of clowning. Clowns are “transgressors”, he writes, cultural subversives who enact rituals and dramatic tableaux that “ignore the tacit rules of social games to indulge in symbolic actions that … toy with these norms as if they were arbitrary, dispensable convention.” Clowns “undermine the ground upon which our language and our society rest by revealing their fragility”. They “foreground the tension” between “instinct” and “constraint”. Bouissac could be writing directly of Johnson when he adds: “Their performing identities transcend the rules of propriety.” They are, he says, “improper by essence”.

Observe classic Johnson closely as he arrives at an event. See how his entire being and bearing is bent towards satire, subversion, mockery. The hair is his clown’s disguise. Just as the makeup and the red nose bestow upon the circus clown a form of anonymity and thus freedom to overturn conventions, so Johnson’s candy-floss mop announces his licence. His clothes are often baggy – ill-fitting; a reminder of the clothes of the clown. He walks towards us quizzically, as if to mock the affected “power walking” of other leaders. Absurdity seems to be wrestling with solemnity in every expression and limb. Notice how he sometimes feigns to lose his way as if to suggest the ridiculousness of the event, the ridiculousness of his presence there, the ridiculousness of any human being going in any direction at all.

His weight, meanwhile, invites us to consider that the trouble with the world (if only we’d admit it) is that it’s really all about appetite and greed. (His convoluted affairs and uncountable children whisper the same about sex.) Before he says a word, he has transmitted his core message – that the human conventions of styling hair, fitting clothes and curbing desires are all … ludicrous. And we are encouraged – laughingly – to agree. And, of course, we do. Because, in a sense, they are ludicrous.


Last chance, while he’s still relevant.
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How a fake job offer took down the world’s most popular crypto game • The Block

Ryan Weeks:


Ronin, the Ethereum-linked sidechain that underpins play-to-earn game Axie Infinity, lost $540 million in crypto to an exploit in March. While the US government later tied the incident to North Korean hacking group Lazarus, full details of how the exploit was carried out have not been disclosed. 

The Block can now reveal that a fake job ad was Ronin’s undoing. 

According to two people with direct knowledge of the matter, who were granted anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the incident, a senior engineer at Axie Infinity was duped into applying for a job at a company that, in reality, did not exist.  

Axie Infinity was huge. At its peak, workers in Southeast Asia were even able to earn a living through the play-to-earn game. It boasted 2.7 million daily active users and $214m in weekly trading volume for its in-game NFTs in November last year — although both numbers have since plummeted.

Earlier this year, staff at Axie Infinity developer Sky Mavis were approached by people purporting to represent the fake company and encouraged to apply for jobs, according to the people familiar with the matter. One source added that the approaches were made through the professional networking site LinkedIn. 

After what one source described as multiple rounds of interviews, a Sky Mavis engineer was offered a job with an extremely generous compensation package. 

The fake “offer” was delivered in the form of a PDF document, which the engineer downloaded — allowing spyware to infiltrate Ronin’s systems. From there, hackers were able to attack and take over four out of nine validators on the Ronin network — leaving them just one validator short of total control. 

In a post-mortem blog post on the hack, published April 27, Sky Mavis said: “Employees are under constant advanced spear-phishing attacks on various social channels and one employee was compromised. This employee no longer works at Sky Mavis. The attacker managed to leverage that access to penetrate Sky Mavis IT infrastructure and gain access to the validator nodes.”


Certainly has all the hallmarks of a state hacking gang looking for cash. North Korea has discovered that crypto in particular is an easy target.
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Google-backed Glance to launch in US within two months • TechCrunch

Manish Singh:


Glance, a subsidiary of adtech giant InMobi Group, is planning to launch its lockscreen platform on Android smartphones in the US within two months, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The startup is engaging with wireless carriers in the US for partnerships and is gearing up to launch on several smartphone models by next month, the source said, requesting anonymity as the deliberations are ongoing and private.

Glance, valued at around $2bn, serves media and current affairs content and casual games on Android handsets’ lockscreens. The service, which has amassed presence on about 400 million smartphones in Asian markets, is building a “premium offering” for the U.S., where individuals have higher propensity to pay for digital services, the source said.

A spokesperson for Glance declined to comment Tuesday. The startup said in February that it planned to expand globally in the coming years.


Lockscreen ads. Boke. Expanding globally. Double boke.
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The cost of sand has spiked 150% in Texas • Bloomberg via Yahoo

David Wethe:


Frack sand, which gets blasted through shale rocks to unlock oil and natural gas, is at about $55 a ton, up from $22 at the end of 2021, data on spot prices from energy-research firm Lium show. Demand is climbing as oil explorers turn the taps back on after Covid-driven cutbacks. But like in so many pockets of the economy, the recovery is sparking a mismatch. Sand suppliers have seen disruptions, labor shortages and trucking bottlenecks. The chief executive officer of US Silica Holdings Inc., the largest publicly traded frack-sand miner, has dubbed the tight market “sandemonium” and said his company is sold out.

That’s where Steve Brock and his upstart sand-mining operation, Nomad Proppant LLC, come in. Since the early days of the shale revolution more than a decade ago, fracking operators have relied on mined sand that’s delivered to their sites by truck — across distances as long as 100 miles. Brock, Nomad’s chief commercial officer, wants to turn that model on its head.

His idea: Why not just use the sand that’s right under your feet?

Nomad has developed machinery that can go directly to the frack wells (give or take 10 to 20 miles), vastly reducing the burden of freight costs and the time-consuming process of trucking.


Related: “Earth is running out of sand … which is, you know, pretty concerning” (Popular Mechanics), which says that


The most-extracted solid material in the world, and second-most used global resource behind water, sand is an unregulated material used extensively in nearly every construction project on Earth. And with 50 billion metric tons consumed annually—enough to build an 88-foot-tall, 88-foot-wide wall around the world—our sand depletion is on the rise, and a completely unregulated rise at that.


(Thanks G for the link.)
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French state plans to take full control of EDF • Financial Times

Sarah White:


France plans to take full control of power group EDF, a nuclear energy specialist that has been grappling with high debt, production outages and conflicting demands from its state shareholder as it gears up to try to process its biggest orders for new reactors in decades.

The takeover, announced by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne on Wednesday, would close a rollercoaster chapter for the former monopoly, which has included a shelved government attempt last year to restructure the sprawling company, still 84% controlled by the state.

“I confirm to you today that the state intends to control 100% of EDF’s capital,” Borne told lawmakers as she set out priorities for the new government following Emmanuel Macron’s re-election as president in April and legislative elections in June. She did not detail how the operation would take place, or when.

Shares in the company, which was listed in 2005, soared 14.3% after Borne’s speech. The stock held by minority shareholders is worth roughly €5bn at current market prices.

Known as EDF when the utility was created just after the second world war, EDF’s capital was opened up to private investors with the argument it would bring more financial discipline and transparency to a group with a history of internal quarrels and that is sometimes described as a quasi state-within-a-state.


Nationalising essential public services? Damn radical centrists.
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Is Apple failing at modems? • Digits to Dollars

Jonathan Greenberg:


The phone in question is the 2023 iPhone, which is still 15 months away. Typically, supply decisions for the iPhone get locked down around 12 months in advance, so maybe there is some time for change. On the other hand, the modem is an important part of the phone, more on that in a moment, so the rest of the iPhone team can probably only make a host of other decisions after the modem is fixed. So we are in the ball park. In some future post, we will deconstruct sell-side data sourcing a bit, but for our purposes here, we would give at least even odds that Kuo is correct.

Apple’s chip team, Apple Silicon, is an incredibly proficient organization. We regularly describe them as the best-run semiconductor company in the world. They have scored all kinds of impressive achievements like the M Series CPU and the industry-beating A Series application processor for phones. How could they fail at a modem? Put simply, modems are hard.

Modems, also called basebands, are the chip that connect a device to the cellular network. Without a modem an iPhone is just an iPod (which do not exist anymore). As we noted above, modems are usually the first design decision made when building a phone, everything else depends on that choice, they are the ultimate strategic high-ground in phones. But what do they do?

[Explanation of what they do – see original post]

…To put it mildly, modems are very different from CPUs or GPUs, let alone task-specific AI ASICs. As such, developing them requires a very different skill set from designing those other chips. If you look at an uncapped CPU, there are clear patterns, like looking at industrial farm plots from 30,000 feet. Uncap a modem and it looks much less tidy, more akin to the plots of a village of Middle Age serf-bound farmers. (And for what it’s worth, it is very hard to find a photo of these online, in part because they are so unappealing to look at.)

So it is very possible that Apple just did not have sufficient design experience to build the chip. If we had to guess, maybe they completed a design but found that its power performance did not meet expectations. It is important to remember that Apple has failed at building networking chips before. Ten years ago they acquired a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth team from Texas Instruments, but today Apple is still buying those chips from Broadcom.


This, possibly, is despite having Intel’s 5G team on board. Quite dispiriting for them both if so, but some tasks require small super-competent teams – see Apple Silicon, ARM and Qualcomm.
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Man from Chile paid 300 times his salary by his employer takes the money and runs • Metro News

Jasper King:


one employee who discovered he had been paid nearly £150,000 for a month’s work instead of the usual £450 decided to duck and run.

The unnamed staff member at Consorcio Industrial de Alimentos in Chile did initially raise the eye-watering overpayment for May with his manager who then flagged it to HR.

He agreed to return the cash and promised to go to the bank the following day. But instead of giving it back, the man withdrew it and hasn’t been seen since.

His employer Consorcio tried to make contact with the man over the next three days but to no avail, according to local media outlet Diario Financiero.

They later received contact from the unnamed man’s lawyers who informed Consorcio that the man had resigned from his position with the company.

After no sign of contact, bosses at the company decided to file a complaint with law officials charging the man with misappropriation of fund.


That’s going to be a fun, extremely slow, chase. They paid him 25 years’ salary. (Standard take-home pay is £750 per month, nearly 50% more than he was getting.)

Odd how there isn’t the usual “the mistake was blamed on a computer”.
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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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