Start Up No.1993: UK blocks Microsoft-Activision merger, AI spam reviews are here, the true value of Waystar Royco, and more

Life in the Bronze Age was stable, and above all never at risk of changing from year to year. Just like our own? CC-licensed photo by Karsten Wentink 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. Why yes, it’s a sword. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. On Mastodon: Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition blocked by UK regulators • The Verge

Tom Warren:


Microsoft’s $68.7bn deal to acquire Activision Blizzard has been blocked by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). After months of analysing three million Microsoft and Activision documents, and more than 2,100 emails from the public, the CMA has concluded that the deal could “alter the future of the fast-growing cloud gaming market, leading to reduced innovation and less choice for UK gamers over the years to come.”

The final decision is a blow to Microsoft’s hopes of acquiring Activision Blizzard. “Microsoft has a strong position in cloud gaming services and the evidence available to the CMA showed that Microsoft would find it commercially beneficial to make Activision’s games exclusive to its own cloud gaming service,” says the CMA.

The CMA estimates that Microsoft controls around 60% to 70% of global cloud gaming services and that adding control over Call of Duty, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft would give Microsoft a significant advantage in the cloud gaming market.

Microsoft had attempted to address concerns around cloud gaming in the lead up to this decision. The software giant signed cloud gaming deals with Boosteroid, Ubitus, and Nvidia to allow Xbox PC games to run on these rival cloud gaming services — after striking a similar deal with Nintendo in December. These 10-year deals also include access to Call of Duty and other Activision Blizzard games, if the deal is approved by regulators.

The CMA says it has examined these deals, but that they contain “a number of significant shortcomings” in cloud gaming services.


Analysing that volume of documents and emails is a hell of a task; writing a 415-page report which goes into detail for all the possible remedies is quite the feat.

Activision Blizzard is very annoyed about this, saying the UK is “clearly closed for business”. Time will tell, but to me preventing market concentration is always a good thing for a regulator to do.
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AI spam is already flooding the internet and it has an obvious tell • Vice

Matthew Gault:


ChatGPT and GPT-4 are already flooding the internet with AI-generated content in places famous for hastily written inauthentic content: Amazon user reviews and Twitter. 

When you ask ChatGPT to do something it’s not supposed to do, it returns several common phrases. When I asked ChatGPT to tell me a dark joke, it apologized: “As an AI language model, I cannot generate inappropriate or offensive content,” it said. Those two phrases, “as an AI language model” and “I cannot generate inappropriate content,” recur so frequently in ChatGPT generated content that they’ve become memes.

These terms can reasonably be used to identify lazily executed ChatGPT spam by searching for them across the internet.

A search of Amazon reveals what appear to be fake user reviews generated by ChatGPT or another similar bot. Many user reviews feature the phrase “as an AI language model.” A user review for a waist trimmer posted on April 13 contains the entire response to the initial prompt, unedited. “Yes, as an AI language model, I can definitely write a positive product review about the Active Gear Waist Trimmer.”

Another user posted a negative review for precision rings, a foam band marketed as a trainer for people playing first person shooters on a controller. “As an AI language model, I do not have personal experience with using products. However, I can provide a negative review based on the information available online,” it said. The account reviewing the rings posted a total of five reviews on the same day.


Fake reviews? There should be a law against it! Perhaps the UK government…?
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New rules ban subscription traps and fake reviews • BBC News

Zoe Kleinman:


Buying, selling or hosting fake reviews will become illegal as part of changes planned in new laws.

The UK government’s new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill aims to help consumers and increase competition between big tech firms.

The bill is being introduced on Tuesday and bans people receiving money or free goods for writing glowing reviews. Firms will also have to remind people when free subscription trials end.

The bill, which has been in the making since 2021, also seeks to end the tech giants’ current market dominance. Its creators have said they want to manage the way in which a handful of huge tech companies dominate the market – although none is specifically named yet, and will be selected after a period of investigation of up to nine months.

It does not matter in which country they are based, and firms headquartered in China will also be included if they are found to be in scope.

The newly formed Digital Markets Unit, which will be part of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will then be given certain powers to open up a specific market depending on the situation.


Great idea, though it’s pretty hard to believe that this is going to get through Parliament in the 18 months or so before the general election due before the end of 2024. (April and October 2024 are the favoured dates.)
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AI used photographer’s photos for training, then slapped him with an invoice • DIY Photography

Dunja Djudjic:


Earlier this year, German stock photographer Robert Kneschke used Have I Been Trained?, a website that tells you if your photos were used to train AI image generators. He discovered many of his images in the dataset of LAION, a non-profit that makes large-scale machine learning models, datasets, and code. As Profi Foto reports, Knescke asked ​​Laion to remove his work from the training data. But he got a response he didn’t expect: a letter from a law firm Heidrich Rechtsanwälte on behalf of LAION. What’s more, the company allegedly reached out to other photographers with the letter in almost the same form.

In the letter, LAION’s attorney claims that the non-profit is “doing voluntary research with the aim of further developing self-learning algorithms in the sense of artificial intelligence and making them available to the general public,” and that they “do not violate copyright or data protection law.”

LAION “only maintains a database containing links to image files that are publicly available on the Internet, the letter alleges, “but not the image data itself,” Because of this, the company’s attorney claims that the photographer has no right to request image deletion. “There are simply no pictures of our client that could be deleted,” says Heidrich Rechtsanwälte.

“We also point out that our client can assert claims for damages in accordance with Section 97a (4) UrhG if they are unjustified in terms of copyright,” the law firm reportedly told the photographer. And this is exactly what happened. LAION lawyers are now reportedly demanding almost €900 (~$1000 USD) from Kneschke while LAION continues to use his pictures.


What I think this story happens not to mention – except at the end, in a quote from Kneschke – is that he must have included a legal threat, and possibly mention of payment for breach of copyright, in the letter sent to LAION. That’s why its lawyers fired back. Of course if it goes to court it will be up to Kneschke to prove any breach, which might be tricky. It’s essentially the same thing as Getty’s case against Stable Diffusion: is the data actually trapped inside there?
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Boy groomed on Twitter and abducted after Musk takeover • NBC News

Ben Goggin:


The 13-year-old Utah boy hung out in the typical online spaces for someone his age: The chat app Discord. The gaming platform Roblox. And, of course, Twitter. 

But for more than two months last year, on those very platforms, the boy was being sexually groomed by an adult who was 13 years older and hundreds of miles away. It started in private messages then moved into public view on Twitter.

It ended in a horror story. The boy’s father went to check on him one night and found him missing, his window open, the bedroom freezing. The boy was allegedly abducted by the man accused of grooming him, driven across state lines, and, prosecutors said, repeatedly sexually assaulted.

Heather and Ken McConney, the boy’s parents, told NBC News that they believe the kidnapping was preventable. It came after a series of missed opportunities over the span of nearly a month, where, they said, Twitter and law enforcement failed to effectively intervene despite an abundance of information posted online. They’re demanding answers.

“I need to move forward and figure out what the hell happened,” Heather said. “Where did the ball get dropped?”

…The case illustrates how easily online predators can avoid detection online, even on the internet’s most recognized platforms. In a mountain of content, tech platforms sometimes struggle to detect and respond to real threats to children.

It also highlights the sometimes bold and grandiose security statements made by tech platform executives and managers, despite the problems those companies face every day. As the boy was being groomed, and over a month before his abduction, Elon Musk said that addressing child exploitation on Twitter was “Priority #1,” alleging he’d inherited a platform on which child exploitation was previously allowed to run rampant.

Ella Irwin, Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, provided an accounting of the company’s interactions with law enforcement in the case, but declined to address specific questions about the days leading up to the abduction. 


One element I’ve cut for length there is that the police dropped the ball: they misspelt the username on a search warrant sent to Twitter 25 days before the abduction, and took “several weeks” to notice and correct it. (Two? Three?) That doesn’t mean Musk was wrong, since this clearly predated his takeover; nor that Twitter was lazy afterward.
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Congress gets 40 ChatGPT Plus licenses to start experimenting with generative AI • FedScoop

John Hewitt Jones:


Congressional offices have begun using OpenAI’s popular and controversial generative AI tool ChatGPT to experiment with the technology internally, a senior official within the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer’s House Digital Services said Friday.

The House recently created a new AI working group for staff to test and share new AI tools in the congressional office environment and now the House of Representatives‘ digital service has obtained 40 licenses for ChatGPT Plus, which were distributed earlier this month.

The purchase of the licenses comes amid widespread debate over how artificial intelligence technology should be used and regulated across the private sector and within government. This represents one of the earliest examples of ChatGPT being used as part of the policymaking process.

The 40 licenses were assigned on a first-come first-served basis, and House Digital Services will pay the $20/month per office subscription plan for an indefinite period of time, according to the official. Details of which Congressional offices have received the ChatGPT Plus licenses will remain anonymous for now. 

…“Oftentimes members are experimenting with things, new tools, in their own ways and we just want to be in the loop on that. We want to help facilitate that experimentation,” the official said.

They added: “There are so many different use cases for ChatGPT but what we’ve heard is at the top of the list for Congressional offices is creating and summarising content.”


“Creating and summarising content”, eh? Wonder how many speeches will be helped along by this. (One politician has already done this back in January, after all.)
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It’s 1178 BCE and the Bronze Age has never looked stronger. No, I won’t lift my eyes to the horizon right now • The Chatner

Daniel Lavery:


It’s 1178 BCE and the sun never sets on the Ugaritic Empire/Kassite Federation/Old Babylonion Empire/Ugaritic trade network! And it’s all thanks to bronze, the hardest and most durable metal to ever come down the pike. Yes, whether you’re looking to smelt or cast, whether you need an ingot or a rhyton, a double-headed Cretan axe, some grave goods for your strongest grandmother, or a brazier-fitted statue of Kronos to give just the right finishing touch to your tophet, you simply can’t do better than bronze. And demand isn’t likely to die down anytime soon!  

Linear A will simply never be replaced, alphabetically speaking. Absolutely undefeated script. For practicality and ease of communication, you can’t do much better than a stylus cutting lines into soft clay, the final and best innovation over a stylus pressing wedges into soft clay.


This builds and builds, as you realise how many assumptions folk in 1178 BCE (or so) were making about how everything’s going to be just the same next year as this. Which of course leads you to look around at the assumptions you were making a year or two years ago or in 2019 about how next year would look.

Which, in turn, raises the question of what assumptions about right now you’re making that are flat-out wrong.
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April 26 1993: Recession over – it’s official • BBC On This Day


April 1993: The government has reacted with relief to news that Britain’s economy grew by 0.2% in the first three months of this year, and declared the longest recession since the 1930s officially over.

The figures, from the Central Statistical Office, show a 0.2% rise in gross domestic product (GDP), and a 0.6% increase in activity in the onshore economy, excluding oil and gas production.

It’s the first sign of growth in the economy for over two years. The recession has been longer, but less severe, than the last one in the 1980s. Output has fallen by 3.9%, compared with a 5.5% fall last time.

Prime Minister John Major called on industry to make the most of the “unparalleled opportunities” offered by the combination of low inflation and interest rates, and a competitive exchange rate.

The Chancellor, Norman Lamont, was also upbeat, saying the figures were “the best evidence so far that the economy is recovering across a broad front.”


Grandpa-Munsters lookalike Lamont had been derided for having earlier said that he was sure he could see “the green shoots of recovery” in 1991, ahead of the coming 1992 election, when things were very bleak. But with an election won the year before, and the country heading towards growth while Labour’s new leader John Smith struggled to assert himself on his party, surely for the Tories everything was coming up Milhouse?
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Election greeters mean voter ID impact may not be known, Labour says • The Guardian

Peter Walker:


Labour has said it may prove impossible to know how many people are turned away at next week’s local elections for not having identity documents, after it emerged that officials outside polling stations will not be making a count of those unable to vote.

While clerks inside polling stations will take a formal register of those who cannot vote because they lack the correct photo ID, some venues will place other staff outside as so-called greeters, who will remind people about the need for ID before they go in.

These greeters will not take a note of the number of people who leave when told about the requirements, the Electoral Commission has confirmed, meaning the total number of potentially disfranchised voters may never be known.

Ten days before the first mass use of voter ID in a UK election outside Northern Ireland, there is also concern about the very low take-up of a free, government-issued document intended to help people excluded because they lack a passport, driving licence or other permitted type of ID.

While government estimates suggest that more than 2 million people around the UK lack up-to-date photo ID, just 55,316 people had applied online for a so-called voter authority certificate as of Sunday, 48 hours before applications close.

The numbers applying from older and younger demographics – those seen as particularly likely to be without the necessary ID – are especially low. Just 2,025 people aged 75-plus applied, and 3,334 aged under 25.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said the number of applications so far was “lower than we might have expected”.


At the close of applications on Wednesday 5pm, a total of 63,279 had applied for ID; that’s about 3% of the two million people who lack the necessary photo ID. You can see people – or perhaps bots? – still trying to apply. That page shows breakdowns by date, age and nation. Notably, it’s the 45-54 and 55-64 age who made up more than half of applications in the past week; those under 25, just 6.6%.
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Everything you don’t actually need to know about the economics of Succession • Financial Times

Louis Ashworth:


Succession is a show about a business. For three-and-a-bit seasons, the saga of Waystar Royco — a storied but creaking media giant led by ageing mogul Logan Roy and his squabbling spawn — has entranced audiences with familial betrayal, corporate intrigue, withering put-downs and Cousin Greg.

Despite the sound, fury and personal drama, in a strictly business sense . . . not much has actually happened. Still, it has got a bit confusing, and even seasoned financial analysts or FT columnists could be forgiven for losing track of things. So FT Alphaville sat down for a fevered quasi-binge of the show and tried to make sense of Succession’s financial plotline(s).

We’re gonna try to answer some key questions:

— What is Waystar worth and how is it run?
— Who owns Waystar shares?
— What is Waystar’s share price and why does it matter?
— How rich are the Roy kids?


If you’re interested in Succession, you might enjoy this attempt to see if the numbers that get thrown around actually tie together. There are very major spoilers for the latest (final) season, up to episode 4, but not beyond (because things get even tastier, money-wise, in episode 5 which aired earlier this week).

Of course, given how careful Succession is about all the details – they even consulted on how you’d tell if someone who came to a rich peoples’ party just didn’t fit in, and having a capacious bag was one – then of course the fine points hold together. Well, mostly. A pity the FT couldn’t get a Quad Squad onto this one, but ehh.
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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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