Start Up No.1972: Twitter Blue’s low expectations, Google’s pointer on results, Clearview use grows in US, and more

What will people in the US hook up to Amazon’s new low-power network in their neighbourhood? Something to open their garage door, maybe? CC-licensed photo by XoMEoXXoMEoX 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 10 links for you. Opening soon. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Half of Twitter Blue subscribers have fewer than 1,000 followers • Mashable

Matt Binder:


Twitter power users have often criticized Twitter Blue subscribers. After all, they say, who pays for a free website? Well, thanks to some new data, we now know a little more about the accounts that subscribe to Twitter Blue.

Researcher Travis Brown, who has been tracking Twitter Blue subscriptions since January, recently revealed around half of all users subscribed to Twitter Blue have less than 1,000 followers. That’s approximately 220,132 paying subscribers.

Furthermore, 78,059 paying Twitter Blue subscribers have less than 100 users following their account. That’s 17.6% of all Twitter Blue subscribers.

Breaking down follower counts even further, there are 2,270 paying Twitter Blue subscribers who have zero followers.

That’s a significant chunk of Twitter Blue subscribers being unable to crack even four-digits worth of followers, even though some have subscribed believing it would help boost the growth of their Twitter account.

…According to his data, Twitter Blue currently has a total of 444,435 paying subscribers. Accounting for the limitations of pulling this data using the Twitter API, Brown tells Mashable that he estimates that Twitter likely has around 475,000 paying subscribers.


That adds up to less than $46m per year from all those subscribers, and there’s zero evidence that the rate of uptake is increasing. The 475,000 figure is about 0.2% of Twitter daily active users: 2 in every thousand. And with “verification” for verified people going away next month, there’s even less point in being “verified”.
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Amazon has just opened up its Sidewalk network to give any gadget free low speed data • The Verge

Jennifer Pattison Tuohy:


It turns out that I have a low-power, low-bandwidth, long-range IoT network all around me, ready and waiting for my smart gadgets to jump on. Today, Amazon revealed just how far its Sidewalk IoT network penetrates the average American neighborhood.

…The company’s first Sidewalk coverage map claims that over 90% of the US population can access the now-public network (it’s limited to the US only). Using a Sidewalk developer test kit supplied by Amazon, I drove around my town to confirm this data and, over three days of traveling more than 40 miles, found that the connectivity was surprisingly strong in my corner of South Carolina, even in the wilds of a national forest.  

Amazon has released this data in conjunction with the official opening of Sidewalk to developers. First announced in 2019, Amazon Sidewalk is a new low-power, wide-area network (LPWAN) that Amazon believes will help enable the next wave of connected devices. It’s not designed to replace cellular data for high-bandwidth devices but to be used instead of expensive LTE or 5G connectivity on gadgets that don’t need that much data and where paying $10 or more a month for data is excessive.

Currently, Sidewalk mainly exists to help Ring cameras send motion notifications even when they’re offline and allow Level smart locks to connect to the internet without the need for battery-sapping Wi-Fi radios. Amazon has also developed a few early partnerships, including with CareBand, which developed a wearable health tracker. Now, Amazon wants others to build devices that use the free network.

All you need to do is request a test kit — a small gray wireless device with Ring branding on it — gauge if the connectivity in the area you want to deploy your product is sufficient, and you can start building.

…What type of consumer IoT devices could benefit from Sidewalk? Think dog trackers, package trackers, soil moisture sensors, weather stations, leak sensors, mailbox sensors, pill bottles, solar panel controllers, garage door controllers, and anything else that doesn’t always live somewhere Wi-Fi is a given.


Sounds pretty exciting, in a low-key, fill-in-the-blanks join-the-dots way. That, though, often leads to new possibilities when something becomes newly adjacent – like smartphones + GPS meaning Uber.

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A quick way to learn more about your search results • Google Blog

JK Kearns, product manager for Google Search:


When you search for information on Google, you probably often come across results from sources that you’re familiar with: major retailer websites, national news sites and more.

But there’s also a ton of great information on and services available from sites that you may not have come across before. And while you can always use Google to do some additional research about those sites, we’re working on a new way for you to find helpful info without having to do another search.

Starting today, next to most results on Google, you’ll begin to see a menu icon that you can tap to learn more about the result or feature and where the information is coming from. With this additional context, you can make a more informed decision about the sites you may want to visit and what results will be most useful for you.

When available, you’ll see a description of the website from Wikipedia, which provides free, reliable information about tens of millions of sites on the web. Based on Wikipedia’s open editing model, which relies on thousands of global volunteers to add content, these descriptions will provide the most up-to-date verified and sourced information available on Wikipedia about the site. If it’s a site you haven’t heard of before, that additional information can give you context or peace of mind, especially if you’re looking for something important, like health or financial information.


Will people use these much? I suspect that this is a precursor to showing the “About” information by default once AI-generated sites become rife, or making the trustworthiness (which Google has already decided) more visible.
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Opinion: We will stop at nothing to protect the children • The Washington Post

This piece is by Alexandra Petri, the Washington Post’s go-to writer for withering irony (think of an American version of Marina Hyde and you’re there, though without the tabloid showbiz allusions). You need to read this piece to get its effect; an extract won’t work.
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Clearview AI used nearly one million times by US police, it tells the BBC • BBC News

James Clayton and Ben Derico:


Facial recognition firm Clearview has run nearly a million searches for US police, its founder has told the BBC.

CEO Hoan Ton-That also revealed Clearview now has 30bn images scraped from platforms such as Facebook, taken without users’ permissions.

The company has been repeatedly fined millions of dollars in Europe and Australia for breaches of privacy.

Critics argue that the police’s use of Clearview puts everyone into a “perpetual police line-up”.

“Whenever they have a photo of a suspect, they will compare it to your face,” says Matthew Guaragilia from the Electronic Frontier Foundation says. “It’s far too invasive.”

The figure of a million searches comes from Clearview and has not been confirmed by police. But in a rare admission, Miami Police has confirmed to the BBC it uses this software for every type of crime.
Clearview’s system allows a law enforcement customer to upload a photo of a face and find matches in a database of billions of images it has collected.

It then provides links to where matching images appear online. It is considered one of the most powerful and accurate facial recognition companies in the world.

…In a rare interview with law enforcement about the effectiveness of Clearview, Miami Police said they used the software for every type of crime, from murders to shoplifting. Assistant Chief of Police Armando Aguilar said his team used the system about 450 times a year, and that it had helped solve several murders.


If it really did solve murders (rather than give the police someone who they could believably charge), that’s something to consider.
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The scammer tricking instagram into banning influencer accounts • ProPublica

Craig Silverman and Bianca Fortis:


Account banning is just one of several lucrative schemes that prey on Instagram, which is uniquely important for celebrities, entrepreneurs, influencers and anyone seeking clout and status. Last year, a ProPublica investigation exposed a million-dollar operation that saw people pay $25,000 or more to fraudulently obtain verified accounts.

The verification badge, a blue tick added next to an account’s name, is applied to accounts that Instagram determines are authentic, unique, complete and notable. Verified accounts can charge more for sponsored posts, are given prominence by Instagram’s algorithms, and are seen as more difficult for people like [the scammer] OBN to take down. The ProPublica story prompted Meta to remove verification badges from hundreds of accounts.

OBN has said that he can take down verified accounts. “If you want someone smoked we talk 4 figures or nothing,” he wrote in his Telegram channel. In a separate post, he offered to create verified accounts for a $15,000 fee.

Meta has acknowledged that it needs to invest more in customer support. In February, founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that Meta would offer people the ability to pay for account verification and enhanced support, including “​​access to a real person for common account issues.” The Meta spokesperson said the company has invested in new account security and recovery measures, including a tool to help users who’ve been hacked. It’s also giving more users an opportunity to complain to a human agent rather than a bot.

The 1996 federal Communications Decency Act generally exempts platforms from legal liability related to the behavior of their users. However, the Federal Trade Commission has required several online platforms to bolster their security.


It’s a detailed piece, which gives you a glimpse of the colossal amounts of money spinning off Instagram – which even so offers effectively zero protection to those accounts.
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Britain’s heat pump uptake among worst in Europe, study shows • BNN Bloomberg

Celia Bergin:


Heat pumps may be essential to Britain’s ambitions to cut emissions and reduce exposure to volatile energy markets, but sales are stubbornly low and uptake of the low-carbon technology is among the worst in Europe. 

That’s according to the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank, which found that Finland has sold more than 40 times as many heat pumps per 100,000 people than the UK. Even France, a relative newcomer to the market, has increased installations 12-fold compared with Britain. 

This is despite a government pledge of £450m ($554m) to help people upgrade natural gas boilers to heat pumps in order to meet a target of 600,000 new fittings each year by 2028. If installed at the same rate to 2032 as Norway, one of Europe’s leaders in heat pump sales, the technology could displace 70% of UK domestic gas usage, according to ECIU’s analysis.


Why is Finland so much better at this? The UK’s figure is 88 per 100,000 people; Finland’s more than 4,000. The UK’s is about one-third that of the next worst, Slovakia.
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European ammunition maker says plant expansion hit by energy-guzzling TikTok site • Financial Times

Richard Milne:


Nammo, which is co-owned by the Norwegian government and a Finnish state-controlled defence company, has been told there is no surplus energy for its Raufoss plant in central Norway as a data centre that counts the social media platform as its main customer is using up the electricity in the region.

“We are concerned because we see our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos,” Morten Brandtzæg, Nammo chief executive, told the Financial Times.

Demand for ammunition has surged thanks to the war in Ukraine, which is using about 6,000 rounds per day — equivalent to the annual orders from a small European country — and would like to fire 65,000 if it could, according to Nammo.

Brandtzæg said demand for artillery rounds was more than 15 times higher than normal. The European ammunition industry needs to invest €2bn in new factories just to keep up with the demand from Ukraine, let alone other European countries, according to the Nammo chief executive. “We see an extraordinary demand for our products which we have never seen before in our history,” he said.

TikTok is building three data centres this year with the option of adding two more by 2025 in Hamar, 25km to the east of Raufoss, Norwegian data centre provider Green Mountain said this month.

Asked whether it was coincidence that a Chinese-owned company was stopping a defence company’s expansion, Brandtzæg replied: “I will not rule out that it’s not by pure coincidence that this activity is close to a defence company. I can’t rule it out.”


“Our future growth is challenged by the storage of cat videos” deserves to be on a plaque somewhere.
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US regulator sues crypto exchange Binance and boss Changpeng Zhao • The Guardian

Dan Milmo:


Gretchen Lowe, the CFTC’s chief counsel, said Binance had put profits ahead of complying with the law. The complaint alleges that Binance has broken the law by offering commodity derivatives transactions – which effectively place a bet on the price of a cryptocurrency rather than buying it directly – to US customers since July 2019, despite not being registered with the CFTC.

Lowe said: “Defendants’ alleged wilful evasion of US law is at the core of the commission’s complaint against Binance. The defendants’ own emails and chats reflect that Binance’s compliance efforts have been a sham and Binance deliberately chose – over and over – to place profits over following the law.”

Howard Fischer, a partner at New York law firm Moses & Singer, said the CFTC action showed US regulators are taking concerted action against cryptocurrency exchanges, after the US financial watchdog – the Securities and Exchange Commission – said it was considering potential enforcement action against Coinbase.

“In conjunction with the SEC’s expected enforcement action against Coinbase, it looks like US regulators are taking steps to shutter or at least significantly restrict the US activities of the major remaining crypto exchanges,” he said.


Feels like a “last one to leave, turn the lights out” moment. Although the price of bitcoin hasn’t collapsed, and it’s hard to see how much effect this would have on Binance’s activity outside the US, there’s a certain fin de siecle feel to these events.
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Eye drops recalled as bacteria causes people to go blind • The Portsmouth News

Chelsie Sewell:


Three people have died, and 68 people  left blind, after using eye drops contaminated with deadly bacteria. Artificial tears manufactured by EzriCare were confirmed to be contaminated with P. aeruginosa, a disease only usually found in hospitals, causing panic across the US.

EzriCare’s Artificial Tears was recalled in January over links to eye infections. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an urgent warning at the time over the products made by India-based Global Pharma.

Testing by the agency found the drug-resistant strain of P. aeruginosa — which usually spreads in hospitals — in open bottles collected from patients. The droplets are the cause of numerous eye infections across up to 16 states – with cases dating back as far back as May 2022.

They include at least one reported fatality and several more that caused ‘permanent blindness’. The agency still does not know whether the drops were contaminated during manufacturing or after they had left the factory.


Absolutely terrifying and incredible that this could be allowed to go on for so long. Contrast this with the astonishing precautions being taken in the UK over Night Nurse and Day Nurse, which contain a cough suppressant called pholcodine, and which are being taken off pharmacy shelves because – follow this – people can have a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction” if they’ve taken it up to a year before and then are given general anaesthetic involving neuromuscular blocking agents. Who found that causal chain?
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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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