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.936: Brexit reality, Facebook’s falling influence, Intel ends 10nm?, Amazon fake review factories, and more


App developers know when you dump their work – and might trigger ads to get back. Photo by Maria Gustafsson 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. Just enough. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Brexit provides early proof of deglobalization’s costs • WSJ

Greg Ip:

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Never in the last 70 years has a major advanced economy left a free-trade area. Brexit is providing the first real-world evidence of the costs that come from undoing the intricate bonds of globalization.

It is of course an extreme case of deglobalization: The European Union’s single market for goods, services, capital and labor is much more integrated than other free trade zones. Yet many of the barriers that are bound to rise between Britain and its partners, such as on regulations, trade penalties and immigration, are similar to those cropping up in the wider world, such as between the US and its partners.

Measuring the effect of Brexit is complicated by the fact it hasn’t happened yet. British and European leaders met Wednesday in an effort to bridge differences on a post-Brexit deal. Without a deal, Britain could see tariff and nontariff barriers snap back to the maximum the World Trade Organization permits.

Yet without a single tariff going up, Brexit has clearly extracted a price. This can be seen by comparing Britain to a basket of peer economies whose performance closely tracked Britain’s until it voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Pierre Lafourcade, Arend Kapteyn and John Wraith of UBS construct such a synthetic Britain from a blend of other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Actual and synthetic Britain track each other closely from 1995 to mid-2016, then diverge: Actual British output is now 2.1% below this counterfactual. UBS attributes this divergence primarily to household consumption, which is now 1.7% below its counterfactual, and investment, which is 4% lower.

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Completely as economic theory would predict – comparative advantage and so on.
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What happens when Facebook goes down? People read the news • Chartbeat Blog

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What would the world look like without Facebook? Chartbeat had a glimpse into that on Aug. 3, 2018, when Facebook went down for 45 minutes and traffic patterns across the web changed in an instant. What did people do? According to our data, they went directly to publishers’ mobile apps and sites (as well as to search engines) to get their information fix.  This window into consumer behavior reflects broader changes we see taking hold this year around content discovery, particularly on mobile. This is good news for publishers.

Despite volatility driven by algorithm shifts and intense news cycles, user demand for content (represented by traffic across the web) is quite stable. But the sources of that traffic are anything but static. In fact, we’ve seen a major reversal in the specific sources driving traffic to publisher sites in the last year.

Key shifts:

• Mobile traffic has seen double-digit growth and surpassed desktop, which saw double-digit declines.

• On mobile, Facebook is down nearly 40% since January 2017, while Google Search has seen a 2x growth in that same time period. That means increases in Google Search referral traffic have more than offset any declines in Facebook referral traffic.

• Additionally — and of significant importance — mobile direct traffic to publishers is now greater than traffic sent by Facebook to publishers’ sites. This means consumers are now more likely to get their news by typing in a publisher URL or opening an app than by being referred through Facebook.

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Intel earnings: What the chip maker can say to turn assuage doubts • MarketWatch

Wallace Witkowski:

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Intel has struggled mightily the past few months, but it may be able to retrieve some lost love by showing strong data-centre growth and progress on rolling chips using a long-overdue manufacturing process.

Intel is scheduled to report quarterly earnings after the close of markets on Thursday. On Monday, rumors circulated that Intel was killing off its 10nm manufacturing process following a string of delays on the year, but Intel was quick to deny the reports.

“10nm,” where “nm” means nanometers, refers to how small a chip maker can make the transistors that go on a computer chip, with the general rule being that smaller transistors are faster and more efficient in using power. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, has been chipping away at Intel’s dominance as its 7nm chip manufacturing process has been hailed as equal or even superior to Intel’s.

That is just the latest problem for Intel, which has had a trying year. The chip maker was hit late in 2017 by news of twin vulnerabilities baked into its chips, then dumped its chief executive — who has not been replaced on a permanent basis — while dealing with a shortage of chips thought to stem from manufacturing-process issues.

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The reports of killing off the 10nm came from SemiAccurate, which called it “struggling”. Intel’s denial feels like one of those “in good time we’ll agree” denials.

If correct, then that really is the end of Moore’s Law for Intel.
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Gmail creator and YC partner Paul Buchheit on joining Google, how to become a great engineer and happiness • Triplebyte Blog

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Q: If you’re thinking about joining a startup, how do you tell if the founders are like Larry and Sergey or if they’re an Elizabeth Holmes?

PB: Right, that’s the worst combination: smart and full of s**t. I think you have to interview them a little bit. Ask hard questions and see if they give direct, insightful answers, or if they’re evasive and dismissive. It also helps if there is a product you can try. I would avoid startups that have a ton of hype and no product.

Q: Generally, when you are interviewing with a startup, how should you decide if it is the right company for you?

PB: Looking back, one of the things that really impressed me about Google, which is probably good advice for anyone choosing a startup to work at, was that the interviewers all asked really smart questions. They asked things that only people who really knew their stuff could have answered well. Urs asked me, “Let’s say you have a server, and it’s running really slowly for some reason, how do you diagnose the cause?” To answer that question, you actually have to understand systems really well.

Their questions required being able to think at all these different levels: “Is there something going on in the kernel? Do you understand that hard drives are not these magical things which spit out information? Do you know why random access takes time?”

I only interviewed at one other company and they asked stupid questions like, “name the seven layers of the OSI Networking Stack,” or something that you’d pull out of a textbook, not things that were actually interesting.

Also, when I first went to work at Google, I had the opposite feeling I described having at Intel. I was excited. I woke up in the morning and was excited to go to work. There was this buzz of productivity in the office all the time. I think that’s one way to know if a startup is doing well: When you go into their office, you can just tell. Are people busy working, or are they sitting around on Twitter wasting time? Are people showing up because they have to, or are they eagerly working because they’re excited? Google was a really energizing place to be back then.

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And plenty more. It’s fascinating.
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Now apps can track you even after you uninstall them • Bloomberg

Gerrit de Vynck:

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Uninstall tracking exploits a core element of Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile operating systems: push notifications. Developers have always been able to use so-called silent push notifications to ping installed apps at regular intervals without alerting the user—to refresh an inbox or social media feed while the app is running in the background, for example. But if the app doesn’t ping the developer back, the app is logged as uninstalled, and the uninstall tracking tools add those changes to the file associated with the given mobile device’s unique advertising ID, details that make it easy to identify just who’s holding the phone and advertise the app to them wherever they go.

The tools violate Apple and Google policies against using silent push notifications to build advertising audiences, says Alex Austin, CEO of Branch Metrics Inc., which makes software for developers but chose not to create an uninstall tracker. “It’s just generally sketchy to track people around the internet after they’ve opted out of using your product,” he says, adding that he expects Apple and Google to crack down on the practice soon. Apple and Google didn’t respond to requests for comment.

At its best, uninstall tracking can be used to fix bugs or otherwise refine apps without having to bother users with surveys or more intrusive tools. But the ability to abuse the system beyond its original intent exemplifies the bind that accompanies the modern internet, says [EFF tech policy director Jeremy] Gillula.

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How likely that Apple or Google tries to find some way to block this? Apple more likely than Google.
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Facebook fake review factories uncovered by Which? investigation • The Guardian

Patrick Collinson:

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Undercover researchers for Which? set up dedicated Amazon and Facebook accounts and requested to join several of the “rewards for reviews” groups.

“They were instructed to order a specified item through Amazon, write a review and share a link to the review once it was published. Following the successful publication of the review, a refund for the cost of the item would then be paid via PayPal,” said Which?

But the Which? investigators turned the tables on the fake review factories by posting their honest opinion on the product.

In one example, the investigator gave the product – a smartwatch – a two-star review. “They were told by the seller to rewrite it because the product was free, so it “is the default to give five-star evaluation”, said Which?

In another, the investigator was told that a “refund will be done after a good five-star review with some photo” after receiving a pair of wireless headphones. But after posting a three-star review with photos they were told they would not be refunded unless they wrote a five-star review. The investigator refused, so did not get refunded for the purchase.

When the Guardian searched the Amazon UK Reviewers Facebook group – which has more than 25,000 members – it found postings appearing almost every couple of minutes from companies around the world offering to pay for positive reviews. For example, on Friday, one company was seeking “UK reviewers only” for a “4k action camera waits for review Refund via Paypal just send me your amazon profile”.

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Companies are on the hook if their hiring algorithms are biased • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:

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Mark J. Girouard, an employment attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis, says one of his clients was vetting a company selling a resume screening tool, but didn’t want to make the decision until they knew what the algorithm was prioritizing in a person’s CV.

After an audit of the algorithm, the resume screening company found that the algorithm found two factors to be most indicative of job performance: their name was Jared, and whether they played high school lacrosse. Girouard’s client did not use the tool.

“It’s a really great representation of part of the problem with these systems, that your results are only as good as your training data,” Girouard said. “There was probably a hugely statistically significant correlation between those two data points and performance, but you’d be hard-pressed to argue that those were actually important to performance.”

The community of researchers and technologists studying artificial intelligence have warned that this could be possible in any similar AI algorithm that learns about people using historical data.

In 2016, Pinboard creator Maciej Cegłowski called machine learning “money laundering for bias.”

“It’s a clean, mathematical apparatus that gives the status quo the aura of logical inevitability. The numbers don’t lie,” Cegłowski said.

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Netflix is selling $2bn of junk bonds to fund new shows • Bloomberg

Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Claire Boston:

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The $2bn bond offering, which will be issued in dollars and euros, comes just a week after the company reported a bigger jump in subscribers than Wall Street analysts expected. The bonds would push the cash-burning company’s debt load above $10bn for the first time. Netflix’s market value has soared almost 70% this year to about $140bn.

The US portion of the 10.5-year bond may yield around 6.375%, while the euro notes could pay 4.625%, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Netflix paid less than 6% when it last tapped the market in April, in part because underlying Treasury yields were lower.

“To me it feels a bit like a win-win situation,” said John McClain, a high-yield money manager at Diamond Hill Capital, which oversees $22.6bn including Netflix debt. “You’re buying the highest-quality, high-yield business at yields that are fairly close to the overall market. It’s low-cost funding for them, especially relative to the cost of issuing new equity.”

Netflix said in a statement that it will use proceeds from the offering to continue to acquire and fund new content. The company said last week that it expects to burn about $3bn in cash this year as it continues to prioritize original series and movies.

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That’s not even close to serious gearing. Netflix is going to get miles in front of everyone with this. And those are pretty attractive yields; I bet it will have no trouble at all selling it. Hardly “junk”.
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Blood money • TechCrunch

Jon Evans:

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You can make a realpolitik case for continuing to engage with Saudi Arabia. Just like my coffee companion [a paid lobbyist for Russian interests] five years ago did for continuing to engage with Russia. See how well that turned out, how since then Russia has become so much more enlightened, so progressive, such a glorious contributor to the commonwealth of nations? …Oh. Saudi Arabia is different, yes, but in a worse way; it’s so sensitive to criticism, overreacts so wildly and violently, because it is fundamentally a fragile state. Nassim Taleb, who predicted the collapse of Syria and its civil war before it happened, has predicted a similar fate for Saudi Arabia.

I don’t think the Trump administration is going to continue its support for Saudi Arabia’s new and erratic leadership for fear of the human or economic consequences if they do otherwise. “Trump’s Razor:” the stupidest reason is most likely to be correct. Here, that means the administration doesn’t want to walk back their Saudi support because they think that will make them look weak. Similarly, who are we kidding, VCs who take money from Saudi LPs aren’t doing so in order to help prop up the Pax Americana; it’s purely because they want the money, and nobody else is prepared to throw around $45bn in cash.

Right now, though, and for the foreseeable future, sovereign Saudi money is tainted, poisoned, blood money.

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“Trump’s Razor”. Nice. (Concept originated back in July 2016, by Josh Marshall, about Trump wanting to reverse his decision to have Mike Pence as his vice-presidential candidate; named by John Scalzi.)
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Another technological tragedy • bit-player

Brian Hayes, author of the book Infrastructure, on the explosions that blew up mains gas-connected buildings in Massachusetts in September, which was caused by a feedback loop that wasn’t actually a loop – so it pushed up pressure because its readings said the pressure was too low, measured in the wrong pipes:

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when you open the valve to increase the inflow of gas, you expect the pressure to increase. (Or, in some circumstances, to decrease more slowly. In any event, the sign of the second derivative should be positive.) If that doesn’t happen, the control law would call for making an even stronger correction, opening the valve further and forcing still more gas into the pipeline. But you, in your wisdom, might pause to consider the possible causes of this anomaly. Perhaps pressure is falling because a backhoe just ruptured a gas main. Or, as in Lawrence last month, maybe the pressure isn’t actually falling at all; you’re looking at sensors plugged into the wrong pipes. Opening the valve further could make matters worse.

Could we build an automatic control system with this kind of situational awareness? Control theory offers many options beyond the simple feedback loop. We might add a supervisory loop that essentially controls the controller and sets the set point. And there is an extensive literature on predictive control, where the controller has a built-in mathematical model of the plant, and uses it to find the best trajectory from the current state to the desired state. But neither of these techniques is commonly used for the kind of last-ditch safety measures that might have saved those homes in the Merrimack Valley. More often, when events get too weird, the controller is designed to give up, bail out, and leave it to the humans. That’s what happened in Lawrence.

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This is a fascinating little discussion (with a couple of other accidents, including the notorious Air France 447 from Rio de Janeiro) which leaves much to think about. It also reminded me of control theory, which I haven’t had to think of in decades. (Via Ben Thompson.)
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What does Stack Overflow want to be when it grows up? • Coding Horror

Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow (used by gazillions of flummoxed coders, including me):

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I am honored and humbled by the public utility that Stack Overflow has unlocked for a whole generation of programmers. But I didn’t do that.

You did, when you contributed a well researched question to Stack Overflow.
You did, when you contributed a succinct and clear answer to Stack Overflow.
You did, when you edited a question or answer on Stack Overflow to make it better.

All those “fun size” units of Q&A collectively contributed by working programmers from all around the world ended up building a Creative Commons resource that truly rivals Wikipedia within our field. That’s … incredible, actually.

But success stories are boring. The world is filled with people that basically got lucky, and subsequently can’t stop telling people how it was all of their hard work and moxie that made it happen. I find failure much more instructive, and when building a business and planning for the future, I take on the role of Abyss Domain Expert™ and begin a staring contest [quoting Nietzsche: “if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you”). It’s just a little something I like to do, you know … for me.

Thus, what I’d like to do right now is peer into that glorious abyss for a bit and introspect about the challenges I see facing Stack Overflow for the next 10 years.

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The fact that SO (as it gets called all over the place) is principally and was always intended to be a curated wiki and that it is so enormously useful, just like Wikipedia (even if one dislikes the sausage-making process in the latter), seems to me to indicate something important about curated wikis v pretty much every other form of unmediated content collection system.

Tightly curating knowledge is obviously a more bounded problem than lightly curating opinion (as in social media). But why does the latter break down so easily into abuse? Because of the light curating, or the nature of the content?
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.935: whither Windows?, the App Store subscription scam, China’s Android schemes, the class news problem, and more


Will the new iPads have USB-C, like the MacBook series? Photo by Maurizio Pesce 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. In case you’re counting, No.1,000 comes some time in early 2019. What shall we do? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft’s problem isn’t how often it updates Windows—it’s how it develops it • Ars Technica

Peter Bright on Microsoft’s new way of looking at Windows:

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The problem with Windows as a Service is quality. Previous issues with the feature and security updates have already shaken confidence in Microsoft’s updating policy for Windows 10. While data is notably lacking, there is at the very least a popular perception that the quality of the monthly security updates has taken a dive with Windows 10 and that installation of the twice-annual feature updates as soon as they’re available is madness. These complaints are long-standing, too. The unreliable updates have been a cause for concern since shortly after Windows 10’s release.

The latest problem has brought this to a head, with commentators saying that two feature updates a year is too many and Redmond should cut back to one, and that Microsoft needs to stop developing new features and just fix bugs. Some worry that the company is dangerously close to a serious loss of trust over updates, and for some Windows users, that trust may already have been broken.

These are not the first calls for Microsoft to slow down with its feature updates—there have been concerns that there’s too much churn for both IT and consumer audiences alike to handle—but with the obvious problems of the latest update, the calls take on a new urgency.

But saying Microsoft should only produce one update a year instead of two, or criticising the very idea of Windows as a Service, is missing the point. The problem here isn’t the release frequency. It’s Microsoft’s development process.

Why is it the process, and not the timeframe, that’s the issue? On the release schedule front, we can look at what other software does to get a feel for what’s possible.

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Sneaky subscriptions are plaguing the App Store • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

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Subscriptions have turned into a booming business for app developers, accounting for $10.6bn in consumer spend on the App Store in 2017, and poised to grow to $75.7bn by 2022. But alongside this healthy growth, a number of scammers are now taking advantage of subscriptions in order to trick users into signing up for expensive and recurring plans. They do this by intentionally confusing users with their app’s design and flow, by making promises of “free trials” that convert after only a matter of days, and other misleading tactics.

Apple will soon have an influx of consumer complaints on its hands if it doesn’t reign in these scammers more quickly…

…How are apps like QR code readers, document scanners, translators and weather apps raking in so much money? Especially when some of their utilitarian functions can be found elsewhere for much less, or even for free?

This raises the question as to whether some app developers are trying to scam App Store users by way of subscriptions.

We’ve found that does appear to be true, in many cases.

After reading through the critical reviews across the top money-making utilities, you’ll find customers complaining that the apps are too aggressive in pushing subscriptions (e.g. via constant prompts), offer little functionality without upgrading, provide no transparency around how free trials work and make it difficult to stop subscription payments, among other things.

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There’s a scanner app which is raking in $14.3m annually by charging $4 per week, and uses a total scam to get you to sign up. Aren’t people noticing this stuff on their bills?
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For China, even a censored Google search engine would be better than Baidu • South China Morning Post

Bai Tongdong:

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As a college professor, I find Baidu’s search results on scholarly matters deeply frustrating, because they don’t lead me to the webpages I wish to find. In contrast, Google’s search results are far more useful. Thanks to my part-time employment at New York University’s law school, I can use its virtual private networks (VPN) to access Google, a benefit that I consider more valuable than the extra pay.

And it is not just terrible search results, and the lack of access to useful tools such as Google Books. Baidu’s shameless commercialisation of its search engine has been the subject of controversy. For example, companies could – and maybe still can – bid for the top spots in Baidu’s search results, and users are not warned that these results are the outcome of commercial bidding and not sorted by relevance, as is the practice with Google.

In one case that sparked a public outcry, a young man used Baidu to search for treatments and clinics for the rare form of the cancer he suffered from. The man’s family spent over 200,000 yuan (US$29,000) on an experimental treatment at one of the for-profit hospitals that topped his Baidu search, but the treatment was unsuccessful and he died. The search results could have caused him to miss potentially life-saving treatment.

Therefore, what could be at stake here is not merely the convenience that search engines offer me as a scholar, but life itself. The reason that many Americans are against Google’s return to China is their opposition to the lack of democracy and free speech in China, with Google’s censored search engine seen to be pandering to these ills. But isn’t it ironic that these Americans fail to consider how Chinese people feel?

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How China rips off the iPhone and reinvents Android • The Verge

Sam Byford has a deep dive on the many big Chinese companies aiming to copy Apple as fast as possible, and also attract its users in China:

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As for the camera apps, it’s really incredible how similar the vast majority are — both to each other and to Apple. Judging by the accuracy and specificity of the rip-offs, the camera app from iOS 7 has a serious claim to being one of the most influential software designs of the past decade. Just look at the picture below. Xiaomi wins an extremely low number of points for putting the modes in a lowercase blue font. But otherwise, only Huawei has succeeded in creating a genuinely new camera app design, which happens to be very good. I consider it penance for the company’s egregious and barely functional rip-off of the iOS share sheet.

“Vivo’s performance in the global market so far is the result of great effort to understand consumer behavior, and our camera UI is designed with consumers’ habits in mind,” the Vivo product manager told me. “The swipe across navigation feature allows for users to keep their current habits to access different photography mode. This is supported by our usability tests which indicated that this method has the highest efficiency and best user experience.”

This backs up the idea that attracting iPhone switchers is a serious objective for Chinese software designers. “I definitely see that there’s evidence of a number of different companies that could be seen as following Apple or trying to create a UI that’s very much iOS-like,” says Pete Lau, CEO of phone company OnePlus. “And maybe they’re doing it for reasons of thinking that it makes it easier for users to transition to their products from Apple, and find the experience to be similar.”

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If you’re poor in the UK you get less, worse news — especially online, new research suggests » Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

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News is more unevenly distributed in the UK than income is, according to new research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Antonis Kalogeropoulos and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen found that poorer people consume less news than wealthier people and that the difference is particularly pronounced online, where poorer people are less likely to go directly to news sites for content.

“Whereas higher social grade individuals and lower social grade individuals use the same number of sources offline on average, lower social grade individuals use significantly fewer online sources on average,” the authors write.

This is in the United Kingdom, land of the great equalizer the BBC, which reaches a whopping 92% of UK adults. There is no media company in the US that comes close. Income inequality is also higher in the US than in the UK. In other words: this study focuses on the UK but the problem is likely the same or worse in the US.

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You could wonder about correlation and causation. But which direction does it flow?
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The poison on Facebook and Twitter is still spreading • The New York Times

The NYT Editorial Board (“represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher, but not the newsroom or op-ed section”):

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This week, a question from The New York Times prompted Facebook to take down a network of accounts linked to the Myanmar military. Although Facebook was already aware of the problem in general, the request for comment from The Times flagged specific instances of “seemingly independent entertainment, beauty and informational pages” that were tied to a military operation that sowed the internet with anti-Rohingya sentiment.

The week before, The Times found a number of suspicious pages spreading viral misinformation about Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Brett Kavanaugh of assault. After The Times showed Facebook some of those pages, the company said it had already been looking into the issue. Facebook took down the pages flagged by The Times, but similar pages that hadn’t yet been shown to the company stayed up.

It’s not just The Times, and it’s not just Facebook. Again and again, the act of reporting out a story gets reduced to outsourced content moderation.

“We all know that feeling,” says Charlie Warzel, a reporter at BuzzFeed who’s written about everything from viral misinformation on Twitter to exploitative child content on YouTube. “You flag a flagrant violation of terms of service and send out a request for comment. And you’re just sitting there refreshing, and then you see it come down — and afterward you get this boilerplate reply via email.”

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Saudis’ image makers: a troll army and a Twitter insider • The New York Times

Katie Benner, Mark Mazzetti, Ben Hubbard and Mike Isaac:

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Mr. Khashoggi’s online attackers were part of a broad effort dictated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his close advisers to silence critics both inside Saudi Arabia and abroad. Hundreds of people work at a so-called troll farm in Riyadh to smother the voices of dissidents like Mr. Khashoggi. The vigorous push also appears to include the grooming — not previously reported — of a Saudi employee at Twitter whom Western intelligence officials suspected of spying on user accounts to help the Saudi leadership.

The killing by Saudi agents of Mr. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s intimidation campaign against influential voices raising questions about the darker side of the crown prince. The young royal has tightened his grip on the kingdom while presenting himself in Western capitals as the man to reform the hidebound Saudi state.

This portrait of the kingdom’s image management crusade is based on interviews with seven people involved in those efforts or briefed on them; activists and experts who have studied them; and American and Saudi officials, along with messages seen by The New York Times that described the inner workings of the troll farm.

Saudi operatives have mobilized to harass critics on Twitter, a wildly popular platform for news in the kingdom since the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2010. Saud al-Qahtani, a top adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed who was fired on Saturday in the fallout from Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, was the strategist behind the operation, according to United States and Saudi officials, as well as activist organizations…

…Twitter executives first became aware of a possible plot to infiltrate user accounts at the end of 2015, when Western intelligence officials told them that the Saudis were grooming an employee, Ali Alzabarah, to spy on the accounts of dissidents and others, according to five people briefed on the matter. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

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He was fired that December. I got a small glimpse of the Saudi attack bots when I tweeted about Khashoggi’s disappearance early on; they’re pretty stupid, and easy to mute or block, but also plentiful and relentless.
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Revealed: Israel’s cyber-spy industry helps world dictators hunt dissidents and gays • Israel News – Haaretz.com

Hagar Shezaf and Jonathan Jacobson:

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the Israeli espionage industry has become the spearhead of the global commerce in surveillance tools and communications interception. Today, every self-respecting governmental agency that has no respect for the privacy of its citizens, is equipped with spy capabilities created in Herzliya Pituah.

The reports about Pegasus prompted Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and human rights lawyer Itay Mack to go to court in 2016 with a request to suspend NSO’s export permit. At the state’s request, however, the deliberations were held in camera and a gag order was issued on the judgment. Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut summed up the matter by noting, “Our economy, as it happens, rests not a little on that export.”

The Defense Ministry benefits from the news blackout. Supervision takes place far from the public eye – not even the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is privy to basic details of the lion’s share of Israel’s defense exports. Contrary to the norms that exist in other democracies, the ministry refuses to disclose the list of countries to which military exports are prohibited, or the criteria and standards that underlie its decisions.

A comprehensive investigation carried out by Haaretz, based on about 100 sources in 15 countries, had as its aim lifting the veil of secrecy from commerce based on means of espionage. The findings show that Israeli industry have not hesitated to sell offensive capabilities to many countries that lack a strong democratic tradition, even when they have no way to ascertain whether the items sold were being used to violate the rights of civilians.

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Another iPad Pro rumor says USB-C will replace Lightning this year • BGR

Jacob Siegal:

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As part of its coverage of the Global Source Mobile Electronics Trade Fair in Hong Kong this week, Japanese blog Macotakara reports that each and every accessory maker it spoke to claims that the next iPad Pro will feature a USB-C connector for charging and data transfer. This would mark the first time Apple has replaced the proprietary Lightning port on any of its mobile devices since the technology was introduced back in 2012.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard rumors about Apple weaning itself off of Lightning, but the number of corroborating reports claiming the next iPad Pro will be the first Apple tablet to have a USB-C port continues to grow.

Just last week, sources told 9to5Mac that the 2018 iPad Pro will be able to output 4K HDR video to external display using its new USB-C port. There will be a new panel in the Settings app specifically for controlling what users share on other screens, including resolution, brightness, turning HDR on and off, and more.

9to5Mac’s report didn’t clarify whether or not the USB-C port would replace the Lightning port altogether, but back in September, reliable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said in a research note that Apple’s next iPad will ship with an 18W USB-C charger in the box, and that Apple is ready to start moving on to USB-C.

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Bear in mind that iPads outsell Macs by about 3:1, so if new iPads start using USB-C that could begin to make an impact. Accessory makers take note of such things because for retailers, margins on accessories are better than on the devices themselves. Though of course iPhones outsell iPads by about 4:1, and they’re pretty resolutely Lightning devices.
link to this extract


Pioneer of Central Washington cryptocurrency boom falls on hard times • The Seattle Times

Paul Roberts:

»

Last October, Giga Watt was on a scorching upward trajectory. With prices for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies soaring and international investors clamoring for a piece of the digital action, the East Wenatchee-based company had expanded to 62 employees and raised tens of millions of dollars for what it hoped would be a game-changing project: a sprawling campus of 24 prefabricated buildings where would-be crypto “miners” could run their own computers and solve the complicated mathematical algorithms that yield the digital gold.

As the pods arose from a muddy site near the Douglas County airport, local government officials talked excitedly about the emergence of a new, 21st-century industry based on the complex “blockchain” technologies that enable bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. Giga Watt and its founder, a former Seattle-area programmer named Dave Carlson, saw themselves on that revolution’s cutting edge.

Now it’s a starkly different picture. Last month, beset by millions of dollars in debt, ongoing legal problems and questions about its unconventional financing, Giga Watt laid off 80% of its staff and suspended all construction. Carlson himself stepped down in August.

The moves come as the volatile sector, which ignited a small gold rush in the mid-Columbia Basin, is struggling with softening cryptocurrency prices and uncertain costs for its prime “raw material,” cheap electricity. The market correction has wiped out many small players and forced even some larger players to rewrite their plans.

«

As usual, the people who reliably get rich in gold rushes are the ones selling spades – as long as they get paid for them. Contractors are owed around $5m.
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PUD Board acts to halt unauthorized bitcoin mining • Chelan Power and Utilities Department

The power department in Chelan, Washington state, a couple of hundred miles east of Seattle:

»

“…we’re incensed that individuals are putting people at risk,” said Commissioner Steve McKenna. “We’re not going to tolerate it. This is a strong message, and I want to make that very clear.”

His comments came after hearing of unauthorized cryptocurrency mining discovered last week in a Wenatchee apartment, a Malaga home and Chelan mini-storage units. Each operation was using enough power to create fire risks for neighbors and damage grid equipment not sized for the load. PUD crews disconnected power for the unauthorized services. (Discussion starts at 01:00 on the meeting audio.)

Board President Dennis Bolz said these actions will not be tolerated. “This has to end,” Bolz said.

Commissioner Garry Arseneault said heightened enforcement is aimed at, “scoundrels,” who are deliberating thwarting PUD regulations. “I want to take one step back and say that users of power that have legitimate requests, and have been properly sized for the use of that power, that’s not the kind of entity we’re discussing today.

“What we’re discussing is a person who is purposely trying to slip around the end and use power in a way that a facility was not designed for and doing so in a manner where there’s been no request for service to meet that kind of demand.” He added, “I see yet, once again, a reason to support the installation of automated meters to be able to confront these scoundrels before they do burn an apartment building down and perhaps kill a family or children in the process.”

«

Sounds a bit like shutting down cryptomining by, er, fiat.
link to this extract


What happens when everyone in a room keeps giving dollars to random others? • Decision Science News

Annie Duke:

»

When we were giving a talk at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern we met Uri Wilensky, who shared with us a simulation he likes to assign.

»

Imagine a room full of 100 people with 100 dollars each. With every tick of the clock, every person with money gives a dollar to one randomly chosen other person. After some time progresses, how will the money be distributed?

«

If on quick reflection you thought “more or less equally”, you are not alone. I asked 5 super-smart PhDs this question and they all had the same initial intuition.

How does the distribution look? Play the movie above to see. [You’ll have to click through; the video doesn’t have an embed.] Here’s how it works.

The movie shows 5,000 clock ticks in less than a minute.

The Y axis shows the number of dollars each person has. It starts at 45 dollars each.

On the x-axis we have 45 people.

The red bars show the wealth of each person at each tick of the clock.

The blue bars are the same as red bars, but sorted to show how wealth is distributed. The rightmost blue bar is the height of the highest red bar, and so on down.

Don’t believe it? Play with R and tidyverse and gganimate code yourself.

Inequality can arise from seemingly innocuous policies — you need to keep an eye on it.

«

Ah, hello, Mr Pareto. The penthouse suite as usual? (From Decision Science News, a once-weekly signup newsletter.) There’s more discussion here.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.934: Facebook blames spammers for hack, how Saudi Arabia hacks dissidents, Brazil’s WhatsApp problem, iPad alert!, and more


Apple’s podcasting charts got gamed: now we know how. Photo by Nicolas Solop 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. See? Another week done. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

As Facebook shows off its “election war room,” a massive WhatsApp scandal hits Brazil • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick in Sao Paolo:

»

Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha, released a bombshell report on Thursday that local marketing firms have been buying bundles of phone numbers and using them to mass-WhatsApp voters anti-leftist propaganda. The report was released the same day that WhatsApp’s new CEO, Chris Daniels, published a piece in Folha, writing, “We have a responsibility to amplify the good and mitigate the bad.”

Thursday morning, also, appears to have been the time when Facebook allowed access stories from American journalists such as CNN covering Facebook’s new “election war room” to publish. The timing of the embargo — an agreement between news organizations to publish news provided by a source at the same time — the investigation by Folha, and Daniels’ op-ed throw into question exactly how Facebook intends to monitor fake news and hyperpartisan misinformation, especially in a WhatsApp-dominated country like Brazil.

“We know when it comes to an [election], every moment counts,” said Samidh Chakrabarti, head of civic engagement at Facebook, who oversees the war room, told the Verge during their tour of the facility. “So if there are late-breaking issues we see on the platform, we need to be able to detect and respond to them in real time, as quickly as possible.”

Misinformation on WhatsApp has been a huge concern for Brazilian journalists and fact-checkers. About 40% of the country’s 207 million people are using the app. Its messages are encrypted, which means it’s virtually impossible to monitor exactly how political actors are using the app.

«

The problem with WhatsApp is that it can spread information, and misinformation, virally, far faster than text messages could. It’s like weaponised Ebola when it comes to viral spread.
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Report: only 1% of exchange location data useful for offline attribution • MarTech Today

»

The debate about the relative accuracy and value of location data derived from the exchange bid-stream and that derived from first-party apps has been raging for about three years, with partisans on each side. First-party data is more accurate but less plentiful; third-party location data is much more available but often very polluted or inaccurate.

The latest missive in this debate comes from Placed, a location analytics company recently acquired by Snap. The company just issued a report (registration required) on location accuracy.

Exchange-derived location data usable for in-store attribution

Source: Placed (2017)

The often-technical report asserts that “the average accuracy of exchange-derived locations is over 4 New York City blocks.” It also finds that “only 1% of locations from bid requests are useful for in-store measurement (based on a location accuracy < 50 meters)." Bid-stream location data comes from multiple sources including GPS, cell towers, WiFi and IP addresses, but it rarely comes from the device itself. The report goes on to critique location data coming from exchanges on multiple fronts. Among the criticisms, which all go to the accuracy and utility of the bid-stream data, are the following:

• 80% of bid requests are made while people are between visits — and most of the rest are made at home (so of limited value for attribution).
• Bid stream data overindexes on location data from certain categories (e.g., Lodging, and Gyms & Fitness Centers), likely due to readily available WiFi combined with extended time spent at a given business.
• Key retail categories such as Fashion, Sporting Goods and Computers & Electronics are under-represented in bid data.

«

That’s for offline, but of course for online it’s going to be a lot bigger.
link to this extract


Facebook finds hack was done by spammers, not foreign state • WSJ

Robert McMillan and Deepa Seetharaman:

»

Internal researchers now believe that the people behind the attack are a group of Facebook and Instagram spammers that present themselves as a digital marketing company, and whose activities were previously known to Facebook’s security team, said the people familiar with the investigation.

Facebook has previously said it was working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a criminal probe into the incident.

The incident immediately raised questions about the hackers’ motivation, in part because Russian and Iranian operatives have in the past used social media, including Facebook, to cause mischief in the U.S. Other countries, including North Korea and China, have in the past been accused of cyberattacks for various purposes.

The stolen tokens are digital keys that allowed the hackers to access any part of a user’s Facebook account, and would be of great use to state-sponsored attackers looking to conduct espionage, according to security researchers.

However, the Facebook internal probe suggests the goal of the hackers was financial, not ideological, the people said.

The hackers accessed only a limited subset of the data they could have taken, Facebook said last week. Instead of accessing personal messages, they accessed contact details—including phone numbers and email addresses—gender, relationship status, and search and check-in data belonging to 14 million users. For another 15 million users, only names and contacts were accessed; and the attackers didn’t obtain personal information from 1 million people affected by the breach.

«

Lot of effort to go to for some customer data.
link to this extract


Supreme Court case could decide Facebook, Twitter power to regulate speech • CNBC

Tucker Higgins:

»

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could determine whether users can challenge social media companies on free speech grounds.

The case, Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, No. 17-702, centers on whether a private operator of a public access television network is considered a state actor, which can be sued for First Amendment violations.

The case could have broader implications for social media and other media outlets. In particular, a broad ruling from the high court could open the country’s largest technology companies up to First Amendment lawsuits.

That could shape the ability of companies like Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet’s Google to control the content on their platforms as lawmakers clamor for more regulation and activists on the left and right spar over issues related to censorship and harassment.

The Supreme Court accepted the case on Friday. It is the first case taken by a reconstituted high court after Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation earlier this month.

On its face, the case has nothing to do with social media at all. Rather, the facts of the case concern public access television, and two producers who claim they were punished for expressing their political views. The producers, DeeDee Halleck and Jesus Melendez, say that Manhattan Neighborhood Network suspended them for expressing views that were critical of the network.

In making the argument to the justices that the case was worthy of review, attorneys for MNN said the court could use the case to resolve a lingering dispute over the power of social media companies to regulate the content on their platforms.

While the First Amendment is meant to protect citizens against government attempts to limit speech, there are certain situations in which private companies can be subject to First Amendment liability.

«

We’re betting on Kavanaugh ruling in favour of it being a “state actor”, yes?
link to this extract


Apple launches special event page for October event with dynamic set of Apple logos • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

Apple today sent out invites for an upcoming October 30th event set to be held in Brooklyn. Apple did something special for its invites this time around, and each one features unique artwork with a different Apple logo.

Apple also designed a new event page for the event, and each time you reload the page, you can see a new Apple logo that Apple created.

It’s not clear how many different Apple logos Apple designed for the event, but it appears to be at least several dozen. You can see a selection of approximately 10 of them by refreshing the event page, but not all of the artwork that showed up on the invites appears to be on the page.

Apple’s event, which will focus on the iPad Pro and its Mac lineup, is set to take place on Tuesday, October 30 in New York City at the Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn. It is Apple’s first NYC event in several years.

«

Bound to be speculation about why New York rather than the custom-built place in California? I suspect it’s about time zones – 10am EDT is 3pm in the UK, 7am PST, so it’s a little easier to get the word around.

Very much looking forward to seeing the new iPad Pros. (That’s surely part of it, right?) AirPods? Mac minis? …AirPower…?
link to this extract


Saudis tried to silence associate of Jamal Khashoggi, recordings show • The Washington Post

Loveday Morris and Zakaria Zakaria:

»

As he criticized the Saudi leadership as a contributing columnist to The Post, [Jamal] Khashoggi had encountered the pro-government Twitter accounts that Saudi activists refer to as “the flies.”

“Jamal was insulted so much by the Saudi bots,” [exiled Saudi, Omar] Abdulaziz said. “They were focusing on Jamal as he was the voice in the Western media.”

Abdulaziz said he suggested an online countermovement. He just needed some cash to get it off the ground. “We call them ‘the fly army,’ ” he said. “We call ourselves ‘the bee army.’ ”

The plan, he recounted, was to buy SIM cards with Canadian and American numbers that Saudis inside the kingdom could use. Twitter accounts must be verified with a phone number, and activists in Saudi Arabia are scared of linking their Saudi numbers to their Twitter accounts, fearful they could be traced and arrested for being critical of the government, he said. They’d already allocated 200 SIM cards to people.  

Khashoggi had also asked Abdulaziz to help on a short film showing how the Saudi leadership was dividing the country, he said. And Khashoggi had asked for help designing a logo for a new foundation he was forming — Democracy for Arab World Now. Abdulaziz was also helping him design a website to track human rights issues.

But Khashoggi was particularly apprehensive about the SIM card project. “He told me this project is too dangerous,” Abdulaziz said. “He told me to be careful. . . . Twitter is the only platform we have, we don’t have a parliament.” 

In a June 21 message, Khashoggi wrote to Abdulaziz: “I will try to get the money. . . . We should do something. You know sometimes I’m [affected] by their attacks.”

Two days later, Abdulaziz placed an order on Amazon. He clicked a link sent to his phone to track a parcel delivery. He suspects that the action infected his phone. 

The Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto project that investigates digital espionage against civil society, warned him in August that his phone may have been hacked. Two weeks ago, the group concluded with a “high degree of confidence” that his cellphone had been targeted. The group said it believed the operator is linked to “Saudi Arabia’s government and security services.”

«

As a reminder, Apple in September 2016 issued an urgent security update to address spyware that Saudi Arabia bought from an Israeli company for about $1m to infect the phone of another dissident, Ahmed Mansoor. Mohammad bin Salman, the current ruler of Saudi Arabia, didn’t take over until June 2017. So this isn’t new.
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What damage control looks like in Saudi Arabia • Bloomberg

Donna Abu-Nasr and Vivian Nereim:

»

“I’m shaking now, literally,” says a Saudi businessman vacillating between fear and disbelief that his country might have resorted to the methods of late dictators such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi. He spoke on condition of anonymity, a usual request nowadays in a country where the prince has been willing to detain even royals and billionaires to get his way.

Repression is key to damage control at home. A young Saudi who recently returned to the kingdom after studying abroad wrestled with how to react to the Khashoggi news before concluding he had to defend his country above all. Saudis have to side with the government no matter what, he says. As the prince consolidated power in the past two years, many in Riyadh became increasingly cautious about what they say in public. “Talking costs you dearly now,” one Saudi academic said in August after declining to meet with a Bloomberg News reporter. Those still willing to talk suggest rendezvous in secluded settings. They leave their phones behind or seal them in containers in other rooms, hoping to prevent the microphones from being used as listening devices. Sometimes they whisper in the privacy of their own homes.

«

link to this extract


Chartbreakers: how spammers are gaming the podcast charts • Chartable

Dave Zohrob on how a podcast called “Bulletproof Real Estate” abruptly zoomed to the top of the iTunes charts:

»

I wanted to see how this cluster of podcasts [in the top of the Apple podcast charts] related to other top shows on the charts, like Serial and Joe Rogan. I grabbed them all for the top 50 podcasts and made another network graph:

Again, every box on the graph represents a podcast, and every arrow represents a recommendation. The chart easily breaks into four clusters, and we can draw some quick conclusions from them.

First, there’s one “main cluster” that includes most popular shows. You can see some natural sub-clusters—for example, one sub-cluster around Joe Rogan includes similar talk shows; another around Someone Knows Something includes true crime shows.

Clusters 1, 2, and 3 are completely disconnected from the main cluster. There are zero recommendations in common between them. Bulletproof Real Estate lives in Cluster 1. You can see by the density of connections that the isolated clusters also have many more connections between the shows than even the most popular sections of the main cluster.

The isolated clusters are highly interconnected, but with very different subject matter. For example, Breaking the Underdog Curse for Chiropractors is related via subscriptions to many podcasts from both Clusters 1 & 2, but has little in common with them in terms of subject matter. The same goes for shows like Winning with Shopify, an ecommerce podcast, and This is Hot Bowga, “home of THE greatest hunting podcast ever created,” in Cluster 3.

So, what can we conclude from this network graph? Here’s my take:

If the podcast charts are based on subscription velocity, it’s highly likely that some or all of the podcasts in the isolated clusters have artificial subscriptions.

«

Spammers, basically.
link to this extract


Exclusive: Amazon has shut down Liquavista • The Digital Reader

Nate Hoffelder:

»

Launched in 2006 as a spin off from Philips, Liquavista had been developing a unique type of screen tech that was based on running an electric current through a liquid. This is called electrowetting technology, which is a fancy way of saying that each pixel in a Liquavista screen contained 3 liquids (red, green, blue), and that the color shown by a pixel depended on the amount of power fed into each liquid.

Here’s a demo of a Liquavista screen from 2013. Recorded shortly before the Amazon acquisition, this was the last time Liquavista showed off their screen tech.

The screens were originally being developed as a solution to the battery life issue. Mobile battery life was terrible back in the pre-iPad, pre-iPhone, and pre-netbook era, and people were willing to pay a premium for a screen which used less power than typical LCD screens.

That was why the company was launched, and why Samsung bought it in 2011, but by the time Amazon bought Liquavista in 2013, it was pretty clear that there was no broader market for this tech. The problem of mobile battery life had been solved and battery capacity was already improving year by year, and screens were getting more and more energy efficient.

Coincidentally, I was the first to report that Samsung bought Liquavista in 2011, and the first to report that it had been sold to Amazon in 2013, and now I am the first to officially report Liquavista’s demise.

«

So that’s that? Until someone finds a better use for electrowetting.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.933: Twitter’s Russian data, Facebook’s video flaw, Essential thins out, NPC explained, and more


Futurism hasn’t been as good at predicting social trends as technological ones. Howcome? Photo by Luke Jones on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Your 2020 presidential campaign slogan is the last text you sent: mine is “I’ll clean that up.” Vote! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Twitter just published millions of Russia- and Iran-linked tweets so researchers can study election interference • Buzzfeed News

Davey Alba:

»

Twitter published data sets Wednesday containing millions of tweets, photos, videos, and the names of thousands of accounts with potential election-meddling information operations that the company found on its platform since 2016.

Twitter had previously disclosed that election-meddling information operations had been detected, but said in a new blog post that opening up the data sets for scrutiny by independent researchers, academics, and journalists could help bring more understanding about foreign interference in political conversations on the platform.

“It is clear that information operations and coordinated inauthentic behavior will not cease,” wrote Vijaya Gadde, the legal, public policy, and trust and safety lead at Twitter, and Yoel Roth, Twitter’s head of site integrity, in the blog post. “These types of tactics … will adapt and change as the geopolitical terrain evolves worldwide and new technologies emerge.” But, Gadde and Roth said, the company would continue to “proactively combat nefarious attempts to undermine the integrity of Twitter” and partner with civil society, government, researchers, and industry peers to understand nefarious online political campaigns.

«

From the Twitter post:

»

These large datasets comprise 3,841 accounts affiliated with the IRA, originating in Russia, and 770 other accounts, potentially originating in Iran. They include more than 10 million Tweets and more than 2 million images, GIFs, videos, and Periscope broadcasts, including the earliest on-Twitter activity from accounts connected with these campaigns, dating back to 2009.

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It’s about 365GB in total, so get those hard drives ready. There’s also some Brexit stuff in there too.
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Did Facebook’s faulty data push news publishers to make terrible decisions on video? • Nieman Journalism Lab

Laura Hazard Owen:

»

“We’re entering this new golden age of video,” Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News in April 2016. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.”

But even as Facebook executives were insisting publicly that video consumption was skyrocketing, it was becoming clear that some of the metrics the company had used to calculate time spent on videos were wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2016, three months after the Fortune panel, that Facebook had “vastly overestimated average viewing time for video ads on its platform for two years” by as much as “60 to 80 percent.” The company apologized in a blog post: “As soon as we discovered the discrepancy, we fixed it.”

A lawsuit filed by a group of small advertisers in California, however, argues that Facebook had known about the discrepancy for at least a year — and behaved fraudulently by failing to disclose it.

That could have had enormous consequences — not just for advertisers, who were making decisions about whether to shift resources from television to Facebook, but also for news organizations, who were simultaneously grappling with decisions about how to allocate editorial staff and what kinds of content creation to prioritize. Publishers’ “pivot to video” was driven largely by a belief that if Facebook was seeing users, in massive numbers, shift to video from text, the trend must be real for news video too — even if people within those publishers doubted the trend internally based on their own experiences, and even as research conducted by outside organizations continued to suggest that the video trend was overblown and that readers preferred text.

«

Sometimes the overestimation was far bigger: inflated from 2 seconds average to 17.5s. That’s the difference between “damn, stop and go back” to “let’s see what this is like”. And also an ad shown, or not.

There are also extracts from court filings, because a number of advertisers are extremely pissed off with Facebook. But it’s the publishers, and the journalists who lost their jobs because they were writing text rather than shooting video (I’m thinking of you, Mashable), who should be more pissed off.
link to this extract


Trivial authentication bypass in libssh leaves servers wide open • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

There’s a four-year-old bug in the Secure Shell implementation known as libssh that makes it trivial for just about anyone to gain unfettered administrative control of a vulnerable server. While the authentication-bypass flaw represents a major security hole that should be patched immediately, it wasn’t immediately clear what sites or devices were vulnerable since neither the widely used OpenSSH nor Github’s implementation of libssh was affected…

…A search on Shodan showed 6,351 sites using libssh, but knowing how meaningful the results are is challenging. For one thing, the search probably isn’t exhaustive. And for another, as is the case with GitHub, the use of libssh doesn’t automatically make a site vulnerable.

Rob Graham, who is CEO of the Errata Security firm, said the vulnerability “is a big deal to us but not necessarily a big deal to the readers. It’s fascinating that such a trusted component as SSH now becomes your downfall.”

[A researcher at the security firm NCC, Peter] Winter-Smith agreed. “I suspect this will end up being a nomination for most overhyped bug, since half the people on Twitter seem to worry that it affects OpenSSH and the other half (quite correctly!) worry that GitHub uses libssh, when in fact GitHub isn’t vulnerable.”

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The bypass is: when it asks you for verification, you tell it you’re verified. Like that. A four-year old bug in open source code used all over the place.
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Android Creator’s startup Essential Products cuts about 30% of staff • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

The reductions affect staff in the company’s hardware, marketing, and sales divisions, the people said. They asked not to be identified discussing private moves. The company has about 120 employees, according to its website.

The cuts come several months after the company canceled plans for a second version of its smartphone and paused development of a home smart device that would compete with Amazon.com Inc. and Google.

“This has been a difficult decision to make. We are very sorry for the impact on our colleagues who are leaving the company and are doing everything we can to help them with their future careers,” an Essential spokeswoman wrote in an email. “We are confident that our sharpened product focus will help us deliver a truly game changing consumer product.”

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There’s confidence, and there’s being wrong.
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Futurism’s blind spot: why could we predict self-driving cars, but not women in the workplace? • Nautilus

Tom Venderbilt:

»

as the economist Robert Fogel famously noted, if the railroad had not been invented, we would have done almost as well, in terms of economic output, with ships and canals. Or we assume that modern technology was wonderfully preordained instead of, as it often is, an accident. Instagram began life as a Yelp-style app called Burbn, with photos an afterthought (photos on your phone, is that a thing?). Texting, meanwhile, started out as a diagnostic channel for short test messages—because who would prefer fumbling through tiny alphanumeric buttons to simply talking?1

Transportation seems to be a particular poster child of fevered futurist speculation, bearing a disproportionate load of this deferred wish fulfillment (perhaps because we simply find daily travel painful, reminding us of its shared root with the word “travail”). The lament for the perpetually forestalled flying car focuses around childlike wishes (why can’t I have this now?), and ignores massive externalities like aerial traffic jams, and fatality rates likely to be higher than terrestrial driving.

The “self-driving car,” it is promised, will radically reshape the way we live, forgetting that, throughout history, humans have largely endeavored to keep their daily travel time within a stable bound.4 “Travelators,” or moving walkways, were supposed to transform urban mobility; nowadays, when they actually work, they move (standing) people in airports at a slower-than-walking speed. In considering the future of transportation, it is worth keeping in mind that, today, we mostly move around thanks to old technology. As Amazon experiments with aerial drone delivery, its “same day” products are being moved through New York City thanks to that 19th-century killer app: the bicycle.

Edgerton notes that the “innovation-centric” worldview—those sexy devices that “changed the world”—runs not merely to the future, but also the past. “The horse,” he writes, “made a greater contribution to Nazi conquest than the V2.” We noticed what was invented more than what was actually used.

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link to this extract


Genome hackers show no one’s DNA is anonymous anymore • WIRED

Megan Molteni:

»

the amount of DNA information housed in digital data stores has exploded, with no signs of slowing down. Consumer companies like 23andMe and Ancestry have so far created genetic profiles for more than 12 million people, according to recent industry estimates. Customers who download their own information can then choose to add it to public genealogy websites like GEDmatch, which gained national notoriety earlier this year for its role in leading police to a suspect in the Golden State Killer case.

Those interlocking family trees, connecting people through bits of DNA, have now grown so big that they can be used to find more than half the US population. In fact, according to new research led by Erlich, published in Science, more than 60% of Americans with European ancestry can be identified through their DNA using open genetic genealogy databases, regardless of whether they’ve ever sent in a spit kit.

“The takeaway is it doesn’t matter if you’ve been tested or not tested,” says Erlich, who is now the chief science officer at MyHeritage, the third largest consumer genetic provider behind 23andMe and Ancestry. “You can be identified because the databases already cover such large fractions of the US, at least for European ancestry.”

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Give it a few more years and governments trying to track people (spies? Murderous assassins?) down will publish DNA taken from the scene and, little sigh, say that they don’t seem to have any more leads and leave it to open source journalists.
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What Is NPC, the pro-Trump internet’s new favourite insult? • The New York Times

Kevin Roose:

»

Last week, a trolling campaign organized by right-wing internet users spilled over onto Twitter. The campaign, which was born in the fever swamps of 4chan and Reddit message boards, involved creating hundreds of fictional personas with gray cartoon avatars, known as NPCs. These accounts posed as liberal activists and were used to spread — among other things — false information about November’s midterm elections.

Over the weekend, Twitter responded by suspending about 1,500 accounts associated with the NPC trolling campaign. The accounts violated Twitter’s rules against “intentionally misleading election-related content,” according to a person familiar with the company’s enforcement process. The person, who would speak only anonymously, was not authorized to discuss the decision.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Here, we try to unpack the NPC meme, what it means and why it’s causing trouble on Twitter.

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Just doing my job keeping you informed of memeulations on the intertubes, folks.
link to this extract


Kanye West and Donald Trump and the rise of human clickbait • NY Mag

Max Read:

»

The point, anyway, isn’t that Kanye’s seeming manic episodes are “actually” publicity stunts — or, for that matter, that his publicity stunts are “actually” manic episodes. The point is that, on Twitter, it was impossible for people to distinguish between the two. The connection between eccentricity, erratic behavior, celebrity, and attention is not, obviously, a new dynamic — think of Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen. But social media, and the news its dominance incentivizes, has created an environment in which the quickest and surest way toward blanket coverage of you and your output is acting in a way consistent with mental illness, regardless of whether or not you would be diagnosed as ill in a clinical setting. This is as true in business, where erratic behavior and market manipulation are two sides of the same coin — just ask Elon Musk — or in politics, where a particularly obsessive set of theories about Donald Trump can net you tens of thousands of followers, as it is in entertainment. What’s necessary to succeed in an economy where attention is the reserve currency is a set of attributes that appear with no small frequency in the DSM.

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(The DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by the American Psychiatric Association.)
link to this extract


I’m an Amazon employee. My company shouldn’t sell facial recognition tech to police • Medium

It’s a great year for important anonymous letters to publications about what’s going on inside well-known but often impenetrable organisations:

»

When a company puts new technologies into the world, it has a responsibility to think about the consequences. Amazon, where I work, is currently allowing police departments around the country to purchase its facial recognition product, Rekognition, and I and other employees demand that we stop immediately.

A couple weeks ago, my co-workers delivered a letter to this effect, signed by over 450 employees, to Jeff Bezos and other executives. The letter also contained demands to kick Palantir, the software firm that powers much of ICE’s deportation and tracking program, off Amazon Web Services and to institute employee oversight for ethical decisions.

We know Bezos is aware of these concerns and the industry-wide conversation happening right now. On stage, he acknowledged that big tech’s products might be misused, even exploited, by autocrats. But rather than meaningfully explain how Amazon will act to prevent the bad uses of its own technology, Bezos suggested we wait for society’s “immune response.”

If Amazon waits, we think the harm will be difficult to undo.

After all, our concern isn’t one about some future harm caused by some other company: Amazon is designing, marketing, and selling a system for dangerous mass surveillance right now…

…We know from history that new and powerful surveillance tools left unchecked in the hands of the state have been used to target people who have done nothing wrong; in the United States, a lack of public accountability already results in outsized impacts and over-policing of communities of color, immigrants, and people exercising their First Amendment rights. Ignoring these urgent concerns while deploying powerful technologies to government and law enforcement agencies is dangerous and irresponsible.

«

There’s also an interview with the article writer.
link to this extract


Larger smartphones increase in consumer acceptance • Strategy Analytics

»

A new report from the User Experience Strategies (UXS) group at Strategy Analytics surveying consumers in the US, Western Europe, China and India has explored consumer smartphone size preference. Flagship device sizes between 5.0in and 5.5in continue to be preferred by most, especially in China and India where a device of 5.5in is considered ‘ideal’ by most. Consumers in all markets surveyed are showing greater interest in larger devices compared to 2017.

Key report findings:

• A larger percentage of respondents in the US and Western Europe found larger devices to be an ideal size in 2018, compared to 2017.
• Half of respondents in India found devices with a screen size of 5.5in ideal in 2018, compared to half of respondents citing 5.0in as ideal in 2017.
• Around half of respondents in China found devices with a screen size of 5.5” ideal in 2018, compared to only a third in 2017.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director and report author commented, “The primary drivers for larger displays are likely to be stemming from greater productivity and entertainment capabilities, thinner more ergonomic smartphone designs, increased screen resolution, clarity, and quality, and the overall increase in resourcefulness. Smartphones are becoming the control hub for more and more connected devices/services.”

«

The fact that, without anything else happening, people are more accepting of large screens suggests that all this stuff is just custom and habit. Look back at reviews of the first Galaxy Note, such as this one (from 2011):

»

Now, those mobile devices we couldn’t live without have screens that are much, much larger. Sometimes, though, we secretly wish they were even bigger still.

Samsung’s new GT-N7000 Galaxy Note is the handset those dreams are made of – if you happen to share that dream about obnoxiously large smartphones, that is.

«

Obnoxiously large. FIVE POINT THREE INCHES. (The iPhone at the time was 4in.) Among the cons: “Awkward to use for phone calls.”

link to this extract


Instagram has a massive harassment problem • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz on the problems at the only other social network with more than a billion users:

»

When Instagram introduces new features, the moderation-team members receive no warning, Andy [who works as a moderator; that’s not his real name] said. Consequently, they are left scrambling to understand how they work and what constitutes harassment on each format. “When the Questions feature rolled out, same way as every other new feature, we had no idea,” he said. “We didn’t know which part is the question, which is the answer, who says what? That makes such a big difference on whether you’re going to delete or ignore the post. The mods are just totally not kept up to date on how people use features.”

Alex, the current Instagram employee who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym, said the company prioritizes growth above all else, often at costs to user experience. “The focus is still on getting people to spend more time, getting more users, getting more revenue. That doesn’t change much internally,” Alex said. “There’s been a lot of effort to shape the narrative, but the reality is that it doesn’t drive business impact.”

At Instagram and Facebook, Alex said, “features can make whatever progress … but can’t hurt the other metrics. A feature might decrease harassment 10 percent, but if it decreases users by 1 percent, that’s not a trade-off that will fly. Internally right now, no one is willing to make that trade-off.”

Allie, a former employee at Instagram, agreed. “Instagram has terrible tools. I think people haven’t really focused on it much because so many harassment campaigns are just more visible on other platforms,” she said. Throughout her time there, she said, “many of the efforts to reduce harassment were oriented toward PR, but very few engineering and community resources were put toward actually decreasing harassment.”

«

link to this extract


Panasonic’s human blinkers help people concentrate in open-plan offices • Dezeen

Natashah Hitti:

»

Panasonic’s Future Life Factory is developing wearable blinkers, designed to limit your sense of sound and sight, and help you focus on what’s directly in front of you.

The prototype device, called Wear Space, is designed to keep people distraction-free when working in busy spaces or open-plan offices by blocking them off from their immediate surroundings.

It was created by Panasonic’s design studio Future Life Factory, in collaboration with Japanese fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga.

Panasonic hopes that by using the partition to cut the user’s horizontal field of vision by about 60%, it will encourage them to concentrate on the work in front of them.

“As open offices and digital nomads are on the rise, workers are finding it ever more important to have personal space where they can focus,” said the company. “Wear Space instantly creates this kind of personal space – it’s as simple as putting on an article of clothing.”

«

Ian Bogost’s comment on Twitter: “now you’re a draft horse”. Amazing.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.932: Uber v Google, Dragonfly confirmed, machine learning’s killer app?, Turkey nudges Saudis, and more


Patisserie Valerie has some odd ingredients in its accounts. Photo by matthew midgley 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 13 links for you. Or 1101 in binary. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Did Uber steal Google’s intellectual property? • The New Yorker

Charles Duhigg:

»

After [the former DARPA Grand Challenge for self-driving vehicles participant, Anthony] Levandowski arrived at Google, his plan was to send out hundreds of cars, equipped with cameras, to photograph America’s roads. Then he encountered Google’s bureaucracy.

The company was less than a decade old, but it had almost seventeen thousand employees, including a thick layer of middle managers. Levandowski recently told me, “One of the reasons they wanted us was because Larry Page knew we were scrappy—we would cut through red tape.” Page, Google’s co-founder and chief executive, often complained that the company had become bloated, and had lost the hacker mentality that had fuelled its initial success. By the time Levandowski arrived, Google’s apparatchiks were in ascent.

“Hiring could take months,” Levandowski told me. “There was a program called WorkforceLogic, and just getting people into the system was super-complicated. And so, one day, I put ads on Craigslist looking for drivers, and basically hired anyone who seemed competent, and then paid them out of my own pocket. It became known as AnthonyforceLogic.” Around this time, Levandowski went to an auto dealership and bought more than a hundred cars. One of his managers from that period told me, “When we got his expense report, it was equal to something like all the travel expenses of every other Google employee in his division combined. The accountants were, like, ‘What the hell?’ But Larry said, ‘Pay it,’ and so we did. Larry wanted people who could ignore obstacles and could show everyone that you could do something that seemed impossible if you looked for work-arounds.”

Levandowski and his team were asked to map a million miles of U.S. roads within a year. They finished in nine months, and then set up an enormous office in Hyderabad, India, to begin mapping every street on earth.

«

This isn’t the heart of the story – this is back in 2007 – but it illustrates something pertinent about both Levandowski and Page, particularly the latter: he’ll forgive if you get the results.

It also goes into Silicon Valley’s culture, which it says is built on one big idea: betrayal.
link to this extract


Apple ‘deeply apologetic’ over account hacks in China • WSJ

Yoko Kubota:

»

Apple apologized over the hacking of some Chinese accounts in phishing scams, almost a week after it emerged that stolen Apple IDs had been used to swipe customer funds.

In its English statement Tuesday, Apple said it found “a small number of our users’ accounts” had been accessed through phishing scams. “We are deeply apologetic about the inconvenience caused to our customers by these phishing scams,” Apple said in its Chinese statement.

The incident came to light last week when Chinese mobile-payment giants Alipay and WeChat Pay said some customers had lost money.

The victims of the scams, Apple said Tuesday, hadn’t enabled so-called two-factor authentication—a setting that requires a user to log in with a password and a freshly-generated code to verify their identity.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company didn’t specify how many users were hit or how much money was stolen, nor did it offer details about how the hackers acquired the users’ Apple IDs and passwords. To help prevent unauthorized access to their accounts, Apple said, people should enable two-factor authentication.

«

It was a pretty safe bet that the people who got phished hadn’t enabled 2FA. (And that it was phishing rather than hacking.) Strange, since Apple pushes a reminder in the Settings app. This is interesting PR, though: apologising for something the customer got wrong and that Apple couldn’t control.
link to this extract


Google CEO Sundar Pichai says Project Dragonfly, the censored Chinese search engine, works • The Washington Post

Brian Fung:

»

“If Google were to operate in China, what would it look like? What queries will we be able to serve?” chief executive Sundar Pichai said during an event hosted by Wired on Monday night. “It turns out we’ll be able to serve well over 99% of the queries.”

The announcement could prompt more questions from U.S. policymakers, some of whom have accused Google of being evasive about Project Dragonfly. Meanwhile, Google and its peers in the tech industry are facing intense scrutiny over its approach to user privacy and data, with some federal lawmakers proposing legislation that could impose new restrictions on tech companies’ handling of customer information.

Like many other firms, Google is eyeing China as a massive market opportunity. China, which has an estimated population of 1.4 billion, is already heavily dependent on Google’s Android operating system; in 2013, 9 out of 10 smartphones in China were running Android. But Google’s position in mobile could eventually erode as Chinese competitors have sought to develop alternatives to Android. Gaining broader access to Chinese audiences could give Google more opportunities to serve online advertising and sell mobile apps.

«

link to this extract


The Magic Leap con • Gizmodo

Brian Merchant:

»

As many have noted, the hardware is still extremely limiting. The technology underpinning these experiences seems genuinely advanced, and if it were not for a multi-year blitzkrieg marketing campaign insisting a reality where pixels blend seamlessly with IRL physics was imminent, it might have felt truly impressive. (Whether or not it’s advanced enough to eventually give rise to Leap’s prior promises is an entirely open question at this point.) For now, the field of vision is fairly small and unwieldy, so images are constantly vanishing from view as you look around. If you get too close to them, objects will get chopped up or move awkwardly. And if you do get a good view, some objects appear low res and transparent; some looked like cheap holograms from an old sci-fi film. Text was bleary and often doubled up in layers that made it hard to read, and white screens looked harsh—I loaded Google on the Helio browser and immediately had to shut my eyes.

According to Magic Leap, over 1,000 people had signed up to be here. Why?, I wanted to ask all of them at once. Do you think this is the future? Do you really?

«

I’ll reiterate my prediction that pretty soon Magic Leap will pivot to industrial applications, which might exist.
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It turns out that Facebook could in fact use data collected from its Portal in-home video device to target you with ads • Recode

Kurt Wagner:

»

Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”

We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives.

But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.

“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e. usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices. We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads,” a spokesperson said in an email to Recode.

That isn’t very surprising, considering Facebook’s business model. The biggest benefit of Facebook owning a device in your home is that it provides the company with another data stream for its ad-targeting business.

«

I’m shocked, shocked to learn that data collection for targeting ads is going on in this Facebook device.
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Will compression be machine learning’s killer app? • Pete Warden’s blog

Warden used to be chief technology officer for a company called Jetpac, which used neural networks to do interesting stuff with Instagram photos; then Google bought it, and he’s working on machine learning there:

»

One of the other reasons I think ML is such a good fit for compression is how many interesting results we’ve had recently with natural language. If you squint, you can see captioning as a way of radically compressing an image. One of the projects I’ve long wanted to create is a camera that runs captioning at one frame per second, and then writes each one out as a series of lines in a log file. That would create a very simplistic story of what the camera sees over time, I think of it as a narrative sensor.

The reason I think of this as compression is that you can then apply a generative neural network to each caption to recreate images. The images won’t be literal matches to the inputs, but they should carry the same meaning. If you want results that are closer to the originals, you can also look at stylization, for example to create a line drawing of each scene. What these techniques have in common is that they identify parts of the input that are most important to us as people, and ignore the rest.

It’s not just images.

There’s a similar trend in the speech world. Voice recognition is improving rapidly, and so is the ability to synthesize speech. Recognition can be seen as the process of compressing audio into natural language text, and synthesis as the reverse. You could imagine being able to highly compress conversations down to transmitting written representations rather than audio. I can’t imagine a need to go that far, but it does seem likely that we’ll be able to achieve much better quality and lower bandwidth by exploiting our new understanding of the patterns in speech.

«

link to this extract


Google to charge phonemakers for Google Play app store in EU • Financial Times

Rochelle Toplensky:

»

With more than 80% of the world’s smartphones running on the Android operating system, the product is vital to Google’s future revenues and profitability.

Google denied any wrongdoing and has appealed against the EU’s decision to the European Court of Justice. But on Tuesday a company spokesperson said that from October 29, Android phonemakers “wishing to distribute Google apps” would also be able to build “non-compatible, or forked, smartphones and tablets for the EEA”.

The spokesperson added that phonemakers would also be able to able to license Google Play separately from Google’s search engine and Chrome for an unspecified fee.

With Tuesday’s announcement, Google addressed each of the practices that Ms Vestager deemed illegal. However, critics say the changes are unlikely to upend the global smartphone industry.

Thomas Vinje, a lawyer at Clifford Chance whose clients have raised competition concerns over Google’s Android contracts, said: “The bottom line is that Google’s so-called remedies would mean that both Android and Google’s other dominant mobile products will remain immune from effective competition.

“No manufacturer will produce a device based on a forked version of Android only for Europe,” he added.

«

Vinje is probably correct.
link to this extract


Five ways Google Pixel 3 camera pushes the boundaries of computational photography • Digital Photography Review

Rishi Sanyal:

»

With the launch of the Google Pixel 3, smartphone cameras have taken yet another leap in capability. I had the opportunity to sit down with Isaac Reynolds, Product Manager for Camera on Pixel, and Marc Levoy, Distinguished Engineer and Computational Photography Lead at Google, to learn more about the technology behind the new camera in the Pixel 3.

One of the first things you might notice about the Pixel 3 is the single rear camera. At a time when we’re seeing companies add dual, triple, even quad-camera setups, one main camera seems at first an odd choice.

But after speaking to Marc and Isaac I think that the Pixel camera team is taking the correct approach – at least for now. Any technology that makes a single camera better will make multiple cameras in future models that much better, and we’ve seen in the past that a single camera approach can outperform a dual camera approach in Portrait Mode, particularly when the telephoto camera module has a smaller sensor and slower lens, or lacks reliable autofocus [like the Galaxy S9].

«

This isn’t actually a test of the Pixel 3. Plenty of interesting things here; will they come to the wider range of Android, though? The Pixel is a fraction of a fraction of Android sales.

We’re also approaching the point where it’s only the low-light pictures that show substantial differences between generations. (Thanks stormyparis for the link.)
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The Google Pixel 3 is a very good phone. But maybe phones have gone too far • Buzzfeed News

Mat Hohan:

»

The world is on fire but the new Google Pixel 3 — a Good Phone, which I do recommend you buy if you like Android and can afford it, although its updates are mostly incremental — in my pocket is cool to the touch. A dark slab of metal and glass. It comes alive when I rub my finger across the back of it.

And then!

“We’re doomed,” a colleague texts me on Signal*. A push alert from a well-regarded news site has more details on the alleged murder and dismemberment of a Saudi journalist. On Nextdoor, several neighbors report that their drinking water has tested positive for unsafe levels of pesticides. The Citizen app prompts me to record video of an angry naked man rampaging in the shit-strewn streets of San Francisco. Facebook is hacked and our information is out there. Everyone on Twitter is angry, you fucking cuck. You idiot. You tender, triggered snowflake. Everyone on Instagram is posturing, posing. You are less beautiful than they. The places you go are not as interesting. You should feel bad because you are worse in every way. The world is dying; come see it, come see it.

I don’t recall exactly when my phone became such a festival of stress and psychological trauma, but here we are.

«

If you haven’t read – or had forgotten – Honan’s piece from CES Las Vegas, called “Fever Dream of a Guilt-Ridden Gadget Reporter“, it’s time to enjoy that too. Sample paragraph:

»

I try to remember all the products I’ve talked about that I won’t even bother to cover—and that nobody’s going to buy. There were some Bluetooth speakers. Or maybe they were WiFi. But there was definitely a helmet cam. And a waterproof phone. And a tablet and an ultrabook and an OLED TV. There was ennui upon ennui upon ennui set in this amazing temple to technology.

«

That was January 2012. Never change, Mat.
link to this extract


Turkey releases passport scans of men it says were involved in journalist’s killing • Washington Post

Souad Mekhennet and Kareem Fahim:

»

Turkish officials have provided The Washington Post with scans of passports that they say were carried by seven men who were part of a Saudi team involved in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

These passport scans add to the information made public by Turkey as it seeks to fill out the narrative of what happened to Khashoggi, a Post contributor who vanished after entering the consulate to obtain a document he needed for his upcoming wedding.

The Post is publishing the passport scans but obscuring the faces and names of the men because it has not independently verified their identities.

Within days of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkish investigators said they had pieced together most of the mystery, concluding that he had been killed inside the consulate and dismembered.

Turkey said a 15-member team dispatched from Saudi Arabia played a role in the killing. Turkish officials have confirmed that the 15 names reported in the Turkish media are those of the suspected team members, and their alleged involvement is part of the evidence cited by Turkey that Saudi Arabia was responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

«

Turkey’s playing an interesting game here. “Sources close to the investigation” have also released security camera footage, which claims to show a big people carrier with blacked-out windows leaving the consulate and then arriving at the consul’s home.

Turkey knows it can make Saudi Arabia uncomfortable, and embarrass the US if Trump says it’s fine, and then it releases video or audio. Saudi Arabia knows this; the US knows it. Turkey can keep dripping out this stuff for ages, to keep the story in the headlines.

So what does Turkey want in exchange for not doing this? Something political, of course. But what?
link to this extract


Too smooth: the red flag at Patisserie Valerie which was missed • FT Alphaville

Dan McCrum:

»

With the benefit of hindsight, however, there is one aspect of the company’s figures which looks odd: average sales per store barely changed in five years, even as the number of them doubled. Expansion, the addition of different brands, economic vagaries – through it all a Patisserie Valerie cafe took sales of about £600k a year.

In the year to September 2014, when there were 128 stores on average, each contributed revenues of £598k. Last year, 192 stores contributed an average £596k each.

Here’s the progression of sales, to £114m last year:

And here’s the average revenue per store, as the group’s total number of sites went from 89 to 206:

The metric was remarkably stable, suspiciously so we might now say. Business is rarely that smooth, as weather, the ebb and flow of competition, and even politics (a Brexit effect?) play a role.

«

This is part of the “Someone is wrong on the internet” series – a series title too wonderful for words. Patisserie Valerie is a chain of retail cake shops (so, as the story says, pretty much zero inventory) which a week ago discovered it has £20m less than it thought.
link to this extract


July 2017: Russian national and bitcoin exchange charged in 21-count indictment for operating alleged international money laundering scheme and allegedly laundering funds from hack of Mt. Gox • USAO-NDCA | Department of Justice

July 2017:

»

A grand jury in the Northern District of California has indicted a Russian national and an organization he allegedly operated, BTC-e, for operating an unlicensed money service business, money laundering, and related crimes…

…“Mr. Vinnik is alleged to have committed and facilitated a wide range of crimes that go far beyond the lack of regulation of the bitcoin exchange he operated.  Through his actions, it is alleged that he stole identities, facilitated drug trafficking, and helped to launder criminal proceeds from syndicates around the world,” said Chief Don Fort, IRS Criminal Investigation.  “Exchanges like this are not only illegal, but they are a breeding ground for stolen identity refund fraud schemes and other types of tax fraud.  When there is no regulation and criminals are left unchecked, this scenario is all too common. The takedown of this large virtual currency exchange should send a strong message to cyber-criminals and other unregulated exchanges across the globe.”

“BTC-e was noted for its role in numerous ransomware and other cyber-criminal activity; its take-down is a significant accomplishment, and should serve as a reminder of our global reach in combating transnational cyber crime,” said Special Agent in Charge of the USSS Criminal Investigative Division Michael D’Ambrosio. “We are grateful for the efforts of our law enforcement partners in achieving this significant result.”

“The arrest of Alexander Vinnik is the result of a multi-national effort and clearly displays the benefits of global cooperation among US and international law enforcement,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Hess.

«

OK, so that was more than a year ago. But you can bet that if there’s money laundering on one bitcoin exchange, then given how many there are around, it will be happening on others. Which brings us to…
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Is the price of bitcoin based on anything at all? • Medium

Jeff Wise, writing back in August on the puzzle about Tether – the cryptocoin which claims to be back by a dollar for every “dollar” worth of Tether:

»

The white paper that heralded Tether’s creation explicitly calls for regular audits. Without them, anyone buying Tether is effectively operating on faith. Think about it: you can barely rent an apartment without going through a credit check and proving you can cover the cost. You’d think the market would demand some concrete assurances about the issuance of $2.7bn worth of currency.

Let’s assume, though, that Tether really does have $2.7bn sitting in a safe somewhere. Where did it all come from? The most innocent answer is that some deep-pocketed investors decided they wanted to invest in cryptocurrency, but rather than simply buy some with dollars, they instead opted to buy Tether first and then use that to purchase the crypto.

Just why anyone would do that remains unclear, especially since, as UC Berkeley computer science researcher Nicholas Weaver has pointed out on Lawfareblog.com, “[O]ne has to believe that they did this even though these unregulated exchanges have a history of getting hacked, with customers losing their investments.”

A less innocent answer is that the investors couldn’t go to a banked exchange because their funds came from illegal activity, so they used Tether to turn their ill-gotten gains into untraceable crypto loot. In other words, money laundering.

Perhaps the most troubling answer for crypto investors is that Tether minted currency out of thin air, used it to buy other cryptocurrency, sold that cryptocurrency, and used the proceeds to create its reserves. That is, assuming the reserves actually exist at all.

In a sense, though, it doesn’t matter whether the money is in the bank or not. Tether’s terms of service state, “We do not guarantee any right of redemption or exchange of tethers by us for money.” Even if the money is in the vault, Tether holders have no claim to it.

«

Increasingly I suspect that Tether/Bitfinex’s official location in Panama means that it is a gigantic money laundering operation for, eh, shall we say drug cartel money? This would explain its occasional gigantic wafts of money, and its desperate search for a bank that will actually hold its reserves. And why it persists.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.931: Facebook and Myanmar, inside Google+, the voice resistance, Palm reborn!, Reddit’s product manager regrets, and more


Anki, which brought you self-driving Scalextric cars, has a new product. Photo by Ian Hughes 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Myanmar’s military said to be behind Facebook campaign that fuelled genocide • The New York Times

Paul Mozur:

»

They posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes as they flooded Facebook with their hatred. One said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism. Another shared a false story about the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man.

The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country.

The Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group, the people said. The military exploited Facebook’s wide reach in Myanmar, where it is so broadly used that many of the country’s 18 million internet users confuse the Silicon Valley social media platform with the internet. Human rights groups blame the anti-Rohingya propaganda for inciting murders, rapes and the largest forced human migration in recent history.

While Facebook took down the official accounts of senior Myanmar military leaders in August, the breadth and details of the propaganda campaign — which was hidden behind fake names and sham accounts — went undetected. The campaign, described by five people who asked for anonymity because they feared for their safety, included hundreds of military personnel who created troll accounts and news and celebrity pages on Facebook and then flooded them with incendiary comments and posts timed for peak viewership.

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Off the back of this, I got into a discussion on Twitter with Antonio Garcia Martinez, ex-Facebook, who is in many ways the person who speaks for Facebook (he understands its id). It seems there’s no simple way to challenge this; we live in a world where it’s too late to prevent this happening.
link to this extract


Trend watch: where are we using voice assistants? • CivicScience

»

With the voice assistant landscape continuously changing, what is the sentiment towards using them and on what types of devices are people using them most frequently?

CivicScience surveyed over 5,300 Americans on their experience with voice assistants and looked into how demographics come into play, as well as on what devices they use voice assistants with.

«

51% haven’t used and aren’t interested? That’s quite a crimping on the total addressable market.

link to this extract


The future’s so bright, I gotta wear blinders • ROUGH TYPE

Nick Carr:

»

A few years ago, the technology critic Michael Sacasas introduced the term “Borg Complex” to describe the attitude and rhetoric of modern-day utopians who believe that computer technology is an unstoppable force for good and that anyone who resists or even looks critically at the expanding hegemony of the digital is a benighted fool. (The Borg is an alien race in Star Trek that sucks up the minds of other races, telling its victims that “resistance is futile.”) Those afflicted with the complex, Sacasas observed, rely on a a set of largely specious assertions to dismiss concerns about the ill effects of technological progress. The Borgers are quick, for example, to make grandiose claims about the coming benefits of new technologies (remember MOOCs?) while dismissing past cultural achievements with contempt (“I don’t really give a shit if literary novels go away”).

To Sacasas’s list of such obfuscating rhetorical devices, I would add the assertion that we are at “the beginning.” By perpetually refreshing the illusion that progress is just getting under way, gadget worshippers like Kelly are able to wave away the problems that progress is causing. Any ill effect can be explained, and dismissed, as just a temporary bug in the system, which will soon be fixed by our benevolent engineers. (If you look at Mark Zuckerberg’s responses to Facebook’s problems over the years, you’ll find that they are all variations on this theme.) Any attempt to put constraints on technologists and technology companies becomes, in this view, a short-sighted and possibly disastrous obstruction of technology’s march toward a brighter future for everyone — what Kelly is still calling the “long boom.” You ain’t seen nothing yet, so stay out of our way and let us work our magic.

«

Is there such a thing as a pragmatic pessimist? If so then Nick Carr fits the bill.
link to this extract


Tiny new Palm at Verizon positioned as ‘accessory’ smartphone and we guess that’s a thing now? • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Last year, TCL announced that new devices with Palm branding would launch in 2018, and the first phone leaked a few months ago. The tiny 3.3-inch Palm phone is now official, and it’s coming to Verizon next month for a whopping $349.99.

Rather than being an independent phone, it functions as a ‘Connected device,’ similar to a smartwatch. You have to pay an extra $10/month, and it will receive the same phone calls and SMS messages as your main phone. TCL is positioning it as a secondary device for when you need a break from your regular phone.

«

A… what? So a smartwatch, basically. Except phone-shaped and won’t fit on your wrist. The basketball player Stephen Curry launched it… with a tweet from an iPhone.

Nope.
link to this extract


Vector, Anki’s cute robot companion, is available today • Engadget

Imad Khan:

»

Anki’s Vector, the $2m Kickstarter darling, is out today, and he’s ready to be your best friend. Vector is the follow-up to Anki’s first Robot, Cozmo. While Cozmo was more focused on being a toy for kids, Vector aims to be a robot assistant. It will even have Alexa integration by the end of the year, giving it access to a larger trove of information to be able to answer more questions.

Vector’s defining characteristic are its large, expressive eyes. The Wall-E-esque nature of the robot gives it an adorable personality. And even while you’re typing away at your desk, Vector will be doing its own thing, exploring and messing around. It can even do tricks, like pop a wheelie.

Vector has a front-facing camera that can recognize your face, as well as a four-microphone array on top for voice commands. And whenever Vector runs low on battery, he’ll truck on over to a charging port and juice up.

Anki will be updating Vector throughout its lifespan.

«

Anki was the company which wowed Apple’s WWDC back in 2013 when they showed their self-driving cars – the very neat Anki Drive, a sort of Scalextric where the cars figured out the track themselves – but since then it doesn’t seem to have had that many hits. Interesting company; maybe the crowdfunding model is the right way to find what people really want.
link to this extract


Zimbabwe’s attempt to tackle ‘bad’ currency deepens economic woes • Financial Times

David Pilling and Joseph Cotterill:

»

Zimbabwe is in the grip of a new economic crisis as the value of the country’s local currency collapses and shop shelves are stripped bare after a panic-buying spree last week.

Attempts to resolve the country’s complex currency system — in which non-dollar-backed electronic money and local “bond notes” are rapidly losing value — have been undermined by mixed messages from the government. The latest crisis is reviving memories of hyperinflation and undermining the new administration’s message that the country is “open for business”.

Amid a desperate shortage of dollars, even local KFC outlets were forced to shut up shop, unable to access the funds to buy chicken.

The problems began this month when Mthuli Ncube, Zimbabwe’s finance minister, said he was dividing bank accounts into two types — ones containing “good” and “bad” dollars. The “good” accounts are those backed by real inflows of dollars, remitted by millions of Zimbabweans in the diaspora. The “bad” accounts are those holding electronic money, known as RTGS, or real-time gross settlement.

Zimbabwe has been a dollarised economy for almost a decade since the government scrapped the local currency after a hyperinflationary meltdown.

«

Maybe if they tried some cryptocu.. no, forget it.
link to this extract


From memes to Infowars: how 75 fascist activists were “red-pilled” • bellingcat

Robert Evans:

»

An online community develops its own lingo over time. Among fascist activists “red-pilling” means converting someone to fascist, racist and anti-Semitic beliefs. The term originates with “The Matrix,” a popular 1999 film. The protagonist is offered the choice between a red pill, which will open his eyes to the reality of a machine-dominated world, and a blue pill, which will return him to ignorance and safety. The definition of “red pill,” as used by fascists, is rather elastic. Films and songs are described as “red pilled” if they reinforce a far-right worldview. At least one poster referred to amphetamines as red-pilled.

There appears to be no agreed-upon standard for when a human being is red-pilled. Most fascist activists agree that acknowledgement of the Jewish Question, or JQ, is critical. This means believing that Jewish people are at the center of a vast global conspiracy. The end goal of this conspiracy is usually described as “white genocide”, but there are numerous variations.

https://discordleaks.unicornriot.ninja/discord/view/984086?q=redpilled#msg

Red pilling is described as a gradual process. Individual people can be red-pilled on certain issues and not others. Stefan Molyneux, a popular author and far-right YouTube personality, is seen as being red-pilled on race and “the future of the west” even though he is not considered as a fascist. Prominent YouTuber PewPewDie is also often considered red-pilled. It is accepted that media personalities need to hide their outright fascist beliefs, or “power level”, in order to have a chance at red-pilling the general population (usually called “normies”).

«

This really is a quite depressing dive into a weird subculture. Being able to bring small groups with common thinking together is the internet’s strength, but also its failing. And there’s plentiful evidence that any online group tends to get dragged to the extreme views held within it. Also: YouTube is a big part of this process.
link to this extract


Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL review: the best camera gets a better phone • The Verge

Dieter Bohn likes the camera and thinks it scratches easily and yada yada but this I found worthwhile:

»

By far, the coolest software feature on the Pixel 3 (which is also coming to the Pixel 2) is Call Screening. When a phone call comes in, you can tap a button to screen it. When you do, a semi-robotic voice will speak to your caller and ask them why they’re calling. You watch this happen via text in real time on your screen, and the caller’s response is similarly transcribed for you as they speak.

When the call is active, you can tap a few pre-canned buttons to ask follow-up questions, hit a button to answer, or hit a button to hang up. It’s seriously useful and seriously impressive. Like everybody else, I get a ton of spam calls, and I sometimes feel like those unknown numbers might actually be real. It’s richly, darkly satisfying to know that I’m forcing a robocall to talk to a Google robot.

«

Dan Seifert, a senior editor at The Verge, raved about this feature on Twitter. Though “there’s a lot of spam calling, let’s make it easier to screen them” slightly reminds me of the American solution to the fact that it’s years behind getting electronic payments between people sorted out, and so relies on cheques a lot.

Solution: produce software that OCRs the cheques. Not “sort out the electronic payment system”?
link to this extract


Now that Google+ has been shuttered… • Morgan Knutson

Knutson was a designer on Google – which he was assigned to when he joined Google in 2012. He didn’t enjoy the experience of dealing with the office politics:

»

Now that Google has been shuttered, I should air my dirty laundry on how awful the project and exec team was.

I’m still pissed about the bait and switch they pulled by telling me I’d be working on Chrome, then putting me on this god forsaken piece of shit on day one.
This will be a super slow burn that goes back many years. I’ll continue to add to over the next couple of days. I’ll preface it with a bunch of backstory and explain what I had left behind, which made me more unhappy about the culture I had come into.

«

It’s a long thread (on Twitter; here unrolled into one page by @threadreaderapp) which left me thinking that his experience in small non-profits where he was the only person doing a ton of work really did not prepare him for being a small cog in a vast machine, where some of the other cogs are interested in seeing you leave.

Also worth noting: his comment on how the gigantic bonuses offered all over the company to shoehorn Google+ into products meant “No one really liked this [addition of G+]. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper”.
link to this extract


Crypto markets roiled as traders question Tether’s dollar peg • Bloomberg

Andrea Tan, Eric Lam and Benjamin Robertson:

»

The company that issues Tether has yet to provide conclusive evidence of its dollar holdings, even though it has repeatedly said that all Tethers are redeemable at $1. That claim helped make Tether the world’s second-most actively traded cryptocurrency: It was used in more than 20% of transactions tracked by CoinMarketCap.com over the past 24 hours.

Tether’s latest dip follows renewed speculation over the financial health and banking relationships of Bitfinex, a crypto exchange that shares a chief executive officer with Tether’s issuer. In a Medium post on Oct. 8, Bitfinex dismissed allegations that it was insolvent and said that withdrawals were functioning as normal. At the same time, it said that “complications continue to exist for us in the domain of fiat transactions.”

Many crypto-related firms have struggled to retain banking relationships as regulators in the US and elsewhere scrutinize the industry’s exposure to risks including money laundering, market manipulation and security breaches. The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission sent subpoenas to Bitfinex and Tether at the end of last year, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg in January.

Bitfinex couldn’t immediately be reached through an external spokeswoman.

“If traders start to flee Tether, it’s a potentially precarious situation, since it accounts for 20% of total volumes globally,” said Vijay Ayyar, head of business development at Luno, a cryptocurrency exchange. “It basically implies a lot of volatility ahead.”

«

Something is brewing at Bitfinex, and it doesn’t look good. Trading premiums at the exchange (ie what you need to pay to make a transaction) shot up on Monday morning; there’s a growing belief that it doesn’t have the assets. Basically, we’re seeing a run on the bank of Tether, and this isn’t going to be a version of It’s A Wonderful Life where James Stewart saves the day. People are going to lose money.
link to this extract


‘I fundamentally believe that my time at reddit made the world a worse place’ • NY Mag

Noah Kulwin speaks to former Reddit product manager Dan McComas:

»

(McComas:) I think, ultimately, the problem that Reddit has is the same as Twitter and Discord. By focusing on growth and growth only and ignoring the problems, they amassed a large set of cultural norms on their platforms. Their cultural norms are different for every community, but they tend to stem from harassment or abuse or bad behavior, and they have worked themselves into a position where they’re completely defensive and they can just never catch up on the problem. I really don’t believe it’s possible for either of them to catch up on the problem. I think the best that they can do is figure out how to hide this behavior from an average user. I don’t see any way that it’s going to improve. I have no hope for either of those platforms.

Q: Why?
McComas: I just think that the problems are too ingrained, in not only the site and the site’s communities and users but in the general understanding and expectations of the public. I think that if you ask pretty much anybody about Reddit, they’re either not going to know what Reddit is, which is the large majority of people, or they’re going to be like, “Oh, it’s that place where there’s jailbait or something like that.” I don’t think that they’re going to be able to turn these things around.

Q: Were there moments in which Reddit chose to double down on something and made it that much harder to work toward a solution?
McComas: I don’t know. I’m trying to think about your question. The typical pattern that we always went through was, there would be a bunch of bad behavior on the site, and the community team would have to deal with it and would be really annoyed. Sometimes they would take the free-speech side and decide that we don’t want to make a call on this. Other times they would say, “Hey, we need to take care of this,” and somebody above them would raise either the free-speech side or the “I don’t want to deal with this because it would cause too many problems on the site” side. That was more often the response.

«

McComas has thought a lot about this, and describes a systemic problem that runs through everything, from management to funding.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.930: Saudi Arabia under investigation, Facebook says 14 million hacked, Watch faces for all, the rise of real citizen journalism, and more


Plenty of TV and films, but what is needed to get games on there? Photo by tua ulamac 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 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook says fewer users impacted by recent cyberattack than first thought • WSJ

Kirsten Grind:

»

In a blog post Friday, Facebook said 30 million users had their access tokens stolen, as opposed to the original estimate of 50 million. The tokens are digital keys that keep people logged into social-media site.

The company said hackers “exploited a vulnerability” in its computer code between July 2017 and September 2018. Facebook discovered the attack Sept. 25 and stopped it two days later.

“We now know that fewer people were impacted than we originally thought,” Guy Rosen, vice president of product management, said in the blog post.

Of the 30 million involved, Facebook said 14 million were the most affected. They had their names and contact details—including phone numbers and email addresses—accessed, along with such data as their gender and relationship status, as well as the last 10 places they checked into and 15 most recent searches. Fifteen million others had their names and contacts accessed. The attackers didn’t get any information from the million remaining users who were vulnerable in the security breach.

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Fourteen. Million.
link to this extract


Silicon Valley’s Saudi Arabia problem • The New York Times

Anand Giridharadas:

»

Long before the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi vanished, the kingdom has sought influence in the West — perhaps intended, in part, to make us forget what it is. A medieval theocracy that still beheads by sword, doubling as a modern nation with malls (including a planned mall offering indoor skiing), Saudi Arabia has been called “an ISIS that made it.” Remarkably, the country has avoided pariah status in the United States thanks to our thirst for oil, Riyadh’s carefully cultivated ties with Washington, its big arms purchases, and the two countries’ shared interest in counterterrorism. But lately the Saudis have been growing their circle of American enablers, pouring billions into Silicon Valley technology companies.

While an earlier generation of Saudi leaders, like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, invested billions of dollars in blue-chip companies in the United States, the kingdom’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has shifted Saudi Arabia’s investment attention from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has become one of Silicon Valley’s biggest swinging checkbooks, working mostly through a $100 billion fund raised by SoftBank (a Japanese company), which has swashbuckled its way through the technology industry, often taking multibillion-dollar stakes in promising companies. The Public Investment Fund put $45 billion into SoftBank’s first Vision Fund, and Bloomberg recently reported that the Saudi fund would invest another $45 billion into SoftBank’s second Vision Fund.

SoftBank, with the help of that Saudi money, is now said to be the largest shareholder in Uber. It has also put significant money into a long list of start-ups that includes Wag, DoorDash, WeWork, Plenty, Cruise, Katerra, Nvidia and Slack.

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NYT note: Mr. Giridharadas is the author of “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World.”

“An ISIS that made it” is pretty brutal. And yet..
link to this extract


Jamal Khashoggi, his Apple Watch, government headfakes and.. climate change • Medium

I wrote about this case, and the speculation that Khashoggi himself recorded his murder:

»

OK, now we need him to have begun pressing Record on his Watch, to have had a Watch that was either connected to the Wi-Fi or had a cell connection. He had intentionally left his phone outside, with his fiancee (standard practice in consulates: in general you’re not allowed to take phones inside, and he might also have been being cautious, not wanting the Saudis to get any chance of accessing his contacts).

Another alternative some might offer: he had the Walkie-Talkie function on, and was doing this with his fiancée. (It would have to go to her phone.)

Though I’d love to be wrong, I don’t think this scenario pans out. As much as anything, it requires his Watch’s cell connection to be dramatically good inside a building, which tends not to be the case for any phone. The Wi-Fi scenario doesn’t work unless he’d previously joined the Wi-Fi there, and I don’t think they would offer that.

Most of all, though, this scenario — him recording his killing on his Apple Watch — doesn’t ring true for me because it would mean his fiancee would have been able to access it. If she were the one who had these recordings, don’t you think she’d be raising absolute hell?

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Saudi Arabia’s behaviour here is reprehensible. The good news? There’s something concrete that you, individually, can do to affect it.
link to this extract


Exploring custom watchOS Watch faces • David Smith

»

I’ve given a lot of thought to custom watch faces for watchOS over the years but always ultimately just moved on because I believed that Apple will never allow for them. The usual reasons I’ve heard given are:

• Apple likes to control the aesthetics of the device,
• there’d be too much copyright/copycat issues,
• they require too low level connection to the system to be performant,
• and they aren’t necessary.

Whether or not any of these are good, valid, or beneficial reasons honestly doesn’t interest me too much now. Because I spent the better part of this week making my own watch faces, and it was glorious! This is the most fun I’ve had in development in a long time.

There is something delightful about solving a problem that is superficially so simple and constrained. The constraint leads to lots of opportunities for creative thinking. Ultimately you just need to communicate the time but how you do that can take countless different forms. It reminds me of the various ‘UI Playgrounds’ that have existed in app design. For a while it was twitter clients, then podcast players and weather apps.

Here are a few of the designs I’ve come up with this week..

«

He and Steven Troughton-Smith have been blasting through for the past few days; Stroughton-Smith has a git repo which lets you install your own Watch faces (if you have an Apple Developer account). It’s impressive stuff. A selection below, which other developers are expanding on. (See Troughton-Smith’s feed on Twitter for more.)

It’s really persuasive: yes, Apple ought to open this up.
link to this extract


Bitcoin must die • Slugger O’Toole

Andrew Gallagher:

»

In many pre-industrial societies cowry shells were used as currency. This had the unfortunate side effect that you could literally fish money out of the sea. In more advanced shell currencies, the shells had to be laboriously worked in order to make them valuable. This stabilised the currency, but only by pegging it directly to the value of the hours spent grinding down shells by hand, time that could have been more productively used elsewhere.

And this is why Bitcoin, and all other proof-of-work schemes, must die. It is the computational equivalent of shell currency, the only difference being that the value is dependent on electricity consumed rather than hours worked. Shell currencies, like rhino horns and tiger bones, are objectively worthless and irrational demand for them is an immoral waste of resources, both human and environmental.

Hashcash puzzles are objectively worthless, but irrational demand for them is incinerating the earth…

…If Bitcoin were to cease trading tomorrow, 0.5% of the world’s electricity demand would simply disappear. This is roughly equivalent to the output of ten coal-fired power plants, emitting 50 million tonnes of CO2 per year – which would cover one year’s worth of the carbon emission cuts required to limit temperature rises this century to 2C. It is not a solution by itself, but it would be a good year’s work.

Bitcoin is made from ashes, and if ashes were legal tender, humanity would burn everything in sight and call it progress.

«

Making bitcoin illegal on climate grounds would be quite something to see.
link to this extract


Theranos criminal case is broader than publicly disclosed, prosecutors say • Bloomberg

Joel Rosenblatt:

»

The government’s criminal fraud case against former Theranos chief executive officer Elizabeth Holmes and former president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani runs deeper than what’s been publicly disclosed, prosecutors said.

After a hearing Friday in San Jose, California, Holmes and Balwani lost a bid to block the Justice Department from combing through more than 200,000 company documents. The judge also ordered lawyers for both sides to work out a procedure by which protected and confidential documents are shielded from prosecutors.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen rejected Holmes’s and Balwani’s request after the hearing. In her order, she also referenced undisclosed “charges and activities” in the government’s broad, ongoing investigation that may extend beyond the former Theranos executives.

The ruling could give prosecutors additional leverage at trial or in any plea deal, including any potential agreement by one defendant of the former couple to aid the prosecution of the other.

«

If you read John Carreyrou’s ‘Bad Blood’, his book about Theranos, Balwani comes across as one of the most unpleasant yet also incompetent people you’d ever hope not to meet. If you haven’t read it, put it on your Christmas list.
link to this extract


Citizen journalists – the fighters on the frontline against Russia’s attacks • The Guardian

Carole Cadwalldr:

»

what has become plain is that the British government shows no sign of even acknowledging the scale or complexity of the national security threat we face, let alone how to deal with it, as Hillary Clinton – the target of the GRU’s operation – appeared to acknowledge when she spoke in Oxford last week.

She described how the foundation of western liberal democracy is under assault and made pointed remarks at both the nature of Russia’s attacks on Britain and Britain’s failure to investigate, name-checking both Damian Collins, head of the select committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, for warning of “a crisis in British democracy” and Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, who have both called for a public inquiry with “Mueller-style” powers.

What Bellingcat exposes is how citizen investigations are not only surpassing traditional mainstream organisations, they also seem streets ahead of government agencies. Investigators who use publicly available sources have been quietly joining a citizen’s battle against this flood not just of disinformation, but of corporate secrets, dark money thinktanks, networks of political influence, Trump-Russia collusion, overspending in the referendum, up to and including mass murder.

This month, BBC Africa Eye published a stunning investigation using techniques Bellingcat has developed, identifying the location and identity of men who’d killed two women and two young children through forensic analysis of online sources.

And, less hi-tech but also hugely valuable, the entire Cambridge Analytica investigation owes a huge debt to open source investigators. After Harry Davies published his first article in the Guardian about the firm in 2015, it was Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a professor of maths in Geneva, who was profoundly troubled by the way personal data was being abused, who took it upon himself to produce an open-source document that he made freely available to journalists.

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I think that government sources are as good as ever at identifying who’s behind stuff – bear in mind that it was the UK police who released the photos of the Salisbury suspects, and I bet that MI5/6 knew it would trigger a citizen investigation. What’s changed is, as Cadwalldr says, our ability to identify people, things and places and make that public.
link to this extract


What developers say Apple needs to do to make the Apple TV a gaming console • Ars Technica

Samuel Axon:

»

[Strange Flavour CEO Aaron] Fothergill told Ars something similar. He called the Apple TV “easy to write for.” When asked about the success of his company’s Apple TV titles, he said, “We didn’t make millions or even hundreds of thousands, but it covered the cost of the extra work to tweak them for Apple TV, and for a two-man team, it’s useful.”

He indicated that creating universal apps that work across iOS and the Apple TV is easy, and he talked up the box’s power as a “mini console.” Fothergill said he was able to use Xbox 360 assets in his Apple TV games “as-is” and run the games at 60fps.

But when asked what Apple needs to do to improve things, Fothergill had some thoughts. He said Apple should do a better job of supporting Game Center across platforms, and he added, “I also like the idea of game controllers (ideally Apple ones) being bundled with the Apple TV as an actual Apple option. So there’s an Apple TV being sold specifically for games.”

Developer Patrick Hogan told Ars that he believes Apple needs to do three things:

• Include an Apple-branded, full-featured controller with every Apple TV.
• Market the Apple TV as a gaming platform.
• “Spend a lot of money on funding platform exclusives, ports, and presence at every major gaming expo and conference to break the chicken-egg problem of getting customers to make it viable to devs.”

Other developers Ars spoke with also made these same recommendations with varying emphasis—for example, some didn’t believe that a controller has to be included with every Apple TV and that simply offering optional gaming bundles of the device would be effective with the right marketing message behind them.

«

So basically to make it a gaming console, it needs to include a gaming controller. Who’d have thought?
link to this extract


Crafty kids are finding ingenious ways to thwart Apple’s ‘Screen Time’ feature • The Next Web

Bryan Clark:

»

A Reddit thread with nearly 9,000 upvotes features a number of crafty kids who’ve bypassed the digital nanny features. One father revealed one of the hacks.

His son, a seven-year-old, deletes the games he’s been locked out of and then re-downloads it from the App Store. With iCloud, he doesn’t miss a beat, as all of his games are stored on a server waiting for him to resume play. Apple, unfortunately, overlooked this clever hack entirely. Once the game is re-downloaded, it starts the clock over again for the day.

This could, however, be thwarted by setting Install Apps to Not Allowed within Screen Time’s settings.

Another child uses the YouTube iMessage App to send himself videos. While YouTube is blocked, he’s free to view the videos within Apple‘s own messaging app. Maybe it’s time to block iMessage?

One parent, on Apple’s support forum, asked how to outsmart a child who was resetting his phone‘s time and date to trick the device into thinking it was a new day. There doesn’t seem to be a fix for this one, at least based on the responses in the forum post.

«

Still, at least this shows what happens when you give someone an incentive to find a workaround. These kids are going to make terrific project managers.
link to this extract


Exclusive: iPad Pro Face ID details, 4K HDR video over USB-C, AirPod-like Apple Pencil 2 pairing, more [Update: A12X processor] • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

Unlike the iPhone, however, the [new] iPad Pro will not have a notch.

Even though the new 2018 iPad Pro models will sport thinner bezels, those bezels will still be wide enough to accommodate the TrueDepth camera system necessary for Face ID.

The 2018 iPad Pro will include Face ID with the same image signal processor as the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. Further, we can confirm that Face ID on the new iPad Pro will work in both portrait and landscape orientations, though it won’t work upside down.

The Face ID setup process on the new iPad Pros will be very similar to the process introduced with the iPhone X. Notably, despite post-setup support for landscape Face ID, the setup process must be completed in portrait orientation.

It’s not clear if the new landscape support requires a special hardware feature, or if it can be made available to iPhones with a simple software update.

With its USB-C port, the 2018 iPad Pro will be able to output 4K HDR video to external displays. To accommodate this feature, there will be a new panel in the settings app where users will be able to control resolution, HDR, brightness and other settings for connected external displays…

…The new iPad Pro will have a brand new connector for accessories. The Magnetic Connector will be at the back of the iPad and will allow for the connection of different accessories, such as a new version of the Smart Keyboard and other third-party accessories.

«

Also will have an A12X processor, like the A12 in latest iPhones. Some confirmation of the fact of the devices from Asian certification:

»

The new model numbers that we have spotted on MIIT are A1876, A1980, and A1993. These three model numbers have certification date of September 29, 2018, which makes them quite new in comparison to the previous leaks that carried model numbers from last year. As we mentioned in the beginning, we have also spotted a new Bluetooth Device with model number A2051 in the listing and as of now we are not able to decode what it is exactly.

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Bluetooth device could be new AirPods, could be the new Pencil. Now we just need Apple to actually get on and launch them.
link to this extract


Estimating project costs? If statements should cost $10,000 each • Dave Rupert

Dave Rupert:

»

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, that would never work” I hear you say. But there’s never been an easier way to convey the scope and cost of a project than if-statement based billing. What is an if-statement? An if-statement is the most essential unit of business logic. A small piece of logic that will linger in your codebase for the life of the entire project. Larger software applications have more business logic, thus are more expensive. We can use if-statements as a proxy for complexity and bill accordingly. At the end of the day developers can count up the number of if-statements and invoice the corresponding cost centers.

What about small projects, you say? Well, the beauty of this is something simple like a blog is actually free! Free website? Yes, please.

But let’s say your app has a logged-in or logged-out state, well, that’s at least 2 if-statements. Starting price: $20,000. Never before has it been this easy to price and scope out complex stateful apps!

Do you build Component Systems? Simple static components are free. But most components increase their cost due to the The Nine States of Design. Each component likely has a mix of “none”, “one”, “some”, “too many”, “error”, and “done” states. That’s a lot of logic and use cases packed into a little module, so it’s gonna cost ya. But you’ll rest assured that you’ve covered all your bases as well as billed appropriately.

Need an if-statement with 2 conditionals? Look, I’m not a scam artist so I’ll give you the second conditional at half-price. But if it gets any more complex than that and we have to build a big juicy Karnaugh Map, that gets into bitwise operators (which are generally a terrible idea in JavaScript) and will double the cost per switch case.

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This is both hilarious and yet also true.
link to this extract


Instagram ads are awful • Tumblr

James Whatley has a collection:

»

Instagram ads are awful.

With additional contributions from Kevin Systrom.

«

Consists of ads ripped from Instagram, along with uplifting words from Systrom, Instagram’s (of course now departed) co-founder.

Yup, they’re awful.
link to this extract


Thoughts on Google’s Call Screening feature • Excursions

Amit Gawande has an objection:

»

I don’t understand Google’s “Call Screening” feature. How does it solve the spam calls problem? Don’t I have to be equally attentive when the call arrives? I don’t think the problem is I have to receive the call, problem is I get the call in the first place.

Rather I am more distracted, reading transcripts and making decisions. It looks to be targeted at the automated machine-driven calls. Human spammers/scammers will still have to be handled.

In most cases, the spam calls I get start with a person, a human, asking if it indeed is me. Then goes on to specify the call is about some information related to my account or a service I am using. And then comes the “offer for you” part. I tend to disconnect right at first step when someone wants to know if me is indeed me.

What’s to say the call screening will transcribe something like “This is xyz from abc bank and this is a service information call”?

Anyway, no doubt Google has a great technology at its hands and the showcase via this use case sounds a lot coherent than the general duplex demo we saw during I/O. I am just perplexed how everyone seems to be already sold that this solves the problem which it isn’t even targeting.

«

Just to reiterate, Call Screening is something you have to activate when a call comes in; it tells the caller it’s an automated service:

»

“The person you’re calling is using a screening service and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name and why you’re calling,” the Google bot will say. As the caller responds, the digital assistant will transcribe the caller’s message for you.”

«

As Gawande says, this means you still have to pay attention – you’re just not having to talk directly to a human. Really clever – but not a solution, sadly. This turns my thinking on Call Screening around 180 degrees.

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.929: Facebook purges liars, Google ponders curation, PC market stays flat, Minecraft exits Apple TV, and more


Good news! Windows 10’s update won’t do this now. Photo by Delete 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. Friday, it is. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook purged over 800 accounts and pages pushing political messages for profit • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm:

»

Facebook said on Thursday that it has purged more than 800 U.S. publishers and accounts for flooding users with politically oriented content that violated the company’s spam policies, a move that could reignite accusations of political censorship.

The accounts and pages, with names such as Reasonable People Unite and Reverb Press, were probably domestic actors using clickbait headlines and other spammy tactics to drive users to websites where they could target them with ads, the company said. Some had hundreds of thousands of followers and expressed a range of political viewpoints, including a page that billed itself as “the first publication to endorse President Donald J. Trump.” They did not appear to have ties to Russia, company officials said.

Facebook said it was not removing the publishers and accounts because of the type of content they posted but because of the behaviors they engaged in, including spamming Facebook groups with identical pieces of content, unauthorized coordination and using fake profiles.

“Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior,” the company said in a blog post. “People will only share on Facebook if they feel safe and trust the connections they make here.”

But the move to target U.S. politically oriented sites, just weeks before the congressional midterms, is sure to be a flash point for political groups and their allies, who are already accusing the tech giant of political bias and arbitrary censorship of political content.

«

The content is pretty shocking, though. It’s the absolute definition of “fake news”: utterly untrue crap intend to create outrage, derision and mistrust. How might that show itself in society, do you think?
link to this extract


I was reported to police as an agitated black male — for simply walking to work • Medium

Reginald Andrade:

»

on September 14, campus police were waiting for me when I arrived at the reception desk at Whitmore. I had no idea why but I knew it couldn’t be good. My heart started pounding.

Two university detectives sat me down me in an office and closed the door. Bewildered, I asked what was happening. They refused to answer, as they peppered me with questions.
“What time did you wake up?” “What were you doing at the campus recreation center?” “Did you come into the building agitated?” I felt confused, powerless, and scared, but made sure to maintain my composure. I remembered that even unarmed Black people disproportionately get killed during police encounters, and it was incumbent on me as an innocent Black man to show that I wasn’t a threat. It wasn’t until the end of their interrogation that they revealed why I was being questioned.

Someone had called the university’s anonymous tip line, reporting that they had seen an “agitated Black male” who was carrying a “a heavy backpack that is almost hitting the ground” as he approached the Whitmore Administration Building. I — the “agitated Black male” — apparently posed such a threat that police put the entire building on lockdown for half an hour.

I have no idea how the caller come to the conclusion that I was “agitated,” considering they hadn’t interacted with me. I do know that Black people are often stereotyped as angry, armed, or dangerous.

I’ve had to answer to the police before for being a Black man at UMass Amherst.

«

Sometimes America’s problems feel intractable. Another story going around on Thursday: “Georgia woman calls police on black man babysitting white kids: Corey Lewis, who runs a youth mentoring program, was followed by a white woman from a Walmart to his mother’s home.”
link to this extract


Leaked Google research shows company grappling with censorship and free speech • The Verge

Nick Statt:

»

Google’s presentation acknowledges that “censorship can give governments — and companies — the tools to limit the freedom of individuals.” But it also lays out all the reason why tech platforms like Google search and YouTube are responsible for policing what happens on their apps and websites. The slides give a history of how parts of the internet have become dominated by bad actors, and how both tech companies and governments have failed to address the issues. With regard to censorship, Google notes in the slides how government takedown requests have tripled in the last two years, and how YouTube is now the target of a majority of these requests, with Google Search behind it.

The presentation concludes that tech companies “are performing a balancing act between two incompatible positions,” and that’s the reason why censorship is on the rise as companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter take more heavy-handed approaches to moderation in response to heightened criticism. The slides conclude that transparency, consistency, and responsiveness are paramount in addressing this ongoing imbalance, and that there is not a “right amount of censorship” that will please everyone and solve these issues.

«

The presentation (linked above) is very finely balanced; it recognises many of the problems that have emerged. Definitely worth reading.

However a couple of points it doesn’t consider: 1) that it’s the concentration (Facebook, Google-YouTube, Twitter) that causes the problem; if all the discussion were happening on a gazillion sites, as happened before 2004, it would be less of an issue; 2) that their algorithms aren’t beautiful indifferent beasts which connect people with precisely the information they want, but instead are actively part of the problem, particularly in the case of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm.
link to this extract


Windows 10 October 2018 Update no longer deletes your data • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

Microsoft has figured out why the Windows 10 October 2018 Update deleted data from some systems and produced a fixed version. The severity of the bug caused the company to cease distribution of the update last week; the fixed version is now being distributed to Windows Insiders for testing, ahead of a resumption of the wider rollout…

…The software giant claims that only a small number of users were affected and lost data and has published an explanation of the problem.

The storage location of the Known Folders can be changed, a capability called Known Folder Redirection (KFR). This is useful to, for example, move a large Documents folder onto a different disk. Software asking for the Documents Known Folder location will be given the redirected location so it’ll seamlessly pick up the redirection and use the correct place. This is why programs shouldn’t just hardcode the path; it allows this kind of redirection to work.

Redirecting one or more Known Folders does not, however, remove the original folder. Moreover, if there are still files in the original folder, redirecting doesn’t move those files to the new location. Using KFR can thus result in your files being split between two locations; the original folder, and the new redirected folder.

The October 2018 Update tried to tidy up this situation. When KFR is being used, the October 2018 Update will delete the original, default Known Folder locations. Microsoft imagined that this would simply remove some empty, redundant directories from your user profile. No need to have a Documents directory in your profile if you’re using a redirected location, after all. The problem is, it neither checked to see if those directories were empty first, nor copied any files to the new redirected location. It just wiped out the old directory, along with anything stored within it. Hence the data loss.

«

“No longer deletes your data” – looks like the marketing department has found its new tagline.
link to this extract


Outline: secure access to the open web • Google Open Source Blog

Vinicius Fortuna on Google’s Jigsaw project, which aims to protect high-profile targets from surveillance:

»

Censorship and surveillance are challenges that many journalists around the world face on a daily basis. Some of them use a virtual private network (VPN) to provide safer access to the open internet, but not all VPNs are equally reliable and trustworthy, and even fewer are open source.

That’s why Jigsaw created Outline, a new open source, independently audited platform that lets any organization easily create and operate their own VPN.

Outline’s most striking feature is arguably how easy it is to use. An organization starts by downloading the Outline Manager app, which lets them sign in to DigitalOcean, where they can host their own VPN, and set it up with just a few clicks. They can also easily use other cloud providers, provided they have shell access to run the installation script. Once an Outline server is set up, the server administrator can create access credentials and share with their network of contacts, who can then use the Outline clients to connect to it.

«

Very smart, letting them create their own VPN.
link to this extract


Chrome OS grows from underdog to attack dog • ZDNet

Ross Rubin:

»

…at a time when only a handful of major companies (Samsung and Huawei) continue to pursue larger Android tablets. Google has apparently decided to step in with a version of its “desktop” OS. This buys Google a few advantages. First, when its circular-buttoned keyboard is attached, the Pixel Slate can switch from more of a tablet mode to a desktop mode. This is similar to what Surface can do, except Google can rely on a huge library of tablet-friendly (if often not optimized) Android apps.

Second, either mode can take advantage of the full desktop version of Chrome, an advantage over iOS (and Android). And third, Chrome OS’ extensive history with mouse and keyboard make it a good match for a desktop mode when connected to an external monitor. There have been questions around the breadth of this need at least since Microsoft launched Continuum for Windows Phones, but it should provide a more familiar experience than, say, Samsung’s DeX.

On the other hand, the Pixel Slate faces many obstacles. Among these are general continued softness in the general tablet market, Google’s limited retail footprint and enterprise channels, and little awareness or momentum of Chrome OS beyond education, much less acceptance of it as a tablet operating system. A larger tablet, the Pixel Slate with its keyboard cover will cost about $800 with a Celeron, about the same price as the smaller 10.5-inch iPad Pro with an Apple keyboard cover (and $150 less than a keyboard-equipped 12.9-inch model).

It’s less than a similarly sized Surface Pro 6 with Keyboard Cover ($1,060) although that device’s minimum configuration includes a Core i5 processor and more RAM offset by Windows’ larger footprint. So, all in all, the Pixel Slate is competitively priced, although not dramatically cheaper versus the main keyboard-equipped tablets from its main ecosystem rivals.

«

Rather depends on its ability to persuade people that they want the minimalism of ChromeOS compared to the variety of iOS apps (includes Microsoft Office) or, well, full Windows. Works for schools, of course.
link to this extract


Hackers are using stolen Apple IDs to swipe cash in China • Bloomberg

»

Alipay, whose parent also operates the world’s largest money market fund, said on its Weibo blog that it contacted Apple and is working to get to the bottom of the breach. It warned users that’ve linked their Apple identities to any payment services, including Tencent’s WePay, to lower transaction limits to prevent further losses. Tencent said in a separate statement it too had noticed the cyber-heist and reached out to the iPhone maker.

China’s two largest companies both recommended that users of their digital wallets take steps to safeguard their Apple accounts, including by changing passwords. It’s unclear how the attackers may have gotten their hands on the Apple IDs, which are required for iPhone users that buy content such as music from iTunes or the app store. Apple representatives haven’t responded to requests and phone calls seeking comment.

“Since Apple hasn’t resolved this issue, users who’ve linked their Apple ID to any payments method, including Alipay, WePay or credit cards, may be vulnerable to theft,” Alipay said in its blogpost.

Digital payments services have become a tempting target for cyber-thieves as their popularity surges around the world. Ant Financial, which is controlled by billionaire Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, is estimated to handle more than half of China’s $17 trillion in annual online payments. Formally known as Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, it leveraged Alipay’s popularity to expand into everything from asset management to insurance, credit scoring and lending. It serves more than 800 million customers. Tencent’s rival payments offering is a key component of the social media service WeChat, which has a billion-plus users.

«

Wonder how many of the hacked accounts used two-factor authentication? By the way, do you use it on (check) Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail/Hotmail/Yahoo Mail, Amazon?
link to this extract


Microsoft pulls ‘Minecraft’ for Apple TV due to low demand • Yahoo News

Jon Fingas:

»

You probably didn’t have a hankering to build Minecraft worlds on your Apple TV, and Microsoft has quietly acknowledged that reality. The company recently started notifying players that it had stopped updating and supporting the Apple TV version of the game on September 24th in order to “reallocate resources to the platforms that our players use the most.” To phrase it differently, there weren’t enough people playing to justify the investment. The game will continue to work, including Marketplace purchases, but you won’t see new features. It’s not available in the App Store, either.

If you made any Minecraft purchases for Apple TV within 90 days of the original announcement, you can ask for refunds.

It’s somewhat telling that people didn’t even draw attention to Minecraft’s fate on Apple TV until well after the 24th – you’d have heard about it right away on most other platforms. You can likely attribute it to a combination of the device’s limitations with Microsoft’s priorities. Minecraft effectively required a Bluetooth gamepad, severely restricting the audience – were you going to spend that extra money just so that you could construct towers and fend off Creepers? The Apple TV version was also late to key features like the Realms multiplayer system, making it the last place you’d want to go if you insisted on playing the hottest new content.

«

Apple’s strategy around Apple TV and games is terrifically unobvious. Its idea two years ago that “TV is about apps” seems to have gone nowhere. Its TV content strategy hasn’t quite happened. TV is difficult in the US because of content costs, but Netflix does OK on £10 or so per month.
link to this extract


Lenovo reclaims the #1 spot in PC rankings in Q3 2018 • IDC

»

Preliminary results for the third quarter of 2018 (3Q18) show that shipments of traditional PCs (desktop, notebook, and workstation) totaled nearly 67.4m units, marking a decline of 0.9% in year-on-year terms, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. Unlike 2Q18, which grew, the 3Q18 results nonetheless outperformed the forecast which called for a decline of 3.0% due to several factors…

…”Q3 came in better than expected,” said Jay Chou, research manager with IDC’s P ersona l C omputing Device Tracker. “But the outlook remains uncertain as we head into the holiday season, when volume will be boosted by many consumer-oriented promotions in entry-level SKUs. AMD supply could help with processor demand somewhat, but it will also take time for OEMs to spec in more models.”

“Despite looming concerns around CPU shortages, the PC market in the U.S. turned in a good quarter backed by strong results in the notebook segment,” said Neha Mahajan, senior research analyst, US Devices & Displays. “Healthy business PC volume, steady Chromebook shipments to U.S. K-12, and a growing gaming consumer base have been the key reasons for the optimism around the U.S. PC markets.”

«

Hooray! Only down a bit rather than a lot! Notable: Apple sales quite a long way down (11%), though this is an estimate. Equally, IDC’s estimates tend to be higher than Apple’s actual figures.

Gartner, meanwhile, puts the market at “flat growth” (huh?) with 0.1% growth, to 67.2m units. So that’s some agreement.
link to this extract


Discord is a safe space for white supremacists • Slate

April Glaser:

»

White-supremacist groups aren’t turning up publicly, in force, like they did in Charlottesville last year, but they’re still out there. And Discord in particular remains a very popular destination for communities of neo-Nazis and white supremacists to socialize, share hateful memes, boost the ideas that undergird their movements, inculcate strangers, and plan activities that take place elsewhere online. In the course of an afternoon, I found and joined more than 20 communities on the platform that were either directly about Nazism or white supremacy or reveled in sharing anti-Semitic and racist memes and imagery. “Discord is always on and always present among these groups on the far-right,” says Joan Donovan, the lead researcher on media manipulation at the Data & Society Research Institute. “It’s the place where they do most of the organizing of doxing and harassment campaigns.”

One reason that this might be worrying is that Discord is a far more important internet platform—especially for people who want to be part of hateful online communities—than its frequency in the headlines would suggest. Discord’s user base of more than 150 million may mostly consist of gamers chatting about gaming, but in certain corners of the platform, swastikas are exchanged like high-fives. The groups have names like “Nazism ’n’ Chill,” “Reich Lords,” “Rotten Reich,” “KKK of America,” “Oven Baked Jews,” and “Whitetopia.” They appear to have thousands of participants who trade memes and jokes, share links, condemn “social justice warriors,” and transmit the revisionist histories that bolster their rationalizations of Nazism and white supremacy. I found these communities mostly through Discord search sites (like Discordservers.com, Discord.me, and Disboard.org) as well as through invites posted in some of the Discord groups.

«

It’s meant to be for gamers. However…
link to this extract


App Store generated 93% more revenue than Google Play in Q3 • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

Based on Sensor Tower’s chart of top-grossing apps across both stores, subscriptions are continuing to aid in this revenue growth. Netflix remained the top-grossing non-game app for the third quarter in a row, bringing in an estimated $243.7m across both platforms. Tinder and Tencent Video remained in the second and third spots, respectively.

Mobile game spending also helped fuel the revenue growth, with spending up 14.9% year-over-year during the quarter to reach $13.8bn. In fact, it accounted for 76% of all app revenue across both platforms in the quarter, with $8.5bn coming from the App Store and $5.3bn from Google Play.

In terms of app downloads, however, Google Play still has the edge thanks to rapid adoption of lower-cost Android devices in emerging markets, the report said. App installs grew 10.9% across both stores, reaching 27.1 billion, up 24.4% from Q3 2017.

«

I recall, some years ago when I used to write this story every quarter, people – well, commenters – assuring me that it wouldn’t be long before revenues from Google Play would overhaul those in the App Store. (Here’s a classic example, right from the very first comment.) And yet six years on, hasn’t happened.

Probably the key point is that Sensor Tower (and others) can’t see the revenues that developers and Google get from in-app advertising. However, that’s very much the smallest part – maybe 12%? – of the three monetisation strategies (paid-for, in-app, advertising), according to this report which covers 2011-2017. Any more recent data welcome.
link to this extract


Hardware Unboxed analyzes Intel’s commissioned core i9-9900k benchmarks • HardOCP

:

»

Hardware Unboxed did a short analysis of a few of the benchmarks as their team felt that the i7-8700K benchmarks and the AMD Ryzen 2700X numbers were incorrect. They found that Principled Technologies had allegedly gimped the AMD CPUs by using different coolers, incorrect ram timings, and possibly even disabled some of the cores on the AMD Ryzen 2700X. To put this into perspective, on the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark that Hardware Unboxed ran, the AMD Ryzen 2700X was 18% faster and the i7-8700K was 4% slower, than the commissioned testing that Intel has published. They even showed how over a suite of games that the i7-8700K was only 9% faster than the AMD Ryzen 2700X in previous pure gaming benchmarks conducted by Hardware Unboxed. Yet in Intel’s commissioned benchmark results, the AMD Ryzen 2700X was far, far, behind the Intel i7-8700K in performance metrics. This is why we never trust a manufacturer’s benchmarks. Always wait for the review before buying hardware.

«

So Intel is “choosing” who benchmarks its processors for broader publication so that they will come out ahead of AMD. It feels weird to be living in a time when Intel cares again about AMD being competitive.

That said, unless you’re building a PC from scratch, you don’t have much choice about your processor, do you? (Thanks Stormyparis for the link.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.928: Apple’s TV content plans, the Apple Watch clue to a Saudi dissident, crypto on the ebb tide, Google PIxel 3 hands-on, and more


Meet the New Yorker’s newest fact-checker. (No, it’s not Alex Hern.) Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Lucky for some. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple plans to give away original content for free to device owners • CNBC

Alex Sherman:

»

Apple is preparing a new digital video service that will marry original content and subscription services from legacy media companies, according to people familiar with the matter. Owners of Apple devices, such as the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV will find the still-in-the-works service in the pre-installed “TV” application, said the people, who asked not to be named because the details of the project are private.

The product will include Apple-owned content, which will be free to Apple device owners, and subscription “channels,” which will allow customers to sign up for online-only services, such as those from HBO and Starz.

Apple plans to debut the revamped app early next year, the people said. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

As Bloomberg reported in May, the subscription channels will essentially copy Amazon’s Prime Video Channel Subscriptions. Customers will be able to access all of their content from within the TV app so they won’t need to download individual apps from multiple media providers.

«

Sensible enough. It’s tempting to feel this is late to the game – Netflix, Amazon, YouTube. But then again, one thought that about Spotify; Apple Music is going OK. Having that installed base is a huge weapon.
link to this extract


Over nine million cameras and DVRs open to APTs, botnet herders, and voyeurs • ZDNet

»

Millions of security cameras, DVRs, and NVRs contain vulnerabilities that can allow a remote attacker to take over devices with little effort, security researchers have revealed today.

All vulnerable devices have been manufactured by Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology Co., Ltd. (Xiongmai hereinafter), a Chinese company based in the city of Hangzhou.

But end users won’t be able to tell that they’re using a hackable device because the company doesn’t sell any products with its name on them, but ships all equipment as white label products on which other companies put their logo on top.

Security researchers from EU-based SEC Consult say they’ve identified over 100 companies that buy and re-brand Xiongmai devices as their own.

All of these devices are vulnerable to easy hacks, researchers say. The source of all vulnerabilities is a feature found in all devices named the “XMEye P2P Cloud.”

The XMEye P2P Cloud works by creating a tunnel between a customer’s device and an XMEye cloud account. Device owners can access this account via their browser or via a mobile app to view device video feeds in real time.

«

When I was writing Cyber Wars, Xiongmai cropped up as a company which had been criticised for the (lack of) security in devices it built. I tried getting in touch. Nothing.
link to this extract


Amazon scraps secret AI recruiting tool that showed bias against women • Reuters

Jeffrey Dastin:

»

The team had been building computer programs since 2014 to review job applicants’ resumes with the aim of mechanizing the search for top talent, five people familiar with the effort told Reuters.

Automation has been key to Amazon’s e-commerce dominance, be it inside warehouses or driving pricing decisions. The company’s experimental hiring tool used artificial intelligence to give job candidates scores ranging from one to five stars – much like shoppers rate products on Amazon, some of the people said.

“Everyone wanted this holy grail,” one of the people said. “They literally wanted it to be an engine where I’m going to give you 100 resumes, it will spit out the top five, and we’ll hire those.”

But by 2015, the company realized its new system was not rating candidates for software developer jobs and other technical posts in a gender-neutral way.

That is because Amazon’s computer models were trained to vet applicants by observing patterns in resumes submitted to the company over a 10-year period. Most came from men, a reflection of male dominance across the tech industry.

«

So more accurate to say that the AI tool revealed bias against women. But then kept on doing the same: it would penalise those CVs which included “women’s”. Eventually they realised they couldn’t get it right.
link to this extract


Daniel Radcliffe and the art of the fact-check • The New Yorker

Michael Schulman on the Harry Potter actor doing a quick stint to get into character for a play about a fact-checker he’s appearing in:

»

The writer (herself a former checker) had noted the restaurant’s “Venice Beach aesthetic”: fact or opinion? Canby designated it a “workable possible impression,” but worth checking. Radcliffe had an eleven-o’clock phone call scheduled with the chef, Justin Bazdarich, and Canby gave him something akin to an acting lesson: “You have to project confidence, so the person doesn’t start quarrelling with everything that you ask.”

“I’m more nervous about this than I am about going onstage tonight,” Radcliffe said.

Canby had to go; he deputized a checker named Parker Henry to supervise Radcliffe. On her computer, they checked a few easy facts from the restaurant’s Web site, which indicated that, yes, the brunch menu includes a “bowls” section. Then they ducked into a windowless fact-checking library and dialled Bazdarich.

“Hi, Justin. I’m Dan, at The New Yorker,” Radcliffe began, twiddling a red pencil. “Some of these questions are going to feel very boring and prosaic to you,” he warned. “So bear with me. First off, your surname: is that spelled B-A-Z-D-A-R-I-C-H?” (It is.) “Does the restaurant serve guacamole?” (Yes.) “In the dip itself, would it be right to say there are chilies in adobo and cilantro?” (No adobo, but yes to the cilantro.) “Is there a drink you serve there, a Paloma?” (Yes.) “And that’s pale, pink, and frothy, I believe?” (Correct.) “Is brunch at your place—which, by the way, sounds fantastic—served seven days a week?” (Yes.) “That’s great news,” Radcliffe said, “for the accuracy of this, and for me.”

«

link to this extract


Google will soon give you greater control of your call logs and SMS data • Android Police

C Scott Brown:

»

what if an app wants to do things related to making phone calls and sending text messages? Should that app have the ability to access your potentially sensitive call logs and SMS data simply through a normal permissions request notification?

Google thinks that is too open-ended, which is why it is specifying a new policy which will prevent applications from even asking for access to your call logs and/or SMS data unless you choose to make that app the default service for making phone calls or sending texts.

This will hopefully prevent apps you’ve downloaded but don’t use often from continuing to monitor your call logs and SMS data after you’ve installed them and given them permission to do so.

Granted, there are still ways rogue developers could abuse this policy, but it will at least make things a little more difficult…

…right now a developer could create an app which uses SMS in some way but doesn’t need to be set as the default service. The app can ask for access to SMS data, the user can agree, and even though the user may never use that app again, it will continuously have access to their data.

In other words, this new policy isn’t 100% secure, but it’s certainly better than the current policy. And, either way, it’s the user’s responsibility to only grant permissions to trustworthy apps.

«

Typically terrible writeup. “Hopefully”? And no, it’s Google’s responsibility to write an OS which treats call and SMS data as something that shouldn’t be accessible to other apps. Android is ten years old now. This shouldn’t be something it’s just discovering.
link to this extract


Research: cryptocurrency is dying • The Next Web

»

According to a new report from technology research group, Juniper Research, the cryptocurrency “industry is on the brink of an implosion.”

The research highlights some key market metrics, all of which display cryptocurrencies as being on a downward spiral.

“During Q1 2018, cryptocurrency transactions totaled just over $1.4trn, compared with less than $1.7trn for 2017 as a whole,” the report notes. “However, by Q2 2018, transaction values had plummeted by 75%, to under $355bn.”

Juniper is expecting a further 47% drop in transaction values for Q3 2018 compared to the previous quarter.

The researchers claim economic uncertainty typically encourages growth, yet even “strained China-US trade relations and Brexit-related troubles” failed to rouse any interest in the cryptocurrency industry…

…Daily Bitcoin transaction volumes have fallen from nearly 360,000 per day in late 2017 to around 230,000 in September 2018.

«

That many? Still?
link to this extract


SEC tightens the noose on ICO-funded startups • Yahoo Finance

Daniel Roberts:

»

During the past few months, the Securities and Exchange Commission has significantly widened its crackdown on certain initial coin offerings, putting hundreds of cryptocurrency startups at risk.

The SEC sent out a slew of initial information-seeking subpoenas at the start of 2018. Now the agency has returned to many of those companies, and subpoenaed many more—focusing on those that failed to properly ensure they sold their token exclusively to accredited investors.

The agency is exerting pressure on many of those companies to settle their cases. In response, dozens of companies have quietly agreed to refund investor money and pay a fine. But many startups that have been subpoenaed say they are left in the dark struggling to satisfy the SEC’s demands, and are uncertain of how others are handling it, according to conversations with more than 15 industry sources as part of a joint investigation by Yahoo Finance and Decrypt.

The sources, many of whom are employees of companies that were subpoenaed by the SEC or are attorneys for those companies, requested anonymity, because the SEC restricts them from discussing the matter.

«

So the chickens are coming home to roost, except they have big teeth and can lock you in jail.
link to this extract


What’s in a number: how love for expensive cars and number plates revealed the second Skripal suspect’s indentity • Conflict Intelligence Team

Ruslan Leviev:

»

A few days ago we published a photo of a driver’s license beloning to Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga (the Skripal poisioning suspect under alias of “Ruslan Boshirov”), which an anonymous source sent to us via email. Using the full driver’s license data, we verified that it was, in fact, valid…

Our readers used an online OSAGO vehicle insurance database and the driver’s license data to find out that the driver’s license [ was really registered to Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga…

The same database revealed that during 2016-2017 Chepiga had an OSAGO insurance policy for a vehicle with state registration number Т 705 ТТ 99 and VIN code X4XKS494000H01806.

A Yandex search quickly yielded a publicly available photograph of a BMW X5 with this number plate…

There is a variety of online services that allow to use partial information on a vehicle to find out its more or less full history. Among them are Avtokod, Avtoteka, Telegram bot AvinfoBot and others. We used all those services to find information on X4XKS494000H01806 VIN-code of Chepiga’s car which was already known from OSAGO database. It turned out that from June 2017, a BMW X5 with this VIN code belonged to Darya Torbenko (Emelyanova). The car’s ex-owner Chepiga kept the T 705 TT 99 number, while Torbenko received a new number — К 912 ХР 777. The sale and purchase deal was concluded in June 2017. In October, Torbenko changed her last name…

Knowing that Chepiga kept the Т 705 ТТ 99 number, we used the same services to check if he had bought a new car. Searching the car’s registration number at Avtoteka, we found out that currently this number belongs to a 2017 Mercedes GL-Klasse, VIN code WDC1668241A988448:

Using the vehicle’s VIN code for the Avtokod website search, we found more information on the car, in particular a list of traffic violation fines with fine ruling numbers

What does a fine ruling number give us? We can search those numbers in a fine check service at Avtokod.mos.ru to see photographs of the traffic violation and, crucially, the first name and patronymic of the violating driver…

Well, this is weird. We know that the number Т 705 ТТ 99 belongs to Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga. However, the violating driver for both is a certain Aleksandr Evgenyevich [Александр Евгеньевич], which is, incidentally, the same name and patronymic as given in the fake passport of Chepiga’s presumed colleague «Aleksandr Evgenyevich Petrov». How do we find information on this Aleksandr Evgenyevich? Last year, Russian media reported on a massive insurance company data leak. Reportedly, among the leaked info was not only text data, but document photos as well.

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This is amazing, open-sourced investigation made possible by access to data. You want to bring criminals to justice? Use the government’s own surveillance of citizens against it. The original post has lots of photos to back up the data here.
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Google devices like Pixel are a hobby and likely to stay that way • Bloomberg

Shira Ovide:

»

In 2017 and the first half of this year, Google shipped about 5 million Pixel smartphones worldwide, according to the research firm IDC. Apple sells as many iPhones in about eight days as Google did in 18 months — and even Apple has a relatively small minority market share in smartphones. 

Small numbers aren’t confined to Google, either. Journalists like me can’t stop talking about the “runaway success” of the Echo devices, Amazon.com Inc.’s rapidly expanding lineup of voice-activated home doodads. Amazon sold about 3.6m of the two most popular Echo models from April to June, Strategy Analytics estimated. Fitbit, a company that journalists like me stopped talking about long ago, sold 2.7m motion-tracking gadgets in the same period. 

Yes, Amazon’s hardware sales are growing and Fitbit numbers are shrinking, but you get the point. For most software or internet tech empires, hardware is a niche hobby, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

That leaves the question of why tech companies that built fortunes on areas other than computing hardware are bothering at all. I wasn’t sure about Microsoft’s Surface line for a long time, but I have been convinced that the company successfully spurred new ideas in what a computer could and should be, even as Microsoft sells relatively few personal computers on its own. I’m not completely sold on the strategic merits of Amazon’s Echo gadgets, but it’s clear that the company wants a pole position if computers controlled by voice become the prevalent form of human interaction with machines. 

As for Google, I was unsure of the merits of the company jumping into hardware with both feet when the Alphabet unit unveiled its first self-branded smartphone two years ago, and I’m still not sure what the company is doing.

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Indeed, if Google doesn’t spread the Pixel computational love to the rest of the Android OEMs, what is the point? Experimentation?
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Google Pixel 3 hands-on—Not the best first impression • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

This year the back is all glass, but the two-tone look remains thanks to two different treatments to the glass. The top is bare, shiny glass and a fingerprint magnet, while the rest of the phone has a soft-touch, satin-like matte coating.

The coating feels great, but it doesn’t seem very durable. There were already visible scratches on both of the demo units I photographed, which you can see, and it’s easy to damage the back with something as mundane as a USB-C cable. Both of the demo phones I photographed at the show already had several scratches on them. Harsh camera lighting is pretty much the worst-case scenario for finding scratches, but I’ve never seen demo units this beat up before at a launch. I was disappointed by the change from metal to glass, but this is a double whammy: all the fragility of glass with none of the scratch-resistant hardness…

…I’m sad to say the front design is just as disappointing in real life as it is in pictures. Google has turned in two phones that just aren’t up to the 2018 competition. The Pixel 3 XL follows the notch display trend, but Google has the biggest notch in the industry. The cutout extends so far into the display that it doesn’t fit inside a normal Android status bar, so the bar is twice as tall as normal, which looks ridiculous. The width of the notch means you only get to see three notification icons on the screen before you run out of space. Combined with the 3 XL’s sizable bottom bezel, I don’t think there’s a single 2018 phone in the Pixel 3’s price range you can point to and call a worse design. Google is pretty much at the back of the pack here.

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He likes the displays, though. (Phew.) Thinks they switched to Samsung, away from LG for the Pixel 2, which had terrible screen issues.

Also, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack – it’s USB-C headphones for you, or Bluetooth ones. I seem to remember Google making a big play of keeping the jack a couple of years ago. What changed, exactly?
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Sonos now lets you update devices automatically • Android Police

Rita El Khoury:

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Our connected life is certainly getting more complex with time. With the convenience of smart/Wi-Fi enabled devices comes the trouble of keeping everything up-to-date. Some companies choose to stick with manual updates, forcing you to manually approve every minor version change. Others opt for automatic updates, removing the guesswork and friction out of the process. Sonos used to be part of the first category, but now the company has added an option for seamless updates.

In the latest Sonos app update to v9.2 (APK Mirror), there’s a new Automatic Updates toggle under System Updates. Flip it on and you can set your Sonos updates to happen overnight to avoid disrupting your listening during the day.

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Same on iOS. Thank the flipping stars for that. I love Sonos’s stuff, but the nagging about updates and the impossibility of just letting it get on and do it has been a pain for ages.
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Apple Watch, hired jet, mystery vehicle figure in search for missing Saudi dissident • Reuters

Orhan Coskun, Sarah Dadouch, Stephen Kalin:

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[Jamal] Khashoggi flew back to Istanbul from London on Monday evening, Oct 1. The following morning, he spoke again with consul worker Sultan, who told him to collect the document at 1 p.m the same day.

Outside the consulate, a low rise building at the edge of one of Istanbul’s business districts, Khashoggi handed Cengiz his two mobile phones, the fiancee told Reuters. He left instructions that she should call Aktay, the Erdogan aide, if he didn’t reappear. Khashoggi was wearing his black Apple Watch, connected to one of the phones, when he entered the building.

A senior Turkish government official and a senior security official said the two inter-connected devices are at the heart of the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We have determined that it was on him when he walked into the consulate,” the security official said. Investigators are trying to determine what information the watch transmitted. “Intelligence services, the prosecutor’s office and a technology team are working on this. Turkey does not have the watch so we are trying to do it through connected devices,” he said.

Tech experts say an Apple Watch can provide data such as location and heart rate. But what investigators can find out depends on the model of watch, whether it was connected to the internet, and whether it is near enough an iPhone to synchronize.

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The Saudi regime has denied up and down that it knows where Khashoggi is – or was. Non-Saudi CCTV at front and back shows him going in, but not out; the Saudi consulate says “oh wow, our internal CCTV wasn’t working that day.”

But open source data (such as flight trackers available to everyone, showing two private flights arriving and departing Turkey and Riyadh that day) – and his Apple Watch – could be enough to demonstrate what increasingly is feared: a despotic regime killed a vociferous opponent. If the Apple Watch’s signal died inside the consulate, or went somewhere else, it tells you all you need to know.
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The extremely mad professors • The Outline

Christian McCrea:

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Pluckrose, Lindsay, and Boghossian [who perpetrated the “Sokhal Squared” effort to get hoax papers published in social science journals] will tell you that the crisis in the humanities they’ve ginned up is very current and real, but things get real curious when you scratch the surface. Jason Wilson’s piece in the Guardian from March outlines how the right-wing outrage machine draws in media hucksters and funds right-wing campus activists alike. In that piece, Boghossian is quoted as saying that the target of his hoaxes is “all disciplines infected by postmodernism, and women’s studies and gender studies in particular.” That’s right — hoaxes, plural. Last year, Boghossian and Lindsay employed the same tactic with a fake paper that argued the penis is less of a physical organ than it is something “a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity.”

Sensing a theme yet? Their long-running, multi-year media circus, based upon a deeply-held well… grievance, resonates with the broadly-held suspicions that some of the stuff that happens on campus is a bit crap — and anything remotely feminist comes first. Because looking around at the world in late 2018, gender doesn’t seem to be any kind of problem for anybody.

But — and I say this confidently — nobody in the humanities actually reads journals the way they do in science. You search journal databases by keywords. You read one paper from a new journal issue. You use what works. You skip over the paper that’s obviously rushed. You know that, in many areas, much more effort goes into book chapters. You know that some journals barely peer-review at all. This includes science journals, where hoaxes have also been perpetrated.

The hoaxers know all of this very well; they’re anything but stupid. The goal is plainly obvious: They don’t want these fields to exist.

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link to this extract


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Start Up No.927: doubts over Bloomberg, Google call screening, iPad Pros with Face ID?, the ongoing piracy problem, and more


Apple’s retail store in Shenzhen: site of a sizable triad-driven fraud in the years up to 2013. Photo by Chris on Flickr.

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

The cybersecurity world is debating WTF is going on with Bloomberg’s Chinese microchip stories • Motherboard

Jason Koebler, Joseph Cox, and Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:

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On Tuesday, Bloomberg doubled down on its bombshell report from last week, which alleged China had surreptitiously implanted tiny chips into the motherboards of servers to spy on US companies such as Apple and Amazon. If true, this would be one of the worst hacks in history.

In its new story, Bloomberg reports that a US telecom discovered and removed “manipulated hardware” in its servers. The article does not name the telecom and the key claims are all attributed to one source, Yossi Appleboum, co-CEO of security consultant Sepio Systems. Bloomberg reports Appleboum provided “documents, analysis, and other evidence,” but does not publish those or provide more information about what types of documents or evidence it has.

It is not clear in the article that Bloomberg knows which telecom is apparently affected; it notes that Appleboum is covered by an non-disclosure agreement. Motherboard has reached out to 10 major US telecom providers, and the four biggest telecoms in the US have denied to Motherboard that they were attacked: In an email, T-Mobile denied being the one mentioned in the Bloomberg story. Sprint said in an email that the company does not use SuperMicro equipment, and an AT&T spokesperson said in an email that “these devices are not a part of our network, and we are not affected.” A Verizon spokesperson said: “Verizon’s network is not affected.” A CenturyLink spokesperson also denied that the company is the subject of Bloomberg’s new story.

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The trio who wrote this are Motherboard’s security writers – and they’re probably three of the top five in the business.

Also telling: a Twitter thread by ex-NSA staffer Robert Lee, who says (inter alia) that the writers of the Bloomberg seem keen, and honest, but also attracted to conspiracy theories from anonymous sources.

As time goes by, the Bloomberg China microchip story is looking flakier.
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Exclusive: iPad Pro Face ID details, 4K HDR video over USB-C, AirPods-like Apple Pencil 2 pairing, more • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

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Apple is widely expected to hold an event this month to introduce new 2018 iPad Pro models, new Macs, and more. Much of this has been confirmed by evidence within the iOS 12.1 beta, which includes references to an iPad2018Fall device.

Today, sources familiar with the development of the new 2018 iPad Pro have offered additional details about the device, its features, and more.

The model codes for the Wi-Fi models of the 2018 iPad Pro will be iPad8,1, iPad8,2, iPad8,5 and iPad8,6. Meanwhile, the cellular-capable models will be iPad8,3, iPad8,4 and iPad8,7 and iPad8,8.

This means there will be two Wi-Fi models in both size options, and two LTE models in both size options.

The new iPad Pros will have an edge-to-edge display and will not feature a Home button, much like the iPhone. Unlike the iPhone, however, the iPad Pro will not have a notch.

Even though the new 2018 iPad Pro models will sport thinner bezels, those bezels will still be wide enough to accommodate the TrueDepth camera system necessary for Face ID.

The 2018 iPad Pro will include Face ID with the same image signal processor as the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR. Further, we can confirm that Face ID on the new iPad Pro will work in both portrait and landscape orientations, though it won’t work upside down.

The Face ID setup process on the new iPad Pros will be very similar to the process introduced with the iPhone X. Notably, despite post-setup support for landscape Face ID, the setup process must be completed in portrait orientation.

It’s not clear if the new landscape support requires a special hardware feature, or if it can be made available to iPhones with a simple software update.

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Including a thing called “iPad2018Fall” in your widely available beta is certainly a clever way to keep folk salivating. It does seem obvious that you’d be able to do FaceID in landscape: it’s just software correction.
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Leaked transcript of private meeting contradicts Google’s official story on China • The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher:

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[Ben] Gomes, [Google’s search engine chief] who joined Google in 1999 and is one of the key engineers behind the company’s search engine, said he hoped the censored Chinese version of the platform could be launched within six and nine months, but it could be sooner. “This is a world none of us have ever lived in before,” he said. “So I feel like we shouldn’t put too much definite into the timeline.”

It has been two months since The Intercept first revealed details about the censored search engine, code-named Dragonfly. Since then, the project has faced a wave of criticism from human rights groups, Google employees, U.S. senators, and even Vice President Mike Pence, who on Thursday last week called on Google to “immediately end development of the Dragonfly app that will strengthen the Communist Party’s censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.”

Google has refused to answer questions or concerns about Dragonfly. Earlier this month, a Google executive faced public questions on the censorship plan for the first time. Keith Enright told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that there “is a Project Dragonfly,” but said “we are not close to launching a product in China.” When pressed to give specific details, Enright refused, saying that he was “not clear on the contours of what is in scope or out of scope for that project.”

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Google Call Screening: a personal robot that talks to, hangs up on spam calls • Ars Technica

Sam Machkovech:

»

Google Call Screening, which will debut on the new Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL phones in the US, has been announced as an “on-device” feature (as opposed to something driven by Duplex) that phone users can turn on when a phone call arrives from an unrecognized number. This will pick up the call and have a Google Assistant voice speak a prompt:

“Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name, and why you are calling.”
Whatever the caller says in response will appear as a voice-to-text translation on the phone screen. At that point, Pixel phone users can elect to pick up the call, offer a robo-spoken response like “who is this?” or “I’ll call you back,” or mark the caller’s number as spam. In the demo’s case, the caller describes a contest for an “all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii.” The demo didn’t appear to offer any context-sensitive responses to the spam in question.

Google’s demo also didn’t include any out-loud sample of how calls between your phone’s Google Assistant voice and a robo-caller’s automated voice might sound. For now, the service doesn’t appear to offer the option to listen to the robot-on-robot action in question—in case, for example, you wanted to turn on a muted speakerphone while Google Call Screening did its thing. (We may want to hear the “conversation” in question, just to make sure Google’s promise of giving users a copy doesn’t quite turn out and that this isn’t a ploy to have spam-bots and Goog-bots join forces in a robo-revolution behind our backs.)

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People I know in the US are being slowly driven mad by robocalls, especially to their mobiles. This is a super-smart move.

The rest of the Google Pixel 3 phone launch is pretty well covered in The Guardian.
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More than one third of music consumers still pirate music • The Guardian

Laura Snapes and Ben Beaumont-Thomas:

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More than one-third of global music listeners are still pirating music, according to a new report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). While the massive rise in legal streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal was thought to have stemmed illegal consumption, 38% of listeners continue to acquire music through illegal means.

The most popular form of copyright infringement is stream-ripping (32%): using easily available software to record the audio from sites like YouTube at a low-quality bit rate. Downloads through “cyberlocker” file hosting services or P2P software like BitTorrent came second (23%), with acquisition via search engines in third place (17%).

“Music piracy has disappeared from the media in the past few years but it certainly hasn’t gone away,” David Price, director of insight and analysis at IFPI, told the Guardian. “People still like free stuff, so it doesn’t surprise us that there are a lot of people engaged in this. And it’s relatively easy to pirate music, which is a difficult thing for us to say.”

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I’m surprised by the size of this figure. The other day I was wondering whether anyone has had their internet access cut off under the UK’s Digital Economy Act, introduced in a rush in 2010, which has a “three strikes” rule. Maybe that’s worth looking into.

It’s mostly about “stream ripping” (to be able to listen to music offline, taken from a free streaming service), and search engines are still a culprit.

Also includes some interesting stuff about smart speaker listening.
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Google Pixel Slate officially announced: here’s what you need to know • Android Authority

Andrew Grush:

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It’s no secret the tablet market isn’t what it used to be. It’s hard to get excited about a tablet in 2018, but Google hopes to change that with its newly announced Google Pixel Slate.

The Google Pixel Slate is a Chrome OS-powered tablet that is also capable of transforming into a laptop using a keyboard dock. Essentially this is Google’s take on the Microsoft Surface.

There’s really only so many ways to design a tablet, and so there’s nothing particularly innovative to be seen here in terms of design. On the front sits a 12.3inch QHD LCD display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. You also get front-firing stereo speakers.

The Pixel Slate sports two 8 MP cameras, one above the display and the other in the top right corner of the tablet’s back. Using a tablet as a camera isn’t the most practical experience, though it’s certainly possible. Of course, the main purpose for the camera setup will be video calling.

At the top of the left edge, you will find a volume rocker, with a single USB-C port located near the bottom of the tablet. On the right edge of the Google Pixel Slate you’ll find a fingerprint scanner embedded into the power button. This is a first for Chrome OS devices.

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Google makes a tablet. That’s brave. The thinking is more that it’s a ChromeOS thing, isn’t it.
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Strategy Analytics: Mobile Advertising Spend Growth to Slow to 12% CAGR • Strategy Analytics Online Newsroom

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After growing over 6-fold between 2013 and 2018, growth in mobile advertising revenue will fall to a 12% CAGR [compound annual growth rate] and the market value will reach $222bn in 2023. The mobile share of digital advertising will grow rapidly in less developed advertising markets but in advanced markets the share over mobile is reaching a plateau. Strategy Analytics expects mobile advertising to continue to suffer from headwinds including increased cautiousness following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal and the implementation of GDPR in 2018.

Mobile advertising will rise to 67% in 2023. In markets where multi-device use is high, like the U.S., mobile advertising will account for just 58% of all digital in 2023, while in mobile-centric markets like India it will reach 71%.

Asia-Pacific is leading the mobile transition, representing around 44% of global mobile ad spend across the period. At a country-level and in terms of absolute ad spend, the U.S., and mobile-first markets China and Japan will remain leaders although their positions will erode.

Search will remain the dominant mobile advertising format with 47% of ad spend across the period while mobile video ad spend will be the fastest growing (+16.5% CAGR over 2018-2023) driven by the adoption of 6-second mid-rolls, and vertical ad formats by industry leaders Snapchat, Facebook and more recently YouTube.

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So it’s a sort of good-news-bad-news for Facebook (and properties) and Google (and properties).
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Inside Apple’s war on iPhone fraud in China • The Information

Wayne Ma:

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Five years ago, Apple was forced to temporarily close what was then its only retail store in Shenzhen, China, after it was besieged by lines of hundreds of customers waiting to swap broken iPhones for new devices, according to two former Apple employees who were briefed about the matter. In May 2013, the Shenzhen store logged more than 2,000 warranty claims a week, more than any other Apple retail store in the world, one of those people said.

After some investigation, Apple discovered the skyrocketing requests for replacements was due to a highly sophisticated fraud scheme run by organized teams. Rings of thieves were buying or stealing iPhones and removing valuable components like CPUs, screens and logic boards, replacing them with fake components or even chewing gum wrappers, more than a half-dozen former employees familiar with the fraud said. The thieves would then return the iPhones, claiming they were broken, and receive replacements they could then resell, according to three of those people. The stolen components, meanwhile, were used in refurbished iPhones sold in smaller cities across China, two of the people said…

…A turning point came in 2013, when an Apple data scientist discovered a way to measure the fraud by counting the number of iPhones that switched to new Apple IDs after the devices were replaced under warranty, the person said. Typically, a legitimate customer who gets a replacement logs into the new phone with their original Apple ID, which should match the broken iPhone that they returned to Apple, the person said.

But in fraud cases, replacement phones were usually registered with different Apple IDs because the devices immediately changed hands, the person said. The data scientist discovered more than 60% of replaced iPhones in China were getting new IDs, the person said.

Apple adopted the fraud methodology, known internally as Mismatch, and eventually had as many as 300 employees tackling the problem, which soon became material to the company, the person said.

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This cost Apple billions. That’s quite some fraud ring there.
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Google search losing some advertising business to Amazon, agencies say • CNBC

Michelle Castillo:

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Amazon’s ad business is booming. Some advertisers are moving more than half of the budget they normally spend with Google search to Amazon ads instead, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, according to execs at multiple media agencies. Some of these execs requested anonymity as they are not authorized to discuss their clients’ expenditures in public.

Amazon’s growing success could pose a rare threat to Google parent company Alphabet, which generated $95.4bn in ad revenues last year, 86% of its total revenue. Google is the dominant digital advertising platform in the U.S., and will take in an estimated 37% of digital ad budgets in 2018. Although Alphabet does not disclose the breakdown of its ad revenue, most estimates believe the vast majority comes from search ads — approximately 83% in the year to date, according to research from eMarketer.

Alphabet has remained somewhat insulated from the threat so far, and its overall ad revenue growth actually accelerated in the first half of 2018 compared with last year. Not all categories of brands are shifting money to Amazon — most of the movement is coming in consumer packaged goods, while huge and lucrative advertising categories such as automotive and travel are not yet moving to Amazon. Also, while Google search may be flattening, advertisers are moving parts of their ad spend from other media to different Google properties, particularly YouTube.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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The anatomy of a click: what happens to your data online • Huffington Post

James Ball:

»

You might have followed a link from social media, email, a search engine, or even just typed in a web address, but now you’ve arrived at a site your computer or phone has sent a message to its server asking it to deliver you the content you’ve asked for.

For any site showing programmatic adverts – including this one – this sets off a lengthy chain reaction. The first thing the site does is the obvious one that’s visible to us: it starts sending you the editorial (non-advertising) content that you’ve asked for. So far so good.

What it also does is then send a message saying – more or less – “give me some adverts please!” to a Supply Side Platform, a company specialised in doing the mirror of what the demand ones do: get as much info as it can to go into the matchmaking lottery and get the best price possible.

That Supply Side Platform then sends – via the website you visited – a request for your computer to send it as much information as it’s willing to: it will send details of your browser and its ID, your IP address (which gives your rough location), and as much information from cookies as it can, which can include details of your browsing history and much else.

Once it’s received whatever information your computer was willing to hand over – the more the better, as it lets advertisers target better – it bundles it up, and it’s ready for the main event: the auction for your attention.

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Useful guide to what happens far, far faster than humans can imagine. One to refer to for the future.
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