Start Up No.1903: UK government blocks Nexperia chip buy, FBI mulls TikTok block, Elon’s hardcore Twitter, and more

Can you imagine what every NIMBY speech sounds like? Don’t worry, we’ve got it written down. CC-licensed photo by Stephen Woods on Flickr.

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.

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

‘500 jobs at risk’ as Chinese firm told to reduce stake in UK microchip factory over security concern • MSN

Sarah Taaffe-Maguire:


A Chinese-owned tech company has been told to sell the majority of its stake in a UK silicon chip factory due to security concerns.

The government has said Nexperia must reduce its stake in Newport Wafer Fab by 86%, back to its previous holding of just 14% when it took over the firm in 2021, in an effort to “mitigate the risk to national security”.

Nexperia responded to the announcement with shock and frustration, saying it does not accept the state’s rationale and 500 jobs are now at risk.

“The far-reaching remedies which Nexperia offered to fully address the government’s concerns have been entirely ignored,” the company said in a statement.

“The UK government chose not to enter into a meaningful dialogue with Nexperia or even visit the Newport site.

“More than 500 employees in Newport also raised their own significant concerns about such a divestment – the government has chosen not to listen to them and instead taken this decision which puts the livelihoods of them and their families, as well as more than £100m of taxpayers’ money, completely unnecessarily at risk.”

The company said it will challenge the order in an effort to keep the factory and jobs.


Long-running saga. First came to notice back in July 2021 when Nexperia acquired it, which led to questions being raised. At least we have a government that takes a little notice of national security.
unique link to this extract

FBI is ‘extremely concerned’ about TikTok operating in US • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Chris Strohm and Daniel Flatley:


“Under Chinese law, Chinese companies are required to essentially — and I’m going to shorthand here — basically do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” [FBI director Christopher] Wray told the House Homeland Security Committee. “That’s plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has passed along its concerns to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the government body that’s reviewing the deal.

“As Director Wray specified in his remarks, the FBI’s input is being considered as part of our ongoing negotiations with the US Government,” said TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter. “While we can’t comment on the specifics of those confidential discussions, we are confident that we are on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns.”

The popular video-streaming app, which has millions of users in the US, has emerged at the center of a long-running national security debate. At the same time, it’s become key to reaching young voters, who are increasingly eschewing social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

The Biden administration is weighing a proposal to allow TikTok to continue to operate in the US under the ownership of Chinese parent ByteDance Ltd. The arrangement would include routing US user traffic through servers maintained by Oracle Corp., with the US-based database giant auditing the app’s algorithms.

However the effort has stalled over concerns the app would remain a threat, with China hawks on the Hill expected to criticize any agreement that stops short of an outright ban, or the sale of the platform to a US company. Congress is weighing legislation that would officially ban TikTok from all government phones.


They haven’t banned it from government phones yet? Feels like the time has passed for that one.
unique link to this extract

US chipmakers reel from sharp boom to bust • Financial Times

Richard Waters:


If Wall Street had any doubts about the speed with which the chip industry’s boom has turned to bust, unexpectedly gloomy financial forecasts from companies like mobile chipmaker Qualcomm should have put them to rest.

“It’s kind of an unprecedented change over a short period of time,” Akash Palkhiwala, the company’s chief financial officer told analysts this month. “We went from a period of supply shortages to demand declines.”

Qualcomm has sliced 25% from its revenue guidance for the current quarter as weaker consumer spending hit smartphone sales. The forecast came as some of the leading chipmakers issued surprisingly weak sales and profit projections and signalled a round of job cuts ahead.

Among those to take an axe to their forecasts, AMD warned that sales of processors for PCs this quarter would be down 40% from last year, with profit margins also surprisingly weak. Intel, which cut revenue forecasts again after a big reduction the previous quarter, signalled thousands of job layoffs ahead with a plan to cut as much as $10bn from its costs by 2025.


unique link to this extract

The unbearable lightness of BuzzFeed • The Verge

Mia Sato:


what worked in 2015 is a far cry from what works in 2022. On Monday, BuzzFeed reported earnings for the fourth time as a public company, recording $103.7m in revenue for the latest quarter, above its own projections. But the rest of the news was dire: BuzzFeed lost $27m, and the time audiences spent with its content plunged 32% from a year ago — its fourth straight quarterly decline. The company expects revenue in the fourth quarter of 2022 to dip compared to last year as well.

BuzzFeed’s ability to reflect, amplify, and create massive cultural moments by giving a staff of hundreds free rein to invent new formats led to a $1.7bn valuation in 2016. It built a Pulitzer-winning newsroom with BuzzFeed News, popularized a genre of simple and stylized cooking content with Tasty, and launched a slate of beloved shows like BuzzFeed Unsolved and Another Round.

Today, BuzzFeed’s high-profile hosts have moved on, its news division has been gutted, and its core website pays contractors flat rates starting around $100 per post to chase trending topics. The company’s valuation is down to just $237m, and dozens of current and former employees are suing BuzzFeed for losing out on millions, saying they weren’t able to sell their shares during the brief financial bright spot after the company went public last year. They now watch from the outside as the company’s value plummets and newer, more ruthless competitors native to the platforms themselves generate viral chum faster and more cheaply. 

As social platforms continue to limit its reach, BuzzFeed needs to generate one more neat trick to reinvent digital media — and save itself in the process.


Not clear that there are any neat tricks left. But then, we thought that before Buzzfeed came along and turned “writing up viral things” into money. But between Protocol and Vox Media, this isn’t encouraging about media.
unique link to this extract

Musk issues ultimatum to staff: commit to ‘hardcore’ Twitter or leave • The Washington Post

Faiz Siddiqui and Jeremy Merrill:


Elon Musk issued an ultimatum to Twitter employees Wednesday morning: Commit to a new “hardcore” Twitter or leave the company with severance pay.

Twitter is shifting to an engineer-driven operation — one that “will need to be extremely hardcore” going forward, according to the midnight email, which was obtained by The Washington Post. Employees were asked to click an icon and respond by Thursday if they wanted to stay.

“This will mean working long hours at high intensity,” he said. “Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

By mid-Wednesday, members of Twitter’s Trust and Safety team — who are responsible for keeping hate speech and misinformation off the site — were discussing a mass resignation, according to three current employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

The email came just a few hours after Musk tweeted he was tabling Twitter’s Blue Verified, his first major product since taking over last month as Twitter’s owner and chief executive, while the company sorts out issues with the feature following a botched rollout. Inside Twitter, staffers are using the additional time to conduct a postmortem on the launch, trying to understand why impersonations of high-profile individuals and brands spiralled out of control, according to a person with knowledge of the internal discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.


“Fear of retribution” is going to be quite the thing at Twitter from now on. And while Trust and Safety is very much an engineer thing, it’s also a human thing, about understanding how people are going to behave. Musk was told on his first day that opening up Twitter Blue could lead to impersonation problems. I’d be amazed if the post-mortem took longer than is required to brew a cup of coffee.
unique link to this extract

Interview with Elon Musk biographer Ashlee Vance • Vox

Peter Kafka:


what’s different about Twitter than the rest of Musk’s history as a businessman — or is there any difference at all?

To find out, I asked a man who’s spent years paying close attention to Musk: Ashlee Vance, the veteran Bloomberg reporter who talked to Musk and hundreds of people in his orbit for his 2015 book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. In Vance’s telling, you can see a lot of the elements of the Musk on display today: ambitious, stubborn, and willing to make bets that seem like terrible ideas to any normal human. But Vance, whose portrait of Musk was a generally admiring one, says he thinks Musk has changed in recent years, and not necessarily for the better. You can listen to our entire conversation in a special edition of my Recode Media podcast; the following interview has been excerpted from that conversation.

Vance: …I think the chaos that we see unfolding at Twitter, I don’t think that really frightens Elon. Tesla and SpaceX have been on the verge of bankruptcy, they’ve been in sort of life-and-death struggles most of their existence. And that’s kind of like where he seems to exist.

Every time those companies got to a stable point, he would just immediately go all-in and risk the entire company on the next new venture. I’ve always thought of him as the biggest gambler, the highest risk-taker you can find.

I think Twitter is a different and unique challenge. This is not something where you’re building a rocket or a car and you can marshal tons of troops to push toward this goal. There’s part of this that takes a sense of consumers’ tastes, of society’s tastes. If this company is really going to make more money, it has to get bigger and it has to have another hit. We’ve seen the hit, which is that it’s this place where everybody gathers to chat. But that hasn’t paid enough of the bills.

So this is where you start getting into kind of a territory where we just don’t know. There’s not a lot of evidence that Elon’s necessarily good at reading these kinds of signals.


Vance is the right person in the right time to explain this.
unique link to this extract

Scientists are uncovering ominous waters under Antarctic ice • WIRED

Matt Simon:


Researchers just found that, at the base of Antarctica’s ice, an area the size of Germany and France combined is feeding meltwater into a super-pressurized, 290-mile-long river running to the sea. “Thirty years ago, we thought the whole of the ice pretty much was frozen to the bed,” says Imperial College London glaciologist Martin Siegert, coauthor of a new paper in Nature Geoscience describing the finding. “Now we’re in a position that we’ve just never been in before, to understand the whole of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

Antarctica’s ice is divided into two main components: the ice sheet that sits on land, and the ice shelf that extends off the coast, floating on seawater. Where the two meet—where the ice lifts off the bed and starts touching the ocean—is known as the grounding line. 

But the underside of all that ice is obscured. To find out what’s going on below, some scientists have hiked across glaciers while dragging ground-penetrating radar units on sleds—the pings travel through thousands of feet of ice and bounce off the underlying seawater, so the researchers can build detailed maps of what used to be hidden. Others are setting off explosions, then analysing the seismic waves that come back to the surface to indicate whether there’s land or water below. Still others are lowering torpedo-shaped robots through boreholes to get unprecedented imagery of the underside of the floating ice shelf. Up in the sky, satellites can measure minute changes in surface elevation, which indicates the features below—a swell, for instance, might betray a subglacial lake.

…It’s not a tremendous amount of melt per square foot. But over an area that’s the size of two large European countries, that scales up. “What we concluded is the melting is really small—it’s like a millimetre per year,” says Siegert. “But the catchment is enormous, so you don’t need much melting. That all funnels together into this river, which is several hundred kilometres long, and it’s three times the rate of flow of the river Thames in London.”


unique link to this extract

Crypto trading and Bitcoin prices: evidence from a new database of retail adoption • Bank for International Settlements

Raphael Auer, Giulio Cornelli, Sebastian Doerr, Jon Frost and Leonardo Gambacorta:


To investigate the drivers of crypto adoption, we assemble a novel database (made available with this paper) on retail use of crypto exchange apps at daily frequency for 95 countries over 2015–22. We show that a rising Bitcoin price is followed by the entry of new users.

About 40% of these new users are men under 35, commonly identified as the most “risk-seeking” segment of the population. To establish a causal effect of prices on adoption, we exploit two exogenous shocks: the crackdown of Chinese authorities on crypto mining in mid-2021 and the social unrest in Kazakhstan in early 2022.

During both episodes price changes have a significant effect on the entry of new users. Results from a PVAR model corroborate these findings.

Overall, back of the envelope calculations suggest that around three-quarters of users have lost money on their Bitcoin investments.


Those men tend to come in when there’s a big price swing. And bet wrong. The paper makes a fascinating read, though it tends to confirm what you thought already.
unique link to this extract

Every NIMBY’s speech at a public hearing • McSweeney’s Internet Tendency

Chas Gillespie captures the moment:


I am grateful for the opportunity to speak tonight, and I look forward to contributing to our robust debate by making claims that are floating in an ether of confusion, prejudice, and unearned authority. But for those of you who may not know me, let me introduce myself. I’m a retired professional who rose through the ranks because competition in my field was minimized due to systemic discrimination against women and people of colour.

My job was well paid, did not punish me for my lack of soft skills, and convinced me that I know what’s best for other people, even if it seems like what’s worst for other people. I grew up here and, after leaving for a time to go to college and start my career, returned to this town, my true home, in order to raise a family and stop time from progressing. I’ve lived in the same house in the Elm Heights neighborhood for the past twenty years, and I just love everything about this town except for the problems that my politics have directly created.


Everything about this is perfect. No, no, don’t change it!
unique link to this extract

Facebook fact-checkers will stop checking Trump after presidential bid announcement • CNN Politics

Donie O’Sullivan:


The carve-out is not exclusive to Trump and applies to all politicians, but given the rate fact-checkers find themselves dealing with claims made by the former president, a manager on Meta’s “news integrity partnership” team emailed fact-checkers on Tuesday ahead of Trump’s announcement.

“Some of you have reached out seeking guidance regarding fact-checking political speech in anticipation of a potential candidacy announcement from former President Trump,” the Meta staffer wrote in the memo.

The company has long had an exception to its fact-checking policy for politicians.

“It is not our role to intervene when politicians speak,” Meta executive Nick Clegg, a former politician, said in 2019, defending the exemption.

The Meta memo sent to fact-checkers made clear that if Trump announced a 2024 presidential bid Tuesday night, he could no longer be fact-checked on the platform.

The memo noted that “political speech is ineligible for fact-checking. This includes the words a politician says as well as photo, video, or other content that is clearly labeled as created by the politician or their campaign.”

Meta’s policy doesn’t stipulate that a candidate formally register with the Federal Election Commission. “We define a ‘politician’ as candidates running for office, current office holders – and, by extension, many of their cabinet appointees – along with political parties and their leaders,” the memo stated.


So who’s it left to? News organisations. Unexplained: why political speech should be ineligible for fact-checking. Clegg (a former politician, lest we forget) said in 2019 that Facebook doesn’t believe “that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny.” But why should politicians be exempt from the direct scrutiny that any other statement posted to Facebook gets? Let’s all declare ourselves politicians. Sure, I’m running for office; just very, very, very slowly.
unique link to this extract

• 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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.