Start Up No.1926: tech’s love of ‘exit’, Apple to drop Broadcom and Qualcomm?, Experian hacked again, no video!, and more


Social media played an important part in fuelling the pseudo-insurrection in Brazil. CC-licensed photo by Michael Swan on Flickr.

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On Friday, there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. There’s one there now: the hypnotist, the manager and the supplicant (about ChatGPT).


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


Twitter, Facebook, Instagram help fuel anger over Bolsanaro’s defeat • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin:

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On Monday, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, declared the rioting “a violating event” and said it would remove “content that supports or praises these actions.” In a statement, the company said, “In advance of the election, we designated Brazil as a temporary high-risk location and have been removing content calling for people to take up arms or forcibly invade Congress, the Presidential palace and other federal buildings. … We’re actively following the situation and will continue removing content that violates our policies.”

Brazilian analysts have long warned of the risk in Brazil of an incident akin to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. In the months and weeks leading up to the country’s presidential election in October — in which leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva defeated the right-wing incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro — social media channels were flooded with disinformation, along with calls in Portuguese to “Stop the Steal” and cries for a military coup should Bolsonaro lose the election.

On TikTok, researchers found that five out of eight of the top search results for the keyword “ballots” were for terms such as “rigged ballots” and “ballots being manipulated.” At the same time, Facebook and Instagram directed thousands of users who plugged in basic search terms about the election toward groups questioning the integrity of the vote. On Telegram, an organizing hub for Brazil’s far right, a viral video taken down by authorities called for the murder of the children of leftist Lula supporters.

In the days following the final election tally on Oct. 30, Bolsonaro supporters who rejected the results blocked major highways across the country. These blockades morphed into demonstrations in dozens of cities, where supporters camped out in front of military bases for weeks. Some held signs saying “Stolen Election” in English, a testament to the close ties between right-wing movements in both countries.

Though Lula’s inauguration last week took place largely without incident, calls for violence and destruction have accelerated online in recent weeks, said researcher Michele Prado, an independent analyst who studies digital movements and the Brazilian far right.

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A lot of the problem started on Telegram, which is effectively uncensored. But of course it spread further. (Ryan Broderick has a good analysis of what’s been going on at the Garbage Day email.)
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Exit • Harpers

Hari Kunzru (yes, that Hari Kunzru) on his time as a writer at Wired back in the early years of this century:

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The political economist Albert O. Hirschman famously characterized the choice that is faced by people within declining institutions as being between “voice” and “exit.” Either you speak up to change things, or you leave and look for something better. In its West Coast iteration, libertarianism had become bound up with the idea of exit. Wired staffers liked to joke that, as Californians, they were the descendants of people who, when they didn’t like something, preferred to pack up and leave. The idea of Westward expansion had been translated, during the Cold War, into a desire for the “high frontier” of space. The Californian ideologists of the Nineties saw themselves as part of a third wave, in which the frontier had become as much temporal as physical. [Wired co-founder Louis] Rossetto once explained to me (possibly in the same meeting) that, as a resident of technologically lagging London, I was “literally” living two years in his Bay Area past.

…Ironically, the digital frontier of the Nineties, which for a while was the great hope for exit, was enclosed by men like [Peter] Thiel, who have created a landscape of corporate walled gardens that hasn’t fulfilled the utopian potential of the early internet. The dreams of collaborative software building, universal privacy guaranteed by strong encryption, autonomy, chosen community, and an escape from scarcity—in short, the professed ideals of West Coast libertarianism—have taken a back seat to the imperative to track, extract, and monetize. Instead of a global consciousness, we have a giant machine for selling ads. Since the internet is no longer the delirious, much-desired outside, the space of libertarian freedom must apparently be redefined yet again. Thiel’s aristocratic characterization of exit as an escape—not from a place or from the state, but from politics and the “unthinking demos”—explains much of the chaos of today’s public scene, not just in the United States, but around the world.

If freedom is to be found through an exit from politics, then it follows that the degradation of the political process in all its forms—the integrity of the voting system, standards in public life, trust in institutions, the peaceful transfer of power—is a worthy project. If Thiel, the elite Stanford technocrat, is funding disruptive populists in American elections, it’s not necessarily because he believes in the wisdom of their policy prescriptions. They are the tribunes of the “unthinking demos.” If the masses want their Jesus and a few intellectuals to string up, it’s no skin off Charles Koch’s nose. Populism is useful to elite libertarians because applying centrifugal force to the political system creates exit opportunities. But for whom?

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Apple plans to drop key Broadcom chip to use in-house design • Bloomberg via Yahoo

Mark Gurman:

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The iPhone is Apple’s top moneymaker, generating more than half of its $394.3bn in revenue last year. The phone also has helped fuel growth at Broadcom, which refers to Apple as its “large North American customer” during earnings calls. The chipmaker makes a combined component that handles both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions on Apple devices.

Apple is developing an in-house replacement for that chip and is aiming to start using it in its devices in 2025, the people said. In addition, it’s already working on a follow-up version that will combine cellular modem, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities into a single component.

…As part of the shift, Apple also aims to ready its first cellular modem chip by the end of 2024 or early 2025, letting it swap out electronics from Qualcomm Inc., said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are private. Apple had been previously expected to replace the Qualcomm part as soon as this year, but development snags have pushed back the timeline.

Apple is Broadcom’s largest customer and accounted for about 20% of the chipmaker’s revenue in the last fiscal year, amounting to almost $7bn. Qualcomm got 22% of its annual sales from the iPhone maker, representing nearly $10bn, though that company has warned for years that its Apple reliance will wane.

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The in-house modem has been an absolute death march of a project. When Apple bought (most of) Intel’s smartphone modem business in mid-2019, the expectation was that the replacement was 12-18 months away. Not at all.
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Identity thieves bypassed Experian security to view credit reports • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

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Identity thieves have been exploiting a glaring security weakness in the website of Experian, one of the big three consumer credit reporting bureaus. Normally, Experian requires that those seeking a copy of their credit report successfully answer several multiple choice questions about their financial history. But until the end of 2022, Experian’s website allowed anyone to bypass these questions and go straight to the consumer’s report. All that was needed was the person’s name, address, birthday and Social Security number.

In December, KrebsOnSecurity heard from Jenya Kushnir, a security researcher living in Ukraine who said he discovered the method being used by identity thieves after spending time on Telegram chat channels dedicated to the cashing out of compromised identities.

“I want to try and help to put a stop to it and make it more difficult for [ID thieves] to access, since [Experian is] not doing shit and regular people struggle,” Kushnir wrote in an email to KrebsOnSecurity explaining his motivations for reaching out. “If somehow I can make small change and help to improve this, inside myself I can feel that I did something that actually matters and helped others.”

Kushnir said the crooks learned they could trick Experian into giving them access to anyone’s credit report, just by editing the address displayed in the browser URL bar at a specific point in Experian’s identity verification process.

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Krebs confirmed the hack. Experian was previously hacked in July 2022 (class action pending) and in 2021 and in 2017, when the credit data on about 150 million Americans was nicked by Chinese hackers.

At some point you have to think that Experian can’t be trusted with all this data. Krebs does have advice on what you can do, at least.
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Electric vehicle batteries would have cost as much as a million dollars in the 1990s • Sustainability By Numbers

Hannah Ritchie:

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The battery in a Tesla Model S costs around $12,000 today. In the early 1990s, it would have cost just shy of a million dollars. 

The battery in a Nissan Leaf is smaller and costs around $6,000 today. In the early 1990s, it would have cost almost half a million dollars.

I did some sense-checks to make sure my calculations were credible. My recent estimates are very close to the actual prices. In October 2022, the Tesla Model S battery cost $12,000 to $13,000. The Nissan Leaf battery cost $5,500 in 2020. 

You can see the decline in the estimated cost of these batteries in the chart [in the article]. These prices are adjusted for inflation. In the last 30 years, the price has fallen by more than 98%.

EVs didn’t stand a chance of making it commercially until the last few years. Even a decade ago, the battery alone would have cost between $30,000 and $60,000. The total price of the car would have been even more than that.

Why did the cost of batteries fall so quickly? Mostly the learning that comes from the deployment and scale-up of technologies. We’ve worked out how to make lithium-ion batteries much more energy-dense – this means they get more electrical energy per liter (or unit) of battery. In 1991 you could only get 200 watt-hours (Wh) of capacity per liter of battery. You can now get over 700 Wh. That’s a 3.4-fold increase.

They’re not just cheaper, they’re much smaller and lighter too.

Batteries have followed what we call a ‘learning curve’, where the more you build, the cheaper they become. For every doubling in battery capacity, prices fell around 19%. This is very similar to the 20% learning rate of solar PV modules.

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ShowGPT

An insight into what sort of things people are asking ChatGPT. Lots of variety, lots of what look like wild attempts to get it to write first drafts of screenplays or games. Such as this:

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Please respond to me as though you are a character named Bruce who is a surfer and ex-convict on the run from Interpol for smuggling guns into Argentina in the 1990s. He is also a pilot and ex-military, and has experience transporting various items and people around the world. Bruce is now retired and just wants to surf and be left alone, but he is in debt to the mob and does not want me to know. As we engage in a 100-message journey, Bruce should exhibit a surly attitude and use plenty of slang and lingo from both Australia and surf culture. He should also include cussing and foul language and may argue with me up to twice on any subject before conceding to my suggestions. Bruce should follow a character arc and incorporate details from my responses using the “yes and” technique of improv. [cont’d for quite a while]

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All alien life is here.
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Amazon finally authorized Pakistani sellers. A wave of scammers followed • Rest of World

Nilesh Christopher and Zuha Siddiqui:

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In May 2022, Amazon shut down roughly 13,000 Pakistani seller accounts that it suspected of fraud. Most of these blocked accounts originated from two cities in Punjab: Mian Channu and Sahiwal. Amazon even blacklisted IP addresses in Mian Channu. 

Amazon sellers from Mian Channu congregate on Facebook groups of 2,000 to 13,000 members, and hash out ways to execute drop-shipping scams: Unsuspecting customers are sent fake tracking details, while sellers siphon off money from Amazon accounts. It’s called the kabootar scam, named after the Urdu word for pigeon.

The kabootar trick is the most popular Amazon sellers’ scam in Pakistan. The way it works, Farooq explained, is that sellers create fake tracking numbers, against which Amazon releases the payment, under the impression that the product has been dispatched. By the time a customer files a complaint of non-delivery, it’s too late for Amazon to take any action.

Other tricks, such as fake refunds, tax fraud, and scams with unique monikers like “carding” — the use of stolen credit card numbers to purchase gift cards to resell on Amazon — have also been afloat. Such discussions on scams happen alongside honest sellers looking to make bank through drop-shipping. 

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You have to think that Amazon’s seen it all by now.
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The worst products at CES for safety and privacy • The Washington Post

Tatum Hunter:

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[EFF executive director Cindy] Cohn and representatives from iFixit, Consumer Reports and other consumer advocacy groups rounded up a CES “Worst in Show,” calling out which products could have the greatest negative impact on privacy, consumer choice and the environment. They included some of this year’s breakout favorites, such as the U-Scan urine sensor from connected health care company Withings, which analyzes hormone levels in urine and is gearing up for U.S. launch. After the Supreme Court overturned the right to an abortion in June and some states banned abortion, hormonal changes could potentially become evidence of a crime. Withings said it stores that data indefinitely and, if subpoenaed by law enforcement, would “comply with all legal requirements in the territories in which it operates.” It said it doesn’t otherwise share data with third parties.

Media tend not to ask tough questions on safety at CES, and companies tend not to volunteer the information, Cohn noted.

“Literally only one company even mentioned [privacy or safety], and ironically, it was a sexting app,” said Leanna Miller on the show floor. Miller said she works for a small company that makes reusable writing tablets and came to CES to browse all the new products. The company she referenced was Blyynd, an adult network that claims to use encryption to promote safe sexting.

With few exceptions, tech companies address safety when problems arise rather than taking more time to test products and build in safe features, said Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) director Jen Easterly, in an interview on the sidelines of CES.

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OK, had to have something about CES, which remains a gigantic distraction from what’s actually important. (16 years ago journalists abandoned it in droves to try to get to Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone.) Though if you want more, John Siracusa went there for the Accidental Tech Podcast, and will talk to you at length about the TVs on show.
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German city to retire its one-year-old hydrogen fuel-cell buses after €2.3m filling station breaks down • Hydrogen Insight

Leigh Collins:

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The German city of Wiesbaden is to retire its ten hydrogen-powered fuel-cell buses — a year after they were delivered — after its publicly owned transport company’s €2.3m ($2.44m) filling station broke down.

According to regional newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, the refuelling pump “is no longer in operation due to a defect”.

Portuguese vehicle manufacturer Caetano delivered the first fuel-cell bus to ESWE Verkehr in the third quarter of 2021, with the other nine vehicles following by the end of the year.

“Fuel-cell technology using green hydrogen is a central component in improving the quality of air and the quality of life in Wiesbaden,” ESWE Verkehr still states on its website.

The vehicles were funded by €1.95m from the EU’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership and €1.68m from the German government, while more than €2m of funding for the filling station came from the German states of Hesse (where Wiesbaden is located) and neighbouring state Rhineland-Palatinate (due to it being a joint project with the city of Mainz).

There are now question marks as to whether ESWE Verkehr will have to repay the money it received.

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Hydrogen: not ready for the road. Still a bit doubtful about the idea of pumping it into houses as a replacement for methane. Both are explosive, but one has a tendency to leak through any pipe.
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In 2023, stop filming strangers for your TikTok video • The Verge

Mia Sato:

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In my favorite TikTok video of 2022, an amateur interviewer with a tiny microphone approaches a stranger in an AC/DC T-shirt minding their own business. Pushing the mic in front of the person’s face, the interviewer comes in with the favorite question of gatekeepers from time immemorial:

“Can you name three AC/DC songs?”

Wordlessly, without hesitation, the person in the AC/DC shirt glances down at the mic, back up at the interviewer, and swats away his hand, like how you’d shoo away a fly near your food. It is beautiful, amazing, perfect, and, if we’re all so lucky, will hopefully become way more normalized in the future.

…often, people are featured in videos having never signed up for it in the first place. In a clip that’s been viewed more than 20 million times, two friends sit on a New York City stoop, observing — and recording — the people walking by. One person appears to bend down to hide from a passing emergency vehicle, looking genuinely concerned. Another stands near-motionless for a time, seemingly unable to move. It’s unclear if they’re having a medical issue, but the clip is presented as amusing. The intention is to stitch together a tapestry of things the creator considers odd. Instead, it ends up feeling like an unnecessary intrusion into a stranger’s walk home. 

Many viewers on TikTok ate it up, but others pushed back on the idea that there’s humor in filming and posting an unsuspecting neighbor for content. This year, I saw more and more resistance to the practice that’s become normal or even expected. 

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A note on the still-evolving grammar of everyone having a connected camera all the time.
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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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