About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".

Start Up No.1,091: Google pushes RCS, China’s organ scandal, social media v drugs trials, YouTube v its Kids app, and more

What if they’re watching you all the time? CC-licensed photo by Fred Barr on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Crypto? What’s that? (Let’s decide tomorrow.) I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google is finally taking charge of the RCS rollout – The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


We’ve been hearing about RCS, the replacement for SMS texting, for over a year now, but actually using the next-generation service has been nearly impossible due to complicated carrier and phone maker politics. But now Google is taking over: later this month, Android users in the UK and France will be able to opt in to RCS Chat services provided directly by Google instead of waiting for their carrier to support it.

That seems like yet another minor status check-in on the service meant to replace SMS, but in fact it’s a huge shift in strategy: as Google rolls this offering out to more countries, it should eventually mean that RCS will become universally available for all Android users.

For the first time in years, Google will directly offer a better default texting experience to Android users instead of waiting for cellphone carriers to do it. It’s not quite the Google equivalent of an iMessage service for Android users, but it’s close. Not knowing when or if RCS Chat would be available for your phone was RCS’s second biggest problem, and Google is fixing it.

RCS’s biggest problem is that messages are still not end-to-end encrypted. iMessage, WhatsApp, and Signal are secured in that way, and even Facebook has said it will make all its apps encrypted by default. Google’s chat solution is increasingly looking out of touch — even immoral.


Immoral is maybe overplaying it, but the reality is that if you’re communicating with someone you know then you’ll almost certainly be using one of those three services (or perhaps also Telegram). RCS is too late. Google’s never had a sensible comms strategy.
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China is harvesting organs from detainees, tribunal concludes • The Guardian

Owen Bowcott:


An independent tribunal sitting in London has concluded that the killing of detainees in China for organ transplants is continuing, and victims include imprisoned followers of the Falun Gong movement.

The China Tribunal, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was a prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said in a unanimous determination at the end of its hearings it was “certain that Falun Gong as a source – probably the principal source – of organs for forced organ harvesting”.

“The conclusion shows that very many people have died indescribably hideous deaths for no reason, that more may suffer in similar ways and that all of us live on a planet where extreme wickedness may be found in the power of those, for the time being, running a country with one of the oldest civilisations known to modern man.”

He added: “There is no evidence of the practice having been stopped and the tribunal is satisfied that it is continuing.”

The tribunal has been taking evidence from medical experts, human rights investigators and others.

Among those killed, it has been alleged, are members of religious minorities such as Falun Gong.


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This $3.2bn industry could turn millions of surveillance cameras into an army of robot security guards • American Civil Liberties Union

Jay Stanley is the ACLU’s senior policy analyst:


Today we’re publishing a report on a $3.2 billion industry building a technology known as “video analytics,” which is starting to augment surveillance cameras around the world and has the potential to turn them into just that kind of nightmarish army of unblinking watchers.

Using cutting-edge, deep learning-based AI, the science is moving so fast that early versions of this technology are already starting to enter our lives. Some of our cars now come equipped with dashboard cameras that can sound alarms when a driver starts to look drowsy. Doorbell cameras today can alert us when a person appears on our doorstep. Cashier-less stores use AI-enabled cameras that monitor customers and automatically charge them when they pick items off the shelf.

In the report, we looked at where this technology has been deployed, and what capabilities companies are claiming they can offer. We also reviewed scores of papers by computer vision scientists and other researchers to see what kinds of capabilities are being envisioned and developed. What we found is that the capabilities that computer scientists are pursuing, if applied to surveillance and marketing, would create a world of frighteningly perceptive and insightful computer watchers monitoring our lives.

Cameras that collect and store video just in case it is needed are being transformed into devices that can actively watch us, often in real time.


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Social media can threaten medical experiments • The Conversation

David Teira:


In the 1980s, the test of AZT, the first successful retroviral against AIDS, gave a hint of what could happen when patients coordinate. Many US-based AIDS patients had taken part in the gay rights campaigns of the 1970s. They entered the fight with AIDS as a community and when the AZT trial came up they acted together. Nobody wanted to take the placebo, so patients swapped pills, had them analysed by chemists and dropped out of the experiment if they could not access AZT. They broke the trial protocol in a way that made the US Food and Drug Administration reconsider its testing standards. The trial was also terminated early.

This degree of coordination between patients was until recently the exception. Digital networks might now transform the exception into the rule. Patient communities have grown greatly on the internet, ranging from simple mailing lists or Facebook groups to dedicated websites. PatientsLikeMe is one such digital platform: in 2011-2012 a group of ALS patients taking part in an early clinical trial used its message boards to share their experiences in the test, unblinding the treatment they were receiving and breaking the protocol.

Some also took a homebrew solution designed to mimic the experimental drug during the experiment. Despite that, the original trial and the parallel experiment were completed. Researchers from the platform PatientsLikeMe, however, warned about the risks of taking homebrew compounds and called for a debate on how patients and researchers could work together.


So it’s not new, just easier.
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How YouTube is trying to fix its Kids app without ruining it • Fast Company

Jared Newman:


I started to wonder why YouTube Kids doesn’t just put humans in charge of the curation. YouTube’s algorithms have caused a lot of damage in other areas–most notably, by recommending conspiracy theories, political extremism, and even, as the New York Times recently reported, the kind of videos of children that pedophiles might want to watch–but video for kids is arguably the one area where abandoning them makes the most sense. Doing so would eliminate any risk of surfacing inappropriate content, and could allow the app to become a kind of highlight reel for a diverse range of videos from across YouTube proper. (According to Bloomberg, some people inside YouTube even advocated for this approach, unsuccessfully.)

Alicia Blum-Ross, YouTube’s global public policy lead for kids and families, counters that without machine-driven recommendations, YouTube Kids wouldn’t be able to catch all the edge cases that drive people to the app in the first place.

As an example, she once interviewed a Brazilian and Portuguese family living in London, and found that they watched videos in Portuguese on YouTube Kids so the children could learn to speak the same language as their relatives. She also talked to a family that would watch hair braiding videos at the end of the day, which ended up becoming a bonding experience. “Would a whitelisted version have French-braiding hair? How long would your list have to be to think of all those different use cases?” Blum-Ross asks.

In lieu of changing the fundamental way that it operates, YouTube has bolted more layers of parental control onto to YouTube Kids, which is officially the only way that children under 13 are supposed to access the site. (Unlike regular YouTube, the YouTube Kids app doesn’t allow comments or video uploads, doesn’t show interest-based ads, and requires explicit permission from parents to meet federal guidelines on collecting data from children.)

For instance, parents can now set up individual profiles for their kids, each with their own viewing preferences and age ranges. And last year, YouTube Kids added an option to disable search and recommendations entirely…


Quoting that example about the hair braiding feels like misdirection. It’s hard to argue that YouTube is a boon to kids’ lives overall, so find one example that is and quote the hell out of it.
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Inside Huawei’s secretive plans to develop an operating system to rival Google’s Android • South China Morning Post



Huawei’s self-developed OS would be able to support a range of products and systems within its ecosystem, including smartphones, computers, tablets, TVs, automobiles and smart wear, which would also be compatible with all Android applications and existing web applications, Yu was quoted as saying in a Securities Times report published on May 21.

“The Huawei OS is likely to hit the market as soon as this fall, and no later than spring next year,” Yu said in a WeChat group discussion. Although the screenshot of the conversation has been widely circulated on Chinese media, Huawei has declined to verify the information.

“I am not able to reveal more information beyond Yu’s remarks,” Zhao Ming, president of Honor, one of Huawei’s two smartphone brands, told reporters in Shanghai last month, when asked for an update on the proprietary OS.

Questions remain though over potential user experience issues and whether overseas customers will actually want a phone without popular Google apps.

Google’s Android and Apple’s proprietary iOS have a stranglehold on smartphone operating systems, accounting for 99.9% of the global market [outside China], according to Gartner estimates last year.

Huawei was confident of its OS prospects in China as it believed developers and local consumers would support and build up the ecosystem quickly, the sources said. Huawei’s sales have continued to rise in the country as the Android system used on the mainland has never carried Google services, to comply with government restrictions.

But Bloomberg reported on June 5 that consumer fear in Europe that Huawei phones would quickly become out of date has meant demand for its devices has “dropped off a cliff” in some markets there, according to analysts.

“It is not the best time to introduce an OS as Huawei would have liked to try it when they have an even bigger market share,” one analyst said. “Domestically it may be OK, but the company remains concerned about the international response.”


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“Chernobyl” miniseries on HBO illuminates deceit of Trump era • The Intercept

Peter Maass:


The theme of lies — the destruction of truth by a regime devoted to self-preservation — pervades “Chernobyl” in a way that is wildly relevant to America in the age of birtherism, Sarah Sanders, and “very fine people” who are neo-Nazis. The corollary is unmistakable. At one point, an engineer who is partly culpable for the nuclear accident tells an investigator that her search for honesty, and his desire to avoid a firing squad, are futile. “You think the right question will get you the truth?” he says. “There is no truth. Ask the bosses whatever you want. You will get the lie, and I will get the bullet.”

“Chernobyl” can be considered the best political film of our times because it illuminates a core problem of the Trump era: the nonstop jackhammer of falsehoods that are drowning out what’s true. The risk is that Americans who are inundated with moral rubbish from the White House and Fox News may lose the will to care about the difference between right and wrong, echoing what happened in the Soviet Union. When everything becomes gray and sluggish, there is no battle worth fighting.

The craft behind “Chernobyl” is transporting — the dialogue, the visuals, the acting, the music. It excels as a horror movie, action film, political thriller, documentary, and fable. You hardly notice the show’s gutting message up to the finale, which is like a dagger you don’t sense until it pierces your heart and you gasp. But the creator and writer of the show, Craig Mazin, has been, like his central character, explicit in saying what it means. “We are now living in a global war on the truth,” Mazin told the Los Angeles Times. “We look at this president who lies, not little ones but outstandingly absurd lies. The truth isn’t even in the conversation. It’s just forgotten or obscured to the point where we can’t see it. That’s what Chernobyl is about.”


Trump’s obscuration of the truth through his Twitter feed is, in its way, truly Soviet. Mazin’s very smart.
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UK may get ‘thousands’ of 5G new entrants under proposed shake-up by Ofcom • Light Reading

Iain Morris:


The future 5G opportunity for UK operators appeared to shrink today after regulatory authority Ofcom announced dramatic plans to sell licenses to “thousands” of 5G new entrants, imitating moves that have already been made in Germany and several other markets.

Under proposals unveiled at today’s 5G World event in London, Ofcom would reserve 390MHz of valuable “mid-band” spectrum between 3.8GHz and 4.2GHz for local coverage and campus use. If the scheme takes off, anyone could apply for a 5G license covering an area of just 50 square meters and develop their own local 5G network.

That could be done in partnership with a mobile network operator, but it could also be through an equipment vendor or startup, said Mansoor Hanif, Ofcom’s chief technology officer, describing the proposals as “revolutionary” during a presentation at today’s event.

“5G is an opportunity for everyone and we’d like to encourage new entrants,” he said. “We want to give low-cost access to local spectrum so that anyone who thinks they need 5G coverage on an industrial campus and feels it isn’t served by MNOs [mobile network operators] fast enough should be able to build their own network.”

The move could provoke a backlash from telcos, which have been fiercely critical of similar plans in Germany after its regulatory authorities decided to reserve 100MHz of “mid-band” spectrum for local, industrial use.


Lots of fine detail here; Ofcom is proposing low-power spectrum in (small) 10MHz blocks. They’d be very local, probably.
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Huawei CEO says it underestimated impact of US ban, forecasts revenue dip • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:


Huawei’s international smartphone shipments will drop 40%, Ren said on Monday, without specifying a period. Bloomberg reported on Sunday that the tech giant was preparing for a 40% to 60% decline in international smartphone shipments.

Huawei had reported revenue of 721.2bn yuan ($104.16bn) last year and said a few months ago it expected revenue this year to jump to $125bn. [The forecast now is $100bn.]

“We did not expect they would attack us on so many aspects,” Ren said but added that he expects a revival in the business in 2021.

“We cannot get components supply, cannot participate in many international organizations, cannot work closely with many universities, cannot use anything with U.S. components, and cannot even establish connection with networks that use such components.”


Also, a little hilariously, Huawei has also delayed the launch of its foldable phone by three months, to some time in September. With Samsung having delayed its foldable launch by a continually unspecified period, there’s a game of reverse chicken going on – who can hold off launching longer?
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Russian hacks on US voting system wider than previously known • Bloomberg

Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson:


Russia’s cyberattack on the US electoral system before Donald Trump’s election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the US investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step – complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day “red phone.” In October [2016], two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia’s role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

The new details, buttressed by a classified National Security Agency document recently disclosed by the Intercept, show the scope of alleged hacking that federal investigators are scrutinizing as they look into whether Trump campaign officials may have colluded in the efforts.


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Samsung accidentally makes the case for not owning a smart TV • The Verge

Jon Porter on Samsung’s bizarre tweet suggesting owners of its smart TVs should do a virus scan every few weeks or so:


There haven’t been any recent security vulnerabilities reported for Samsung’s smart TVs, but back in 2017 WikiLeaks revealed that the CIA had developed a piece of software called “Weeping Angel” that was capable of turning Samsung’s smart TVs into a listening device. Less than a month later a security researcher found 40 zero-day vulnerabilities in Samsung’s smart TV operating system, Tizen. At the time, Samsung released a blog post detailing the security features of its TVs, which includes its ability to detect malicious code on both its platform and application levels.

Virus scans are another reminder of how annoying modern smart TVs can be. Sure, they have pretty much every streaming app under the sun built in, and Samsung’s models can even be used to stream games from a local PC. But they also contain microphones that can be a privacy risk, and are entrusted with credit card details for buying on-demand video content. Even when everything’s working as the manufacturer intended, they can be yet another way of putting ads in front of you, either on your home screen or even in some cases directly into your own video content.

Samsung’s little PSA about scanning for “malware viruses” (eh hem) might be a sound security practice on a Samsung smart TV, but it’s also an excellent reminder for why you might not want to buy one in the first place.


The microphones are obviously for voice commands. The world is full of microphones.
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Akamai: hackers have carried out 12 billion attacks against gaming sites in 17 months • VentureBeat

Dean Takahashi:


Hackers have targeted the gaming industry by carrying out 12 billion credential stuffing attacks against gaming websites in the 17 months ended March 2019, according to a new report by internet delivery and cloud services company Akamai.

This puts the gaming community among the fastest rising targets for credential stuffing attacks — where hackers use stolen credentials to take over an account — and one of the most lucrative targets for criminals looking to make a quick profit. During the same time period, Akamai saw a total of 55 billion credential stuffing attacks across all industries…

…“One reason that we believe the gaming industry is an attractive target for hackers is because criminals can easily exchange in-game items for profit,” said Martin McKeay, security researcher at Akamai editorial director of the report, in a statement. “Furthermore, gamers are a niche demographic known for spending money, so their financial status is also a tempting target.”


“Why rob banks? Because it’s where the money is.” (And also because gaming sites aren’t that hot at making people use two-factor authentication.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,090: YouTube’s sweary kid side, US ready to hack Russia’s grid, Gmail’s calendar flaw, the cost of (no) GPS, and more

Think of a song lyric and you’ll find it on Google. But where did the search engine get it from? CC-licensed photo by Diego Sideburns on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. For sale: empty podium, never used. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Oh $h1t — there’s an awful lot of swearing on YouTube • Medium

Matt Reynolds:


Some of you may know that I have recently been working on developing an internet filter doodad that lets parents selectively filter what their children watch on YouTube.

One of the things the doodad does is a real-time analysis of the language used in YouTube videos. (It does this to determine an age-rating of PG, 12, 15, or 18 — any video that scores above the age you set for your child is blocked.)

One of the other things it does is it spits out just how much swearing there is in a given video — and it can also aggregate the amount of swearing across a channel. This is the analysis from PewPieDie — a YouTuber that I thought was just straightforwardly awful until I actually watched some of his videos and downgraded my expectations…

How about something more educational? Of 263 science videos, 3 of them contained the c-word. Because of course they did. Because what parent isn’t going to answer the question, “dad, can I watch a video on YouTube about science and technology” with “sure, go ahead!”

Here is a the analysis on one video that dropped the c-bomb. And it’s about fuc— freaking LEGO, and not even an unpopular type of LEGO. No, this is Avengers Endgame LEGO. Like, the most likely type of LEGO video you’re going to look for.

…YouTube has this singular problem that — as parents — we didn’t have growing up. The main broadcast channels had, you know, standards… Without any form of oversight, YouTube is always going to be a race to the bottom. I’ll be doing this analysis every month from now on — so at least we’ll know how fast we’re going.


Personally, I’d really like to know if it’s possible to completely disable the autoplay and “recommended” settings permanently. But this “doodad” looks like a useful start.
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Lyrics site accuses Google of lifting its content • WSJ

Robert McMillan:


Genius said it notified Google as far back as 2017, and again in an April letter, that copied transcriptions appear on Google’s website. The April letter, a copy of which was viewed by the Journal, warned that reuse of Genius’s transcriptions breaks the Genius.com terms of service and violates antitrust law.

“Over the last two years, we’ve shown Google irrefutable evidence again and again that they are displaying lyrics copied from Genius,” said Ben Gross, Genius’s chief strategy officer, in an email message. The company said it used a watermarking system in its lyrics that embedded patterns in the formatting of apostrophes. Genius said it found more than 100 examples of songs on Google that came from its site.

Starting around 2016, Genius made a subtle change to some of the songs on its website, alternating the lyrics’ apostrophes between straight and curly single-quote marks in exactly the same sequence for every song.

When the two types of apostrophes were converted to the dots and dashes used in Morse code, they spelled out the words “Red Handed.”

In a statement, Google said the lyrics on its site, which pop up in little search-result squares called “information panels,” are licensed from partners, not created by Google.


Classic Google; exactly the same as it was doing with Yelp back in 2013. Genius doesn’t actually own the lyrics, but it must own the copyright of the careful curation of the apostrophes.
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Apple CEO Tim Cook: Technology companies need to take responsibility for chaos they create • CNBC

Kif Leswing:


Apple CEO Tim Cook warned that Silicon Valley companies needed to take responsibility for the “chaos” they create in a speech Sunday at Stanford University.

Although Cook did not mention companies by name, his commencement speech in Silicon Valley’s backyard mentioned data breaches, privacy violations, and even made reference to Theranos, a disgraced startup.

“Lately it seems this industry is becoming better known for a less noble innovation – the belief you can claim credit without accepting responsibility,” Cook said. “We see it every day now with every data breach, every privacy violation, every blind eye turned to hate speech, fake news poisoning out national conversation, the false miracles in exchange for a single drop of your blood.”

He continued: “It feels a bit crazy that anyone should have to say this, but if you built a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos.”


Plenty of easy pickings to be had on this front – though strangely he didn’t mention tax avoidance at contributing to the wider chaos of lowered tax takes in countries.
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US escalates online attacks on Russia’s power grid • The New York Times

David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth:


In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.


Quite a thing, right? And now look at this little extra, buried wayyyy down the story:


Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place “implants” — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

Because the new law defines the actions in cyberspace as akin to traditional military activity on the ground, in the air or at sea, no such briefing would be necessary, they added.


Shall we tell the president? Nah, better not.
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Amazon Spark, the retailer’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, has shut down • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:


Amazon’s two-year-old Instagram competitor, Amazon Spark, is no more.

Hoping to capitalize on the social shopping trend and tap into the power of online influencers, Amazon in 2017 launched its own take on Instagram with a shoppable feed of stories and photos aimed at Prime members. The experiment known as Amazon Spark has now come to an end. However, the learnings from Spark and Amazon’s discovery tool Interesting Finds are being blended into a new social-inspired product, #FoundItOnAmazon.


Amazon had an Instagram competitor? For two years? I’ve literally never seen it.
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New security warning issued for Google’s 1.5 billion Gmail and Calendar users • Forbes

Davey Winder:


users of the Gmail service are being targeted primarily through the use of malicious and unsolicited Google Calendar notifications. Anyone can schedule a meeting with you, that’s how the calendar application is designed to work. Gmail, which receives the notification of the invitation, is equally designed to tightly integrate with the calendaring functionality.

When a calendar invitation is sent to a user, a pop-up notification appears on their smartphone. The threat actors craft their invitations to include a malicious link, leveraging the trust that user familiarity with calendar notifications brings with it.

The researchers have noticed attackers throughout the last month using this technique to effectively spam users with phishing links to credential stealing sites. By populating the location and topic fields to announce a fake online poll or questionnaire with a financial incentive to participate, the threat actors encourage the victim to follow the malicious link where bank account or credit card details can be collected. By exploiting such a “non-traditional attack vector,” the criminals can get around the fact that people are increasingly aware of common methods to encourage link-clicking.

“Beyond phishing, this attack opens up the doors for a whole host of social engineering attacks,” says Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4. Malik told me that in order to gain access to a building, for example, you could put in a calendar invite for an interview or similar face to face appointment such as building maintenance which, he warns “could allow physical access to secure areas.”


Google was told about this in 2017, and said that “making this change would cause major functionality drawbacks for legitimate API events with regards to Calendar.” But don’t worry! It scans for malicious links. Huh. Apple had a similar problem like this – spammy calendar invites being sent, mainly from China – in November 2016. Seems to have solved it.
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The new wilderness • Idle Words

Maciej Cieglowski on the erosion of what he calls “ambient privacy” – the expectation that your interactions aren’t monitored or remembered:


Ambient privacy is particularly hard to protect where it extends into social and public spaces outside the reach of privacy law. If I’m subjected to facial recognition at the airport, or tagged on social media at a little league game, or my public library installs an always-on Alexa microphone, no one is violating my legal rights. But a portion of my life has been brought under the magnifying glass of software. Even if the data harvested from me is anonymized in strict conformity with the most fashionable data protection laws, I’ve lost something by the fact of being monitored.

One can argue that ambient privacy is a relic of an older world, just like the ability to see the stars in the night sky was a pleasant but inessential feature of the world before electricity. This is the argument Mr. Zuckerberg made when he unilaterally removed privacy protections from every Facebook account back in 2010. Social norms had changed, he explained at the time, and Facebook was changing with them. Presumably now they have changed back.

My own suspicion is that ambient privacy plays an important role in civic life. When all discussion takes place under the eye of software, in a for-profit medium working to shape the participants’ behavior, it may not be possible to create the consensus and shared sense of reality that is a prerequisite for self-government. If that is true, then the move away from ambient privacy will be an irreversible change, because it will remove our ability to function as a democracy.

All of this leads me to see a parallel between privacy law and environmental law, another area where a technological shift forced us to protect a dwindling resource that earlier generations could take for granted.


Always a must-read; easily comprehensible phrasing, but conveying deep meaning.

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America’s renewable energy capacity is now greater than coal • CNN

Matt Egan:


“Coal has no technology path,” said Jeff McDermott, managing partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, a boutique investment bank focused on clean energy. “It’s got nowhere to go but extinction.”

The clean energy revolution is on the verge of a tipping point.

Also in April, the renewable energy sector was projected to have generated more electricity than coal, according to a separate report published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. That transition was partially driven by seasonal issues.

At the same time, America has drastically cut back on its appetite for coal. Since peaking in 2008, US coal consumption has plunged 39% to the lowest level in 40 years, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

The milestones come despite President Donald Trump’s promise to prop up the coal industry by cutting environmental rules. Analysts say that’s because the shift toward renewables is being driven more by economics than regulation.

“The government can tap on the brakes or accelerate this movement – but this progress will continue moving forward,” said Matthew Hoza, senior energy analyst at consulting firm BTU Analytics.


A letter in The Observer on Sunday commented that the price of renewables is falling so fast that government spreadsheets can’t keep up (down?) with it.
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Study finds that a GPS outage would cost $1bn per day • Ars Technica

Eric Berger:


According to the study, 90% of the technology’s financial impact has come since just 2010, or just 20% of the study period [which looks at 1984-2017]. Some sectors of the economy are only beginning to realize the value of GPS technology, or are identifying new uses for it, the report says, indicating that its value as a platform for innovation will continue to grow.

In the case of some adverse event leading to a widespread outage, the study estimates that the loss of GPS service would have a $1bn per-day impact, although the authors acknowledge this is at best a rough estimate. It would likely be higher during the planting season of April and May, when farmers are highly reliant on GPS technology for information about their fields.

To assess the effect of an outage, the study looked at several different variables. Among them was “precision timing” that enables a number of wireless services, including the synchronization of traffic between carrier networks, wireless handoff between base stations, and billing management. Moreover, higher levels of precision timing enable higher bandwidth and provide access to more devices. (For example, the implementation of 4G LTE technology would have been impossible without GPS technology).

In the case of an outage, there would be relatively minimal impacts over the first two days, but after that time, the wireless network would begin to degrade significantly. After 30 days, the study estimates that functionality would lie somewhere between 0% and 60% of normal operating levels. Landline phones would be largely unaffected.


That’s only for the US, of course. GPS costs about $1bn per annum to run. As economic multipliers go, that’s pretty dramatic. GPS was the example I kept reaching for when I was pushing the Free Our Data campaign: government funds it, private sector exploits it, but everyone benefits.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,089: the spies created by AI, the farm emissions problem, Sudan cuts its internet, iPadOS in view, and more

Mailing list company Mailchimp is blocking anti-vaccination newsletters. Not a minute too soon. CC-licensed photo by Cory Doctorow on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Counted. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Continuing shameless promo: got half an hour? Try The Human and Machine podcast. It’s a co-presentation by Julia Hobsbawm (of Editorial Intelligence) and myself.

The latest episode is a discussion with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Rohan Candappa, plus an interview with Professor Charlton McIlwain, about race and the internet.

We’ve previously spoken about autopilots, the 737 Max and the implications for self-driving cars with Alex Hern of the Guardian and Dr Jack Stilgoe of University College London.

Find these episodes, and the whole series, by searching for “human and machine” on your podcast app. As long as that isn’t BBC Sounds. (If it is, please explain yourself.)

Digital marketer Mailchimp bans anti-vaccination content • NBC News

Brandy Zadrozny:


The move to block the anti-vaccination rhetoric follows similar actions by other tech companies and comes on the heels of increased pressure from public health advocates and lawmakers on digital platforms to curtail the spread of health misinformation.

“Mailchimp has shut down a number of accounts for anti-vaccination content that violates our Terms of Use, and we’re adding this category to our routine searches for prohibited content,” a Mailchimp spokesperson said in a statement provided to NBC News. “Spreading misinformation about the safety and efficacy of vaccines poses a serious threat to public health and causes real-world harm. We cannot allow these individuals and groups to use our Marketing Platform to spread harmful messages and expand their audiences.”

The company began quietly enforcing this decision last week.

“We trust the world’s leading health authorities, like the CDC, WHO, and the AAP, and follow their guidance when assessing this type of misuse of our platform,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Vaccine misinformation that had once been allowed to flourish on the fringes of many mainstream internet destinations has come under growing scrutiny in the past six months, particularly as health officials have warned about the resurgence of some preventable diseases.


Fascinating contrast with Facebook (inc Instagram), YouTube and Twitter, which have been pretty indifferent to complaints about such content. Mailchimp once stopped an edition of The Overspill (it goes out by email! You can get it in your inbox!) because it contained a reference to b*tco*n (I’m taking no chances) and they thought I was touting crypto~mumble~cies.

We seem to be approaching a point where not all content is created equal.
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Experts: spy used AI-generated face to connect with targets • Associated Press

Raphael Satter:


Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.

“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.

“It smells a lot like some sort of state-run operation,” said Jonas Parello-Plesner, who serves as program director at the Denmark-based think tank Alliance of Democracies Foundation and was the target several years ago of an espionage operation that began over LinkedIn .

William Evanina, director of the US National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said foreign spies routinely use fake social media profiles to home in on American targets — and accused China in particular of waging “mass scale” spying on LinkedIn.

“Instead of dispatching spies to some parking garage in the US to recruit a target, it’s more efficient to sit behind a computer in Shanghai and send out friend requests to 30,000 targets,” he said in a written statement.


Amazing story. The face would be generated by a generative adversarial network (GAN). One clue it’s a fake: her eyes are different colours. There are others which suggest she’s got lizard DNA.
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Deadly gas: cutting farm emissions in half could save 3,000 lives a year • The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Andrew Wasley, Alexandra Heal and Mie Lainio:


The thousands of tonnes of faeces and urine produced by UK farm animals a day release ammonia gas, which combines with other particles in the air to create one of the most deadly forms of pollution. Ammonia is the only pollutant on the rise in the UK, and taking simple measures to cut it would be the “most effective way” to clean up our air and prevent deaths, according to a leading expert.

During a five month investigation the Bureau and the Guardian found:

• The government only monitors ammonia emissions from the largest intensive poultry and pig farms, completely missing the biggest polluters — beef and dairy farms.

• Despite promising to close this loophole by 2025, Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has not laid out a clear plan or any legislation to do so. In the meantime, the number of intensive US-style beef feedlots and dairy “megafarms” has been increasing.

• Cuts in staffing at the Environment Agency, which polices farm emissions, mean farms are not always monitored properly, leaked correspondence shows.

• Demand for cheap food is preventing farmers taking the basic but expensive steps to cut ammonia because their profit margins are too narrow. Brexit is likely to exacerbate this, as farmers may struggle to compete with cheap imported food.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has called air pollution a national health emergency and a “slow and deadly poison”. Yet efforts to reduce it have largely ignored ammonia, despite its key role in producing dangerous particles.


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Huawei files to trademark mobile OS around the world after US ban • Reuters

Marco Aquino and Brenda Goh:


A senior US official on Thursday said Huawei’s clients should be asking themselves if the Chinese firm can meet its commitments given its dependence on US companies.

Huawei – the world’s biggest maker of telecoms network gear – has filed for a Hongmeng trademark in countries such as Cambodia, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand, data from the UN World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) shows.

It also filed an application in Peru on May 27, according to the country’s anti-trust agency Indecopi.

Huawei has a back-up OS in case it is cut off from US-made software, Richard Yu, CEO of the firm’s consumer division, told German newspaper Die Welt in an interview earlier this year.

The US official, meeting with officials in Europe to warn against buying Huawei equipment for next-generation mobile networks, said only time would tell if Huawei could diversify.


One thing to trademark the product, quite another to have it up and running.
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WeChat is watching • Nautilus

Barclay Bram:


At 9:27, once I’ve brushed my teeth, answered a few messages, and wiped the sleep from my eyes, I order a coffee through WeChat. There’s a payments window on the app, and when you click on it you see various options, some proprietary to WeChat and some which are independent apps that run on WeChat’s platform. I open the Meituan delivery app and scroll through all the coffee options around me. I order an Americano. I have my WeChat linked with the facial recognition scanner on my iPhone; when I pay, I just hold my phone up to my face and a green tick flicks across the screen. Seven minutes later, I get a message telling me the coffee is on the way, with the name and number of the delivery driver. It arrives at 9:53.

Before 10 on a normal day in Chengdu, WeChat knows the following things about me: It knows roughly when I wake up, it knows who has messaged me and who I message, it knows what we talk about. It knows my bank details, it knows my address and it knows my coffee preference in the morning. It knows my biometric information; it knows the very contours of my face.

But this isn’t all it knows. I use WeChat to pay my rent. I use it to pay for my utilities. I use it to top up my phone credit. I use WeChat to pay for the metro system. I use it to scan QR codes on the back of shared-bike schemes throughout the city. I use it to call cabs. It knows where I go and how I go there. I follow bloggers on it, I follow media organizations and NGOs and government offices (there are over 20 million official accounts associated with governmental institutions, agencies, or officials) and I read their content through it. It knows what academic interests I have—I’m researching mental health and I pay for and attend online courses in psychology through the app. I book movie tickets, order things through Jingdong’s page (the Chinese Amazon), and I recently downloaded a WeChat app which allows me to take a photo of a flower and have it tell me the name. It also tells me anytime it’s been mentioned in Chinese poetry.


WeChat’s dominance is accidental (as far as we know). And it’s an absolute dream for a surveillance state. And western governments with dictatorial tendencies (basically: all of them) would love WeChat, or an equivalent, to rise in their countries.
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LaLiga’s app listened in on fans to catch bars illegally streaming soccer • The Verge

Dami Lee:


Spain’s data protection agency has fined the country’s soccer league, LaLiga, €250,000 (about $280,000) for allegedly violating EU data privacy and transparency laws. The app, which is used for keeping track of games and stats, was using the phone’s microphone and GPS to track bars illegally streaming soccer games, Spanish newspaper El País reported.

Using a Shazam-like technology, the app would record audio to identify soccer games, and use the geolocation of the phone to locate which bars were streaming without licenses. El Diario reports that fans have downloaded that app more than 10 million times, essentially turning them into undercover narcs. The league claims that the app asks for permission to access the phone’s microphone and location, and that the data — which is received as a code, not audio — is only used to detect LaLiga streams.


You’ve got to admit: that is clever. Sneaky, but ever so clever. Of course people will be at bars with their smartphones. Of course.
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GE ‘badly’ misjudged the clean energy transition, costing investors almost $193bn: IEFFA • Utility Dive

Robert Walton:


While General Electric (GE) led the world in gas turbine manufacturing in 2015, the company shed 74% of its market capitalization between 2016 and 2018, as demand for new turbines cratered.

GE is “a case study in how rapidly and unexpectedly the global energy transition away from fossil fuels travels up the economic chain and destroys value in the power generation sector,” the report says. It points the finger at large shareholders, like Vanguard, BlackRock, State Street and Fidelity, who IEEFA analysts say should be doing more to push companies away from fossil fuels.

“It is in [shareholder] hands to ensure companies evaluate and understand the inevitable energy transition as the world accelerates towards meeting the Paris Agreement,” report co-author and IEEFA financial analyst Kathy Hipple said in a statement.

GE declined to provide comment to Utility Dive, instead pointing toward previous statements by company leadership. In January, GE CEO Lawrence Culp said the company was “late to embrace the realities of the secular and cyclical pressures” on its power business.


Wonder how many other companies are going to miss this in the same way.
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Internet shutdown in Sudan • iAfrikan

Nakirfai Tobor:


According to reports from Sudan’s capital city, the last remaining Internet connections are being cut off. This attempt at a total Internet shutdown is reported to have started on Monday 10 June 2019.

This came at a time when pro-democracy protesting civilians were murdered and raped by Sudan’s military troops during a sit-in protest.

Speaking to The Guardian, a doctor who has access to data compiled by the central committee of doctors in Sudan said hospitals in Khartoum had recorded more than 70 cases of rape in the attack and its immediate aftermath. Another doctor who works at the Royal Care hospital in Khartoum added that they had treated eight victims of rape, of whom five were women and three were men. Many other rape cases had been treated at other hospitals too.


New military thinking: control the internet, control the story.
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Initial thoughts on iPadOS: a new path forward • MacStories

Federico Viticci:


not only does iPadOS enable split-screen for the same app, but it also supports an arbitrary number of app windows; in fact, just like on a Mac, you can create as many app windows as you want in iPadOS, and you can even preview them all with Exposé; however, the whole system has been designed around the iPad’s touch interactions with long-tap gestures, drag and drop, Slide Over, and Split View.

The net result of this new multitasking approach is a drastic departure from iOS’ longstanding assumption that an app can only live in one window at a time: it’s going to take a while to get used to the idea that iPad apps can spawn multiple windows, and that the same document or app view can coexist with other app windows across the system in different spaces. At the same time, iPadOS’ multitasking builds upon the Mac’s multiwindow environment and iOS 11’s drag and drop multitasking in a way that feels inevitable – like the best innovations always do.

Multiple Safari windows in iPadOS

Creating a new Notes window in Slide Over by dragging a note to the side of the screen

At a high level, iPadOS multitasking is still largely enabled3 by drag and drop: while iOS 11 allowed you to add apps to Split View or Slide Over by dragging their icons into a space, iPadOS lets you add windows by dragging app views or content around. For instance, Notes lets you pick up an individual note and create a new window off of it by dragging it to the side of the screen; in Messages, conversations can become windows; in Mail, a specific feature of the app (the message composer) can be detached from the main UI and turned into a window.


This does look fascinating. The first public beta is probably next month.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,088: deepfaked Zuckerberg, US warns on antitrust, Huawei kills laptop launch, the problem with privacy policies, and more

Nearly four years later, the last of the TalkTalk hackers has been sentenced. CC-licensed photo by Graham Smith on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Fast and furious, slow and calm. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Doctored video of sinister Mark Zuckerberg puts Facebook to the test • The Guardian

Luke O’Neil:


A doctored video of Mark Zuckerberg delivering a foreboding speech has been posted to Instagram, in a stunt that put Facebook’s content moderation policies to the test.

Videos known as “deepfakes” use artificial intelligence to manipulate the appearance and voices of individuals, often celebrities, into theoretically real-looking footage. They are likely to become the next wave in the battles over disinformation online.

The clip, posted four days ago, casts the Facebook founder in a sinister light, boasting of his power, and is meant to appear as if it is a legitimate news program.

“Imagine this for a second: one man with total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures,” the faux-Zuckerberg says. “I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.”

The video was made by a team including the artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe and the advertising company Canny, according to Vice. Spectre is the name of a recent installation from the artists…


Facebook/Instagram has indeed left it up. But of course, it doesn’t matter what deepfakes there are about Mark Zuckerberg; you can’t vote him out of office. Nobody can.
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DOJ antitrust chief stresses role of competition in digital economy • WSJ

Brent Kendall, Kristina Peterson and Keach Hagey:


[US Assistant Attorney General and head of antitrust, Makan] Delrahim’s speech, which aired at a conference whose attendees included a prominent Google economist, stressed that dominant companies can raise competition concerns in ways other than higher prices. The issue has particular relevance in the digital economy, where some companies give away their services free.

“Price effects alone do not provide a complete picture of market dynamics, especially in digital markets in which the profit-maximizing price is zero,” he said.

Antitrust enforcers are concerned about harms to innovation, product quality and privacy, the DOJ antitrust chief said. He compared today’s tech giants to the Standard Oil monopoly of the late 19th and early 20th century.

“Like today’s tech giants, Standard Oil was pioneering and generated a number of important patents. Scholars have noted, however, that Standard Oil’s innovation slowed as it became an entrenched monopolist,” Mr. Delrahim said.

The Journal reported May 31 that the Justice Department’s antitrust division was laying the groundwork for an antitrust investigation of Google, after reaching a jurisdictional agreement with the Federal Trade Commission. The department hasn’t commented on whether it was planning such a probe.

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday sent letters to Mr. Delrahim and a department ethics representative seeking the top antitrust official’s recusal. She cited Mr. Delrahim’s work for Google in 2007 as it sought approval from the Federal Trade Commission to buy internet ad firm DoubleClick, saying he “should not be supervising investigations into former clients who paid him tens of thousands of dollars to lobby the federal government.”


Still going to be interested in how they interpret the Sherman antitrust doctrine without leaning on price. There’s never been such a case in the US, as far as I know. (Corrections welcome.)

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TalkTalk hacker Daniel Kelley sentenced to four years • BBC News


Kelley turned to hacking when he failed to get the GCSE grades to get on to a computer course, the court heard.

He hacked the college “out of spite” before targeting companies in Canada, Australia and the UK – including TalkTalk which has four million customers.

The 22-year-old has Asperger’s syndrome and has suffered from depression and extreme weight loss since he pleaded guilty to the 11 hacking-related offences in 2016, the court heard.

Judge Mark Dennis told the Old Bailey that Kelley hacked computers “for his own personal gratification” regardless of the damage caused.

He went on to blackmail company bosses, revealing a “cruel and calculating side to his character”, he said, though a blackmail charge was previously dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Prosecutor Peter Ratliff previously described Kelley as a “prolific, skilled and cynical cyber-criminal” who was willing to “bully, intimidate, and then ruin his chosen victims from a perceived position of anonymity and safety – behind the screen of a computer”.

Between September 2013 and November 2015, he engaged in a wide range of hacking activities, using stolen information to blackmail individuals and companies.


The strange thing is that Kelley was arrested in November 2015, pleaded guilty in 2016 to 11 charges, but it’s only now that he’s sentenced. What’s been happening in the meantime?

Thanks Graham Cluley for pointing it out.
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Huawei cancels launch of new laptop as US restrictions sting • WSJ

Stu Woo:


China’s Huawei has canceled the launch of a new laptop and paused production at its personal-computer business because of restrictions on buying US components, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The moves mark Huawei’s first tangible setback from the US Commerce Department’s move to ban American companies from selling supplies to the Chinese company, while also demonstrating the importance of American businesses in the global personal-computing supply chain.

Huawei, the world’s No. 2 smartphone brand, has a relatively small and new personal-computer business. It makes three laptops, the first of which made its debut in 2016. It relies on Microsoft’s Windows operating system and Intel’s chips.

The head of Huawei’s consumer business, Richard Yu, told CNBC on Wednesday that the Commerce Department caused the company to cancel its new laptop launch, adding that it may never release that product if it remains on the Commerce Department’s blacklist. The news site the Information had reported the cancellation earlier.


Couldn’t find the report on The Information. Huawei’s consumer side is 45% of revenues, so this is going to start hurting quite quickly.
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We read 150 privacy policies. They were an incomprehensible disaster • The New York Times

Kevin Litman-Navarro:


For comparison, here are the scores for some classic texts. Only Immanuel Kant’s famously difficult “Critique of Pure Reason” registers a more challenging readability score than Facebook’s privacy policy. (To calculate their reading time, I measured the first chapter of each text.)

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

The BBC has an unusually readable privacy policy. It’s written in short, declarative sentences, using plain language. Here’s how the policy outlines the BBC’s guidelines for collecting and using personal data:


“We have to have a valid reason to use your personal information. It’s called the ‘lawful basis for processing.’ Sometimes we might ask your permission to do things, like when you subscribe to an email. Other times, when you’d reasonably expect us to use your personal information, we don’t ask your permission, but only when: the law says it’s fine to use it, and it fits with the rights you have.”


Airbnb’s privacy policy, on the other hand, is particularly inscrutable. It’s full of long, jargon-laden sentences that obscure Airbnb’s data practices and provides cover to use data in expansive ways…

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.


Amazing piece of work. Plaudits to the BBC, at least.
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LG’s 5G phones in doubt as chip deal with Qualcomm set to expire • Reuters

Heekyong Yang and Ju-min Park:


In a US court filing late on Tuesday, the South Korean firm opposed Qualcomm’s efforts to put a sweeping US antitrust decision against it on hold, arguing setting the ruling aside could force it into signing another unfair deal.

“If Qualcomm does not participate in negotiations with LGE in accordance with the Court’s Order, LGE will have no option but to conclude license and chipset supply agreements once again on Qualcomm’s terms,” LG’s filing in the federal court in San Jose, California said.

The lack of clarity over a new license deal raises concerns over the rollout of LG’s newly launched 5G smartphones, crucial for the loss-making handset maker to boost flagging smartphone sales and catch up with Samsung Electronics.

“If LG Electronics fails to renew its contract with Qualcomm, it is very likely that it will not be able to make any phones since LG does not manufacture chips by itself,” BNK Securities analyst Park Sung-soon said.

“It would do catastrophic damage to its mobile business.”


Quite the move by Qualcomm to insist that the court ruling is going to be reversed and so it needs to be able to sign its usual strongarm deal again. No possibility for a reversal clause in the agreement?
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Google is ending its confusing integration between Google Photos and Drive • The Verge

Chris Welch:


Google has long offered syncing between Google Photos and Google Drive, but it’s putting an end to that in the name of simplicity. “We’ve heard feedback that the connection between these services is confusing, so next month, we’re making some changes to simplify the experience across Drive and Photos,” Dan Schlosser and Jason Gupta, product managers for Drive and Photos respectively, wrote in a blog post today. There’s also an article for G Suite customers, since this decision affects all end users.

When the change takes effect in July, photos and videos you add to Drive won’t automatically appear in Photos and vice versa. Additionally, file deletions won’t sync between the two. “This change is designed to help prevent accidental deletion of items across products,” Schlosser and Gupta wrote. Indeed, the current system provides ample opportunity for users to screw something up and unknowingly lose important photos if they’re not careful.


Totally overdue. It only made sense if you were in that tech-head space that could see things with different names as being part of the same thing. Otherwise you’d be surprised when something added to Drive shows up in Photos.
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Leak suggests the iPhone 11 will add a Pixel-like Night Sight feature • BGR

Jacob Siegal:


While Apple remains the most popular smartphone brand in the United States, the iPhone has been surpassed on multiple fronts by other smartphone makers. One such example is the NIght Sight feature of Google’s Pixel phones, but if a new report is true, Apple could catch up with Google before the end of the year.

According to XDA writer Max Weinbach, who leaked the following information to EverythingApplePro on YouTube, the 2019 iPhone models will have a “dedicated night mode” for taking photos in suboptimal environments. Weinbach also claims that this will be better than similar features from Google, Huawei, or Samsung.

In his text to EverythingApplePro, Weinbach cited a source who says that in addition to a dedicated night mode that users can choose to activate manually, the new iPhones should be able to switch to night mode automatically at the appropriate times. The source doesn’t sound totally confident with this leak, but it certainly makes sense as Apple is expected to focus heavily on camera hardware and software upgrades for this generation.


Bet this was a crash project. Night Sight really reset peoples’ expectations of what could be done.
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The next big privacy hurdle? Teaching AI to forget • WIRED

Darren Shou:


At present, when data is sucked into this complex machinery, there’s no efficient way to reclaim it and its influence on the resulting output. When we think about exerting the right to be forgotten, we recognize that reclaiming specific data from a vast number of private businesses and data brokers offers its own unique challenge. However, we need to realize that even if we can succeed there, we’ll still be left with a difficult question—how do we teach a machine to “forget” something?

This question is even more impactful for children and adolescents coming of age in this world—the “AI Generation.” They have gone through the largest “beta test” of all time, and it’s one that did not consider the fact that children make mistakes, they make choices, and they are given space by society to collectively learn from them and evolve. Algorithms may not offer this leniency, meaning that data collected on a youthful transgression may be given the same weight (and remembered the same) as any other data—potentially resulting in the reinforcement of bad behavior, or limited opportunities down the line as this data becomes more embedded into our lives.

For instance, today a college admissions counselor may be able to stumble upon incriminating photos of an applicant on a social media platform—in the future, they may be able to hear recordings of that applicant as a 12-year-old taken by a voice assistant in the child’s home.

The AI Generation needs a right to be forgiven.


Nobody’s really thinking about this, are they?
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What changed my mind about climate change? • The Bulwark

Jerry Taylor used to oppose climate action as someone working at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute. Now he favours it:


we find ourselves in the midst of a debate about the most likely outcome of climate change, even though the truth is that neither side can know with certainty which variant will come to pass. And, funnily enough, both sides seem to think that the most-likely outcome will dovetail with their preferred political position on other matters.

Conservatives insist that environmentalists are greatly exaggerating risks (as is their wont) and that if we follow their climate agenda and abandon fossil fuels, we’ll destroy the global economy and surrender economic liberty (a claim that I once embraced but no longer do, given the remarkable technological advances in low-carbon energy technology). The left argues that conservatives are like the man jumping off the top of a skyscraper, claiming no discernible harm has come to him yet even as he plummets to his doom, and that the solutions are giant programs like the Green New Deal, which entail everything from fossil fuel independence to the entire social agenda of the Democratic Socialists of America.

How are we supposed to figure out which side is right?

The answer is that we can’t be sure. And that’s okay. Because in life you rarely know for certain what’s going to happen next. You plan for a range of outcomes and try to mitigate your exposure to the worst possible risks. There’s an entire economic discipline on this subject. It’s called risk management.

Risk management is not about discerning the optimal response to the most likely outcome. It is about discerning the appropriate response to the most likely distribution of possible outcomes. That means incorporating the possibility that climate change, either by a bad roll of the geophysical dice or a large and unexpected societal vulnerability to warming, turns into a bigger problem than we expect.


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US report finds sky is the limit for geothermal energy beneath us • Ars Technica

Scott Johnson:


Geothermal power sources come in many forms, and they’re typically much more subtle than steam shooting out of the ground. In reality, geothermal energy could be a big player in our future mix.

That is made clear by the US Department of Energy’s recently released “GeoVision” report. The report follows similar evaluations of wind, solar, and hydropower energy and leans on information from national labs and other science agencies. It summarizes what we know about the physical resources in the US and also examines the factors that have been limiting geothermal’s deployment. Overall, the report shows that we could do a whole lot more with geothermal energy—both for generating electricity and for heating and cooling—than we currently do.

The highest temperatures are found out West, but these aren’t the only places where geothermal techniques can be applied. Dept of Energy.

There are opportunities to more than double the amount of electricity generated at conventional types of hydrothermal sites, where wells can easily tap into hot water underground. That’s economical on the current grid. But the biggest growth potential, according to the report, is in so-called “enhanced geothermal systems.” These involve areas where the temperatures are hot but the bedrock lacks enough fractures and pathways for hot water to circulate freely—or simply lacks the water entirely.


Nice that the DOE can still put out useful information in the face of everything.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

Start Up No.1,087: YouTube CEO kinda-sorta apologises, Dropbox evolves a bit, Have I Been Sold?, Ebola keeps growing, and more

Maybe we’re going to do this one for real this time? CC-licensed photo by Gervasio Varela on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. That’s the way, uh-huh. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Shameless promo: have you listened to The Human and Machine podcast? It’s a co-presentation by Julia Hobsbawm (of Editorial Intelligence) and myself. We’ve spoken about autopilots, the 737 Max and the implications for self-driving cars with Alex Hern of the Guardian and Dr Jack Stilgoe of University College London.
And coming soon: an episode looking at racism and the internet.

YouTube CEO apologizes to LGBTQ community after outcry • The Verge

Julia Alexander:


[YouTube CEO Susan] Wojcicki was pressed about her apology [at Code Conference in Arizona] by Axios’ Ina Fried, who asked the CEO to further expand on her apology.

“I’m really, personally very sorry,” Wojcicki said. “YouTube has always been a home of so many LGBTQ creators, and that’s why it was so emotional. Even though it was a hard decision, it was harder that it came from us — because it was such an important home. And even though we made this decision, we have so many people from the LGBTQ community. We’ve always wanted to openly support this community. As a company we really want to support this community.

“It’s just from a policy standpoint we need to be consistent — if we took down that content, there would be so much other content that we need to take down.”

Everything comes down to context, according to the CEO. Wojcicki said that context is important in deciding when to take action against a channel. For example, rap videos and late night shows often contain words or content that could be considered harmful. Contextually, those videos are fine. It’s the same defense that Crowder and his supporters, both creators and fans, have used, too.


As Fried pointed out, this wasn’t a “sorry we did that” apology; it was a “sorry you felt offended” apology, which is a classic non-apology (it’s not “sorry for what we did”, it’s “sorry about how you react”). As for “if we took down that content, there would be so much other content we’d need to take down”: in the words of Twitter personality Darth, “and what’s the down side?”
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How Dropbox is finally breaking free of the folder • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:


What’s most intriguing are the new Dropbox’s collaborative features—many of which the service probably couldn’t have shoehorned into File Explorer or Finder, at least in a way that many people would want to use. The existing menu that pops out from Windows’ tray and MacOS’s menu bar doesn’t look much different, but it’s been retooled to show the files that your colleagues are sharing, editing, and commenting upon: “It’s not just about your sync activity or files that you’ve edited, but what’s going on with everyone in your group,” explains Adam Nash, Dropbox’s VP of product. The menu also offers newly sophisticated search, similar to that in the web version, that plumbs the content of files rather than just scanning their names.

Every folder sports a shared scratchpad-like area that lets you type free-form text, numbered or bulleted lists, and to-do items, as well as reference colleagues by their Dropbox @names, giving you the ability to do anything from write a brief description of a folder’s contents to assign tasks to colleagues, who are represented as a row of avatars whom you can discuss items with in comments that show up in the right-hand pane. “The folder feels richer, more like a lightweight project,” says Nash.

With the new Dropbox, the service is taking the wraps off integrations that let you share items via Slack channels and direct messages or in a Zoom meeting. The company is also announcing a new collaboration with Atlassian, maker of such collaboration tools as Jira and Trello. Details on that partnership are yet to announced.


Every feature expands to become an app; every app expands to include collaboration and messaging. Then a new feature arises which strips out most of those apps’ functions. Dropbox is presently on the second part of this cycle.
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For sale: Have I Been Pwned • Gizmodo

Jennings Brown:


In a blog post, [security researcher Troy] Hunt explained the reasons for his decisions and hopes for the future of the platform.

“It’s time to go from that one guy doing what he can in his available time to a better-resourced and better-funded structure that’s able to do way more than what I ever could on my own,” Hunt wrote.

The blog states that HIBP now has almost 3 million subscribers for notifications, and the platform can now check about eight billion breached records. According to Hunt the site usually gets around 150,000 unique visits on a typical day, and 10 million unique visits on an “abnormal day.”

Troy wrote that traffic spiked in January when he broke the news of the behemoth “Collection #1” breach that exposed 773 million emails and 21 million passwords. Since then, the site has continued to grow and Hunt has come to the realization he “was getting very close to burn-out.”

Now he’s ready to hand much of the workload off. Hunt said he is laying the groundwork for acquisition and has had some early talks with organizations who may be interested in acquiring HIBP.


One possible buyer is, apparently, Mozilla; wonder if they’ll try to monetise it if they do purchase it. HIBP is good if you care about data breaches, but since Hunt started it in December 2013, they’ve gone from being a bit unusual to being completely quotidien. It’s almost a surprise if you have an email address that hasn’t been revealed in a breach at some point.
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Facebook will once again pay users to install an app that tracks their app usage • CNBC

Salvador Rodriguez:


Facebook on Tuesday announced a new app that will let the company collect data on how people use their smartphones in exchange for money.

The new app is called Study, and it is designed to give Facebook data on what apps participants install, how much time they spend on those apps, what features they use on those apps, what country they’re in, and type of device and network they’re using.

Facebook has a long history of using apps to collect information about usage habits in order to improve its own products.

In 2013, Facebook bought a free security app called Onavo, which let users access a virtual private network, or VPN, to browse the web and download apps with a greater degree of privacy. Facebook used data from Onavo to gather broad information about which apps were popular and how people were using them, which it used to improve its own products, but claims it did not collect information about individual users.

However, Facebook pulled the app from the App Store in 2018 after Apple reportedly told the company that it violated rules then-new rules about user privacy.


Meet the new app, same as the old app (but with Apple’s blessing this time).
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Apple has capacity to make all iPhones for US outside of China • Bloomberg

Debby Wu:


Hon Hai, known also as Foxconn, is the American giant’s most important manufacturing partner. It will fully support Apple if it needs to adjust its production as the U.S.-Chinese trade spat gets grimmer and more unpredictable, board nominee and semiconductor division chief Young Liu told an investor briefing in Taipei on Tuesday.

“Twenty-five% of our production capacity is outside of China and we can help Apple respond to its needs in the U.S. market,” said Liu, adding that investments are now being made in India for Apple. “We have enough capacity to meet Apple’s demand.”

Apple shares were up more than 1% to $194.99 in New York on Tuesday.

Apple has not given Hon Hai instructions to move production out of China, but it is capable of moving lines elsewhere according to customers’ needs, Liu added. The company will respond swiftly and rely on localized manufacturing in response to the trade war, just as it foresaw the need to build a base in the US state of Wisconsin two years ago, he said.


It was all going so well until that mention of Wisconsin.
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Gravity ‘anomaly’ at Moon’s south pole could be buried metallic asteroid • Extreme Tech

Ryan Whitwam:


The leading explanation for the gravitational anomaly, according to the researchers, is that the object responsible for the crater is still mostly intact beneath the surface. So, some 4 billion years ago, a mostly metallic asteroid hit the moon and remains embedded in the mantle to this day. Another potential explanation is that the region is naturally rich in oxides that formed as the moon cooled in the distant past. However, the overlap of the crater and increased gravity seems a bit too convenient.

If there is a large metallic object buried under the South Pole-Aitken basin, it could tell us something about the moon’s interior. After four billion years, the iron-nickel remains of the asteroid would have been dispersed throughout the mantle if the moon was geologically active for any significant period of time.


Ooooh is it a radio-opaque obelisk with proportions of 1:4:9? Looking forward to the expedition visiting it.
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Worldwide all-in-one (AIO) PC shipments to drop further in 2019 • Digitimes

Betty Shyu:


Because of the US-China trade tensions and Intel’s ongoing CPU shortages, worldwide all-in-one (AIO) PC shipments are expected to shrink 5% on year to arrive at only 12.8 million units in 2019, a weaker performance than expected previously, according to Digitimes Research’s figures.

All-in-one (AIO) PCs will account for 12.6% of overall desktop shipments in 2019, Digitimes Research’s numbers showed.

Of the top-4 AIO PC brands, the top-2 brands – Apple and Lenovo – will see sharper shipment declines than others in 2019, while third-place Hewlett-Packard (HP) and foruth-place Dell will both see stead performances.


12.8m in a year is about 3.2m per quarter on average. Assume that the top two have 40% of that market, and that that splits 25-15. That would mean Apple is selling 0.8m iMacs per quarter. A tiny fraction will be iMac Pros. And then consider how big the market for the Mac Pro is: likely smaller than for the iMac Pro (because you’d only want the Mac Pro if the iMac Pro didn’t do it for you). So much effort, so few buyers.
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Massive Ebola outbreak spreads across DRC border, infected five-year-old in Uganda • Ars Technica

Beth Mole:


Health officials in Uganda have confirmed the country’s first case of Ebola stemming from a massive outbreak that has been raging across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since August of 2018.

The World Health Organization reported Tuesday, June 11, that the case is in a five-year-old boy from the DRC who traveled with his family into Uganda on June 9. The boy’s case was confirmed by the Uganda Virus Institute (UVRI), and he’s receiving care in the Ebola Treatment Unit in the western Ugandan town of Bwera, which sits at the border with DRC.

Health officials have feared the spread of the virus, which has festered in DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces for nearly a year. The provinces sit on the eastern side of the country, bordering South Sudan, Uganda, and Rwanda. As of June 9, the WHO reports 2,062 cases (1,968 confirmed and 94 probable), including 1,390 deaths (1,296 confirmed and 94 probable) in the outbreak. It is the second largest Ebola outbreak on record, surpassed only by the 2014 West African outbreak, which involved more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths.


Current existential risks to civilisation: climate emergency, asteroid strike, nuclear confrontation/accident.. and pandemic. Quite a lot of scientists worry about the latter one because it would only have to affect a tiny percentage of the population to have a dramatic effect on social order.
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Facebook turned off search features used to catch war criminals, child predators, and other bad actors • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:


In August 2017, the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for [Libyan military commander Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf al-Werfalli] for allegedly participating in or ordering the execution of 33 people in Benghazi, Libya. At the core of the evidence against him are seven videos, some of which were found on Facebook, that allegedly show Werfalli committing crimes. His case marked the first time the ICC issued a warrant based largely on material gathered from social media.

Now that kind of work is being put in jeopardy, according to Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She said Facebook’s recent decision to turn off the features in its graph search product could be a “disaster” for human rights research.

“To make it even more difficult for human rights actors and war crimes investigators to search that site—right as they’re realizing the utility of the rich trove of information being shared online for documenting abuses—is a potential disaster for the human rights and war crimes community,” she said. “We need Facebook to be working with us and making access to such information easier, not more difficult.”

Simply put, Facebook graph search is a way to receive an answer to a specific query on Facebook, such as “people in Nebraska who like Metallica.” Using graph search, it’s possible to find public — and only public — content that’s not easily accessed via keyword searches.

Late last week, Facebook turned off several features that have long been accessible via graph search, such as the ability to find public videos that a specific Facebook user was tagged in.


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,086: the trouble with monopsony, YouTube has Russia in a spin, a G20 concordat on digital tax?, deepfakes get worryingly easier, and more

Smile! Hackers want to know you’re happy. CC-licensed photo by Delta News Hub on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Buy shares in balaclavas. (Or baclava, why be fussy.) I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

US Customs and Border Protection says photos of travelers were taken in a data breach • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell and Geoffrey Fowler:


U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said Monday that photos of travelers had been compromised as part of a “malicious cyber-attack,” raising concerns over how federal officials’ expanding surveillance efforts could imperil Americans’ privacy.

Customs officials said in a statement Monday that the images, which included photos of people’s license plates, had been compromised as part of an attack on a federal subcontractor.

The agency maintains a database including passport and visa photos that is used at airports as part of an agency facial-recognition program. CBP declined to say what images were stolen or how many people were affected.

But CBP makes extensive use of cameras and video recordings at the arrival halls of international airports as well as land border crossings, where vehicle license plates are also captured.

A CBP statement said none of the image data had been identified “on the Dark Web or Internet.” But reporters at The Register, a British technology news site, reported late last month that a large haul of breached data from the firm Perceptics was being offered as a free download on the dark web.


A malicious cyberattack rather than an accidental cyberattack? These things are always going to be catnip to a certain group – apparently, in this case, professionals seeking to sell the data. (Though you’d expect this to be amateurs offering it so it can be validated as stolen; or state actors doing the same.)

Suddenly makes it hard to argue that this data should be retained, though.
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Monopsony, not monopoly, is the tech industry’s biggest threat • Fast Company

Glenn Fleishman:


The flip side of monopoly, a monopsony results when one company is the sole buyer of a given product or service, including contract and employee labor. Like a monopoly, a monopsony can also result in higher prices and stagnating wages.

The paradox of the digital economy is that certain monopsonies have kept prices low. Logically, you would think that companies that have enormous power to flex would reap the highest profit they can. But we’re in an odd market moment, one that seemingly can’t last. Competition may drive prices down, but companies can’t infinitely squeeze vendors or sell below cost forever. At some point, suppliers balk or go under, or monopsonists crack as their business models prove unsustainable – or courts order changes. Is the end nigh?

Digital economy upstarts – even those 20-plus years old – may face avid competition for what they offer. Amazon isn’t the only company that can sell you any given book – thousands can. In a reader comment on an article at Deadline in 2014 about an Amazon/Hachette pricing dispute, Ward Anderson wrote, “Amazon sells about 50% of the books in North America. And the books it does not sell are readily available elsewhere. That’s not a monopoly.”

Similarly, you can opt to take a Lyft or a taxi instead of an Uber. And hotels, motels, and even Craigslist room rentals compete with AirBnb.

Yet regulators, consumers, and skeptics have feared that tech giants might exercise a de facto monopoly because they drown out other options through attention and convenience. In a monopoly scenario, prices would rise. So far, however, across a wide swath of products and services, they’ve remained low, and many large firms are known to price below cost, or are at least suspected of doing so. This can be illegal under the Sherman Act if this behavior is found to be predatory, as in a 1993 case Walmart lost. Such outcomes are rare, though. The FTC tuts-tuts at the notion of low prices being problematic these days, so long as they are not specifically designed to create a monopoly and raise prices.


In a sense, what we (as users) see as monopolies are what those on the other side see as monopsonies. Websites don’t have much choice about optimising for Google; it’s important to be on that first page of search results. Uber drivers, Lyft drivers, do they have a choice? Amazon has shown its power as a monopsony over book publishers a number of times. Perhaps the internet makes it easier for them to arise.
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Looking for free speech in Russia? Try YouTube • The New York Times

Neil MacFarquhar:


“The entire social, political part of television is controlled by the authorities,” said Leonid G. Parfenov, an independent news anchor who has been shut out of state TV since 2004 for being too critical of the government. “For that reason, you cannot consider this television journalism — it is just propaganda, they are just employees of the presidential administration.”

Yet voices that the government would mute are heard regularly by tens of millions of Russians in another format: YouTube.

For more freewheeling opinions and commentary — particularly from those critical of President Vladimir V. Putin — YouTube has become the leading way to reach Russian audiences. In particular, it is challenging — if not supplanting — state TV as a source of information for the young…

Free-speech advocates fear that Russia will try to follow the Chinese model of heavy state internet censorship, and the Kremlin has taken initial steps in that direction.

But some critics say that the main threat to Russian YouTube stems from its own success. New money, shows and advertisers are pushing aside the homespun channels that have made it an important outlet, threatening to marginalize serious content, especially politics.


Irony that the social network that Russia can’t manipulate is the one that manipulates it back. And of course the recommendation algorithm will take viewers off down rabbit holes…
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Personal details of 23m drivers given out by DVLA • The Times

Graeme Paton:


The information watchdog is to hold an inquiry after the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency released the personal details of a record 23 million vehicle owners last year.

The Times has learnt that an unprecedented 63,600 records a day were handed to third parties including bailiffs and private investigators, often allowing motorists to be aggressively pursued for parking and toll road fines.

The DVLA charged organisations to obtain almost 7.8 million records, suggesting that it made £19.4m from the release of the data of almost two thirds of all vehicle owners in the UK.

Motoring groups called for an independent inquiry amid questions over how a data release on this scale could be properly policed, particularly in light of the rigorous new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) introduced across Europe last year.

There are fears that not all organisations that obtained the vehicle records did so legitimately, nor put them to a proper use.


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Digital giants face tax setback after G20 agreement • Financial Times

Robin Harding:


Digital companies such as Facebook and Google will soon have to pay taxes regardless of their physical presence or measured profits in a country after G20 finance ministers agreed to accelerate a radical shake-up of cross-border corporate tax.

In a communiqué issued after their meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, finance ministers from the world’s largest economies said they aimed to agree on new rules “by 2020”. But there are still big differences to resolve, with the US, home to most of the world’s digital giants, opposed to rules that treat digital companies differently to others.

The proposals will lead to higher tax bills for some of the world’s most valuable companies and transform the basic tenets of international tax for a world where economic value comes from flows of ideas and data rather than physical goods.

“We have a new economic model based on digital activities and based on the sale and exchange and use of massive data,” said Bruno Le Maire, the French finance minister. “For the time being there is no fair taxation of this new economic model.”


Hard to figure out what the communique is saying, to be honest. But it’s surely a good move.
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AI deepfakes are now as simple as typing whatever you want your subject to say • The Verge

James Vincent:


In the latest example of deepfake technology, researchers have shown off new software that uses machine learning to let users edit the text transcript of a video to add, delete, or change the words coming right out of somebody’s mouth.

The work was done by scientists from Stanford University, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, Princeton University, and Adobe Research, and shows that our ability to edit what people say in videos and create realistic fakes is becoming easier every day.

You can see a number of examples of the system’s output, including an edited version of a famous quotation from Apocalypse Now, with the line “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” changed to “I love the smell of french toast in the morning.”

This work is just at the research stage right now and isn’t available as consumer software, but it probably won’t be long until similar services go public. Adobe, for example, has already shared details on prototype software named VoCo, which lets users edit recordings of speech as easily as a picture, and which was used in this research.


What do we think, a year? Less?
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Google rewards reputable reporting, not left-wing politics • The Economist


To test for favouritism, The Economist ran an experiment, comparing a news site’s share of search results with a statistical prediction based on its output, reach and accuracy.

We first wrote a program to obtain Google results for any keyword. Using a browser with no history, in a politically centrist part of Kansas, we searched for 31 terms for each day in 2018, yielding 175,000 links.

Next, we built a model to predict each site’s share of the links Google produces for each keyword, based on the premise that search results should reflect accuracy and audience size, as Google claims. We started with each outlet’s popularity on social media and, using data from Meltwater, a media-tracking firm, how often they covered each topic. We also used accuracy ratings from fact-checking websites, tallies of Pulitzer prizes and results from a poll by YouGov about Americans’ trust in 37 sources.

If Google favoured liberals, left-wing sites would appear more often than our model predicted, and right-wing ones less. We saw no such trend. Overall, centre-left sites like the New York Times got the most links—but only about as many as our model suggested. Fox News beat its modest expectations. Because most far-right outlets had bad trust scores, they got few search results. But so did Daily Kos, a far-left site.

Our study does not prove Google is impartial. In theory, Google could serve unbiased links only to users without a browsing history. If fact-checkers and Pulitzer voters are partisan, our model will be too.


Not surprising, but good to have The Economist do the legwork.
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When will the climate emergency make the earth too hot for humans? • NY Mag

David Wallace-Wells:


Since 1980, the planet has experienced a 50-fold increase in the number of places experiencing dangerous or extreme heat; a bigger increase is to come. The five warmest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002, and soon, the IPCC warns, simply being outdoors that time of year will be unhealthy for much of the globe.

Even if we meet the Paris goals of two degrees warming, cities like Karachi and Kolkata will become close to uninhabitable, annually encountering deadly heat waves like those that crippled them in 2015.

At four degrees, the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which killed as many as 2,000 people a day, will be a normal summer.

At six, according to an assessment focused only on effects within the U.S. from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, summer labor of any kind would become impossible in the lower Mississippi Valley, and everybody in the country east of the Rockies would be under more heat stress than anyone, anywhere, in the world today.

As Joseph Romm has put it in his authoritative primer Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, heat stress in New York City would exceed that of present-day Bahrain, one of the planet’s hottest spots, and the temperature in Bahrain “would induce hyperthermia in even sleeping humans.” The high-end IPCC estimate, remember, is two degrees warmer still.


As he also points out, every mass extinction apart from that of the dinosaurs in the Earth’s history has been caused by greenhouse gas warming.
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iOS 13 shows a map of where apps have been tracking you • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:


As you can see in the screenshots above, iOS 13 presents popup notifications when an app is using your location in the background. The notification also shows a map of the location data a specific app has tracked. The above screenshots show location data tracked by the Tesla app as well as the Apple Store app.

In addition to showing the map, the notification also presents the app’s reasoning for needing background location access. This is Tesla’s explanation:


Tesla uses your location to show your proximity to your vehicle (while the app is open), and to optimize phone key on your support vehicles (while the app is in the background).


And the explanation for the Apple Store app:


We’ll provide you with relevant products, features, and services depending on where you are.


…Ideally, the new pop-up reminder notifications with map will make users more aware of how often apps are tracking them in the background. In certain instances, always allowing location access makes more sense – such as Tesla – but the developer explanations will have to convince users of that.


Nice idea. It’s probably going to freak app developers out.
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The battle in Israel to build an unhackable phone • FT

Mehul Srivastava:


The Intactphone is used by senior UN officials, heads of states and, in one country the company will not name, by a national prosecutor whose predecessor was hacked.

Its cost ranges anywhere from a few thousand dollars to the millions. The most expensive set-up includes privately hosted servers that generate the ephemeral encryption keys that lock each individual communication into a sealed vault, and dozens of phones distributed among government officials.

The company saw a boost after the Israel Innovation Authority took a stake and helped market the technology abroad, especially in the US and in Mexico. Now it is developing a commercial version, that will run on a custom-built phone designed to mimic the look of a normal smartphone. That would allow people to carry a secure phone without drawing attention.

“In the first few years we have had the product battle-test by some very high-tech customers — intelligence agencies, governments,” said Mr Sasson. “Now we are going wider.”

The battle lines are oddly concentrated in Israel, where NSO and Communitake are part of an industry that includes companies like Cellebrite, recently valued at $600m, which unlocks encrypted smartphones for governments, and Verint Systems, the $3.7bn cyber surveillance company that has hundreds of engineers in Israel working on software used by the FBI and European law enforcement.

They thrive on graduates of the Israeli army’s surveillance units, including Unit 8200, the signals intelligence and decryption division from which Eran Karpen, Communitake’s chief operating officer, hails. And they also benefit from Israel’s reputation for world-beating cyber surveillance, and the mystique of its intelligence agencies, especially in the Middle East.

For smaller companies like Communitake, that is a key asset.


I’m a little wary of this story, because there’s no external validation of its claims. Which governments have bought it? Why hasn’t everyone bought it? There are plenty of claims, but actual empirical proof is much harder to come by.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,085: Huawei on the edge, the fake Iranian who the US admin leant on, Apple’s desirable sign-in system, Uber and bust?, and more

The way for modern men to stay in touch? Games voice chat systems. CC-licensed photo by Carlota Maura on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Yeah, another week. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

For men who hate talking on the phone, games keep friendships alive • Kotaku

Cecilia D’Anastasio:


[Eddie] Gill, a physician from Hingham, MA, is 30 years old—around the age when, according to an oft-cited study by Royal Society Open Science, the number of friendships the average man maintains dramatically declines. He is not a phone guy. He’ll talk to his mom, or his grandparents. Other than that, he finds keeping in touch with friends and family to be as difficult as chasing around his seven-month-old, or working with his patients. Like others his age, Gill says that his close friendships from high school and college have atrophied, not only because of the distance but because of their mutual aversion to talking on the phone.

“The absolute exception,” said Gill, “are the friends I regularly play games with.”

Put Eddie Gill and one of his friends on the phone, and it would be painful for both parties—stilted conversation, awkward silences, brusque goodbyes. But drop them into a game of Apex Legends and the conversation flows freely.

Over Xbox voice chat, Gill gabs with his buddies about the latest Game of Thrones episode, their favorite NFL teams and, sometimes, their personal lives. When his wife was pregnant, he told his friends over a game of Destiny 2. Like over two dozen other people Kotaku spoke to—the vast majority of whom were men—Gill says online gaming has replaced phone calls, and even real-life meetups. It’s cemented male relationships that might otherwise have evaporated.

“I don’t think I would be as close with these guys if we didn’t hang out online the way we do,” Gill says of his childhood friends with whom he plays Apex Legends. “It would be impossible.”


Such a great piece of observation.
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Dutch news aggregate website Blendle ditches pay-per-article service • DutchNews.nl


Dutch digital news aggregator Blendle is to stop selling individual news articles for ‘quarters’ and will focus instead on its premium subscription service.

Blendle launched in 2014 as an online news platform that collected articles from a variety of newspapers and magazines and sold them on a pay-per-article basis.

In 2017 the company launched its premium service which provides readers with pre-selected article suggestions and magazine access for €10 a month.

‘Nine in 10 start-ups are dead within a year, but we are still around five years on,’ Klopping is quoted as saying in the AD. ‘I lead a team of 50, we have 60,000 subscribers and 100,000 people who pay per article. But I have to be honest. We are still not making a profit.’


Hard to see this surviving in the face of Apple News(+).
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Is Heshmat Alavi, writer on Iran, a fake run by MEK opposition? • The Intercept

Murtaza Hussain:


In 2018, president Donald Trump was seeking to jettison the landmark nuclear deal that his predecessor had signed with Iran in 2015, and he was looking for ways to win over a skeptical press. The White House claimed that the nuclear deal had allowed Iran to increase its military budget, and Washington Post reporters Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly asked for a source. In response, the White House passed along an article published in Forbes by a writer named Heshmat Alavi.

“Iran’s current budget is funded largely through ‘oil, taxes, increasing bonds, [and] eliminating cash handouts or subsidies’ for Iranians, according to an article by a Forbes contributor, Heshmat Alavi, sent to us by a White House official,” Rizzo and Kelly reported. The White House had used Alavi’s article — itself partly drawn from Iranian sources — to justify its decision to terminate the agreement.

There’s a problem, though: Heshmat Alavi appears not to exist. Alavi’s persona is a propaganda operation run by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which is known by the initials MEK, two sources told The Intercept.

“Heshmat Alavi is a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK,” said Hassan Heyrani, a high-ranking defector from the MEK who said he had direct knowledge of the operation. “They write whatever they are directed by their commanders and use this name to place articles in the press. This is not and has never been a real person.”


So similar to 2001-2, when false intelligence from Iraq opposition members helped drive the US invasion of Iraq. Except that this time the administration didn’t even bother to check whether the person existed.
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Technical glitches plague Cruise, GM’s $19bn self-driving car unit • The Information

Amir Efrati:


Aside from software shutting off unexpectedly, other more common issues that have surfaced in regular testing of Cruise’s self-driving cars include near collisions with other vehicles, strange steering or unexpected braking—all of which can unnerve passengers, according to previously undisclosed data. (A human backup driver is always present to grab the wheel if anything goes wrong.) Moreover, the cars are relatively slow: in testing in San Francisco, trips typically take 80% longer than they would with a regular car, according to people with knowledge of the company. Cruise did not have a comment.

And comparing Cruise’s vehicles to how regular cars driven by people perform suggest that Cruise’s system, by the end of this year, is expected to be only 5% to 10% as safe as human-level driving in terms of the frequency of crashes, internal data shows. (See separate story.)

Cruise’s problems are not unique. Alphabet’s Waymo, which last December launched a limited robotaxi service with human backup drivers in suburban Phoenix, also has struggled. Uber, which has poured more than a billion dollars into its own self-driving car technology, has been largely stymied since one of its vehicles killed a pedestrian last year. None of the programs are close to offering safe driverless vehicles to the public at a meaningful scale, let alone showing how they might operate the vehicles profitably.


I find it really hard to know where we are on this timeline. In 2012, it took a colossal effort for Google to categorise cat videos. Last week a conference heard that you could do the same work for $200 in the cloud. Are we maybe just expecting too much, too soon of self-driving vehicles?
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The guy who made a tool to track women in porn videos is sorry • MIT Technology Review

Angela Chen:


There is still no proof that the global system—which allegedly matched women’s social-media photos with images from sites like Pornhub—actually worked, or even existed. Still, the technology is possible and would have had awful consequences. “It’s going to kill people,” says Carrie A. Goldberg, an attorney who specializes in sexual privacy violations and author of the forthcoming book Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls. “Some of my most viciously harassed clients have been people who did porn, oftentimes one time in their life and sometimes nonconsensually [because] they were duped into it. Their lives have been ruined because there’s this whole culture of incels that for a hobby expose women who’ve done porn and post about them online and dox them.” (Incels, or “involuntary celibates,” are a misogynistic online subculture of men who claim they are denied sex by women.)

The European Union’s GDPR privacy law prevents this kind of situation. Though the programmer—who posted about the project on the Chinese social network Weibo—originally insisted everything was fine because he didn’t make the information public, just collecting the data is illegal if the women didn’t consent, according to Börge Seeger, a data protection expert and partner at German law firm Neuwerk. These laws apply to any information from EU residents, so they would have held even if the programmer weren’t living in the EU.


GDPR! *empties shot glass*
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25 things Apple announced for iOS 13 that we want on Android • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:


While the dominating rhetoric over many years has been Apple’s uncanny ability to announce an Android feature that has existed for years as innovative and ground-breaking, things have changed recently. 2019 was one of the most interesting thanks to plenty of both small and big additions to iOS 13 that leave us a little doe-eyed and jealous. So here are twenty five new iOS features we’d really like to see on Android.


Top thing: sign in with Apple. The list is quite surprising. (The comments are.. comments.)
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Apple’s new sign-in button is built for a post-Cambridge Analytica world • The Verge

Russell Brandom:


Apple is introducing its own single sign-on (SSO) service, a direct competitor to the services offered by Google and Facebook. The new service is aimed at paring back data collection, with only minimal data shared with the app and a promise to quarantine any data collected within Apple itself so it can’t be used for other purposes. More importantly, the service will be mandatory for any iOS apps using SSO, which makes it an instant competitor to Google and Facebook’s offerings.

That might seem like an odd move from a hardware company, but Apple has made an explicit push toward web services in recent years, with a particular focus on privacy. The new sign-on button fits right in with iMessage’s focus on encryption and Safari’s push against third-party tracking, all fitting in with Apple’s broader vision of itself as a cleaner and more controlled alternative to the rest of the tech world. Unlike iMessage, that system won’t be restricted to iPhone users. It will be available on Android and web browsers, too, which means there’s less concern about lock-in than you might think.

It also means the system could reach more users than any previous effort, aiming for internet-wide scale in a way that few Apple products do. But unlike cookie-blocking or encryption, this latest move is targeted at legitimate software as much as hostile intruders. The people losing data from this change won’t be hackers or third-party ad networks, but apps you’ve purposefully installed on your phone and networks you’ve chosen to join. It’s a product of the growing scope of privacy concerns in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, and it’s a sign of just how much tech infrastructure needs to be rebuilt as our expectations of privacy change.


Also has some explanation of how this works (it’s not quite just giving you a fake email). Brandom suggests “it’s just shifting your trust from Google/Facebook to Apple”, but that isn’t right. Apple doesn’t have any incentive to take a meta-view on that data, unlike the other two.
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Acting budget chief seeks reprieve on Huawei ban • WSJ

Dan Strumpf:


The request from Mr. Vought, dated June 4, asks for a delay in the implementation of portions of the National Defense Authorization Act… The delay, if enacted, would be a reprieve for Huawei, which has been the target of a series of US actions that threaten its dominance in telecommunications technology. In addition to the law targeting its business, they include last month’s Commerce Department order placing Huawei on a blacklist preventing the sale of American technology to the company, as well as an executive order that paves the way for a ban on Huawei from doing business in the US.

The letter says the NDAA rules could lead to a “dramatic reduction” in the number of companies that would be able to supply the government, and would disproportionately affect US companies in rural areas—where Huawei gear is popular—that rely on federal grants. The letter asks for the restrictions on contractors and on federal loan and grant recipients to take effect four years from the law’s passage, instead of the current two years, to give affected companies time to respond and give feedback.

“While the Administration recognizes the importance of these prohibitions to national security,” the letter states, “a number of agencies have heard significant concerns from a wide range of potentially impacted stakeholders who would be affected” by the rules as written.

In addition, the letter said “rural Federal grants recipients may be disproportionally impacted by the prohibition.”


So Huawei is super-threatening, but not if it might mean people in rural areas (which tended to vote for Trump) might be inconvenienced in getting their hourly dose of Facebook?
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Huawei cuts orders to key suppliers after US blacklisting • Nikkei Asian Review

Cheng Ting-Fang and Lauly Li:


Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, confirmed that orders from Huawei have declined since the Chinese company was hit with a de facto ban on using US technology. Taiwan-based Auras Technology, a top supplier of cooling modules for Huawei devices, said a Chinese customer’s orders were affected, without naming the company.

A source familiar with Huawei smartphone orders told the Nikkei Asian Review that the company has downgraded its forecast for total smartphone shipments in the second half of 2019 by “about 20% to 30%” from the previous estimate following the US move to put the tech giant on the so-called Entity List, which in effect bans American companies from working with Huawei and its affiliates.

Other suppliers worldwide also need to comply with the new U.S. regulation if they are indirectly shipping a certain amount of American technologies to Huawei.

“Suppliers are receiving different ranges of order adjustments,” the person familiar with Huawei’s smartphone business said. “Suppliers mainly for markets outside of China were affected the most, while some suppliers that help Huawei in its home market actually benefited from the rising demand amid patriotic sentiment.”

Another representative at a Huawei supplier that makes power-related components for its smartphone and telecom gear businesses told the Nikkei Asian Review the Chinese company has suspended some orders.


In the second half of 2018 Huawei shipped 112.5m phones (up 33% on the previous year), so maybe it’s just going to stand still. You’d imagine its ambition was to keep growing at the same rate.
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Google warns of US national security risks from Huawei ban • Financial Times

Kiran Stacey and James Politi:


Google in particular is concerned it would not be allowed to update its Android operating system on Huawei’s smartphones, which it argues would prompt the Chinese company to develop its own version of the software.

Google argues a Huawei-modified version of Android would be more susceptible to being hacked, according to people briefed on its lobbying efforts. Huawei has said it would be able to develop its own operating system “very quickly”.

One person with knowledge of the conversations said: “Google has been arguing that by stopping it from dealing with Huawei, the US risks creating two kinds of Android operating system: the genuine version and a hybrid one. The hybrid one is likely to have more bugs in it than the Google one, and so could put Huawei phones more at risk of being hacked, not least by China.”

Washington has been concerned for years that telecoms equipment sold by Huawei could be used by Beijing for hacking. But since Donald Trump entered office, these concerns have come to the fore.


Seems a bit of a stretch. The obvious retort from the US admin side would be “so tell everyone not to buy from Huawei. Get a logo like ‘Intel Inside’ but saying ‘Google Inside’ – ‘Good To Google’? – and rely on that.”
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Uber’s path of destruction • American Affairs Journal

Hubert Horan:


Most public criticisms of Uber have focused on narrow behavioral and cultural issues, including deceptive advertising and pricing, algorithmic manipulation, driver exploitation, deep-seated misogyny among executives, and disregard of laws and business norms. Such criticisms are valid, but these problems are not fixable aberrations. They were the inevitable result of pursuing “growth at all costs” without having any ability to fund that growth out of positive cash flow. And while Uber has taken steps to reduce negative publicity, it has not done—and cannot do—anything that could suddenly pro duce a sustainable, profitable business model.

Uber’s longer-term goal was to eliminate all meaningful competition and then profit from this quasi-monopoly power. While it has already begun using some of this artificial power to suppress driver wages, it has not achieved the Facebook- or Amazon-type “plat form” power it hoped to exploit. Given that both sustainable profits and true industry dominance seemed unachievable, Uber’s investors de cided to take the company public, based on the hope that enough gullible investors still believe that the compa ny’s rapid growth and popularity are the result of powerfully effi cient inno vations and do not care about its inability to generate profits.

These beliefs about Uber’s corporate value were created entirely out of thin air. This is not a case of a company with a reasonably sound operating business that has managed to inflate stock market expectations a bit. This is a case of a massive valuation that has no relationship to any economic fundamentals. Uber has no competitive efficiency advantages, operates in an industry with few barriers to entry, and has lost more than $14bn in the previous four years. But its narratives convinced most people in the media, invest ment, and tech worlds that it is the most valuable transportation company on the planet and the second most valuable start-up IPO in U.S. history (after Facebook).

Uber is the breakthrough case where the public perception of a large new company was entirely created using the types of manufactured narratives typically employed in partisan political campaigns. Narrative construction is perhaps Uber’s greatest competitive strength.


He then rips apart its economics; you’ll be happy to take an Uber (well, perhaps; it’s putting taxi drivers who make a profit out of business) but certainly avoid the shares.
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Start Up No.1,084: working with Walmart’s robots, Microsoft facial recognition wipe, a trillion for a green economy?, Google Stadia not a crowdpleaser, and more

Let’s talk about how HBO’s Chernobyl series depicted radiation. CC-licensed photo by Frost Bite Photography on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 11 links for you. Visually intact. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

As Walmart turns to robots, it’s the human workers who feel like machines • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell:


The nation’s largest private employer has unleashed an army of robots into more than 1,500 of its jumbo stores, with thousands of automated shelf-scanners, box-unloaders, artificial-intelligence cameras and other machines doing the jobs once left to human employees.

The swarm is already remaking how the retailer’s more than 1 million US “associates” go about their daily work. Given the chain’s ubiquity across the country, the local Walmart store also is likely to become the first place millions of Americans meet a real-life, working robot.

Walmart executives have promised the all-hours robot workhorses will let employees endure less drudgery and enjoy “more satisfying jobs,” while also ensuring shoppers see cleaner stores, fuller shelves and faster checkouts.

But the rise of the machines has had an unexpected side effect: Their jobs, some workers said, have never felt more robotic. By incentivizing hyper-efficiency, the machines have deprived the employees of tasks they used to find enjoyable. Some also feel like their most important assignment now is to train and babysit their often inscrutable robot colleagues.

Customers, too, have found coexisting with machines to be confusing, if not alarming.


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Microsoft quietly deletes largest public face recognition data set • Financial Times

Madhumita Murgia:


Microsoft, which took down the database days after the FT reported on its use by companies, said: “The site was intended for academic purposes. It was run by an employee that is no longer with Microsoft and has since been removed.”

Two other data sets have also been taken down since the FT report was published in April, including the Duke MTMC surveillance data set built by Duke University researchers, and a Stanford University data set called Brainwash.

Brainwash used footage of customers in a café called Brainwash in San Francisco’s Lower Haight district, taken through a livestreaming camera. Duke did not respond to requests for comment. Stanford said it had removed the data set after a request by one of the authors of a study it was used for. A spokesperson said the university is “committed to protecting the privacy of individuals at Stanford and in the larger community”.

All three data sets were uncovered by Berlin-based researcher Adam Harvey, whose project Megapixels documented the details of dozens of data sets and how they are being used.

Microsoft’s MS Celeb data set has been used by several commercial organisations, according to citations in AI papers, including IBM, Panasonic, Alibaba, Nvidia, Hitachi, Sensetime and Megvii. Both Sensetime and Megvii are Chinese suppliers of equipment to officials in Xinjiang, where minorities of mostly Uighurs and other Muslims are being tracked and held in internment camps.


Good work by Harvey with Megapixels, but that sound is the stable door closing while the horse heads off into the distance.
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Smartphone shipment forecast cut to 1.35 billion for 2019 as uncertainty prevails • Canalys


The latest numbers show that smartphone shipments will reach 1.35 billion units in 2019, a year-on-year decline of 3.1%. Due to the many uncertainties surrounding the US/China trade talks, the US Executive Order signed on 15 May and subsequent developments, Canalys has lowered its forecasts to reflect an uncertain future.

Canalys’ base assumption is that restrictions will be imposed stringently on Huawei, once the 90-day reprieve expires, having a significant impact on its ability to roll-out new devices in the short term, especially outside of China. Canalys anticipates that Huawei is taking steps to mitigate the effect of component and service supply issues, but its overseas potential will be hampered for some time. The US and China may eventually reach a trade deal to alleviate the pressure on Huawei, but if and when this will happen is far from clear.

Canalys’ published forecasts reflect what will happen should there be no major political changes. “It is important to note that market uncertainty is clearly prompting vendors to accelerate certain strategies to minimize the short- and long-term impact in a challenging business environment, for example, shifting manufacturing to different countries to hedge against the risk of tariffs. But with recent US announcements on tariffs on goods from more countries, the industry will be dealing with turmoil for some time,” said Nicole Peng, VP, Mobility.

“We expect the other major smartphone vendors will have short-term opportunities while Huawei struggles. Samsung will be the biggest winner, thanks to its aggressive device strategy and its ability to quickly ramp up production, through the Korean firm may struggle to entirely fill the shortfall,” said Rushabh Doshi, Research Director, Canalys. “It will take other vendors until late 2019 to react to the new opportunities. Samsung’s control over component supply gives it a major advantage.”


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No 10 denies claim by chancellor that emissions target will cost UK £1tn • The Guardian

Seth Jacobson:


Downing Street has shot down claims made by the chancellor, Philip Hammond, that tackling the climate crisis would cost £1tn and require spending cuts for schools, hospitals and the police force.

No 10 said plans to create a net zero carbon economy would cost no more than the UK’s existing plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The firm response will be seen as a rare rebuke for Hammond, who warned Theresa May that reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero could cost the country £1tn and lead to industries becoming “economically uncompetitive” without government subsidies.

In a letter to the prime minister, Hammond said the proposed 2050 net zero target – one of the most far-reaching proposed in the world – would mean less money for schools, the NHS and police forces, the Financial Times reported.

Downing Street said analysis from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) showed that the cost of a net zero carbon economy would “fall within our existing spending plans”.

A spokeswoman for No 10 would not comment directly on the letter, but warned against any cost estimates which conflated economic costs with public spending.

“There are a lot of figures out there on this issue that don’t factor in the benefits or consider the costs of not doing this,” she said.

“The costs related to meeting this target are whole-of-the-economy costs, not a fiscal cost, and so it’s not really right to frame it as a trade-off for public spending,” she said.


Seems a bit weird for Hammond to make such an elementary error in calculation, unless he’s just trying to kill the whole thing – which would be disastrous.
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Google Stadia launches 4K game-streaming in November for $9.99/mo • TechCrunch

Lucas Matney:


Top-level details are the company’s Stadia Pro service will launch in November for $9.99 per month. The price gets you 4K 60fps streaming but you’ll need at least a 35 mbps internet connection to get that speed. Alongside the streaming capabilities, you’ll get access to some Stadia games with the Pro subscription.

At launch, the service is coming to the USA, UK, Canada, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. Users in Hawaii, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands aren’t supported on Stadia.

We also learned that playing Stadia on a mobile device will be confined to the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3a at launch so that means no iOS or iPadOS devices at launch though you’ll be able to play in the Chrome browser on your Mac. Not a ton of love for Apple devices though.

Google will be offering a free base subscription next year that lets gamers who purchase titles from the Stadia store stream them for free at 1080p 30fps. This is a major announcement and something that Google really slid into the stream at the very end, but this is really going to put some pressure on the company to have some quality free content to keep gamers interested in the Pro tier.


This will be going up against Apple Arcade, an all-you-can-eat games fest targeting iOS and macOS (and tvOS.. well, Apple TV) devices which is probably going to launch about the same time for the same money but will work offline and won’t require you to buy games.

Dedicated gamers already have consoles; “no console” isn’t an attraction for them. Not gonna lie, looks tough for Google.
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Why HBO’s “Chernobyl” gets nuclear so wrong • Forbes

Michael Shellenberger:


HBO tries to clean-up some of the sensationalism with captions at the very end of the series. None note that claiming a baby died by “absorbing” radiation from its father is total and utter pseudoscience.

There is no good evidence that Chernobyl radiation killed a baby nor that it caused any increase in birth defects.

“We’ve now had a chance to observe all the children that have been born close to Chernobyl,” reported UCLA physician Robert Gale in 1987, and “none of them, at birth, at least, has had any detectable abnormalities.”

Indeed, the only public health impact beyond the deaths of the first responders was 20,000 documented cases of thyroid cancer in those aged under 18 at the time of the accident.

The United Nations in 2017 concluded that only 25%, 5,000, can be attributed to Chernobyl radiation (paragraphs A-C). In earlier studies, the UN estimated there could be up to 16,000 cases attributable to Chernobyl radiation.

Since thyroid cancer has a mortality rate of just one percent, that means the expected deaths from thyroid cancers caused by Chernobyl will be 50 to 160 over an 80-year lifespan.

At the end of the show, HBO claims there was “a dramatic spike in cancer rates across Ukraine and Belarus,” but this too is wrong.


I loved this series, but yes, it overstates the risks. The simple fact that it took such a colossal screwup and almost wilful ignorance of the reactor’s state – ignoring the xenon pit (well worth reading; the Wiki article is great), the computer’s advice to shut down – to make it blow up shows that even crappy old reactors are hard to break. The risk of a truly enormous explosion if the core had reached groundwater was real, though.

Nuclear is the safest form of electrical generation – in terms of lives lost per gigawatt – until we get some numbers on wind turbines and solar panels. (The pollution from manufacturing the latter might count against it.) And nuclear is ideal for providing a base load.
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Michelin rolls out an airless tyre that will be “puncture-proof” • Car and Driver

Sebastian Blanco:


Michelin’s new Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System (Uptis) does away with one of the defining aspects of tires as we’ve known them for more than 100 years: the air inside. Unlike past attempts at airless tires, Uptis functions the way other modern tires do and, Michelin claims, will provide a similar driving experience.

Unveiled at the company’s sustainable-mobility-focused Movin’On Summit in Montreal today, Uptis is a tire without a traditional sidewall that carries its load by the top thanks to a new resin-embedded fiberglass material that Michelin was granted over 50 patents for.

“The idea was to develop a technology that was strong enough to carry the load but light enough to replace the air,” Cyrille Roget, technical and scientific communication director for the Michelin Group, told Car and Driver. “If you have a load on the tire and you cut all the spokes at the bottom, you will see that nothing will change, demonstrating that the load is carried by the top of it, not by the under parts.” Other airless tires, he said, often carry the load at the bottom of the tire, which is very inefficient and causes extra heating due to compression.


Grr. “For which Michelin was granted over 50 patents”, I think. This sounds impressive, until you look at the stats for punctures: the average (American) driver will experience five flat tyres in their lifetime. In other words, perhaps one every four years. And of course air isn’t just for inflation; it also provides damping against potholes and bumps. So this needs to have a lot more going for it than just being puncture-proof, or else needs to be used in very adverse situations.
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Quantum leaps, long assumed to be instantaneous, take time • Quanta Magazine

Philip Ball:


When quantum mechanics was first developed a century ago as a theory for understanding the atomic-scale world, one of its key concepts was so radical, bold and counter-intuitive that it passed into popular language: the “quantum leap.” Purists might object that the common habit of applying this term to a big change misses the point that jumps between two quantum states are typically tiny, which is precisely why they weren’t noticed sooner. But the real point is that they’re sudden. So sudden, in fact, that many of the pioneers of quantum mechanics assumed they were instantaneous.

A new experiment shows that they aren’t. By making a kind of high-speed movie of a quantum leap, the work reveals that the process is as gradual as the melting of a snowman in the sun. “If we can measure a quantum jump fast and efficiently enough,” said Michel Devoret of Yale University, “it is actually a continuous process.”


You can take the plunge into the Nature paper, or the slightly less cold plunge into the rest of the article. Both are pretty mindboggling. Though empirically, of course a quantum leap can’t happen “instantaneously” because there’s no such thing; there’s only “measurably fast” and “immeasurably fast”. Sadly, though, knowing that it’s “measurably fast” won’t help us build nuclear fusion reactors or faster-than-light drives.
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Apple backs off crackdown on parental-control apps • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:


After promoting its latest software updates in a splashy two-hour presentation on Monday morning, Apple articulated its new policy in a short blog post on a section of its website for developers.

The post said parental-control apps could now use two technologies that Apple had recently cited as grounds for their removal from iPhones.

One technology, mobile device management, or MDM, enables parents to take control of a child’s phone. The other is a virtual private network, or VPN, which parents can use to block certain apps on a child’s phone.

In the post, Apple said the apps could use the technologies if they didn’t “sell, use or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose” and included that promise in their privacy policies.

“These apps were using an enterprise technology that provided them access to kids’ highly sensitive personal data,” an Apple spokeswoman said in a statement. “We do not think it is OK for any apps to help data companies track or optimize advertising of kids.”

She did not say whether Apple had found evidence of the apps doing so. The app makers deny such activity. The spokeswoman declined to say why Apple had changed its mind.

Fred Stutzman, the chief executive of Freedom, an app that helped people track and limit their time on iPhones, said, “My reaction is: Why this last year of pain? And we end up exactly in the same place.”


Stutzman says the policy cost his company more than $1m since its implementation in August, which suggests to me that Freedom was doing pretty well. Not great PR work by Apple, though.
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Apple restricts ads and third-party trackers in iPhone apps for kids • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:


Apple has told developers to stop including third-party trackers in apps designed for kids — or they face having their apps pulled from the app store.

The tech giant quietly updated its guidelines for apps that are submitted to the app store’s kids category following the keynote address at its annual developer conference on Monday.

“Apps in the kids category may not include third-party advertising or analytics,” the new guidelines say. Previously, the guidelines only restricted behavioral advertising tracking.

Apple also currently prohibits apps in the kids category from including links that point outside the app or contain in-app purchasing.

Apple has come under fire for its recent marketing campaign claiming “what happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,”  which critics say is misleading. All too often apps include ads or tracking code that allows app makers to collect information about the device, including its location and other data, and send it back to base so companies can better target its users with ads, learn more about how you use the app, and more.

Just last week, the Washington Post found over 5,400 app trackers were uploading data from an iPhone over a single week — even at night when the phone owner was asleep.


Wonder if Google will follow suit.
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How China is wiping memories of Tiananmen Square off the internet • VICE News

David Gilbert:


It was a Friday evening in May in the Nanxi district of Yippin, a Chinese city of around 4.5 million people, when Deng Chuanbin posted a picture of a bottle of wine on Twitter.

The bottle’s label featured the word “ba jiu,” a near homophone of “89,” and below it was an image depicting the iconic Tiananmen Square “Tank Man.”

Deng, a documentary filmmaker who has in the past worked with well-known Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, then thought better of it and quickly deleted the image. But the damage was done; within 30 minutes, the police were at his door. They confiscated his phones and computers, and arrested him. He’s been in detention ever since.

Deng is one of at least 27 activists, artists, and netizens who have been detained, questioned or disappeared since the start of May, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a coalition of Chinese and international human rights NGOs. Their offense: “picking quarrels” — a charge the Chinese government levels at those who dare to even reference the Tiananmen Square protests. These 27 are “likely just a drop in the bucket” of all those affected, the group said Monday.

The Chinese military killed as many as 10,000 people during Beijing’s vicious crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 30 years ago. But today, those victims and the horrific events of June 4, 1989, in Tiananmen Square have been virtually wiped from China’s collective memory.


Is this true, though? Somehow Tiananmen lives on in China, even through the fact that it’s an avoided topic – a roadblock that emerges in the way that it leads to censorship.
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Start Up No.1,083: YouTube dithers and then decides, Apple’s healthy Watch, the GDPR ambulance chasers?, surveillance by Ring, and more

CC-licensed photo by Bill%20Strain on Flickr

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0700GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Untrumped. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The weatherman: the man who decided D-Day • User Journal

John Bull:


As [geophysicist-turned-weather forecaster Group Captain James] Stagg prepared to deliver his daily briefing to Eisenhower, he thought about what the Supreme Commander would be hoping to hear. With only eight days to go until 5th June — D-Day — Ike and his staff would be looking for confirmation that the weather was going to be acceptable.

Just what “acceptable” meant in this context had taken Stagg and his staff months to work out. Every element of the combined amphibious assault brought different, complex weather restrictions into play.

The navy, for example, said that surface winds could not exceed Force 3 onshore or Force 4 at sea. Any more than that and the flat-bottomed landing craft carrying the infantry would be driven off course or swamped. The first wave of tanks, which were to be floated ashore from 5000 yards out using inflatable side-panels, would also likely flounder.

This wasn’t their only requirement. The tides also needed to be just right to allow mines and obstructions to be cleared. They also needed visibility of at least three miles if the battleships, cruisers and destroyers assembled offshore were to be used as artillery support. Finally, to have any hope of supplying and reinforcing the beachheads they needed the wind to remain low for at least D-Day 1 as well.

The demands of the air force were even greater. Fog in Britain would ground their planes completely and heavy clouds would cause a whole variety of problems. The fighters and fighter bombers needed a cloud base of no less than 1,000ft, whilst the medium and light bombers tasked with neutralising gun emplacements during the landings needed both visibility of three miles and a cloud ceiling not less than 4,500ft. The heavy bombers meanwhile, which were intended to disrupt German reinforcements and destroy infrastructure, ideally needed no more than 5/10ths cloud cover below 5,000ft and a cloud ceiling not below 11,000ft.

The list of demands didn’t stop there. Both air force and army agreed that for the transport aircraft carrying the paratroopers to find their targets they’d need at least a half-moon and a cloud ceiling of 2,500ft over their targets. Winds could also not exceed 20mph (roughly Force 5) or the paratroopers would be unable to jump. The gliders had similar limitations. Finally, the army pointed out, they needed the weather to be dry during and after the landing (without significant rain beforehand) else the roads and beaches would quickly become unusable.


And you thought you had responsibilities.
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238 Google Play apps with more than 440 million installs made phones nearly unusable • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:


If the prevalence of abusive Google Play apps has left you numb, this latest report is for you. Carefully concealed adware installed in Google-approved apps with more than 440 million installations was so aggressive that it rendered mobile devices nearly unusable, researchers from mobile security provider Lookout said Tuesday.

BeiTaAd, as the adware is known, is a plugin that Lookout says it found hidden in emojis keyboard TouchPal and 237 other applications, all of which were published by Shanghai, China-based CooTek. Together, the 238 unique apps had a combined 440 million installs. Once installed, the apps initially behaved normally. Then, after a delay of anywhere between 24 hours and 14 days, the obfuscated BeiTaAd plugin would begin delivering what are known as out-of-app ads. These ads appeared on users’ lock screens and triggered audio and video at seemingly random times or even when a phone was asleep.

“My wife is having the exact same issue,” one person reported in November in this thread discussing BeiTaAd. “This will bring up random ads in the middle of phone calls, when her alarm clock goes off or anytime she uses any other function on her phone. We are unable to find any other information on this. It is extremely annoying and almost [makes] her phone unusable.”

…Lookout reported the behavior of BeiTaAd to Google, and the apps responsible were subsequently either removed from Play or updated to remove the abusive plugin. There’s no indication that CooTek will be banned or otherwise punished for breaching Play terms of service on such a mass scale and for taking the steps it did to hide the violation. The remaining 237 CooTek apps that embedded the plugin are listed at the end of Lookout’s post.


Ad fraud on a huge scale, no doubt. Just as the invention of the ship created the shipwreck, the ad-supported app created ad fraud.
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Youtube flip-flops on suspending video blogger accused of harassment • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:


Vox.com producer Carlos Maza, who identifies as gay, initially complained to YouTube on June 1, saying that [Stephen] Crowder, a popular YouTube user, made homophobic and racial slurs toward him in his videos. Crowder[‘s channel], which has 3.84 million subscribers, earns an estimated annual revenue of $81,000 from YouTube, according to social analytics company SocialBlade.com.

YouTube responded Tuesday, saying that after a four-day long “in-depth investigation,” Crowder’s videos were “hurtful” but didn’t violate any of the platform’s policies. Maza became the target of more harassment as a result of that decision, he told CNBC.com, adding that he had received increased death threats from Crowder supporters since Tuesday night.

Wednesday morning, the company announced a new anti-harassment policy that will crack down on users and accounts that express supremacy over other groups. However, Crowder’s videos remained available and YouTube continued to tell CNBC that they didn’t violate the policies.

Two hours later, the company publicly tweeted at Maza, saying it had decided to suspend Crowder’s monetization after all.


Complete and utter mess which demonstrates that YouTube doesn’t have any consistent application of whatever its rules are; the only things that makes it take notice are huge amounts of press coverage, or advertisers pulling out. This can’t go on.
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Youtube bans videos promoting Nazi ideology • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:


The company confirmed it would no longer host videos that glorified fascist views or material that denied the existence of the Holocaust, following years of criticism over its role in spreading far-right hate and conspiracy theories.

The video-sharing website, which is owned by Google, said on Wednesday it would ban any videos “alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status”.

This would include “inherently discriminatory” videos promoting Nazi ideology or content denying that well-documented violent events took place, such as the deaths of millions of Jews in the second world war or the Sandy Hook school shooting in the US.

Platforms such as YouTube have traditionally taken a light-touch approach to hosted material, adopting a broad defence of free speech to justify the extremist views users post.

This has become increasingly untenable under relentless media and public scrutiny, and pressure from advertisers. YouTube banned a handful of high-profile extremists, including Alex Jones of Infowars, in the last year.

Much of the criticism has been aimed at YouTube’s algorithm-driven recommendation system, which helps keep people on the site by suggesting new videos they might be interested in. Critics have said it leads people towards more and more extreme and conspiratorial videos, and that this can incentivise users to produce more extreme material to try to drive up view counts and earn a larger slice of the ad revenue.

YouTube said changes to its algorithm introduced in the US in January had more than halved the number of views that “borderline content and harmful misinformation” receives from recommendations.


So the question is, does this fit in with its reversal over the complaint by Carlos Maza about Steve Crowder, or is it separate? The “exclusion based on… sexual orientation” would certainly apply to what Crowder said.

It’s happening slowly, but the supertanker is turning and heading for the port marked “publisher”. However there is collateral damage – such as the independent publisher who uses YT to publish (and monetise) documentaries about hate speech.
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iOS 13 introduces new ‘optimized battery charging’ feature • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


For example, if you often charge your phone up at night while you sleep, Apple might charge it to 80% right away, but wait until an hour or so before you wake up to charge the remaining 20%.

That keeps your iPhone at an optimal capacity for battery health, rather than keeping it close to 100% on the charger.

Avoiding topping up the battery continually while it sits on the charger reduces the amount of time that your device spends at maximum capacity, and over time, this could extend the life of your battery.

Battery health has been a hot topic over the course of the last year, after Apple was found throttling the processor speeds of iOS devices with degraded batteries to prolong device life as long as possible.

That issue spurred Apple to be more forthcoming about overall battery health, providing details about capacity and performance in the Battery portion of Settings.


Clever move. Wonder if it notices when your alarms are on, or whether it just notices what time in the morning you tend first to pick it up?
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Ambulance chasers are readying themselves for GDPR assault • Telecoms.com

Jamie Davis:


Although it is not necessarily the most flattering of terms, the ambulance chasers are readying themselves for an assault on the GDPR negligent.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has set a deadline of August 29 for consumers to complain about the sale of PPI products in the UK. This effectively means all the firms set-up to manage the complaints on behalf of consumers will become redundant. Most will evolve however, the legal world is simply too profitable, and GDPR seems a prime opportunity.

While it might not be the most common practice for the moment, there are certainly examples. Numerous law firms, Hayes Connor Solicitors for example, are already advertising their services for the British Airways data breach, impacting roughly 400,000 people. This is an on-going investigation, though the financial penalty for this breach could be as much as €918 million.

As more PPI lawyers find themselves at the mercy of free time, more will turn their attentions to new fields of expertise. Due to the headline-worth nature of data breaches and privacy violations, as well as the potential consequence to the individual, this is an area which is primed for the legal buzz.

Big fines have been promised

So far, there is only one example of a Data Protection Authority (DPA) swinging the heavy stick of GDPR at a major firm. France’s watchdog fined Google €50 million for numerous offenses, and while there have been other significant breaches over the last few years, most occurred at a time prior to the heavy fines of GDPR.

“Serious fines are coming in the summer, including to some of the big companies,” said Paul Breitbarth, Director of Strategic Research and Regulator Outreach at Nymity. “The DPAs [Data Protection Authorities] are taking this very seriously and so should we.”


Just waiting for the automated phone calls asking “Have you been mis-sold GDPR advice?” And then all the GDPR-chasing companies being forced to sue each other for using phone numbers without opt-in consent.
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Amazon is (unwittingly?) helping police build a surveillance network with Ring doorbells • CNET

Alfred Ng:


If you’re walking in Bloomfield, New Jersey, there’s a good chance you’re being recorded. But it’s not a corporate office or warehouse security camera capturing the footage – it’s likely a Ring doorbell made by Amazon. 

While residential neighborhoods aren’t usually lined with security cameras, the smart doorbell’s popularity has essentially created private surveillance networks powered by Amazon and promoted by police departments.

Police departments across the country, from major cities like Houston to towns with fewer than 30,000 people, have offered free or discounted Ring doorbells to citizens, sometimes using taxpayer funds to pay for Amazon’s products. While Ring owners are supposed to have a choice on providing police footage, in some giveaways, police require recipients to turn over footage when requested.

Ring said it would start cracking down on those strings attached.

“Ring customers are in control of their videos, when they decide to share them and whether or not they want to purchase a recording plan. Ring has donated devices to Neighbor’s Law Enforcement partners for them to provide to members of their communities,” Ring said in a statement. “Ring does not support programs that require recipients to subscribe to a recording plan or that footage from Ring devices be shared as a condition for receiving a donated device…”

…”Our township is now entirely covered by cameras,” said Captain Vincent Kerney, detective bureau commander of the Bloomfield Police Department. “Every area of town we have, there are some Ring cameras.”


CCTV, privatised and – that unique American touch – monopolised.
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The Apple Watch is now the control center for your health • WIRED

Robbie Gonzalez:


Unlike Garmin and FitBit, which distribute features across a wide range of devices (the former sells no fewer than five unique fitness trackers, the latter more than a dozen), Apple packs its few products with as many features as it can. Sure, you can have your pick of colors and bands, and you can pay extra for LTE connectivity, but functionally speaking, each new generation of Apple Watch is identical. Like the iPhone before it, Apple’s wearable is designed to appeal to as many people as possible, by being whatever those people want or need it to be.

With these latest updates, opting into Apple’s jack-of-all trades approach no longer means sacrificing on specialized features. For consumers who wanted to track their menstrual cycles, Fitbit had been an obvious choice. To monitor long-term trends in their fitness, Garmin was the clear option. But later this year, when a software update enables the Apple Watch to do both, that decision will become more difficult.

This is how Apple eats its competition’s lunch: one bite at a time. Personal health, as the phrase suggests, means different things to different people. The most effective, individualized devices will need to meet users where they are, no matter where that is. By covering as many bases as possible, Apple is positioning itself to do exactly that.

“Apple is taking steps in the right direction on multiple fronts, simultaneously,” says Mitesh Patel, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who studies whether and how wearable devices can facilitate improvements in health. “It’s clear they’re trying to democratize access to managing your own health, whether it’s by monitoring your biometrics, your activity, your menstrual cycle, your hearing health, or whatever.” Those are all things you once had to track actively, or visit a doctor to assess. Now, you can monitor them anytime, anywhere, passively, simply by wearing a device on your wrist.


The only remaining question is whether Apple is prepared to let the Watch function with Android phones (or at least, be set up without an iPhone) in order to grow Watch sales. It’s an idea that worked when it had a product called the iPod and an older, better-selling one called the Mac.
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Developers sue Apple over App Store practices • Reuters

Stephen Nellis:


Two app developers on Tuesday sued Apple Inc over its App Store practices, making claims similar to those in a lawsuit brought by consumers that the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed to proceed.

California-based app developer Donald R. Cameron and Illinois Pure Sweat Basketball alleged in federal court in San Jose, California that Apple engaged in anticompetitive conduct by only allowing the downloading of iPhone apps through Apple’s official App Store. Apple also requires developers to price their apps in tiers ending in 99 cents and takes up to a 30% commission from developers on the sale of apps.

“This practice is analogous to a monopsonist retailer paying artificially low wholesale prices to its suppliers,” the developers said in their suit. “In both paradigms a competitive market would yield better post-commission or wholesale prices, and fairer profit, for developers’ digital products.”

The claims center on the same Apple practices highlighted in a lawsuit brought by consumers, arguing that Apple’s practices have artificially inflated the price of software in the App Store.


So Apple is being sued by both consumers (which is what the recent Supreme Court decision allowed) and developers? As Ben Thompson notes in his Stratechery newsletter, this doesn’t really make sense, legally speaking, because it creates a sort of double jeopardy – as though a store were being sued both by its customers and its suppliers. If the monopsonist retailer is paying artificially low wholesale prices, then customers must be benefiting from lower prices. If the developers’ argument is that Apple kept prices high, then developers are getting more money, so what’s the beef?
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Foxconn’s delays might finally give Wisconsin the upper hand • The Verge

Josh Dzieza:


Even if Foxconn fails to hit its subsidy targets, Wisconsin taxpayers will be out a lot of money. The state has already spent hundreds of millions on land and infrastructure for the project, costs that go to waste if the company simply walks away. Furthermore, the way the contract is structured means Wisconsin could end up paying more per job if Foxconn hires fewer people.

The capital investment portion of the subsidy package is pegged to hiring, but not in the same way as the jobs subsidies. While Foxconn doesn’t get any hiring subsidies if it fails to meet employment thresholds, it can still get subsidies for its investments in buildings and equipment, minus whatever percentage it missed its job target by. [It was contractually obliged to have a certain number of people employed by the end of 2018 to qualify for subsidies.]

For example, if Foxconn only employs 260 people at the end of this year, half its minimum target, but invests $1bn in construction, Wisconsin could end up paying Foxconn almost $300,000 per job. Other scenarios take the cost per job above $500,000.

Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, worries that the relative ease of getting investment subsidies encourages Foxconn to build a highly automated factory rather than something employing the blue collar manufacturing workers who had featured prominently in President Donald Trump and former Governor Walker’s pitch for the deal. (It’s worth noting that Foxconn is aggressively pursuing automation in its other facilities as labor costs rise.) “I think one of the problems with the contract right now is that it makes it much easier to qualify for investment credits than job credits and that we might be incentivizing robots,” Peacock says.

Which brings up the second reason Foxconn might want to revisit the contract: it might not be eligible for the capital investment credits at all.


Still one of the most amazing boondoggles actually backed by Trump; clearly now running into the sand, and the new Democratic leaders in the state are sharpening their knives.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,082: Climate emergency to global strife, ethics for facial recognition, more on Apple keyboards, even more of iOS 13, the trouble with Mars, and more

Dark and… lethal. Ikea recalled this dresser because it can kill by toppling onto toddlers. CC-licensed photo by buhny on Flickr.

You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 9 links for you. Chin up. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New report suggests ‘high likelihood of human civilization coming to an end’ starting in 2050 • VICE

Nafeez Ahmed:


A harrowing scenario analysis of how human civilization might collapse in coming decades due to climate change has been endorsed by a former Australian defense chief and senior royal navy commander.

The analysis, published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, a think-tank in Melbourne, Australia, describes climate change as “a near- to mid-term existential threat to human civilization” and sets out a plausible scenario of where business-as-usual could lead over the next 30 years.

The paper argues that the potentially “extremely serious outcomes” of climate-related security threats are often far more probable than conventionally assumed, but almost impossible to quantify because they “fall outside the human experience of the last thousand years.”

On our current trajectory, the report warns, “planetary and human systems [are] reaching a ‘point of no return’ by mid-century, in which the prospect of a largely uninhabitable Earth leads to the breakdown of nations and the international order.”


You might as well read it. Forewarned is forearmed.
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Dressers keep killing kids, so Ikea is finally redesigning them • Fast Company

Katharine Schwab:


Ikea is releasing a new product line designed to prevent deadly furniture accidents. Ikea is unveiling the new dressers, which come with built-in safety features, after the company recalled 29 million dressers in 2016 and again in 2017 following the deaths of eight toddlers. The children were crushed when Ikea’s furniture tipped over on them. One of the deadly designs remains on the market today.

The new product line, called Glesvar, includes three types of dressers. The first has an interlocking method similar to what you find in many filing cabinets: If you open one drawer, the dresser prevents you from opening any of the other drawers at the same time. This interlocking mechanism remains until the consumer has properly attached the dresser to the wall, so that there’s no chance of tip-over.

The second Glesvar dresser is similar to the first but more extreme: It won’t let you open any of the dresser’s drawers until you’ve secured it to the wall. The third design has only two legs and must be affixed to the wall completely, since the wall acts as a primary support for the dresser.

For the time being, only the first dresser will be sold in the United States (as well as Germany and the U.K.). It’s the only design that is compliant with a newly proposed update to a safety standard that requires freestanding dressers be structurally sound and not tip over if a 60-pound weight is attached to any of their open drawers


If “design is how it works”, that’s quite an example of lethal design.
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US requiring social media information from visa applicants • The New York Times

Sandra Garcia:


Visa applicants to the United States are required to submit any information about social media accounts they have used in the past five years under a State Department policy that started on Friday.

Such account information would give the government access to photos, locations, dates of birth, dates of milestones and other personal data commonly shared on social media.

“We already request certain contact information, travel history, family member information, and previous addresses from all visa applicants,” the State Department said in a statement. “We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

In March 2017, President Trump asked the secretary of state, the attorney general, the secretary of homeland security and the director of national intelligence to put in effect “a uniform baseline for screening and vetting standards and procedures,” according to a memo published in the Federal Register. Requiring information about the social media accounts of visa applicants was part of that.
The move represents a step up from a September 2017 measure in which the Homeland Security Department proposed and enacted a regulation calling for the surveillance of social media use of all immigrants, including naturalized citizens.


This is odd, because a couple of days before this story appeared I re-applied for an ESTA (the UK to US visa travel waiver – in effect the “visa that means you don’t need a visa”), and though the social media question was there, it was optional. Has it changed now? Nobody seems to answer this (and I don’t feel like pretending to fill out an ESTA to find out). The first refusals based on this content will be quite an event, though.
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London ethics panel outlines five steps for facial recognition in policing • UKAuthority

Mark Say:


The [independent London Policing Ethics] panel said that facial recognition software should only be deployed by police if the five conditions can be met:

• The overall benefits to public safety must be great enough to outweigh any potential public distrust in the technology.

• It can be evidenced that using the technology will not generate gender or racial bias in policing operations.

• Each deployment must be assessed and authorised to ensure that it is both necessary and proportionate for a specific policing purpose.

• Operators are trained to understand the risks associated with use of the software and understand they are accountable.

• Both the Met and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime develop strict guidelines to ensure that deployments balance the benefits of this technology with the potential intrusion on the public.

London’s police force has carried out 10 trials on the use of the technology, but some have prompted criticisms of misuse. Civil liberties group Liberty focused on trials at the Notting Hill Carnival and questioned whether the algorithm had been tested for bias.


The panel “also highlighted the results of a survey of more than 1,000 Londoners on their attitudes to facial recognition that showed more 57% felt its use by the police is acceptable, and the figure increased to 87% when it is used in searching for serious offenders.” Everyone likes intrusive stuff if it’s used to catch the bad guys (and gals).
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MacBook Pro keyboard failures: why Apple’s dust excuse is bull [Teardown + Explanations] • Reddit/apple



From my experience as an Apple Technician, here are the most commonly reported problems at my store, in order of most to least common:
• No-input, particularly from all vowel keys, most commonly used consonants, spacebar, enter, and shift
• Multi-input, particularly from all vowel keys, most commonly used consonants, spacebar, enter, and shift
• Sticky/Crunchy/Stuck keys.

As for demographic, the most common folks we see with these issues are:
• Writers or any kind (blog, scripts, office workers, etc)
• Students of all kinds
• Programmers. …


He’s pretty sure it isn’t dust, which he demonstrates in all sorts of ways. (“Dust” wouldn’t explain why it tends to be the most commonly used keys, and particularly the spacebar – which should be the most tolerant, since there’s more of it? – that tend to be affected.) So what is it?


As for what the actual cause is, honestly I don’t know. My suspicion is that the metal dome experiences metal fatigue and slowly begin to lose connection, or that that little U-shaped cutout in the centre of the dome weakens and starts to easily bounce when pressed, making contact 2+ times. I honestly cannot test this at home, my equipment is woefully inadequate to go that deep.


Well look surely this new generation of keyboard will…
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An update on our efforts to protect minors and families • Official YouTube Blog


The vast majority of videos featuring minors on YouTube, including those referenced in recent news reports, do not violate our policies and are innocently posted — a family creator providing educational tips, or a parent sharing a proud moment. But when it comes to kids, we take an extra cautious approach towards our enforcement and we’re always making improvements to our protections. Here are a few updates we’ve made over the past several months:


What it cites (stung, clearly, by the NY Times report featured yesterday)is: “restricting live feature” so kids can’t stream unless clearly accompanied by an adult; disabling comments on videos with minors; and “reducing recommendations… to include videos featuring minors in risky situations”.

Nothing at all, though, about how its recommendation system which drives 70% (70%!!) of views is directing paedophiles towards videos of children.

YouTube isn’t going to deal with this until some existential event forces it to.
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65+ iOS 13 features that Apple didn’t show off at WWDC • 9to5Mac

Jordan Kahn:


Today at its WWDC keynote presentation, Apple officially announced iOS 13 arriving later this year for iPhone users. The company demoed a few of the notable new features including Dark Mode, a new swipe-based gesture keyboard, as well as new features for Siri, Photos and AirPods. It also, however, quickly flashed a slide on stage showing over 65 other new iOS 13 features arriving with the release this fall. Take a look…


“Indian English Siri voices” 👀
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Here’s why Apple just killed off iTunes • Music Industry Blog



Craig Federighi’s tongue-in-cheek quip”One thing we hear over and over: Can iTunes do even more?” hints at just how bloated and no longer fit for purpose iTunes had become.

iTunes actually started off as a tool for ripping and burning CDs. In fact, its original marketing slogan was ‘Rip Mix Burn’. It evolved into a tool for managing and playing music and supporting the iPod. Over time it layered in videos, books, apps, Apple Music etc etc. But one thing iTunes never excelled on, even before it suffered from feature bloat, was being a great music player. It was if it could never quite shake off its origins. Apple Music has of course picked up the player baton and run with it for Apple. Now that iTunes has splintered into three apps, we should start to see the evolution of three distinct sets of user experiences. Apple hasn’t pushed the boat out yet because it has a fundamentally conservative user base that has to have change implemented at a steady rate in order not to alienate it…

…Apple is now poised to go deep across a wide range of content offerings. Unbundling its apps and subscriptions gives it the agility to build sector specific user experiences and marketing campaigns. Separating out podcasts is particularly interesting, as Apple is making the call that they do not belong with music. A stark contrast to Spotify’s approach. Indeed, Spotify may just be approaching its own iTunes moment, with an app that is trying to do too many things for too many different use cases. iTunes just committed hara-kiri to enable Apple to compete better in the digital content marketplace. Spotify may need to do something similar soon.


Apps absorb as many other apps as they possibly can until it’s decided they need to be broken up into as many other apps as they possibly can.
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The radiation showstopper for Mars exploration • European Space Agency


While astronauts are not considered radiation workers in all countries, they are exposed to 200 times more radiation on the International Space Station than an airline pilot or a radiology nurse.

Radiation is in the Space Station’s spotlight every day. A console at NASA’s mission control in Houston, Texas, is constantly showing space weather information. If a burst of space radiation is detected, teams on Earth can abort a spacewalk, instruct astronauts to move to more shielded areas and even change the altitude of the Station to minimise impact. One of the main recommendations of the topical team is to develop a risk model with the radiation dose limits for crews travelling beyond the International Space Station.

ESA’s flight surgeon and radiologist Ulrich Straube believes that the model should “provide information on the risks that could cause cancer and non-cancer health issues for astronauts going to the Moon and Mars in agreement with all space agencies.”

Recent data from ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter showed that on a six-month journey to the Red Planet an astronaut could be exposed to at least 60% of the total radiation dose limit recommended for their entire career.

“As it stands today, we can’t go to Mars due to radiation. It would be impossible to meet acceptable dose limits,” reminds Marco.


Shall we tell Elon Musk?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified