Start Up No.1859: Twitter does podcasts!, Microsoft scammers try USB sticks, is this “peak TV”?, IMDb’s review bombs, and more

Google’s estimates for the climate impact of flights it finds for you have been cut substantially, a code change shows. CC-licensed photo by Bill Abbott on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Piecemeal. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google ‘airbrushes’ out emissions from flying, BBC reveals • BBC News

Justin Rowlatt:


The way Google calculates the climate impact of your flights has changed, the BBC has discovered, meaning flights now appear to have much less impact on the environment than before.

That’s because the world’s biggest search engine has taken a key driver of global warming out of its online carbon flight calculator.

With Google hosting nine out of every 10 online searches, this could have wide repercussions for people’s travel decisions. “Google has airbrushed a huge chunk of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages” says Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace.

The company said it made the change following consultations with its “industry partners”. It affects the carbon calculator embedded in the company’s “Google Flights” search tool.

Google says this feature is designed “to help you make more sustainable travel choices”. Yet in July, Google decided to exclude all the global warming impacts of flying except CO2.

Some experts say Google’s calculations now represent just over half of the real impact on the climate of flights. “It now significantly understates the global impact of aviation on the climate”, says Professor David Lee of Manchester Metropolitan University, the author of the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the contribution of air travel to global warming.

Flying affects the climate in lots of ways in addition to the CO2 produced by burning aviation fuel. These include the creation of long thin clouds high up in the atmosphere – known as contrails – which trap heat radiated by the Earth, leading to a net warming effect on our planet.

These additional warming impacts mean that although aviation is only responsible for around 2% of global CO2 emissions, the sector is actually responsible for around 3.5% of the warming caused by human activity. And it is a sector that is only going to get bigger. Since 2000 emissions have risen by 50%, and the industry is expected to grow by more than 4% every year for the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).


Spotted, no kidding, by a change on Github, where the code for the calculation is housed.

Question for Google: why not be aggressive in its estimates for the impact?
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Twitter whistleblowing report actually seems to confirm Twitter’s legal argument, while pretending to support Musk’s • Techdirt

Mike Masnick:


The first and most important thing to remember is that, even as Musk insists otherwise, the Twitter lawsuit is not about spam. It just is not. I’m not going to repeat everything in that earlier story explaining why not, so if you haven’t read that yet, please do. But the core of it is that Musk needed an escape hatch from the deal he didn’t want to consummate and the best his lawyers could come up with was to claim that Twitter was being misleading in its SEC reporting regarding spam. (As an aside, there is very strong evidence that Musk didn’t care at all about the SEC filings until he suddenly needed an escape hatch, and certainly didn’t rely on them).

But — and this is kind of important — many of Musk’s claims were based on either misunderstanding or deliberately misreading Twitter’s SEC filings. As I’ve explained multiple times now, what Twitter reports to the SEC is how much spam is likely included in their “monetizable daily average user” (mDAU) accounting. This is not, and has never been, about “how much spam is on the platform.” The company came up with this other metric — mDAU — that is a segment of the total Twitter population. As Mudge’s report notes, an mDAU is defined as a “valid user account that might click through ads and actually buy a product.”

That’s not every account. There are accounts that are inactive. There are accounts that are automated (but useful — such as those tweeting out the weather or earthquakes or whatnot). There are lots of accounts that may exist on the platform, but may not be counted in mDAU. And that includes some spam/bot accounts. That has always been clear for anyone who reads the details.

Next, Twitter’s filings with the SEC are only about how much spam is in their mDAU number. This takes place after Twitter has made use of other processes to try to eliminate spam accounts from the mDAU, and then they do a daily spot check of 100 accounts. That creates a sample size of 9000 over the course of a quarter (the time period between Twitter reports), and is statistically significant for declaring that less than 5% of the mDAU is spam.


But of course Musk’s lawyers brought it up in legal pleadings on Wednesday: “The way Mr. Zatko [the whistleblower] put it, management had no appetite to properly measure bot accounts,” said Musk’s lawyers.
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Twitter is becoming a podcast app • The Verge

Ariel Shapiro:


Twitter is officially getting into podcasts. The app will launch a test version of Twitter Spaces today that includes podcasts, letting you listen to full shows through curated playlists based on your interests.

The redesigned Spaces tab opens with Stations, topic-based playlists combining podcast episodes pulled from RSS with Twitter’s social audio events and recordings. It functions like a Pandora station but for spoken word and is pretty different from the a la carte listening podcast consumers are used to on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Live and upcoming spaces are still in the tab, further down the page. The test will roll out to a random group of users across the world, initially only in English.

The more users listen, the more tailored the audio Stations will become. But Twitter isn’t starting from square one — the company is relying on what it already knows about its users’ interests to curate the playlists. It’ll draw from the interests of people they follow, as well. “What we’re really trying to capture here is as if it’s like another user recommending you something,” Twitter senior product manager Evan Jones, who focuses on audio, told Hot Pod.

Podcast discovery is notoriously difficult, limited either to top 100 charts, hand-picked selections on apps, or — more often than not — word of mouth. No platform has managed to crack it, yet.

It’s easy to imagine the promotional possibilities around being able to share and listen to podcasts in the same app, but it’s not quite there yet. The test does not yet have a clipping capability, and listening can only happen in the Spaces tab, not on the timeline. That being said, Spaces has a clipping feature that could be applied to podcasts at some point.


Neatly taking it full circle: Twitter was originally Odeo, a podcast company, and pivoted to a messaging project in July 2006. So, 16 years to go sort of full circle.
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Criminals posting counterfeit Microsoft products to get access to victims’ computers • Sky News

Alexander Martin:


Microsoft has confirmed to Sky News that criminals are posting counterfeit packages designed to appear like Office products in order to defraud people.

One such package seen by Sky News is manufactured to a convincing standard and contains an engraved USB drive, alongside a product key.

But the USB does not install Microsoft Office when plugged in to a computer. Instead, it contains malicious software which encourages the victim to call a fake support line and hand over access to their PC to a remote attacker.

Microsoft launched an internal investigation into the suspect package after being contacted by Sky News.

The company spokesperson confirmed that the USB and the packaging were counterfeit and that they had seen a pattern of such products being used to scam victims before.

They added that while Microsoft had seen this type of fraud, it is very infrequent. More often when fraudulent products are sold they tend to be product keys sent to customers via email, with a link to a site for downloading the malicious software.


Apparently originally sent to a retired man’s home. Seems like the “Microsoft virus” scammers, who have been at this for at least 15 years, have moved on to a new method of targeting people.
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Big budget blockbusters arrive amid fears of ‘peak TV’ • Financial Times

Alex Barker and Christopher Grimes:


this autumn will present audiences with a flood of some of the most expensive television ever produced.

On September 2, Amazon Prime will release its adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, with an estimated budget of $465mn for the first season — almost enough to make Top Gun: Maverick three times over.

HBO Max’s House of the Dragon — the prequel to Game of Thrones — is reported to have cost $200mn for the season’s 10 episodes. At Disney Plus, Star Wars: Andor will lead a large slate of new programmes that include a Pinocchio remake, She Hulk, and a spin-off of the Cars franchise.

…there are growing concerns that inflation will bite into discretionary spending, including on streaming services.

“Everyone [in Hollywood] is throwing big dollars after big things,” said Niels Juul, who was an executive producer of Martin Scorsese’s Netflix film The Irishman. “But [subscribers] are inundated now to the point where they are looking at their monthly bills and saying, ‘Something’s got to go — I’ve got $140 worth of subscriptions here!’”

Even so, Tom Harrington at Enders Analysis said consumers were still getting a better deal than the streaming companies themselves. “People get through $100mn of TV in a day and say: ‘what’s next?’ From a consumer point of view that is great. But for a video operator, it’s clearly unsustainable.”

This year’s wave of new programming is due in part to the bottleneck of Covid-delayed productions finally easing up. Yet it is unlikely that it will result in the kind of breakneck subscriber gains that streamers experienced during the pandemic — at least not in North America or the UK. The two leading streamers, Netflix and Disney, have had little growth in those markets this year.


I’d also observe: retreads. Not a single one of those is an original idea. Is that just how it goes?
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She-Hulk’s review bombing proves IMDB’s biggest ratings problem • ScreenRant

De’Vion Hinton:


In the wake of its premiere, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has become the latest in a growing list of movies and television series that have fallen victim to review-bombing on the website IMDb. The Internet Movie Database, popularly known as IMDb, has become a go-to resource for casting news, release dates, and audience reviews of films and shows. However, as exposed by the review bombs of She-Hulk and other recent projects, IMDb’s intent to offer a credible index of genuine audience reviews has been massively undermined by one of its own rules and by the site’s rise in popularity. The rise in bad-faith IMDb reviews, particularly for projects led by women and/or BIPOC, threatens to render the site’s scores meaningless if the problem is not addressed.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is an MCU comedy series starring Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer Walters, cousin of Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk. The show is looking to break new ground for the MCU in terms of style and form. Its first episode has drawn comparisons between the characters She-Hulk and Deadpool, with the series looking to deliver a similar sort of self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking humor combined with sitcom tropes and superhero action. As a result, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law has received acclaim to the tune of an 82% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet even before any episodes became available to the public, many IMDb users sought to undermine the series by leaving as many one-star reviews as possible, striving to create a negative narrative around the latest Marvel release.


Internet rule 1: if you have an open ratings system, it will get abused.
Internet rule 2: if it involves something that white teenagers can get offended about, it will get seriously abused.
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What the Colorado river water shortage means for the U.S. • ProPublica

Abrahm Lustgarten interviews Jay Famiglietti, executive director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan :


Q: Let’s start with the Colorado River because it’s in the news. The federal government has put some extraordinary numbers out there, suggesting water users [should] cut between 2 and 4 million acre-feet of water usage starting this year — roughly 40% of the entire river’s recent flow. How could that possibly happen?

Jay Famiglietti: It’s going to be really hard. We’re looking at drastically reduced food production and the migration of agriculture to other parts of the country and real limits on growth, especially in desert cities like Phoenix. My fear is that groundwater will, as usual, be left out of the discussion — groundwater is mostly unprotected, and it’s going to be a real shit show.

Q: Remind us how that happens. States and farmers cut back on the Colorado River, and California and Arizona just start pumping all the water out of their aquifers?

JF: Yeah. This started with the drought contingency plan [the 2018 legal agreement among the states on the Colorado River]. Arizona had to cut nearly 20% of its Colorado River water. To placate the farmers, the deal was that they would have free access to the groundwater. In fact, something like $20 million was allocated to help them dig more wells. So, it was just a direct transfer from surface water to groundwater. Right away, you could see that the groundwater depletion was accelerating. With this latest round, I’m afraid we’re just going to see more of that.

Q: Some of that groundwater actually gets used to grow feed for cattle in the Middle East or China, right? There’s Saudi-owned agriculture firms planting alfalfa, which uses more water than just about anything, and it’s not for American food supply. Do I have that right?

JF: There’s been other buyers from other countries coming in, buying up that land, land grabbing and grabbing the water rights. That’s happening in Arizona.

Q: What about in California? Groundwater depletion has caused the earth to sink in on itself. Parts of the Central Valley are 28 feet lower today than they were a century ago.

JF: California passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, which mandated an extraordinarily long time horizon: two years to form the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and then five years for each GSA to come up with its sustainability plan. So that’s now: 2022. And then 20 years to come into sustainability. My fear is that the slow implementation will allow for too much groundwater depletion to happen. It’s sort of the same old, same old.


Amazing little glimpse of capitalism: other countries come in and buy up bits of the US to put water-intensive crops in for their animals.
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China’s Chongqing extends factory power cuts indefinitely • The Register

Laura Dobberstein:


Officials from the manufacturing hub of Chongqing notified factories on Wednesday that mandated power cuts in the municipality were extended until further notice, affecting both PC and Apple suppliers.

The power cuts were originally ordered from August 15 to August 20 in 19 Chonging and Sichuan area cities, as a measure to prioritize electrical grid resources for residents while China experienced an unprecedented heatwave. The power rationing was eventually extended to Thursday August 24, before Chongqing’s mandate was made indefinite and neighboring Sichuan reportedly extended to Saturday.

The heatwave has been joined by sweeping wildfires, leaving residents relying on candlelight to see and blocks of ice to keep cool. In that environment, manufacturing lines just have to take a backseat.

Sichuan-based General Interface Solutions said in a regulatory filing with the Taiwan Stock Exchange on Monday that it was complying with government requests, and had adopted off-site backup to compensate for adjusted production and operations. The company provides touchscreens and other components for mobile phones, wearable devices, tablets and notebooks, and has been listed as an Apple supplier in the past.

Fellow Apple supplier Foxconn is reportedly operating at “low levels.” Foxconn told The Register the impact is currently “not significant.”


Second-order effects.
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NFTs worth $100m stolen in past year, Elliptic says • Reuters

Elizabeth Howcroft:


Scams remain rife in the NFT market even as it declines, with July seeing the highest number of NFTs reported stolen on record, London-based Elliptic said in a report.

Security compromises via social media have surged, accounting for 23% of NFT thefts in 2022, it said.

Thieves received on averaged $300,000 per scam, Elliptic said. The true scale of NFT thefts is likely to be even higher, given that not all crimes are publicly reported, it added.

Hacks and scams have long plagued the crypto industry, while regulators around the world are increasingly concerned about the use of crypto assets in cyber crime.

Elliptic put the amount of money-laundering in NFT-based platforms at just $8 million. But almost $329 million worth of funds in the NFT market came from services such as so-called cryptocurrency mixers, which are designed to hide the funds’ origin, Elliptic said.

One such mixer, Tornado Cash, was used for laundering just over half of the proceeds of NFT scams, Elliptic said, before it was sanctioned by the United States this month.


North Korea must be astonished at how easy all this is – both the stealing and the cashing out. By contrast, my bank rang me the other day to say it couldn’t accept a payment sent to me by the news organisation Al-Jazeera for a TV appearance because the originating country, Qatar, doesn’t conform to the required anti-money laundering procedures. Maybe I should get them to pay me in.. no, actually no.
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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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