Start Up No.1893: Amazon’s home data dream, Facebook sued over OnlyFans, Pixel Watch review, fracking and cancer?, and more

When it started in 1972, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was futuristic. Now it’s decaying. CC-licensed photo by on Flickr.

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

In the ultimate Amazon smart home, each device collects your data • Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:


You may not realize all the ways Amazon is watching you. No other Big Tech company reaches deeper into domestic life. Two-thirds of Americans who shop on Amazon own at least one of its smart gadgets, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. Amazon now makes (or has acquired) more than two dozen types of domestic devices and services, from the garage to the bathroom.

All devices generate data. But from years of reviewing technology, I’ve learned Amazon collects more data than almost any other company. Amazon says all that personal information helps power an “ambient intelligence” to make your home smart. It’s the Jetsons dream.

But it’s also a surveillance nightmare. Many of Amazon’s products contribute to its detailed profile of you, helping it know you better than you know yourself.

Amazon says it doesn’t “sell” our data, but there aren’t many U.S. laws to restrict how it uses the information. Data that seems useless today could look different tomorrow after it gets reanalyzed, stolen or handed to a government. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

We each have to decide how much of our lives we’re comfortable with one company tracking. Scroll below to see what Amazon’s products and services could reveal about you.


Includes “toilet with Alexa integration” which “allows you to create personalized settings for your toilet, including a preferred temperature and ambiance. You can even flush it with your voice.”

The list is colossal, though I suspect just knowing your Amazon account purchases would go a long way to knowing plenty about you. Personally, I don’t have any Amazon hardware at all, though a Ring doorbell – or similar video system – always seems tempting. Or you can just have a large dog, which will also provide exercise. Beat that, Ring.
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February 2022: Facebook accused of blacklisting OnlyFans’ rivals • BBC News

Noel Titheradge:


Facebook has been accused of colluding with OnlyFans to blacklist rival adult websites in a lawsuit filed in the US.

This week, BBC News revealed that OnlyFans was being sued over claims it directed a social media company to disable accounts of adult entertainers by placing their content on a terrorism database.

Facebook has now been named as the company alleged to have conspired with OnlyFans in a class action filing. Its parent company, Meta, says the claims are “without merit”.

UK website OnlyFans – best known for hosting pornography – has grown hugely in recent years. It lets users share video clips and photos with subscribers in return for a monthly fee.

Performers often use social media accounts to promote and link to adult websites showing their explicit content.
On Tuesday, BBC News revealed that rival adult website FanCentro is suing OnlyFans in the US.

The legal action claims that social media content of adult performers promoting rival websites to OnlyFans was placed on a database of extremist material shared between tech companies that is run by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT).


I’m linking to this February story because on Wednesday evening (UK time), an update to this story broke on Twitter quoting US court documents naming two Meta executives, one of whom is well-known in the UK. But being legally wary, I’m not going to link to them, because they’re (pretty dramatic) allegations, and not proven. Let’s see if the BBC follows up.
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Greenland ice sheet may be more vulnerable to climate change, study finds • Glasgow Times


The study found rising air temperatures amplify the effects of melting caused by ocean warming, leading to greater ice loss from the world’s second largest ice sheet.

Experts liken the effect to how ice cubes melt more quickly if they are in a drink that is being stirred – the combination of warmer liquid and movement accelerates the melting process.

Previous studies have shown that rising air and ocean temperatures both cause the Greenland ice sheet to melt, however the new study, by researchers from the universities of Edinburgh and California San Diego, reveals how one intensifies the effects of the other.

Dr Donald Slater, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: “The effect we investigated is a bit like ice cubes melting in a drink – ice cubes will obviously melt faster in a warm drink than in a cold drink, hence the edges of the Greenland ice sheet melt faster if the ocean is warmer.

“But ice cubes in a drink will also melt faster if you stir the drink, and rising air temperatures in Greenland effectively result in a stirring of the ocean close to the ice sheet, causing faster melting of the ice sheet by the ocean.

A glacier undergoing submarine melting in south-west Greenland (Donald Slater/PA)
“This unfortunately adds to the overwhelming body of evidence showing the sensitivity of the Greenland ice sheet to climate change, hence the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”


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Pixel Watch review: beautiful, fast, and way too expensive • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Let’s talk about the elephant-sized price tag in the room. The Pixel Watch starts at $350, and that’s without cellular. The LTE version is $400. The Apple Watch SE—a product that’s much better, faster, and more mature than the Pixel Watch—is $100 less, starting at $250. Google is asking an absolutely outrageous price for what is a barely there, first-generation beta test of a smartwatch ecosystem. Google CEO Sundar Pichai is currently on a penny-pinching mission at the company, but this pricing will kill this product. Everything related to the Pixel Watch needs to be about 30% less expensive to even approach being competitive.

Despite having sky-high prices, the specs of the Pixel Watch are not great. The SoC is made by Samsung, the company that is freeing Wear OS from the neglect of Qualcomm, but Google isn’t using Samsung’s latest wearable SoC. Google opted for the Exynos 9110, a 10 nm, dual Cortex A53 chip that is four years old. Samsung’s latest chip, the Exynos W920 in the Galaxy Watch 5, is a huge improvement; it’s a 5nm, dual Cortex A55 chip with a way faster GPU. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 5 costs $280—that’s $70 less for better hardware. It’s not clear how Google decided this price is appropriate.

…As for battery life, the Pixel Watch is definitely a “charge every day” sort of device. In the first two days, I burned the battery down in 12 hours, but for what I would call “light” usage—no music streaming, cellular, workouts, or GPS, just 24/7 heart rate monitoring, dealing with notifications, and with the always-on display enabled—I’m getting about 24 hours of battery life. You’ll always need to charge the watch at least once a day—and probably more if you’re doing anything serious.


Always-on displays murder the battery. Reviews of this really are not favourable: too little, too late seems to be the verdict.
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Proximity to fracking sites associated with heightened risk of childhood leukaemia • YaleNews


Pennsylvania children living near unconventional oil and gas (UOG) developments at birth were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with leukemia between the ages of 2 and 7 than those who did not live near this oil and gas activity, after accounting for other factors that could influence cancer risk, a novel study from the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The registry-based study, published Aug. 17 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, included nearly 2,500 Pennsylvania children, 405 of whom were diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common type of cancer in children.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, also referred to as ALL, is a type that arises from mutations to lymphoid immune cells. Although long-term survival rates are high, children who survive this disease may be at higher risk of other health problems, developmental challenges, and psychological issues. Unconventional oil and gas development (UOG), more commonly referred to as fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing), is a method for extracting gas and oil from shale rock. The process involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals into bedrock at high pressure, which allows gas and oil to flow into a well and then be collected for market.

For communities living nearby, UOG development can pose a number of potential threats. Chemical threats include, for example, air pollution from vehicle emissions and well and road construction, and water pollution from hydraulic fracturing or spills of wastewater. Hundreds of chemicals have been reportedly used in UOG injection water or detected in wastewater, some of which are known or suspected to be carcinogenic. The paucity of data on the association between UOG and childhood cancer outcomes has fuelled public concerns about possible cancer clusters in heavily drilled regions and calls for more research and government action.


Not sure that growth in childhood leukaemia is what Liz Truss’s government is actually after.
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Welcome to, a podcast that is entirely generated by artificial intelligence. Every week, we explore a new topic in depth, and listeners can suggest topics or even guests and hosts for future episodes. Whether you’re a machine learning enthusiast, just want to hear your favorite topics covered in a new way or even just want to listen to voices from the past brought back to life, this is the podcast for you.


Everyone (else) is getting excited about this machine-generated podcast of Joe Rogan talking to Steve Jobs, though I have to say – not having listened to Rogan’s show – that it sounds dull as ditchwater. Jobs’s voice is just right, but I lost interest in what the machine didn’t have to say quite quickly. I’d love to know what proportion of listeners made it through the whole 19m15s. Only the robots?
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TikTok profits from livestreams of families begging • BBC News

Hannah Gelbart, Mamdouh Akbiek and Ziad Al-Qattan:


Displaced families in Syrian camps are begging for donations on TikTok while the company takes up to 70% of the proceeds, a BBC investigation found.

Children are livestreaming on the social media app for hours, pleading for digital gifts with a cash value.
The BBC saw streams earning up to $1,000 (£900) an hour, but found the people in the camps received only a tiny fraction of that.

TikTok said it would take prompt action against “exploitative begging”. The company said this type of content was not allowed on its platform, and it said its commission from digital gifts was significantly less than 70%. But it declined to confirm the exact amount.

Earlier this year, TikTok users saw their feeds fill with livestreams of families in Syrian camps, drawing support from some viewers and concerns about scams from others.

In the camps in north-west Syria, the BBC found that the trend was being facilitated by so-called “TikTok middlemen”, who provided families with the phones and equipment to go live.

The middlemen said they worked with agencies affiliated to TikTok in China and the Middle East, who gave the families access to TikTok accounts. These agencies are part of TikTok’s global strategy to recruit livestreamers and encourage users to spend more time on the app.

Since the TikTok algorithm suggests content based on the geographic origin of a user’s phone number, the middlemen said they prefer to use British SIM cards. They say people from the UK are the most generous gifters.


BBC tested this by sending $106 from an account: the Syrians’ account received $33. TikTok (and middlemen) had taken the other 69% by value. When they took the cash out, another fee, leaving them just $19. At this point, arguments for cryptocurrency begin to make sense.
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How clever mechanics use Windows 98 and eBay to keep the 50-year-old Bay Area Rapid Transit going • Mercury News

Eliyahu Kamisher:


When San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) first carried passengers, the country was sending astronauts to the moon. The Apollo-era trains were symbols of a generation barreling toward a space-age future complete with carpeted floors and a seat promised to every passenger.

That was 1972, when BART was state of the art. But half a century later, as the agency celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, many of those same silver-and-blue trains are still chugging through the Bay Area. And keeping them running — even in the country’s technology capital — requires a special breed of ingenuity.

BART mechanics rely on Frankensteined laptops operating with Windows 98, train yard scraps and vintage microchips to keep Bay Area commuters on the rails. “We have literally started with a picture and scoured different manufacturers and eBay looking for an oddball part,” said John Allen, a mechanic who specializes in breathing new life into broken down BART trains. When Car 372 caught fire in Orinda in 2013, his team created an entirely new system and built their own tools to replace the floor. “Sometimes we don’t even know what the name of the part is.”

To understand why BART upkeep is so complicated, take a look back to the founders. They shunned heavy steel trains and old-school signaling technology and instead hired an aerospace company to build a train fleet that would serve as a new model for public transit. The result? All-electric trains with sleek aluminum bodies and wide windows, underpinned by nearly autonomous operations. The price tag for BART’s original 450 cars: $160m.

…Today, the transit system is an outlier, with everything from wheels to windows crying out for custom-built attention. “The biggest stumbling block is coming up with parts that they don’t make anymore,” said Mark Wing, a mechanic who oversees maintenance on the entire train, spanning electrical propulsion equipment to busted seats.

Which parts are not made any more? “Pretty much everything,” he said.


Isn’t it infrastructure week yet?
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Netflix to reveal for first time how many people watch its shows in the UK • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


Netflix will finally reveal exactly how many people watch its programmes in the UK, giving an insight to the true cultural power of the streaming service and its impact on British viewing habits.

Until now it has been possible to know that 13 million people tuned in for the finale of the BBC’s Line of Duty or that 31 million viewers watched England in the Euro 2020 final – but Netflix has closely guarded the numbers of people who stream its hit shows such as Squid Game or Heartstopper.

In a change of direction, the streaming service agreed to sign up as a full member of the British ratings agency, Barb, meaning it will publish independently audited viewing figures that can be compared with traditional channels.

As a result, when the fifth series of The Crown is released next month, it will finally be possible to see whether the cultural coverage around Netflix’s royal show actually attracts more eyeballs than a less-hyped programme on a traditional television channel.

Preliminary figures from September showed how Netflix is already used by two-thirds of the British television viewing public in a given month. Netflix currently accounts for 8% of all television viewing in the UK, making the company larger than Channel 4, Channel 5, and Sky – but still far behind the BBC and ITV.

The decision to go public with viewing data for individual programmes suggests Netflix is confident that it will be seen in a good light.


No doubt just waiting long enough to be sure it’ll actually show up. And it does become something to promote over other streaming services, who are also vying for your monthly stipend, and at risk of cancellation at any moment. “Join millions of people who are watching The Crown tonight”, for example.
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Lufthansa flip-flops: AirTags now allowed on flights • AppleInsider

Mike Wuerthele:


After being incredibly clear on social media that AirTags weren’t allowed on Lufthansa flights, the airline has caved and is now allowing them.

After a chaotic weekend for Lufthansa where its social media presence made it clear that Apple’s AirTags weren’t welcome in checked baggage, the airline seems to have reconsidered. In a tweet, the airline made it clear that the trackers are now allowed.

It’s unclear why Lufthansa said that the Luftfahrtbundesamt shares its risk assessment of AirTags. The airline was explicit over the weekend that they considered the devices unsafe for flight, despite international airline regulations being clear about the matter.

AppleInsider contacted six Lufthansa flight employees in the US who are not authorized to speak on behalf of the company while preparing this story. Three thought that the ban was still in place, two didn’t know about the ban, and one didn’t know what an AirTag was, or how it worked. So, it’s not clear if the new guidance — or any information at all — has been promulgated completely.


Over the weekend, Lufthansa (alone) had tweeted about not allowing AirTags in baggage, leading to this NY Times story. But it seems like everyone was very confused. Let’s settle down and decide: chicken or beef?
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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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