Start Up No.1879: churches that surveil their flock, crypto data centre biz goes bust, Bowie by hairstyle, no flying cars for us, and more

dynamic island on android phone, visualised by Dynamic Bee
You can now get a version of Apple’s Dynamic Island from its new Pro phones running on your Android device, via an app. (Picture, not of the app, by Diffusion Bee*.)

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

It’s Friday, so at 0845BST there’ll be another post on the Social Warming Substack.

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

The ungodly surveillance of anti-porn ‘shameware’ apps • WIRED

Dhruv Mehrotra:


Gracepoint is the kind of evangelical Southern Baptist church that’s compelled to publicly enumerate all of the ways it’s not a cult. “We’ll admit that we’re a bit crazy about the Great Commission and sharing the Gospel,” reads an FAQ page titled, “Is Gracepoint a Cult?” So when Grant Hao-Wei Lin came out to a Gracepoint church leader during their weekly one-on-one session, he was surprised to learn that he wasn’t going to be kicked out. According to his church leader, Hao-Wei Lin says, God still loved him in spite of his “struggle with same-sex attraction.”

But Gracepoint did not leave the matter in God’s hands alone. At their next one-on-one the following week, Hao-Wei Lin says the church leader asked him to install an app called Covenant Eyes on his phone. The app is explicitly marketed as anti-pornography software, but according to Hao-Wei Lin, his church leader told him it would help “control all of his urges.”

Covenant Eyes is part of a multimillion-dollar ecosystem of so-called accountability apps that are marketed to both churches and parents as tools to police online activity. For a monthly fee, some of these apps monitor everything their users see and do on their devices, even taking screenshots (at least one per minute, in the case of Covenant Eyes) and eavesdropping on web traffic, WIRED found. The apps then report a feed of all of the users’ online activity directly to a chaperone—an “accountability partner,” in the apps’ parlance. When WIRED presented its findings to Google, however, the company determined that two of the top accountability apps—Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You—violate its policies.

The omnipotence of Covenant Eyes soon weighed heavily on Hao-Wei Lin, who has since left Gracepoint. Within a month of installing the app, he started receiving accusatory emails from his church leader referencing things he had viewed online. “Anything you need to tell me?” reads one email Hao-Wei Lin shared with WIRED.


I guess the confession box doesn’t cut it any more: too 20th-century. Things have moved on.
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Crypto-mining data centre Compute North files for bankruptcy protection • Coindesk

Stephen Alpher and Aoyon Ashraf:


Compute North, one of the largest crypto-mining data centres, has sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas.

The company only last February announced a capital raise of $385m, consisting of an $85m Series C equity round and $300m in debt financing. The move comes as miners are struggling to survive this year with slumping bitcoin prices, rising power costs and all-time high difficulty.

The bankruptcy filing is likely to have negative implications for the crypto mining industry as Compute North is one of the largest data centre providers for the miners, as it had multiple deals with other larger mining companies.

Compute North has total of four facilities in the US with two in Texas, one each in South Dakota and Nebraska, according to its website.


At a guess, it was the debt financing that screwed things. Typically it’s much more expensive to service, and the crypto crash would have meant a lot less money coming in very abruptly. Very much a “gradually, then suddenly” experience.
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First look at dynamicSpot: bringing Apple’s Dynamic Island to your Android phone • Android Police

Chandraveer Mathur:


this could be the perfect solution if you’re longing for the Dynamic Island visual experience on Android phones — and specifically, those with center-aligned hole-punch cameras like the Google Pixel 6 or Samsung Galaxy S22 series. The app is the brainchild of developer Jawomo, also known for their Bixby button remapper app and the notification light app for OnePlus phones.

Once installed, the lightweight app creates a black pill-shaped bar that surrounds your screen’s camera cutout with icons for notifications. You can enlarge the island with a long tap on the pill, while a short tap connects you to the notifying app. If that sounds backwards to you, a small IAP lets you change those interactions around. As you would with any other notifications on Android, you can swipe to dismiss, and if the pill disappears before you get to access the alert, just open your trusty notification shade.

To get started with dynamicSpot, you’ll need to grant it permission for reading your notifications and drawing over other apps. We also suggest turning off power-saving restrictions, so the process isn’t killed in the background.


OK, but will there be a version of Breakout you can play against the Island?
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Facebook users sue Meta for bypassing beefy Apple security to spy on millions • Ars Technica

Ashley Belanger:


After Apple updated its privacy rules in 2021 to easily allow iOS users to opt out of all tracking by third-party apps, so many people opted out that the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that Meta lost $10bn in revenue over the next year.

Meta’s business model depends on selling user data to advertisers, and it seems that the owner of Facebook and Instagram sought new paths to continue widely gathering data and to recover from the suddenly lost revenue. Last month, a privacy researcher and former Google engineer, Felix Krause, alleged that one way Meta sought to recover its losses was by directing any link a user clicks in the app to open in-browser, where Krause reported that Meta was able to inject a code, alter the external websites, and track “anything you do on any website,” including tracking passwords, without user consent.

Now, within the past week, two class action lawsuits from three Facebook and iOS users—who point directly to Krause’s research—are suing Meta on behalf of all iOS users impacted, accusing Meta of concealing privacy risks, circumventing iOS user privacy choices, and intercepting, monitoring, and recording all activity on third-party websites viewed in Facebook or Instagram’s browser. This includes form entries and screenshots granting Meta a secretive pipeline through its in-app browser to access “personally identifiable information, private health details, text entries, and other sensitive confidential facts”—seemingly without users even knowing the data collection is happening.


Meta really should buy a popcorn making factory. When the main business is in trouble, the popcorn factory would be going gangbusters.
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Happy Birthday David Bowie! • Helen Green

An animated GIF of all of Bowie’s hairstyles from 1964 to his death in 2016 (when everything started to go so, so wrong). The true chameleon.
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Google co-founder’s flying car startup is winding down • CNBC

Ashley Capoot:


Kittyhawk was founded as Zee.Aero in 2010 when [Google co-founder Larry] Page recruited Sebastian Thrun, who had worked on self-driving cars and other experimental projects at Google, to create electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The company unveiled a demonstration video of a flying car in 2017, and Thrun said he envisioned a time when people would be able to hail flying cars through an app like Lyft or Uber.

Kittyhawk showcased a flying car model called the Flyer in 2018 that could hold one person and fly up to 20 miles. Thrun told CNBC in an interview earlier that year that the models could take to the skies within five years. The company announced a strategic partnership with airplane manufacturer Boeing
the following year.

However, by 2020, Kittyhawk announced plans to shut down its Flyer program and shifted focus to its electric aircraft called Heaviside, according to reports.

Today’s announcement will not affect the partnership with Boeing, a spokesperson told CNBC.


If you take a look at the video, the phrase “flying car” is quite the stretch. It’s more like a very large drone for flying over water. At least it was electric, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that this was never, ever a “flying car”.

Meanwhile we do have a real-time communications network capable of spreading news within instants. Probably more useful, overall.
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The war in Ukraine has reshaped the world’s fuel markets • The Economist


This all looks likely to be very frustrating for Russia. Europe accounted for 76% of the 240 bcm [billion cubic metres] of gas it exported last year. Cutting it off thus leaves it with a huge unsold surplus. There is a pipeline linking its gasfields (almost all in the west of the country) to China, but it is barely bigger than the connections from Britain and Spain to the heart of Europe.

China, Mongolia and Russia recently met to discuss a pipeline that might be able to supply another 50 bcm to China by 2030, more than doubling capacity. But it is hard to imagine that China, unwilling to tie itself to one (unreliable) supplier, would endorse the idea unless it can extract a huge discount, making the project unprofitable. This must all make increasing lng production immensely attractive to the Russian government. But Western sanctions are depriving Russia of the technology and skills it needs to make that happen.

Over time new supply will come online. Some of it will come from Africa, where hopes have been high, though an Islamist insurgency near a giant gasfield in Mozambique is making investors skittish. In America there are new projects planned which should produce 44 mtpa (60 bcm a year), and existing facilities will be ramped up both there and in Australia. And there will be the huge North Field increases in Qatar. All told there could be enough new lng infrastructure in the world to handle 260 mtpa more than the industry deals with today, a 74% increase.

That is enough to lead some to worry about a glut. [Qatar energy minister Saad] al-Kaabi is not one of them—not because they are necessarily wrong, but because he feels that the emirate can tough a glut out. It has a cost advantage in gas like that which the uae and Saudi Arabia have in oil. Even if prices are pushed down, much of Qatar’s reserves will remain profitable to exploit. “[We] have the downside covered,” says Mr al-Kaabi. “Others will go offline before [us]”


A long read with bewildering amounts of fossil fuels pinging about – a reminder of how very, very far we are from Net Zero.
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How much shale gas is there in the UK and what is the status of fracking? • Grantham Research Institute


it is difficult to produce a reliable estimate of the shale gas resources that are technically and economically viable to extract in the UK. The US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2013 that the UK had a total resource of 3.8 tcm [trillion cubic metres] of shale gas in Northern and Southern England, of which 0.7 tcm was unproved technically recoverable (which means it cannot be readily accessed, is not financially viable or its presence is assumed but not confirmed). The US EIA provided no estimate of the amount that might be both technically and economically recoverable.

A review published in March 2020 by Warwick Business School of a range of ‘resource estimates’ and production forecasts produced by the industry organisation UK Onshore Oil and Gas calculated that UK fracking might produce between 90 and 330 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas between 2020 and 2050. Using future demand figures from National Grid, they calculated that could represent between 17% and 22% of projected cumulative UK consumption over that period.

However, the review made clear the high levels of uncertainty around all these numbers and the fact that we have no estimates of ‘proven reserve’ estimates on which to base commercial development.


Also germane: just 17% of the UK public supports fracking (autumn 2021, DBEIS survey). Probably not the public living in the areas that would be subject to fracking, either.
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Why the iPhone 14 Pro camera is a big leap for photo enthusiasts • CNet

Stephen Shankland:


The ability to shoot better photos is one of the more obvious ways you can see advancements in the latest iPhone. You might not notice processor speeds or display quality improving from one year to the next, but camera quality shows progress more visibly. And competitively, with Samsung offering powerful 10x zoom lenses and Google pioneering computational photography, Apple has to work hard to keep iPhone fans loyal.

Fortunately, Apple has raised its game too. I’ve scrutinized hundreds of photos to compare my iPhone 14 Pro with the iPhone 13 Pro. Here’s what I’ve learned.

My favourite improvement to the iPhone 14 Pro is the 48-megapixel sensor on the main camera, the one that gets the most use. I love diving into the details of each photo.

For most folks, the iPhone 14 Pro models will shoot at 12 megapixels, combining four pixels on the image sensor into one through a process called pixel binning. Because Apple increased the sensor size, image quality improves compared with 12-megapixel shots on earlier phones.

But the more adventurous can shoot with all 48 pixels. That quadruples pixel count and triples file sizes but gives you the flexibility to crop or rotate your photos without losing detail and resolution.

If you like viewing or printing your photos in large sizes, having 48 megapixels is great. At 240 pixels per inch, a common setting for high-quality prints, you can print 48-megapixel photos at a 25.2×33.6 inch size instead of 12.6×16.8 inches for 12 megapixels.

To take 48-megapixel shots, you must use Apple’s ProRaw format, an option enabled through the camera app’s format settings. Many serious photographers already prefer that for its advantages in editing: better flexibility with color, exposure, sharpening. ProRaw is a computational raw format, meaning that it combines multiple frames into one photo and performs other tricks to squeeze as much image quality as possible out of a smartphone’s relatively small sensor.


The CPU was once the thing whose improvement determined year-on-year comparison; now it’s the water carrier for all the photo processing. There’s even a dedicated CPU section for it.
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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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