Start Up No.1959: social media v mental health, Bard’s pricey search, EU bans TikTok for exec staff, cryptoqueen killed?, and more

Thousands of small aircraft still use leaded fuel (known as Avgas) – and that puts the poison into the air close to where people live. CC-licensed photo by Hedgehog in AustraliaHedgehog in Australia on Flickr.

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There’s another post coming today at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time. It’s about would-be social media mystery solvers. Free to read, free signup.

A selection of 9 links for you. No aerobatics. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Social media is a major cause of the mental illness epidemic in teen girls. Here’s the evidence • After Babel

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the NYU Stern School of Business:


First, I must offer two stage-setting comments:

Social media is not the only cause; my larger story is about the rewiring of childhood that began in the 1990s and accelerated in the early 2010s. I’m a social psychologist who is always wary of one-factor explanations for complex social phenomena. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and I showed that there were six interwoven threads that produced the explosion of unwisdom that hit American universities in 2015, one of which was the rise of anxiety and depression in Gen Z (those born in and after 1996); a second was the vast overprotection of children that began in the 1990s. 

In the book I’m now writing (Kids In Space) I show that these two threads are both essential for understanding why teen mental health collapsed in the 2010s. In brief, it’s the transition from a play-based childhood involving a lot of risky unsupervised play, which is essential for overcoming fear and fragility, to a phone-based childhood which blocks normal human development by taking time away from sleep, play, and in-person socializing, as well as causing addiction and drowning kids in social comparisons they can’t win. So this is not a one-factor story, and in future posts I’ll show my research on play. But today’s post is about what I believe to be the largest single factor and the only one that can explain why the epidemic started so suddenly, around 2012, in multiple countries.

The empirical debate has focused on the size of the dose-response effect for individuals, yet much and perhaps most of the action is in the emergent network effects. Once you appreciate the extent to which childhood has been transformed by smartphones and social media, you can see why it’s a mistake to focus so narrowly on individual-level effects. Nearly all of the research––the “hundreds of studies” that [Stanford University prof Jeff] Hancock referred to [saying they “almost all show pretty small effects”]––have treated social media as if it were like sugar consumption. The basic question has been: how sick do individuals get as a function of how much sugar they consume? What does the curve look like when you graph illness on the Y axis as a function of daily dosage on the X axis? This is a common and proper approach in medical research, where effects are primarily studied at the individual level and our objective is to know the size of the “dose-response relationship.”  (Although even in medicine, there are important network effects.)

But social media is very different because it transforms social life for everyone, even for those who don’t use social media, whereas sugar consumption just harms the consumer.


I came to precisely the same conclusion in my own analysis of PISA education data, in a chapter that had to be left out of Social Warming for length. I wrote about this, and showed some of the data, on my Substack.
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‘My kids are being poisoned’: How aviators escaped America’s war on lead • POLITICO

Ariel Wittenberg:


Veronica Licon and her pediatrician were stumped in 2011 when her son’s blood showed high levels of lead. Her home did not contain the usual culprits for childhood lead poisoning: lead paint or lead pipes.

Paint can be removed. Pipes can be replaced. But Licon lives directly under the flight path to Reid-Hillview Airport in East San Jose, California. The small airplanes and choppers flying overhead run on leaded gasoline, dusting her home with a neurotoxin research links to lowered IQ and behavioral problems in children. There’s nothing Licon can do about that.

She’s haunted by the long hours spent at home while pregnant with her youngest daughter, a now 12-year-old girl plagued by learning delays.

Today, toddlers in East San Jose have concentrations of lead in their blood on par with children tested at the height of the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, according to a recent study done in coordination with the California Department of Public Health. Meanwhile, aircraft in and out of the airport are flying on leaded gasoline three decades after the US banned the fuel for cars.

Efforts since then to develop unleaded, or even less heavily leaded fuel for small airplanes, have been dependent on the approval of oil and aviation experts who meet through the nonprofit standards organization ASTM International. Whether the inventor was from a maker of piston-engine airplanes or a Swedish chemist, a new formula for lead-free gasoline went first to a committee that included fuel producers like Chevron and Exxon Mobil. And the panel has repeatedly rejected proposals to create unleaded fuels for small aircraft, an investigation by POLITICO’s E&E News found.

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration has failed over multiple administrations to achieve a policy goal to move American fliers to cleaner fuels. And major oil companies have protected their small-but-profitable market for leaded aviation gas, according to interviews with nearly a dozen former members of the fuel-standards committee and documents reviewed by E&E News.


Efforts to stop US aircraft using tetraethyl lead (banned from ground vehicle use there in 1996) run into lobbyists for small planes. They’re even active in Europe.

There are low-octane (ie, low-lead) aircraft fuels, and aircraft can be adjusted to run on them. It’s a scandal that children’s lives are put behind this convenience.
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TikTok banned on EU executive staff devices • WSJ

Kim Mackrael in Brussels and Stu Woo in London :


The European Commission has banned its staff from using the TikTok app on their work-issued devices from March 15 because of cybersecurity concerns, widening across the Atlantic a patchwork of bans affecting US officials.

The move, which would affect thousands of employees of the European Union’s top executive body, comes as officials in Europe and the US scrutinise TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, over security concerns.

A commission spokeswoman said staff were told to remove TikTok if it was installed on their work devices. Personal devices that have work-related apps, such as a professional email app, were also banned from having TikTok, she said. The decision was made by the commission’s corporate management board.

“This measure aims to protect the commission against cybersecurity threats and actions which may be exploited for cyberattacks against the corporate environment of the commission,” the commission said. Security developments for other social-media platforms will be kept under constant review, it added.


I’m always puzzled by these dramatic notices of bans which then have more than three weeks before they come into effect. If the cybersecurity concerns are large enough, why not do it at once? If they’re so piddling you can tell TikTok you’re going to do it in three weeks’ time, how cyber insecure are you t all?
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Was OneCoin’s missing Cryptoqueen murdered by mobsters? • Coindesk

David Morris:


The evidence of [Ruja] Ignatova’s murder came in documents acquired by the Bureau for Investigative Reporting and Data, or BIRD. BIRD has shared documents seized after the shooting of Lyubomir Ivanonov, a former Bulgarian police commander. According to BIRD, the documents suggest that Ignatova was murdered in 2018 on orders from Christophoros Amanatidis-Taki, a notorious Bulgarian drug lord usually referred to simply as “Taki.” BIRD also claims the documents implicate the head of Bulgaria’s national homicide investigators, one Mikhail Naumov.

The documents also contain details about drunken statements made by a Taki affiliate. According to those statements, Taki ordered Ignatova’s murder, which allegedly occurred in November 2018 on a yacht in the Ionian Sea. According to the statements, Ignatova’s body was dismembered and thrown into the ocean.

Ignatova has not been seen in public for more than five years, and intense speculation has swirled around her disappearance, including the possibility that she may have changed her appearance. Speculation flared again recently when a London apartment owned by Ignatova went on sale, but the BBC reports that sale was conducted by German prosecutors who had apparently seized the property, not by Ignatova.

The new evidence is tentative and partial, but BIRD is a seemingly reputable investigative organization focused on corruption in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Balkans. It is an affiliate of the respected International Consortium for Investigative Journalism.

Prior to BIRD’s findings, the BBC’s Jamie Bartlett had assembled a variety of hints that Ignatova and OneCoin were either a front for organized crime or had become entangled with mobsters. Such a relationship could have seemed mutually beneficial for a time.

Taki’s apparent influence over high-level police officials in Ignatova’s native Bulgaria could have sounded like a path to safety for the so-called Cryptoqueen. And a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, which included vast, opaque and entirely off-chain accounting, would have been an incredibly useful channel for both laundering illicit funds and generating its own profits.


A grisly but all-too-believable scenario. We will look back at the crypto craze and be astonished that so many were so credulous, while the gangs will carry on counting their money and looking for the next scam, and the people fronting it who can be rubbed out when necessary.
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Netflix password-sharing is out of control because too much of the content isn’t worth paying for • BGR

Andy Meek:


If you owned a business that saw fewer people engage with it from week to week, and which also found itself facing withering criticism over the perception of quality slipping, would you choose that moment to try and squeeze your customers for more money? I dare say you probably wouldn’t — nevertheless, that’s more or less precisely what Netflix is doing right now via its forthcoming password-sharing crackdown.

The crackdown, among other things, is coming at a moment of declining viewership based on the streaming giant’s own data. And at a time when Netflix’s biggest hits — which is to say, the content that subscribers most value — are tied to past successes.

As for many of Netflix’s newest releases like Perfect Match, the trashy reality series that’s the #2 Netflix show in the world this week, they’re the equivalent of empty calories that make for mindless entertainment. You don’t necessarily feel satisfied after bingeing them, which is arguably why so many people have been mooching someone else’s Netflix password in the first place.

My colleague Chris Smith has argued that a lot of the Netflix outcry is silly, and that the price of a subscription isn’t all that much in the grand scheme of things. In other words: So just grow up, essentially, and stop stealing. There’s some truth in that, to be sure, but the flip side has to do with the reasons why people feel the need to do this in the first place — reasons that won’t necessarily be addressed by implementing the new rules related to password-sharing.

… time spent streaming the biggest shows on the platform, for example, has been on the decline almost every single week this year.

• Ginny & Georgia Season 2, for example, helped the Netflix Top 10 list during the first week of January pull in almost 564 million hours viewed worldwide.
• Starting with the second week of January, though, here come the precipitous declines. Viewers spent 485.8 million hours that week watching the Top 10 English-language Netflix series — including both seasons of Ginny & Georgia, as well as Wednesday, the new season of Vikings: Valhalla, and Kaleidoscope. Speaking of new series, Kaleidoscope was so poorly written I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, and it accordingly has a 49% Rotten Tomatoes score.
• During the third week of the month, the Top 10 viewership overall fell again, to 363.4 million hours.
• And during the fourth week of the month, the total fell further, still, to 252.85 million hours.
• The first week of February? That total kept dropping, down to a little over 197 million hours.
• The second week of February, the most recent data we have, brings us to our first week-over-week increase of the year: 234.8 million hours spent bingeing all the titles on the weekly Top 10 list.


It’s an argument, certainly, that forcing people not to share passwords will just mean less time spent, and that will show up very starkly in the streaming hours falling, rather than the number of subscriptions rising.
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America’s coastal cities are a hidden time bomb • The Atlantic

Jake Bittle:


The Langfords got out of Houston just in time. Only two months after Sara and her husband, Phillip, moved to Norfolk, Virginia, in June 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck, destroying their previous house and rendering Sara’s family homeless.

By comparison, Norfolk felt like paradise. In Larchmont, the neighborhood the Langfords fell in love with, young children scratched chalk doodles on the sidewalks, college students and senior citizens ran side by side on nature trails, and crepe myrtle trees popped pink along silent streets.

But as the couple toured the area, situated on the banks of a sluggish river that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, they noticed something alarming about the homes they were seeing. “We were looking at one house close to the water, and [our real-estate agent] started talking about flood insurance,” Sara recalled to me. “I said, ‘Really? In this area?’” The houses were about half a mile from the river, but monthly flood-insurance premiums on the homes were $800 to $1,000—almost as much as their mortgage payment.

Driving down a waterfront street called Richmond Crescent, the Langfords noticed that every home had been elevated at least 10 feet off the ground, perched atop a giant frame of concrete. Flooding had never been an issue in decades past, but as the sea levels around Norfolk had risen, it had become far more common. Now some streets in Larchmont flood at least a dozen times a year at high tide, and the wrong combination of rain and wind threatens to turn the neighborhood into a labyrinth of impassable lakes and puddles. For Sara, whose family was still recovering from Harvey, the elevated homes were a deal breaker. “When I saw that, I was like, ‘Absolutely not,’” she told me. “I said, ‘We’re just not even considering the area anymore.’”

You can imagine each of the homes in Larchmont—and elsewhere along the coast—as a stick of dynamite with a very long fuse. When humans began to warm the Earth, we lit the fuse. Ever since then, a series of people have tossed the dynamite among them, each owner holding the stick for a while before passing the risk on to the next. Each of these owners knows that at some point, the dynamite is going to explode, but they can also see that there’s a lot of fuse left. As the fuse keeps burning, each new owner has a harder time finding someone to take the stick off their hands.


Perhaps some have forgotten the Florida seaside apartment block that abruptly collapsed in June 2021, but that was just the tip of a big iceberg.
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For tech giants, AI like Bing and Bard poses billion-dollar search problem • Reuters

Jeffrey Dastin and Stephen Nellis:


The wildly popular chatbot from OpenAI, which can draft prose and answer search queries, has “eye-watering” computing costs of a couple or more cents per conversation, the startup’s Chief Executive Sam Altman has said on Twitter.

In an interview, Alphabet’s Chairman John Hennessy told Reuters that having an exchange with AI known as a large language model likely cost 10 times more than a standard keyword search, though fine-tuning will help reduce the expense quickly.

Even with revenue from potential chat-based search ads, the technology could chip into the bottom line of Mountain View, Calif.-based Alphabet with several billion dollars of extra costs, analysts said. Its net income was nearly $60bn in 2022.

Morgan Stanley estimated that Google’s 3.3 trillion search queries last year cost roughly a fifth of a cent each, a number that would increase depending on how much text AI must generate. Google, for instance, could face a $6bn hike in expenses by 2024 if ChatGPT-like AI were to handle half the queries it receives with 50-word answers, analysts projected. Google is unlikely to need a chatbot to handle navigational searches for sites like Wikipedia.

Others arrived at a similar bill in different ways. For instance, SemiAnalysis, a research and consulting firm focused on chip technology, said adding ChatGPT-style AI to search could cost Alphabet $3bn, an amount limited by Google’s in-house chips called Tensor Processing Units, or TPUs, along with other optimizations.


This is where ChatBing (or whatever) is a no-lose for Microsoft. The story has a graphic of the expected costs depending on how many words the AI generates: if 50% of queries to Google produced 100 AI-generated words, that’s a $12bn cost, and that comes straight off the bottom line. Force your rival to use more expensive, less profitable products for its principal line of business is quite the attack line. To some extent it’s fortuitous for Microsoft, but won’t be any less welcome at Redmond for that.
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Generative AI is coming for the lawyers • Wired via Ars Technica

Chris Stokel-Walker:


David Wakeling, head of London-based law firm Allen & Overy’s markets innovation group, first came across law-focused generative AI tool Harvey in September 2022. He approached OpenAI, the system’s developer, to run a small experiment. A handful of his firm’s lawyers would use the system to answer simple questions about the law, draft documents, and take first passes at messages to clients.

The trial started small, Wakeling says, but soon ballooned. Around 3,500 workers across the company’s 43 offices ended up using the tool, asking it around 40,000 queries in total. The law firm has now entered into a partnership to use the AI tool more widely across the company, though Wakeling declined to say how much the agreement was worth. According to Harvey, one in four at Allen & Overy’s team of lawyers now uses the AI platform every day, with 80% using it once a month or more. Other large law firms are starting to adopt the platform too, the company says.

The rise of AI and its potential to disrupt the legal industry has been forecast multiple times before. But the rise of the latest wave of generative AI tools, with ChatGPT at its forefront, has those within the industry more convinced than ever.

“I think it is the beginning of a paradigm shift,” says Wakeling. “I think this technology is very suitable for the legal industry.”

…But the problems with current generations of generative AI have already started to show. Most significantly, their tendency to confidently make things up—or “hallucinate.” That is problematic enough in search, but in the law, the difference between success and failure can be serious, and costly.

Over email, Gabriel Pereyra, Harvey’s founder and CEO, says that the AI has a number of systems in place to prevent and detect hallucinations. “Our systems are finetuned for legal use cases on massive legal datasets, which greatly reduces hallucinations compared to existing systems,” he says.

Even so, Harvey has gotten things wrong, says Wakeling—which is why Allen & Overy has a careful risk management program around the technology.

“We’ve got to provide the highest level of professional services,” Wakeling says. “We can’t have hallucinations contaminating legal advice.”


Your honour, I’d like to strike that document from the record. My advisor was hallucinating.
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Exclusive: iPhone 15 CADs reveal larger 6.2-inch display, Dynamic Island, and more • 9to5Mac

Max Weinbach:


Just a week after we posted exclusive renders of the iPhone 15 Pro based off CAD files, we managed to obtain 3D CAD files for the iPhone 15, which reveal some of the design changes and features that Apple is planning for its next-generation smartphone. Ian Zelbo, Renderer Extraordinaire, managed to turn these CADs into the beautiful images you see below [in the article].

One of the most noticeable changes is that the iPhone 15 will ditch the notch for a Dynamic Island instead. This is a feature that was introduced on the iPhone 14 Pro models last year, and it consists of an oval-shaped cutout at the top of the screen that hides the front camera and Face ID sensors.

The Dynamic Island seems to be making it’s way to all 4 iPhone models, as it is unlikely that Apple would choose to have outdated technology on the larger size of their newest flagship phones.

Another change that we spotted on the CAD files is that the iPhone 15 will finally adopt USB-Type C as its charging port. This is something that many users have been asking for years, as USB-C is more versatile and compatible than Lightning. USB-C can also support faster charging and data transfer speeds than Lightning.

Apple does seem to be keeping the classic dual camera setup for the standard iPhone. The third camera and LiDAR still seem to be exclusive to the Pro model iPhones.

…One thing that we noticed missing from the CAD files are capacitive buttons, which were rumored to be coming to some iPhone models this year. However, it seems like capacitive buttons are only available on the iPhone 15 Pro models this year, as the iPhone 15 still has physical buttons like every previous iPhone.


I mean, it looks like an iPhone? Any iPhone since the X? But USB-C will be welcomed by a lot of people.
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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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