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.1,127: 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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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):

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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.

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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.

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“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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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“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:

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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:

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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).

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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

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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.”

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

«

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.

«

“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:

»

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:

»

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.)

«

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

Start Up No.1,124: Facebook and Aussie fake news, the motion smoothing problem (redux), America’s phone farmers, and more


He’s thinking that Van Diesel got an extra punch into the last scene. And that makes him mad! CC-licensed photo by Automotive Rhythms 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. Friday, innit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook says it was ‘not our role’ to remove fake news during Australian election • The Guardian

Katharine Murphy:

»

“We do not agree that is is our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false,” [Facebook VP for Asia, Simon] Milner says in the letter sent a month after election day.

The Facebook executive says the company invested significantly in an effort to support “the Australian government’s work to safeguard the 2019 election” and said the requirement for the social media giant was to “respect applicable law” and work with the Australian Electoral Commission by responding to queries or concerns.

The backwards and forwards between Labor and the social media behemoth comes as Facebook is firmly in the sights of Australia’s competition and consumer regulator as a consequence of its landmark review of digital platforms.

One of the recommendations of the ACCC review, released last week, was digital platforms be required to implement a code of conduct to govern how they handled complaints about the spread of inaccurate information, which would be registered and enforced by an independent regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

While Milner makes a rhetorical distinction in his letter to Carroll about content that one side of a political debate “considers to be false”, the Facebook executive also acknowledges in the same correspondence that the death tax material circulated on the social media platform during the campaign was, in fact, found to be false by the platform’s independent fact-checking procedures.

Milner says once the claims were found to be false on April 30, “we demoted the original posts and thousands of similar posts”. Posts were demoted in Facebook’s News Feed but not removed from the platform. Milner said that, on average, this practice reduces distribution by 80%.

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Sky, Netflix and software • Benedict Evans

»

Netflix isn’t using TV to leverage some other business – TV is the business. It’s a TV company. Amazon is using content as a way to leverage its subscription service, Prime, in much the same way to telcos buying cable companies or doing IPTV – it’s a way to stop churn. Amazon is using Lord of the Rings as leverage to get you to buy toilet paper through Prime. But Facebook and Google are not device businesses or subscription businesses. Facebook or Google won’t say ‘don’t cancel your subscription because you’ll lose this TV show’ – there is no subscription. That means the strategic value of TV or music is marginal: it’s marketing, not a lock-in.

Apple’s position in TV today is ambivalent. You can argue that the iPhone is a subscription business (spend $30 a month and get a phone every two years), and it certainly thinks about retention and renewals. The service subscriptions that it’s created recently (news, music, games) are all both incremental revenue leveraging a base of 1bn users and ways to lock those users in. But the only important question for the upcoming ‘TV Plus’ is whether Apple plans to spend $1bn a year buying content from people in LA, and produce another nice incremental service with some marketing and retention value, or spend $15bn buying content from people in LA, to take on Netflix. But of course, that’s a TV question, not a tech question.

«

Apple seems to be aiming at somewhere between the $1bn and $15bn, but closer to the $1bn.
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Motion smoothing is ruining cinema • Vulture

Bilge Ebiri:

»

even if motion smoothing worked perfectly, it would still present problems. Higher frame rates have a curious effect on how we process cinematic images. At the 2016 New York Film Festival, I attended the much-hyped world premiere of Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a supposedly revolutionary picture that had been shot at a frame rate of 120 fps, about a young soldier who relives the trauma of his Iraq deployment over the course of an NFL playoff halftime show during which his platoon’s feats are celebrated. The action was as smooth as it could be, and the 120 fps images did look hyperreal, as advertised — like we were in a limo with the characters as they joked around, or in combat as bullets whizzed past them. But the movie was in no way immersive. It was the exact opposite: The acting felt stiff, the story bogus, and the filmmaking amateurish.

A couple of months later, as it neared theatrical release, I saw Billy Lynn again, this time projected at a typical 24 fps. It’s not a great picture by any stretch of the imagination, but to my bewilderment, the performances were now engaging; the drama that had felt so unwieldy was now occasionally moving. No major cuts or additions had been made. I was watching the same movie, but this time, I was watching it at the frame rate at which movies are supposed to be experienced. And suddenly, it all kind of worked.

In part, there’s a scientific explanation for this: It’s possible that watching movies one way for so long has conditioned our brains. NYU psychology and neuroscience professor Pascal Wallisch, who studies cognition and perception, cites the phenomenon of “entrainment,” which posits that certain external stimuli, such as beats per minute in music or subtly flickering movie images, can actually affect the nervous system.

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The weird thing is that we seem to be so used to 24fps.
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Smartphone shipments decline 2.3% in the second quarter on continued challenges across most major regions • IDC

»

IDC analyst Ryan Reith said: “When you look at the top of the market – Samsung, Huawei, and Apple – each vendor lost a bit of share from last quarter, and when you look down the list the next three – Xiaomi, OPPO, and vivo – all gained. Part of this is related to the timing of product launches, but it is hard not to assume this trend could continue.”

The vendor landscape at the top of the market continues to get stronger while the struggles for local OEMs and old school industry names got worse. In 2Q19, the top five vendors accounted for 69% of the total market volume, and the top 10 vendors accounted for 87%. This trend is making the vendor playing field for smartphones look more and more like the PC market. With 5G beginning to unfold in many markets around the world, the challenges are sure to increase for any vendors without strong consumer mindshare.

“Although the overall market remains in decline, the performance in the second quarter indicates that demand is starting to pick up as the market begins to stabilize again,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “A key driver in the second quarter was the availability of vastly improved mid-tier devices that offer premium designs and features while significantly undercutting the ultra-high-end in price. Combine this with intensified and generous trade-in programs across major markets and channels and upgrading now makes more sense to consumers.”

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Google is quietly testing ‘Play Pass’ app and game subscription, taking on Apple Arcade • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

Earlier this year, Apple announced Apple Arcade, a monthly subscription service that gives you access to a library of mobile games (including some exclusive titles) on iOS devices. Apple Arcade isn’t live yet, but Google is already testing its own competing service, named Play Pass.

XDA Developers found evidence last year that Google was working on the Play Pass service, but now the company is starting to test it. We received screenshots from a reader [shown in the story], which show the signup page for Play Pass and the $4.99 monthly cost. Of course, the price could change before the final rollout.

An info page reads, “Explore a curated catalog spanning puzzle games to premium music apps and everything in between. From action hits to puzzles and fitness trackers, with Google Play Pass you unlock access to hundreds of premium apps and games without ads, download fees or in-app purchases.” Another screen shows Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball as some of the included games.

«

Our reader stormyparis reckons that if it could target 1 billion users, and get 5% of them, it could generate $3bn, but then you have to look at what people wouldn’t spend as a result of their subscription, so..

It’s probably only going to appeal to the whales who spend way more than $5 per month, though. And it doesn’t “take on” Apple Arcade. It’s entirely parallel and separate, and won’t mean Android gets the games sooner than iOS.
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How to pay for Medicare-for-all • The Week

Ryan Cooper:

»

the economist argument that fee-for-service must be juicing spending has not held up either. Maryland undertook a major reform to many of its hospitals, moving to a “global budget program” in which several hospitals were paid a lump sum for the whole year instead of per procedure. A study released this year found it “did not reduce hospital use or price-standardized spending as policymakers had anticipated.” Moreover, many other countries have used fee-for-service billing (both today and in the past) and have not experienced anything like America’s turbo-charged cost increases.

So what is going on? Returning to the Papanicolas study, two big, obvious things jump out: drug prices and administrative costs. America paid roughly twice the rich country median for drugs in 2015, at $1,443 per person, with $1,023 of that in the form of retail pharmaceuticals. France paid $697, while the Netherlands paid just $466. Secondly, fully 8% of American health-care spending goes to administration — as compared to Germany at 5%, Canada at 3%, or Sweden at 2%.

Thus the first priority for a Medicare-for-all bill must be to cut administration spending to the bone. Given that this is largely down to providers having to navigate the hellishly complex and fragmented status quo system, this should be quite easy…

…Across virtually all medical services, Americans are being radically overcharged.

Indeed, many hospitals don’t have the slightest idea of what their treatments really cost. As this Wall Street Journal report explains, when a Wisconsin hospital tried to figure out what it was clearing for a $50,000 knee replacement, after an 18-month investigation it found a mere $10,550 at most in overhead — and that’s including steep US doctor salaries. A roughly 80% profit margin on the most common non-childbirth surgical procedure is the kind of thing that could begin to explain the howling excess of US medical spending.

«

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Democrats are ignoring the power of the hospital industry • Prospect Magazine

David Dayen:

»

The [American] public interacts with [American] health care in two ways. Their doctor heals them, and their insurance company hassles them. They visit their doctor and pay their insurer. Their doctor wants to make them well, and their insurance company wants to restrict the care they receive. “Why is the spotlight on the intermediary in this industry when they’re a small fraction in terms of the revenues?” asks Leemore Dafny of Harvard Business School, referring to the insurance industry. “And it’s what you think it is. It’s really easy to hate the intermediary.”

But in the absence of political leaders telling the truth about who charges the prices and who gouges patients, the public has no alternative story. They’ll keep loving their doctor, and seek out other villains. That cuts against this truth: nobody has resisted changes to the broken health-care system more than the hospital industry.

Take “surprise billing,” as mentioned before one of the most outrageous scams in health care. Unknown to them, patients get out-of-network services from ambulance companies or radiologists or anesthesiologists, and are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in charges. You won’t be, well, surprised to learn that surprise billing is being driven by the private equity industry, which has recently upped its investments in hospitals.

«

It seems that there are lots of perverse incentives. Doctors don’t have any disincentive to order more and more expensive treatments; it just gets passed on to the insurer. But hospitals in the US do go bust, or close because they don’t get income. Certainly, there’s plenty of blame to go around the US healthcare “system”.
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‘Fast + Furious’ stars’ complicated demand: I never want to lose a fight • WSJ

Erich Schwartzel:

»

Vin Diesel didn’t want to look like a wimp.

The actor was in rehearsal for yet another fight in his seventh “Fast & Furious” movie when he started to sense his co-star and on-screen opponent, Jason Statham, was landing more blows than he was.

Mr. Diesel had an idea: Why not assign numerical values to every move—head butt, roundhouse kick, body slam—so he could calculate a total and determine if the two men were getting pummeled evenly?

In Hollywood, where sheltering the tender egos of action stars is increasingly a cost of doing business, no leading man is willing to look less macho than any other. Nowhere is that more apparent than the “Fast & Furious” franchise, where an arms race of machismo can break out between Mr. Diesel, Mr. Statham and their third beefy co-star, Dwayne Johnson…

…The “Fast & Furious” movies also star actresses like Michelle Rodriguez as ensemble players who are as tough as the men. People associated with the franchise said there are fewer concerns about scorekeeping in the women’s fights.

«

Diesel is 52, Statham is 51, Johnson is 47. Who says ego is only for kids?
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America’s DIY phone farmers • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»

Last year, NBCUniversal launched an app called WatchBack, which gives users a chance to win $100 in exchange for watching TV shows, in hopes of creating new fans for its programming. Other apps like Perk give viewers points for watching trailers and shows which can be exchanged for more valuable goods. Roy Rosenfeld, Head of DoubleVerify’s Fraud Lab, a company which focuses on ad fraud, said DoubleVerify estimates in total these incentivized traffic “apps generate 100-300 [million] ad requests a month,” with the vast majority working with video.

The phone farmers Motherboard talked to aren’t responsible for many of those ad requests, but they still take advantage of this ecosystem. Rather than actually watch ads, these phone farmers use as many as a hundred phones and sometimes automate the process to make it seem like someone is watching the ads in order to generate income.

Joseph D’Alesandro, 20, made nearly $2,000 a month from phone farming back in 2017, he told Motherboard in a phone call. In eighth or ninth grade, D’Alesandro found one of the apps popular with farmers and started running it on his main phone. Slowly over a few years, he built up his farm, expanding to more and more devices. On his YouTube channel TheTechSlugs, D’Alesandro made videos explaining his progress along the way.

“You really can’t compare it to a job,” D’Alesandro said, because of how little he needed to interact with the phones.

Other phone farmers said they’ve made hundreds of dollars a month from passively running apps on their phones. Goat_City said they pulled in $700-800 a month recently; another farmer with the username CallMeDonCheadle said their farm made $7 a day, working out to more than $200 a month.

«

I have to admit that I repeatedly thought the people he was referring to in this story are actual farmers who were trying to supplement their income.
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Apple Maps in iOS 13: sights set on Google • MacStories

Ryan Christoffel:

»

Favorited locations are represented by an icon and color corresponding to their location type. Home and Work have house and briefcase icons in blue and brown, respectively, while restaurants will show a fork and knife on an orange background, bars a martini glass in purple, parks a tree in brown, and so on. Another important visual detail about favorites is that they each display your distance from them, or the time it would take to navigate to them. This further reinforces favorites’ design purpose: Apple intends that you use them for commonly visited locations. If you simply want to mark a spot to remember for later, that’s where collections shine.

Collections [new in iOS 13] are groups of locations you can save for accessing later. Like favorites, they have the benefit of being displayed more prominently on the map, so they’re easy to spot at a glance, but they also offer a lot of flexibility you won’t find with favorites. A collection is ultimately just a list of locations, so it can serve any purpose you need it to. You can use collections to plan upcoming vacations, keeping track of all the places you want to visit on your trip; you can also have collections dedicated to intriguing coffee shops, prospective date night spots, or restaurants that have been recommended to you. Every collection can have a name and even custom photo set by you, so you can truly make it your own.

«

The “ooh” feature for demos is Apple’s equivalent to Street View, which it calls Look Around. However, I can only find it for San Francisco at present, so the above features – which might be better for real usability – are what people will really use.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,123: Greenland’s dangerous melt, wanting a WhatsApp black door, Chrome breaks the paywalls, Samsung stays big, and more


Fitbit’s smartwatch isn’t helping the company out of its pit. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr

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

A selection of 9 links for you. 👋🥂👍🏻. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Greenland is melting away before our eyes • Rolling Stone

Eric Holthaus:

»

Even just a few decades ago, an event like this would have been unthinkable. Now, island-wide meltdown days like this are becoming increasingly routine. The ongoing melt event is the second time in seven years that virtually the entire ice sheet simultaneously experienced at least some melt. The last was in July 2012, where 97% of the ice sheet simultaneously melted.

In the 1980s, wintertime snows in Greenland roughly balanced summertime melt from the ice sheet, and the conventional wisdom among scientists was that it might take thousands of years for the ice to completely melt under pressure from global warming.

That’s all changed now.

With a decade or two of hindsight, scientists now believe Greenland passed an important tipping point around 2003, and since then its melt rate has more than quadrupled.

This week alone, Greenland will lose about 50 billion tons of ice, enough for a permanent rise in global sea levels by about 0.1mm. So far in July, the Greenland ice sheet has lost 160 billion tons of ice — enough to cover Florida in about six feet of water. According to IPCC estimates, that’s roughly the level of melt a typical summer will have in 2050 under the worst-case warming scenario if we don’t take meaningful action to address climate change. Under that same scenario, this week’s brutal, deadly heat wave would be normal weather in the 2070s.

Xavier Fettweis, a polar scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who tracks meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet, told Rolling Stone in an email that the recent acceleration of these melt events means the IPCC scenarios “clearly underestimate what we currently observe over the Greenland ice sheet” and should revisit their projections for the future.

“This melt event is a good alarm signal that we urgently need change our way of
living,” said Fettweis. “It is more and more likely that the IPCC projections are too optimistic in the Arctic.”

«

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Apple and Fitbit numbers show smartwatches turning into a winner-take-all market • CNBC

Ari Levy:

»

At the end of 2018, Apple controlled 50% of the global smartwatch market in terms of units shipped, according to Strategy Analytics. Fitbit was second at 12.2%, followed by Samsung, which sells Android-powered devices, at 11.8%.

In its effort to stay competitive, Fitbit has been slashing prices, which resulted in a shrinking of its gross margin, or the profit left after subtracting costs of goods sold, to 34.5% from 39.8%.

Fitbit cited weaker-than-expected sales of its Versa Lite device, a lightweight smartwatch that it introduced earlier this year, for its disappointing numbers and lowered the midpoint of its revenue guidance for 2019 to $1.46bn from $1.56bn.

Following its after-hours plunge, Fitbit is now worth less than $1bn. It has lost 82% of its value since its IPO in 2015.

Park is trying to reduce his company’s reliance on device sales and focus more on premium services, which will create a “longer lasting relationship with users while changing perception of products and services from a nice to have to need to have,” the Fitbit CEO said on Wednesday’s earnings call.

«

Fitbit’s full-year revenue is about what Apple sells in wearables in a month. Now imagine that Samsung sells even less, and that other Android Wear companies sell less than that. Who’s really making profit in wearables?
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Calls for backdoor access to WhatsApp as Five Eyes nations meet • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh:

»

The meeting of the “Five Eyes” nations – the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – was hosted by new home secretary, Priti Patel, in an effort to coordinate efforts to combat terrorism and child abuse.

Dealing with the challenge faced by increasingly effective encryption was one of the main topics at the summit, officials said, at a time when technology companies want to make their services more secure after a range of security breaches.

The meetings, however, were held in private with no agenda being made public, making it difficult to conclude exactly what had been discussed by the ministers, officials and intelligence agencies from the countries involved.

However, British ministers have privately voiced particular concerns about WhatsApp, the widely used Facebook-owned messenger service, which was used by, among others, the three plotters in the London Bridge terror attack.

“We need to ensure that our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies are able to gain lawful and exceptional access to the information they need,” the Home Office said in a statement.

«

In a discussion last night with some technology journalists, we wondered why GCHQ and the rest haven’t stockpiled exploits to be used for targeting people whose messages they want to read. But maybe they have, and this is just noise.

Meanwhile on Patel, treat her like Trump: ignore everything she says, and wait for what someone better-informed and in power says or does.
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Google unlocks 33% of publisher paywalls on July 30. This is what happens next • What’s New In Publishing

Monojoy Bhattacharjee:

»

A number of major publishers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Medium, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News have safeguards in place to stop users from accessing paywalled content using Incognito Mode.

We tested the beta version of Chrome’s next update to gauge the extent of damage that will be inflicted on publisher paywalls. To cut a long story short, things aren’t looking good.

We tried to breach the paywalls of the publishers listed using Chrome’s current browser (v. 75), in Incognito Mode. Without fail, the websites detected the intrusion attempt and prevented access to the content. 

Using v.76 (beta), each and every one of the paywalls got unlocked without any difficulty whatsoever. 

Take a look at the screenshots below [in the story]. In each case, we tried opening the exact same page using the current version and the upcoming one. [The upcoming one gets past the paywall.]

No further explanations necessary.

«

Maybe leaky paywalls have had their day.
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Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 is its latest volley against the iPad Pro • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

»

For software, the Tab S6 runs Android 9 Pie with version 1.5 of Samsung’s OneUI interface. It also has support for Samsung’s DeX interface, which provides a more desktop-like experience when using the tablet with a keyboard. The new keyboard attachment has a function key to launch DeX quickly. DeX can also be outputted to an external display using the Tab S6’s USB Type-C port.

In terms of size and features, the Tab S6 compares closer to Apple’s most recent iPad Air than the more expensive iPad Pro. But the Air starts at a lower price and has a much more developed operating system and app ecosystem than the Tab S6. As with most of Samsung’s high-end tablet efforts for the past few years, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose the Tab S6 over Apple’s options. We’ll have a better idea of how well the Tab S6 stacks up against Apple and Microsoft’s tablets once we’ve had a chance to put it through a full review, so stay tuned for that.

«

External display likely coming to the iPad Pro in September with iOS 13, and filesystem access certainly, so not an advantage for long.
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Chinese vlogger who used filter to look younger caught in live-stream glitch • BBC

Dhruti Shah and Kerry Allen:

»

The blogger, who initially boasted a follower count of more than 100,000 on Douyu, is believed to have used a filter on her face during her appearances, and had been renowned for her “sweet and healing voice”.

China’s Global Times said she had been “worshipped” as a “cute goddess” by some members of her loyal audience with some fans even giving her more than 100,000 yuan ($14,533, £11,950).

However, live-streaming platform Lychee News says the incident happened on 25 July, during a joint live-stream with another user, Qingzi on the Douyu platform.

The Global Times reports that all was as normal and that her fans urged her to show her face and remove her filter but she refused, instead apparently saying: “I can’t show my face until I receive gifts worth 100,000 yuan ($11,950). After all, I’m a good-looking host.”

Followers began to send her donations with the largest reported to be 40,000 yuan ($5,813, £4,780) during the session.

However, at some point, it seems the filter being used by the vlogger stopped working and her real face became visible to her viewers.

She is reported to have noticed only when people who had signed up to her VIP access room started exiting en masse.

«

This is quite a “beauty filter”, though – it makes her look like an entirely different person. That’s some real-time deepfakery there.
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Millions in crypto is crossing the Russia-China border daily – and Tether is king • Coindesk

Anna Baydakova:

»

“Hear that sound?” asked the head of an over-the-counter (OTC) cryptocurrency trading desk — let’s call him ‘Oleg’ — who requested his real name and company be withheld. “You can hear it 24/7 in here.”

Business is brisk thanks to a constant flow of Chinese merchants who come in daily with heavy bags of cash. Oleg said his OTC desk sells about $3m worth of crypto every day. Most of it usually goes to China. But what’s perhaps most surprising is which crypto.

Only 20% of Oleg’s sales are in bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency with the largest market capitalization. The other 80% is in the dollar-pegged token known as tether, or USDT.

Tether’s best-known application is allowing crypto traders to move money between exchanges quickly to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities. But according to several Moscow OTC traders, it has at least one real-world use case – as the go-to remittance service for local Chinese importers.

The total volume of USDT purchased by Chinese businesses can reach $10m to $30m daily, these traders said.

“They accumulate a lot of cash in Moscow and need tether to transfer it to China,” said Maya Shakhnazarova, head of OTC trading at Huobi Russia, the Moscow office serving high-roller clients of Singapore-based exchange Huobi Global.

«

Gambling? Something.. else? Though the use of Tether completely makes sense: bitcoin can take ages and transactions can be super-expensive. Tether doesn’t have the same problem and huge amounts are washing around.
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Trueface raises $3.7m to recognise that gun, as it’s being pulled, in real time • Techcrunch

Mike Butcher:

»

Trueface is a US-based computer vision company that turns camera data into so-called ‘actionable data’ using machine learning and AI by employing partners who can perform facial recognition, threat detection, age and ethnicity detection, license plate recognition, emotion analysis as well as object detection. That means, for instance, recognising a gun, as it’s pulled in a dime store. Yes folks, welcome to your brave new world.

The company has now raised $3.7m from Lavrock Ventures, Scout Ventures, and Advantage Ventures to scale the team growing partnerships and market share.

Trueface claims it can identify enterprises’ employees for access to a building, detect a weapon as it’s being wielded, or stop fraudulent spoofing attempts. Quite some claims.

However, it’s good enough for the US Air Force as it recently partnered with them to enhance base security.

«

These could be famous last words which folk will laugh at in 20 years, but I think this is not going to go well.
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Report: Samsung extends shipments lead as Realme enters top ten • Android Authority

:

»

According to the tracking firm, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series and rejuvenated mid-range smartphones have resulted in a 7.1% year-on-year boost. The Korean manufacturer hit 76.6m smartphones shipped in the quarter, compared to 71.5m devices a year ago. In fact, the firm reportedly accounted for roughly a fifth of all smartphone shipments in this quarter.

Second-placed Huawei didn’t see quite the same level of growth, but it still managed to achieve a 4.6% boost over last year. The Chinese colossus reportedly shipped 56.7m smartphones in Q2 2019, compared to 54.2m in Q2 2018. Counterpoint notes that the effects of the U.S. trade ban weren’t fully experienced in this quarter, but that it expects a steep drop in performance come Q3.


Source: Counterpoint Research

Apple may have been in third place, but it saw a rather big 11.9% drop in shipments compared to Q2 2018. The firm shipped 36.4m phones in this quarter, as opposed to 41.3m a year ago. This performance means Xiaomi is roughly one percentage point away from passing Apple in terms of market-share, according to Counterpoint. Then again, Q2 isn’t traditionally Apple’s best quarter, as it launches its iPhone series in Q3 or Q4 anyway.

«

Samsung’s financials show its mobile revenue grew by 7%, but profits dropped by 11%; it blamed this on sluggish demand in the premium market and “intensifying competition in the low- to mid-range market”, plus the expense of clearing inventory of old models. Not seen it blame the latter before. Huawei’s problems lie ahead, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,122: Apple’s Wearables zoom, YouTube’s Indian growth, questions for Capital One, Galaxy Fold’s bad timing, and more


Time to outlaw this kind of thing? CC-licensed photo by Steve Garfield 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. Notice how tapping your ear has stopped meaning “can’t hear you” and is “can hear you now”? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New bill would ban autoplay videos and endless scrolling • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

»

Snapstreaks, YouTube autoplay, and endless scrolling are all coming under fire from a new bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), targeting the tech industry’s “addictive” design.

Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or the SMART Act, would ban these features that work to keep users on platforms longer, along with others, like Snapstreaks, that incentivize the continued use of these products. If approved, the Federal Trade Commission and Health and Human Services could create similar rules that would expire after three years unless Congress codified them into law.

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said. “Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.”

Deceptive design played an enormous part in last week’s FTC settlement with Facebook, and Hawley’s bill would make it unlawful for tech companies to use dark patterns to manipulate users into opting into services. For example, “accept” and “decline” checkboxes would need to be the same font, format, and size to help users make better, more informed choices.

«

Can go for the latter, but unsure about the other stuff.
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Apple third-quarter 2019 results and charts! • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

»

Apple’s latest quarterly results are out and the company generated $53.8bn in revenue, up 1% versus the year-ago quarter. It was (ever so slightly) the largest third quarter in Apple history.

Mac revenue was up 11% year over year, iPad up 8%, Services up 13%, and Wearables up 68%. iPhone was down 12%.

«

Just again: Wearables (and Home and Accessories) up by 68%. Which is a hell of a lot of AirPods and Watches. (And maybe HomePods. Maybe.)

The graphs tell the story pretty well. Revenues from iPhones edging down (below 50% of all revenue for the first time in aaages), but everything else is looking well. The smartphone growth story is over, for pretty much everyone except Huawei, below, but there are other stories now.
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Google reveals fistful of flaws in Apple’s iMessage app • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

»

A team of bug-hunters at Google have shared details of five flaws in Apple’s iMessage software that could make its devices vulnerable to attack.

In one case, the researchers said the vulnerability was so severe that the only way to rescue a targeted iPhone would be to delete all the data off it.

Another example, they said, could be used to copy files off a device without requiring the owner to do anything to aid the hack.

Apple released fixes last week. But the researchers said they had also flagged a sixth problem to Apple, which had not been rectified in the update to its mobile operating system. [And which they’re withholding from public disclosure until its deadline – so far unknown.]

“That’s quite unusual,” commented Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey. “The reputation of the Google Zero team is such that it is worth taking notice of.”

«

The bugs would have been worth millions on the black market – and still might be against phones that haven’t been updated. Over the years, iMessage has been a world of pain as well as one of Apple’s strongest selling points.
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Thuoghts on the Capital One US and Canada breach • OpenSecurity.global

Kevin Beaumont:

»

A bunch of things stand out:

• Why did the WAF account apparently have access to the S3 storage buckets?
• Why wasn’t the data of hundreds of millions of people’s credit checks encrypted?  Should that kind of data have been left for so long in cloud buckets?
• Why didn’t they notice all these S3 buckets being sync’d to a random VPN IP address?  It happened 4 months ago.
• Why didn’t they notice the Gitlab pages listing their config?
• Why didn’t they notice until somebody random emailed them to tell them?

I don’t know if more details will go public (they probably don’t want it to get to trial for obvious reasons).

I guess lessons learned from outside looking in is:

– Monitoring.  Ingest your cloud logs.  Alert against them.  Monitor sites like Github and Gitlab for obviously sensitive information, e.g. usernames, bucket names etc.

And yes, this is the kind of incident that would (and still will) catch many orgs with their pants down, Capital One aren’t alone.

«

It’s quite a mess, and Capital One really has harder questions to answer than “is it Amazon’s fault?”
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How regional languages are fueling YouTube’s growth in India • ETtech

Indulekha Aravind:

»

The fall in data tariff caused other tectonic shifts — millions of new users came online through their phones from every corner of the country and a large section of people started watching more videos online. This statistic from media agency Zenith’s report, Online Video Forecasts 2018, is telling: if Indians spent 2 minutes a day on an average watching online videos in 2012, they were watching close to an hour a day in 2018.

This year, that figure is set to touch 67 minutes a day, the global average. Video streaming is estimated to account for 75% of mobile internet use in India by 2021, according to app analytics firm App Annie.

This meant for many Indians, video has become a window to the internet. At the centre of this shift is YouTube’s video streaming app in India, which today has 265 million active users a month. In 2016, according to Vidooly, YouTube reportedly had 60 million unique users a month.

YouTube has in a sense become a Google for users like Ahmed and Khan who prefer video to text and are more comfortable in their regional language. Google India says 2018 saw a 270% year-on-year growth in voice queries across all its platforms.

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You may be entitled to $125 or more in the Equifax breach settlement • TidBITS

Josh Centers:

»

Equifax has now agreed to a $425m settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and all 50 US states. (That’s just the amount directed to consumers—Equifax will separately pay another $175m to the states and $100m to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.) If you were affected by this breach—and chances are that you were—you’re entitled to either up to 10 years of credit monitoring or a $125 cash payment.

Most coverage has focused on the $125 amount, but as the FTC page clearly says and Jessamyn West emphasized on Twitter, you can claim up to 10 hours of compensation for dealing with the breach, at $25 per hour, without submitting any additional documentation, for a total payment of $375. You just have to describe what you did and the approximate dates you took those actions. If you have supporting documentation for things you had to do to deal with identity theft, fraud, or other misuse of your information, you can claim up to 20 hours, for a total of $625. And if you have unreimbursed losses or expenses due to the breach—such as fees paid to an attorney or accountant—you can apply to get up to $20,000 back.

If you choose a cash payment instead of credit monitoring, you’ll be asked to affirm that you already have credit monitoring. Credit Karma already offers this service for free, so you should take the cash.

«

Please, American readers, do this. Do this. Make them hurt as much as is possible.

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Facebook connected her to a tattooed soldier in Iraq – or so she thought • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:

»

Ms. Holland and Mr. Anonsen represent two sides of a fraud that has flourished on Facebook and Instagram, where scammers impersonate real American service members to cheat vulnerable and lonely women out of their money. The deception has entangled the United States military, defrauded thousands of victims and smeared the reputations of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines. It has also sometimes led to tragedy.

The scheme stands out for its audacity. While fraud has proliferated on Facebook for years, those running the military romance scams are taking on not only one of the world’s most influential companies, but also the most powerful military — and succeeding. Many scammers operate from their phones in Nigeria and other African nations, working several victims at the same time. In interviews in Nigeria, six men told The New York Times that the love hoaxes were lucrative and low risk.

“Definitely there is always conscience,” said Akinola Bolaji, 35, who has conned people online since he was 15, including by posing on Facebook as an American fisherman named Robert. “But poverty will not make you feel the pain.”

Facebook has long had a mission to “connect the world.” But in the process, it has created a global gathering place where the crooks outnumber the cops.

«

It’s the 419 scam on steroids.
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Peloton is ending software updates for the first generation of its monitor – The Verge

Natt Garun:

»

Early adopters of Peloton’s fitness bikes are in for a pricey upgrade: this week, the company announced via an email to users that it will stop sending updates to bikes using the first generation of its touchscreen monitor. This model was sold in 2014 when Peloton first launched its bike before releasing a second iteration in 2016 that allows users to cast their screen to a smart TV.

Peloton says users with the first-generation screen on their bikes will still be able to ride and access live stream and on-demand content as usual, but they will stop receiving support for new features. The company confirmed to The Verge that it will continue to support bug fixes, however. In the past few months, lag and performance issues had been a problem for users with an older monitor on their bike as the company continues to push out new updates for music control, wireless headphone support, and workout metric displays.

“Given the age and technology of [the] first generation touchscreen, it no longer accommodates the software features we regularly develop and release,” the company said in a support page and in emails to customers.

To combat the issue, Peloton is offering affected users a discount code to purchase the latest version of its screen for $350 — which is more than 50% off of the full value of $750 — for those who wanted to upgrade before this week’s news.

«

So the bike works, but the screen becomes a dud. Clever upgrade offer: it’ll make a tidy profit on them.
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The Galaxy Fold’s exact release date might’ve finally leaked, and it’s horrible news • BGR

Zach Epstein:

»

According to South Korean financial news site The Investor, Samsung plans to release the Galaxy Fold during the third week of September, between September 18th and September 20th.

Ouch.

Smartphone launches typically take place on Friday, so September 20th is the most likely release date. Regardless of which of those three days Samsung lands on though, it likely won’t matter. Do you know what else is probably going to happen that week? Yup, Apple will probably release its new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Max, and iPhone 11R. In other words, there might not be a worse week during the entire year for Samsung to release a new smartphone, let alone a $2,000 flagship phone.

Based on Apple’s iPhone release schedules in the past, September 20th will indeed be the exact day Apple chooses to release its new iPhone 11 lineup. Aside from the iPhone X that was delayed until November, Apple typically chooses the second to last Friday in September to release new iPhone models. That was the case with the iPhone 8 last year, the iPhone 7 the year before, and the iPhone 6 back in 2014. The iPhone 6s launched on the last Friday of September in 2015, but only because the month ended on a Wednesday the following week.

«

The problem is, the launch will go under the radar but when the flaws start showing up, it’ll be a couple of weeks down the line, in a relative news drought.
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What Huawei didn’t say in its ‘robust’ half-year results • TechCrunch

Rita Liao:

»

The media has largely bought into Huawei’s “strong” half-year results today, but there’s a major catch in the report: the company’s quarter-by-quarter smartphone growth was zero.

The telecom equipment and smartphone giant announced on Tuesday that its revenue grew 23.2% to reach 401.3 billion yuan ($58.31bn) in the first half of 2019 despite all the trade restrictions the U.S. slapped on it. Huawei’s smartphone shipments recorded 118m units in H1, up 24% year-over-year.

What about quarterly growth? Huawei didn’t say, but some quick math can uncover what it’s hiding. The company clocked a strong 39% in revenue growth in the first quarter, implying that its overall H1 momentum was dragged down by Q2 performance.

The firm shipped 59m smartphones in the first quarter, which means the figure was also 59m units in the second quarter. As tech journalist Alex Barredo pointed out in a tweet, Huawei’s Q2 smartphone shipments were historically stronger than Q1.

«

As Barredo pointed out, they used to grow 32.5% on average from Q1 to Q2. To stall to 0% – especially with the growth seen in China – means the wheels really fell off with Trump’s ban.
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LG’s Q2 smartphone sales continue to slow with 21% YoY revenue drop • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:

»

Announced in a press release today, LG has confirmed its second-quarter results with stronger sales for the company as a whole, but a 15.4% drop in overall operating income. In the mobile division specifically, though, the news wasn’t so great.

LG saw an increase between Q1 and Q2 of 2019, seeing sales of US$1.38bn. That’s an increase of 6.8% between the two quarters, but a drop of 21.9% compared to the same period in 2018. LG puts the blame on the overall stagnant demand and aggressive pricing from Chinese brands.

The mobile division also saw an operating loss of US$268.4m as it invests in relocating its smartphone production to Vietnam. LG says that it expects things to improve in Q3 with the “growing demand” for 5G smartphones as well as the introduction of “competitive mass-tier smartphones,” meaning we’ll likely see some mid-range devices this fall.

«

LG is just shovelling money into a furnace there, and though it hasn’t released its smartphone sales figures for about a year, but there’s no reason to think they’re increasing. Legacy players here are just throwing good money after bad.
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Sony has sold 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles • Engadget

Steve Dent:

»

Despite flagging sales of late, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold 100m units, making it the fastest-selling console to hit that number. In its latest earnings report, Sony revealed that it sold 3.2m PS4s between March 31st and June 30th, after announcing that 96.8m units had sold in the previous quarter. That means it hit the 100m figure on the nose in five years and seven months, just two months quicker than Nintendo’s Wii.

Sony also revealed that for the first time, folks are buying more games via digital downloads than physical discs, marking a trend that’s been ongoing for a while now.

Despite its half-decade age, PS4 sales have never really flagged until recently, with 17.8m sold last year, down just 1.2m over 2017. However, it took a noticeable dive last quarter, and Sony has warned that it expects 2019 sales to be down more than it originally forecast last quarter. A slow demise in PS4 sales is to be expected, though, considering that Sony’s next-gen PS5 should arrive in fall of 2020, with support for ray-tracing 8K, SSD storage and PS4 backward-compatibility.

In other Sony news, smartphone revenue dropped by 15% over last quarter, continuing what seems like a never-ending trend. It sold less than half the number of smartphones it did during the same period last year, just 900,000 in total. To give you an idea of how bad that is, total units sold in 2018 was less than half of 2017, and so far, 2019 is half of 2018.

«

Sony should just name its next smartphone the Zeno. But – and here’s the big thing – it actually eked out an operating income, after a solid year of loss, of US$9.4m on revenue of $914m – so each phone had an average price of $1,015.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,121: Hong Kong’s facial fights, Huawei and Google’s smart speaker plans, Russia’s radiation leak, would Netflix add ads?, and more


The Fortnite World Cup: it was really quite the event. CC-licensed photo by Several seconds 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. Probably. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

In Hong Kong’s protests, faces become weapons • The New York Times

Paul Mozur:

»

The police officers wrestled with Colin Cheung in an unmarked car. They needed his face.

They grabbed his jaw to force his head in front of his iPhone. They slapped his face. They shouted, “Wake up!” They pried open his eyes. It all failed: Mr. Cheung had disabled his phone’s facial-recognition login with a quick button mash as soon as they grabbed him.

As Hong Kong convulses amid weeks of protests, demonstrators and the police have turned identity into a weapon. The authorities are tracking protest leaders online and seeking their phones. Many protesters now cover their faces, and they fear that the police are using cameras and possibly other tools to single out targets for arrest.

And when the police stopped wearing identification badges as the violence escalated, some protesters began to expose officers’ identities online. One fast-growing channel on the social messaging app Telegram seeks and publishes personal information about officers and their families. The channel, “Dadfindboy,” has more than 50,000 subscribers and advocates violence in crude and cartoonish ways. Rival pro-government channels seek to unmask protesters in a similar fashion…

…The authorities in Hong Kong have outlined strict privacy controls for the use of facial recognition and the collection of other biometric data, although the extent of their efforts is unclear. They also appear to be using other technological methods for tracking protesters. Last month, a 22-year old man was arrested for being the administrator of a Telegram group.

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16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf becomes Fortnite’s first-ever solo world champion • CNN

Shannon Liao:

»

Fortnite has wrapped its first-ever massive sporting event in New York’s Arthur Ashe tennis stadium. It was anyone’s game: It didn’t matter how famous a player was nor what large organization was backing each member of the all-male playing field.

Beating out other pros and famous streamers, Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, 16, made a name for himself by dominating from the first round and ultimately taking home the $3 million grand prize for individual players. That’s the largest-ever payout for a single player in an esports tournament.
After securing a victory in the first round and nine in-game kills, Giersdorf went on to rack up dozens of in-game kills each round, until he ended up with 59 points — a huge lead over the second-place winner…

In second place, 24-year-old Harrison “Psalm” Chang — a former professional Heroes of the Storm player — won $1.8 million. Shane “Epikwhale” Cotton took third, winning $1.2 million. He is 16 years old and from Redondo Beach, California. In fourth, Nate “Kreo” Kou, 18, from Parkland, Florida, won $1.05 million.

At 24, Chang was one of the oldest competing on Sunday.

«

Whole new world.
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Huawei and Google were working on new smart speaker before Trump’s ban • The Information

Juro Osawa:

»

Before the US president’s action, which was in response to national security concerns, Huawei’s plan was to unveil the new speaker at the IFA tech trade show in Berlin this September, the people said. The speaker, powered by Google Assistant, was aimed at markets outside China, and Huawei was hoping to sell it online in the US.

“We worked on this project with Google for a year and made a lot of progress. Then everything suddenly stopped,” said a Huawei employee who declined to be named. 

A Huawei spokesman declined to comment. Google representatives didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment. 

Huawei has been a major Google business partner for years: Huawei phones run on the Android operating system and Huawei smartwatches use Google’s OS for wearable devices. The smart speaker project, which hasn’t previously been reported, highlights the breadth of Google’s collaborations with Huawei, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker by shipments. Before May, the two companies also discussed other topics including how to make Huawei phones compatible with Android Auto, a Google program that connects cars with smartphones, according to the people familiar with the matter.

«

That must have really annoyed Samsung: it hasn’t had anything like that kind of help from Google. But after the publicity that Huawei has had, how eager would people have been to have a permanent listening device in their home branded to a Chinese company?
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Gigantic, mysterious radiation leak traced to facility in Russia • New Scientist

Ruby Prosser Scully:

»

The source of a gigantic, mysterious leak of radioactive material that swept across Europe in 2017 has been traced to a Russian nuclear facility, which appears to have been preparing materials for experiments in Italy.

The leak released up to 100 times the amount of radiation into the atmosphere that the Fukushima disaster did. Italian scientists were the first to raise the alarm on 2 October, when they noticed a burst of the radioactive ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere. This was quickly corroborated by other monitoring laboratories across Europe.

Georg Steinhauser at Leibniz University Hannover in Germany says he was “stunned” when he first noticed the event. Routine surveillance detects several radiation leaks each year, mostly of extremely low levels of radionuclides used in medicine. But this event was different.

“The ruthenium-106 was one of a kind. We had never measured anything like this before,” says Steinhauser. Even so, the radiation level wasn’t high enough to impact human health in Europe, although exposure closer to the site of release would have been far greater.

The Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Security in Paris soon concluded that the most probable source of the leak was between the Volga river and Ural mountains in Russia. This is where Russia’s Mayak facility is located. The site, which includes a plant that processes spent nuclear fuel, suffered the world’s third most serious nuclear accident in 1957.

At the time of the 2017 leak, Russian officials denied the possibility of the facility being the source, saying there were no radioactive ruthenium traces in the surrounding soil. Instead, they suggested the source may have been a radionuclide battery from a satellite burning up during re-entry into the atmosphere.

«

How much radiation did the Fukushima disaster release, you ask? One X-ray for everyone. A hundred times that is a bit more significant.
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The economics of legalising cannabis: pricing and policing are crucial • The Conversation

Alice Mesnard is a reader in economics at the University of London:

»

The increased competition that the legal market would bring would likely substantially increase consumption – not something most policy makers want. So as well as implementing a legal market, there needs to be a mix of policies to control consumption, including sanctions that are enforced against illegal activities. This would allow a government to price out dealers, while keeping the price of legal cannabis relatively high.

The reasoning is simple: if production or distribution costs of illegal cannabis increase, it is easier to drive criminals out of business by selling legal cannabis. My research shows that the harsher the punishments you put in place against people selling cannabis illegally, the higher you can set the price of legal cannabis to price out dealers. We call this the “eviction price”.

Other instruments governments can use to increase the eviction price are to deter consumers from buying illegal cannabis through enforced sanctions or warning them against the dangers of using illegal cannabis compared to high-quality, safe products supplied on the legal market.

It’s also important to introduce incentives for illegal cannabis producers and sellers to turn their activity toward the legal sector. So as well as investment in law enforcement to crack down on criminal activity, it’s important that former cannabis dealers are given viable job alternatives. Otherwise they may just switch to selling alternative illegal drugs or close substitutes.

«

A trio of MPs visited Canada and came back convinced that cannabis should be legalised in the UK. (A step further than decriminalisation, which simply makes it not an offence to possess.) This would be very overdue. But the point about finding something for cannabis sellers to do which isn’t just moving to harder drugs is key.
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Thinking the unthinkable: Netflix as gatekeeper • Midia Research

Tim Mulligan:

»

the financial reality [for Netflix] of running a subscription-based digital entertainment service on wafer-thin margins is starting to appear increasingly challenged. In light of declining net revenues, with net income for H1 2019 at $614.7m, down from $674.473m for H1 2018 – and with the cost of revenues increasing from $4.7bn in H1 2018 to $5.9bn in H1 2019, change is now required. Add to this stalling membership growth, and the previously unthinkable becomes thinkable as advertising becomes an area for revisiting.

As the above chart illustrates, despite being SVOD subscribers Netflix paid members are actually more responsive than the consumer average for relevant targeted and considered advertising.

«

The worst possible thing Netflix could do for customer loyalty is to start running adverts, and I have no idea who the 74% of monsters who expect to see ads if they have paid a subscription fee for online video are. Into the sea with the lot of them.
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How to do PR as an early stage startup • Sifted

Max Tatton-Brown:

»

The natural story of a business involves a steady cadence of events. 

You found it, you begin to make progress, you get your first big customer, you hire some interesting people to the team. THEN YOU TAKE FUNDING (potentially big moment.) Then you hire some more, move offices, learn something important that means you pivot slightly THEN YOU PARTNER WITH ONE OF THE BIGGEST COMPANIES IN THE WORLD AND BRING YOUR PRODUCT TO MILLIONS. Then you hire some more people, and so on and so forth.

It’s easy to not say anything about the smaller stories when you are early on with your business. But actually, once you are a year or two down the line, it will really benefit you to be able to point back to that consistent steady rhythm of progress which built to the current moment. 

The crucial point here is: it’s impossible to go back and build it in retrospect. You don’t want to regret something you can’t go back and “have done”.

Furthermore, if you don’t leverage a piece of information by capturing it somewhere public, it cannot act on your behalf with scale. You will have to tell people one by one, instead of it showing up when they search for you (or the topic.)

Short notes, on a regular basis (that read nothing like a press release) can go a long way. Publicly capture the breadcrumb trail so it’s where when you need it.

Here’s a fantastic recent example from Paul Smith at Ricochet — publishing the latest user metrics for their app while still in beta. Five minutes work to take data they are tracking anyway and leave a little public essence for their narrative to pick up later.

«

When doing media training, I’ve often pointed out to startups that just as they have a multi-year product strategy, so they should have a multi-year media strategy. (And it might not involve lots of press releases.)
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The problems with risk assessment tools • The New York Times

Chelsea Barabas, Karthik Dinakar and Colin Doyle:

»

Algorithmic risk assessments are touted as being more objective and accurate than judges in predicting future violence. Across the political spectrum, these tools have become the darling of bail reform. But their success rests on the hope that risk assessments can be a valuable course corrector for judges’ faulty human intuition.

When it comes to predicting violence, risk assessments offer more magical thinking than helpful forecasting. We and other researchers have written a statement about the fundamental technical flaws with these tools.

Risk assessments are virtually useless for identifying who will commit violence if released pretrial. Consider the pre-eminent risk assessment tool on the market today, the Public Safety Assessment, or P.S.A., adopted in New Jersey, Kentucky and various counties across the country. In these jurisdictions, the P.S.A. assesses every person accused of a crime and flags them as either at risk for “new violent criminal activity” or not. A judge sees whether the person has been flagged for violence and, depending on the jurisdiction, may receive an automatic recommendation to release or detain.

Risk assessments’ simple labels obscure the deep uncertainty of their actual predictions. Largely because pretrial violence is so rare, it is virtually impossible for any statistical model to identify people who are more likely than not to commit a violent crime.

The P.S.A. predicts that 92% of the people that the algorithm flags for pretrial violence will not get arrested for a violent crime. The fact is, a vast majority of even the highest-risk individuals will not commit a violent crime while awaiting trial.

«

The trio of authors are experts in the topic, based at MIT and Harvard, and note that “There are more legally innocent people behind bars in America today than there were convicted people in jails and prisons in 1980.”
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Scientists frown at technology’s ability to read facial expressions • The Times

Mark Bridge:

»

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts and lead author of the paper in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, said: “People scowl when angry, on average, approximately 25% of the time, but they move their faces in other meaningful ways when angry.

“They might cry, or smile, or widen their eyes and gasp. And they also scowl when not angry, such as when they are concentrating. Similarly, most smiles don’t imply a person is happy.”

The team said this was significant while companies and nations are investing in technology to predict feelings, often for security or law-enforcement. “It is not possible to confidently infer happiness from a smile, anger from a scowl or sadness from a frown as much of technology tries to do when applying what are mistakenly believed to be the scientific facts,” they wrote.

Technology giants including Microsoft, IBM and Amazon have developed algorithms to infer emotions from faces in photos and videos. Such technology is expected to be used increasingly in policing and border control.

«

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,120: Norway’s electric plane plan, Weird Al and the spyware, IRS writes to bitcoiners, Tumblr’s demise, and more


Siri, couldn’t we opt out of ever having what we say heard by your humans? CC-licensed photo by Joe Wilcox 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. Idiocracy, documentary? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Norway to begin electrifying its aircraft • E+T Magazine

»

In an announcement this week, Avinor, a government-owned company which operates most of Norway’s civil airports, announced that it would aim to move to 100% electric flights. It set a goal of electrifying all short-haul flights by 2040.

“We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours [90 minutes] can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric,” said Dag Falk-Peterson, chief executive of Avinor, in a statement to AFP.

This would include all domestic flights and flights to other Scandinavian capitals, he said. Avinor is working on a tender offer for a small electric aircraft with 19 seats which could be trialled in commercial flights by 2025.

Electric planes are cheaper to run, and are reportedly less noisy than standard planes. In the coming years, Avinor intends to phase in biofuels for aircraft in order to reduce its carbon footprint before going electric.

Although electric aircraft have been flown in demonstrations for decades, such as with the much-publicised flight of the Airbus E-Fan across the English Channel in July 2015, they have yet to go mainstream. At present, the storage capacity of the batteries is not great enough to compensate for their weight.

As rapid advances in battery technology improve energy density, however, it is likely that other vehicles will follow cars and trucks in going electric.

«

Promising, though a long way from replacing the capacity that we have now. (Thanks Arthur M for the link.)
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Mathematician solves computer science conjecture in two pages • Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

»

A paper posted online this month has settled a nearly 30-year-old conjecture about the structure of the fundamental building blocks of computer circuits. This “sensitivity” conjecture has stumped many of the most prominent computer scientists over the years, yet the new proof is so simple that one researcher summed it up in a single tweet.

“This conjecture has stood as one of the most frustrating and embarrassing open problems in all of combinatorics and theoretical computer science,” wrote Scott Aaronson of the University of Texas, Austin, in a blog post. “The list of people who tried to solve it and failed is like a who’s who of discrete math and theoretical computer science,” he added in an email.

«

I’ll be honest: I understand the problem (at least as described by Klarreich in her excellent explanatory metaphor – an achievement which deserves some sort of prize itself), but I don’t understand the answer. However, I’m sure plenty of you will lap it up.
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The hidden costs of automated thinking • The New Yorker

Jonathan Zittrain:

»

As knowledge generated by machine-learning systems is put to use, these kinds of gaps [between what is understood, and what is possible – such as drugs whose mechanism isn’t understood] may prove consequential. Health-care A.I.s have been successfully trained to classify skin lesions as benign or malignant. And yet—as a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and M.I.T. showed, in a paper published this year—they can also be tricked into making inaccurate judgments using the same techniques that turn cats into guacamole. (Among other things, attackers might use these vulnerabilities to commit insurance fraud.) Seduced by the predictive power of such systems, we may stand down the human judges whom they promise to replace. But they will remain susceptible to hijacking—and we will have no easy process for validating the answers they continue to produce.

Could we create a balance sheet for intellectual debt—a system for tracking where and how theoryless knowledge is used? Our accounting could reflect the fact that not all intellectual debt is equally problematic. If an A.I. produces new pizza recipes, it may make sense to shut up and enjoy the pizza; by contrast, when we begin using A.I. to make health predictions and recommendations, we’ll want to be fully informed.

«

That’s the tone of the article, but the fine detail is much more nuanced.
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Tumblr has transformed into a brand-safe zombie of its former self • One Man And His Blog

Adam Tinworth:

»

Based on an interview with Verizon Media’s chief business officer Iván Markman, [Tumblr’s origins as a hub of creativity “and, let’s be honest, porn” is] dead and gone. The interview itself is almost eye-watering in its relentless use of corporate jargon — what happens to a human being to make them talk like this? — and the section on Tumblr particularly depressing:  

»

Q: What about Tumblr? Are you not pitching it anymore? Is it still a part of Verizon Media’s goal to serve the customer?

A: We’ve been focused on making that environment more brand safe. We invested a lot in that. To the extent that our advertises and by the way the programmatic side of the house, the DSP and native, they are accessing those audiences and whatnot. To your point, as you think about how we present ourselves, we present ourselves more in the horizontal capabilities like the connected channels, brand safety, diverse insights. If we’re in a meeting with someone and they’re really focused on a younger demo, more focused on art, and I want to deliver in that environment.

«

Yes, Tumblr is now for “brand safe” art from a younger demographic. That’s  destroying everything that it was in order to make it profitable at a corporate scale.

In other words — it’s a stumbling, zombie-like shell of its past self.

«

You might think “hey, making money is good”, but Tinworth’s point is that Tumblr offered a pseudonymous space for that exploration that other platforms don’t.
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This is what going viral looks like: the numbers behind FaceApp • Appfigures

Ariel Michaeli:

»

What does going viral mean for downloads? Let’s look at our App Intelligence:

Before going viral FaceApp averaged around 4.8K downloads per day across both the iOS App Store and Google Play in the US. After going viral, downloads grew by a multiple of more than 40 to 195K per day.

What’s also obvious from the chart above is that although the app averaged a similar number of downloads on the iOS App Store and Google Play before going viral, it’s the iOS App Store that’s fueling much of this growth.

In the 25 days before going viral, we estimate FaceApp for iOS had 68K downloads in the US. In the last 5 days, we estimate the total to be 854K. And, that’s a comparison of 25 days to just 5 days.

On Google Play the numbers are much lower. In the 25 days prior to the app going viral, FaceApp totaled 54K downloads in the US. After going viral, the 5-day total increased to just 119K, roughly double.

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Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.

Apple says the data “is used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognise what you say”.

But the company does not explicitly state that that work is undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymised recordings.

«

So there’s the trifecta: all of Amazon, Google and Apple sends some audio to humans to listen. In its way, rather like the revelation that your smartphone maps where you go and stores it, which we didn’t intuitively know in 2011 – but turns out everyone did that too.
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How we are talking to Alexa • NHS Digital

Eva Lake is head of engagement for the NHS website team:

»

There are currently over 1,500 organisations consuming content from the NHS website. Our syndication service allows these third-party partners to integrate our clinically approved content and service information through free application programming interfaces (APIs) or widgets.

It is estimated that 14% of UK households now have voice-activated speakers. Whether or not you believe predictions that 50% of searches will be by voice by 2020, this is a significant market – and is particularly significant for health information. Using websites can be hard for people with literacy difficulties and accessibility needs. Voice-activated devices offer one way, for some people, of getting around these problems. So, this is an important new opportunity for us – but one that we have approached carefully.

Members of our syndication team went to NHS Expo 2017 to talk to people about the API offer from the NHS website. We met members of the Amazon Alexa team at the event and found there was mutual interest in exploring this further.

We had previously looked at how to build a ‘skill’, the equivalent of an app which individual users can enable on their Alexa speaker. We could have developed a skill ourselves, without a close partnership with Amazon, but the contact at Expo developed into a chance to take advantage of their expertise in creating content for voice. By adding our content to Alexa’s core knowledge base, it could be used for all relevant questions not requiring a user to enable a skill in advance. This is key when you consider the challenge of reaching those who are not actively engaging in their own health.

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Amazon as experiment • Benedict Evans

»

I sometimes think that if you could look in the safe behind Jeff Bezos’s desk, instead of the sports almanac from Back to the Future, you’d find an Encyclopedia of Retail, written in maybe 1985. There would be Post-It notes on every page, and every one of those notes has been turned into a team or maybe a product.

Amazon is so new, and so dramatic in its speed and scale and aggression, that we can easily forget how many of the things it’s doing are actually very old. And, we can forget how many of the slightly dusty incumbent retailers we all grew up with were also once radical, daring, piratical new businesses that made people angry with their new ideas.

This goes back to the beginning of mass retail. In Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, a tremendously entertaining novel about the creation of department stores in 1860s Paris, Octave Mouret builds a small shop into a vast new enterprise, dragging it into existence through force of will, inspiration, and genius. In the process, he creates fixed pricing, discounts, marketing, advertising, merchandising, display, and something called “returns.” He sends out catalogs across the country. His staff is appalled that he wants to sell a new fabric at less than cost; “that’s the whole idea!” he shouts. Loss leaders are nothing new.

Meanwhile, the other half of the story follows the small, traditional shopkeepers in the area, who are driven out of business one by one. Zola sees them as part of the past to be swept away. They’re doomed, and they don’t understand—indeed, they’re both baffled and outraged by Mouret’s new ideas.

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Also worth listening to: the (short; 15 mins) podcast from the “50 Things That Made The Modern Economy” series about the Montgomery Ward shopping catalogue. The whole series is excellent; cue it up for those quarters of an hour that would otherwise go to waste.
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Apparently, I have to install spyware on my phone to attend a Weird Al concert • PocketNow

Adam Lein found that the tickets for said concert were only available inside the AXS app – not PDFs, not part of Wallet:

»

There’s an article on The Outline that goes into a lot of detail about the AXS app and how much data it’s designed to collect from your phone and subsequently share with all sorts of 3rd party companies for marketing, ad sales, and who knows what else. You can read about how the app scrapes your first and last name, precise location, how often the app is used, what content is viewed using the app, which ads are clicked, what purchases are made (and not made), a user’s personal advertising identifier, IP address, operating system, device make and model, billing address, credit card number, security code, mailing address, phone number, email address, etc. All of that data can be matched up to your other advertising profiles in other big-data collection companies like Facebook & Google in order to influence you in other ways… such as buying more stuff.

Some Reddit users have found that the app can be used to track your locations within a venue as well using Bluetooth beacons to promote discounts in a nearby food court or whatnot. The privacy-violating features are generally disguised as something that ads convenience, but the data collected can certainly be used for more nefarious purposes.

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Once again, the utterly rapacious nature of American companies towards peoples’ data is just mindboggling.
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We tested Europe’s new digital lie detector. It failed • The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher and Ludovica Jona:

»

Prior to your arrival at the airport, using your own computer, you log on to a website, upload an image of your passport, and are greeted by an avatar of a brown-haired man wearing a navy blue uniform.

“What is your surname?” he asks. “What is your citizenship and the purpose of your trip?” You provide your answers verbally to those and other questions, and the virtual policeman uses your webcam to scan your face and eye movements for signs of lying.

At the end of the interview, the system provides you with a QR code that you have to show to a guard when you arrive at the border. The guard scans the code using a handheld tablet device, takes your fingerprints, and reviews the facial image captured by the avatar to check if it corresponds with your passport. The guard’s tablet displays a score out of 100, telling him whether the machine has judged you to be truthful or not.

A person judged to have tried to deceive the system is categorized as “high risk” or “medium risk,” dependent on the number of questions they are found to have falsely answered. Our reporter — the first journalist to test the system before crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border earlier this year — provided honest responses to all questions but was deemed to be a liar by the machine, with four false answers out of 16 and a score of 48. The Hungarian policeman who assessed our reporter’s lie detector results said the system suggested that she should be subject to further checks, though these were not carried out…

…The results of the test are not usually disclosed to the traveler; The Intercept obtained a copy of our reporter’s test only after filing a data access request under European privacy laws.

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Developed in the UK, and claims to pick up on “micro gestures” in facial expressions, etc. As if a virtual border agent viewing you through a webcam (which you probably won’t look at) weren’t weird enough already.
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Cryptocurrency investors start receiving letters from the IRS • The Block

»

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has begun sending letters to over 10,000 U.S. cryptocurrency investors last week, asking them to report their crypto holdings and pay taxes properly. The IRS said that the names of these taxpayers “were obtained through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts.”

There are three variations of the educational letter (6173, 6174 and 6174-A), all of which are supposed to help taxpayers understand their tax and filing obligations and how to correct past errors.

Letter 6174 and 6174-A are no-action letters, which means that if all the obligations have been met, there is no need to respond. The taxpayers could receive these letters despite being fully compliant. Letter 6173, on the other hand, alleges noncompliance and requires action. If there is none, the tax account will be examined by the IRS.

«

The chickens start coming home to roost: realisable appreciation in the value of an asset, even if it’s virtual, can still attract attention (the IRS letter makes clear it’s about asset trading, rather than just hodling). Wonder if the UK’s Revenue and Customs service will start doing the same soon.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,119: YouTube’s climate problem, monitors for all!, Tim Cook’s successor, the Airbus rollover problem, Brexit wargames, and more


The Joint European Torus fusion reactor: we need its successors to work if we’re going to beat climate change. CC-licensed photo by aglet 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. Too hot to handle. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Most YouTube climate change videos ‘oppose the consensus view’ • The Guardian

Gregory Robinson:

»

[Dr Joachim] Allgaier [of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany] noted, however, that although chemtrails videos received a lot of views, it does not mean the people watching them believed what they were told.

He said it was important to examine the algorithms that decide which videos to show people, but did not suggest YouTube should remove climate denial material.

“Effectively, this would be censorship, and YouTube says they are against censorship,” Allgaier said. “Perhaps they could change their algorithms to prioritise factual information, especially for health and medicine.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our community guidelines.

“Over the last year we’ve worked to better surface credible news sources across our site for people searching for news-related topics, begun reducing recommendations of borderline content and videos that could misinform users in harmful ways, and introduced information panels to help give users more sources where they can fact-check information for themselves.”

Allgaier suggested more scientists should start taking YouTube seriously as a platform for sharing information. “YouTube has an enormous reach as an information channel, and some of the popular science YouTubers are doing an excellent job at communicating complex subjects and reaching new audiences,” he said.

“Scientists could form alliances with science communicators, politicians and those in popular culture in order to reach out to the widest possible audience. They should speak out publicly about their research and be transparent in order to keep established trustful relationships with citizens and society.”

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YouTube could prioritise the truth. Haha, just joking.
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The only chart we should be looking at • Chartable

Gregor Aisch:

»

it is important to mention a well-known flaw in this dataset: Rich countries have notoriously managed to “outsource” their emissions to China. A lot of the increase we see is being caused by goods like smartphones and cheap clothes, which are being manufactured in East Asia but are consumed in Western countries.

Finally, there is another important thing missing in the emission curve, and that’s where we need to be heading. The October 2018 special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius we need to reach net-zero emissions between 2045 and 2055.

Global climate emissions target

Without showing this goal in the emission charts, even a slight reduction in emissions may look like a big achievement, while the truth is that it’s not. Or, as Greta has put it in her speech:

»

“The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.”

«

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That’s a truly scary graph. Unless we invent fusion reactors or give everyone a fission reactor and solar panels in the next decade, we’re cooked.

Maybe that’s the answer to the Fermi Paradox.
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Do you really need another computer monitor? • OneZero

Angela Lashbrook:

»

Yes, [you] do. Multiple monitors actually make a positive difference when it comes to productivity.

I started to suspect this was true over the course of the past year, when I switched from working at various media companies and transitioned to freelance writing at home. It turns out there’s research to support my newfound discovery: For most office labor, employees benefit from multiple monitors, so if you — or even better, your employer — have a little extra cash and want to beef up productivity in a painless way, opening your wallet for an extra monitor or two is well worth it.

“If you have a lot of papers you’re working with on a project, would you rather work on a big conference table or an airline tray table?” says John Stasko, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has researched the effects of using multiple monitors. “I don’t know many people who’d trade their multi-mon setup and go back to a single monitor.”

…These experiences are echoed in the scientific literature on the topic, which while scant, uniformly backs up the anecdotes presented here as far as I could find. A 2004 study looked at how performance compared when a worker used one monitor as opposed to two. It found that workers got started on work 6% more quickly, worked 16% faster, and had 33% fewer errors when using more than one screen.

Users also vastly preferred the use of multiple monitors — those with multiple monitors rated their experience 28% easier to focus and 24% more comfortable.

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Apple’s next CEO to replace Tim Cook: Jeff Williams • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

While Williams can be direct and demanding in meetings with other executives, current and former colleagues say he sometimes relies heavily on a circle of lieutenants to play bad cop in larger engineering-team meetings. With the designers, his sensibility doesn’t always translate. “He comes from the operations side, and the metrics being applied there often have very little meaning in design,” says a longtime member of the design team.

The Watch has been Williams’s biggest test. Months before the first model’s release in 2015, some employees testing the device began having allergic reactions to the type of nickel used in its casing, a not-uncommon issue with wristwear. Williams made the call to scrap thousands of Watches the company had already produced and ramp up a separate manufacturing line with a different kind of nickel. Employees also noticed that the “taptic engine,” a Williams priority that allows the Watch to vibrate more quietly than a typical phone part when it receives notifications, was prone to long-term failure from corrosion. Again, Williams decided not to send out a few thousand Watches that were affected. Employees got them instead.

These choices spared many early adopters from getting defective early models of the Apple Watch. They also helped make the watch tough to find in stores for months after its official release, and some online shipments were delayed, too. When customers could find some, they might be the Watch models shipped with 18-karat gold cases, which cost as much as $17,000—conceivable for wealthy Rolex fans, but a poor investment given that Apple’s model would be obsolete in a few years…

…One former senior Apple executive says he’s less worried about Williams’s ability to implement ideas from the design team than he is about the managers reporting to Williams. The new team leaders, longtime Apple hardware and software design managers Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, are a “step down” from Ive in terms of design prowess, the former senior executive says, but acknowledges that workflow may be simpler with Hankey and Dye running things. Before, “those people were pseudo in charge, but not really in charge, because Jony could overrule them.”

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Sounds like a pretty solid choice. Particularly his willingness to scrap things that don’t work.
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Airbus A350 software bug forces airlines to turn planes off and on every 149 hours • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

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Some models of Airbus A350 airliners still need to be hard rebooted after exactly 149 hours, despite warnings from the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) first issued two years ago.

In a mandatory airworthiness directive (AD) reissued earlier this week, EASA urged operators to turn their A350s off and on again to prevent “partial or total loss of some avionics systems or functions”.

The revised AD, effective from tomorrow (26 July), exempts only those new A350-941s which have had modified software pre-loaded on the production line. For all other A350-941s, operators need to completely power the airliner down before it reaches 149 hours of continuous power-on time.

Concerningly, the original 2017 AD was brought about by “in-service events where a loss of communication occurred between some avionics systems and avionics network” (sic). The impact of the failures ranged from “redundancy loss” to “complete loss on a specific function hosted on common remote data concentrator and core processing input/output modules”.

In layman’s English, this means that prior to 2017, at least some A350s flying passengers were suffering unexplained failures of potentially flight-critical digital systems.

Airbus’ rival Boeing very publicly suffered from a similar time-related problem with its 787 Dreamliner: back in 2015 a memory overflow bug was discovered that caused the 787’s generators to shut themselves down after 248 days of continual power-on operation. A software counter in the generators’ firmware, it was found, would overflow after that precise length of time. The Register is aware that this is not the only software-related problem to have plagued the 787 during its earlier years.

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149 hours is a strange number to cause a buffer overflow; it’s not a critical number in octal or hexadecimal.

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“We wargamed the last days of Brexit: here’s what we found out” • openDemocracy

Luke Cooper:

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As Brexit has radically disrupted the existing British party system, the factional roles assumed by players did not tend to align with a particular party leadership. Instead different Tory and Labour factions were represented within the game. Each player had a series of votes allocated in the British Parliament. Larger factions had two different vote allocations: ‘waverers’ and diehards. They could potentially cast these votes in different directions. Another element of the game design lay in a consciously British-centric approach. An assumption underpinning the game was that the EU side would act as, in gaming-terms, a ‘dummy-player’. This refers to when an actor is present within a scenario, who does not face choices that affect the overall arc of the decision pathway. With modifications to the Withdrawal Agreement persistently ruled out by the EU, had players assumed this vantage point they would not have faced any choices. As a dummy-player, the umpire thus articulated the position of the EU-27 states at key decision-making points across the game.

Following the playful spirit of Debord’s legacy, this really was a game. Players accumulated points in relation to different votes passing and goals being reached. Some had hidden objectives that were revealed at the end of the game, identifying a potential conflict between the public statements of factions and their underlying motivations. The ‘winner’ had the most points at the end of the game.

The outcome of the game eventually resolved itself in a new referendum. By this stage the game had moved into the near future of early autumn 2019. The cross-party negotiations had failed to reach a breakthrough acceptable to both leaderships. Softer members of the Tory Brexit Delivery Group then split away from the party leadership, crossing the floor to support a new referendum. Interestingly, this came as a surprise to the game designer, Barbrook, who had anticipated a stalemate and a further extension of Article 50 at the end of October 2019.

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This would be remarkable, to say the least, but the current Westminster situation is flattered by being called “febrile”.
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Apple to acquire majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business • Intel Newsroom

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Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1bn, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

Combining the acquired patents for current and future wireless technology with Apple’s existing portfolio, Apple will hold over 17,000 wireless technology patents, ranging from protocols for cellular standards to modem architecture and modem operation. Intel will retain the option to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet of things devices and autonomous vehicles.

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Been noises about this in the media for a week or so. Seemed worth just waiting for the official confirmation. The list of exceptions Intel gets is fun. But you can’t make half a modem. Apple will have to set this group to work to make 5G modems, probably for 2022.
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How to talk to boomers and other older people in your life about fake news • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

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Caulfield said it’s common for older people to unwittingly share things that have extremist messages or iconography. “It’s very hard to see people posting stuff that may come from a kind of a dark place that they don’t realize is dark,” Caulfield said. “What do you do when your parents go from posting Minions [memes] to posting hard-right memes about cement milkshakes?”

He says it’s important to intervene privately and help the person understand the larger — and more concerning — context.

“There’s a good chance your family member doesn’t understand that and might be horrified at what they’re sharing. And so there’s a point to intervene and let people know, ‘Hey, I know, this was probably not what you meant, but…’”

Experts agree that being non-confrontational is key. Daniel Kent founded Net Literacy, a nonprofit, in 2003 when he was in middle school in Indiana. One of its first programs was Senior Connects, which helps older people get online and gain basic internet skills.

“I think it’s fundamentally about treating [older people] with concern and respect. Recognizing that … perhaps they had the best of intentions, but the execution on their part perhaps wasn’t the most, the most thoughtful and mindful,” he said.

If you do want to say something, Kent and Caulfield suggest engaging in person — or by direct message or phone if that’s not possible. If you call someone out publicly on Facebook or elsewhere, they’re likely to feel attacked or shamed, and you won’t have a chance to hear why they wanted to share a particular piece of content. Understanding where someone is coming from and why they shared or posted what they did is essential, Kent and Caulfield say.

“With our volunteers [we] preach as much empathy as possible,” Kent said.

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OK, use this method on Trump then.
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Young people in UK abandon TV news ‘almost entirely’ • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

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While the average person aged 65 and over watches 33 minutes of TV news a day, this falls to just two minutes among people aged 16-24, according the media regulator’s annual news consumption report.

The decline has been driven by audiences moving away from traditional live broadcast channels, where they might watch a popular drama and leave the channel on during the evening news bulletin, towards watching catchup content from streaming services.

The shift could have major implications for British politics, given services such as Netflix do not provide any news. Political parties have traditionally considered the BBC’s 10pm news bulletin to be their most important outlet for getting their message across to large swaths of the public, which in turn can shape policies being proposed and how they are presented.

TV news is still the main way that the British public learn about current affairs, however, in part because older viewers have remained loyal to traditional services.

Ofcom’s research also suggests that people are increasingly willing to wade into online arguments about news. “There is evidence that UK adults are consuming news more actively via social media. For example, those who access news shared by news organisations, trending news or news stories from friends and family or other people they follow via Facebook or Twitter are more likely to make comments on the new posts they see compared to the previous year.”

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Not seeing TV news is arguably a bonus in the US, but in the UK – where news channels are bound by impartiality regulation – it’s probably better than news outlets.
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What is Microsoft doing with Cortana? • The Verge

Tom Warren:

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After some big changes to Microsoft’s Windows division, former Windows chief Terry Myerson departed the company in the summer last year and Cortana boss Javier Soltero followed a few months later. Microsoft is now refocusing Cortana and stripping back its direct integration in Windows 10 and the Xbox One. Microsoft has a new vision for Cortana, involving conversational interactions for workers who are organizing their days.

Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s new Cortana boss, outlined the new vision earlier this year in an interview with The Verge. “I think one of the challenges we’ve had over the last couple of years is finding those places where Microsoft can really add a lot of value,” explained Shuman. “I think that what we’ve been really working on over the last year is how we can better embed Cortana across Microsoft 365 experiences and really delight users, especially those users who really are on board, so we have to understand their calendar, their tasks, their work documents, their interfacing with their close collaborators.”

This means Cortana is going to be far more conversational when answering queries by voice or text. We’ve seen parts of this through Microsoft’s bot ambitions and Skype integration for Cortana. The company is now repositioning Cortana as a skill that can run anywhere. Microsoft has also moved the Cortana team out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team. This should hopefully mean we’ll start to see Cortana show up in products that make sense, like Microsoft’s Surface Headphones.

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I think Cortana is going to show up in the back of the car heading up to the mountains for a “long walk”. At least the voice-operated part. Something under the radar for organising calendars etc? Sure, but who cares about the name. It doesn’t even need an interface.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,118: Facebook gets around the FTC, how Russia split search, Plex and the pirates, NYT goes for.. blockchain?, and more


Doordash says it’s going to change its tipping policy so that workers receive them. Radical, huh? CC-licensed photo by Jerzy Durczak 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. A tipping point? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Plex makes piracy just another streaming service • The Verge

Bijan Stephen:

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Because of the convoluted nature of licensing agreements and the vagaries of corporate competition, what’s on Netflix is substantively different than what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. Different still are the network-specific streamers, like the up-and-comers HBO Max and Disney+, and the more niche offerings, like Shudder, Kanopy, Mubi, and Criterion. All of them have the same aim, which is to lock up intellectual property to keep people streaming. It’s a lot!

Plex, a company that sells media server software, has found itself in the strange position of being the answer to that problem. It has two components: the piece of software that organizes media on your computer’s hard drive and the client-side program that lets you and your friends and family stream that content from wherever you are on just about any device. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. It is extraordinarily simple to use. It looks a little like Netflix. Except, all of the content is custom, tailored by the person running the server. In the company’s words, both pieces of its software are “the key to personal media bliss.”

What Plex doesn’t say, however, is how that bliss is achieved. Because what’s on Plex servers is populated by people, most of the commercial content you’d find there is probably pirated. And this is the main tension of using Plex: while the software itself is explicitly legal, the media that populates its customer-run servers is not — at least the stuff protected by copyright law. The company, of course, doesn’t condone this particular use of its software.

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Everything old is new again: piracy used to be a huge problem, then it went away (more or less). The fragmentation of content to multiple services is creating the opportunity for piracy.
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FTC hits Facebook with $5bn fine and new privacy checks • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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In the agreement filed today, the FTC alleges that Facebook violated the law by failing to protect data from third parties, serving ads through the use of phone numbers provided for security, and lying to users that its facial recognition software was turned off by default. In order to settle those charges, Facebook will pay $5 billion — the second-largest fine ever levied by the FTC — and agree to a series of new restrictions on its business.

Aside from the multibillion-dollar fine, Facebook will be required to conduct a privacy review of every new product or service that it develops, and these reviews must be submitted to the CEO and a third-party assessor every quarter. As it directly relates to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook will now be required to obtain purpose and use certifications from apps and third-party developers that want to use Facebook user data. However, there are no limits on what data access the company can authorize to those groups once the disclosure is made.

“The Order imposes a privacy regime that includes a new corporate governance structure, with corporate and individual accountability and more rigorous compliance monitoring,” the three supporting FTC commissioners wrote in a statement. “This approach dramatically increases the likelihood that Facebook will be compliant with the Order; if there are any deviations, they likely will be detected and remedied quickly.”

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Apparently the 3-2 vote was on party lines – Republicans 3, Democrats 2. It’s absurdly weak. The FTC writing of it naturally suggests that it is going to tamp down everything that Facebook wants to do. It won’t. Rohit Chopra, one of the FTC commissioners (who voted against) has a Twitter thread explaining why he thinks it’s a bad settlement.
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AI is supercharging the creation of maps around the world • Facebook

Xiaoming Gao, Christopher Klaiber, Drishtie Patel and Jeff Underwood:

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For more than 10 years, volunteers with the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project have worked to address that gap by meticulously adding data on the ground and reviewing public satellite images by hand and annotating features like roads, highways, and bridges. It’s a painstaking manual task. But, thanks to AI, there is now an easier way to cover more areas in less time.

With assistance from Map With AI (a new service that Facebook AI researchers and engineers created) a team of Facebook mappers has recently cataloged all the missing roads in Thailand and more than 90% of missing roads in Indonesia. Map With AI enabled them to map more than 300,000 miles of roads in Thailand in only 18 months, going from a road network that covered 280,000 miles before they began to 600,000 miles after. Doing it the traditional way — without AI — would have taken another three to five years, estimates Xiaoming Gao, a Facebook research scientist who helped lead the project.

“We were really excited about this achievement because it has proven Map With AI works at a large scale,” Gao says.

Starting today, anyone will be able to use the Map With AI service, which includes access to AI-generated road mappings in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, with more countries rolling out over time. As part of Map With AI, Facebook is releasing our AI-powered mapping tool, called RapiD, to the OSM community.

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This, at least, is good. Though it’s a repetition of what undoubtedly already exists at Google and other mapping companies. The benefit is that this is open data.
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Border Patrol admits being member of controversial Facebook group • CNNPolitics

Geneva Sands and Kate Sullivan:

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US Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said on Wednesday that she was a member of a secret Facebook group that reportedly contains vulgar and offensive posts, adding that she told internal investigators once she realized her involvement.

“Not only did I self-report, I turned my entire Facebook account over,” she said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “I gave them my log-in and my password.”

Provost denied knowing of the “highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable posts” ahead of the ProPublica investigative report that first exposed the Facebook group dubbed “I’m 10-15.” The name refers to Border Patrol code 10-15 for “aliens in custody.” Earlier this month, The Intercept reported Provost was a member of the Facebook group.

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You’re in a group but you don’t realise you’re in the group? Then again, you can be coopted into a group without your knowledge, or can join one when it’s relatively peaceful (Provost says she was invited to join it in 2017, when it may have been very different in character) and then find it change under you. The problem, fundamentally, is Facebook.
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Facebook’s Libra currency spawns a wave of fakes, including on Facebook itself • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell, Tony Romm and Cat Zakrzewski:

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A wave of fakes purporting to sell or represent Facebook’s not-yet-available Libra currency have swept onto the social-media giant’s platforms, highlighting how the tech firm is struggling to rebuild trust and fight the fraud likely to surround the new financial system.

Roughly a dozen fake accounts, pages and groups scattered across Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram present themselves as official hubs for the digital currency, in some cases offering to sell Libra at a discount if viewers visit potentially fraudulent, third-party websites.

A number of fake Facebook and Instagram accounts were removed Monday after The Washington Post alerted Facebook to their spread.

The spread of fakes — and Facebook’s inability to detect them on its own — could undermine Facebook-backed efforts to inspire confidence and satisfy the regulators now scrutinizing the newly proposed global currency. Many of the fakes included Facebook’s logo, photos of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg or Libra’s official marketing imagery.

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Totally predictable, and depressing. Everything can be copied.
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How Russian antitrust enforcers defeated Google’s monopoly • Matt Stoller’s Substack

Matt Stoller:

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In Russia, the anti-monopoly case played out quite differently [from that in Europe on the tying of Android to mobile default search for Google]. The Russians were not intimidated by American technology companies, not only because of residual bitterness over the end of the Cold War and a hostile geopolitical relationship with America, but because they had Yandex. Russian engineers and scientists were just as innovative as those in Silicon Valley, and they had their own search giant to prove it.

The FAS [Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service] was also hostile to Google because of a very basic problem that the company brought upon itself. Google did not take the FAS as seriously as it should have, under the assumption the FAS would rule for Yandex for protectionist reasons. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, to believe a Russian government agency would find for a Russian company. But Google never acknowledged Yandex had a serious argument, even though a respected economic consulting firm, the European arm of Charles River Associates, had done the economic analysis underpinning Yandex’s complaint.

The Russians ruled in 2015, and again in late 2016, roughly a year and a half after the start of the case and far faster than that of the EU. In 2017, Google settled, agreeing to present a “choice screen” to all Android phone users letting the user pick in a neutral manner which search engine to use. Immediately upon implementing the choice screen, Yandex recaptured a chunk of market share from Google. And its market share then stabilized.

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New York Times to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain tech • The Block

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The New York Times Company has announced a new project, aiming to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain technology.

Initiated by the publisher’s research and development team, “The News Provenance Project,” will first focus on photojournalism as photos can be “easily manipulated” and can have “serious” effects, according to a blog post published Tuesday.

The first phase of the project will run through late 2019 to design a proof-of-concept (PoC) using Hyperledger Fabric, a permissioned and private blockchain network, in collaboration with IBM Garage. The PoC aims to provide readers with a way to determine the source of a photo or whether it had been edited after it was published, per the blog post.

After its learnings from the first phase, The New York Times said it will later explore the technology for journalism as a whole. The publisher has also invited other news organizations to join its initiative.

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This is mildly bonkers. And unnecessary.
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After outcry, DoorDash promises workers will get 100% of tips • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

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A recent New York Times story explained how the DoorDash’s current system works:

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For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85. If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.

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Now Xu says DoorDash is going to revamp its pay system to ensure that every dollar of tip goes to drivers. “We’ll have specific details in the coming days,” he tweeted.

There’s no guarantee that the new formula will be better for workers. After Instacart changed its formula earlier this year, some shoppers complained that their average compensation per job fell as a result. Ultimately, the specific compensation formula probably matters less than how much DoorDash chooses to pay its workers, on average.

DoorDash isn’t the only company to face a backlash over this issue. Instacart was featured alongside DoorDash in a February piece by NBC’s Olivia Solon. Instacart changed its policy days later, while it took months of additional criticism from The New York Times and others before DoorDash changed its approach.

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The idea that these companies and particularly their bosses are Really Nice People is a myth. They’re rapacious and they’ll screw anyone, including their own workers, in the pursuit of getting rich. And they won’t listen to anyone, or their ideas about fairness or equality. They’re utterly amoral.
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The Internet that wasn’t – Net.Wars by Wendy Grossman • Cybersalon

:

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This week on Twitter, writer and Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost asked this: “There’s a belief that the internet was once great but then we ruined it, but I’m struggling to remember the era of incontrovertible greatness. Lots of arguing from the start. Software piracy. Barnfuls of pornography. Why is the fall from grace story so persistent and credible?”

My reply: “Mostly because most of the people who are all nostalgic either weren’t there, have bad memories, or were comfortable with it. Flaming has existed in every online medium that’s ever been invented. The big difference: GAFA [Google Amazon Facebook Apple] weren’t profiting from it.”

Let’s expand on that here. Not only was there never a period of peace and tranquility on the Internet, there was never a period of peace and tranquility on the older, smaller, more contained systems that proliferated in the period when you had to dial up and wait through the modems’ mating calls. I only got online in 1991, but those 1980s systems – primarily CIX (still going), the WELL (still going), and CompuServe (bought by AOL) – hosted myriad “flame wars”. The small CompuServe UK journalism forum I co-managed had to repeatedly eject a highly abusive real-life Fleet Street photographer who obsessively returned with new name, same behavior. CompuServe finally blocked his credit card, an option unavailable to pay-with-data TWIFYS (Twitter-WhatsApp-Instagram-Facebook-YouTube-Snapchat). The only real answer to containing abuse and abusers was and is human moderators.

The quick-trigger abuse endemic on Twitter has persisted since the beginning, as Sara Kiesler and Lee Sproull documented in their 1992 book, Connections, based on years of studies of mailing lists within large organizations.

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This is a wonderful piece, and so true. “Anyone under 35 probably wasn’t there.”
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Rumor: Samsung may drop initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:

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Rumour has it that Samsung has decided to drop the initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets. The company was previously testing the latest firmware for all markets where the Galaxy Fold was going to be released. It suggested that Samsung would make the device available in quite a few markets at the same time. That would have certainly made sense.

Fans have already been made to wait for a long time. They were really looking forward to the company’s foldable smartphone but have been unable to even get their hands on a demo unit. However, it’s possible that Samsung may only launch the Galaxy Fold in a limited number of markets at first.

Some of the markets where firmware testing has been scaled back include countries like Italy and the Netherlands. The latest firmware is currently being tested for major markets like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and India (where we recently spotted the Galaxy Fold being tested out in the wild). This is different to how Samsung normally tests firmware for new flagship devices. For example, the latest Galaxy Note 10 firmware is being tested across all markets. This suggests that there won’t be any unnecessary launch delays in some markets.

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“Fans have already been made to wait for a long time”?? It’s been three months, tops. I think the Note will come out first.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified