Start Up No.1902: India’s Reliance Industries billionaire, Mastodon’s antivirality, Meta Quest Pro No, Protocol goes dark, and more

Induction ovens can demand huge amounts of electricity in a burst – but what if you installed a big battery in the oven to meet the demand? CC-licensed photo by GilgongoGilgongo on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. Not Elongated. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It’s Mukesh Ambani’s world — and we’re just living in it • Rest of World

The Rest of World staff:


Imagine if everything in your home came from just one company. Or, to be more precise, from companies that are ultimately led by one individual: a single person whose brands sell you the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the fuel you fill your car with, and even the internet you’re reading this with.

That’s the reality for many Indians, who rely on products, food, and services from the vast array of companies controlled by or partnered with Mukesh Ambani. He’s not just among India’s richest men, according to Forbes; with a net worth of $90.7 billion, he’s also been in the top 10 of its Billionaires List for the past three years.

Ambani’s wealth comes from the enormous Reliance Industries conglomerate. Since taking over from his father, Ambani has turned Reliance — once known for textiles and petrochemicals — into a digital powerhouse. He’s grown the company’s reach through acquisitions and partnerships to reach retail, telecommunications, media, and so much more, creating an empire with unimaginable reach.

Don’t believe us? We’ll show you. Scroll down and join us for an illustrated journey through the lives of ordinary Indians — and the many, many ways in which Ambani touches their world.


Phones, financial news, search engine, delivery logistics, multiple video streaming services, an all-in-one app, an AI platform for business, a shopping platforms, translation software, AI-based edtech, cloud storage, polyester fibres, home furniture, cleaning products, shoes and shoe stores, online pharmacies, fibre broadband, music streaming, jewellery, lingerie, cosmetics, prayer products (?), grocery brands, fizzy drinks, OK I ran out of time. This makes the dystopian stories of the big company or big guy owning everything seem all too real.
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Twitter alternative: how Mastodon is designed to be “antiviral” • UX Collective

Clive Thompson:


Back in 2017 I wrote a short column for Wired about “antiviral” design.

I’d recently been using some fun, experimental web services, like Rob Beschizza’s These sites all allowed you to post stuff online, much as Facebook or Twitter did. But they had no social mechanisms for promoting posts: No “like” buttons, no share buttons, no feed showing which posts were the most popular. even had a no-robots tag on each post, telling search engines not to index them. The only way someone would see what you’d posted on is if you somehow actively shared the URL with them.

The reason for these curious, un-Twitter-like features?

As Beschizza told me, it was encourage people to communicate and be creative — without constantly thinking about “will I get a huge audience for this”? Beschizza (and the other folks making these similarly antiviral sites) all believed that the design of the big social sites had deformed people’s behavior. Twitter and Instagram and Facebook etc. had coaxed people to constantly try to hack the attentional marketplace. It created a world of people incessantly making posts designed to be operatically theatrical, or to enrage — or to elicit some sort of high-voltage reaction.

As Beschizza said: “I wanted something where people could publish their thoughts without any false game of social manipulation, one-upmanship, and favor-trading.” It was, as I called it, “antiviral design”.

I’ve been thinking more and more about how this applies to Mastodon. I’ve been using Mastodon on and off for several years now. But the influx of newcomers has me using it a lot recently, so I’m noticing more and more how people behave on that network — or, more importantly, how they’re encouraged to behave.

And I’ve realized that Mastodon is a superb example of antiviral design.


Subtracting the various things that make virality easy on Twitter – single-press retweets, dunk-tweeting (OK quote tweets) – inevitably makes for a quieter network. (Still haven’t joined Mastodon.)
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How we geolocated a photo of a Russian missile programming team • Bellingcat

Aric Toler:


While conducting research for his latest Bellingcat investigation, Christo Grozev received a group photograph of the missile guidance team that were purported to be behind programming many of the cruise missiles that have hit Ukraine in recent months. As detailed in the article:

“Another team member, whose identity is not known as they contacted reporters via a burner email account that was provided by Bellingcat and The Insider to all contacted members, shared two group photos of the GVC team and two photos of their commander, Lt. Col. Bagnyuk, wearing his many medals.”

The team member who provided this 2013 photograph said it was taken at the Main Computation Centre of the General Staff (GVC) in Moscow, but we needed to independently verify this ourselves. During the course of our investigation, we had already discovered the GVC was located at Znamenka 19 – the headquarters of the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD). This fact was gleaned by looking for the names of engineers we had identified as working for the GVC in leaked Russian databases (including those that contain information about addresses used to register cars or sign up to online delivery apps). Some had registered addresses at Znamenka 19.

As such, the next challenge was to use geolocation techniques to confirm conclusively where the image was taken so that we could include it in our findings about the missile team. 

This brief article provides a walkthrough on how we geolocated this photograph, eventually verifying that it was indeed taken at the Russian MoD’s Znamenka 19 facility, one of the locations that hosts the GVC.


You might remember the amazing example from May 2021 where Bellingcat geolocated a photo taken from an FBI child exploitation case, based on just a poolside picture.
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Meta Quest Pro review: get me out of here • The Verge

Adi Robertson:


While Meta has described the Quest as a VR Nintendo Switch, it’s tailoring the Quest Pro to an audience that can buy a more expensive headset, starting with its looks and fit. The Quest Pro is an intimidatingly polished-looking piece of black plastic. Instead of the Quest 2’s cloth straps, it features a black plastic halo, which sits around your head and tightens with a wheel at the back, a bit like the original PlayStation VR. The headset is heavier than the Quest 2 at 722 grams compared to 503 grams, but it’s redistributed its weight to be less front-heavy, shifting its battery to the back.

I loved this design after a Quest Pro demo session, and I think it’s still got strong points. The headset fits more securely than the default Quest 2 strap system, which sometimes felt on the verge of slipping off. There’s no velcro for my long hair to get caught in.

But since that first demo, using the Quest Pro has become uniquely tortuous. Its ring puts practically all its substantial weight on my upper forehead, sometimes leaving a numb and tingling strip along my hairline. It feels a little better if I keep the fit loose, but that makes the headset less stable during games and other high-intensity activities. It’s a worse experience than the Quest 2 with its optional Elite Strap, which includes an over-the-head strap for balance and still leaves the Quest 2 about 100 grams lighter than the Quest Pro.

The battery doesn’t last as long as the Quest 2, but I had trouble using the Quest Pro long enough to wear it out
Meta has made some other hardware tradeoffs. The headset’s face mask is shallower than the Quest 2’s, for instance, so it gives you a peripheral view of the real world outside your headset. If you want to block out more light, you can snap on a pair of included magnetic silicone wings that act like blinders or a separate $49 mask that shuts out practically all light. That’s a nice bit of flexibility, except that the headset in its default state made me consistently nauseated, likely thanks to the constant visual clash of real and virtual worlds. (My colleague and boss Nilay Patel, a frequent Quest 2 user, experienced the same problems.) I had no trouble once I put the blinders on, but I’m guessing some people won’t reach that point; they’ll simply feel motion-sick and conclude VR isn’t for them.


Battery life of about two hours. But even that sounds like more than people want to spend wearing it.
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Induction cooking heats up with a $20m cash injection for Impulse • TechCrunch

Haje Jan Kamps:


All electric, everywhere, all of the time; that’s one of the many climate mantras. Induction stovetops take a lot of power, however — they can pull 40 amps at 240 volts. That’s the same as an at-home Level 2 EV charger. Needless to say, a lot of older houses aren’t wired to plug in a Tesla in your kitchen, which means it could get expensive to upgrade to an induction range. Impulse to the rescue — the company’s stoves include a battery solution, which means that it doesn’t pull the full 40 amps when it’s operating, and you could find yourself cooking with induction without having to upgrade your panel. Clever!

“I’d been thinking about how to supercharge home appliances for a while and the deeper I dug into the space, the clearer it became that there was a larger story bringing together whole-home electrification and added energy storage in alignment with new policy tailwinds and distributed energy resource incentives,” said Sam D’Amico, CEO at Impulse. “Integrating batteries not only unlocks really impressive performance improvements, it also removes a lot of common barriers around power or panel limitations with installing induction stoves while also adding energy storage to the grid.”


A neat enough idea – the battery can trickle charge while you’re not cooking. Your electricity bills are going to be fun, of course: gas is still cheaper, per kWh, than electricity.
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Protocol, the tech-news focused website, will shutter and lay off its entire staff • CNN Business

Oliver Darcy:


Staffers were told at an all-hands meeting Tuesday that the news organization will cease publishing on its website Thursday. The outlet’s flagship newsletter, Source Code, will continue publishing for several more weeks, but all other newsletters will stop after Tuesday.

The shuttering of the news organization will impact approximately 60 staffers, people familiar with the matter said. They will remain active employees through Friday, December 16, and then be eligible for eight weeks of severance, the people added.

Allbritton announced the launch of Protocol in late 2019 to much buzz. The Washington media mogul told Vanity Fair at the time that he wanted to replicate Politico’s successful model for the technology industry.

“I would love for this to be as big as, if not larger than, Politico is right now,” Allbritton told Vanity Fair in 2019.

But Protocol never had much luck. Shortly after launching, the global pandemic unleashed brutal economic headwinds on the media industry, resulting in some cuts to staff. Finally, when it seemed that the outlet might catch its footing as the pandemic’s grip on the economy lifted, German publishing giant Axel Springer closed a deal to purchase Politico. That acquisition resulted in Protocol, which had operated independently, being folded into Politico Media Group.

Goli Sheikholeslami, the chief executive of Political Media Group, has for months been working with Axel Springer to conduct a long-term strategy planning process to best position the company. The plan, people familiar with the matter said, is to double the size of the company by 2027.

But it comes as Big Tech firms have faced particularly challenging economic conditions, making it especially challenging for Protocol to generate revenue from advertising sales to the sector, people familiar with the matter said.


This is a pity: Protocol did lots of good stories. Linked here beginning in February 2020 with “Tech’s strangest job listings: future edition“, and to another 39 of their stories. Hope the stories at least will survive. But ad-funded things aren’t looking too wonderful just now./
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CVC, Group Black partner on bid for Vox Media • Axios

Sara Fischer:


CVC Capital Partners and Group Black are pursuing a joint bid to buy Vox Media, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The bid comes as the media sector is grappling with a tough economic climate and as CVC, the European private equity giant, is eyeing a consolidation move into more media assets across the U.S.

Last week, CVC and Group Black, a media collective, sent Vox a term sheet outlining details for a potential deal, sources tell Axios.

Despite industry challenges, Vox remains a top digital media company, housing popular sites like Eater and SB Nation, plus Thrillist and Seeker which it owns after its Group Nine Media deal last year.
Vox was valued at around $1bn after a $200m funding round in 2015.

Vox is not looking to sell the business at the moment, according to one source who spoke with Axios. The company declined to comment.


Also worth noting that Vox Media owns The Verge. If private equity gets hold of that (and the other Vox properties), expect all sorts of things to be squeezed for money. Techcrunch has been through a gentler version of that loop a couple of times, and it’s never a good outcome.
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How North Korea became a mastermind of crypto cyber crime • Financial Times

Christian Davies and Schott Chipolina:


Western security agencies and cyber security companies treat [North Korea] as one of the world’s four principal nation state-based cyber threats, alongside China, Russia, and Iran.

According to a UN panel of experts monitoring the implementation of international sanctions, money raised by North Korea’s criminal cyber operations are helping to fund the country’s illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programmes. Anne Neuberger, US deputy national security adviser for cyber security, said in July that North Korea “uses cyber to gain, we estimate, up to a third of their funds for their missile programme”.

Crypto analysis firm Chainalysis estimates that North Korea stole approximately $1bn in the first nine months of 2022 from decentralised crypto exchanges alone.

The rapid collapse last week of FTX, one of the biggest exchanges, has highlighted the opacity, erratic regulation and speculative frenzies that have been the central features of the market for digital assets. North Korea’s growing use of crypto heists has also served to demonstrate the absence of meaningful international regulation of the same markets.

Analysts say the scale and sophistication of the Axie Infinity hack [in which $620m of Ether was taken] exposed just how powerless the US and allied countries appear to be to prevent large-scale North Korean crypto theft.

Only about $30m of the crypto loot has since been recovered. That was after an alliance of law enforcement agencies and crypto analysis companies traced some of the stolen funds through a series of decentralised exchanges and so-called “crypto mixers”, software tools that can shuffle the crypto holdings of different users so as to obfuscate their origins.


As the article points out, it was Kim Jong Un who, on taking power leader in 2011, identified cyber capabilities as crucial to the country’s future success. How very right he was.
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Internal documents show how close the FBI came to deploying spyware • The New York Times

Mark Mazzetti and Ronen Bergman:


During a closed-door session with lawmakers last December, Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, was asked whether the bureau had ever purchased and used Pegasus, the hacking tool that penetrates mobile phones and extracts their contents.

Mr. Wray acknowledged that the FBI had bought a license for Pegasus, but only for research and development. “To be able to figure out how bad guys could use it, for example,” he told Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, according to a transcript of the hearing that was recently declassified.

But dozens of internal FBI documents and court records tell a different story. The documents, produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by The New York Times against the bureau, show that FBI officials made a push in late 2020 and the first half of 2021 to deploy the hacking tools — made by the Israeli spyware firm NSO — in its own criminal investigations. The officials developed advanced plans to brief the bureau’s leadership, and drew up guidelines for federal prosecutors about how the FBI’s use of hacking tools would need to be disclosed during criminal proceedings.

It is unclear how the bureau was contemplating using Pegasus, and whether it was considering hacking the phones of American citizens, foreigners or both. In January, The Times revealed that FBI officials had also tested the NSO tool Phantom, a version of Pegasus capable of hacking phones with US numbers.
The FBI eventually decided not to deploy Pegasus in criminal investigations in July 2021, amid a flurry of stories about how the hacking tool had been abused by governments across the globe. But the documents offer a glimpse at how the US government — over two presidential administrations — wrestled with the promise and peril of a powerful cyberweapon.


Pegasus is the subject of a fascinating forthcoming book (which I’m reviewing for The Guardian). It really is the neutron bomb of the smartphone age: almost too dangerous to deploy. But not quite.
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Twitter is Going Great!

Volunteers from the Today in Tabs Discord:


Twitter is Going Great!

… and definitely does not develop features primarily to stroke Elon Musk’s delicate ego


Inspired by Molly White’s “Web3 Is Going Great” (“…and is definitely not an enormous grift that’s pouring lighter fluid on our already smouldering planet”), and doing much the same in showing howTwitter is gradually getting screwed up.

Web3IsGoingGreat is, by the way, keeping a tally of all the lenders and asset managers who are discovering that, whoopsie, they had lots of funds tied up in FTX which has of course gone insolvent/bankrupt/bad/south.
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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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