Start Up No.1855: Find My becomes Stalk Us, China and Germany hit by record droughts, America’s killer road(s), and more

Touchscreens in cars are less easy to use than physical buttons. That’s what you thought. Now data agrees. CC-licensed photo by Michael Sheehan on Flickr.

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

The approaching tsunami of addictive AI-created content will overwhelm us • Social Warming Substack

By me, ruminating on how many machine learning systems there are churning out content already:


One of the lessons I absorbed from a few decades of technology journalism is that conceiving what will happen when things scale up is really, really difficult. We can see a lone tree and grasp it; but imagining how a forest of them will change the ecosystem is incredibly hard. The iPhone and Android made it easy to get email out of the office! But they also prompted an explosion of apps. Which created a new economy of people making apps. Which encouraged apps that weren’t restricted just to doing things on the phone, but were useful in the physical world, such as Uber. Meanwhile, the connectedness meant that photos and videos could be uploaded and even streamed—for good, for bad.

The point being that all the disparate bits above might look like, well, disparate parts, but they’re available now (and that’s without mentioning deepfakes). The trees are here, and the forest might be starting to take shape. Here’s an example: a 40-page comic book about monsters, free for download (PDF), by Steve Coulson, in which all the images are drawn by [AI illustrator] MidJourney. It’s very, very impressive.

I suspect in the future there will be a premium on good, human-generated content and response, but that huge and growing amounts of the content that people watch and look at and read on content networks (“social networks” will become outdated) will be generated automatically, and the humans will be more and more happy about it.


But there’s more. MUCH more.
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How the Find My app became an accidental friendship fixture • The New York Times

Kalley Huang:


Location sharing isn’t new. In 2011, Apple released Find My Friends. In 2013, 7% of U.S. adults said they checked into locations on social media or shared their locations with friends, according to the Pew Research Center. This year, 69% of Gen Z and 77% of millennials said they activated location-sharing features at least sometimes, compared with 62% of US adults in general, according to the Harris Poll.

But what can be startling — and harder to quantify — is how widely younger people share their location information. Some say that they track a dozen or more friends on the app, and that those friends track them back.

These features are not limited to just Find My. Dating, food delivery and ride-hailing apps often ask for access to location data. Facebook’s Messenger, Snapchat’s Snap Maps and third-party apps like the family-oriented Life360 — all available on iPhones and Android phones — offer real-time location-sharing features.

And location sharing is built into some smartphones. Starting in 2015, Find My Friends came automatically installed in iPhones. In 2019, it and Apple’s device-locating apps Find My iPhone and Find My Mac were rolled into the stand-alone Find My. Google Maps, which comes preinstalled in Android phones, has a similar location-sharing feature.

As with a check-in on Facebook or location tagging on Instagram and Twitter, users opt into location sharing on Find My. But unlike those features, Find My shares real-time location after users opt in, with the options to share for one hour, until the end of the day or indefinitely.

With Find My, “you aren’t actively choosing to do something as you reach a certain location because you’re constantly sharing your location,” said Michael Saker, a senior lecturer in digital sociology at City, University of London. As a result, “there’s an intimacy that’s intertwined with that act,” he added. “There’s a verification of being friends.”

But sharing locations can come with privacy concerns, especially if users are not aware of or do not consent to whom they share their location with, and for how long, said Eva Galperin, cybersecurity director at Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group. Even if users consent at first, expectations among friends can make it more difficult to opt out, she said.


In The Overspill’s family, the app is known as “Stalk My Family” (from the days when it was Find My Friends). As this shows, it’s used a lot more widely now, but with the same general intent.
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China hit by drought, floods, as Yangtze River runs dry • The Washington Post

Karina Tsui and Ian Livingston:


China is suffering its worst drought on record as soaring temperatures dry up key parts of the Yangtze River, damaging crops and limiting drinking-water supplies in some central and southern communities.

At the same time, other parts of the country are suffering under an opposite extreme. In the western province of Qinghai, heavy rain has driven floods and landslides, leaving at least 16 people dead and 18 missing, state media reported.

Some rivers were running so high that they changed course, contributing to floods affecting more than 6,200 people, Reuters reported.

In the drought-hit regions, a prolonged heat wave has exacerbated conditions, authorities said.

Chinese officials this week announced what they said were several new measures to help alleviate the impact, including financial aid, cloud seeding and shutdowns of some energy-intensive industries.

In Hubei, in central China, authorities said 4.2 million people were found to have been affected by the drought. The southwestern province of Sichuan, which relies heavily on hydropower, also ordered factories in 19 cities and prefectures to halt operations until Saturday to preserve electricity for the public.

The temperature in the neighboring district of Chongqing hit a record 113º Fahrenheit (45ºC), China’s National Meteorological Center said Thursday — the highest temperature recorded in the country outside of Xinjiang, a desert region in the northwest. The county of Xinwen recorded 110ºF (43ºC), which set a provincial record for Sichuan.


China knows that global heating is a huge problem, and this is it hitting home. (Also: worst drought *on record* for China is quite a record, which must go back a very long way.)
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Major rivers across Europe are drying up at the worst possible moment • Bloomberg Green

William Wilkes:


The Rhine — a pillar of the German, Dutch and Swiss economies for centuries — is set to become virtually impassable at a key waypoint later this week, stymieing vast flows of diesel and coal. The Danube, which snakes its way 1,800 miles through central Europe to the Black Sea, is gummed up too, hampering grain and other trade.

Across Europe, transport is just one of the elements of river-based commerce that’s been upended by climate change. France’s power crisis has worsened because the Rhone and Garonne are too warm to effectively cool nuclear reactors, and Italy’s Po is too low to water rice fields and sustain clams for “pasta alle vongole.”

While disruptions to waterways would be a challenge at the best of times, the region is already on the brink of recession as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fuels inflation by squeezing food and energy supplies. The situation — just four years after a historic halt to Rhine shipping — adds urgency to European Union efforts to make inland shipping more resilient.

The continent’s rivers and canals convey more than 1 ton of freight annually for each EU resident and contribute around $80bn to the region’s economy just as a mode of transport, according to calculations based on Eurostat figures. But the fallout from dried-up waterways goes deeper.

“It’s not just about commercial navigation. It’s about freshening up when it’s hot, it’s about irrigating and so many other things,” said Cecile Azevard, director at French water operator VNF. “Rivers are part of our heritage.”


You have to read a long way down the story before it starts mentioning that this is a climate change/global heating effect: droughts are also hitting the UK, South Africa, China and Brazil.
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Physical buttons outperform touchscreens in new cars, test finds • Vi Bilägare

Fredrik Diits Vikström:


The screens in modern cars keep getting bigger. Design teams at most car manufacturers love to ditch physical buttons and switches, although they are far superior safety-wise.

That is the conclusion when Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare performed a thurough test of the HMI system (Human-Machine Interface) in a total of twelve cars this summer.

Inspiration for the screen-heavy interiors in modern cars comes from smartphones and tablets. Designers want a ”clean” interior with minimal switchgear, and the financial department wants to lower the cost. Instead of developing, manufacturing and keeping physical buttons in stock for years to come, car manufacturers are keen on integrating more functions into a digital screen which can be updated over time.

So in what way have these screens affected safety? Vi Bilägare gathered eleven modern cars from different manufacturers at an airfield och measured the time needed for a driver to perform different simple tasks, such as changing the radio station or adjusting the climate control. At the same time, the car was driven at 110 km/h (68 mph). We also invited an ”old-school” car without a touchscreen, a 17-year-old Volvo V70, for comparison.

One important aspect of this test is that the drivers had time to get to know the cars and their infotainment systems before the test started.


This is so blindingly obvious, but it’s nice to have data to prove it.
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Apple already sold everyone an iPhone. Now what? • The Economist


As it dreams up more gadgets to sell to more people, however, Apple is employing another strategy in parallel. The company has so far put 1.8bn devices in the pockets and on the desks of some of the world’s most affluent consumers. Now it is selling access to those customers to other companies, and persuading those who own its devices to sign up to its own subscription services. As Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, said on a recent earnings call, the Apple devices in circulation represent “a big engine for our services business”.

The strategy is picking up speed. Last year services brought in $68bn in revenue, or 19% of Apple’s total. That is double the share in 2015. In the latest quarter services’ share was even higher, at 24%. Apple doesn’t break down where the money comes from, but the biggest chunk is reckoned to be fees from its app store, which amounted to perhaps $25bn last year, according to Sensor Tower, a data provider. The next-biggest part is probably the payment from Google for the right to be Apple devices’ default search engine. This was $10bn in 2020; analysts believe the going rate now is nearer $20bn. Apple’s fast-growing advertising business—mainly selling search ads in its app store—will bring in nearly $7bn this year, reckons eMarketer, another research firm.

Most of the rest comes from a range of subscription services: iCloud storage, Apple Music and Apple Care insurance are probably the biggest, estimates Morgan Stanley, an investment bank. More recent ventures like Apple tv+, Apple Fitness, Apple Arcade and Apple Pay make up the rest.


I often wonder what would happen if Google said one day that it wasn’t going to pony up the $20bn, and was reducing it to, say, $5bn, or less. When that happened with Firefox, Yahoo stepped in – and the money was essentially wasted. Would Microsoft pile in to give Bing a shopfront?
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How a stretch of US-19 in Florida became the deadliest road for pedestrians • Vox

Marin Cogan:


ecauseBecause life in the United States is so structured around cars — so many of us depend on them, due to sprawl and lack of good public transit, and because infrastructure in this country is built with drivers in mind — it can be easy to miss the broader crisis unfolding on our streets. Most of us, when we drive, tend to think about our experiences as specific; our roads might have horrible traffic, or our community’s drivers might be particularly reckless. But the evidence mounting over the past few years indicates that something much larger is going on: America is experiencing a pedestrian fatality crisis.

It’s not just Florida. In 2020, more than 6,700 pedestrians were killed while walking and using wheelchairs, despite a dramatic decrease in the number of cars on the road and the number of miles traveled. Data from the Governors Highway Safety Association that year projected that the pedestrian fatality rate soared 21 percent, amounting to “the largest ever annual increase in the rate at which drivers struck and killed people on foot.” That same year, nearly 39,000 people were killed in car crashes, the largest number of deaths since 2007. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its preliminary findings, the NHTSA’s deputy administrator told Reuters: “We’ve never seen trends like this, and we feel an urgency … to take action and turn this around as quickly as possible.”

In 2021, the problem managed to get even worse. Preliminary data from the Governors Highway Safety Association found that 7,485 pedestrians were killed by drivers, an 11.5% increase over the year before, and the most pedestrian deaths recorded in nearly 40 years. In response to the rising death toll among pedestrians and drivers, the US Department of Transportation announced more than $5 billion in funding for local efforts to make roads safer. “We face a national crisis of fatalities and serious injuries on our roadways,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in making the announcement this May.

We are so inured to the dangers of driving — and the death toll it regularly incurs — that many people don’t recognize that the United States is an outlier among comparable countries: People are more than twice as likely to die in an automobile crash here as in Canada or parts of Europe.


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Small business owners worry whether they will make it through the winter • Financial Times

Oliver Barnes:


In normal times, [business energy broker Ali] Carnegie wrangles with gas and electricity providers over single-digit percentage increases in the bills of the more than 250 small to medium-sized enterprises he has on his books. But now he has to recommend contracts that may tip some of his clients’ businesses over the edge as energy bills have started to rise sharply, driven primarily by Russia’s squeeze on gas supplies to Europe.

Last month, a hospitality business he works with was offered a new electricity contract priced at £605,000 a year, a seven-fold increase on its previous one. The owners are now working out whether their business can survive the rise.

Spiralling energy costs are just one of a number of pressures weighing on the UK’s 5.5mn small businesses. “This winter would be very grim if energy prices alone were going up,” said Carnegie, who runs Cornwall-based consultancy Total Energy Solutions.

Increasing wage bills, higher raw material costs, the supply chain crunch and the fallout from Brexit only add to the pressures. The upshot is that many SMEs, which together employ about three-fifths of the UK workforce, will probably collapse without government intervention.

In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, the UK lost nearly 390,000 small businesses, more than one-twentieth of the total. Tina McKenzie, policy chair at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), predicted that this winter “could easily be just as devastating . . . if not worse”.


Without drastic action, this is going to be catastrophic. Plus think of the council swimming pools, libraries, schools, etc etc who are going to face colossal rises. The deficits are going to be enormous.
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Electric vehicles are way, way more energy-efficient than internal combustion vehicles • Motor Trend

Justin Westbrook:


Out of the 8.9 million barrels of gasoline consumed daily in the US on average, only 1.8 million gallons, or approximately 20%, actually propel an internal combustion vehicle forward. The other 80% is wasted on heat and parasitic auxiliary components that draw away energy. As the world begins its shift to EV proliferation, the good news is electric vehicles are far more energy efficient on the road.

A new set of graphics from Yale Climate Connections makes visualizing the efficiency gains of an EV over an ICE vehicle straightforward. Using data from and the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these graphics break down the energy waste in your typical gas-powered car.

The vast majority of energy wasted in an ICE vehicle is through the heat the engine produces, which you can literally feel radiating from under the hood. About 5% is lost through parasitic engine components including the cooling system, which draws on the engine’s own energy to help cool it down, about 4% is lost through the mechanical friction of the drivetrain and transmission components, and another 2% could be lost to auxiliary electrics like heated and powered seats, lights, and infotainment systems. In total, approximately 75% to 84% of the original gasoline’s energy is lost.

Compare that to only 31-35% energy loss in the average electric vehicle (average EV battery size is about 63 kWh), before factoring in potential recuperation from energy regeneration. Its losses can be broken down into approximately 10% of the source energy from the grid lost in the charging process, 18% lost to the drivetrain motor components, up to 4% lost to auxiliary components, and another 3% lost solely from powertrain cooling and other vehicle systems.

Comparing the two, “the rough math pencils out to the energy equivalent of around 2 million barrels of gasoline per day, which is a substantial savings over the 8.9 million barrels currently used,” according to Yale Climate Connections.


Even if the power stations that generate the energy were all running on fossil fuels (and they aren’t) it would still save energy. The shift to EVs needs to happen faster, but every little piece of data can be persuasive. (Via John Naughton.)
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Generate look-a-like photos to protect your identity • Generated Photos


Frequently asked questions

Can I use the Anonymizer for free?: Yes! You have permission to use the Anonymizer for free for personal usage. You do not have permission to create a stockpile of images or to use your generated image for commercial purposes. For commercial usage, purchasable licenses are available. For commercial usage, please contact us.

Do you store my picture?: No, we do not save your personal data and photos. This project is meant as a useful way to showcase the utility of synthetic media. The photos are processed in the RAM and stored on your computer. We don’t collect or store it for future analysis and re-learning like many AI tools do. More in our privacy policy.

What type of image should I use?: In order for the Anonymizer to work correctly you should upload a clear photo of your face looking straight forward. Cropping out the background is not needed. Avoid using images where multiple faces are visible.

Where can I use my anonymous image?: Anywhere online! Do not use your image to impersonate another person or to conduct illegal activity.


Uses a generative adversarial network to create photos that are like you but aren’t you for online is a weird way of thinking, though makes sense of sorts.
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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.1855: Find My becomes Stalk Us, China and Germany hit by record droughts, America’s killer road(s), and more

  1. I love the bathos with which this paragraph ends:

    “Across Europe, transport is just one of the elements of river-based commerce that’s been upended by climate change. France’s power crisis has worsened because the Rhone and Garonne are too warm to effectively cool nuclear reactors, and Italy’s Po is too low to water rice fields and sustain clams for ‘pasta alle vongole.'”

    [Editor’s voice: “no no, clams are relatable!”.]

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