Start Up No.1908: Facebook grabs accounting data, a new search?, teens on social media, FTX’s stuck NFTs, Zoom v doom, and more

The elaborate preparation of mummified bodies wasn’t in fact meant to preserve them, scientists now say. So what was it for, then? CC-licensed photo by Timothy Neesam on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming this week at the Social Warming Substack on Friday at about 0845 UK time. Free signup.

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

Tax filing websites have been sending users’ financial information to Facebook • The Markup

Simon Fondrie-Teitler, Angie Waller, and Colin Lecher:


Major tax filing services such as H&R Block, TaxAct, and TaxSlayer have been quietly transmitting sensitive financial information to Facebook when Americans file their taxes online, The Markup has learned. 

The data, sent through widely used code called the Meta Pixel, includes not only information like names and email addresses but often even more detailed information, including data on users’ income, filing status, refund amounts, and dependents’ college scholarship amounts. 

The information sent to Facebook can be used by the company to power its advertising algorithms and is gathered regardless of whether the person using the tax filing service has an account on Facebook or other platforms operated by its owner, Meta. 

Each year, the Internal Revenue Service processes about 150 million individual returns filed electronically, and some of the most widely used e-filing services employ the pixel, The Markup found. 

When users sign up to file their taxes with the popular service TaxAct, for example, they’re asked to provide personal information to calculate their returns, including how much money they make and their investments. A pixel on TaxAct’s website then sent some of that data to Facebook, including users’ filing status, their adjusted gross income, and the amount of their refund, according to a review by The Markup. Income was rounded to the nearest thousand and refund to the nearest hundred. The pixel also sent the names of dependents in an obfuscated, but generally reversible, format.

TaxAct, which says it has about three million “consumer and professional users,” also uses Google’s analytics tool on its website, and The Markup found similar financial data, but not names, being sent to Google through its tool.


Urggh. Surely it’s well past time for an American Privacy Act. This is just bleak.
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Metaphor: a new kind of search engine


Web search hasn’t changed in 20 years. We’re building a new search engine from scratch, using the same ideas behind DALL-E ad Stable Diffusion. It understands language — in the form of prompts — so you can say what you’re looking for in all the expressive and creative ways you can think of. And, if we’re lucky, it might make the internet feel a little less like a wall of ads.

Metaphor is a language model that’s trained to predict links instead of text. You feed the model a “prompt” (similar to a GPT-3 prompt), and it tries to predict what link is most likely to come after.

Log in with discord to get started. Or scroll to play with some templates.


The templates offer suggestions such as “a cool [blog post/research paper/old news article] about […]”. And it certainly gives some off-beam yet interesting – I feel lucky! – results. Worth a bookmark and some use when you’re seeking inspiration of some sort.
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Teen life on social media in 2022: connection, creativity and drama • Pew Research Center

Sara Atske:


Society has long fretted about technology’s impact on youth. But unlike radio and television, the hyperconnected nature of social media has led to new anxieties, including worries that these platforms may be negatively impacting teenagers’ mental health. Just this year, the White House announced plans to combat potential harms teens may face when using social media.

Despite these concerns, teens themselves paint a more nuanced picture of adolescent life on social media. It is one in which majorities credit these platforms with deepening connections and providing a support network when they need it, while smaller – though notable – shares acknowledge the drama and pressures that can come along with using social media, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 conducted April 14 to May 4, 2022.

Eight-in-ten teens say that what they see on social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while 71% say it makes them feel like they have a place where they can show their creative side. And 67% say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times. A smaller share – though still a majority – say the same for feeling more accepted. These positive sentiments are expressed by teens across demographic groups.


Oh well, seems like all those worries are overblown? Except of course this is about the majority. There is a minority – about 9% – that feels social media has a mostly negative effect on them.
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Ancient Egyptian mummification was never intended to preserve bodies, new exhibit reveals • Live Science

Jennifer Nalewicki:


how exactly did this misconception flourish for so long? [Manchester Museum curator of Egypt and Sudan, Campbell] Price said the Western-led idea began with Victorian researchers who wrongly determined that ancient Egyptians were preserving their dead in a similar fashion as one would preserve fish. Their reasoning? Both processes contained a similar ingredient: salt.

“The idea was that you preserve fish to eat at some future time,” Price said. “So, they assumed that what was being done to the human body was the same as the treatment for fish.”

However, the salty substance used by ancient Egyptians differed from salt used to preserve the catch of the day. Known as natron (opens in new tab), this naturally occurring mineral (a blend of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and sodium sulfate) was abundant around lake beds near the Nile and served as a key ingredient in mummification.

“We also know that natron was used in temple rituals [and applied to] the statues of gods,” Price said. “It was used for cleansing.”

Price said that another material commonly associated with mummies is incense, which also served as a gift to the gods.

“Look at frankincense and myrrh — they’re in the Christian story of Jesus and were gifts from the three wise men,” Price said. “In ancient Egyptian history, we’ve found that they were also appropriate gifts for a god.”

He added, “Even the word for incense in ancient Egyptian was ‘senetjer (opens in new tab)’ and literally means ‘to make divine.’ When you’re burning incense in a temple, that’s appropriate because that’s the house of a god and makes the space divine. But then when you’re using incense resins on the body, you’re making the body divine and into a godly being. You’re not necessarily preserving it.”


Makes sense. All about the afterlife. A factoid for the pub quiz.
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Waitrose puts heat pumps in stores as energy bills soar • Daily Telegraph

Hannah Boland:


Waitrose is putting heat pumps in all its supermarkets as it brings forward net-zero plans in an effort to tackle spiralling energy prices.

The company said it was replacing the gas boilers that have been heating its 332 stores with electric heat pumps. These require less electricity to run, and work by extracting heat from the air outside.

Waitrose said the pumps would replace gas heating in all the stores before 2035. It currently has five installed and is planning another 10 next year. 

The pumps are expected to provide consistent temperatures within its estate, although Waitrose said temperatures would vary depending on the layout of stores. Waitrose is also installing more “air curtains” in its stores. These use streams of air to create “air seals” that can stop hot air leaving stores and cold air getting in. 

Neil Coleman, from parent company the John Lewis Partnership, said: “No business is immune to rising energy costs.

“We’ve already set an ambitious plan to reduce our energy consumption and reach our goal of net zero emissions by 2035. With energy prices rising, we’re accelerating this.”

Waitrose fridges will also be upgraded to make them 40% more efficient, and lights will be switched to LEDs to cut electricity use by up to 10%. 


Amazing if the heat pumps use less electricity than the gas boilers. I suspect that’s not quite right. Perhaps they mean money. Or electricity (same thing) or power (same thing).
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Coachella NFTs stuck in FTX exchange after bankruptcy • Billboard

Benjamin James:


The [Coachella] festival partnered with FTX.US to sell $1.5m worth of NFTs back in February, a couple of months before the Southern California event’s first staging since the pandemic. The collection included 10 NFT “Coachella Keys,” which granted lifetime access to the festival and VIP perks such as luxury experiences and exclusive merchandise. Many of those NFTs now appear to be stuck and inaccessible on the defunct exchange.

“Like many of you, we have been watching this news unfold online over the past few days and are shocked by the outcome,” said a Coachella staff member on the festival’s Discord server. “We do not currently have any lines of communication with the FTX team. We have assembled an internal team to come up with solutions based on the tools we have access to. Our priority is getting Coachella NFTs off of FTX, which appears to be disabled at the moment.”

“We’re actively working on solutions and are confident we’ll be able to protect the interests of Coachella’s NFT holders,” said Coachella innovation lead Sam Schoonover in a statement sent to Billboard.

Don’t blame me. I said that these things were worthless and stupid. Even more stupid to leave the tokens on an exchange, though that seems to be the done thing. Anyhooo, with luck this will be the last we hear of NFT’s in anything but games (where they can make sense).
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Zoom shares down 90% from peak as pandemic boom fades • Reuters

Aditya Soni and Chavi Mehta:


Shares of Zoom Video Communications have tumbled about 90% from their pandemic peak in October 2020 as the former investor darling struggles to adjust to a post-COVID world.

The stock was down nearly 10% on Tuesday after the company cut its annual sales forecast and posted its slowest quarterly growth, prompting at least six brokerages to cut their price targets.

The company, which became a household name during lockdowns due to the popularity of its video-conferencing tools, is trying to reinvent itself by focusing on businesses, with products such as cloud-calling service Zoom Phone and conference-hosting offering Zoom Rooms.

Analysts, however, say any turnaround in the business is still a few quarters away as growth in its mainstay online unit slows and competition from Microsoft Corp’s Teams and Cisco’s Webex and Salesforce’s Slack gets intense.

“Zoom has a fundamental flaw – it has needed to spend heavily to keep hold of market share. Spending to cling onto, rather than grow, market share is never a good place to be and was a sign of trouble ahead,” Hargreaves Lansdown equity analyst Sophie Lund-Yates said.

The company’s operating expenses surged 56% in the third quarter as it spent more on product development and marketing. Its adjusted operating margin shrank to 34.6% from 39.1% a year earlier.


Peloton and Zoom: left on the beach when the pandemic tide went out.
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Investigation into cloud gaming and browsers to support UK tech and consumers • GOV.UK


The Competition and Markets Authority consulted on launching a market investigation alongside its Mobile Ecosystem Market Study report, which found that Apple and Google have an effective duopoly on mobile ecosystems that allows them to exercise a stranglehold over operating systems, app stores and web browsers on mobile devices.

Browsers are one of the most important and widely used apps on mobile devices. Most people use their browser at least daily to access online content such as information, news, videos and shopping. 97% of all mobile web browsing in the UK in 2021 happens on browsers powered by either Apple’s or Google’s browser engine, so any restrictions on these engines can have a major impact on users’ experiences.

Computer games are a multi-billion pound industry in the UK, played by millions of people. There are already more than 800,000 users of cloud gaming services in the UK but restrictions on their distribution on mobile devices could hamper growth in this sector, meaning UK gamers miss out.

Responses to the consultation, which have been published today, reveal substantial support for a fuller investigation into the way that Apple and Google dominate the mobile browser market and how Apple restricts cloud gaming through its App Store. Many of those came from browser vendors, web developers, and cloud gaming service providers who say that the status quo is harming their businesses, holding back innovation, and adding unnecessary costs.

Web developers have complained that Apple’s restrictions, combined with suggested underinvestment in its browser technology, lead to added costs and frustration as they have to deal with bugs and glitches when building web pages, and have no choice but to create bespoke mobile apps when a website might be sufficient.


This response, from a developer called Chris Jones, points out that if you oblige Apple to allow other rendering engines, Chrome will rule the world – and you’ll have even more of a monopoly.

Facebook/Meta, meanwhile, complains that the investigation should be widened to include Ad Tracking & Transparency (which is hurting it).
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Twitter fails to delete 99% of racist tweets aimed at footballers in run-up to World Cup • The Guardian

Shanti Das:


Tweets hurling racist abuse at footballers, including the N-word, monkey emojis and calls for them to be deported, are not being removed by Twitter.

New research shows the platform failed to act on 99 out of 100 racist tweets reported to it in the week before the World Cup.

Only one was removed after being flagged on Wednesday, a tweet that repeated a racial slur 16 times. All the others remained live this weekend.

The abuse was aimed at 43 players including England stars Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, who were among several players targeted after the Euro 2020 final.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and seen by the Observer, included 100 tweets reported to Twitter. Of those, 11 used the N-word to describe footballers, 25 used monkey or banana emojis directed at players, 13 called for players to be deported, and 25 attacked players by telling them to “go back to” other countries. Thirteen tweets targeted footballers over their English skills.

The findings come at a turbulent time for Twitter and will fuel concerns about players possibly being targeted during the World Cup.


But they have been concerned enough to suspend various American left-wing accounts in the past couple of days. If Musk’s “plan” is to turn it in to a version of Gab for some people, it won’t work to keep the libs on there.
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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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