Start Up No.1988: iPhone thieves’ new target, social media’s coming demise, LLMs hit the wall, India’s spoken commerce, and more

Modern faming uses GPS to plough and plant precisely – which is great until the GPS satellite you rely on goes dark. CC-licensed photo by NRCS Oregon 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. Inaccurate? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

The iPhone setting that thieves use to lock you out of your Apple account • WSJ

Nicole Nguyen and Joanna Stern:


Greg Frasca has been locked out of his Apple account since October, and he’ll do just about anything to get back in.

He has offered to fly from Florida to Apple’s California headquarters to prove his identity in person, or write a check for $10,000 to reclaim the account. It holds the only copies of eight years of photos of his young daughters.

This is all because the thieves who stole Mr. Frasca’s iPhone 14 Pro at a bar in Chicago wanted to drain cash from his bank account and prevent him from remotely tracking down the stolen phone. They used his passcode to change the 46-year-old’s Apple ID password. They also enabled a hard-to-find Apple security setting known as the “recovery key.” In doing so, they placed an impenetrable lock on his account.

In February, we reported that thieves, often in and around bars at night, watch iPhone owners tap in their passcodes, then steal the targets’ phones. With this short four- or six-digit string, criminals can change the Apple account password and rack up thousands of dollars in charges using Apple Pay and financial apps.

Dozens of victims contacted The Wall Street Journal after the report was published, confirming similar crimes in at least nine US cities, including New York, New Orleans, Chicago and Boston. Many are able to get their money back, but those locked out of their Apple accounts by thieves using the recovery key face a bigger challenge: finding a way through Apple’s complex policies and bureaucracy to retrieve their lost photos, contacts, notes, messages and other files.

Apple introduced the optional recovery key in 2020 to protect users from online hackers. Users who turn on the recovery key, a unique 28-digit code, must provide it when they want to reset their Apple ID password.

iPhone thieves with your passcode can flip on the recovery key and lock you out. And if you already have the recovery key enabled, they can easily generate a new one, which also locks you out.

How to protect yourself: Set a complicated passcode. You should always try to use Face ID when in public, but when you can’t, rely on an alphanumeric passcode, which includes letters and numbers. To set it up, go to Settings – Face ID & Passcode – Change Passcode. When selecting a new passcode, tap Passcode Options.

Use parental controls on yourself. [This is the better method – CA] Apple’s Screen Time—which lets parents place limits on their children’s accounts—can also help you protect your Apple account. But you have to enable a Screen Time passcode. (Remember to make that passcode different from your iPhone’s.)

In Settings, go to Screen Time and scroll down to set a passcode, if you haven’t already. Then go to Content & Privacy Restrictions, and toggle on Content & Privacy Restrictions. Scroll down to Allow Changes, then tap on Account Changes and select Don’t Allow.


Nightmare for those hit by this. A problem for Apple, which needs to find a way to beat this.

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Social media is doomed to die • The Verge

Ellis Hamburger was at The Verge, then left to spend seven years at Snapchat before leaving that too:


the other day, I received a push notification from the app telling me to wish my nemesis a happy birthday. This might read as normal or even expected to most of you, but I recognized the notification for what it really was: a death knell for a social media platform past its prime.

From its earliest days, Snap wanted to be a healthier, more ethical social media platform. A place where popularity wasn’t always king and where monetization would be through creative tools that supported users — not ads that burdened them. I preached that friends mattered more than followers and acquaintances and that moments consumed in chronological order (like in real life) were better than those mixed up by an algorithm. And I impressed on new hires that we were building something different from the Facebooks and Twitters of the world and would never resort to their manipulative growth hacking.

This was why I joined Snapchat in the beginning, but in the end, Snap had given in to the most common of growth hacks: a push notification demanding the shallowest of interactions. To me, this notification didn’t indicate an imminent death for Snap’s revenue streams, which could take many years to dwindle, but of its relevance to those of us who use it every day. Because when you’re begging your users to just open the app, something isn’t quite working.


Of course it’s the people who’ve been inside the machine who can tell when it isn’t working right. Fascinating piece.
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OpenAI’s CEO says the age of giant AI models is already over • WIRED

Will Knight:


OpenAI has delivered a series of impressive advances in AI that works with language in recent years by taking existing machine-learning algorithms and scaling them up to previously unimagined size. GPT-4, the latest of those projects, was likely trained using trillions of words of text and many thousands of powerful computer chips. The process cost over $100m.

But the company’s CEO, Sam Altman, says further progress will not come from making models bigger. “I think we’re at the end of the era where it’s going to be these, like, giant, giant models,” he told an audience at an event held at MIT late last week. “We’ll make them better in other ways.”

Altman’s declaration suggests an unexpected twist in the race to develop and deploy new AI algorithms. Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November, Microsoft has used the underlying technology to add a chatbot to its Bing search engine, and Google has launched a rival chatbot called Bard. Many people have rushed to experiment with using the new breed of chatbot to help with work or personal tasks.

Meanwhile, numerous well-funded startups, including Anthropic, AI21, Cohere, and Character.AI, are throwing enormous resources into building ever larger algorithms in an effort to catch up with OpenAI’s technology. The initial version of ChatGPT was based on a slightly upgraded version of GPT-3, but users can now also access a version powered by the more capable GPT-4.

Altman’s statement suggests that GPT-4 could be the last major advance to emerge from OpenAI’s strategy of making the models bigger and feeding them more data. He did not say what kind of research strategies or techniques might take its place. In the paper describing GPT-4, OpenAI says its estimates suggest diminishing returns on scaling up model size. Altman said there are also physical limits to how many data centres the company can build and how quickly it can build them.


So LLMs have already hit their wall: now it’s down to fine tuning. Yet making them more domain-specific could make them far more useful than the generality that we presently see.

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Sweden public radio exits Twitter, says audience already has • Associated Press


Sveriges Radio said on its blog that Twitter has lost its relevance to Swedish audiences. National Public Radio and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, meanwhile, have pointed to Twitter’s new policy of labeling them as government-funded instititutions, saying it undermines their credibility.

“For a long time, Sveriges Radio has de-prioritised its presence on Twitter and has now made the decision to completely stop being active on the platform, at the same time that we are shutting down a number of accounts,” said Christian Gillinger, head of the broadcaster’s social media activities.

He cited a recent study showing only some 7% of Swedes are on Twitter daily and said the platform “has simply changed over the years and become less important for us.”

“The audience has simply chosen other places to be. And therefore Sveriges Radio now chooses to deactivate or delete the last remaining accounts,” Gillinger said.

The broadcaster’s news service, SR Ekot, which has been labeled “publicly funded media,” will remain on Twitter but has been marked inactive.


Had been on Twitter since 2009. Quite possibly this would have happened anyway, though Sveriges Radio also pointed to the “recent turbulence” and indicated concern about the dramatic cuts in Twitter’s workforce.

Anyway, this defection of news outlets is likely to be a slow drain over this year; a dripping tap on an emptying canister.
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National Weather Service accounts were not granted API exemptions by Twitter • Mashable

Matt Binder:


On Friday and throughout the weekend, multiple National Weather Service (NWS) accounts announced that Twitter had removed their API access, which would disrupt crucial potentially life-saving automated emergency updates. The move came as Twitter prepares to transition its currently free API service to a paid subscription model starting at an exorbitant $42,000 per month for Enterprise access.

Twitter users were immediately outraged by the decision. Many advocated for the company to make exemptions for important public service accounts, like the NWS, which provides vital alerts during extreme weather events. Then, suddenly, a few verified “breaking news” Twitter accounts shared an update: Twitter had reversed course. Elon Musk and company was going to make that exception for NWS accounts and allow them access to the API without limits. Media outlets like CNN(opens in a new tab) quickly covered Twitter’s apparent change of heart. Twitter users were jubilant over the news.

Only, it’s not true.

…It appears that the report(opens in a new tab) that Twitter was making an exemption for NWS accounts originated with a Twitter account that goes by the name “T(w)itter Daily News.”

“NEWS: Twitter will allow the National Weather Service accounts to continue Tweeting weather alerts without limits,” the account tweeted on Saturday night. “Great Job @TwitterDev.”


Guess what: the account had a blue tick, which led some lazier folk to assume it was verified – ie real. Instead it was just a paid-for tick. A neat illustration of what Musk has messed up.
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Russian gets 21 years for cheesecake-poisoning of US doppelgänger • Agence France-Presse via The Guardian


A Russian-born woman has was sentenced to 21 years in a US prison for trying to kill her American lookalike with poisoned cheesecake and then stealing her identity.

Viktoria Nasyrova, 47, was found guilty of attempted murder by a New York jury in February.

“A ruthless and calculating con artist is going to prison for a long time for trying to murder her way to personal profit and gain,” the Queens district attorney, Melinda Katz, said in a statement.

Nasyrova visited the home of her then 35-year-old victim in August 2016 bearing the gift of a cheesecake.

At the time, the pair resembled one another – both spoke Russian, had dark hair, the same skin complexion and shared other physical traits – the trial heard.

The woman ate the dessert and began to feel sick before passing out.

The next day, a friend discovered the victim unconscious. Pills were scattered around her to make it look like she had tried to kill herself, prosecutors said.


You’re probably thinking: oh, I read a doppelgänger story here recently, this must be the upshot. Not at all: that one was in Germany, reported about three months ago, and the victim died. Risky thing being a double.
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Paytm speakers help India’s merchants with digital payments • Rest of World

Adnan Bhat:


Abbas Ali, a vegetable vendor in an upscale neighborhood in New Delhi, started accepting digital payments in 2021. But every time a customer paid online, the 48-year-old, who can neither read nor write, would need to call his son to confirm that the payment had been received.

The customers, often in a rush, would get impatient. Ali would have to spend more time attending to them than he had back when he accepted only cash. Eventually, a fellow vendor suggested he subscribe to a “sound box” — a nifty internet-connected device that reads out payment confirmation messages. “Earlier, I had to wait for five to 10 minutes after every transaction to get confirmation,” Ali told Rest of World. “I can now focus on other customers while the payment is being made. I have installed two sound boxes … one from Paytm and the other one from PhonePe.”

The sound box device — first introduced by India’s largest fintech company, Paytm, in 2019 — has been a runaway hit among small Indian businesses. Neighborhood mom-and-pop stores (kiranas) and street vendors, who had traditionally shied away from paying for tech services, have warmed up to the sound box.

The smart device — essentially a speaker bearing the logo of the fintech company facilitating the transactions — comes with a built-in SIM card. Most sound boxes can read out payment confirmation messages in English and multiple Indian languages, such as Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, and Punjabi. In Indian cities and towns, sound boxes can now be seen across diverse businesses — from kiranas and clothing stores to produce carts and shops selling smoking products. 


So simple, so clever, so useful. India was one of the first countries to make heavy use of Google’s voice search facility (and voice readback) on Android phones a decade ago, and Google noticed it. Perhaps this is a missed opportunity for that.

Meanwhile, Rest Of World remains a terrific site, picking up fabulous stories nobody else does.
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Farmers ‘crippled’ by satellite failure as GPS-guided tractors grind to a halt • Sydney Morning Herald

Mike Foley:


Tractors that pull seed-planting machinery, as well as the massive combine harvesters that reap Australia’s vast grain crops, are high-tech beasts that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They are enabled with GPS tracking and can be guided to an accuracy within two centimetres, enabling seed-planting equipment to sow crops with precision to drive up efficiency, prevent wastage and boost environmental sustainability.

All that went out the window when the Inmarsat-41 satellite signal failed.

Katie McRobert, general manager at the Australia Farm Institute, said Australian farmers sourced their GPS signal from one satellite, which was a critical risk to rural industries.

“Having all your GPS eggs in one basket is a vulnerability on a good day, and a fatal weakness on a bad one,” McRobert said.


Had no idea that Inmarsat had any role in GPS navigation; I thought it was all the US constellation. Explains why I’m not a farmer.
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Taylor Swift didn’t sign $100m FTX sponsorship because she was the only one to ask about unregistered securities, lawyer says • Business Insider

Pete Syme:


Taylor Swift avoided signing a $100m sponsorship deal with FTX because she was the only celebrity to question the crypto exchange, according to the lawyer handling a class-action lawsuit against several FTX promoters.

Adam Moskowitz appeared on “The Scoop” podcast to discuss the lawsuit, and said that the plaintiffs are seeking over $5bn from FTX’s celebrity endorsers, including Shaquille O’Neal, Tom Brady, and Larry David.

The lawyer alleged that celebrities didn’t do their due diligence to check whether FTX was breaking the law. “The one person I found that did that was Taylor Swift,” Moskowitz told The Scoop’s Frank Chaparro, adding that Swift pulled out of the deal and never promoted the now-bankrupt exchange

The singer – whose father used to work for Merrill Lynch – began discussing the $100m tour sponsorship with FTX in the fall of 2021, per the Financial Times.

The terms included selling tickets as NFTs, although FTX marketing staff told the Times that “no one really liked the deal” and they thought it was “too expensive from the beginning.”

“In our discovery, Taylor Swift actually asked them: ‘Can you tell me that these are not unregistered securities?'” Moskowitz said.


Suspect Swift’s father might have had just something to do with that query.
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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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