Start Up No.1897: disinformation on Wikipedia, Apple Remote implies USB-C iPhone, DuckDuckGo browses, Semaform?, and more

The UK’s competition authority has told Facebook that it can’t buy Giphy, a repository of GIFs. Sayonara to the format? CC-licensed photo by Alan Levine on Flickr.

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A selection of 11 links for you. Not run by a mole. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The hunt for Wikipedia’s disinformation moles • WIRED

Masha Borak:


Governments have good reasons to influence Wikipedia: 1.8 billion unique devices are used to visit Wikimedia Foundation sites each month, and its pages are regularly among the top results for Google searches. Rising distrust in institutions and mainstream media have made sources of reliable information all the more coveted.

“Because of its transparency and auditability, Wikipedia became one of the few places where you can actually build a sense of trust in information,” says Mathieu O’Neil, an associate professor of communication at the University of Canberra in Australia who studies Wikipedia. “Governments and states that want to promote a particularly strategic perspective have every reason to try and be there and kind of try and influence it.”

Proving government intervention, however, has proved difficult, even as some cases have raised suspicion. In 2021, the Wikimedia Foundation banned an “unrecognized group” of seven Wikipedia users from mainland China and revoked administrator access and other privileges for 12 other users over doxing and threats to Hong Kong editors. Speculation of “pro-China infiltration,” however, was never proven.

[Research director at CASM, part of think tank Demos, Carl] Miller can’t say if coordinated disinformation campaigns already happen on Wikipedia nor whether such attempts would be successful in avoiding the platform’s intricate disinformation rules. But, he says, new tools might shed more light on it: “We’ve never tried to analyze Wikipedia data in that way before.”

The research tracked 86 editors who are already banned from Wikipedia. The editors tried to sway narratives on the English-language Wikipedia page for the Russo-Ukrainian war towards pro-Kremlin views, through subtle changes like casting doubt on the objectivity of pro-Western accounts, changing historical context, and adding links from Russian state-owned news and websites.

“Wikipedia has quite a lot of defenses that it’s built up to stop vandals just randomly adding bad information onto the site,” says Miller. “But when you look at the way that states can attack Wikipedia, the kind of threat looks completely different. It would be much like these editors.”


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Apple TV Remote now has a USB-C port • MacRumors

Sami Fathi:


Apple today announced an updated Apple TV and, along with it, a new Siri remote that has a USB-C port for charging rather than Lightning.

In the press release announcing the new TV, Apple said the new Siri remote now features USB-C in the same design introduced in April 2021.


The Siri Remote has the same beloved design and functionality as the previous generation and adopts USB-C for charging. It is included with the new Apple TV 4K, or can be purchased separately for $59 (US) starting today, and is compatible with all generations of Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD.



Why link to this? Because it’s a subtle sign that a future – perhaps even the next? – iPhone will have USB-C too. As all the accessories move to USB-C (only the keyboards, mice and AirPods are now Lightning) it signals that the iPhone will too. But it will probably be the last to go. And even so the legacy of Lightning connectors will live on for a decade.
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The hottest app right now? One where teens have to say nice things about each other • WSJ

Ann-Marie Alcántara:


TBH was hot. Five years ago, the app, which prompted teens to compliment one another, topped Apple’s App Store charts and quickly amassed millions of users in the coveted high-school demographic. Facebook snapped it up less than three months after launch—and soon shut it down.

Now one of TBH’s co-creators is back with Gas, a nearly identical iPhone app. Gas asks teens multiple-choice questions about people in their school, letting them choose yearbook-style superlatives such as “the most beautiful person you have ever met” or the classmate who is “never afraid of getting in trouble.” 

As of Friday, Gas was the most popular free iPhone app and the No. 1 social-networking download in the App Store, despite being limited to a handful of states.

Like TBH, the questions Gas asks are positive, urging teens to compliment each other—that is, to gas each other up. Those selected in the polls receive “flames,” notifications that they were chosen. The voting is anonymous by default—people only find out the gender and grade of those who voted for them. But users of the free app can make in-app purchases to find out their admirers’ names, or to keep their own names hidden in poll results.

Users have downloaded Gas more than 500,000 times since its launch in late August, according to Data.AI. 

“To us, being at No. 1 is a vote of confidence that we’re doing something right for teens,” says Nikita Bier, co-creator of TBH and president of Find Your Crush LLC, which developed Gas.

…The rapid popularity has come with some bumps. Some people are sharing what appear to be Snapchat screenshots, alleging that Gas collects excessive data that could be used for sex trafficking.

Mr. Bier says Gas uses location data to help people pick their school. The location data isn’t associated with user accounts or stored on the app’s servers, he adds. Gas has also developed a system to remove users who may be lying—for instance, if a user has no contacts at the school they claim to attend.


Every single possible vein of social networking is being mined – or if you prefer, is having a needle stuck into it to see whether there’s still blood running.
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Kakao outage in South Korea prompts security, monopoly concerns • The Washington Post

Bryan Pietsch:


In South Korea, Kakao is ubiquitous. Nearly everyone, from schoolchildren to the elderly, uses the Korean tech company’s apps for messaging, taxis, navigation and payments. It’s Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Uber, Google Maps and Venmo wrapped into one.

So when a fire broke out this weekend at the building where the company’s servers are run, disabling its apps, people joked that the country would shut down.

But the outage forced a serious reckoning over security and monopoly concerns in Korea, where a handful of giant conglomerates hold dominance over the country’s economy. (Hyundai, known for its cars in the United States, operates apartment complexes and department stores here; Samsung, the technology giant, also sells insurance and owns a high-end clothing company.)

Kakao said in a presentation to investors in August that its customer base had grown to 53.3 million active users, with 47.5 million of those in South Korea — striking dominance in a country of more than 51 million. Many stores accept Kakao Pay, most of the taxis across the Seoul metropolitan area run on Kakao T, the company’s ride-hailing app, and friends, companies and even the government use Kakao Talk to exchange messages.

…On Monday, as Kakao was still getting some of its services back online, President Yoon Suk-yeol said his administration would investigate whether Kakao had a monopoly on the market. If that were the case, with Kakao becoming “nationwide infrastructure,” Yoon said, “then the state must take necessary measures for the good of the people.”


Monopolies of an Everything App are bad? That’s interesting.
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Meta gets final order to sell Giphy from UK antitrust watchdog • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:


Bye-bye: Meta has again been ordered by the U.K.’s competition watchdog to sell animated GIF platform Giphy. And this time it’s final.

The decision follows a ‘stay of execution’ for Meta this summer, after the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal sent the case back to the antitrust regulator to be reassessed following a procedural finding that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had not provided full, unredacted disclosure to Meta representatives of documents related to its decision.

But the tribunal upheld the CMA’s decision on five of the six challenged grounds — saying it had “no hesitation” in concluding that the regulator’s finding that the merger substantially reduced dynamic competition was lawful. So this news should shock precisely no one.


I’m shocked, shocked. Well, possibly not. The CMA seems to think Meta is big enough. Everyone is amazed that the CMA should do this over GIFs – GIFs!! – but if you think it’s too big, it’s too big. Also, on the topic of GIFs..
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The GIF is on its deathbed • The Atlantic

Kaitlyn Tiffany:


About 40% of my first full-time job was dedicated to making GIFs—a skill I had professed to have during the interview process, and that turned out to be much harder than I thought. It took trial and error to figure out how to make sure the colors weren’t too weird, the frame rate too fast, the file too big.

This was 2015, and GIFs had to be smaller than 1 megabyte before you could upload them to most social platforms. Fiddling with them was worthwhile, because GIFs were very important. You had to have them! They were the visual style that the audience craved. Not only did I make dozens a day for the website I worked for, but I often made extras for co-workers who requested them for their personal use. (I was eager to please!)

…As the GIF’s star rose, GIF-searching features were added to Facebook, Twitter, and iMessage, making it even easier to find a GIF to express whatever emotion you wanted to convey without words.

And that was the turning point. These search features surfaced the same GIFs over and over, and the popular reaction GIFs got worn into the ground. They started to look dated, corny, and cheap. “GIFs Are for Boomers Now, Sorry,” Vice’s Amelia Tait argued in January. As older adults became familiar with GIFs through the new, accessible libraries attached to essentially every app, GIFs became “embarrassing.” (Tait specifically cites the GIF of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a toast in 2013’s The Great Gatsby, and I agree—it is viscerally humiliating to be reminded of that movie.) The future is dark for GIFs, Tait suggested: “Will they soon disappear forever, like Homer Simpson backing up into a hedge?”

…Tumblr is now a rarity for displaying GIFs at all. Most popular sites—including Twitter and Imgur—convert GIF uploads and serve the animations as MP4 videos. As Kohler explained to me, video compression has improved so much over the years that many video files are much smaller than GIF image files. He pulled a GIF from a movie and a graphic-art GIF to show me the difference. The GIF from the movie was nearly 4.5 megabytes, and the MP4 translation of it was about 20 times smaller, at less than 0.23 megabytes. “MP4 is the right choice for this kind of image,” he said. “Much smaller, very similar visual effect.”


Very interesting how formats all trend towards whatever takes least space. MP3s v AIFF, MP4s v GIF.
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Land below 1.0 meters of water • Climate Central


An interactive map showing areas threatened by sea level rise and coastal flooding. Combining the most advanced global model of coastal elevations with the latest projections for future flood levels.


Climate Central is “an independent group of scientists and communicators who research and report the facts about our changing climate and how it affects people’s lives. We are a policy-neutral 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“Climate Central uses science, big data, and technology to generate thousands of local storylines and compelling visuals that make climate change personal and show what can be done about it. We address climate science, sea level rise, extreme weather, energy, and related topics. We collaborate widely with TV meteorologists, journalists, and other respected voices to reach audiences across diverse geographies and beliefs.”

There’s lots more to explore than just land that may be below a metre of water in a few decades. A remarkably deep site.
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EVs exploding in Florida after water damage • Technocracy News

Thomas Catenacci:


A top Florida state official warned Thursday that firefighters have battled a number of fires caused by electric vehicle (EV) batteries waterlogged from Hurricane Ian.

EV batteries that have been waterlogged in the wake of the hurricane are at risk of corrosion, which could lead to unexpected fires, according to Jimmy Patronis, the state’s top financial officer and fire marshal.

“There’s a ton of EVs disabled from Ian. As those batteries corrode, fires start,” Patronis tweeted Thursday. “That’s a new challenge that our firefighters haven’t faced before. At least on this kind of scale.”

“It takes special training and understanding of EVs to ensure these fires are put out quickly and safely,” he continued in a follow-up tweet. “Thanks to [North Collier Fire Rescue] for their hard work.”

Patronis published a video of firefighters in Naples, Florida, battling a fire started from a Tesla EV’s battery. A bystander is overheard in the video saying that the crew had used hundreds of gallons of water attempting to put the fire out.


Not sure water is the best plan there. Firefighters need to learn a little more about EVs.
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DuckDuckGo’s new browser for Mac protects your data on YouTube • Gizmodo

Thomas Germain:


DuckDuckGo launched a web browser for macOS in beta on Tuesday, offering privacy-minded web surfers a new way to browse. The browser uses a variety of techniques to protect your information from snooping websites and even includes some innovative tools, including Duck Player, which is supposed to let you watch YouTube with fewer ads and less data collection. You can download DuckDuckGo for Mac here.

If you’re like most people on earth, you’re cruising around the web using Google Chrome, which sends so much data back to company servers that some privacy advocates call the browser spyware. There are a number of more private options, including FireFox, Brave, and even Apple’s Safari. DuckDuckGo already has a browser for mobile devices, but this marks the company’s first foray into desktop browsing.

As far as features go, the more private YouTube player might be the star of the show. Duck Player harnesses Google own tools for embedding video on another page using the strictest privacy settings available. According to DuckDuckGo, that means you’ll be better protected from tracking, and the ads you see won’t be personalized. In fact, the company says it prevented most ads from playing altogether during their tests, a perk YouTube otherwise makes users pay for. It’s hard to imagine Google will let a fewer-ads version of YouTube slide for ever, but you can enjoy it while it lasts. You’ll also be able to watch your videos in a cleaner, distraction-free interface.


Fewer ads on YouTube would be nice. It’s infested with them. Though I suspect this is just going to be a money pit for DDG, because it won’t be a huge hit, yet will require updating: it’s not a Chromium fork, and it’s all done by the DDG team.
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What is a Semaform, anyway? And why should you care? • Semafor

Gina Chua is executive editor at Semafor, the new news organisation set up by ex-Buzzfeed, ex-NYT folk, and now trying to justify its existence :


We’re redesigning the atomic unit of written news, the article.

We’re breaking articles into:
• The News
• The Reporter’s View (or analysis)
• Room For Disagreement (or counterargument)
• The View From (or different perspectives on the topic)
• Notable (or some of the best other writing on the subject)

Let’s dive in.

The news article is a venerable format, designed for more than a century of print newspapers, but its age is showing. Too much news — even some of the best journalism that’s practiced today — so tightly intertwines facts and analysis that readers have trouble telling the two apart. Articles don’t always honestly offer opposing viewpoints. And they’re usually told from a single perspective. All that makes it hard for time-strapped readers to trust — or even understand — the big picture.

So we rebuilt the story form into what we’re calling a Semaform. This format separates the undisputed facts from the reporter’s analysis of those facts, provides different and more global perspectives, and shares strong journalism on the subject from other outlets.


The survival of the news article format is because it’s an effective method of communicating information. I worked at The Independent when it experimented with really different writing formats for news stories. It didn’t work. Semafor isn’t ripping anything up. This is just well-written standard news stories.
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The Wire intends to review its reporting on Meta • The Wire


Starting from October 6, 2022, The Wire published four reports on Meta, plus a statement on October 17. Our first report disclosed the fact that Meta’s controversial XCheck programme was operating in India and that BJP leaders were among those given this status – usually understood as safeguarding their posts from takedown complaints. The document we received also indicated that the role extended to taking down others’ posts as well – a claim Meta denied. In the second story, we published an email from a senior Meta official, Andy Stone, expressing anger at the leak of the document.

The publication of each report prompted appreciation as well as criticism. Meta said the documents reproduced by The Wire were fabricated but there were also questions from other quarters about the authenticity of the documents on which our reports were based.

The Wire received the information and other materials from our sources, at least one of whom had earlier supplied material that we have been using for a separate and ongoing investigation. We sought to check the integrity and authenticity of the new source material as best we could, and then proceeded to draft each report, being careful to strike a balance between showing our readers what this material contained but not enough to reveal the sources’ identities. (The Wire’s whistleblower policy is available to read here.)

In the light of doubts and concerns from experts about some of this material, and about the verification processes we used – including messages to us by two experts denying making assessments of that process directly and indirectly attributed to them in our third story – we are undertaking an internal review of the materials at our disposal.


There was a lot of speculation that this story was wrong because The Wire (an Indian publication) was hoaxed by someone external, but the denials from experts that they verified material makes it look like the hoaxer is closer to home.
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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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