About charlesarthur

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

Start Up No.1,134: political ads go for Facebook kids, your lousy passwords, What3Words for good or bad?, Huawei delays foldable (again), and more


An LG Smart Fridge: not, it turns out, a device that you can tweet from. CC-licensed photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.



 
The Overspill is on a break for two weeks. See you again on September 2.


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 8 links for you. And two weeks’ holiday for The Overspill. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Teens exposed to highly charged political ads on Facebook and Instagram • Sky News

Rowland Manthorpe:

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Political parties are showing partisan, highly charged adverts to teenagers on Facebook and Instagram, Sky News can reveal.

The Children’s Commissioner has described the practice of targeting young people as “irresponsible”.

Sky News has seen 208 political ads shown to 13 to 17-year-olds on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram, where advertisers can target campaigns according to age. The majority of the ads came from the Conservatives, which showed 102 ads to teenagers, mostly featuring Boris Johnson.

Sky News revealed last month that the Tories had welcomed the new prime minister with an online ad blitz costing tens of thousands of pounds. Labour only showed four ads to 13 to 17-year-olds, but these were extremely partisan.

Two Instagram ads from the party featured a picture of Nigel Farage next to Tommy Robinson, and claimed that: “The only way to stop the far-right from winning is by voting Labour.” Users were urged to “double tap this and then share it to your story”.

Ads for Change UK featured news articles and videos of Mr Farage, saying that the party “would not stand idly by whilst others whip up fear, division and hatred”.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, who promotes and protects the rights of children, told Sky News this lack of balance could be misleading for young people.

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Ironically, Sky News had to check with lawyers before it could show this story on TV because of the UK’s strict rules on political advertising. The age targeting is what’s different: this is a generation growing up with partisan political ads that they wouldn’t see on billboards or in newspapers being directed at them.
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New research: lessons from Password Checkup in action • Google Online Security Blog

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Back in February, we announced the Password Checkup extension for Chrome to help keep all your online accounts safe from hijacking. The extension displays a warning whenever you sign in to a site using one of over 4 billion usernames and passwords that Google knows to be unsafe due to a third-party data breach. Since our launch, over 650,000 people have participated in our early experiment. In the first month alone, we scanned 21 million usernames and passwords and flagged over 316,000 as unsafe – 1.5% of sign-ins scanned by the extension.

Today, we are sharing our most recent lessons from the launch and announcing an updated set of features for the Password Checkup extension. Our full research study, available here, will be presented this week as part of the USENIX Security Symposium.

Which accounts are most at risk?

Hijackers routinely attempt to sign in to sites across the web with every credential exposed by a third-party breach. If you use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts, this risk disappears. Based on anonymous telemetry reported by the Password Checkup extension, we found that users reused breached, unsafe credentials for some of their most sensitive financial, government, and email accounts. This risk was even more prevalent on shopping sites (where users may save credit card details), news, and entertainment sites.

In fact, outside the most popular web sites, users are 2.5x more likely to reuse vulnerable passwords, putting their account at risk of hijacking.

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Users are the problem, I guess. 4 billion username/password combinations are unsafe? That’s really a lot.
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You should definitely track your loved ones’ phones. Actually maybe not • WSJ

Joanna Stern:

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When Lauren Goodman, 19, heard about the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso earlier this month, the University of Texas at Austin sophomore immediately pulled up Find My Friends to make sure none of her loved ones were there. “I was relieved when I saw they were back at home,” she said.

Many parents also opt to use these features when their children start to drive. Life360, specifically, can detect crashes and report other driving situations. When the app is open, Life360 refreshes location about every three seconds. When open, Find My Friends refreshes every minute, though when iOS 13 comes out this fall—and the app is renamed simply Find My—refresh will drop to 30 seconds. In Google Maps, location is refreshed only when you view a friend’s location.

This past June one anxious mom used Find My Friends to look for her teenage daughter when she had missed curfew. She tracked the phone about 20 yards off the side of a tree-covered embankment, where the teenager had gotten into a car accident and had been trapped for almost seven hours. (The family confirmed the story but declined to comment.)

Counterpoint: In that case, location helped in an emergency but location doesn’t tell the full story. In an age of mass shootings, you’d likely want more info than just where someone is when news reports hit.

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Some people track enormous numbers of others. We call it “Stalk My Family”, which is pretty much how we use it.
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Can you channel Kerouac in an electric car? • Financial Times

Henry Mance:

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We hire a Tesla Model 3 on a peer-to-peer car hiring website. On pick-up, the car immediately suggests that we install a 25-minute software update. What is this — the car of the future, or a four-wheeled version of Adobe Acrobat? Even the glovebox is operated from the touchscreen.

The Model 3 is the most basic Tesla, though prices start at the far-from-basic $40,000. The long-range version can travel up to 310 miles, but charging it fully shortens the battery life.

My dashboard says we have charge for 244 miles. I pick up Jason the photographer, Yui and the kids nearby, and somehow we are down to 238. This still should be OK, I think. Reno — via picturesque Nevada City — is about 230 miles away. If things get tight, we can recharge at Truckee, 30 miles nearer.

You know you have left Silicon Valley when the billboards stop advertising enterprise software and start advertising religion. I suppose they are both forms of saving things in the cloud. “Jesus said ALL THINGS are possible to those that believe,” reads one billboard. A nearby shop sells 35 flavours of wild-game jerky.

Our first stop is the California State Fair in Sacramento. The attractions include dogs “long jumping” into a huge tank of water. “You’re going to see some crazy dogs jumping,” says an announcer. “There is a technique to this,” he adds, unconvincingly. Is this the real America? The first dog throws itself 13ft 6in into the water. It’s some way short of the world record — 35ft 3in, set by an Ohio whippet named Slingshot.

We wander through a barn where farmers are blow-drying their cows. The bins are covered in plastic American flags. The kids win a soft toy by throwing ping-pong balls into floating cups. A stall is offering test drives of Ram pick-up trucks. The trucks are nearly two metres tall — the gas-guzzling antithesis of an electric car. Do I need a car like this if I live in San Francisco, I ask an attendant. “It parallel-parks itself,” he points out, hopefully.

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Just lovely.
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What3words: The app that can save your life • BBC News

Duncan Leatherdale:

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Police have urged everyone to download a smartphone app they say has already saved several lives. What is it and how does it work?

Kicked. Converged. Soccer.

These three randomly chosen words saved Jess Tinsley and her friends after they got lost in a forest on a dark, wet night.

They had planned a five-mile circular stroll through the 4,900 acre (2,000 hectare) woodland Hamsterley Forest, in County Durham, on Sunday evening, but after three hours they were hopelessly lost.

“We were in a field and had no idea where we were,” the 24-year-old care worker from Newton Aycliffe said.

“It was absolutely horrendous. I was joking about it and trying to laugh because I knew if I didn’t laugh I would cry.”

At 22:30 BST they found a spot with phone signal and dialled 999.

“One of the first things the call-handler told us to do was download the what3words app,” Ms Tinsley said.

“I had never heard of it.”

Within a minute of its download, the police said they knew where the group was and the soaked and freezing walkers were swiftly found by the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team.

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The issue is that W3W is a private company. (It charges for certain API use.) But then again, it’s a useful service: doesn’t need a phone signal to work (though of course you need one to call the emergency services), is precise to within a few metres. One of the cases: “Humberside Police were able to quickly resolve a hostage situation after the victim was able to tell officers exactly where she was being held.” 👀
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Working on Microsoft’s Cortana is laborious and poorly paid • VICE

Joseph Cox:

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A cache of leaked documents obtained by Motherboard gives insight into what the human contractors behind the development of tech giants’ artificial intelligence services are actually doing: laborious, repetitive tasks that are designed to improve the automated interpretation of human speech. This means tasks tech giants have promised are completed by virtual assistants and artificial intelligence are trained by the monotonous work of people.

The work is magnified by the large footprint of speech recognition tools: Microsoft’s Cortana product, similar to Apple’s Siri, is implemented in Windows 10 machines and Xbox One consoles, and is also available as on iOS, Android, and smart speakers.

“The bulk of the work I’ve done for Microsoft focused on annotating and transcribing Cortana commands,” one Microsoft contractor said. Motherboard granted the source anonymity to speak more candidly about internal Microsoft processes, and because they had signed a non-disclosure agreement.

The instruction manuals on classifying this sort of data go on for hundreds of pages, with a dizzying number of options for contractors to follow to classify data, or punctuation style guides they’re told to follow. The contractor said they are expected to work on around 200 pieces of data an hour, and noted they’ve heard personal and sensitive information in Cortana recordings. A document obtained by Motherboard corroborates that for some work contractors need to complete at least 200 tasks an hour.

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OK, you probably didn’t imagine that it was going to be a life full of joy doing that. They get paid between $12 and $14 per hour. Though it’s not clear where they’re located.
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The “teen girl tweeting from fridge” story is likely fake • Buzzfeed News

Stephanie McNeal:

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So, finally, she got desperate and tweeted via voice dictation from her “LG Smart Refrigerator.” She wrote, “I do not know if this is going to tweet I am talking to my fridge what the heck my Mom confiscated all of my electronics again.”

The source text on the tweet read “LG Smart Refrigerator.” The tweet soon went viral, and everyone thought it was hilarious.

Twitter and appliance manufacturer LG Electronics even showed their support, tweeting at Dorothy using the hashtag #FreeDorothy.

Dorothy soon thanked everyone for their support, again from the “refrigerator.”

Dorothy even did interviews with news outlets like the Guardian, which claimed it had exchanged messages with the teen using “her cousin’s iPad.” Dorothy told the outlet she was 15 years old and had been banned from using electronics after starting a fire while cooking. The story was also reported by CBS News, BBC, and others.

The Guardian reported that Dorothy wouldn’t reveal her last name and LG wouldn’t comment, but noted that “the tweet source confirms it was sent from the device.”

But what these stories failed to note is that it is surprisingly easy to pretend to tweet from basically anywhere by creating your own Twitter source. A step-by-step guide posted by one Twitter user and this Reddit post lay out a “fridge” example.

It’s so easy, in fact, that tweeting “from” random places is a meme.

Like this guy, who went viral earlier this year.

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Oh. Still, well played, anonymous fan account for Ariana Grande. And of course, how is someone who interviews “her” going to be able to confirm any of this without speaking to the mother, and visiting the house? Modern journalism is both easier to do and harder to get right.
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Huawei Mate X release date pushed back, but next version may have even more screens • TechRadar

David Lumb:

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The foldable Huawei Mate X is unlikely to come out before November, which means a delay from the previously slated September launch, TechRadar learned at a press event at Huawei’s Shenzhen headquarters today.

There’s no possibility of a September launch date anymore, which leaves the door open for the Samsung Galaxy Fold to be the first foldable to market. However, Huawei is certain the Mate X will launch before the end of 2019.

We also got wind of more exciting news: the next Mate X could have more screens, and it might come out as soon as next year.

Where will the Huawei Mate X follow-up fit more displays? By swapping out the steel rear cover in the current Huawei Mate X with a glass back, and those glass surfaces could become usable, touchable displays. 

It’s a big engineering challenge to say the least – it might end up being years before the issues are worked out and we get glass backs on foldable phones. We don’t even have them on the upcoming Mate X’s 8in front display yet.

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More screens. Suuuuure. Why not also say it’ll be origami and fold into a swan when not in use?

It’s been fascinating to watch Samsung and Huawei racing to be second on this. It’s like watching two runners, both trying to lose. “Oooh my calf! Agh! No, go ahead, you have it.” “Fine, I’ll– aah my tendon! That’s it for me I’m afraid!” If foldables are the next big thing, they’re suffering a midwife shortage.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,133: WeWork’s dodgy loans, why NULL is a bad number, Google looks for plagiarism, the trouble with log graphs, and more


Not Egypt’s pyramids; it’s indium selenide atop epitaxial graphene. The latter could make your phone battery better. CC-licensed photo by Penn State 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. One more before the holiday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

WeWork gave founder loans as it paid him rent, IPO filing shows • Bloomberg

Ellen Huet:

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The [WeWork] IPO filing details many more instances and indicates that Neumann, who chairs the company’s all-male board, remains the central figure at WeWork. The name Adam appears 169 times in the financial prospectus, far more than any other. The company wrote in the filing that it provided the disclosures to “avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest.” A spokesman for WeWork declined to comment.

In 2016, Neumann borrowed $7m from WeWork at a generous annual interest rate of 0.64%. Neumann paid it back early, in November 2017, with about $100,000 in interest. It was one of several times Neumann borrowed company money. “From time to time over the past several years, we made loans directly to Adam or his affiliated entities,” WeWork wrote in the filing.

Neumann took out a much bigger loan from WeWork a few months ago. The company lent him $362m in April at 2.89% interest to help him exercise options to buy stock. This month, Neumann repaid the debt by surrendering the shares back to the company. It’s not clear from the filing why these transactions happened.

The business is, in some respects, a family affair. Rebekah Neumann, the CEO’s wife and a cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow, is listed as a founder, chief brand and impact officer of WeWork and founder and CEO of WeGrow, a corporate project to build and run private elementary schools. She was also among those behind a proposal this summer to hire Martin Scorsese to direct promotional videos for WeWork, Bloomberg reported last week.

Avi Yehiel, Neumann’s brother-in-law and a former professional soccer player in Israel, has served as WeWork’s head of wellness since 2017. He receives a salary of less than $200,000, according to the prospectus. WeWork hired another one of Neumann’s immediate family members to host eight events last year for a total of less than $200,000, the filing said. The events coincided with the Creator Awards, a live pitch competition with celebrity judges hosted by WeWork.

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It’s a disaster that’s not even waiting to happen – it lost $900m in the first six months of this year on (doubled) revenues of $1.54bn.
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A new way to help students turn in their best work • Google Blog

Brian Hendricks, product manager for Google Suite for Education:

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Today’s students face a tricky challenge: In an age when they can explore every idea imaginable on the internet, how do they balance outside inspiration with authenticity in their own work? Students have to learn to navigate the line between other people’s ideas and their own, and how and when to properly cite sources.
We’ve heard from instructors that they copy and paste passages into Google Search to check if student work is authentic, which can be repetitive, inefficient and biased. They also often spend a lot of time giving feedback about missed citations and improper paraphrasing. By integrating the power of Search into our assignment and grading tools, we can make this quicker and easier. 

That’s why Google is introducing originality reports. This new feature—with several reports included free in every course—will be part of Classroom and Assignments, which was also announced today. We create originality reports by scanning student work for matched phrases across hundreds of billions of web pages and tens of millions of books. 

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My initial reaction was that this is totally depressing – that you’re forced to twiddle words around so they’re desperately different from what you found in a book, and even then you might fall afoul of a book or paper you’ve never actually read, because how many ways are there to frame some sentences? Maybe the reality will be better. Maybe the teachers should have to take it too.
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Google’s algorithm for detecting hate speech is racially biased • MIT Technology Review

Charlotte Jee:

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Researchers built two AI systems and tested them on a pair of data sets of more than 100,000 tweets that had been annotated by humans with labels like “offensive,” “none,” or “hate speech.” One of the algorithms incorrectly flagged 46% of inoffensive tweets by African-American authors as offensive. Tests on bigger data sets, including one composed of 5.4 million tweets, found that posts by African-American authors were 1.5 times more likely to be labeled as offensive. When the researchers then tested Google’s Perspective, an AI tool that the company lets anyone use to moderate online discussions, they found similar racial biases.

A hard balance to strike: Mass shootings perpetrated by white supremacists in the US and New Zealand have led to growing calls from politicians for social-media platforms to do more to weed out hate speech. These studies underline just how complicated a task that is. Whether language is offensive can depend on who’s saying it, and who’s hearing it. For example, a black person using the “N word” is very different from a white person using it. But AI systems do not, and currently cannot, understand that nuance.

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That’s weird. Like, really weird. Unless the corpus had a ton of seriously offensive tweets.
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UK advertising watchdog upholds complaints against BitMEX bitcoin promotion • Yahoo News

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The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld complaints over a bitcoin ad placed by crypto derivatives exchange BitMEX (HDR Global Trading).

The advertising regulator published its decision on Wednesday, saying that it supported the four complaints against the ad that had claimed it “failed to illustrate the risk of the investment,” “exaggerated the return on the investment” and “challenged whether it was misleading.”

…In its ruling, the watchdog pointed out that the graph “used a logarithmic scale on its y-axis which meant that the equally spaced values on that scale did not increase by the same amount each time and instead increased by orders of magnitude.”

While it acknowledged that log graphs can be “a valid and useful way of presenting data,” the agency said that interpreting the graph would need some specialist knowledge of the topic and that, without an accompanying explanation, the graph “was unlikely to be familiar or readily understandable to the national newspaper audience to whom the ad was directed.”

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Logarithmic graphs considered harmful. Agree.
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Netflix’s biggest bingers get hit with higher internet costs • Los Angeles Times

Gerry Smith:

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James Wright had never worried about staying under his data cap.

Then he bought a 4K TV set and started binge-watching Netflix in ultra-high definition. The picture quality was impressive, but it gobbled up so much bandwidth that his internet service provider, Comcast Corp., warned that he had exceeded his monthly data limit and would need to pay more.

“The first month I blew through the cap like it was nothing,” said Wright, 50, who lives with his wife in Memphis, Tenn. With a 4K TV, he said, “It’s not as hard to go through as you’d think.”

All that bingeing and ultra-HD video can carry a high price tag. As online viewing grows, more subscribers are having to pay up for faster speeds. Even then, they can run into data limits and overage fees. Some opt for an unlimited plan that can double the average $52-a-month internet bill.

Wright is what the cable industry calls a power user — someone who chews through 1 terabyte of data or more each month. Though still rare, the number of power users has doubled in the past year as more families stream TV shows, movies and video games online. They should continue to grow as new video services from Walt Disney Co., AT+T, Apple and NBCUniversal arrive in coming months.

In the first quarter of this year, about 4% of internet subscribers consumed at least 1 terabyte of data — the limit imposed by companies such as Comcast, AT&T and Cox Communications Inc. That’s up from 2% a year ago, according to OpenVault, which tracks internet data usage among cable subscribers in the US and Europe.

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What’s amazing is that the cable executives are even surprised by this. But of course they’re going to gouge people for it.
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Google in jobs search dispute • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee and Paresh Dave:

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Google’s fast-growing tool for searching job listings has been a boon for employers and job boards starving for candidates, but several rival job-finding services contend anti-competitive behaviour has fuelled its rise and cost them users and profits.

In a letter to be sent to EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager and seen by Reuters, 23 job search websites in Europe called on her to temporarily order Google to stop playing unfairly while she investigates. Similar to worldwide leader Indeed and other search services familiar to job seekers, Google’s tool links to postings aggregated from many employers. It lets candidates filter, save and get alerts about openings, though they must go elsewhere to apply.

Google places a large widget for the two-year-old tool at the top of results for searches such as “call-centre jobs” in most of the world.

Some rivals allege that positioning is illegal because Google is using its dominance to attract users to its specialised search offering without the traditional marketing investments they have to make.

Other job technology firms say Google has restored industry innovation and competition.

The tensions expose a new front in the battle between Google and online publishers reliant on search traffic, just as EU and US competition regulators heed calls to scrutinise tech giants including Google…

…Lack of action could spur the signatories, which include British site Best Jobs Online to German peers Intermedia and Jobindex, to follow with formal complaints against Google to Vestager, a person familiar with the matter said.

Berlin-based StepStone, which operates 30 job websites globally, and another German search service already have taken that step, another source said.

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Same as so many others: Google scrapes the sites and then re-presents the information, but to its own advantage.
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He tried to prank the DMV. Then his vanity license plate backfired big time • Mashable

Jack Morse:

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Everyone hates parking tickets. Not everyone, however, is an information security researcher with a mischievous side and a freshly minted vanity license plate reading “NULL.”

That would be Droogie (his handle, if that’s not obvious), a presenter at this year’s DEF CON hacking conference in Las Vegas and man with a very specific problem: He’s on the receiving end of thousands of dollars worth of tickets that aren’t his. But don’t tell that to the DMV.

It wasn’t, of course, supposed to end up this way. In fact, exactly the opposite. Droogie registered a vanity California license plate consisting solely of the word “NULL” —  which in programming is a term for no specific value — for fun. And, he admitted to laughs, on the off chance it would confuse automatic license plate readers and the DMV’s ticketing system. 

“I was like, ‘I’m the shit,'” he joked to the crowd. “‘I’m gonna be invisible.’ Instead, I got all the tickets.”

Things didn’t go south immediately. As Droogie explained, he’s a cautious driver and didn’t get any tickets for the first year he owned the vanity plate. Then he went to reregister his tags online, and, when prompted to input his license plate, broke the DMV webpage. 

It seemed the DMV site didn’t recognize the plate “NULL” as an actual input. 

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It’s a real-world version of little Bobby Drop Tables.
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Major breach found in biometrics system used by banks, UK police and defence firms • The Guardian

Josh Taylor:

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The fingerprints of over 1 million people, as well as facial recognition information, unencrypted usernames and passwords, and personal information of employees, was discovered on a publicly accessible database for a company used by the likes of the UK Metropolitan police, defence contractors and banks.

Suprema is the security company responsible for the web-based Biostar 2 biometrics lock system that allows centralised control for access to secure facilities like warehouses or office buildings. Biostar 2 uses fingerprints and facial recognition as part of its means of identifying people attempting to gain access to buildings.

Last month, Suprema announced its Biostar 2 platform was integrated into another access control system – AEOS. AEOS is used by 5,700 organisations in 83 countries, including governments, banks and the UK Metropolitan police.

The Israeli security researchers Noam Rotem and Ran Locar working with vpnmentor, a service that reviews virtual private network services, have been running a side project to scans ports looking for familiar IP blocks, and then use these blocks to find holes in companies’ systems that could potentially lead to data breaches.

In a search last week, the researchers found Biostar 2’s database was unprotected and mostly unencrypted. They were able to search the database by manipulating the URL search criteria in Elasticsearch to gain access to data.

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Not clear how you could use the fingerprints, though.
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Inverted yield curve rattles investors wary of dying stock bull market • Reuters

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A closely watched section of the US yield curve inverted on Wednesday for the first time in over 12 years, rattling investors already worried that a US-China trade war might trigger a global recession and kill off a decade-long bull market on Wall Street.

The yield on the US 10-year Treasury note tipped 1.4 basis points below 2-year Treasury yields, the first time this spread has been negative since 2007, which was the end of a trend of negative yield curves that started in 2005, according to Refinitiv data.

A yield curve typically has an upward slope — when the yields are plotted on a graph — because investors expect greater compensation for the risk of owning longer-maturity debt. An inversion, when shorter-dated yields are higher than longer-dated ones, is considered a warning of a looming recession.

With inverted yield curves widely viewed on Wall Street as a major danger signal for the economy, Bank of America Merrill Lynch warned this week that Wall Street’s decade-long rally is also under threat.

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Just to explain: if you get a better rate for loaning the government your money for two years rather than 10, it implies that something’s going to go bad in between. A yield curve inversion has preceded recession by about 15 months since 1978 (range 10-22 months).
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Huawei technicians helped African governments spy on political opponents • WSJ

Joe Parkinson, Nicholas Bariyo and Josh Chin:

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According to these officials, the team, based on the third floor of the [Ugandan] capital’s police headquarters, spent days trying to penetrate [opposition leader Bobi] Wine’s WhatsApp and Skype communications using spyware developed by an Israeli company, but failed. Then they asked for help from the staff working in their offices from Huawei, Uganda’s top digital supplier.

“The Huawei technicians worked for two days and helped us puncture through,” said one senior officer at the surveillance unit. The Huawei engineers, identified by name in internal police documents reviewed by the Journal, used the Israeli-made spyware to penetrate Mr. Wine’s WhatsApp chat group, named Firebase crew after his band. Authorities scuppered his plans to organize street rallies and arrested the politician and dozens of his supporters.

The incident in Uganda and another in Zambia, as detailed in a Wall Street Journal investigation, show how Huawei employees have used the company’s technology and other companies’ products to support the domestic spying of those governments.

Since 2012 the US government has accused Huawei—the world’s largest maker of telecom equipment and second largest manufacturer of smartphones—of being a potential tool for the Chinese government to spy abroad, after decades of alleged corporate espionage by state-backed Chinese actors. Huawei has forcefully denied those charges.

The Journal investigation didn’t turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa. Nor did it find that Huawei executives in China knew of, directed or approved the activities described. It also didn’t find that there was something particular about the technology in Huawei’s network that made such activities possible.

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Samsung phone with graphene battery coming by 2021? • SamMobile

“Abhijeet M”:

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Samsung is reportedly hoping to have “at least one handset either next year or in 2021” with a graphene battery instead of a lithium-ion battery. Yes, many of you are probably shaking your head right now, as we have been hearing about graphene batteries becoming a viable solution for smartphones for years at this point. And the latest rumor, courtesy of leakster Evan Blass (aka evleaks), suggests that there is still a couple of years to go before we see a phone powered by a graphene battery.

Last year, rumors of Samsung being close to using graphene batteries in smartphones started floating around on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, but as we all know, no such device has made its way to market yet. Why are graphene batteries so important? Well, thanks to a material Samsung calls “graphene ball”, graphene batteries can charge up to five times faster than lithium-ion batteries. The material can also increase battery capacities by 45%, and these batteries can also handle higher temperatures.

All of those benefits would be right at home on smartphones, especially as manufacturers continue to insist on making their phones as thin as possible.

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Graphene for the cathode has been suggested as offering huge improvements for some years now. But it’s definitely getting closer to full-scale manufacturing implementation.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,132: Facebook listened to you too, the trouble with retweets (by its maker), trouble inside Google, an Ebola cure, Snap re-spectacles, and more


Apple’s Card is really designed to keep you on Apple’s platform. CC-licensed photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Three more before the holiday. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Man who built the retweet: “we handed a loaded weapon to four-year-olds” • Buzzfeed News

Alex Kantrowitz:

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[Chris] Wetherell, a veteran tech developer, led the Twitter team that built the retweet button in 2009. The button is now a fundamental feature of the platform, and has been for a decade — to the point of innocuousness. But as Wetherell, now cofounder of a yet-unannounced startup, made clear in a candid interview, it’s time to fix it. Because social media is broken. And the retweet is a big reason why.

He’s not the only one reexamining the retweet. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told BuzzFeed News he is too: “Definitely thinking about the incentives and ramifications of all actions, including retweet,” he said. “Retweet with comment for instance might encourage more consideration before spread.”

Yet emphasizing that retweet with comment won’t necessarily solve Twitter’s ills. Jason Goldman, the head of product when Wetherell built the retweet, said it’s a key source of Twitter’s problems today. “The biggest problem is the quote retweet,” Goldman told BuzzFeed News. “Quote retweet allows for the dunk. It’s the dunk mechanism.”

…After the retweet button debuted, Wetherell was struck by how effectively it spread information. “It did a lot of what it was designed to do,” he said. “It had a force multiplier that other things didn’t have.”

“We would talk about earthquakes,” Wetherell said. “We talked about these first response situations that were always a positive and showed where humanity was in its best light.”

«

In the old days, you had to manually retweet something by typing “RT @handle…” and copying the text. And there were only 140 characters to do it in! Personally, I think quote-tweeting too easily becomes odious – essentially, crowing to your followers about how foolish someone you disagree with is. (Sure, I use it that way myself, sometimes. But not as a method of debate.)
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Twitter tests letting users follow topics in the same way they follow accounts • The Verge

Casey Newton:

»

Twitter will begin allowing users to follow interests, the company said today, letting users see tweets about topics of their choosing inside the timeline. When the feature goes live, you’ll be able to follow topics including sports teams, celebrities, and television shows, with a selection of tweets about them inserted alongside tweets in your home feed.

Topics will be curated by Twitter, with individual tweets being identified through machine learning rather than editorial curation, the company said. For now, only sports-related interests can be followed, said Rob Bishop, a Twitter product manager. The feature is now being tested on Android.

The move represents Twitter’s latest effort to help users find the best content on the platform even if they don’t know which accounts to follow. For years, the company has sought to make it easier for people to find value in Twitter, which can be foreboding for newcomers. Previously, Twitter Moments allowed people to follow events such as the Oscars or a sports game.

One reason to restrict the interests that can be followed in the testing phase is to see how amplifying them via the new feature affects the overall Twitter experience.

«

Superficially, a good idea. Wonder how well they’ve gamed it out, though: surely people (or bots) will be inserting spam and (natch) outrage into those topics, especially if “machine learning” (aka rough guesses) is involved.
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Ebola now curable after trials of drugs in DRC, say scientists • The Guardian

Sarah Boseley:

»

Ebola can no longer be called an incurable disease, scientists have said, after two of four drugs being trialled in the major outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were found to have significantly reduced the death rate.

ZMapp, used during the massive Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, has been dropped along with Remdesivir after two monoclonal antibodies, which block the virus, had substantially more effect, said the World Health Organization and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which was a co-sponsor of the trial.

The trial in the DRC, which started in November, has now been stopped. All Ebola treatment units will now use the two monoclonal antibody drugs.

“From now on, we will no longer say that Ebola is incurable,” said Prof Jean-Jacques Muyembe, the director general of the Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale in DRC, which has overseen the trial. “These advances will help save thousands of lives.”

«

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US to delay some China tariffs until stores stock up for holiday shoppers • The New York Times

Ana Swanson:

»

The Trump administration on Tuesday narrowed the list of Chinese products it plans to impose new tariffs on as of Sept. 1, delaying levies on cellphones, laptop computers, toys and other goods to spare shoppers from higher prices during the back-to-school and holiday seasons. Stocks soared on the news.

The move, which pushed a new 10% tariff on some goods until Dec. 15 and excluded others entirely, came as President Trump faces mounting pressure from businesses and consumer groups over the harm they say the continuing trade war between the United States and China is doing.

«

Wiser heads prevailed. But the tariffs are still going to be a drag on the economy.
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Less than half of Google searches now result in a click • SparkToro

Rand Fishkin:

»

We’ve passed a milestone in Google’s evolution from search engine to walled-garden. In June of 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based searches on Google.com resulted in zero-clicks.

Throughout this post, I’ll be using numbers from the clickstream data company, Jumpshot. They are, in my opinion, the best, most reliable source of information on what happens inside web browsers because of how they gather, process, and scale their estimates. That’s why SparkToro, and Moz (my previous company) are both customers of Jumpshot. Given all the nice things I say about them, it might sound like they’re paying me, but the opposite is true; we’re paying them. You can find more on their methodology in the endnote on this post.

«

That 4.4% of searches leading to ad clicks is huge, in my view. I bet a lot of those are accidental on mobile, or people not realising that the first screen of mobile search results is essentially all ads and that most of the top of the desktop results are ads too.

As Fishkin also points out, Google is wriggling like mad to avoid answering this question in public, despite being asked by a US Congressman.
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Three years of misery inside Google, the happiest company in tech • WIRED

Nitsha Tiku:

»

In a lot of ways, Google’s internal social networks are like a microcosm of the internet itself. They have their filter bubbles, their trolls, their edgelords. And contrary to popular perception, those networks are not all populated by liberals. Just as the reactionary right was rising on YouTube, it was also finding ways to amplify itself inside Google’s rationalist culture of debate.

For some time, for instance, one of the moderators of the company’s Conservatives email list was a Chrome engineer named Kevin Cernekee. Over the years, Google employees have described Cernekee fairly consistently: as a shrewd far-right provocateur who made his presence felt across Google’s social network, trolling both liberals and conservatives.

In August 2015, the giant IndustryInfo mailing list broke into a roiling debate over why there were so few women in tech. The previous year, Google had become the first Silicon Valley giant to release data on the demographics of its workforce—and revealed that 82% of its technical workers were male. To many inside the IndustryInfo thread, the number constituted clear and galling evidence that Google had to change. When the conversation devolved into a brawl over the merits of diversity—one that Cernekee joined—a senior vice president at Google attempted to shut it down. Cernekee proceeded to bombard the executive’s Google+ page with posts about his right to critique the pro-diversity “Social Justice political agenda.” “Can we add a clear statement of banned opinions to the employee handbook,” he wrote, “so that everybody knows what the ground rules are?” In response, Google HR issued Cernekee a written warning for “disrespectful, disruptive, disorderly, and insubordinate” comments.

«

The stuff about Cernekee feels like the only particularly new stuff in this long, long piece. He sounds like a jerk.
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Snap, in augmented reality push, launches new Spectacles version • Reuters

Sheila Dang:

»

Snap Inc said Tuesday it will launch a new version of its Spectacles sunglasses that will have the capability of capturing photos and videos and uploading them directly to its unit Snapchat.

Snap has struggled to make money from its Spectacles business, and wrote down $40 million in unsold glasses in 2017.

Production will be smaller for its new Spectacles 3 version, allowing Snap to continue experimenting with augmented reality, a key focus for the technology company.

Spectacles 3, which will begin shipping in the fall, will cost $380, almost twice the $200 cost of the previous version.

It will have dual cameras to add depth and dimension to photos and videos. After uploading the content to the messaging app Snapchat, users can add new lighting, landscapes and three-dimensional effects to the images, Snap said.

«

First time, in September 2016: sold about 150,000 units, took $40m bath in November 2017. September 2018: tries again with Spectacles 2. First the first six months of this year it has said “revenue from the sales of Spectacles was not material.”

Don’t see why this situation will change, unless another well-known company introduces AR glasses and they become a huge category.
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Here’s what to do if you have an Apple Card and lose your iPhone • Buzzfeed News

Nicole Nguyen:

»

Apple Card is a new cash-rewards credit card that — Apple purports — is designed to be simple and transparent. But it’s also aimed at keeping you locked into your iPhone.

There are no paper statements with the digital-first Apple Card. Unlike a traditional credit card, everything is accessed through the Wallet app on the iPhone, including transaction histories, total balances, previous statements, and payments. There’s no website to view the latest transactions made on the card or make a payment if you lose access to that Wallet app.

So, how do you pay your Apple Card bill if your iPhone is misplaced or stolen? You could always wait until you buy a new phone, or recover your old one, but a late payment would result in interest charges which, obviously, would not be ideal. Because Apple’s support website doesn’t say, BuzzFeed News posed the question to a customer service representative through Apple’s phone and text message support system (Apple Card is currently available to a limited number of people and members of the press).

According to Apple Support, your options are: 1. Use an iPad or other iOS device to access the Wallet app, or 2. Call Apple Support (not, presumably, with the phone you just lost) and a representative will connect you to an Apple Card specialist at Goldman Sachs, Apple’s bank partner. You’ll need your full name, date of birth, last four digits of your Social Security number, and the phone number associated with your account to make a payment over the phone.

«

That’s pretty clever platform lock-in. Switched to Android? Sorry, you’ll have to ring up to clear your balance. Presumably you could use it like a phone-only card. Though given that the attraction about the card is meant to be that it gives you a discount on Apple purchases, it would be a trifle perverse not to use Apple kit while using an Apple card. (Though the Wallet app isn’t available on a Mac, presently.)

Personally, I have a card from a big store chain which gives me cash back on purchases; more if I use it in one of the chain’s stores. So I use it a lot. It’s how the incentives work.
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Facebook paid contractors to transcribe user audio files • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

»

Facebook has been paying hundreds of outside contractors to transcribe clips of audio from users of its services, according to people with knowledge of the work.

The work has rattled the contract employees, who are not told where the audio was recorded or how it was obtained – only to transcribe it, said the people, who requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. They’re hearing Facebook users’ conversations, sometimes with vulgar content, but do not know why Facebook needs them transcribed, the people said.

Facebook confirmed that it had been transcribing users’ audio and said it will no longer do so, following scrutiny into other companies. “Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” the company said Tuesday. The company said the users who were affected chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. The contractors were checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages, which were anonymized.

«

But of COURSE Facebook was doing this, same as everyone else. Clearly this was an open secret within the voice assistant industry.
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Easy-to-make frame comparisons • JuxtaposeJS

Knight Foundation Lab:

»

Juxtapose helps storytellers compare two pieces of similar media, including photos, and GIFs. It’s ideal for highlighting then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.).

«

This code (and the page) is about four years old, but I only just noticed it. Produces stuff like this (of the Sochi Olympic site). You never know, you might find a use for it.

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/juxtapose/latest/embed/index.html?uid=87bb1a18-bdeb-11e9-b9b8-0edaf8f81e27
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,131: how YouTube corrupted Brazil’s politics, Tumblr sold!, ransomware for cameras, why not become a cartoon?, and more


Physical helms: the way forward for US destroyers, after a fatal accident with touchscreens. CC-licensed photo by Official U.S. Navy Page 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. Fair warning: after this week, The Overspill will go on a two-week break and return on September 2nd. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How YouTube radicalized Brazil • The New York Times

Max Fisher and Amanda Taub:

»

Members of the nation’s newly empowered far right — from grass-roots organizers to federal lawmakers — say their movement would not have risen so far, so fast, without YouTube’s recommendation engine.

New research has found they may be correct. YouTube’s search and recommendation system appears to have systematically diverted users to far-right and conspiracy channels in Brazil.

A New York Times investigation in Brazil found that, time and again, videos promoted by the site have upended central elements of daily life.

Teachers describe classrooms made unruly by students who quote from YouTube conspiracy videos or who, encouraged by right-wing YouTube stars, secretly record their instructors.

Some parents look to “Dr. YouTube” for health advice but get dangerous misinformation instead, hampering the nation’s efforts to fight diseases like Zika. Viral videos have incited death threats against public health advocates.

And in politics, a wave of right-wing YouTube stars ran for office alongside [President] Bolsonaro, some winning by historic margins. Most still use the platform, governing the world’s fourth-largest democracy through internet-honed trolling and provocation.

YouTube’s recommendation system is engineered to maximize watchtime, among other factors, the company says, but not to favor any political ideology. The system suggests what to watch next, often playing the videos automatically, in a never-ending quest to keep us glued to our screens.

But the emotions that draw people in — like fear, doubt and anger — are often central features of conspiracy theories, and in particular, experts say, of right-wing extremism.

As the system suggests more provocative videos to keep users watching, it can direct them toward extreme content they might otherwise never find. And it is designed to lead users to new topics to pique new interest — a boon for channels like Mr. Moura’s that use pop culture as a gateway to far-right ideas.

The system now drives 70% of total time on the platform, the company says. As viewership skyrockets globally, YouTube is bringing in over $1bn a month, some analysts believe.

«

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Verizon to sell Tumblr to WordPress owner • WSJ

Sarah Krouse:

»

Verizon Communications has agreed to sell its blogging website Tumblr to the owner of popular online-publishing tool WordPress, unloading for a nominal amount a site that once fetched a purchase price of more than $1bn.

Automattic Inc. will buy Tumblr for an undisclosed sum and take on about 200 staffers, the companies said. Tumblr is a free service that hosts millions of blogs where users can upload photos, music and art, but it has been dwarfed by Facebook , Reddit and other services.

Verizon became Tumblr’s owner through the carrier’s 2017 acquisition of Yahoo as part of a bid to build a digital media and advertising business. The wireless carrier began seeking a buyer for Tumblr earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported…

…A decision last year by Verizon to ban adult content on Tumblr alienated some users.

[Automattic CEO Matt] Mullenweg said his company intends to maintain the existing policy that bans adult content. He said he has long been a Tumblr user and sees the site as complementary to WordPress.com. “It’s just fun,” he said of Tumblr. “We’re not going to change any of that.”

Tumblr has a strong mobile interface and dashboard where users follow other blogs, he said. Executives will look for ways WordPress.com and Tumblr can share services and functionality.

«

So not Pornhub then. Guess that keeps their brand. But Tumblr was never truly worth $1bn (nor $750m, as Yahoo ludicrously “wrote it down” to). Perhaps $200m? Sources say it went for “well south of $20m” this time.
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New York Times still detects Chrome Incognito Mode after fix • 9to5Google

Kyle Bradshaw:

»

With the release of Chrome 76, Google attempted to put a stop to web developers and publishers detecting people using Chrome’s Incognito Mode. Unfortunately, it seems their efforts may be all for naught, as at least one major news outlet, The New York Times, has managed to put their hard paywall back up for those using Chrome Incognito.

We’ve been tracking Google’s effort to block Incognito Mode detection since February when we discovered a document laying out the Chrome development team’s intentions. Since then, Google rolled out the functionality to all devices with the release of Chrome 76.

Of course, since then multiple security researchers have discovered at least two new ways of detecting Incognito Mode, which can just as easily be copied to almost any website. Google knew this was inevitable, which is why they publicly explained their desire for user privacy and urged sites to consider not circumventing this Incognito Mode protection method.

«

Google’s explanation was “Our News teams support sites with meter strategies and recognize the goal of reducing meter circumvention, however any approach based on private browsing detection undermines the principles of Incognito Mode. We remain open to exploring solutions that are consistent with user trust and private browsing principles.”

Nice, but the News team and its “exploring solutions” isn’t actually paying the bills at the NYT and elsewhere. The paywall is.
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The Rule of 140 • The Margins

Ranjan Roy:

»

I think I search these things for affirmation, but I always find confirmation that others are thinking the same thing. It happens so often, I’ve dubbed it the Rule of 140 (as an homage to Rule 34, along with the original Twitter character count):

“There are no original thoughts around a shared cultural experience (political, entertainment, sports, news). Every idea or observations that passes through your head has not only been thought of by a number of other people, it’s also been posted on social media. The hive mind is always one step ahead.”

…If you believe in the The Rule of 140 as I do, it means you can find any thought related to any event posted by someone, on some social media platform. I tend to view things in economic terms, and embedding tweets or social media comments is an arbitrage opportunity to exploit.

A publisher can make any argument, and corroborate it with a few simple embedded tweets and a headline that includes “people are saying”. The cost of production is so low, you can create a high volume of articles like this and something is bound to catch fire. Throw on a few Taboola modules and you’re in business. It captures every distorted economic incentive that plagues the current media ecosystem. It’s the proverbial free money.

It would be one thing if it were simply relegated to the confines of Yahoo Movies and CNN’s Entertainment section. But it’s widespread and in major media outlets. And of significantly greater consequence, it’s an area that is a prime target for disinformation campaigns, specifically of the Russian variety. Almost every major media outlet was found to have published articles that used tweets from Russian disinformation accounts.

«

Be wonderful if publishers didn’t do this. So wonderful. Unfortunately…
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Even DSLR cameras are vulnerable to ransomware • Engadget

Steve Dent:

»

researchers have discovered that some DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are actually vulnerable to ransomware attacks, of all things. Once in range of your camera’s WiFi, a bad actor could easily install malware that would encrypt your valuable photos unless you paid for a key.

Check Point Software noticed that the Picture Transfer Protocol (PTP) – which is unauthenticated in both wired and wireless modes – is particularly vulnerable to malware attacks. Ironically, they were able to uncover flaws in the Canon EOS 80D by using firmware originally cracked by Magic Lantern, which supplies its own open source app with extra features to Canon EOS owners.

In a video, the researchers showed how they first set up a rogue WiFi access point. Once the attackers were range of the camera, they ran an exploit to access the camera’s SD card and encrypt any photos. The surprised owner would then see a message that his pictures are no longer available unless he’s willing to pay a ransom.

«

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Inside the hidden world of elevator phone phreaking • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

“I can dial into an elevator phone, listen in on private conversations, reprogram the phone so that if someone hits it in an emergency it calls a number of my choosing,” [security researcher Will] Caruana told me in our first conversation. Elevator phones typically emit audible beeps in the elevator when they connect. But if someone has dialed into the phone of the elevator you’re riding before you enter it, Caruana warned me, the only indication might be a red light on the phone’s panel. “It’s hard to notice if you’re not looking for it,” Caruana says.

Over the last year, Caruana has assembled what he believes is the largest public list of elevator phone numbers, which he plans to make available to a limited audience—although he declined to say where exactly he’s publishing it. He says he’s releasing the list of 80-plus numbers not just because he wants to foster more elevator phone phreaking as an opportunity for whimsy and chance encounters, but also to draw attention to the possibility that elevator phones could be abused for serious privacy invasion and even sabotage. Call up most elevator phones and press 2, and you’ll be asked to enter a password to reprogram them. In far too many cases, Caruana says, phone installers and building managers don’t change those passwords from easily guessable default codes, allowing anyone to tamper with their settings.

«

Though who’d expect someone to create a list of all the phone numbers for lifts in the world?
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Who will regulate digital political ads? • BBC News

Amol Rajan:

»

there is, frankly, something weird going on here. Everyone agrees that we urgently need new legislation in this terrain.

Indeed Damian Collins MP, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, says the time has come for emergency legislation.

“Our electoral law is hopelessly out of date. And what that means is that people can set up dummy campaigns promoting causes that are there to support an official candidate, but hide who’s doing it, hide where the money’s coming from,” he said.

“You can use technology to effectively launder money into political campaigns in micro donations including from overseas and our electoral law was established to make sure voters could see who’s campaigning on what, who’s paying for it, who it’s there to promote. And yet technology allows people to sidestep all of those rules and regulations.”

He went on: “I don’t understand why the government is taking so long. I think we should be looking at emergency legislation to bring our electoral law up to date. At least to establish the basic principles that the same requirements that exist in a poster or a leaflet should exist in an online ad and on Facebook as well.”

If Damian Collins MP can’t understand why no new legislation has been passed, what hope the rest of us?

…Across the political spectrum and across the world, social media is giving a platform to powerful forces who are able to avoid scrutiny.

While it is true that, for reasons outlined above, coming up with effective regulation is tough, it’s also true that at some point voters will begin to wonder why, years after we first started talking about it, voters are still being influenced by untraceable money.

«

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Introducing Evermore: become a Youtube explainer cartoon • YouTube

This, by Victoria Hogan, is one of the most unsettling little film shorts you’ll see in a while: like an episode of Black Mirror that lasts three minutes. It’s just her and a computer. (Think about how it was made once you’re watched it.)


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Study reveals what consumers would pay for their favorite free apps • McGuffin Creative Group

:

»

Have you ever considered the value you place on your favorite free apps? Many services remain free thanks to advertising. But what if things changed? Suppose Google and consumers had to agree on a price for Google Maps? Would its value to you translate into a monthly dollar amount — or none at all?

We’re attached to so many free services, yet we know rumbling beneath the surface of each service is an ambitious business navigating a complex and changing market.

In a recent study, we set out to measure the value regular users placed on 16 of the most widely-used apps, asking respondents what they’d pay if a subscription fee was required. They had the option to say they would pay nothing and discontinue use, without access to a free alternative.

What did we hope to learn? Our goal wasn’t to offer bankable projections for Silicon Valley but, instead, to provide some indicators to inform an ongoing discussion of how value is created and perceived in the digital age.

«

This gets interesting on two levels: first, the (averaged) amounts that people would pay per month/year for these services, and then how much money these companies are (theoretically) leaving on the table by using advertising rather than subscriptions. Ah, but: subscriptions are so often promises, unkept.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 10 5G now best phone camera • Android Authority

C. Scott Brown:

»

According to the venerable camera review site DxOMark, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G is now the top smartphone camera across the entire industry. It steals the crown away from the Huawei P30 Pro, which held the top spot since its launch in March of this year.

The Note 10 Plus 5G’s score for its rear camera tops the P30 Pro’s rear camera by one point (113 against 112 respectively). Additionally, the front camera on the Note 10 Plus 5G now tops the previous record-holder for the selfie cam, too: the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. That means, according to DxOMark, the Note 10 Plus 5G is now the best overall phone camera you can buy whether you are looking for rear shots or selfies shots.

«

Nothing against Samsung, or Huawei, but I think these “scoring” systems long ago began looking foolish. DxOMark insists that its tests are objective, except that “We also get asked how a device’s Overall score can be higher than its sub-scores. The Overall score is not a weighted sum of the sub-scores. It is a proprietary and confidential mapping of sub-scores into a combined score.”

That “proprietary and confidential” mapping sounds ever so slightly fishy to me. Why can’t they publish it? Are they suggesting manufacturers would tweak their systems to win? And, honestly: the Note10 beats the P30 Pro by one point, less than 1%? The room for improvement is clearly asymptotic.
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Navy reverting DDGs back to physical throttles, after fleet rejects touchscreen controls • USNI News

Megan Eckstein:

»

The Navy will begin reverting destroyers back to a physical throttle and traditional helm control system in the next 18 to 24 months, after the fleet overwhelmingly said they prefer mechanical controls to touchscreen systems in the aftermath of the fatal USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collision.

The investigation into the collision showed that a touchscreen system that was complex and that sailors had been poorly trained to use contributed to a loss of control of the ship just before it crossed paths with a merchant ship in the Singapore Strait. After the Navy released a Comprehensive Review related to the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) collisions, Naval Sea Systems Command conducted fleet surveys regarding some of the engineering recommendations, Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis said.

“When we started getting the feedback from the fleet from the Comprehensive Review effort – it was SEA 21 (NAVSEA’s surface ship lifecycle management organization) that kind of took the lead on doing some fleet surveys and whatnot – it was really eye-opening. And it goes into the, in my mind, ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ category. We really made the helm control system, specifically on the [DDG] 51 class, just overly complex, with the touch screens under glass and all this kind of stuff,” Galinis said during a keynote speech at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.

«

I saw this via Tony Fadell (as in, the iPod and Nest). Now if Elon Musk had tweeted it, that would have been really notable and I’d have expected retrofits on Teslas. As it is…

Also, the reason why the iPhone had a touchscreen was to allow a single screen to do multiple jobs via software. That’s just not the case for an engine throttle, which is a classic YHOJ.
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Joaquin Castro’s tweet was not doxxing • The New York Times

Suzanne Nossel is CEO of PEN America (a lobby group for “literature and human rights”):

»

In the wake of the El Paso shootings, Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas created a stir with a tweet on his official account listing the names and employers of 44 residents of the San Antonio area who had contributed up to the legal limit to the Trump campaign. The information was a matter of public record but not widely known.

“Sad to see so many San Antonians as 2019 maximum donors to Donald Trump,” wrote Mr. Castro, who is the chairman of his twin brother Julián’s presidential campaign. He tagged two establishments, accusing their owners of “fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’”

…While it is possible that some supporters could have harassed those named in the tweet — news reports recount at least one profane voice mail message — Mr. Castro cannot be held legally responsible for others’ harassing conduct that he did not urge. While some Twitter users did say that they would boycott the establishments named, refraining from patronizing a business is plainly not harassment.

In recent years, we have witnessed attempts to stretch legal definitions of harassment to cover speech that result in speculative forms of psychological harm like the embarrassment or vulnerability that individuals on the list may genuinely have felt. But defense of the First Amendment and open discourse demands resisting that wider and fuzzier definition. Involvement in politics — even as a donor — entails a certain willingness to engage in the rough-and-tumble of discourse with those who may make you feel uncomfortable for the views you hold. Being called out publicly, as opposed to menaced personally, is fair game.

«

There was a whole lot of ridiculous pearl-clutching over this – none worse than Kimberley Strassel, a WSJ opinionist, who really can’t see the trees for the imaginary forest. Transparency about political funding is the bare minimum the US needs right now.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,130: the trouble with email, FTC slams Unroll.me, Skype translators may hear your calls, YouTube’s CEO speaks, and more


Some people “aged” over 100 actually aren’t – it’s just that birth records were a mess. CC-licensed photo by Kevin Dooley 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. Reboot! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Was email a mistake? • The New Yorker

Cal Newport:

»

Anyone who works in a standard office environment has firsthand experience with the problems that followed the enthusiastic embrace of asynchronous communication. As the distributed-system theorists discovered, shifting away from synchronous interaction makes coördination more complex. The dream of replacing the quick phone call with an even quicker e-mail message didn’t come to fruition; instead, what once could have been resolved in a few minutes on the phone now takes a dozen back-and-forth messages to sort out. With larger groups of people, this increased complexity becomes even more notable. Is an unresponsive colleague just delayed, or is she completely checked out? When has consensus been reached in a group e-mail exchange? Are you, the e-mail recipient, required to respond, or can you stay silent without holding up the decision-making process? Was your point properly understood, or do you now need to clarify with a follow-up message? Office workers pondering these puzzles—the real-life analogues of the theory of distributed systems—now dedicate an increasing amount of time to managing a growing number of never-ending interactions.

Last year, the software company RescueTime gathered and aggregated anonymized computer-usage logs from tens of thousands of people. When its data scientists crunched the numbers, they found that, on average, users were checking e-mail or instant-messenger services like Slack once every six minutes. Not long before, a team led by Gloria Mark, the U.C. Irvine professor, had installed similar logging software on the computers of employees at a large corporation; the study found that the employees checked their in-boxes an average of seventy-seven times a day. Although we shifted toward asynchronous communication so that we could stop wasting time playing phone tag or arranging meetings, communicating in the workplace had become more onerous than it used to be. Work has become something we do in the small slivers of time that remain amid our Sisyphean skirmishes with our in-boxes.

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The more email you get, the less work you do.
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Operator of email management service Unroll.me settles FTC allegations that it deceived consumers • Federal Trade Commission

»

An email management company will be required to delete personal information it collected from consumers as part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that the company deceived some consumers about how it accesses and uses their personal emails.

In a complaint, the FTC alleges that Unrollme Inc., falsely told consumers that it would not “touch” their personal emails, when in fact it was sharing the users’ email receipts (e-receipts) with its parent company, Slice Technologies, Inc.

E-receipts are emails sent to consumers following a completed transaction and can include, among other things, the user’s name, billing and shipping addresses, and information about products or services purchased by the consumer. Slice uses anonymous purchase information from Unrollme users’ e-receipts in the market research analytics products it sells.

Unrollme helps users unsubscribe from unwanted subscription emails and consolidates wanted email subscriptions into one daily email called the Rollup. The service requires users to provide Unrollme with access to their email accounts.

“What companies say about privacy matters to consumers,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It is unacceptable for companies to make false statements about whether they collect information from personal emails.”

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Pity there isn’t a fine too. Unroll.me “closed” to EU customers back in May 2018 because it couldn’t comply with GDPR; and had been discovered in early 2017 selling its data to Uber and others. (The CEO’s mea culpa from April 2017, which I linked to here, has mysteriously vanished from the company blog, which is filled instead with utter pap, and it doesn’t seem to figure in the retrospective. I did some digging on the Waybaack Machine: it was removed from the blog some time between mid-July and early August of 2018.)
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February 2013: Why email spam is on the decline • Fortune

Dan Mitchell, in February 2013:

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Those weird little ads on the right side of your Facebook page—the ones depicting ugly shoes or pitching iffy continuing education degrees—are partly the result of the changing economics of both spam and online advertising in general.

Email spam became a huge business—and a huge problem for both Internet users and network managers—because marginal costs are near zero. Once a sleazy pitch for gray-market Viagra or a porn site is written, the additional cost of each spam message sent is almost nothing. Sending out millions of emails doesn’t cost much more than sending out just one. Very few people fall for the usually scammy offers, so sending them in bulk is necessary to actually snag paying customers.

But improvements to spam-blocking technologies, together with ever-cheaper “legit” advertising have worked to decrease email spam, according to a report from Kaspersky Lab, a maker of antivirus software. “With the emergence of Web 2.0,” the report states, “advertising opportunities on the Internet have skyrocketed: banners, context-based advertising, and ads on social networks and blogs.”

The percentage of email identified as spam is still huge—72.1% in 2012, according to the report. But it’s been dropping every year recently, and is the lowest it’s been in five years.

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Wonder how this looks now. Facebook is definitely not too troubled about who advertises there; it’s only if they have huge problems – such as some cryptocurrency ads – that they block them. Statista, meanwhile, has some stats saying that spam now is about 56% of email.
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Revealed: Microsoft contractors are listening to some Skype calls • VICE

Joseph Cox:

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Contractors working for Microsoft are listening to personal conversations of Skype users conducted through the app’s translation service, according to a cache of internal documents, screenshots, and audio recordings obtained by Motherboard. Although Skype’s website says that the company may analyze audio of phone calls that a user wants to translate in order to improve the chat platform’s services, it does not say some of this analysis will be done by humans.

The Skype audio obtained by Motherboard includes conversations from people talking intimately to loved ones, some chatting about personal issues such as their weight loss, and others seemingly discussing relationship problems. Other files obtained by Motherboard show that Microsoft contractors are also listening to voice commands that users speak to Cortana, the company’s voice assistant…

…”The fact that I can even share some of this with you shows how lax things are in terms of protecting user data,” a Microsoft contractor who provided the cache of files to Motherboard said. Motherboard granted the source anonymity to speak more candidly about internal Microsoft practices, and because the person is under a non-disclosure agreement with the company.

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At this rate we’re going to find out that everything involving voice has a chance of being listened to by a human at some point. And Microsoft will get whacked by the European data protection agencies for such slack practices.
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Study: many of the “oldest” people in the world may not be as old as we think • Vox

Kelsey Piper:

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We’ve long been obsessed with the super-elderly. How do some people make it to 100 or even 110 years old? Why do some regions — say, Sardinia, Italy, or Okinawa, Japan —produce dozens of these “supercentenarians” while other regions produce none? Is it genetics? Diet? Environmental factors? Long walks at dawn?

A new working paper released on bioRxiv, the open access site for prepublication biology papers, appears to have cleared up the mystery once and for all: It’s none of the above.

Instead, it looks like the majority of the supercentenarians (people who’ve reached the age of 110) in the United States are engaged in — intentional or unintentional — exaggeration.

The paper, by Saul Justin Newman of the Biological Data Science Institute at Australian National University, looked at something we often don’t give a second thought to: the state of official record-keeping.

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As the article (and paper) also shows, all the other places – Italy, Japan – with “supercentenarians” tend to have lousy records too.
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YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki: ‘Where’s the line of free speech – are you removing voices that should be heard?’ • The Guardian

Emine Saner:

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For all her careful, frustratingly corporate answers, Wojcicki is in an almost impossible position. Aside from the gargantuan task of trying to sift through the never-ending torrent of content, she has to contend with the fact that removing far-right commentators’ videos turns them into free-speech martyrs. She also has to keep “creators”, many of whom make a handsome living through the site, happy. I have no reason to disbelieve Wojcicki when she says “responsibility has been my number one priority”. The question is whether it is a task beyond her – and whether Google will tolerate changes that result in lower profits…

…Does she have time for anything else? “I like to garden,” she says. “I like animals.” She has chickens and goats. “I like to grow things. I love getting away by doing something completely different from technology, whether it’s learning about bees and having honey, or learning about different types of chickens, or varieties of fruit.” It sounds lovely, I say. She visibly relaxes and says: “It is.”

The day before we meet, the tech site Gizmodo publishes a piece on how extremist channels remain on YouTube, despite the new policies. In the face of fairly constant criticism, does Wojcicki ever feel like walking away? “No, I don’t. Because I feel a commitment to solving these challenges,” she says. “I care about the legacy that we leave and about how history will view this point in time. Here’s this new technology, we’ve enabled all these new voices. What did we do? Did we decide to shut it down and say only a small set of people will have their voice? Who will decide that, and how will it be decided? Or do we find a way to enable all these different voices and perspectives, but find a way to manage the abuse of it? I’m focused on making sure we can manage the challenges of having an open platform in a responsible way.”

Still, it is hard to resist picturing Wojcicki in her garden on a day off, attempting to nurture something beautiful while holding back the unstoppable force of weeds that just keep coming.

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Trump’s racist tweets: is the media part of the problem? • Vox

Ezra Klein:

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Let me start by being transparent about my own thinking. When I choose to cover racist comments like the ones Trump made, my implicit rationale for focusing on that story rather than anything else is something like this: It is newsworthy that the president of the United States is an unreconstructed racist. It is important that the public knows he is an unreconstructed racist. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But as the media scholar Whitney Phillips has argued, the problem lurks inside the metaphor. Sunlight isn’t only, or even mainly, a disinfectant. What sunlight mostly does is help things grow. When Trump says of his racist arguments that “many people agree with me,” I agree with him. I believe, as many do, that there’s a lot of racism in America, and that one reason we don’t see more of it is it’s held in check by social opprobrium.

What I fear Trump is doing, with the media — including, at times, me — as his accomplice, is suffusing one of the hardiest weeds in American life with sunlight. These controversies are a constant signal to racists. They say, in short: You are not alone. You do not have to hide. You have powerful allies.

Phillips, whom I discussed this with on my podcast, argues that the “sunlight” metaphor has led the media astray. She prefers an ecological metaphor, where journalists are one of many groups trying to maintain the health of a public ecosystem. In this frame, some of what we cover is best understood as pollution — perhaps an inevitable byproduct of the ecosystem, but not something we want to disproportionately dump into the waterways.

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That’s a terrific, and much better, metaphor for what the media does with Trump. Stop polluting the airwaves is a much better call to arms.
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Video games don’t cause mass shootings. But gamer culture encourages hate • The Washington Post

Brianna Wu:

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Why are so many gamers angry and isolated? I often ask myself this question, because game developers are generally friendly and social people, as are the journalists who cover us. Yet our industry’s corrosive ideas about manhood and power bleed into too many of the products we ship. We’ve told one kind of player that they are the center of the universe, and we’ve catered to their every whim for 30 years. Consider the default video game protagonist: white, male and with a gun in hand as the solution to every problem. Meanwhile, in games from Smash TV to Super Mario, the default female character functions as a reward at the end of the adventure. Now that players are becoming more diverse, these tropes feel dated. But rather than change with the times, some revanchist players feel like their culture is being stolen — a sense of aggrieved resentment that will seem familiar to anyone who’s watched a Trump rally.

You can see all of this in our virtual worlds. In the Western action game “Red Dead Online,” for example, black players have reported being called the n-word by other gamers, their virtual avatars being hanged from cliffs in mock lynchings. One player has even built a YouTube following by recording taboo scenarios that he claims viewers want him to “test,” like whether it’s possible to feed a feminist character to an alligator. (It is.)

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“A gun in hand as the solution to every problem” is, in many ways, the defining American trope: it’s the founding myth of how the country was conquered, its inhabitants displaced, its slaves subjugated. Wu has hit on a key point. What’s different is that the US hasn’t recognised that it has no new lands to conquer.
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Atlanta appears to lead nation in e-scooter fatalities • Curbed Atlanta

Sean Keenan:

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according to industry observers and our research, Atlanta appears to be the only U.S. city to have seen at least three e-scooter riders die on its streets—four now, if including the recent death of a man run over while riding in nearby East Point, just south of downtown.

E-scooters have operated on Atlanta streets since May 2018, but all fatalities have occurred in the past three months.

Atlanta Bicycle Coalition leader Rebecca Serna told Curbed Atlanta that even one e-scooter-related death is unacceptable.

But what many people—city officials included—appear to be overlooking, she said, is that automobiles are far more deadly than any alternative mode of transportation.

“Having the context that 115 people died in one year of car crashes in Fulton County and 95 in DeKalb puts things in perspective,” she said. “Even one [death] is too many, but let’s recognize that our streets are unsafe for everyone, not just for scooters.”

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Well, OK, that’s fair context.
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Samsung is spamming Galaxy phones with multiple Note10 ads • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

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Samsung is once again spamming Galaxy phones with advertisements, this time for the Note10.

This time around, push notifications advertising the Note10 are being sent out by at least three pre-installed applications — Samsung Pay, Bixby, and the Samsung Push Service. Bixby wants you to ask it about the Note10, Samsung Pay is offering points when you look at the phone’s product page, and Samsung Push Service just gives you a banner ad with no indication of where it came from. I received the Bixby ad on my international Galaxy S10e, but I haven’t personally seen the others.

To make matters even worse, Samsung has blocked disabling these alerts by holding down on them, at least for the Bixby app (again, I can’t verify the other types of alerts). To disable the Bixby notifications, you have to open Bixby, tap the menu icon at the top-right, select Settings, and set ‘Marketing notifications’ to off.

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“Marketing notifications” are a thing? That’s amazing. But of course nothing stands in the way of the rapacious desire of big corporations to Sell You Stuff.
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Google employees weighed free speech concerns before 2016 elections • CNBC

Jennifer Elias:

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In the 2016 [internal email] thread, titled “More political censorship and witch hunts in tech,” workers debated YouTube’s efforts to curb violent content.

YouTube has been under fire for failing to moderate widespread extremism content and misinformation. YouTube also recently faced backlash for its vague policies, including when it suspended the monetization of a popular conservative user Steven Crowder hours after defending him. Soon after, the company updated its policies by banning content that displays supremacy, but critics continue asking CEO Susan Wojcicki for more specifics on moderation efforts.

In the 2016 email thread, employees discussed a company effort called YouTube Heroes, a program where YouTube community members could sign up to act as additional mediators to flag content.

One employee noted that Heroes had been publicly criticized for enabling censorship, but others disagreed, saying that Heroes was simply a way to “scale up” moderation efforts without hiring more moderators…

…Perhaps most notably, in a precursor to the current fierce debates over conservative censorship within the company, one wrote, “I just hope the alt- right isn’t taking an innocent concept like free speech and perverting it for their own ends.”

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Gosh, who would imagine that they might do that.
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How a Norwegian Viking comedy producer hacked Netflix’s algorithm • Hollywood Reporter

Scott Roxborough:

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Netflix had given [“Norsemen” showrunner Anders] Tangen an Aug. 18, 2017, date for the premiere of Norsemen in its English-language territories (the show shot back-to-back versions in Norwegian and English). Three weeks before launch, he set up a campaign on Facebook, paying for targeted posts and Facebook promotions. The posts were fairly simple — most included one of six short (20- to 25-second) clips of the show and a link, either to the show’s webpage or to media coverage.

They used so-called A/B testing — showing two versions of a campaign to different audiences and selecting the most successful — to fine-tune. The U.S. campaign didn’t cost much — $18,500, which Tangen and his production partners put up themselves — and it was extremely precise. Tangen focused the initial campaign in and around major US cities (L.A., New York, Miami, Chicago) with additional pushes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, three states with large ethnic Norwegian populations. He broke potential Norsemen fans down into seven separate target groups, with each getting its own tailored Facebook campaign.

In just 28 days, the Norsemen campaign reached 5.5 million Facebook users, generating 2 million video views and some 6,000 followers for the show. Netflix noticed. “Three weeks after we launched, Netflix called me: ‘You need to come to L.A., your show is exploding,'” Tangen recalls.

Netflix’s algorithm had started to kick in.

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Neat. And now everyone is going to do this (if they aren’t already – the show aired two years ago, it seems).
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,129: hacking GDPR, US voting systems left online, Google boosts maps, Note10 under the spotlight, moderating Hacker News, and more


How will AOL get by now without its digital prophet? Yes, Shingy is leaving. CC-licensed photo by Jarle Naustvik 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Black Hat: GDPR privacy law exploited to reveal personal data • BBC News

Dave Lee:

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About one in four companies revealed personal information to a woman’s partner, who had made a bogus demand for the data by citing an EU privacy law.
The security expert contacted dozens of UK and US-based firms to test how they would handle a “right of access” request made in someone else’s name.

In each case, he asked for all the data that they held on his fiancée…

He declined to identify the organisations that had mishandled the requests, but said they had included:
• a UK hotel chain that shared a complete record of his partner’s overnight stays
• two UK rail companies that provided records of all the journeys she had taken with them over several years
• a US-based educational company that handed over her high school grades, mother’s maiden name and the results of a criminal background check survey

[University of Oxford-based researcher James] Pavur has, however, named some of the companies that he said had performed well. He said they included:
• the supermarket Tesco, which had demanded a photo ID
• the domestic retail chain Bed Bath and Beyond, which had insisted on a telephone interview
• American Airlines, which had spotted that he had uploaded a blank image to the passport field of its online form.

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Social engineering: still one of the best kinds of hacking.
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Critical US election systems have been left exposed online despite official denials • VICE

Kim Zetter:

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For years, US election officials and voting machine vendors have insisted that critical election systems are never connected to the internet and therefore can’t be hacked.

But a group of election security experts have found what they believe to be nearly three dozen backend election systems in 10 states connected to the internet over the last year, including some in critical swing states. These include systems in nine Wisconsin counties, in four Michigan counties, and in seven Florida counties—all states that are perennial battlegrounds in presidential elections.

Some of the systems have been online for a year and possibly longer. Some of them disappeared from the internet after the researchers notified an information-sharing group for election officials last year. But at least 19 of the systems, including one in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, were still connected to the internet this week, the researchers told Motherboard…

…The systems the researchers found are made by Election Systems & Software, the top voting machine company in the country. They are used to receive encrypted vote totals transmitted via modem from ES&S voting machines on election night, in order to get rapid results that media use to call races, even though the results aren’t final.

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Google wants Travel and Maps to be the place you plan trips from start to finish • The Verge

Natt Garun:

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An update coming to Google Flights will now show travellers guides on popular destinations based on their country and the time of year. You can also specify exact travel dates and destinations to get historical data on flight prices and find the best time to book. Google says it’s so confident in this price prediction that it will offer a refund on select flights if a fare drops after you’ve booked. (It’s not automatic and you still have to file a claim, but it’s a nice deal if you’re planning to get away ahead of the Labor Day holiday.) The offer starts next Tuesday August 13th until September 2nd, and is limited to travellers flying out of the US.

Flights will also begin to show the fare class differences on Alaska and Delta airlines so travelers can differentiate between various economy seats. Google says because so many airlines have their own verbiage on what an economy seat may entail, it’s hoping to standardize the language by showing people what type of ticket they’re getting before they book. The company also says it will continue to work to add other airlines in the future.

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That’s really useful. Also offering augmented reality when you’re trying to find your way around in a location.
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Galaxy Note10 hands-on: Samsung falls behind the competition • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

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It’s hard to see how the Galaxy Note10 is supposed to excite me. Samsung is supposed to be the “speeds and feeds” company, but the device doesn’t have the fastest Qualcomm SoC out there. Qualcomm recently took the wraps off the upclocked Snapdragon 855+ and is already shipping the part in some phones. The Note10 only has a regular old Snapdragon 855, with no extra clocks added.

I can’t say the Note10 has the best screen, since faster, high-refresh-rate displays are hitting the market now, and they make a world of difference in the feel of a smartphone. You can get a 90Hz OLED display on the excellent OnePlus 7 Pro, and or a 120Hz OLED on the Asus ROG Phone 2. How Samsung, the smartphone industry’s leading display manufacturer, missed the faster refresh rate trend is beyond me. Heck, the OnePlus 7 Pro’s 90Hz display is made by Samsung. It’s not like the company doesn’t have the technology—just reach into the parts bin and put the better screen in your phones!

The Note line isn’t the “everything” phone anymore, either—not with the removal of the headphone jack and the waffling over an SD card slot (the larger Note10+ has one, but the still-large Note10 does not). Samsung even killed the rear-mounted heart rate sensor this year, if anyone cares. Power users looking for the smartphone version of a Swiss Army Knife should look elsewhere. The Asus ROG phone actually feels more Samsung-y than this Samsung phone, launching as it has with new display tech, a new SoC, a headphone jack, two USB ports, and a million crazy accessories.

When I reviewed the OnePlus 7 Pro, I said that the pop-up camera, all-screen design, and high refresh rate display made it feel like something manufacturers will spend the next year chasing. After the Note10 launch, I still feel that way.

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I like the fact that Samsung has deleted the videos of its ads where it mocked Apple for getting rid of the headphone jack.
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After 12 years as a digital prophet, David Shing is moving on from Verizon Media • AdWeek

Josh Sternberg:

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The Australian-born executive, who has held several top-tier marketing roles at Verizon Media through the telco-owned agency’s various corporate evolutionary stages since 2007, confirmed his exit by way of a LinkedIn parting note entitled “Today marks new adventures.” His exit from Verizon Media is of his own volition and not part of a wider overhaul of senior-level executives there, according to a source.

A Verizon spokesperson declined to comment further about the resignation.

While the exact directives of his role as a self-proclaimed “digital prophet” have always been somewhat vague, they’re best described as looking around corners for all areas of the business. The self-penned post did not outline the specifics of his future ventures, although Shing did note he would be “working autonomously with brands to help them achieve optimal presence in the marketplace.”

He also credited fatherhood—Shing became a parent in 2017—as a “transformational experience” that “highlighted the passion I have for helping things grow and seeing them thrive.”

He continues, “We inhabit a pivotal time at which much is at stake in how we practice media and marketing. I’ve had a rare privilege of speaking into the soul of our industry (as a futurist) … and I believe it’s a critical time to preserve the tenants [sic] of human dignity, creativity and compassion as we engage the thrilling opportunities at hand.”

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“Digital prophet”, huh? His farewell on LinkedIn wasn’t even text – it was an image of a Notes page. He wrote four articles for AdWeek. They’re utter surface-skimming fluff. How he kept his job so long is surely the story for a book. (Meantime, here’s the skewering 2014 New Yorker profile of him.)
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The end of the world: a history of how a silent cosmos led humans to fear the worst • The Conversation

Thomas Moynihan:

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Nestled within the university’s medieval spires, Nick Bostrom’s institute [Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute] scrutinises the long-term fate of humanity and the perils we face at a truly cosmic scale, examining the risks of things such as climate, asteroids and AI. It also looks into less well-publicised issues. Universe destroying physics experiments, gamma-ray bursts, planet-consuming nanotechnology and exploding supernovae have all come under its gaze.

So it would seem that humanity is becoming more and more concerned with portents of human extinction. As a global community, we are increasingly conversant with increasingly severe futures. Something is in the air.

But this tendency is not actually exclusive to the post-atomic age: our growing concern about extinction has a history. We have been becoming more and more worried for our future for quite some time now. My PhD research tells the story of how this began. No one has yet told this story, yet I feel it is an important one for our present moment.

I wanted to find out how current projects, such as the Future of Humanity Institute, emerge as offshoots and continuations of an ongoing project of “enlightenment” that we first set ourselves over two centuries ago. Recalling how we first came to care for our future helps reaffirm why we should continue to care today.

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Up..lifting?
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The lonely work of moderating Hacker News • The New Yorker

Anna Wiener:

»

The most ideologically motivated or extreme posts and comments on Hacker News—an interview piece from Quillette titled “Understanding Victimhood Culture”; a link to a video of James Damore and Jordan Peterson in conversation; one user telling another that all Jewish people should relocate to Israel—tend to get flagged by the community or the site’s anti-abuse systems, many of which Bell and Gackle have written themselves. (Flagged posts are removed from view, though they remain searchable by URL; flagged comments are rendered in pale gray text, and only visible to logged-in users who have chosen to see “dead” comments.) Still, as an occasional reader, I have noticed certain trends. When stories that focus on structural barriers faced by women in the workplace, or on diversity in tech, or on race or masculinity—stories, admittedly, that are more intriguing to me, a person interested in the humanities, than stories on technical topics—hit the front page, users often flag them, presumably for being off topic, so fast that hardly any comments accrue. When I shared these impressions with Gackle and Bell, they looked distressed. I asked if these were problems that they felt they could, or should, be controlling or trying to change on the site.

“From our perspective, the big surprise is how little control we actually have. We have to play our cards very carefully and very wisely, or even that control will sort of evaporate,” Gackle said. “There’s often a strong wish to solve these contentious problems by changing the software, and, to the extent that we’ve tried things like that, we haven’t found it to work. What does seem to work better is personal interaction, over and over and over again, with individual users. That, case by case by case, seems to move the needle. But it’s very slow.”

«

I bet this will shoot to the top of Hacker News (it’s in second place as I write, when it’s six hours old and the US west coast mostly isn’t awake; and predictably enough there are folk saying “things are getting worse”). A good, long insight both into the culture of the place, and the different culture of those behind it.
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Is Ebola evolving into a more deadly virus? • The New Yorker

Richard Preston:

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This July, the World Health Organization declared that an outbreak of Ebola in the provinces of Ituri and North-Kivu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, was a “public health emergency of international concern.” This particular strain of the virus, which first appeared in the region in 2018 and hasn’t been given a formal name—I’ll call it Kivu Ebola—is a variant of a species known as the Zaire Ebola virus. As of last Saturday, 2,753 cases of Kivu Ebola have been reported, with 1,843 deaths. There appear to be many undiscovered cases in the region, too. Ella Watson-Stryker, a social scientist with Doctors Without Borders, who has been studying the outbreak, said that around half of all Ebola patients admitted to treatment centers in eastern Congo aren’t part of any known chain of transmission. In other words, the infected person has caught Ebola from somebody whom disease investigators haven’t yet identified. “A lot of transmission is not being seen, but nobody knows the exact amount,” Watson-Stryker told me…

…The Kivu Ebola outbreak area is in a conflict zone, beset by armed militias and ethnic violence. Local people often don’t trust the international medical organizations that run the Ebola treatment centers. There have been at least 194 attacks on local health workers, seven of whom have been killed. Watson-Stryker, the researcher, said that social media complicates containment and treatment efforts. Conspiracy theories about medical workers and false information about how the virus is spread are ricocheting around popular platforms like WhatsApp. “The problem is the post-factual reality that exists in social media,” she said…

…The Kivu Ebola, so far, has mutated into four lineages. Three of the four are active in the population. The swarm is exploring people’s immune systems and jumping from one victim to the next. So far, none of the three active varieties has become dominant. “The virus has been brewing in that area for a while,” [Pardis] Sabeti [a genomic scientist] said. “If you give Ebola enough time to transmit from human to human, then an unpredictable event can occur. How likely is it that Ebola could change suddenly? We don’t have a good answer to that question.”

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Preston wrote “The Hot Zone”, and has been reporting on Ebola since 1992. If you’re wondering.
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Apple is locking iPhone batteries to discourage repair • iFixit

Craig Lloyd:

»

If you replace the battery in the newest iPhones, a message indicating you need to service your battery appears in Settings > Battery, next to Battery Health. The “Service” message is normally an indication that the battery is degraded and needs to be replaced. The message still shows up when you put in a brand new battery, however. Here’s the bigger problem: our lab tests confirmed that even when you swap in a genuine Apple battery, the phone will still display the “Service” message.

It’s not a bug; it’s a feature Apple wants. Unless an Apple Genius or an Apple Authorized Service Provider authenticates a battery to the phone, that phone will never show its battery health and always report a vague, ominous problem.

We first saw this phenomenon in a damning video from Justin at The Art of Repair, and we were able to replicate it on an iPhone XS running both iOS 12 and the iOS 13 beta. Swapping in a new genuine Apple battery from another iPhone XS resulted in the “Service” message popping up in the Battery Health section, followed by an “Important Battery Message” telling us that it’s “unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery.” Justin says this only affects the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max for the time being.

«

The obvious reason Apple is doing this: it doesn’t want repairers swapping in shonky batteries from all over, which I know definitely happens (it happened to a family member). Those batteries can die early, or explode. Yes, it’s going to have a software button to confirm the work involves a real Apple battery. Authorised companies will get to do this.

You can view this as Apple Is Evil, or you can see it as Apple trying to protect its customers from potentially dangerous counterfeits (bad batteries can blow up in your face) and shoddy work.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,128: Instagram discovers data scrapers, Apple testing for dementia, MoviePass’s wild schemes, loot box data to be opened, and more


Good-ish news: there may be plenty more helium on Earth than we thought. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Parks on Flickr.

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

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

Startup HYP3R saved Instagram users’ stories and tracked locations • Business Insider

Rob Price:

»

A combination of configuration errors and lax oversight by Instagram allowed one of the social network’s vetted advertising partners to misappropriate vast amounts of public user data and create detailed records of users’ physical whereabouts, personal bios, and photos that were intended to vanish after 24 hours.

The profiles, which were scraped and stitched together by the San Francisco-based marketing firm HYP3R, were a clear violation of Instagram’s rules. But it all occurred under Instagram’s nose for the past year by a firm that Instagram had blessed as one of its “preferred marketing partners.”

On Wednesday, Instagram sent HYP3R a cease-and-desist letter after being presented with Business Insider’s findings and confirmed that the startup broke its rules.

“HYP3R’s actions were not sanctioned and violate our policies. As a result, we’ve removed them from our platform. We’ve also made a product change that should help prevent other companies from scraping public location pages in this way,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

The existence of the profiles is a stark indication that more than a year after revelations that Facebook users’ data was exploited by Cambridge Analytica to fuel divisive political ad campaigns, Facebook’s struggles in locking down users’ personal information not only persist but also extend beyond the core Facebook app…

…The total volume of Instagram data HYP3R has obtained is not clear, though the firm has publicly claimed to have “a unique dataset of hundreds of millions of the highest value consumers in the world,” and sources say more than of 90% of its data came from Instagram. It ingests in excess of 1 million Instagram posts a month, sources say.

«

Will the US get sensible gun laws before it gets sensible data laws, or vice-versa?

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Apple, Eli Lilly studying if iPhones, Apple Watches can spot dementia • CNBC

Christina Farr and Kif Leswing:

»

Apple has been adding health features to its iPhone and smartwatch, and is now working with Eli Lilly to see if data from the devices can help spot early signs of dementia.

According to research published this week, the two companies teamed up with health-tech start-up Evidation to find ways to more quickly and precisely detect cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease with the help of popular consumer gadgets.

The study, which will be discussed on Thursday at a conference in Alaska, is the first to publicly link Apple and Eli Lilly. Of the 15 authors of the paper, five work for each company with the other five representing Evidation. It’s the latest sign that Apple’s health team is investing in deep medical research with traditional pharmaceutical players.

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South Wales police to use facial recognition apps on phones • The Guardian

Ian Sample:

»

Liberty, the campaign group, called the announcement “chilling”, adding that it was “shameful” that South Wales police had chosen to press ahead with handheld facial recognition systems even as it faced a court challenge over the technology.

In May, Liberty brought a legal case against the force for its recent use of automated facial recognition on city streets, at music festivals, and at football and rugby matches.

South Wales police said the technology would secure quicker arrests and enable officers to resolve cases of mistaken identity without the need for a trip to a station or custody suite. The officers testing the app would be under “careful supervision”, it said in a statement.

“This new app means that, with a single photo, officers can easily and quickly answer the question of ‘are you really the person we are looking for?’,” said deputy chief constable Richard Lewis. “When dealing with a person of interest during their patrols in our communities officers will be able to access instant, actionable data, allowing to them to identify whether the person stopped is, or is not, the person they need to speak to, without having to return to a police station.”

«

There is next to zero information about which company built this app, what its accuracy is, and a whole lot more. Is it basically an identikit system on a phone?
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White House drafting executive order to tackle Silicon Valley’s alleged anti-conservative bias • POLITICO

Margaret Harding Mcgill and Daniel Lippman:

»

Accusations of anti-conservative bias have become a frequent rallying cry for Trump and his supporters, seizing on incidents in which tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube have banned people like InfoWars founder and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones or faced accusations of squelching posts by pro-Trump social media personalities Diamond and Silk.

The companies have denied the allegations of bias, though they say they have blocked or removed users who violate community standards policies. They have also faced complaints from liberal activists that they’re too slow to remove hate speech, a category that some say includes Trump’s own tweets.

The issue took center stage during a White House gathering in July in which Trump railed against censorship in front of a roomful of online conservative activists, and directed his administration to explore all “regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free-speech rights of all Americans.” Just this week, Trump warned that he is “watching Google very closely,” citing the case of an engineer who has claimed the company fired him for his conservative views.

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Impossible to see how this is compatible with the First Amendment, which precludes the US government from limiting speech, which is very widely defined. The White House is full of infants and moody teenagers.
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We may not be running out of helium after all • New Atlas

David Szondy:

»

Most helium on Earth is helium-4 (4He), which is produced by radioactive decay deep inside the planet. Over hundreds of millions of years, it migrates up to the crust, where it is released during periods of tectonic activity. By comparing the ratios of 4He with neon-20 (20Ne) in the helium-rich Hugoton-Panhandle gas field running through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, the team found that released helium dissolves in groundwater, which transports it to natural gas deposits. According to Danabalan, This mechanism indicates that much more helium is waiting to be tapped than previously thought.

“We identified neon isotope tracers which show a strong association between helium and groundwater,” says Danabalan. “This means that in certain geological regions, groundwater transports large volumes of helium into natural gas fields, where trapping potential is greatest. This suggests that we have probably underestimated the volumes of helium which are actually available to explore.

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*high voice* Hooray!
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MoviePass worked out great • Bloomberg

Matt Levine on the Business Insider story about the flameout that was MoviePass:

»

under founder Stacy Spikes, MoviePass charged $50 a month for its service, but couldn’t get enough subscribers to break even. Then it was acquired by Helios & Matheson Analytics, whose chief executive officer, Ted Farnsworth, came up with the idea of charging much less:

»

Why Farnsworth settled on $10 is unclear. Several people told me he wanted a price that would grab headlines. …

But in July 2017, the MoviePass board agreed to the deal. And on August 15, the price drop went into effect. Thanks to word-of-mouth buzz and press attention, within two days subscriptions jumped from about 20,000 to 100,000. MoviePass had transformed from a scrappy startup trying to keep the lights on to a disrupter in the making.

«

What an amazing sentence. It went from being “a scrappy startup trying to keep the lights on” (bad) to a buzzy “disrupter in the making” (good) by giving up on trying to keep the lights on. The trick is not to make enough money to cover your costs; it’s to stop trying. Losing a lot of money is better than losing a little money; it has more panache, attracts more attention, certainly gives you that attractive hockey-stick user growth. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure three hundred million pounds, result unicorn.

«

But there was even more associated madness, first involving the cards you’d wave to demonstrate you were a MoviePass subscriber, and then – oh my – the method used to restrict high-volume users from using the service:

»

Per [new CEO Mitch] Lowe’s orders, MoviePass began limiting subscriber access ahead of the April release of the highly anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War,” according to multiple former employees. They said Lowe ordered that the passwords of a small percentage of power users be changed, preventing them from logging onto the app and ordering tickets.

«

😲🤯
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The Trump administration is suppressing climate science • Columbia Journalism Review

Jon Allsop:

»

On Friday, Lewis Ziska, a climate scientist who specializes in plant physiology, left his job at the US Department of Agriculture after more than 20 years. On Monday, Helena Bottemiller Evich, a food and agriculture reporter at Politico, explained why. Ziska had worked on a groundbreaking study that found rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are causing rice to lose nutrients—a potential disaster for the 600 million people worldwide who rely on rice as a staple. Science Advances, the journal that published the study, expected that it would attract widespread interest, and advised its authors to prepare resources for the media. The Department of Agriculture refused. Officials spiked a press release promoting Ziska’s work, and asked the University of Washington, a collaborator on the paper, not to promote it either. CNN requested an interview with Ziska. Agriculture’s press office said no. That was a first, Ziska said…

…Nor is Ziska the only government official to lose his job over this administration’s climate stance. In 2017, Joel Clement, who was studying the impact of climate change on Alaska at the Interior Department, was reassigned to an accounting job collecting royalties from oil and gas companies; he spoke out, then resigned. In February, Maria Caffrey, who was modelling sea level and storm surge projections for the National Park Service, was effectively forced out after refusing to let officials excise references to man-made climate change from her report. Just last week, Rod Schoonover wrote, in a New York Times op-ed, that he decided to quit his job at the State Department after his bosses blocked written testimony from his office to the House Intelligence Committee on the national-security implications of the climate crisis. “I believe such acts weaken our nation,” Schoonover said.

The Trump White House is an informational water cannon; the endless noise of the president’s tweets and rallies disorients reporters, leads our coverage, and—all too often—distracts attention from the stories officials don’t want us to cover. As Evich notes, agency intransigence “means research from scores of government scientists receives less public attention” than it should; “Climate-related studies are still being published without fanfare in scientific journals, but they can be very difficult to find.” We need to work harder to find them, and to noisily promote them where the government will not. Let’s not be complicit in the state’s suppression of science.

«

I truly think people should completely ignore Trump, and focus instead on everything that those below him do. Trump is a infant; it’s the enabling behaviour of the adults around and below him which needs examination.
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Panono makes decision to hold its camera customers hostage behind a paywall • DIY Photography

John Aldred:

»

Panono launched on Indiegogo way back in 2013. It’s a “Panoramic Ball Camera” offering 360° views with a whopping 108 megapixels. Even today, that’s mighty impressive. You need to utilise their cloud service for processing the images, which was included in the purchase price of the camera. Now, they’ve decided to start charging for it.

The campaign raised over $1.25m with a goal of $900,000, and even had the support of former Leica CEO, Ralf Coenen…

Bringing things to the current day, an email was sent out to Panono users stating that the previously free service was, from September 1st, 2019, going to cost €0.79 per image to process and stitch using their cloud platform…

With less than a month’s notice, the service on which this camera relies is going behind a paywall. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, except for the fact that you can only stitch images from this camera on their cloud-based system. There is no offline software to do it yourself under your own processing power, and the files created by the Panono camera are not compatible with other stitching software on the market.

Many other users on Twitter say that they have attempted to reach out to Panono on the platform as well as via email. Panono has not posted to their own Twitter account since last November.

One might argue that these people have gotten a good few years of use out of their cameras and it’s time to upgrade, however, today, even the mighty Insta360 Titan sits at only 55-megapixels at maximum resolution, which is half that of the Panono. And the Titan costs $15K. While the Titan is an excellent camera, it’s a very different kind of camera. So, there isn’t really anything else on the market today to upgrade to.

«

Looks like some people have a 108-megapixel doorstop.
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Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo team up to force loot box odds disclosures • Ars Technica

Kyle Orland:

»

The announcement came during an FTC panel on loot boxes taking place in Washington, DC today. Entertainment Software Association Chief Counsel Michael Warnecke said that the three major console makers “have indicated to ESA a commitment to new platform policies with respect to the use of paid loot boxes in games that are developed for their platforms.”

“Specifically, this would apply to new games and game updates that add loot box features,” Warnecke continued. “And it would require the disclosure of the relative rarity or probabilities of obtaining randomized virtual items on their platforms.” In a press release, the ESA said the console makers “are targeting 2020 for the implementation of the policy.”

In addition to the console makers, Warnecke said that “many of the leading video game publishers of the ESA” will also be voluntarily disclosing such odds for their own games.

In a press release, the ESA says “Activision Blizzard, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Bethesda, Bungie, Electronic Arts… Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and Wizards of the Coast” are among the major publishers that will start disclosing loot box odds “by the end of 2020.” The release also says that “many other ESA members are considering a disclosure.”

«

It’s an improvement, but it’s still gambling, aimed at children. At least the FTC agenda did include one person from the US National Council on Problem Gambling – but easily outnumbered by those from the games industry.
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DeepMind’s latest AI health breakthrough has some problems • OneZero

Julia Powles:

»

In one paper, published in the journal Nature, with co-authors from Veterans Affairs and University College London, DeepMind claimed its biggest healthcare breakthrough to date: that artificial intelligence (AI) can predict acute kidney injury (AKI) up to two days before it happens.

AKI — which occurs when the kidneys suddenly stop functioning, leading to a dangerous buildup of toxins in the bloodstream — is alarmingly common among hospital patients in serious care, and contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States each year. DeepMind’s bet is that if it can successfully predict which patients are likely to develop AKI well in advance, then doctors could stop or reverse its progression much more easily, saving lives along the way.

Beyond the headlines and the hope in the DeepMind papers, however, are three sobering facts.

First, nothing has actually been predicted–and certainly not before it happens. Rather, what has happened is that DeepMind has taken a windfall dataset of historic incidents of kidney injury in American veterans, plus around 9,000 data-points for each person in the set, and has used a neural network to figure out a pattern between the two.

Second, that predictive pattern only works some of the time. The accuracy rate is 55.8% overall, with a much lower rate the earlier the prediction is made, and the system generates two false positives for every accurate prediction.

Third, and most strikingly of all: the study was conducted almost exclusively on men–or rather, a dataset of veterans that is 93.6% male.

«

Turns out there are plenty of other anomalies about the data: armed forces veterans are far less likely to have AKI than the general population. But Powles (who has critiqued other DeepMind work) is only just getting started. The rest of the article is a very thorough look at what the papers aren’t telling you.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,127: Microsoft finds Russia in printers, Apple stops Facebook listening, Yahoo helps with email, iPhone 11 release date released?, and more


Computing – specifically, hacking overseas finance systems – has paid off for North Korea, says the UN. CC-licensed photo by %28stephan%29 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. You should have seen what got left out. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

North Korea took $2bn in cyberattacks to fund weapons program: UN report • Reuters

Michelle Nichols:

»

North Korea has generated an estimated $2bn for its weapons of mass destruction programs using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyberattacks to steal from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a confidential UN report seen by Reuters on Monday.

Pyongyang also “continued to enhance its nuclear and missile programmes although it did not conduct a nuclear test or ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) launch,” said the report to the UN Security Council North Korea sanctions committee by independent experts monitoring compliance over the past six months.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the report, which was submitted to the Security Council committee last week.

The experts said North Korea “used cyberspace to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income.” They also used cyberspace to launder the stolen money, the report said.

«

Including cryptocurrency exchanges, of course. To get how significant that is: North Korea’s nominal GDP in 2018 was $32bn. So that’s a really significant amount of money, a 6% boost to the economy if it was done in a single year. And it’s all foreign currency – even more useful. Kim Jong-un made hacking one of North Korea’s priorities when he came to power in 2011; looks like the right call.
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Microsoft catches Russian state hackers using IoT devices to breach networks • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

Microsoft researchers discovered the attacks in April, when a voice-over-IP phone, an office printer, and a video decoder in multiple customer locations were communicating with servers belonging to “Strontium,” a Russian government hacking group better known as Fancy Bear or APT28. In two cases, the passwords for the devices were the easily guessable default ones they shipped with. In the third instance, the device was running an old firmware version with a known vulnerability. While Microsoft officials concluded that Strontium was behind the attacks, they said they weren’t able to determine what the group’s ultimate objectives were.

Last year, the FBI concluded the hacking group was behind the infection of more than 500,000 consumer-grade routers in 54 countries. Dubbed VPNFilter, the malware was a Swiss Army hacking knife of sorts. Advanced capabilities included the ability to monitor, log, or modify traffic passing between network end points and websites or industrial control systems using Modbus serial communications protocol. The FBI, with assistance from Cisco’s Talos security group, ultimately neutralized VPNFilter.

Fancy Bear was one of two Russian-sponsored groups that hacked the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Strontium has also been linked to intrusions into the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016, the German Bundestag, and France’s TV5Monde TV station, among many others. Last month, Microsoft said it had notified almost 10,000 customers in the past year that they were being targeted by nation-sponsored hackers. Strontium was one of the hacker groups Microsoft named.

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Facebook hit by Apple’s crackdown on messaging feature • The Information

Aaron Tilley:

»

Debate about how app makers use the internet calling feature, which relies on a technology called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, has been simmering for years. After Facebook split off messaging into a standalone Messenger app in 2014, the social media giant tried to keep the technology in its main app. But Apple figured out what Facebook was doing and made it stop, said Phillip Shoemaker, who until 2016 was the head of Apple’s app review team. But Messenger and WhatsApp, which allow internet voice calls, still use the feature.

“Messenger can still use [VoIP background] mode, and does,” said Mr. Shoemaker. “What they do in the background, whether it be accept calls, listen in all the time or update the content of the main app, it’s all unclear to Apple, but could be happening.”

Aside from potentially gathering data, the feature also sucks up system resources, shortening battery life. The impact on battery life briefly made it into the headlines back in 2015 when it was discovered that the main Facebook app was using the voice-calling feature to run in the background.

Other major messaging apps like Snapchat and China’s WeChat have been using the feature to run in the background for a number of reasons unrelated to voice calling, one of the people familiar with the issue said.

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Guess that’s another API closed off to Facebook/WhatsApp for data collection. Though of course once iOS 13 happens, people are going to test what ads they see when they say some particular set of words.

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How Android paved the way for the smartphone revolution • Bloomberg

Shira Ovide with a rundown of what you’re probably familiar with; but this is different:

»

for Google parent Alphabet, Android’s legacy has grown messy. Last year, after a long investigation, European Union regulators declared that Google’s offering Android for free but with strings attached was a violation of EU anti-monopoly laws. The EU also fined Google for favoring its web shopping service ahead of rivals and for hurting competition in internet search ads. The company is appealing all three actions.

The smartphone is now middle-aged by the sped-up standards of the tech world. IDC estimates that sales of the devices will decline in 2019 for the third straight year. There remains a big gap between the 50% of the world that uses the mobile internet and the 80% to 90% where analysts predict adoption will top out. But reaching the next 3.5 billion to 4 billion people gets progressively harder. Even Android can’t drive phone prices down low enough for some people and places where the smartphone hasn’t spread widely.

And as technologists bet on what lies beyond the smartphone, the odds are that Android or an Android-esque system won’t have a major role. In a future in which wireless connections are so fast and cheap that the internet can be built into every car, desk chair, thermostat, virtual-reality device, and pair of glasses, a single gadget that acts as an access point for the digital world may be much less important. And the biggest platforms for cloud computing, driverless cars, and voice-activated digital assistants are proprietary systems, not open coalitions like Android. The key developers, such as Alphabet, are wagering it’s better for them to act alone.

«

Then again, what’s ever going to surpass the smartphone?
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Yahoo Mail’s plan to fix email: make computers read it • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

The team [at AOL, before its acquisition by Verizon] saw that photo sharing was big, along with travel itineraries, receipts, and newsletters. But they also found that email programs were still stuck in a paradigm 20 years old: a list of messages, a literal representation of how the data get stored in a database with a spreadsheet-like view of the various fields. “We were treating all those types of information—from shared files to dining reservations—the same way,” Becker says.

The biggest revelation was that few people knew how to search their email. Becker recalls standing behind a woman at the airport who was frantically looking for her boarding pass. “I could feel her anxiety as she approached the security agent,” he tells me. During a home visit, a woman wanted to show Becker’s team some photos she had been sent by a friend. But she had no idea what to search for. Without better strategies, people were just searching for something—“United,” say, or the photo-sharing friend’s name—and scrolling hopefully. People adapted where email software had not. They started taking screenshots of boarding passes or coupons so they could find them more easily.

This is a dumb way to use computers, which are capable of organizing information in more ways than just in lists and search results. So Becker and his team, still at AOL, created a product called Alto Mail that did just that. Instead of dumping messages into one endless list, or requiring users to organize it themselves into folders (few do), Alto automatically sorted them into virtual stacks, just like people tend to do with physical mail: This is a bill, this is a catalog, this is trash, and so on. Each stack looked and worked differently, depending on the content it contained. “We organized email for our users so they didn’t have to,” Becker says.

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Fascinating insight: many people don’t care about their email domain at all; it’s just a thing where their email lives. AOL and Yahoo put a lot of work into making their email systems work better. And nobody really notices.
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Facebook’s Libra: it’s not the ‘crypto’ that’s the issue, it’s the organisation behind it

Bill Maurer is professor of Anthropology and Law at the University of California, and Daniel Tischer is a lecturer in Management at the University of Bristol:

»

When setting up Visa, it was important for [Visa founder Dee] Hock that Visa would not be owned by self-interested shareholders. Instead, it was the users, banks and credit unions, who “owned” Visa as a cooperative membership organisation. Ownership here did not entail the right to sell shares, but an irrevocable right of participation – to jointly decide on the rules of the game and Visa’s future.

The incentive was to create a malleable but durable payment infrastructure from which all members would benefit in the long term. To work, everyone had to give something up – including their own branding on credit cards, subordinating their marks to Visa. This was a really big deal. But Hock convinced the network’s initial members that the payoff would come from the new market in payment services they would create. He was right.

For most of its existence, until it went public in 2016, Visa was an anomalous creature: a for-profit, non-stock corporation based on the principle of self-organisation, embodying both chaos and order. Hock even coined a term for it: “chaordic”.

Libra envisions a similar collaborative organisation among the founding members of its Libra Association. But it turns Hock’s principles upside down. The Libra Association is all about ownership and control by its members as a club…

…Libra’s white paper outlines an organisation that could become a decentralised, participatory system like Hock envisioned Visa would become. But Libra, if it is successful, will likely become an undemocratic behemoth. Alarm bells ring about a global currency’s de facto governance by a private, exclusive club serving the purposes of its investor-owners, not the public good.

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That is, pretty much, my objection to Libra as well.
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Apple’s iPhone 11 release date just leaked • BGR

Zach Epstein:

»

A new law in Japan is set to go into effect on October 1st, and it will require that wireless carriers unbundle devices and service plans. Why? Because carriers were forcing customers to pay for overpriced data plans by bundling only the most expensive plans with the most popular smartphones. When asked how the new law might impact Apple’s September iPhone launch, [SoftBank president Ken Miyauchi] had this to say (machine translated):

»

Honestly, I am wondering what should I do for 10 days. No, I shouldn’t say that. Anyway, I don’t know when the new iPhone will be released. However, after about 10 days, it will be unbundled.

«

Oops.

Apple always releases its new iPhones on a Friday and if we count back about 10 days from October 1st when this new unbundling law goes into effect, we land on September 20th. That’s exactly when we expected Apple to release its new iPhone 11 lineup, and now it’s all but confirmed. And with that in mind, we can expect the new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Max, and iPhone 11R to be unveiled at an Apple press conference on Wednesday, September 11th, or sometime thereabouts.

«

“Miyauchi-san? Tim Cook on the line for you.” Anyway, now you know. Also: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10 is launched today, Wednesday. It’s a phone and has a pen – a sentence that also used to make sense in the early 20th century, when phones had fold-out tray tables underneath where one could keep paper notes. What’s old is new.
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HTC suspends UK sales due to patent claim, Xiaomi targeted too • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:

»

Patent licensing firm IPCom says HTC infringed a 2012 UK court ruling. Back then, the UK High Court ruled that HTC infringed upon IPCom’s patent 100A, which determines how emergency calls are prioritized on 3G networks. The patent in question was obtained by IPCom as part of a deal with Bosch in 2007.

HTC was permitted to use a workaround when launching phones in the UK, the patent firm claimed, but says the brand’s Desire 12 doesn’t use this workaround. The Taiwanese company has therefore decided to suspend sales of the Desire 12, IPCom asserts, but the bad news doesn’t stop there.

“Furthermore, HTC has signalled that it is taking steps to suspend sales of all its mobile devices in the UK,” IPCom’s press release noted.

The patent licensing company says it’s also in negotiations with Xiaomi regarding its alleged patent infringement. It says the Mi Mix 3 slider flagship uses the offending patent.

«

Wonder if HTC forgot how to do the workaround. Then again, it’s news that it sells any phones at all in the UK. Stopping sales will probably save it money – or at least forgo some losses: HTC only did about $14m in sales in July, and probably made an operating loss of half that (ie it spends $3 for every $2 it brings in). The patent stuff, though, is all very 2011.
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AT+T insiders bribed with over $1m to unlock two million phones and hack their employer, DOJ claims • Forbes

Thomas Brewster:

»

A 34-year-old from Pakistan has been extradited from Hong Kong to the US, over allegations he bribed AT+T employees over five years to unlock more than 2 million phones. He was also accused of hacking into AT+T computers. It cost AT+T millions, whilst the insiders were paid more than $1m in bribes, according to an indictment unsealed Monday.

Muhammad Fahd and his co-conspirator Ghulam Jiwani were accused of paying as much as $420,000 to individual AT&T staff at a call center in Boswell, Washington, asking them to unlock phones tied to the AT+T network. At the same time, US prosecutors claimed Fahd was helping people who were paying to unlock and escape AT+T; in some contracts where cellphone cost has been reduced, AT+T requires customers remain on its network. Fahd would simply get a phone’s IMEI number from a willing buyer and then ask the AT+T insiders to unlock their device.

But Muhammad’s alleged fraud went further, the Department of Justice said, as he asked employees to install malware on AT+T computers so that he could study how the telecoms giant’s internal processes worked. He then created malware that used AT+T employees passwords to get access to different computers so that he could do the unlocking himself, according to the indictment.

«

More fun: the co-conspirator is said to be deceased. The scam started in 2012, AT+T discovered it in October 2013 and thought it shut it down, and then it restarted in November 2014 and ran for another three years. So about 50 cents in bribes per unlocked phone; you’ve got to imagine they charged a lot more.

Given the way AT+T locks people into absurd phone contracts, though, it’s hardly surprising that the demand exists.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,126: Europe heated by climate crisis, the games company that wasn’t, VR market shrinks, Huawei readies its OS, and more


Just one example of the sort of image you don’t see on Google’s Recaptcha. But why not? CC-licensed photo by Michael Fleming on Flickr.

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

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

Climate change made European heatwave up to 3°C hotter • Nature

Quirin Schiermeier:

»

The extreme heatwave that caused record temperatures last week across western Europe was made more likely — and severe — by human-induced climate change.

In France and the Netherlands, where temperatures rose above 40°C, climate change made such a heat spell at least 10 times — and possibly 100 times — more likely to occur than a century or so ago. The findings come from a rapid analysis by scientists with the World Weather Attribution group that combined information from models and observations.

In the United Kingdom and Germany, climate change made last week’s event five to ten times more likely, the group found. And in all locations, observed temperatures were 1.5–3°C hotter than in a scenario in which the climate was unaltered by human activity.

The group has analysed six European heat waves since 2010 — including the one that occurred in late June — and has found that each one has been made significantly more likely and intense because of climate change.

Meanwhile, the latest European heat wave has moved to Greenland, where it is causing unprecedented surface melting of the thick ice sheet that covers most of the island.

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There is no evil like reCAPTCHA (v3) • Stoicism & Me

Nils Gronkjaer:

»

Now?

THE AVERAGE TIME IS OVER 30 SECONDS!

But don’t for one second think that it has anything to do with some increasing level of complexity in the war against bots. No no no. How long it takes to now solve these things has increased due to completely deliberate and specific choices that Google has made in reCAPTCHA v3.

I’m talking about why, despite you being a completely normal human being of sound deductive capability. You… just… keep… FAILING these things!

So why… whyyyy does this happen? It isn’t because you are in fact a dunce who cannot count up to 3 or cannot tell how many buses or traffic lights there are in a few blurry photos and it also isn’t because you don’t know what a fire hydrant looks like. The reason that people fail reCAPTCHA v3 prompts so consistently now is because Google realised there was no punishment to forcing people to solve more of these ‘human verification puzzles’ and only more to gain by forcing (yes it IS forcing) people to train their AI for free.

«

Got to agree that it seems like one ends up doing a lot more of these screens than in the past. All for the good of Waymo’s self-driving cars, it seems. They’re never “click the pictures with rivers” or “click the pictures with waterskiers”.
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How over 25 people got scammed into working at a nonexistent game company • Kotaku

Cecilia D’Anastasio:

»

“Professionally inexperienced but passionate team manager looking for a hobby project to help support and manage,” [Brooke Holden] posted to a subreddit for assembling game dev teams. It was just a lark, yet a half dozen replies accumulated under the post. One in particular stood out, from an account with an active Reddit history on developer recruitment boards. The poster’s name was “Kova,” and he told Holden that his small team of three developers had recently ballooned into a 48-member operation that needed a manager “on everyone’s ass.”

Holden was exhilarated. On June 22, 2019, she signed a contract with Kova’s company Drakore Studios, accepting the position of junior production manager at $13 per hour.

There was just one problem: Drakore Studios didn’t actually exist.

Over the course of a month and a half, “Kova,” real name Rana Mahal, convinced at least 25 people to join a game studio that was not a registered company, and develop a video game to which he did not own the rights, in exchange for no pay. Six of them came forward to tell their story to Kotaku.

The story they told was one of deceit, exploitation, incompetence, and hope, and one fueled by gamers’ desperation to participate in an industry that has stoked their imagination, lifted their mood and forged friendships since childhood. It was a story of a boss who constantly told aspiring developers that their paychecks were on the way and that investors were just about to sink tons of cash into the company’s coffers, and that his high-placed friends at major game development studios were advising him throughout the process. The reality was quite different, and when Drakore unraveled, it unraveled fast.

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Shady online marketers are selling links in articles on the New York Times, BBC, CNN, and other news sites • Buzzfeed News

Dean Sterling Jones:

»

Forbes was the worst affected by this scheme. BuzzFeed News identified 15 articles that contained links that had been redirected to sites selling hospital supplies, hotel deals, and online payment services. In a statement, a Forbes spokesperson said the site has removed the redirected links and is “exploring options that will allow [the site] to test future redirects to ensure they are performing as intended.”

The New York Times and the Guardian acknowledged the issue after being contacted by BuzzFeed News, and both news sites said they were working on solutions.

BBC News has at least 10 articles with links that now redirect to sites advertising online gambling, free consultations with a Utah bankruptcy lawyer, and a privacy browser that circumvents China’s internet firewall. BBC’s press office did not return a request for comment. A disclaimer on the site states that the company “is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.” (The investigation did not identify anyone selling links from BuzzFeed or BuzzFeed News.)

Online marketers based in places such as India and Pakistan sell this service on Fiverr, an online marketplace rife with vendors pitching black hat SEO offerings. The link on the Hollywood Reporter obit was hijacked by a vendor with the handle “maryfarrow,” who currently charges up to $215 for backlinks on the New York Times, the Independent, and Mashable.

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Huawei’s Hongmeng OS could be revealed this week • The Verge

Sam Byford:

»

Huawei will reportedly show off Hongmeng OS at its developer conference, which kicks off this week on Friday August 9th in Dongguan, China. Huawei executives have said that the software is primarily designed for IoT devices, though it will first come to Honor smart TVs, according to Reuters.

The report compares Hongmeng OS to Google’s long-in-the-works Fuchsia, which is similarly an experimental operating system that is designed to run on various form factors. Hongmeng OS is also said to be built around a microkernel so it can “better accommodate artificial intelligence and can run on multiple platforms.”

That said, the Global Times [a Chinese publication] also claims that a Hongmeng OS smartphone is very much in the works and already in the process of being tested. The first device could debut alongside Huawei’s Mate 30 Pro flagship later in the year, with a release date set for the fourth quarter. However, the phone is expected to target the low-to-mid-range segment, with pricing set at around 2,000 yuan (~$288).

«

I bet there have been some Huawei engineers pulling some 24-hour shifts ahead of this one. And it’s going to carry on that way for some time.
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Sony captures a third of VR hardware revenues as market transitions to higher quality • Strategy Analytics

»

In 2018 VR hardware revenues declined slightly to $1.8bn from $1.9bn in 2017. The decline in shipments was much more dramatic, shrinking over 50% from 31m units in 2017 to only 15m units in 2018. Driving these changes is the evaporation of the market for low cost VR headsets such as Google Cardboard, Google Daydream and Samsung Gear VR.

David MacQueen, executive director of Strategy Analytics’ VAR (Virtual and Augmented Reality) research program noted the causes of this decline. “Brands and marketing agencies have transitioned budgets away from VR towards novel AR services such as Snapchat, so the giveaways of Cardboard headsets by brands such as the New York Times and McDonalds have halted. Samsung and other vendors have largely ceased bundling VR headsets with smartphone sales. However, our research shows that consumers who have tried VR really enjoy the experience, and are seeking out higher quality experiences with better headsets. The simple devices helped to drive demand, but their time is coming to an end. This is reflected in Google’s market share, which has dropped from a market-leading 21% in 2017 to 11% in 2018.”

“The real winners in 2018 and 2019 have come from the higher price tier, higher quality VR headset market segments, primarily those that are PC- or console-tethered. Sony’s PSVR headset is continuing to sell well, and its position as the leading hardware vendor will be helped by the news that the PS5 will support the headset, removing fears of compatibility issues with next generation consoles. HTC and Facebook continue to split the PC segment, which is expanding beyond consumer into enterprise markets, mainly around the design, training and education use cases. These segments will help drive growth in 2019 and beyond.”

«

Is VR really just waiting for a killer app? I’m just not hearing the buzz about it. Does it need more drones offering a real-time first-person view, or something? I just don’t see it. If sales aren’t accelerating, it’s effectively done.
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Injecting yourself with dog insulin? Just a normal day in America • The Guardian

Alan MacLeod:

»

The article [on the ESPN site about a mixed martial arts fighter] is a standard “triumph over adversity” piece until it casually notes in the 17th paragraph: “Williams doesn’t have medical insurance and cannot afford the treatment. So he buys insulin that’s sold for dogs at Walmart for $24.99 per bottle.”

It accepts without comment that insulin costs up to $470 a bottle and that Williams considers himself “super lucky” that somebody told him he could use the cheaper, animal-grade substitute. Super lucky?

This is a disturbing, but not uncommon, story in the US, where more than 1 million adults have type 1 diabetes and the cost of insulin, the drug that keeps them alive, rises exponentially year on year to the point where Americans must pay thousands of dollars a year simply to not die. Turning 26, the age when you are no longer eligible for cover on your parents’ health insurance, can be a death sentence for diabetics, who often also resort to reusing costly needles into oblivion to save money.

This is part of a deeper malaise in American healthcare where hospital bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy and one-third of all GoFundMe donations are for medical expenses. Increasingly, those who cannot afford health insurance are turning to fish antibiotics as cheaper alternatives to human ones, despite the health consequences. Unsurprisingly, a 2015 poll found healthcare was the public’s most pressing issue; Americans are more scared of getting sick than of a terrorist attack. Medicare for All is overwhelmingly popular as an answer to the crisis, with even a majority of Republican voters favoring the idea. But none of this was noted in the article, tacitly endorsing the idea of injecting dog insulin as normal, and not an indictment of the current system.

«

It is true: you can almost always use “dog insulin” rather than the human form, because there’s essentially no difference. Doesn’t make it any less bad, though.
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March 2018: Reddit rises up against CEO for hiding Russian trolls • Daily Beast

Ben Collins:

»

academic research specifically shows that banning disruptive Reddit subreddits that degrade the larger community can have a chilling effect on harassers on the rest of the platform.

Eshwar Chandrasekharan, a doctoral student at Georgia Tech, worked with two other researchers at Georgia Tech, plus researchers at Emory University and the University of Michigan, on “You Can’t Stay Here: The Efficacy of Reddit’s 2015 Ban Examined Through Hate Speech” in 2015.

Chandrasekharan, who had already been studying extremism in online communities, tracked Reddit’s ban of hate speech communities r/FatPeopleHate and r/Coontown in 2015. He determined that, after the ban, users didn’t move their racism or hate speech to other parts of the web, and some stopped participating in harassment entirely, rendering their accounts inactive.

“It creates a fear in their mind. If they do it again, they get banned,” Chandrasekharan told The Daily Beast. “In the new communities they go to, they are careful about this. Some stop doing this. There’s fear.”

Chavrasvkharan said that, while “it totally depends on what the userbase is” for a specific subreddit, Huffman’s comment that “banning (communities) probably won’t accomplish what you want” is not in line with the research.

“You can’t really state this unless you have some evidence that this is the case,” he said.

«

In other words: closing these places down diminishes their ability to create a focus where they all egg each other on.
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Terminating service for 8Chan • CloudFlare

Matthew Prince is CEO of the hosting service:

»

While removing 8chan from our network [because its lawless approach provides a focus for people who then go on to cause “multiple tragic deaths”] takes heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online. It does nothing to address why mass shootings occur. It does nothing to address why portions of the population feel so disenchanted they turn to hate. In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the Internet’s.

In the two years since the Daily Stormer [was removed from CloudFlare’s network, yet still found a host on the internet] what we have done to try and solve the Internet’s deeper problem is engage with law enforcement and civil society organizations to try and find solutions. Among other things, that resulted in us cooperating around monitoring potential hate sites on our network and notifying law enforcement when there was content that contained an indication of potential violence. We will continue to work within the legal process to share information when we can to hopefully prevent horrific acts of violence. We believe this is our responsibility and, given Cloudflare’s scale and reach, we are hopeful we will continue to make progress toward solving the deeper problem.

«

I think I might have a suggestions on the “why mass shootings occur”, and it’s to do with availability of deadly weapons. Less sure on the other ones.
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Facial recognition… coming to a supermarket near you • The Guardian

Tom Chivers:

»

Facewatch is keen to say that it’s not a technology company – it’s a data management company. It provides management of the watch lists in what it says is compliance with the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). If someone is seen shoplifting on camera or by a staff member, their image can be stored as an SOI [subject of interest]; if they are then seen in that shop again, the shop manager will get an alert. GDPR allows these watch lists to be shared in a “proportionate” way; so if you’re caught on camera like this once, it can be shared with other local Facewatch users. In London, says [CEO Nick] Fisher, that would be an eight-mile radius. If you’re seen stealing repeatedly in many different cities, it could proportionately be shared nationwide; if you’re never seen stealing again, your face is taken off the database after two years.

[Big Brother Watch director Silkie] Carlo is not reassured: she says that it involves placing a lot of trust in retail companies and their security staff to use this technology fairly. “We’re not talking about police but security staff who aren’t held to the same professional standards. They get stuff wrong all the time. What if they have an altercation [with a customer] or a grievance?” The SOI database system, she says, subverts our justice system. “How do you know if you’re on the watch list? You’re not guilty of anything, in the legal sense. If there’s proof that you’ve committed a crime, you need to go through the criminal justice system; otherwise we’re in a system of private policing. We’re entering the sphere of pre-crime.”

Fisher and Facewatch, though, argue that it is not so unlike the age-old practice of shops and bars having pictures up in the staff room of regular troublemakers. The difference, they say, is that it is not relying on untrained humans to spot those troublemakers, but a much more accurate system.

«

Is it different from the no-fly list that the US government has operated for years, where there’s little or no recourse if you’re on it? Facewatch has been around for quite a while; maybe it’s finally hitting its stride.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,125: Chrome’s unused extensions, Alexa, Google and Siri stop human listeners, scooters v the climate, can the internet change abortion?, and more


Google wants companies to bid to be its default search on mobile. Does that seem reasonable? CC-licensed photo by Paulo O 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. Not part of an auction. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Half of all Google Chrome extensions have fewer than 16 installs • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

There are 188,620 extensions available on the Chrome Web Store, and while you might think this provides a wide variety of choices for Chrome users, in reality, most of these extensions are dead or dwindling, with very few having active installations.

All in all, about 50% of all Chrome extensions have fewer than 16 installs, meaning that half of the Chrome extension ecosystem is actually more of a ghost town, according to a recent scan of the entire Chrome Web Store conducted by Extension Monitor.

Further, 19,379 extensions (just over 10%) have zero installs, and 25,540 extensions (13% of the total) have just one user.

The scan found that there are very few Chrome extensions that managed to establish a dedicated userbase.

According to Extension Monitor, around 87% of all extensions have fewer than 1,000 installs, a number that many extension devs would consider a failure, taking into account that the Chrome browser has over one billion monthly active users, a huge potential market for any extension developer.

At the other side of the spectrum, only 13 extensions have managed to break over the 10 million mark — the highest user count threshold available on the Chrome Web Store.

Those 13 are Google Translate, Adobe Acrobat, Tampermonkey, Avast Online Security, Adblock Plus, Adblock, uBlock Origin, Pinterest Save Button, Cisco Webex, Grammarly for Chrome, Skype, Avast SafePrice, and Honey.

«

23.5% have one or zero installs – so there’s another 50% with between one and 1,000 installs. It’s very heavily weighted to the “nobody uses this” end, calling into question their whole existence.
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Google to ask rivals to bid to be default search on Android phones • Bloomberg

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

Alphabet’s Google will require rivals to bid in order to become listed as alternative search providers on Android smartphones, a move to try to keep additional antitrust scrutiny at bay.

Starting next year, Google will prompt users to make a choice between Google and three other rival options as their default search provider. Google invited search providers to bid as part of an auction on the new choice screen, which will appear when a user sets up a new Android smartphone or tablet in Europe for the first time.

The European Commission, the bloc’s antitrust body, last year fined Google €4.3bn ($4.8bn) for strong-arming device makers into pre-installing its Google search and Chrome browser, giving it a leg up because users are unlikely to look for alternatives if a default is already preloaded. The EU ordered Google to change that behavior and threatened additional fines if it failed to comply.

Eric Leandri, chief executive of Paris-based search engine Qwant, called Google’s move “a total abuse of the dominant position” to “ask for cash just for showing a proposal of alternatives.”

…A European Commission spokeswoman said the EU would be “closely monitoring the implementation of the choice screen mechanism” and noted that the changes allow rival search engines the possibility to strike deals with smartphone and tablet manufacturers to pre-install their services.

«

Seems fair, as long as Google is obliged to bid, and its losing bid price goes to the winner; or if Google has the highest bid, the money is distributed to the other bidders. (Or I’m sure you can think of a better distribution system.) After all, if the EU says Google got its dominant position through monopoly abuse, why should it be allowed to continue monetising it?
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Sorry, scooters aren’t so climate-friendly after all • MIT Technology Review

James Temple:

»

the mere fact that battery-powered scooters don’t belch pollution out of a tailpipe doesn’t mean they’re “emissions free,” or as “eco-friendly” as some have assumed. The actual climate impact of the vehicles depends heavily on how they’re made, what they’re replacing, and how long they last.

Researchers at North Carolina State University decided to conduct a “life-cycle assessment” that tallied up the emissions from making, shipping, charging, collecting, and disposing of scooters after one of them noticed that a Lime receipt stated, “Your ride was carbon free.”

The study concludes that dockless scooters generally produce more greenhouse-gas emissions per passenger mile than a standard diesel bus with high ridership, an electric moped, an electric bicycle, a bicycle—or, of course, a walk.

The paper found that scooters do produce about half the emissions of a standard automobile, at around 200 grams of carbon dioxide per mile compared with nearly 415. But, crucially, the researchers found in a survey of e-scooter riders in Raleigh, North Carolina, that only 34% would have otherwise used a personal car or ride-sharing service. Nearly half would have biked or walked, 11% would have taken the bus, and 7% would have simply skipped the trip.

The bottom line: roughly two-thirds of the time, scooter rides generate more greenhouse-gas emissions than the alternative. And those increased emissions were greater than the gains from the car rides not taken, says Jeremiah Johnson, an engineering professor and one of the authors of the paper.

«

Individual devices are less fuel-efficient than collective ones. Though the results for the electric bicycle are surprising. In general, most of the life cycle costs are in the materials.
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Abortion pills should be everywhere • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo (who’s a bloke):

»

most of my orders came through fine. Each of the three pill packages I got cost me between $200 and $300, including expedited shipping. (The average cost of an abortion in the United States is about $500.)

I spent months looking for a lab that would test my pills; many waved me off, wary of controversy. Finally, I got in touch with Alan Wu, chief of the clinical chemistry laboratory at San Francisco General Hospital, whose lab tested a couple of my mifepristone tablets. The finding: They were authentic. I wasn’t surprised; in a more comprehensive study conducted by Gynuity Health and Plan C, published last year in the journal Contraception, researchers in four states ordered abortion pills from 16 different online pharmacies, and found they were all just what they said they were.

Each time I got a pack of pills in the mail, I was increasingly bowled over: If this is so easy, how will they ever stop this? I’ve been watching digital markets for 20 years, and I’ve learned to spot a simple, powerful dynamic: When something that is difficult to get offline becomes easy to get online, big changes are afoot…

…The activists building the online pill network acknowledge that there are potential dangers in the market — but they insist that the risks are far smaller than many guess.

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Activists reckon it could lead to more informal early-stage abortions, which is more politically acceptable (and would be a lot simpler to do in states with absurdly early abortion limits). Would this be the first political change driven solely by availability of treatment through the internet?
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Richard Thaler: ‘If you want people to do something, make it easy’ • Financial Times

Tim Harford:

»

The key message of [Thaler’s book] Nudge was that governments could improve the health and wellbeing of their citizens without infringing on their liberty, simply by more thoughtfully designing their rules, procedures, or even labelling.

“If you want people to do something, make it easy.” Put the cashews in the kitchen and the fruit by the cafeteria checkout.

More recently, Thaler has been thinking and writing about what he calls “sludge”. It’s the same procedure in reverse: if you want people not to do something, make it difficult.

Reaching for an example, Thaler has a bone to pick with The Times. The first review of Misbehaving was published there, and Thaler’s editor sent him a link.

“And I can’t get past the paywall without subscribing.”

But then he notices there’s an offer of a month’s trial subscription at an introductory rate. “But I read further, having written a book about this, and I see that it will be automatically renewed.”

Not only that, it will be renewed at full price, “and that in order to quit, I have to give them 14 days’ notice. So the one month free trial is actually two weeks. And I have to call London [from Chicago] in London business hours, not on a toll free line.”

He pauses and chides me to check that the FT isn’t placing similar sludge in the way of readers who wish to unsubscribe. I assure him that nobody would ever want to unsubscribe, but in any case such knavery would be beneath us. But part of me wonders. “Check your policy at the FT,” he advises.

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“Sludge” is a neat idea – in web design you’d probably call it dark patterns. There’s plenty more, particularly about Brexit pronouncements and about the announcement to “mind the gap” on the London Underground.
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Tink Labs set to shut down amid mass layoffs • Financial Times

Siddarth Shrikanth and Mercedes Ruehl:

»

Tink Labs, which was founded in 2012, was one of Hong Kong’s best funded startups. Investors include Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile; Cai Wensheng, chairman of popular Chinese selfie app Meitu; and Sinovation Ventures, an investment fund headed by former Google China chief Kaifu Lee. SoftBank’s mobile unit invested via a joint venture with Tink in Japan.

According to several current and former employees, Tink Labs has said it will close on Thursday, after mass layoffs in recent weeks. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

At its height, Tink Labs was valued at as much as $1.5bn, and its “Handy” smartphones service had handsets in more than 600,000 hotel rooms across 82 countries, via relationships with big hotel chains including Hyatt Hotels, InterContinental Hotel Group and Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.

The closure will see Tink Labs join a lengthening list of Chinese startups that have collapsed.

Bicycle-sharing company ofo went from world-leading “sharing economy” startup and tech darling to the verge of bankruptcy in just four years. Rival Bluegogo has folded, while Aiwujiwu, a Chinese online property listings platform backed by Hillhouse and Temasek, reportedly went into liquidation earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the flow of capital into China’s tech sector has begun drying up, while due diligence on prospective investments has increased significantly as investors grow wiser to potential risks.

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Amazon gives option to disable human review of Alexa recordings • Bloomberg

Matt Day:

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Amazon.com Inc. will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings, a move that follows criticism that the program violated customers’ privacy.

A new policy took effect Friday that allows customers, through an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app, to remove their recordings from a pool that could be analyzed by Amazon employees and contract workers, a spokeswoman for the Seattle company said. It follows similar moves by Apple Inc. and Google.

Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software. Their tasks include listening to and transcribing voice recordings. Some of the workers reviewing customer recordings had access to certain personal data, including users’ first names and their location.

«

Yeah, but nobody took any notice of Bloomberg’s report in April, because it wasn’t written in a way that grabbed people. Now, here we are a week after an explosive Guardian report, and all three organisations have, for one reason or another, turned off human review. Perhaps they all proceeded down their own timelines to get to the same place at the same time; that implies that Apple’s a lot quicker to get there, Google next fastest, and Amazon a bit tardy.
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Google ordered to halt human review of voice AI recordings over privacy risks • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

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A German privacy watchdog has ordered Google to cease manual reviews of audio snippets generated by its voice AI. 

This follows a leak last month of scores of audio snippets from the Google Assistant service. A contractor working as a Dutch language reviewer handed more than 1,000 recordings to the Belgian news site VRT which was then able to identify some of the people in the clips. It reported being able to hear people’s addresses, discussion of medical conditions, and recordings of a woman in distress.

The Hamburg data protection authority told Google of its intention to use Article 66 powers of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to begin an “urgency procedure” under Article 66 of GDPR last month.

«

Surprise: Google complied. It told Ars Technica that “Shortly after we learned about the leaking of confidential Dutch audio data, we paused language reviews of the Assistant to investigate. This paused reviews globally.” No date for resumption.
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Apple halts practice of contractors listening in to users on Siri • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Contractors working for Apple in Ireland said they were not told about the decision when they arrived for work on Friday morning, but were sent home for the weekend after being told the system they used for the grading “was not working” globally. Only managers were asked to stay on site, the contractors said, adding that they had not been told what the suspension means for their future employment.

The suspension was prompted by a report in the Guardian last week that revealed the company’s contractors “regularly” hear confidential and private information while carrying out the grading process, including in-progress drug deals, medical details and people having sex.

The bulk of that confidential information was recorded through accidental triggers of the Siri digital assistant, a whistleblower told the Guardian. The Apple Watch was particularly susceptible to such accidental triggers, they said. “The regularity of accidental triggers on the watch is incredibly high … The watch can record some snippets that will be 30 seconds – not that long, but you can gather a good idea of what’s going on.

«

One week from the original report to this change. That’s impressive – moreso given that Bloomberg had a weaker form of this report much earlier this year but didn’t get anything like the detail. The power of newsprint: it makes a difference having something you can put on a chief executive’s desk (even if you have to fly it out there).

Apple has indicated that it’s eventually going to restart this, but on an opt-in basis.
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The new blood test for Alzheimer’s disease: developed in a study without patients • Medium

Cecile Janssens:

»

It is these opening lines of the study’s press release that shaped the news. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that “Blood test is 94% accurate at identifying early Alzheimer’s disease”; The Guardian that “Alzheimer’s blood test could predict onset up to 20 years in advance”; and also the doctors at WebMD highlight that “Blood test may spot signs of early Alzheimer’s.”

But no, the study didn’t test and track people for 20 years to see who ultimately developed Alzheimer’s disease. And the test wasn’t 94% accurate in identifying early Alzheimer’s either. None of the participants in the study was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Their average score on the Mini Mental State Examination, a well-known test to measure cognitive impairment, was 29. As a reference: the test’s best possible score is 30, a score of 20 to 24 may indicate mild dementia, and lower than 12 severe dementia.

The study wasn’t about prediction either. The claim that indications of brain amyloidosis can be observed two decades before the first symptoms appear must have come from other studies. I didn’t find citations to these studies in the article. (I wonder whether such prediction studies exist.)

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Basically, it’s not at all what it appears to be, which is disappointing, but – in my experience – completely ordinary for reports about medical studies (and even press releases about medical studies).
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Do smartphones need gesture HMI? • Strategy Analytics

Paul Brown on the promised “gesture” control for the forthcoming Google Pixel 4:

»

Gestures are not something new to smartphones. In 2013, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S4 with a host of gestures. However, most of these gestures were cumbersome and inefficient, had low adoption, and many were removed from future Samsung devices.

According to Google’s blog post, the number of initial gestures on the Pixel 4 will allow the user to undertake the following three functions, just by waving your hand:

• Skip songs
• Snooze alarms
• Silence phone calls

Using gestures to snooze alarms and silence phone calls could be very useful.  These are both tasks that will likely occur when the user is not holding the phone. Waving a hand over the phone when either event occurs is a very simple action, and one that requires less cognitive effort than picking up the phone and pressing buttons (physical or on the touchscreen). However, there may be a concern that the user accidentally silences a phone call when they move their hand towards the phone to pick it up and answer the call. The required gesture and how it can differentiate a user’s intent is key here.

«

Samsung’s S4’s “Air Gestures” were amazingly annoying. As Brown points out, with the Pixel, if the gesture doesn’t work when the display isn’t lit (eg to skip the song), then you’ll need to tap it to then gesture. In which case you might as well wake-and-tap. But if it works when the display is off, the potential for accidental gesturing is huge. I’m not convinced.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified