Start Up No.1963: EU narrows antitrust case against Apple, the $130m ringtone scam, Twitter fails (but no Whale), and more

The carmaker Ford has filed a patent that could see vehicles with long overdue loans repossess themselves – or just drive to the scrapyard. CC-licensed photo by dave_7dave_7 on Flickr.

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On Friday, there’s another post due at the Social Warming Substack at about 0845 UK time.

A selection of 10 links for you. Antitrustworthy. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Future Fords could repossess themselves and drive away if you miss payments • The Drive

Peter Holderith:


Average car payments have been rising for a while. Although auto loan delinquency rates have been down since the height of the pandemic, Ford applied for a patent to make the repossession process go smoother. For the bank, that is.

The patent document was submitted to the United States Patent Office in August 2021 but it was formally published Feb. 23. It’s titled “Systems and Methods to Repossess a Vehicle.” It describes several ways to make the life of somebody who has missed several car payments harder.

It explicitly says the system, which could be installed on any future vehicle in the automaker’s lineup with a data connection would be capable of “[disabling] a functionality of one or more components of the vehicle.” Everything from the engine to the air conditioning. For vehicles with autonomous or semi-autonomous driving capability, the system could “move the vehicle from a first spot to a second spot that is more convenient for a tow truck to tow the vehicle… move the vehicle from the premises of the owner to a location such as, for example, the premises of the repossession agency,” or, if the lending institution considers the “financial viability of executing a repossession procedure” to be unjustifiable, the vehicle could drive itself to the junkyard.

No other automakers have recently attempted to patent a similar system, and indeed the Ford patent doesn’t reference any other legal document for the sake of clarifying its idea. All of this being said, patent documents, especially applications like this one, do not necessarily represent an automaker’s intent to introduce the described feature, process, or technology to its vehicles. Ford might just be attempting to protect this idea for the sake of doing so. The document does go into a lot of detail as to how such a system might work, though.


You can imagine so many ways that this could, and surely will, go wrong.
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Apple responds to EU’s decision to narrow antitrust case prompted by Spotify • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:


The European Commission on Tuesday announced it has narrowed its antitrust investigation into Apple’s rules for streaming music apps. In a revised Statement of Objections sent to Apple, the Commission said it will no longer challenge Apple’s requirement for apps to use the App Store’s in-app purchase system for digital goods and services. The investigation began in 2019 after Spotify filed an antitrust complaint against Apple.

The investigation will now focus entirely on Apple preventing streaming music apps from informing iPhone and iPad users within the app that lower subscription prices are available when signing up outside of the App Store. Subscriptions can sometimes cost extra when initiated through the App Store compared to directly on an app’s website, as developers look to offset Apple’s 15% to 30% fee on in-app subscriptions.

The Commission’s preliminary view is that Apple’s rules equate to “anti-steering” and “unfair trading conditions,” in breach of EU antitrust law. The Commission added that the rules are “detrimental to users of music streaming services on Apple’s mobile devices” given they may end up paying more and “negatively affect the interests of music streaming app developers by limiting effective consumer choice.”

In a statement shared with MacRumors, an Apple spokesperson said the company is “pleased” that the Commission has narrowed its case


As Ben Thompson commented, the Commission seems to have realised that Apple’s going to take its 30% cut from apps that go through any sort of in-app purchase (example: dating apps in Holland), so now it’s going to focus on how Apple prevents apps telling you to just go to their website for a better deal.
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Tokyo makes solar panels mandatory for new homes built after 2025 • Reuters

Kantaro Komiya:


All new houses in Tokyo built by large-scale homebuilders after April 2025 must install solar power panels to cut household carbon emissions, according to a new regulation passed by the Japanese capital’s local assembly on Thursday.

The mandate, the first of its kind for a Japanese municipality, requires about 50 major builders to equip homes of up to 2,000 square metres (21,500 square feet) with renewable energy power sources, mainly solar panels.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike noted last week that just 4% of buildings where solar panels could be installed in the city have them now. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 2000 levels.


Why only Tokyo, though?
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How ‘Bling Empire’ star Kelly Mi Li’s ex-husband Lin Miao pulled off a $130m cell phone scandal • Esquire

Mickey Rapkin:


If you had an Internet connection at any point in the aughts, you’ll likely remember a series of pop-up and banner advertisements designed to prey on the lonely and insecure, the gullible, and the vulnerable. These ads appeared all over social media and inside games like FarmVille, and they made bizarre promises. My Luv Crush informed users they had a secret admirer—and it was someone they knew. Text NOW to find out who before the message expires! Another ad promised to reveal a user’s IQ score if they would answer twenty questions like “What color is the ocean?” One promotion offered “Free Justin Bieber Tickets!”

These advertisements might have been annoying, but they appeared to be innocuous. In fact, they were at the center of one of the largest cybercrime rings ever assembled, and its story has been largely untold until now because one of the last perpetrators was only just sentenced after years of testifying against his co-conspirators. The crime: sneaking hard-to-cancel, recurring monthly payments onto cellphone bills, sometimes those of people who never even subscribed. The perpetrators: mostly college-age kids. The implications for the telecom industry, federal regulators, and your phone bill: incalculable.

The idea was pioneered by a Chinese immigrant named Lin Miao. Miao was brought to Salt Lake City at age 12 with no winter coat. He built his first computer with spare parts he found at garage sales. Then, in college, he co-founded an online advertising network that would eventually be valued at $130 million.

His story appeared in one of those Chicken Soup for the Soul books devoted to “extraordinary teens.”

With his success came private jets to Las Vegas, $400,000 monthly credit-card bills, and sugar babies—so many sugar babies. That all vanished in 2015, when a team of FBI agents greeted Miao as he got off a plane at LAX and arrested him on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. While he has testified in court, he has not spoken publicly about his crimes until now.


In a sense, he himself was conned by the whole ringtone business – which gave him a piece of the riches that the carriers were juicing from unsuspecting users 20 years ago. Except he got the threat of jail time.
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COVID-19 pandemic ‘most likely’ started in Wuhan lab, FBI Director Christopher Wray says • USA Today via Yahoo

Candy Woodall:


 The COVID-19 pandemic “most likely” started after a Wuhan laboratory leak in China, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday.

He publicly confirmed the bureau’s assessment of the lab leak theory for the first time during an interview with Fox News.

“The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan,” Wray said. “Here you are talking about a potential leak from a Chinese government-controlled lab.”

Since the first case of COVID in the U.S. in January 2020, the Chinese government has tried to “thwart and obfuscate” investigations into the origin of the pandemic, Wray said.

The Wall Street Journal and CNN previously reported that the FBI had “moderate confidence” in the lab leak theory in 2021, a year after COVID-19 reached the U.S.

Wray’s admission marks the second government agency to publicly back the lab leak theory. The Department of Energy also has backed the assessment  that COVID began in a lab, but has labeled it with its “low confidence” rating. .

Other intelligence agencies are split or undecided on the origin, with some having “low confidence” that COVID-19 began naturally when the virus transmitted from an animal to a human.

However, all intelligence agencies agree COVID-19 wasn’t the result of biological warfare, according to the Wall Street Journal.


Ugh. OK, let’s do this. Two competing hypotheses: lab leak, or natural origin. Every other novel zoonosis (animal-human disease transmission) we’ve ever seen has come from natural origins, including the first SARS, which was finally traced to a bat cave in Yunnan, hundreds of miles away from where the first human case was observed, via another animal intermediary (civets).

This doesn’t make a lab leak impossible. It leaves it as a possibility. But without very clear evidence, which needs to be shared 🙄, it’s irresponsible of the FBI to say that it’s “most likely”. We don’t know, and quite possibly won’t ever know. But some people hate not knowing. They simply cannot bear saying “we don’t know, and perhaps never will.”
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Twitter back after two-hour outage affected tweets • BBC News


Thousands of people around the world were unable to use Twitter for two hours on Wednesday after the social network suffered another outage.

The Following and For you feeds – which display tweets on the platform’s homepage – instead carried a notice reading “Welcome to Twitter”. 

The outage-tracking site DownDetector reported the issues at 10:00 GMT, but they appeared to be resolved by 12:00.

It came after Twitter reportedly laid off 200 staff members on Monday.

More than 5,000 people in the UK alone reported problems to DownDetector within half an hour of the fault appearing, with many more affected worldwide.

The For you feed, a collection of tweets from people similar to those they follow, seemed to be reinstated just an hour after the initial issue emerged, but the Following feed, which collects tweets from people who users are following on Twitter, took longer to be fixed.

The site’s search tool is also working again, after it briefly stopped displaying any tweets in the Latest tab.

…Alp Toker, director of internet outage tracker NetBlocks, said Twitter’s reliability issues have increased under Mr Musk’s tenure as CEO.

“It started shortly before the Musk takeover itself,” he said, but added: “The main spike has happened after the takeover, with four to five incidents in a month – which was comparable to what used to happen in a year.”


The campaign to Save The Fail Whale is succeeding.
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TikTok will limit teens to 60 minutes of screen time a day • The Verge

Jess Weatherbed:


TikTok has announced a batch of new features intended to reduce screen time and improve the well-being of its younger users.

In the coming weeks, a daily screen time limit of 60 minutes will be automatically applied to every TikTok user under 18 years old. Teens that hit this limit will be asked to enter a passcode to continue watching. They can disable the feature entirely, but if they do so and spend more than 100 minutes on TikTok a day, they’ll be asked to set a new limit.

TikTok claims these prompts increased the use of its screen time management tools by 234% during the feature’s first month of testing. Teens will also be sent an inbox notification each week that recaps their screen time, allowing younger users to be aware of how much time they spend on the app and requiring that they make active decisions to extend the recommended screen time.

TikTok says it consulted current academic research and experts from the Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital when deciding how long the time restriction should be.

“While there’s no collectively-endorsed position on how much screen time is ‘too much’, or even the impact of screen time more broadly, we recognise that teens typically require extra support as they start to explore the online world independently,” said Cormac Keenan, Head of Trust and Safety at TikTok, in a statement.


Though it’s not as if they’re being asked to write an essay or solve a differential equation to do this, are they? It’s not going to prevent the most determined, and they’re the ones who actually do need some sort of intervention. Sure, they consulted on “how long”, but not, apparently, on how to deter.
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Microsoft’s implementation of Bing Chat AI on Windows 11 is complete trash • Windows Central

Zac Bowden:


Yesterday, Microsoft made a big hubbub about a new Windows 11 update that allegedly puts AI at the forefront of the Windows experience, via a “typable” search box that’s now found on the Taskbar by default. The company is headlining the update with this functionality, but the actual “feature” is nothing more than an advertisement for

Reading the Microsoft announcement for this new Windows 11 feature update, you’d be led to believe that Windows 11’s search experience is now powered by AI. But it isn’t. There’s no AI in Windows Search. Microsoft’s clever Bing Chat AI isn’t even integrated with any shell interface you might see within Windows. 

No, what Microsoft announced yesterday is the ability to quickly launch’s new chat bot, without having to manually type “” into an address bar first. That’s literally all that this is. The Windows Search landing page now has a banner for, and two suggested chat prompts that it recommends you try to get a feel for how Bing Chat works.

Clicking on any of the buttons and links related to Bing Chat will take you out of Windows Search and into Microsoft Edge, where you can continue using Bing Chat if you please. At no point is Windows doing anything AI related, because Microsoft hasn’t actually added AI to search on Windows 11 with this latest feature drop.


Oh well – if you can get enough people to believe it, then it must be true, right?
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Revolut’s auditor warns 2021 revenues ‘may be materially misstated’ • Financial Times

Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan and Michael O’Dwyer:


Revolut’s auditor warned that the design of the fintech’s IT systems meant there was a risk that the bulk of its 2021 revenues were materially misstated even as it turned a profit for the first time that year.

The crypto boom helped Revolut report on Wednesday a net profit of £26mn in 2021 compared with a £223mn loss the previous year. Revenues in 2021 almost tripled to £636mn.

But the group’s auditor, BDO, issued a qualified opinion on Revolut’s overdue accounts because it had been unable to fully verify £477mn of revenues — including its foreign exchange and wealth department, which includes crypto.

Auditors said in their report into the accounts that they had been “unable to satisfy ourselves as to the completeness” of these revenues, meaning that references to the company’s revenues “may be materially misstated”.

Revolut has evolved from a low-fee money transfer service to offer bank accounts across Europe through its Lithuanian banking licence. It is also registered as an e-money institution in the UK. A funding round in the summer of 2021 valued the group at $33bn and ensured it did not have to return to the market as tech valuations crumbled last year.

Approximately a third of its revenues in 2021 came from its cryptocurrency trading business, Revolut said. The fintech first made a move into crypto in 2017, ahead of most of its rivals.

…Revolut was required to submit accounts for the year ending December 2021 to Companies House in September 2022. The fintech was then given an extension until the end of December — a deadline it had also failed to meet.


Smoke sighted, now seeking the fire.
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Some personal user experiences • Vitalik Buterin

Buterin, in case you didn’t know, is the founder of Ethereum, the second-biggest cryptocurrency, behind bitcoin:


In 2013, I went to a sushi restaurant beside the Internet Archive in San Francisco, because I had heard that it accepted bitcoin for payments and I wanted to try it out. When it came time to pay the bill, I asked to pay in BTC. I scanned the QR code, and clicked “send”. To my surprise, the transaction did not go through; it appeared to have been sent, but the restaurant was not receiving it. I tried again, still no luck. I soon figured out that the problem was that my mobile internet was not working well at the time. I had to walk over 50 meters toward the Internet Archive nearby to access its wifi, which finally allowed me to send the transaction.

Lesson learned: internet is not 100% reliable, and customer internet is less reliable than merchant internet. We need in-person payment systems to have some functionality (NFC, customer shows a QR code, whatever) to allow customers to transfer their transaction data directly to the merchant if that’s the best way to get it broadcasted.


In the ten years since, do you think it’s got easier to do everyday transactions? He’s got some experiences to tell you about.
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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: The fatality rate for human drivers – including drunk drivers – is 1 per 100 million miles driven, at least in the US. Thanks Ken T for the update. Puts the Waymo data (1 fatality in 1 million miles) into perspective.

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