Start Up No.890: Snap’s slowing growth, Facebook’s Myanmar failure, ARM edging Intel?, Googlers’ Dragonfly protest, and more

What if metal detectors could work by using Wi-Fi? Photo by Evgeniy Isaev on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook’s failure in Myanmar is the work of a blundering toddler • The Guardian

Olivia Solon:


When Facebook invited journalists for a phone briefing on Tuesday evening to talk about its progress in tackling hate speech in Myanmar, it seemed like a proactive, well-intentioned move from a company that is typically fighting PR fires on several fronts.

But the publication of a bombshell Reuters investigation on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise: the press briefing was an ass-covering exercise.

This is the latest in a series of strategic mishaps as the social network blunders its way through the world like a giant, uncoordinated toddler that repeatedly soils its diaper and then wonders where the stench is coming from. It enters markets with wide-eyed innocence and a mission to “build [and monetise] communities”, but ends up tripping over democracies and landing in a pile of ethnic cleansing. Oopsie!

Human rights groups and researchers have been warning Facebook that its platform was being used to spread misinformation and promote hatred of Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, since 2013. As its user base exploded to 18 million, so too did hate speech, but the company was slow to react and earlier this year found its platform accused by a UN investigator of fuelling anti-Muslim violence.

The Australian journalist and researcher Aela Callan warned Facebook about the spread of anti-Rohingya posts on the platform in November 2013. She met with the company’s most senior communications and policy executive, Elliott Schrage. He referred her to staff at, the company’s effort to connect the developing world, and a couple of Facebook employees who dealt with civil society groups. “He didn’t connect me to anyone inside Facebook who could deal with the actual problem,” she told Reuters.


But was there anyone there who could deal with the actual problem? The most effective way would have been to turn it off.
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ARM says its next processors will outperform Intel laptop chips • Engadget

Jon Fingas:


While ARM already believes that its recently unveiled Cortex-A76 is competitive with Intel’s 2.6GHz Core i5-7300U, it expects its 2019 “Deimos” and 2020 “Hercules” designs to clearly outperform that CPU. You would get “laptop-class” speed from a more efficient mobile chip, according to the company.

Of course, it’s worth taking ARM’s braggadocio with a grain of salt. The figures don’t include Intel’s comparable 8th-generation Core chips that pack twice as many cores and could easily shrink the performance gap. This is also based on one synthetic, integer-oriented benchmark (SPEC CINT2006), not a broader suite of tests that would measure floating point math and other performance traits. ARM is putting its best foot forward rather than offering definitive proof.

Even so, it’s telling that ARM might be in the ballpark.


The argument is strong apart from the bit where it suggests PC OEMs would switch to ARM from Intel. I just don’t think it would happen. Fine, Windows could manage it. Could third-party apps? Nope. Only Apple might be able to strongarm enough developers to do that, or run an emulator able to do it.
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How Snap is becoming Twitter • The Information

Tom Dotan:


A few years ago, when Snap was a fast-growing, hot commodity venerated by venture capitalists, some would occasionally ask whether it would end up like Twitter—a niche platform with dedicated users but without the broad scale of, say, Facebook.

It’s now becoming clear the answer is yes.

As the chart above shows, Snap’s user growth has slowed sharply since the third quarter of last year to around 9 to 10% year on year from as high as 65% just two years ago. The slower growth rate puts Snap right in line with Twitter’s recent trends. Twitter, of course, is another once-hot company that started four years before Snap and whose user growth slowed sharply starting around 2014.

Of course, all companies’ growth rate slows eventually, once they reach a certain size. But Snap didn’t even reach 200 million daily active users—it finished the June quarter with 188 million. Twitter doesn’t reveal how many daily active users it has (although it does disclose its quarterly DAU growth rate). A person with knowledge of Twitter’s finances say it has far fewer DAUs than Snap. In comparison, Facebook has 1.4 billion DAUs and is still growing that number at more than 10% year over year.

The question raised by Snap’s user growth slowdown is to what extent Snap’s ad revenue growth will also echo Twitter’s. The older company’s advertising revenue surged for a couple of years after user growth weakened, before slowing sharply in 2016—and falling in 2017. (It picked up in the first half of this year, however, rising 22%.)


Does everything have to be as big as Facebook, though? Can’t they just be quietly successful with hundreds of millions of users?
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Google employees protest secret work on censored search engine for China • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi:


Hundreds of Google employees, upset at the company’s decision to secretly build a censored version of its search engine for China, have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work.

In the letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, employees wrote that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They added, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

The letter is circulating on Google’s internal communication systems and is signed by about 1,000 employees, according to two people familiar with the document, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The protest presents another obstacle for Google’s potential return to China eight years after the company publicly withdrew from the country in protest of censorship and government hacking. China has the world’s largest internet audience but has frustrated American tech giants with content restrictions or outright blockages of services including Facebook and Instagram.


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Google China censorship project named after co-founder Sergey Brin’s luxury yacht? • Ryan Gallagher

Gallagher, who writes at The Intercept, with some “cutting-room details” from his other stories on Google’s China project; it turns out that Sergey Brin has a 240ft, $80m yacht named “Dragonfly” – the same as the China project:


After Google pulled its search engine out of China in 2010, Brin said of the Chinese government: “In some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling.”

It’s clear Brin was at the time genuinely uncomfortable with the censorship – he didn’t just say what he did for public relations reasons. I have heard this from several people inside the company who spent years working with him. He took a principled stand and had arguments with colleagues over the issue.

In recent years, Brin has taken a more hands-off role at Google. Since 2015, CEO Sundar Pichai has taken the helm, and he has steered the company’s policy on China. But Brin still serves on Google’s board of directors, and would surely have been briefed on the search engine plans, given their importance for Google both politically and strategically. So did Brin change his mind about the censorship? Was he simply outvoted by his colleagues on the issue?

More to the point at hand, why was the Chinese censorship project given the same name as Brin’s yacht? Is it possible somebody inside Google is trying to troll Brin, knowing that he has in the past spoken out against the Chinese government censorship? Or was Brin himself involved in giving the project this name, indicating that he has changed his views?


I’d suspect it’s a form of trolling; that it’s people trying to annoy Brin, for whatever reason.
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A group of engineers say they’ve created a way to detect bombs and guns using basic Wi-Fi • Gizmodo


The researchers’ system uses channel state information (CSI) from run-of-the-mill Wi-Fi. It can first identify whether there are dangerous objects in baggage without having to physically rifle through it. It then determines what the material is and what the risk level is. The researchers tested the detection system using 15 different objects across three categories—metal, liquid, and non-dangerous—as well as with six bags and boxes across three categories—backpack or handbag, cardboard box, and a thick plastic bag.

The findings were pretty impressive. According to the researchers, their system is 99% accurate when it comes to identifying dangerous and non-dangerous objects. It is 97% accurate when determining whether the dangerous object is metal or liquid, the study says. When it comes to detecting suspicious objects in various bags, the system was over 95% accurate.

The researchers state in the paper that their detection system only needs a wifi device with two to three antennas, and can run on existing networks. “In large public areas, it’s hard to set up expensive screening infrastructure like what’s in airports,” Chen said. “Manpower is always needed to check bags, and we wanted to develop a complementary method to try to reduce manpower.”


Reading the paper, it seems a bit optimistic: fine for static things, but once you get to an airport where everyone’s moving around, how will you be sure what you’re monitoring? It would likely need people to walk through a specific space to be assessed. Rather like a doorway..?
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From laboratory in far west, China’s surveillance state spreads quietly • Reuters

Cate Cadell:


Filip Liu, a 31-year-old software developer from Beijing, was traveling in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang when he was pulled to one side by police as he got off a bus.

The officers took Liu’s iPhone, hooked it up to a handheld device that looked like a laptop and told him they were “checking his phone for illegal information”.

Liu’s experience in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, is not uncommon in a region that has been wracked by separatist violence and a crackdown by security forces.

But such surveillance technologies, tested out in the laboratory of Xinjiang, are now quietly spreading across China.

Government procurement documents collected by Reuters and rare insights from officials show the technology Liu encountered in Xinjiang is encroaching into cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

Police stations in almost every province have sought to buy the data-extraction devices for smartphones since the beginning of 2016, coinciding with a sharp rise in spending on internal security and a crackdown on dissent, the data show.

The documents provide a rare glimpse into the numbers behind China’s push to arm security forces with high-tech monitoring tools as the government clamps down on dissent…

…These sorts of scanners are used in countries like the United States but they remain contentious and security forces need to go through a lengthy legal process to be able to forcibly break into a suspect’s phone.

In China, while a number of firms say they have the ability to crack many phones, police are generally able to get users to hand over their passwords, experts say.


It’s very intrusive, but of course there’s no way for people to protest effectively. It’s claimed that it can break into iPhones – which of course you can if you get the passcode.
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The truth sometimes hurts • Scientific American Blog Network

Kate Marvel on the problem of being a scientist who tries to communicate with the public:


every time I talk about the uncertainties inherent in climate projections, I feel attacked from all sides of the climate mitigation debate. I admit that in the current landscape, any expression of uncertainty is immediately weaponized by those who want to delay climate action.

Still, I’m a scientist, and I love to think about things I don’t understand. Being honest means acknowledging we don’t know everything. It also means being open about the problems of science itself, from a broken incentive system to the pervasive racial and sexual harassment that drives out brilliant minds. I struggle with how to talk about these things in a world where merchants of doubt will find a way to convert my science into their product.

I suspect this piece will be shared by some of those bad-faith actors. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to construct an un-twistable argument. SCIENTIST SUPPRESSES INCONVENIENT RESULTS, they’ll say. CENSORSHIP! GROUPTHINK! This is, of course, the opposite of what I want to do. All I can ask is that if people insist on spreading false rumors about me, they also note that I have an evil twin, used to be an astronaut, and once killed a man in a bar fight. 

All I know is this: science communication is hard. There are no institutional rewards for doing it. Almost no one gets promoted for talking to the public. But we rely on scientists to choose to talk about their work, and to deal with the sometimes-overwhelming consequences of speaking in public. No other industry does this.  McDonalds does not force their cooks to engage in Hamburger Communication; they hire highly paid PR professionals instead.

So I want to approach this with something the stereotypical scientist is not known for: humility. Please don’t just tell us to be honest, help us to understand how to be transparent in an opaque world. 


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Twitter company email addresses why it’s #BreakingMyTwitter • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez has really had it with Twitter:


The company’s email also says it hopes to eventually learn “why people hire 3rd party clients over our own apps.”

Its own apps?

Oh, you mean like TweetDeck, the app Twitter acquired then shut down on Android, iPhone and Windows? The one it generally acted like it forgot it owned? Or maybe you mean Twitter for Mac (previously Tweetie, before its acquisition), the app it shut down this year, telling Mac users to just use the web instead? Or maybe you mean the nearly full slate of TV apps that Twitter decided no longer needed to exist?

And Twitter wonders why users don’t want to use its own clients?

Perhaps, users want a consistent experience – one that doesn’t involve a million inconsequential product changes like turning stars to hearts or changing the character counter to a circle. Maybe they appreciate the fact that the third parties seem to understand what Twitter is better than Twitter itself does: Twitter has always been about a real-time stream of information. It’s not meant to be another Facebook-style algorithmic News Feed. The third-party clients respect that. Twitter does not.

Yesterday, the makers of Twitterific spoke to the API changes, noting that its app would no longer be able to stream tweets, send native push notifications, or be able to update its Today view, and that new tweets and DMs will be delayed.

It recommended users download Twitter’s official mobile app for notifications going forward.


This is stupid. Twitter wants to know why people don’t use its app? Because, as everyone keeps saying, they prefer the experience over a web browser – which is not an app experience. It can never ever be. Web apps aren’t apps. Twitter needs to open up its API and figure it out. Show us ads, whatever. The phrase “user-hostile” is appropriate here. Convenient for Twitter; bad for us.
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SEO is back. Thank God • NYMag

Brian Feldman on how Facebook’s shift away from the News Feed for pushing content (“social-optimised” content) means we’re back to the good old days of SEO (search engine optimisation of links):


The problem with social-optimized content is that its overt, eerie familiarity drapes a kind of lowest-common-denominator cynicism across the internet. Social media tends to favor positive sentiment over negative, and exaggeration over subtlety. When a writer claims to be “scrEAMING” at the newest Marvel trailer in the headline, are they saying that because they really are, or because they want the reader to think that they are so that the reader will share on Facebook? It’s not a crime to write an enthusiastic headline, but when every headline you see is yelling at you in one way or another — and making outsized claims about the emotional state of its author or readers — it becomes difficult to trust the claimed sentiments of writers. At the very least, it’s extremely annoying.

SEO content, on the other hand, dispenses with the emotional in favor of the mechanical. It can be stilted and awkward — but it’s more honest and transparent. When a writer pads their article for the trailer of the newest Marvel movie with search keywords — data like the cast and crew and opening date — they’re optimizing for the Google robots. But they’re also providing genuinely useful information. Social content was about manipulating people into clicking, sharing, and posting. SEO is about manipulating robots into treating your content as the best example of sought-after information.

SEO is far from a perfect assignment editor for the web. Scammers and charlatans have been trying to abuse it for years, and it can create spectacles as ghoulish and cynical as social-optimized posts when news happens. A particularly gross instance happened in the hours after news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide broke, when Newsweek pumped out individual Google-optimized posts about each of his family members and former partners. Tasteless? Absolutely. But it is also fulfilling a direct reader request with dispassionate information instead of hyperbole. The mechanics of SEO are clear, far more than the mechanics of human emotions.


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Study shows kids can be swayed by peer pressure from robots • BGR

Andy Meek:


Robots are coming to take our jobs — and trick our gullible children.

The conventional wisdom has long been afraid of the first half of that sentence, and now a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics speaks to the second half. The study paired a group of kids with cute, humanoid robots who constantly gave an incorrect answer to a simple test, which the led the kids to quite often — well, follow the robots’ incorrect lead.

According to an abstract of the study, “People are known to change their behavior and decisions to conform to others, even for obviously incorrect facts. Because of recent developments in artificial intelligence and robotics, robots are increasingly found in human environments, and there, they form a novel social presence. It is as yet unclear whether and to what extent these social robots are able to exert pressure similar to human peers.”

The testers, however, used a group of children ages 7 to 9 and found that they generally conform to the robots in the study. “This raises opportunities as well as concerns for the use of social robots with young and vulnerable cross-sections of society; although conforming can be beneficial, the potential for misuse and the potential impact of erroneous performance cannot be ignored.”

To be sure, you can argue about how much value to ascribe to this, since kids of a certain age will to a degree go along with anyone who’s older than them. Maybe that same thought holds true when it comes to kids and our robot overlords.


People are the same when computers suggest things too. They’ll go along with an answer from a calculator when they’ve entered bad information in a way they might not on paper.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: The game ‘Fortnite’ was wrongly spelt ‘Fortnight’ yesterday.

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Start Up No.889: Dorsey on improving Twitter, Italy’s bridge problem, Penn Jilette on truth, 3D printing and gun laws, and more

Free Twitter’s API, more like: changes on Thursday will crimp third-party apps. Photo by Howard Lake on Flickr.

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

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey says in an interview he’s rethinking the core of how Twitter works • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin:


Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey said he is rethinking core parts of the social media platform so it doesn’t enable the spread of hate speech, harassment and false news, including conspiracy theories shared by prominent users like Alex Jones and Infowars.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Dorsey said he was experimenting with features that would promote alternative viewpoints in Twitter’s timeline to address misinformation and reduce “echo chambers.” He also expressed openness to labeling bots — automated accounts that sometimes pose as human users — and redesigning key elements of the social network, including the “like” button and the way Twitter displays users’ follower counts.

“The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we’re building into our product,” Dorsey said. “Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don’t think they are correct anymore.”

Dorsey’s openness to broad changes shows how Silicon Valley leaders are increasingly reexamining the most fundamental aspects of the technologies that have made these companies so powerful and profitable…

…Twitter’s new policies are being tested at the highest level — including by President Trump, whose tweets are a direct challenge. On Tuesday, Trump called former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, who recently published a tell-all about her time at the White House, a “dog.” He also attacked Harley-Davidson on Sunday for moving jobs overseas — a move that precipitated a 2% drop in the company’s stock price.

Dorsey stuck to his long-held view that an exception generally would be granted to Trump because his comments are newsworthy and give users crucial insights as to how “global leaders think and treat the people around them.”


The acid test would be if Trump’s tweets got some sort of downrating for being untrue, but that won’t happen. Again, Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that Twitter is “the clown car that drove into a gold mine” remains true.
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Tweetbot removes timeline streaming, activity and stats tab, and push notifications for some features ahead of Twitter changes • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:


Ahead of upcoming Twitter changes set to be implemented tomorrow [Thursday], Tapbots has released an updated version of its Tweetbot app for iOS devices, removing several features that have been present in the app for years.

Timeline streaming over Wi-Fi has been disabled, which means Twitter timelines will refresh every one to two minutes instead of as new tweets come in. We’ve been using the Tweetbot for iOS app in a beta capacity with these changes implemented, and while it’s not a huge change, the delay is noticeable.

Push notifications for Mentions and Direct Messages are also delayed by a few minutes, and push notifications for likes, retweets, follows, and quotes have been disabled. Tapbots says it is, however, investigating re-adding some of these push notification options in the future.

The Activity and Stats tabs have been removed from the app, and because the Apple Watch app was heavily dependent on Activity data, it too has been eliminated.

Tapbots says that it is sorry that the changes had to be made, but Twitter has decided to eliminate certain features provided to third-party apps without offering alternatives.


This is utterly crap on Twitter’s part. The product grew because of third-party apps and now it’s killing them. Stupid, like so many of its decisions down the years.
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Twitter suspends Alex Jones and Infowars for seven days • The New York Times

Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger:


Twitter on Tuesday suspended the account of the far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for a week after he tweeted a link to a video calling for supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against media and others, in a violation of the company’s rules against inciting violence.

The social media company followed up on Wednesday by also suspending the account for Infowars, the media website founded by Mr. Jones, for posting the same video.

The twin actions effectively prevent Mr. Jones and Infowars from tweeting or retweeting from their Twitter accounts for seven days, though they will be able to browse the service.

The moves were Twitter’s harshest against Mr. Jones and Infowars after other tech companies took steps last week to ban them from their platforms. The removals began when Apple announced it would purge videos and other content by Mr. Jones and Infowars because of hate speech, followed by Facebook, YouTube and then Spotify. Twitter was the sole holdout among the major tech companies in not taking down content from Infowars and Mr. Jones, who has called the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax conducted by crisis actors.


Clever move by Twitter. In effect, it was waiting for Jones to make the slightest wrong move, and he fell straight into the trap. The week’s suspension isn’t quite congruent for the Jones account and the Infowars account (by a few hours, the latter is in jail longer). It’s going to be harder and harder for him not to all into Twitter jail repeatedly, and eventually get banned. And so Twitter wins, without having to go to war.
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Italy bridge was known to be in trouble long before collapse • The New York Times

Gaia Pianigiani, Elisabetta Povoledo and Richard Pérez-Peña:


As deaths from the bridge failure in Genoa rose on Wednesday to 39, it became clear that while the collapse was catastrophic, it was not exactly a surprise.

Years before part of the structure dissolved in a lethal cascade of concrete and steel, it required constant repair work, and experts in Parliament, industry and academia raised alarms that it was deteriorating and possibly dangerous.

Those warnings fueled an intense round of finger-pointing on Wednesday among political parties and the private company that operated the bridge, none offering an answer to a set of crucial questions that will not be answered quickly: Should everyone involved have anticipated a disaster of this scale? How were so many omens ignored? And how much of Italy’s aging, often neglected infrastructure is also at risk of failure?

“It was not destiny,” said Genoa’s chief prosecutor, Francesco Cozzi, who announced that he would conduct a criminal investigation into the failure of the Morandi Bridge.

When the bridge fell shortly before noon on Tuesday, Genoa lost a major artery that crosses the Polcevera River and connects the eastern and western parts of the city. The route is traveled by tens of thousands of commuters daily, and by many of the passengers and much of the freight passing through the city’s busy port, and its loss raises fears of economic damage that could take years to repair.

Italy has suffered a series of bridge collapses in recent years — though none nearly as serious as Genoa’s — and many other spans are showing serious wear.


And yet the doltish deputy PM blamed the European Union, complaining about money remitted to its funds. EU money probably helped fund some of the infrastructure that’s now being neglected. There’s a good companion piece about bridges at The Conversation.
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In conversation: Penn Jillette • Vulture

David Marchese with a fantastic interview with the conjuror/juggler/magician, who has a fascinating sweep of insights:


Q: You’ve talked in the past about how the antidote to bad ideas is more ideas. But doesn’t the way things are shaking out online suggest that actually what we need are better ideas and not just more of them?

PJ: I believe in the marketplace of ideas but you’re right, we now have algorithms that push people crazy. YouTube is set up to push you crazy. If I search for vegan recipes, I’ll end up with 9/11 truthers. But it’s like the first time people saw movies, and the train on the screen was coming toward themThe 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station is a 50-second silent film showing a train pulling into a Paris station, and is an early document of cinematic technique: forced perspective, long shots, close-ups. There’s a myth about the film that in its premiere, audiences were terrified by the train coming at them, and ran from their seats. …

Q: And everyone jumped out of the way.

PJ: That’s right. They were screaming and yelling, but then it only took a millisecond for people to realize what was going on from that point forward. So even with all this bad stuff happening, yes, I still think people are overwhelmingly good, ideas are overwhelmingly good, and if you have Nazis being able to reach 10 million people, those same 10 million people will also be reached by Martin Luther King.

Q: Why do you think that? Isn’t the marketplace of ideas as it now exists online intentionally designed to send people further down a given rabbit hole rather than towards contrary ideas?

PJ: Yes, algorithms are weighted in favor of that, but that’s not the problem. If you’re worried about craziness in the next ten years, I don’t have any hope for you. Fifty years? No problem. It’s like when we first saw advertisements: they worked entirely. But now I can show you a TV ad and you don’t even reach for the phone. The words didn’t change, but you learned to tell that it was bullshit. We’re going to see that happening with the internet. People will learn to separate the good from the bad. But that whole idea that everybody else is going crazy on the internet sickens me. I can tell when something is garbage. You can tell. Who are all these mysterious people that can’t?


Stay too for the bit where he discusses his experience on US Celebrity Apprentice with Donald Trump, and why he won’t talk about what he heard. (He does, in passing, dispel any doubts about whether a tape of Trump using the n-word exists.)
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How 3D printing exposes the fallacy of federal gun laws • Wired

Antonio Garcia Martinez knows more about guns than you (probably) do, and is looking at the implications of 3D printed guns – where the importance isn’t the 3D printed nature:


You may have seen the weapon in 2010’s Academy Award for Best Picture winner, The Hurt Locker, where it’s used by US soldiers to eliminate Iraqi snipers from an astonishing distance. It fires a projectile the size of your thumb, and can kill a man from over a mile away. In spirit, the weapon is illegal in California. In actual fact, it’s legal with the right modifications that only slightly impact functionality. Gun regulation fails.

Why does this odd status quo exist?

Our current gun laws are a necessary compromise among pro- and anti-gun extremes, plus a large middle that wants some gun control but not an outright ban. The NRA zealot is placated by Democratic rhetoric around banning only “weapons of war” paired with the technical knowledge that they can tolerably dodge most Blue State gun laws via the modular technology described above. The pro-gun-control Blue Staters are placated because politicians are “doing something,” and thanks mostly to ignorance about how modern guns work, think their gun laws are actually stopping the distribution of firearms when they increasingly resemble security theater.

Defense Distributed’s ultimate goal is to kick the final, weak leg out from under this tenuous political agreement, and force a reckoning with the state of firearms technology. When the last-mile problem of untraceable, unregistered guns has finally been “solved,” even politicians can’t maintain the charade of effective gun control.


Turns out that defining a “gun” isn’t a trivial task, and it’s now under pressure due to 3D printing fans Defense Distributed.
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Fortnite Android beta roundup: disappointing, frustrating, Samsung-only • ExtremeTech

Joel Hruska has the roundup:


Samsung and Epic announced that the game would be distributed via an APK and would initially only be available on certain Samsung models. While this is only a beta launch, keeping the device profile restricted so narrowly should have made it simpler for Epic to deliver an early game version with robust performance and graphics. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened here.

According to Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech, limiting itself to just Samsung devices “hasn’t made the game run smoothly in the slightest.” Android Central declares “I’ve been playing it almost non-stop from the moment it was made available in the Samsung Galaxy App Store, and this is my early review of the game having played it on a Samsung Galaxy S8” before noting: “Fortnite is fun, but not on Android.” Android Police states that the game is currently limited to those owning a Galaxy S7, S8, S9, Note 8, Note 9, Tab S3, or Tab S4, and that despite this restriction, the game’s frame rate simply cannot hold a steady 30fps, even on a device as new as the Galaxy Note 8+.

Resolution isn’t native — it looks to be barely 480p — and texture quality isn’t great, either. The Android Police author claims his device is stuck on Epic, but I’m not sure that’s true. Rather, it’s true that his device claims to be stuck on “Epic” quality, but it’s not clear that level of image quality is actually being applied. According to Ars, low quality (which is what this looks like): “drops the resolution to somewhere around 480p, removes all traces of anti-aliasing, drops texture resolution, simplifies all in-game geometry, and removes all shadows.”

Meanwhile, certain decisions the game makes have drawn scorn from almost everyone. By default, the game has aim assist enabled and recommends using Auto Shoot, which means you’ll basically be letting Bixby play the game for you. That might be for the best, however, since the game apparently isn’t all that much fun in the first place, thanks to the constant performance drops.


Sounds like there’s a problem for Android, rather than Samsung. Also recommended, if you need to educate someone about Fortnight: this BBC Radio 4 programme about it, which aired on Wednesday.
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Ding, ding, seconds out: It’s Law v Math • Medium

Professor Bill Buchanan:


Within new laws, his government will thus force social media and cloud service providers to hand-over encrypted messages.

When asked how this could be achieved, he said: “Well the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable, but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

He then went on to say that cryptographers were the problem, and that we needed them to face up to their responsibilities, and that they just can’t wash their hands of it…

…Last year, as the UK Home Secretary outlined her plans around restrictions on end-to-end encryption, I was called by the BBC about back-doors in cryptography. As it is a subject I know well, and had even presented to a select committee in the House of Commons [here], I said I would be interested in debating the issue. They then they asked if I could put forward the concept of backdoors in encryption, and I said:
“I can’t do that!”

And they said, “Well, we are really struggling to get someone to put that point, couldn’t you just outline the advantages and how it would be possible?”, and I said, “Well, most people with any technical knowledge knows that it is a bad thing, and to provide an academic point-of-view I would have to be critical of it. In fact if I put forward the concept of backdoors in cryptography, I would have no credibility in my field”, and the conversation finished and they didn’t invite me on. Basically I was there to back up a politician who was on the show.


Another version of “we’ve had enough of experts”. Love the idea of the law of the country outranking the laws of maths.
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Google is making Wear OS app quality guidelines mandatory • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:


According to Google, it will begin enforcing the Wear OS app quality guidelines for new apps on October 1st of this year. Existing apps will have until March 4, 2019 to get things together. That means developers will need to take into account both functional and visual criteria. There are detailed guidelines on the Android Dev site, but the blog post notes which issues Google sees most often.

Apparently, Wear developers often don’t test their apps on different screen shapes, which causes interface issues. They also fail to provide Wear OS screenshots in app listings. If these issues aren’t fixed by the above dates, the offending apps won’t show up on the Wear OS Play Store. Importantly, this is separate from the main app review process. Google won’t completely block an app or update if it fails the Wear OS review.


Not sure that it’s going to change the trajectory for Wear OS – or Android smartwatches generally – but it’s nice to know that they’ve noticed that app quality matters too.
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The Moto P30 announced in China as just the latest in a long line of iPhone X clones

Ryan Whitwam:


Everyone wants to make an iPhone clone these days. Well, that’s not exactly new, but it’s harder to clone the iPhone X without screwing it up. That’s why you can’t turn around without seeing a poorly implemented screen notch. Motorola is the latest to take a swing at it with the P30. This phone leaked yesterday, and now it’s official in China.

The P30 is a mid-range all-glass phone with a Snapdragon 636, 6GB of RAM and 64-128GB of storage. The display is 6.2-inches with a 1080p resolution and 19:9 aspect ratio. Since this is a phone for the Chinese market, the phone won’t have Moto’s traditional clean build of Android. Instead, it’s Oreo with the Lenovo ZUI skin.

The display has a rather sizeable notch at the top—it actually seems larger than it needs to be in order to better match the iPhone’s proportions. Around back, there’s a vertical dual camera module off to one side. There’s also a fingerprint sensor in the Motorola logo on the back.


Cosmetically, everyone wants to look like the iPhone – apart, these days, from Samsung, which finally discovered its own path with the Edge series.
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Uber narrows loss but is a long way from finding profit • Reuters

Heather Somerville:


Uber’s net loss narrowed to $891m in its second quarter ending June 30 from $1.1bn a year earlier. Its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $614m, down from $773m a year earlier.

Net revenue rose more quickly than gross bookings in the second quarter from the prior period as the company dialed back on promotional subsidies of rides.

But its growth faces risks from decisions like that by New York City this month to cap licenses for ride-hailing services for one year. Uber has also had to grapple with corporate scandals and has lingering and costly legal battles, including over its classification of drivers as independent contractors, and federal probes to resolve.

“I remain unimpressed,” said Brent Goldfarb, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Improving losses by cutting “the lowest hanging fruit doesn’t mean the underlying model is profitable.”


With $12bn in quarterly gross bookings (inc rides and Uber Eats), up 40% yoy, 6% qoq. Net revenue of $2.8bn, up 60% yoy, 8% qoq.

With those metrics, it seems quite a long way from finding its breakeven.
link to this extract

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Start Up No.888: Apple aims for health chip, faking YouTube, the truth about fighting fake news, drones at work!, and more

Voting on the blockchain! Super pointless! Photo by Keith Ivey on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. If it were a fruit machine, we’d have hit the jackpot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple looks to develop chip for processing health data • CNBC

Jordan Novet and Christina Farr:


Building custom chips for narrow functions can help Apple add new features and improve efficiency of its hardware while protecting its intellectual property from would-be imitatotrs.

A July 10 job posting from Apple’s Health Sensing hardware team says, “We are looking for sensor ASIC architects to help develop ASICs for new sensors and sensing systems for future Apple products. We have openings for analog as well as digital ASIC architects.”

It’s not clear what the sensors would measure, but it appears to be information from the body. An Aug. 1 posting said simply that the team wants to bring on an engineer who can “help develop health, wellness, and fitness sensors.” And a June job listing shows the team was looking to keep working with optical sensors. Currently available Apple Watches have optical sensors that can measure heart rate.


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Homepod sales may be closer to 1-1.5m than 3m since the speaker launched • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:


HomePod shipments totaled an estimated 700,000 units in the second quarter of 2018, giving Apple a roughly 6% share of the worldwide smart speaker market, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

Strategy Analytics previously estimated HomePod shipments totaled 600,000 units in the first quarter of 2018, suggesting that worldwide shipments have reached 1.3m units since the speaker became available to order in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom in late January.

That figure is much lower than one shared by research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, which recently estimated Apple has sold 3m HomePods in the United States alone since the speaker launched.

The significant variance in the datasets stems from the fact that Apple doesn’t disclose HomePod sales, instead grouping the speaker under its “Other Products” category in its earnings reports, alongside the Apple Watch, Apple TV, AirPods, Beats, iPod touch, and other Apple and third-party accessories.

Apple reported revenue of $3.74bn from its “Other Products” category last quarter, up 37% from $2.73bn in the year-ago quarter.

Shipments aren’t sales, either, so it’s impossible to know exactly how many HomePods ended up in the hands of customers.

If we had to guess, we’d say the Strategy Analytics numbers are probably more within the ballpark, as the HomePod is a niche product.


Niche, certainly. Now the question is: could it carve out a bigger niche if it “did more”, a la Amazon Echo and Google Home? Or are those niche too, but just got in earlier to the game, and captured lots of early adopters?

My feeling is that we’ll find out in the next couple of quarters – by January, when we’ve had both CES and sales estimates for the Christmas quarter – whether Amazon and Google (and Apple) have voice-driven speaker hits on their hands, or just another flash in the technological pan. Michael Love, on Twitter, is pretty sure it’s the latter.
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The flourishing business of fake YouTube views • The New York Times

Michael Keller:


“I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Mr. Vassilev said in an interview. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”

After Google, more people search on YouTube than on any other site. It is the most popular platform among teenagers, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, beating out giants like Facebook and Instagram. With billions of views a day, the video site helps spur global cultural sensations, spawn careers, sell brands and promote political agendas.

Just as other social media companies have been plagued by impostor accounts and artificial influence campaigns, YouTube has struggled with fake views for years.

The fake-view ecosystem of which Mr. Vassilev is a part can undermine YouTube’s credibility by manipulating the digital currency that signals value to users. While YouTube says fake views represent just a tiny fraction of the total, they still have a significant effect by misleading consumers and advertisers. Drawing on dozens of interviews, sales records, and trial purchases of fraudulent views, The New York Times examined how the marketplace worked and tested YouTube’s ability to detect manipulation.

Inflating views violates YouTube’s terms of service. But Google searches for “buying views” turn up hundreds of sites offering “fast” and “easy” ways to increase a video’s count by 500, 5,000 or even five million. The sites, offering views for just pennies each, also appear in Google search ads.


This is what happens when you optimise for “engagement”. Compare to Wikipedia…
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Why Wikipedia works • NY Mag

Brian Feldman:


On YouTube, I might make one video about the Stoneman shooting, and you might make another with a totally opposite idea of truth; they’d then duke it out in “the marketplace of ideas” (the YouTube search results). On Wikipedia, there’s only one article about the Stoneman shooting, and it’s created by a group of people discussing and debating the best way to present information in a singular way, suggesting and sometimes voting on changes to a point where enough people are satisfied.

Importantly, that discussion is both entirely transparent, and at the same time “behind the scenes.” The “Talk” pages on which editorial decisions are made are prominently linked to on every entry. Anyone can read, access, and participate — but not many people do. This means both that the story of how an article came to be is made clear to a reader (unlike, say, algorithmic decisions made by Facebook), but also that there is less incentive for a given editor to call attention to themselves in the hopes of becoming a celebrity (unlike, say, the YouTube-star economy).

Wikipedia articles also have stringent requirements for what information can be included. The three main tenets are that (1) information on the site be presented in a neutral point of view, (2) be verified by an outside source, and (3) not be based on original research. Each of these can be quibbled with (what does “neutral” mean?), and plenty of questionable statements slip through — but, luckily, you probably know that they’re questionable because of the infamous “[citation needed]” superscript that peppers the website.

Actual misinformation, meanwhile, is dealt with directly. Consider how the editors treat conspiracy theories. “Fringe theories may be mentioned, but only with the weight accorded to them in the reliable sources being cited,” Wikimedia tweeted in an explanatory thread earlier this week. In contrast, platform companies have spent much of the last year talking about maintaining their role as a platform for “all viewpoints,” and through design and presentation, they flatten everything users post to carry the same weight.


Succinct, and accurate. What if YouTube was forced to limit itself to a single, checked, accurate video per topic? Sure, it’s like asking musicians to only write one song. Yet there’s that suspicion that there’s a better way to organise it even so.
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Twitter is wrong about Alex Jones: facts are not enough to combat conspiracy theories • The Verge

Laura Hudson:


Who doesn’t want to think that the truth will always win in the end, that information not only wants to be free, but that this freedom will lead us toward a more just world — especially when it is your job to share information?

But in our current moment, it is a dangerously naïve idea. While the internet has led to the promotion of important voices we might not have otherwise heard, the last decade has demonstrated with searing clarity that this idea has far more powerfully contributed to the amplification of lies, manipulation, and an epistemological collapse that has deformed human discourse and undermined the very notion of truth.

A growing body of research has demonstrated that the distorted light of modern media does not always lead to illumination. In a 2015 paper, MIT professor of political science Adam Berinsky found that rather than debunking rumors or conspiracy theories, presenting people with facts or corrections sometimes entrenched those ideas further.

Another study by Dartmouth researchers found that “if people counter-argue unwelcome information vigorously enough, they may end up with ‘more attitudinally congruent information in mind than before the debate,’ which in turn leads them to report opinions that are more extreme than they otherwise would have had.”

A 2014 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics similarly found that public information campaigns about the absence of scientific evidence for a link between autism and vaccinations actually “decreased intent to vaccinate among parents who had the least favorable vaccine attitudes.” When people feel condescended to by the media or told that they are simply rubes being manipulated — even by expert political manipulators — they are more likely to embrace those beliefs even more strongly.


This is a terrific article, worth reading in full.
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West Virginia’s Voatz blockchain voting pilot … is another single-user blockchain as a database •Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain

David Gerard, quoting West Virginia’s deputy legal counsel:



Voatz incorporates a series of various security procedures eligible voters must go through before they can even get the chance to cast a vote.

“You take a photo of your photo ID and then they take a selfie of themselves,” Kersey explained. “Facial recognition software is then deployed to compare the photo on the ID and the photo of the person who took the picture. Only if that’s verified will you be registered to use the application and receive a ballot. Once you’re in, it matches you in the application to you in the voter registration.”

The process then involves further verification from the county clerk, staff from the Secretary of State’s office and staff assigned to the effort at Voatz.

“Then you receive your ballot and use Voatz to make selections by clicking on your screen,” Kersey explained. “And when you’re done, you click the vote button.”

Kersey said once the person clicks the vote button, a third and final layer of biometric security is triggered involving either a second “selfie photo” or thumbprint.

“Once it’s good, the vote goes into a digital lockbox. This is where Blockchain comes in.”


That is — all the hard work is identifying the voter. Then they put the vote into Voatz’ private database, and take at face value the hype claims of anything labeled “blockchain” being a tamper-proof “digital lockbox” — even as it’s under Voatz’ complete control.


In other words, the stuff about the vote being “on the blockchain” is just pointless. Puzzling too why the US feels that physical paper isn’t good enough for the job. Gerard’s book “Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain”, written last year, is an excellent primer on all the hype around blockchain and bitcoin.
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Apple and Huawei flex their strength in a declining tablet market • IDC


According to the latest figures published by International Data Corporation (IDC), the overall tablet market for Western Europe declined 10.1% YoY, shipping 6.3 million units in the second quarter of 2018 (2Q18).

Slates exhibited a degree of resilience in the commercial space, following strength in certain niche use-case deployments. However, market saturation, lengthening life cycles and a lack of innovation resulted in the ongoing sluggish demand on the consumer side, leading to an overall decline of 6.1% YoY. In terms of volume, detachables had a challenging quarter, declining by 23.3% YoY. As the market has become increasingly dominated by Apple and Microsoft, and consequently more premium-focused, the range of options available to more price-constrained customers has diminished, leading them to consider cheaper alternatives such as lower end convertibles or even traditional PCs. Furthermore, the announcement of upcoming product releases from the main players likely acted as an inhibiting factor on overall demand this quarter, as customers postponed their purchases in anticipation of these newer devices.


Samsung hangs on there in second place, but it’s down more than the market, while Huawei roared up into third place. It’s only selling a third as many as Samsung (and a quarter as many as Apple), but it’s definitely pushing hard.

Apple had a 30% share. And probably a 90% share of the profits. (To reiterate, these are the western Europe figures.)
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Deploying drones • Bloomberg

Brianna Jackson:


The reach of drones across US sectors is wide, especially since the unmanned aerial vehicles can go places that may not be safe for workers and are generally faster and less expensive than people. They can be particularly good for inspecting wind turbines and solar farms, according to Bloomberg NEF. In one case, drones took about a week to evaluate the 80 turbines at a German offshore wind farm, a task that would’ve required three months for workers to visually examine each blade.


Thus demonstrating my related point about Magic Leap’s pricey AR headset, in a roundabout way: there’s insufficient consumer demand for drones to keep that market afloat. But there’s very real business demand for them, and business is less price-sensitive. The market therefore lies in pricier, more functional machines. Ditto for AR headsets: the consumer use case just isn’t there (it isn’t even there for gaming with VR headsets), so the business/industrial space is the one to aim for.
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FBI warns of ‘unlimited’ ATM cashout blitz • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Organized cybercrime gangs that coordinate unlimited attacks typically do so by hacking or phishing their way into a bank or payment card processor. Just prior to executing on ATM cashouts, the intruders will remove many fraud controls at the financial institution, such as maximum ATM withdrawal amounts and any limits on the number of customer ATM transactions daily.

The perpetrators also alter account balances and security measures to make an unlimited amount of money available at the time of the transactions, allowing for large amounts of cash to be quickly removed from the ATM.

“The cyber criminals typically create fraudulent copies of legitimate cards by sending stolen card data to co-conspirators who imprint the data on reusable magnetic strip cards, such as gift cards purchased at retail stores,” the FBI warned. “At a pre-determined time, the co-conspirators withdraw account funds from ATMs using these cards.”

Virtually all ATM cashout operations are launched on weekends, often just after financial institutions begin closing for business on Saturday. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke a story about an apparent unlimited operation used to extract a total of $2.4m from accounts at the National Bank of Blacksburg in two separate ATM cashouts between May 2016 and January 2017.

In both cases, the attackers managed to phish someone working at the Blacksburg, Virginia-based small bank. From there, the intruders compromised systems the bank used to manage credits and debits to customer accounts.


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SEC slaps ‘fraudulent’ ICO founder with $30K fine, lifetime ban • CoinDesk

Stan Higgins and Nikhilesh De:


The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced Tuesday that it had secured new prohibitions against the founder of a company behind an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO).

The agency said that it obtained officer-and-director and penny-stock bars against David Laurance and his company, Tomahawk Exploration LLC. Tomahawk, the SEC alleges, sought to raise funds through a “Tomahawkcoin” token sale that utilized misleading marketing materials and false claims about oil drilling licenses.

Further, the Tomahawkcoin is said to have been sold along with the false promise that “token owners would be able to convert the Tomahawkcoins into equity and potentially profit from the anticipated oil production and secondary trading of the tokens,” according to the SEC’s statement on the matter.

According to the Tuesday announcement, Laurance has neither admitted nor denied the SEC’s allegations but he and the company have agreed to the bars along with a $30,000 penalty.


A gloomy day on the crypto range: Bitcoin’s value plunged briefly below $6,000, and “Pot Publication High Times Now Says It Won’t Accept Bitcoin in IPO”. Downer.
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Why solar is likely to power the home of the future • The Verge

Angela Chen on US trends, noting that 2m out of 90m US homes have solar panels – but California recently made it a requirement that new homes have solar panels:


If solar becomes ubiquitous, we’ll likely see it being integrated with smart energy management systems in the home, predicts Bywater. These will regulate the battery, the home by using different sensors, and the solar panels. “The real trick is for the system to know how to make someone comfortable and how to be aggressive on conserving energy,” he says. It should know the optimal temperature of the home and how to change it based on utility rates and the time of day to save money.

Ultimately, says Baca, “we’re personally looking forward to a day when solar is as ubiquitous as AC.” Very few places had air conditioners when the technology first became available, and now it’s rare to find a builder who would create a new home without it. “People think something’s missing when it’s not there,” he says. “I think that’s where we’re going with solar, and I hope we see it sooner rather than later.”


Given the preponderance of air conditioning (AC) systems in the US and its creaking electrical grid, you’d think the power companies would be encouraging local generation like crazy.
link to this extract

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Start Up No.887: Google’s (still) tracking your Android phone, safeguarding self-driving cars, tech v kids, and more

Age-related macular degeneration: a Google algorithm can spot it. Photo by Community Eye Health on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. And emails too now! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Hackers plan to keep GM’s self-driving cars safe • Yahoo News

Rob Pegoraro:


Their plan for the autonomous vehicles coming from Cruise, based on the Chevy Bolt electric car, starts with a simple premise: Remove the systems that opened up those other vehicles to remote attacks.

Bluetooth? Forget it — the car is driving itself, so you don’t need hands-free calling. The radio? You’ll listen to your phone anyway. And that fancy touchscreen hardwired into the dashboard doesn’t need to exist either, not when the passengers can interact with the car via a stripped-down, locked-down tablet.

“If you don’t need something, take it out,” Valasek said. It’s Security 101 to reduce a device’s “attack surface” — the parts that respond to outside inputs, and which an adversary could therefore try to exploit. But it hasn’t always been Connected Car 101.

Miller’s and Valasek’s formula also includes a healthy dose of paranoia. Their design calls for the car to refuse any inbound connections — no data will come to the vehicle unless it asks for it first.

And much as in the locked-down framework Apple (AAPL) built for the iOS software inside iPhones and iPads, this autonomous-vehicle system will digitally sign and verify code at all levels, with messages from one component to another encrypted whenever possible.

Miller noted one possible speed bump: The wired networking in many cars is too old to support that encryption. “The components in cars are just so far behind,” he complained.

If this level of security by design sounds like something worth paying extra for — sorry, you can’t. Cruise Automation will run only as a ride-hailing service, like an Uber or Lyft but devoid of life forms in the driver’s seat.

That solves the issue of how you sell a car without a radio or Bluetooth: You don’t have to.


Clever – and probably necessary.
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The tech industry’s psychological war on kids • Medium

Richard Freed is a psychologist treating children and adolescents:


Nestled in an unremarkable building on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, is the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, founded in 1998. The lab’s creator, Dr. B.J. Fogg, is a psychologist and the father of persuasive technology, a discipline in which digital machines and apps — including smartphones, social media, and video games — are configured to alter human thoughts and behaviors. As the lab’s website boldly proclaims: “Machines designed to change humans.”

Fogg speaks openly of the ability to use smartphones and other digital devices to change our ideas and actions: “We can now create machines that can change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.” Called “the millionaire maker,” Fogg has groomed former students who have used his methods to develop technologies that now consume kids’ lives. As he recently touted on his personal website, “My students often do groundbreaking projects, and they continue having impact in the real world after they leave Stanford… For example, Instagram has influenced the behavior of over 800 million people. The co-founder was a student of mine.”

Intriguingly, there are signs that Fogg is feeling the heat from recent scrutiny of the use of digital devices to alter behavior. His boast about Instagram, which was present on his website as late as January of 2018, has been removed. Fogg’s website also has lately undergone a substantial makeover, as he now seems to go out of his way to suggest his work has benevolent aims…


This is a long piece, but full of remarkable insights into what’s happening with children.
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Artificial intelligence ‘did not miss a single urgent case’ • BBC News

Fergus Walsh:


A team at DeepMind, based in London, created an algorithm, or mathematical set of rules, to enable a computer to analyse optical coherence tomography (OCT), a high resolution 3D scan of the back of the eye.

Thousands of scans were used to train the machine how to read the scans. Then, artificial intelligence was pitted against humans. The computer was asked to give a diagnosis in the cases of 1,000 patients whose clinical outcomes were already known.

The same scans were shown to eight clinicians – four leading ophthalmologists and four optometrists. Each was asked to make one of four referrals: urgent, semi-urgent, routine and observation only.

Artificial intelligence performed as well as two of the world’s leading retina specialists, with an error rate of only 5.5%. Crucially, the algorithm did not miss a single urgent case.

The results, published in the journal Nature Medicine , were described as “jaw-dropping” by Dr Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist, who is leading the research at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

He told the BBC: “I think this will make most eye specialists gasp because we have shown this algorithm is as good as the world’s leading experts in interpreting these scans.”

Artificial intelligence was able to identify serious conditions such as wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can lead to blindness unless treated quickly. Dr Keane said the huge number of patients awaiting assessment was a “massive problem”.


Contrast this with IBM’s Watson, trying to solve cancer and doing badly. This has a better data set, clearer pathways to disease, and is better understood generally. Part of doing well with AI is choosing the correct limits to work within.

And this won’t replace the doctors; it will just be a pre-screen.
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Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not • Associated Press

Ryan Nakashima:


For the most part, Google is upfront about asking permission to use your location information. An app like Google Maps will remind you to allow access to location if you use it for navigating. If you agree to let it record your location over time, Google Maps will display that history for you in a “timeline” that maps out your daily movements.

Storing your minute-by-minute travels carries privacy risks and has been used by police to determine the location of suspects — such as a warrant that police in Raleigh, North Carolina, served on Google last year to find devices near a murder scene. So the company will let you “pause” a setting called Location History.

Google says that will prevent the company from remembering where you’ve been. Google’s support page on the subject states: “You can turn off Location History at any time. With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

That isn’t true. Even with Location History paused, some Google apps automatically store time-stamped location data without asking.

For example, Google stores a snapshot of where you are when you merely open its Maps app. Automatic daily weather updates on Android phones pinpoint roughly where you are. And some searches that have nothing to do with location, like “chocolate chip cookies,” or “kids science kits,” pinpoint your precise latitude and longitude — accurate to the square foot — and save it to your Google account.

The privacy issue affects some two billion users of devices that run Google’s Android operating software and hundreds of millions of worldwide iPhone users who rely on Google for maps or search.

Storing location data in violation of a user’s preferences is wrong, said Jonathan Mayer, a Princeton computer scientist and former chief technologist for the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau. A researcher from Mayer’s lab confirmed the AP’s findings on multiple Android devices; the AP conducted its own tests on several iPhones that found the same behavior.


It’s amazing. Location tracking comes up as a topic every two years or so, and it’s always Google (and sometimes Facebook); Apple has managed to stay out of it since 2010. And then it fizzles away. Jonathan Mayer’s involvement is repetitive too: he noted Google hacking Safari’s cookies for ad tracking a few years back.
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Instagram Stories at two: what price have we paid for recording everything? • Esquire

Olivia Ovenden:


As well as turning holidays into a highlights reel, Stories has forever altered the witching hours of drunken evenings out which are now witnessed by hundreds before the night even ends. On Sunday mornings I now watch a sped-up reel of friends and fleeting acquaintances doing shots or wrestling on the night bus like a trailer advertising their Saturday night.

“I have definitely seen my friends acting up for the camera,” 30-year-old Matt tells me. “It’s always been the case with Instagram but Stories make it so much worse because you’re basically encouraged to share as much as possible.”

Dating, now, also has the added pressure and thrill of knowing exactly when someone you like has looked at what you’ve uploaded. The downside is that this becomes a game of cat and mouse that requires a lot of ‘brand maintenance’.

Lara, 27, tells me she found recording a digest of her day to impress someone exhausting. “I had to delete the app on my phone for a while because I would stage these ridiculous scenes when drunk to impress a guy I was dating,” she says. “I hoped it made my life look like some non-stop party but looking back they were so awful. Even when I was sober I’d get dressed up, post something misleading and see how long until he looked at it.”


This sounds like a modern form of torture.
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How to lose $3 billion of bitcoin in India • Bloomberg

Archana Chaudhary and Jeanette Rodrigues:


…on Jan. 4, 2018, the state of Texas filed a cease-and-desist order against BitConnect. North Carolina followed five days later. The news came as the price of bitcoin crashed.

Amid the ensuing market turmoil, the Reserve Bank of India announced measures that virtually banned crypto transactions. Cryptocurrency exchanges responded with a lawsuit that is due to resume hearings in the Supreme Court in September.

Investigators across Gujarat and in the Indian capital of New Delhi say complaints about crypto frauds began pouring in after the U.S. cease-and-desist letters.

Still, those who had been trying to hide untaxed cash were in a quandary. If they went to the authorities, they would have to declare their investments.

So Bhatt and nine accomplices – including Paladiya – kidnapped two BitConnect representatives in Surat and demanded 2,256 bitcoin as ransom, CID investigators alleged. Paladiya, however, wanted more. He contacted his influential uncle, Kotadiya, and tapped the latter’s network in the local police to double-cross Bhatt and allegedly extort his bitcoin, according to allegations in police documents and interviews with investigators.

They were confident of success, gambling that Bhatt wouldn’t go to the authorities and certain that the anonymity of bitcoin would make the heist untraceable, according to the investigators.

They were wrong. Bhatt pressed charges.


All as a result of Narandra Modi’s move to ban high-denomination currency in November 2016 – just at the sort of time bitcoin began taking off.
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Vietnam confirms suspension of Bitcoin, cryptocurrency miner imports • Cryptocurrency News

Samburaj Das:


Domestic businesses and individuals have stopped importing crypto mining equipment altogether since the beginning of July, according to the Ho Chi Minh City (HCM) Customs Department, as reported by Viet Nam News on Monday.

Officials from Vietnam’s largest city said individuals and firms had imported as many as 3,664 application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) devices in the first half of 2018. 3,000 machines were notably imported by four enterprises involved in mining operations with the rest imported by individuals and organizations who did not include import tax codes, the authority said. A majority of the devices were revealed to be Antminer models, a brand of cryptocurrency mining equipment developed by industry giant Bitmain.

As reported previously, Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance (MoF) first proposed the blanket ban in June after authorities in the nation increased their scrutiny into the domestic crypto sector following a nationwide ICO-fraud that reportedly conned an estimated $660 million from 32,000 domestic investors. The fallout led Vietnam’s prime minister ordering six government ministries, the police, and the central bank to investigate the scam.


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Media democratization and the rise of Trump • ROUGH TYPE

Nicholas Carr, reviewing the new book “Trump and the Media” – a collection of essays:


One contentious question is whether social media in general and Twitter in particular actually changed the outcome of the vote. Keith N. Hampton, of Michigan State University, finds “no evidence” that any of the widely acknowledged malignancies of social media, from fake news to filter bubbles, “worked in favor of a particular presidential candidate.” Drawing on exit polls, he shows that most demographic groups voted pretty much the same in 2016 as they had in the Obama-Romney race of 2012. The one group that exhibited a large and possibly decisive shift from the Democratic to the Republican candidate were white voters without college degrees. Yet these voters, surveys reveal, are also the least likely to spend a lot of time online or to be active on social media. It’s unfair to blame Twitter or Facebook for Trump’s victory, Hampton suggests, if the swing voters weren’t on Twitter or Facebook.

What Hampton overlooks are the indirect effects of social media, particularly its influence on press coverage and public attention. As the University of Oxford’s Josh Cowls and Ralph Schroeder write, Trump’s Twitter account may have been monitored by only a small portion of the public, but it was followed, religiously, by journalists, pundits, and politicos. The novelty and frequent abrasiveness of the tweets — they broke all the rules of decorum for presidential campaigns — mesmerized the chattering class throughout the primaries and the general election campaign, fueling a frenzy of retweets, replies, and hashtags. Social media’s biggest echo chamber turned out to be the traditional media elite.


link to this extract

The woman who just cost Google $5bn revealed her next target, and it could spell trouble for Apple • Business Insider

Jake Kanter:


In a written answer to a question from an EU lawmaker, [Margrethe] Vestager said her team is about to launch a review of smartphone chargers, amid concerns that tech firms have not acted on a promise to standardize charging points.

Apple, Samsung, Huawei, and Nokia were among 14 companies to sign a voluntary deal in 2009, agreeing to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011.

Vestager said progress against this aim had not been good enough. “Given the unsatisfactory progress with this voluntary approach, the Commission will shortly launch an impact assessment study to evaluate costs and benefits of different other options,” she said.

This could spell all sorts of trouble for Apple. Android phones use either USB-C and micro-USB connectors into the handset, and Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector is something of an outlier. This may make it an obvious target for Vestager’s investigation.


Vestager’s intent is to reduce e-waste – that when someone buys a new phone, they don’t need to throw out the charger from their old one. Pre-smartphones, this used to be a terrible problem: Sony, Nokia and Motorola all had different, incompatible chargers.

Now it’s the Android phones where you find incompatibility, to be honest. All of Apple’s are Lightning (unlike 2012, when you could still buy 32-pin phones, but Lightning had come in). And all Apple’s chargers have a USB-A socket, so you can use them with other leads.

I can see Vestager might want to go somewhere with this, but I’m not sure how well it’s going to work.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.886: the power user curve, email’s 1% solution, Surface Go reviewed, GDPR persists, and more

IBM says its Watson system is “making a difference”. Reality begs to differ. Photo by ibmphoto24 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. It’s as if we were never away! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The Power User Curve: The best way to understand your most engaged users • Andrew Chen

Andrew Chen:


Power users drive some of the most successful companies — people who love their product, are highly engaged, and contribute a ton of value to the network. In ecommerce marketplaces it’s power sellers, in ridesharing platforms it’s power riders, and in social networks it’s influencers.

All companies want more power users, but you need to measure them before you can find (and retain) them. While DAU/MAU — dividing daily active users (DAUs) by monthly active users (MAUs or monthly actives) — is a common metric for measuring engagement, it has its shortcomings.

Since companies need a richer and more nuanced way to understand user engagement, we’re going to introduce what we’ll call the “Power User Curve” — also commonly called the activity histogram or the “L30” (coined by the Facebook growth team). It’s a histogram of users’ engagement by the total number of days they were active in a month, from 1 day out of the month to all 30 (or 28, or 31) days. While typically reflecting top-level activity like app opens or logins, it can be customized for whatever action you decide is important to measure for your product.


Chen’s articles are always fascinating; this one gets into whether a product/service would be best monetised through a subscription or advertising – revealed just through the DAU/MAU power user curve.
link to this extract

Newton Mail to shut down service September 25th • MacStories

John Voorhees:


Newton, which began life as CloudMagic in 2013, will shut down its email subscription service on September 25, 2018. According to the company’s CEO, Rohit Nadhani:


We explored various business models but couldn’t successfully figure out profitability & growth over the long term. It was hard; the market for premium consumer mail apps is not big enough, and it faces stiff competition from high quality free apps from Google, Microsoft, and Apple. We put up a hard and honest fight, but it was not enough to overcome the bundling & platform default advantages enjoyed by the large tech companies.


CloudMagic was relaunched as a subscription email service and renamed Newton in 2016. According to Nadhani’s post, the company, which offered iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows versions of its email client, served over four million customers, 40,000 of whom signed up as paying subscribers.


That’s less than a 1% signup for software that’s probably quite good. Trying to get people to pay for email is one of the modern world’s most difficult tech sales jobs.
link to this extract

Microsoft Surface Go review: a little goes a long way • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:


The Surface Go is a 10-inch hybrid tablet-laptop Windows computer. It’s just really small, honestly. That seems like an obvious point to make, but it’s the essence of what the Surface Go is: A very tiny Surface. I said in my last video that I have a soft spot for tiny computers. They’re just a little more convenient to carry around and the tradeoffs in performance are usually worth it for me. The sign of a good tiny computer is that you have to check to make sure it’s actually in your bag when you leave the house. And I have had to check several times — it weighs 1.15 pounds on its own.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is typing on the slightly-less-than-full-size keyboard. I found it only took me a few hours to get used to it, and I’ve been able to jam along without more typos that usual. It uses traditional scissor switches, which means that there’s good key travel. The keys themselves are slightly domed, which might help just a little with accuracy. The glass Precision trackpad is similarly good — just big enough so that you don’t feel cramped using it.


Bohn really, really likes the Surface Go. Notable that Apple’s offering 9.7in and 10.5in tablets: it’s as if consensus is gravitating around 10in as the idea for the toaster-fridge form factor.
link to this extract

More than 1,000 U.S. news sites are still unavailable in Europe, two months after GDPR took effect • Nieman Journalism Lab

Jeff South:


Joseph O’Connor, a self-described “rogue archivist” in the United Kingdom, has been tracking the issue. He started after a gunman killed five staff members of the Capital Gazette on June 28. O’Connor wanted to read about the shooting, but the paper in Annapolis, Maryland, and the nearby Baltimore Sun, both Tronc properties, are blocked in Europe.

As of Monday, O’Connor found that more than 1,000 news sites were unavailable in the EU. They included more than 40 broadcast websites and about 100 sites operated under GateHouse’s Wicked Local brand.

GateHouse and Tronc did not respond to requests for comment about the GDPR. Lee Enterprises has no plans to comply. Company spokesperson Charles Arms said Lee’s websites wouldn’t draw enough visitors from the more than 30 countries in the EU and the European Economic Area to justify compliance.

“Internet traffic on our local news sites originating from the EU and EEA is de minimis, and we believe blocking that traffic is in the best interest of our local media clients,” Arms said.

From a financial standpoint, that position is justified, according to Alan Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California at Berkeley. He said international web traffic might benefit The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post but “ads served in Paris, Palermo, or Potsdam don’t help advertisers in Peoria.”

But being available in Europe can help customer relations. And about 16 million Americans visited Europe last year.


Tronc’s lack of response is fairly typical. It’s a big company but it doesn’t care about anything beyond its tiny view. At least Instapaper, under new management, is available in Europe again.
link to this extract

Inside Magic Leap’s quest to remake itself as an ordinary company (with a real product) • Wired

Jessi Hempel has been to visit Magic Leap (which has been given $2.3bn in venture funding) multiple times. Now it’s selling $2,295 AR headsets to developers:


The Icelandic band Sigur Rós worked with Magic Leap to build an electrifyingly beautiful visual sound experience. But Magic Leap has also provided a way for developers to input a tiny snippet of code into their existing projects and refer to 3-D models to render web pages in 3-D in Magic Leap’s Helio browser. So, you can open a demo of The New York Times in Magic Leap’s Helio browser, just as you might on your desktop. But by adding a small snippet of code that renders a 3-D model, The New York Times can also show you a news photo rendered in 3-D so you can more closely explore it.

In seeding developers, Magic Leap is attempting to steer the design direction of its technology. Sure, 40% of the developers who received the goggles early are focused on gaming and entertainment, use cases that have been the company’s mainstay. But Magic Leap has also developed tools for corporate communication (Imagine Zoom, but if your entire conference party were avatars sitting around a digital conference table.) Roughly 10% of the company’s existing developers come from healthcare and medical imaging, which isn’t surprising given Abovitz’s background.


I suspect the gaming thing will go nowhere: who’s going to spend $2,295 on AR glasses for gaming? Even if the price halves, that’s still $1,000. The market would be tiny.

I predict that in 18 months’ time or so Magic Leap will pivot to industrial and commercial applications: there, you aren’t asking consumers to spend huge sums of money. You get the company to pay.
link to this extract

Why everyone is following less on Twitter (and regaining their sanity) •

Damon Brown:


We can only pay attention to so many things. Political climate aside, there are only so many people you can hear at once – and, at a certain time, you won’t be able to truly engage.

I discovered this in 2012 and, as I shared in this column, I dropped from following thousands of people to only 300:


I loved sharing varied opinions and conversations. I eventually started to feel suffocated, though–as if a continual sea of commentary was constantly thrashing me against the rocks. I realized that I was following too many people. I love initiating and enabling passionate, one-on-one conversations, and it was becoming debilitating to do that while following thousands of people. Instead, I took a drastic approach: Around 2012, I began culling the people I followed down to the most essential and insightful. It’s been tough, but I regularly keep my following group to around 300–the number of people I can consistently engage during the day. Instead, I use Twitter lists to keep up with other people without having the heavy news feed. Figure out how many people you can comfortably be connected with on your favorite social-media platform and stick with that number.


Today, I’m at around 250. These are the people, organizations and movements I care about, those that have the biggest impact on my ideas and the arguments I most want to share.


I’ve seen a few people do this, and it’s obvious that you’ll get a much calmer version of Twitter. (Turning off retweets has a similar effect.) It also reinforces the filter bubble, though.
link to this extract

IBM has a Watson dilemma • WSJ

Daniela Hernandez and Ted Greenwald:


“Watson represents a technology breakthrough that can help physicians improve patient outcomes,” said Herbert Chase, a professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia University, in a 2012 IBM press release.

Six years and billions of dollars later, the diagnosis for Watson is gloomy.

More than a dozen IBM partners and clients have halted or shrunk Watson’s oncology-related projects. Watson cancer applications have had limited impact on patients, according to dozens of interviews with medical centers, companies and doctors who have used it, as well as documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

In many cases, the tools didn’t add much value. In some cases, Watson wasn’t accurate. Watson can be tripped up by a lack of data in rare or recurring cancers, and treatments are evolving faster than Watson’s human trainers can update the system. Dr. Chase of Columbia said he withdrew as an adviser after he grew disappointed in IBM’s direction for marketing the technology.

No published research shows Watson improving patient outcomes.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to reinvent the world, from how businesses operate to the types of jobs people hold to the way wars are fought. In health care, AI promises to help doctors diagnose and treat diseases as well as help people track their own wellness and monitor chronic conditions. Watson’s struggles suggest that revolution remains some way off.

IBM said Watson has important cancer-care benefits, like helping doctors keep up with medical knowledge. “This is making a difference,” said John Kelly, IBM senior vice president. “The data says and is validating that we’re on the right track.”


All the numbers are going in the wrong direction for Watson. As this says, the problem is more that the dataset is really unclear: we don’t understand cancer well enough. Chris Mims, a WSJ writer, put it succinctly: “Outright fraud aside, hard to think of anything in tech where there’s been a bigger delta [gap] between what was advertised and the reality than IBM’s Watson.”
link to this extract

Windows malware WannaCry delays manufacturing of the next iPhone processor • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:


Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) admitted that the attack was possible because of an unpatched Windows 7 system, which was vulnerable to the infamous ransomware WannaCry while the company was installing a new tool. The infection happened when a supplier connected tainted software to TSMC’s network without a virus scan, according to Bloomberg.

TSMC is Apple’s exclusive supplier of the iPhone’s A-series chips. The attack, which cost the manufacturer $250m, could have been prevented, because it left its Windows 7 systems unpatched. The patch has been available for approximately a year.

The WannaCry virus started spreading in 2017, and has infected 200,000 computers across 150 countries. As a relatively old virus, you can easily protect against it by keeping your PC software updated, which TSMC apparently failed to do. Because there are so many systems still out there that are still not being properly patched, we can still see infrastructure like TSMC that’s vulnerable to the same attacks a year later.

In an official statement, TSMC said that the company expects the incident to “cause shipment delays and additional costs,” with third quarter revenue taking as 3% hit. But analysts say that the company was prepared for this kind of attack, and its customers might not see much of a difference in shipping delays or costs.


Lasted five days; how many A12 processors had TSMC made already? How much has this affected it? If it’s five days, then probably not that much, truth be told. And once the systems are restored, it’s all as it was before.

Though of course it would be a wonderful hacking story to put a bug in the A12. Except that this was just an accident.
link to this extract

‘Like selling crack to children’: a peek inside the Silicon Valley grift machine • NY Mag

Corey Pein:


I got a deeper look at these methods when I dropped by the annual Startup Conference at the historic downtown Fox Theater in Redwood City. Inside the auditorium, Stanford grad and start-up founder Nir Eyal captivated a crowd of several hundred with a distillation of his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, which promised to give marketers the key to the unconscious mind…

…Eyal presented several categories of virtual tchotchkes companies might offer in exchange for people’s money or attention. One category he called “rewards of the tribe,” which he described as “things that feel good, have an element of variability, and come from other people” — like Likes. Another category: “rewards of the hunt,” which involved “the search for resources” such as food. “In our modern society, we buy these things with money,” Eyal said. The addictive power of slot machines offered one example of how marketers could manipulate people’s animal instincts. Video-game companies like Zynga had taken those Pavlovian processes to a new level, bringing players to the peak of excitement and then hitting them up for cash, which is sort of like a mystery movie that pauses itself mid-plot-twist and demands that you insert a coin.

I wasn’t qualified to judge the neuroscientific basis of Eyal’s pitch, but pop-sci of this sort sent my bullshit detector whooping like a Klaxon. Whether or not his theories worked, it was disturbing to hear such an eagerness to exploit human behavioral tics for the sake of profit. Was this how Silicon Valley intended to make the world a better place? Was there anyone they wouldn’t empower with these manipulative tools, for the right price?

“There’s one more thing I’d like to discuss: the morality of manipulation,” Eyal went on. “I know what that nervous laughter is about … I know some of you were thinking, ‘Is this kosher?’ If you had that response, bravo.” Eyal conceded that digital gadgets may be “the cigarettes of this century,” but said he was optimistic that these addictive products could be used for “good” and to “help people live healthier, happier, more productive” lives.

Eyal wrapped up with a slide of Mahatma Gandhi, although El Chapo might’ve been a better choice. “I encourage you to build the change you wish to see in the world,” he concluded, then basked in applause.


link to this extract

Inside Twitter’s struggle over what gets banned • NY Times

Cecilia Kang and Kate Conger:


On Friday, to provide more transparency about its decision making, Twitter invited two New York Times reporters to attend the policy meeting. During the one-hour gathering, a picture emerged of a 12-year-old company still struggling to keep up with the complicated demands of being an open and neutral communications platform that brings together world leaders, celebrities, journalists, political activists and conspiracy theorists.

Even settling on a definition of dehumanizing speech was not easy. By the meeting’s end, Mr. Dorsey and his executives had agreed to draft a policy about dehumanizing speech and open it to the public for their comments.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Dorsey, 41, said he was “O.K. with people not agreeing” with his decision to keep Mr. Jones’s account live.

“I don’t see this as an end point, I see this as maintaining integrity with what we put out there and not doing random one-off interpretations,” he said.

But Mr. Dorsey also said that while Twitter’s longtime guiding principle has been free expression, the company is now discussing “that safety should come first.” He added, “That’s a conversation we need to have.” He said he was thinking deeply about human rights law and listening to audiobooks on speech and expression.

Karen Kornbluh, a senior fellow of digital policy at the Council of Foreign Relations, said Mr. Dorsey had mishandled the Infowars situation but added that dealing with matters of free speech on social media is highly complex.

“There is no due process, no transparency, no case law, and no expertise on these very complicated legal and social questions behind these decisions,” she said.


Twitter didn’t want the meeting participants named (because they’d get trolled and alt-right idiots would dox them). It’s clear, though, that this struggle over what is permissible is the crucial struggle for social media this year.
link to this extract

It’s time to end the yearly smartphone launch event • Motherboard

Owen Williams:


As smartphone sales begin to stall and phone makers clamber to figure out what’s next, we’re in a period of uncertainty: is the decade of continued, unprecedented growth going to come back? Analysts have been firing warning flares for almost a year now, saying that smartphone shipments are beginning to slow, but the effects have felt on time delay as minor innovations continued to flow in the meantime. In Q4 of 2017, analysts saw the first global decline in smartphone shipments, which hasn’t gotten any better, with reports of slowing European sales continuing and even the chipmakers themselves reporting a shift.

We’ve already seen an example of the consequences of a industry shift first hand: HTC’s gradual decline. Just a few years ago the company sold millions of phones a quarter, and was consistently a top handset manufacturer, but today, it’s essentially non-existent, with much of the handset division sold to Google in 2017.

The PC industry has already faced this problem. As it peaked and began declining, we saw dozens of device manufacturers from Compaq to Sony throw in the towel year after year, as the pie began to shrink. I believe that we’re seeing the beginning of phones lasting longer than ever, and ultimately becoming boring to the consumer. Phones are getting ever-closer to commoditization.

Samsung’s event today made it clear that the smartphone has gone over that peak, and we’re in new territory now: smartphone makers are out of fresh ideas. It’s just another beautiful, complicated, technologically advanced rectangle.


Of course Samsung takes two bites at this, by having big launches for the Galaxy S and the Note, where almost everything is known ahead of time. But just as most smartphone reviews have been pointless for a year or two now – really new features apart, there’s nothing new to say – so it is with these launches. But the companies rely on the media, and the media rely on the companies. Symbiosis in action.
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‘Elitist’: angry book pirates hit back after author campaign sinks website • The Guardian

Alison Flood:


Authors have been called elitist by book pirates, after they successfully campaigned to shut down a website that offered free PDFs of thousands of in-copyright books.

OceanofPDF was closed last week after publishers including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins issued hundreds of takedown notices, with several high-profile authors including Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman raising the issue online. Featuring free downloads of thousands of books, OceanofPDF had stated on its site that it sought to make information “free and accessible to everyone around the globe”, and that it wanted to make books available to people in “many developing countries where … they are literally out of reach to many people”.

Before the site was taken down, one of its founders told the Bookseller that it was run by a team of four who worked based on user requests: “Once we get an email from a user requesting a book that he/she cannot afford/find in the library or if he has lost it, we try to find it on their behalf and upload on our site so that someone in future might also get it.”


As someone who writes books (and is married to someone who writes books), the obvious answer to this “new libraries” argument is that there are lots of billionaires (and even plain old millionaires) in the developing world and beyond who ought to be happy to set up real libraries with proper funding, which would mean that you could lend books – thus fulfilling the original aim – and make sure that creators were properly rewarded, thus meaning there would be more in the future.

This is a different argument, by the way, from those around scientific papers and publications, where you often end up paying twice: once for the research done with public funds, and then to read it in the private publication.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.885: the state-sponsored trolls, WhatsApp resists India, pricing the Galaxy Note 9, choosing avatars, and more

Asus stopped online retailers lowering prices in Europe from 2011-2014: now it’s been fined €63m. Photo by Rodrigo Bastos 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.

OK, so this is the last instalment for a couple of weeks. See you in August!

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

A global guide to state-sponsored trolling • Bloomberg


In Venezuela, prospective trolls sign up for Twitter and Instagram accounts at government-sanctioned kiosks in town squares and are rewarded for their participation with access to scarce food coupons, according to Venezuelan researcher Marianne Diaz of the group @DerechosDigitales. A self-described former troll in India says he was given a half-dozen Facebook accounts and eight cell phones after he joined a 300-person team that worked to intimidate opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. And in Ecuador, contracting documents detail government payments to a public relations company that set up and ran a troll farm used to harass political opponents.

Many of those findings are contained in a report released this week by a global group of researchers that uncovered evidence of state-sponsored trolling in seven countries, and Bloomberg reporters documented additional examples in several others. The report is by the Institute for the Future, a non-partisan, foresight research and public policy group based in Palo Alto, California.

“These campaigns can take on the scale and speed of the modern internet,” the report said. “States are using the same tools they once perceived as a threat to deploy information technology as a means for power consolidation and social control, fueling disinformation operations and disseminating government propaganda at a greater scale than ever before.”

Almost two years in the making, the report grew out of an earlier project commissioned by Google but never published. Researchers for the company’s Jigsaw division, its technology incubator, documented vicious harassment campaigns that were intended to appear spontaneous but in fact had links to various governments. These campaigns often operate “under a high degree of centralized coordination and deploy bots and centrally-managed social media accounts designed to overwhelm victims and drown out their dissent,” according to an unpublished copy of the Google report obtained through an outside researcher.


Social media considered… harmful?
link to this extract

UK university domains spoofed in massive fraud campaign targeting suppliers • HOTforSecurity

Graham Cluley:


As Action Fraud explains, the criminals are using the bogus email addresses to commit distribution fraud.

Distribution fraud is where criminals make an order to a supplying company (often overseas) via email, posing as a well-known organisation. The ploy is often convincing because they will use an email address that looks similar to the genuine organisation and steal their branding.

Action Fraud says that in the current case, fraudsters are registering domains that are similar to genuine university domains such as, and

Placing orders for a large quantity of expensive products (such as food, pharmaceuticals, or IT equipment), the fraudsters will avoid payment in advance by using faked purchase orders, bank transfer confirmation documentation, or by giving the organisation’s real address for invoicing.

However, the criminals ask for the delivery to be made to an address that does not belong to the spoofed organisation, or in some cases will contact the delivery driver en route to give them a new delivery address.


And why now? Because universities aren’t in term time, and so there’s less oversight of what’s going on.
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14 million Americans are drinking carcinogen-polluted tap water • Fast Company

Melissa Locker:


The drinking water of some 14 million Americans is contaminated with a cancer-causing industrial solvent called Trichloroethylene, or TCE, according to a new EWG analysis of tests from public utilities nationwide. EWG’s Tap Water Database, which aggregates test results from utilities nationwide, shows that in about half of the systems it monitors, average annual levels of TCE were above what some health authorities say is safe for infants and developing fetuses.

More than 400 of the government’s Superfund sites have TCE contamination that can spread into groundwater and threaten drinking water supplies. Drinking TCE-contaminated water has been linked to birth defects, hormone disruption, increased risk of cancer, and more. The EPA’s legal limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 parts per billion. That limit was set back in 1987, and researchers believe TCE could be harmful at much lower levels.

TCE pollution is not new. In fact, in 1995, it was made famous thanks to Jonathan Harr’s nonfiction best-seller A Civil Action, which not only won the National Book Award, but also got John Travolta to star in the film version of it. That book (and film) followed a 1980s case of TCE pollution in Massachusetts that may have caused leukemia in children exposed to the toxic chemical in their drinking supply. Even with the case, and Travolta’s star power, TCE pollution hasn’t been a sexy hot-button issue for years. That could—and should—all change.


link to this extract

WhatsApp balks at India’s demand to break encryption • VentureBeat

Manish Singh:


As WhatsApp scrambles to figure out technology solutions to address some of the problems its service has inadvertently caused in developing markets, India’s government has proposed one of its own: bring traceability to the platform so false information can be traced to its source. But WhatsApp indicated to VentureBeat over the weekend that complying with that request would undermine the service’s core value of protecting user privacy.

“We remain deeply committed to people’s privacy and security, which is why we will continue to maintain end-to-end encryption for all of our users,” the company said.

The request for traceability, which came from India’s Ministry of Electronics & IT last week, was more than a suggestion. The Ministry said Facebook-owned WhatsApp would face legal actions if it failed to deliver.

“There is a need for bringing in traceability and accountability when a provocative/inflammatory message is detected and a request is made by law enforcement agencies,” the government said Friday. “When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability. If they remain mute spectators they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action,” it added.

India is WhatsApp’s largest market, with more than 250 million users.


Nice try, India. It’s the same swerve that Pakistan tried to pull on BlackBerry (that’s in 2015; it tried the same in 2011) but it doesn’t wash nowadays when E2E encryption is utterly commonplace.

Fake news is a problem – no doubt – but it’s a problem about humans, not the machines they use.
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Supervisors move to ban workplace cafeterias • The San Francisco Examiner

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez:


New city tech workers dreaming of dining in workplace cafeterias may soon face a harsh reality — going outside.

Two city legislators on Tuesday are expected to announce legislation banning on-site workplace cafeterias in an effort to promote and support local restaurants.

The measure, proposed by Supervisor Ahsha Safai and co-sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, would adjust zoning laws to ban workplace cafeterias moving forward, but would not be retroactive.

Peskin said the measure, similar to one was inspired by tech companies like Twitter and Airbnb, which are widely known to have access to dining in their own buildings, depriving nearby restaurants of the dollars usually spent by nearby workers. The measure has the support of Gwyneth Borden, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and other local merchants.

Under the legislation which is expected to be introduced Tuesday, “you can’t have an industrial kitchen in your office building,” Peskin said.

Peskin said the legislation sought to avoid the “Amazon effect that impacts retail and restaurants across the county,” he said. “This is forward thinking legislation.”

San Francisco is not the first city to implement such a measure. Mountain View, home to Google’s headquarters, has prohibited the company from fully subsidizing employee meals at new office locations, in an effort to encourage employees to engage with the community and local businesses, the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.

Peskn said the measure was purposefully made not retroactive “so it’s not goring anybody’s ox.”


This probably isn’t going to end well.
link to this extract

Apple seemingly unable to recover data from 2018 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar when logic board fails • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:


Last week, iFixit completed a teardown of the 2018 MacBook Pro, discovering that Apple has removed the data recovery connector from the logic board on both 13-inch and 15-inch models with the Touch Bar, suggesting that the Customer Data Migration Tool can no longer be connected.

MacRumors contacted multiple reliable sources at Apple Authorized Service Providers to learn more, and based on the information we obtained, it does appear that the tool is incompatible with 2018 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models.

Multiple sources claim that data cannot be recovered if the logic board has failed on a 2018 MacBook Pro. If the notebook is still functioning, data can be transferred to another Mac by booting the system in Target Disk Mode, and using Migration Assistant, which is the standard process that relies on Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The data recovery port was likely removed because 2018 MacBook Pro models feature Apple’s custom T2 chip, which provides hardware encryption for the SSD storage, like the iMac Pro, our sources said.

Apple’s internal 2018 MacBook Pro Service Readiness Guide, obtained by MacRumors, advises technicians to encourage customers to back up to Time Machine frequently, and we highly recommend following this advice, as it now appears to be the only way to preserve your data in the rare event your MacBook Pro fails.


A few years ago this would have seemed disastrous. Now, you assume that everyone keeps stuff in the cloud – or if it’s too big for that, backs it up locally to a gargantuan cheap drive. I don’t think this is a dramatic failing; as Rossignol hints, it’s probably more in the way of a security element.

In other MacBook Pro news: Apple says it found a “missing digital key in the firmware” which was making the new MBPs run less effectively under heavy load. (As mentioned previously.) There’s a software update which fixes it. So there you go.

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European Commission Antitrust fines four consumer electronics manufacturers for fixing online resale prices • EC


Asus, Denon & Marantz, Philips and Pioneer engaged in so called “fixed or minimum resale price maintenance (RPM)” by restricting the ability of their online retailers to set their own retail prices for widely used consumer electronics products such as kitchen appliances, notebooks and hi-fi products.

The four manufacturers intervened particularly with online retailers, who offered their products at low prices. If those retailers did not follow the prices requested by manufacturers, they faced threats or sanctions such as blocking of supplies. Many, including the biggest online retailers, use pricing algorithms which automatically adapt retail prices to those of competitors. In this way, the pricing restrictions imposed on low pricing online retailers typically had a broader impact on overall online prices for the respective consumer electronics products.

Moreover, the use of sophisticated monitoring tools allowed the manufacturers to effectively track resale price setting in the distribution network and to intervene swiftly in case of price decreases.

The price interventions limited effective price competition between retailers and led to higher prices with an immediate effect on consumers.

In particular, Asus, headquartered in Taiwan, monitored the resale price of retailers for certain computer hardware and electronics products such as notebooks and displays. The conduct of Asus related to two Member States (Germany and France) and took place between 2011 and 2014. Asus intervened with retailers selling those products below the resale prices recommended by Asus and requested price increases.


Total fines: €111m, the biggest (€63m) going against Asus. I wonder if the US FTC has seen similar activity? Also: seven years to reach this stage from the start of the activity. Is that good?
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Yup, the Galaxy Note 9 will be really expensive • BGR

Chris Smith:


It was only the other day that we showed you a Galaxy Note 9 leak from Europe that said the phone might cost €1,029 (128GB) and €1,279 (512GB), making the new Samsung flagship the most expensive handset in Samsung’s history. That’s $1,204 and $1,497 at current rates, although you shouldn’t expect a direct conversion for the US price of the handset.

A second report from the region indicates the price leak is accurate, providing an even higher entry price for the handset.

Yesterday’s report from Italian site Tutto Android said these leaked prices might increase by the time the phone is released next month. German blog WinFuture, an accurate source in the past, offers a similar pricing structure.

The site says the Galaxy Note 9 will be available in 128GB and 512GB storage options, which is certainly an improvement over previous models. The cheaper model will sell for €1,050 ($1,229), while the 512GB version will cost €1,250 ($1,463).


At this point, though carefully dripped-out leaks, pretty much everything is known about the Galaxy Note 9 – the price, shape, colours of the device – apart from what colour the pen will be. Even so, it feels like this will test the willingness of its customers to pay for that top-end feel.
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Boobs, muscles & fairy wings: everything i know about how humans design their avatar selves • Hunter Walk


It was a combination of early career anxiety and actual startup struggles which combined to make my years working on Second Life personally stressful. I remember my parents visiting our office and casting a sideways glance at the bottles of Mylanta and hard alcohol sitting side by side on my desk, like the cartoon angel and devil characters sitting on the shoulders of an 80s movie character wrestling with his conscience. With some hindsight perspective though, the tremendous benefits of the experience became clear – I had the opportunity to work on a thoughtful, innovative product with an amazing technical team and together we produced what is ultimately an ongoing, profitable company (even if it failed to achieve its full potential).

Besides the meta-learnings about how startups function, there were a [NeesonVoice] very particular set of skills [/NeesonVoice] that I took away from my years at Linden Lab. The other day a young entrepreneur – she was in diapers when we started Second Life – asked me about avatars and specifically the design decisions we made about how people could represent themselves in our virtual world. It was so much fun reminiscing about what we observed that I wanted to document some stuff here.


The point about how teens choose to appear is particularly interesting.
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Xiaomi expansion into South Korea heaping pressure on Samsung • Digitimes

Colley Hwang:


China-based Xiaomi launched its latest smartphones including the flagship Hongmi Note 5, in Seoul, South Korea, priced KRW200,000-300,000 (US$190-285), in cooperation with local telecom carriers SK Telecom and Korea Telecom. Their competitive pricing of less than US$300, far below Korea-based vendors’ smartphone ASP of over US$500 in 2017, has quickly caught much attention in the Korea market.

Xiaomi’s operating profits have always been below 5%, but the slim-profit strategy is also the China-based smartphone vendor’s strongest weapon in its foray into new territories. Xiaomi has already outraced Samsung Electronics in India’s smartphone market and is now looking to challenge the Korea giant on its home turf.

Currently, Samsung is the largest smartphone vendor in South Korea with a 55% share, followed by Apple at 28.3% and LG Electronics at 15.7%. The three handset vendors together already account for 99% of the market, leaving almost no room for any other players.

To nudge its way through the barriers, Xiaomi has introduced Hongmi Note 5, featuring a 5.99-inch screen, 12-megapixel back-end and 5-megapixel front-end cameras, and artificial intelligence (AI) support, priced at KRW299,000; it has been a star in Xiaomi’s winning lineup for the race in India. Although Xiaomi has not revealed the number of its smartphone pre-orders from South Korea, sources from local channels have reported positive feedbacks from consumers.


Which demonstrates that substitution – cheaper as-good hardware for another – is a continual risk for Android handset makers, even in their own back yard. That Apple has such a huge share – comparable with the UK (as is the size of the South Korean smartphone market) – is remarkable, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.884: the dumb smart bike lock, skinny bundling challenges, covering Musk, and more

Fibre broadband for all! At some future date. We hope. Photo by Ruth 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.

PLEASE NOTE that this week will have a shorter posting schedule: you’ve had Monday, there’s Tuesday (this one), and Wednesday. After that I’m on a fortnight’s break.

A selection of 11 links for you. for your comfort and safety, we have disabled caps lock. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The story behind Google’s secret offer to settle EU’s Android probe • Bloomberg

Aoife White and Stephanie Bodoni:


Vestager indicated in the interview that any settlement offer should have been made in 2016, after the company received the EU’s statement of objections, which detailed the antitrust problems with Android. The EU said the company might breach competition rules by unfairly pushing search and browser apps onto Android phones.

That might have been the narrow window to settle the case, but Google’s legal team were spinning dozens of plates in 2016. They had deadlines to respond to the Android charges, the shopping probe was still a major priority and there were new complaints filed to the EU by News Corp. and other rivals.

After the rebuff, the EU stepped up its probe, sending a formal “letter of facts” in November 2017, adding new evidence, two people said. There was little substantive contact between the two sides until Google representatives talked with EU officials in April during a so-called state of play meeting about the case, which was well on the way to the record fine.


Pretty thin gruel, this story; it’s clear that Google misread the timings and overestimated its chances of winning.

However the EC’s solution is no good. It should have obliged Google to offer Google Play separately. But even then, it’s far too late.
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Full-fibre broadband pledge for new homes • BBC News


Under [the new UK national telecoms strategy] targets, all of the UK will have full-fibre broadband coverage by 2033, replacing the copper wire network that currently delivers the service.

It proposes legislation to encourage more private infrastructure investment.

Earlier this month, research was published indicating that the UK has slipped from 31st to 35th place in the global broadband league tables, behind 25 other European countries.

The data was collected by M-Lab, a partnership between Google Open Source Research and Princeton University’s PlantLab, and the results compiled by UK broadband comparison site Cable.

Government statistics suggest only 4% of UK premises have a full-fibre link – compared to 79% in Spain and 95% in Portugal…

…Andrew Ferguson, editor of the Think Broadband site, said the strategy turned visions of full-fibre coverage into “slightly firmer targets”. However, he added, there was one “very important caveat” to the strategy which might slow the take up of full-fibre in the UK. In nations such as Spain, he said, full-fibre was the first decent broadband people were offered which meant people enthusiastically signed up.

“Getting the UK to upgrade to full-fibre if they are getting decent speeds from a VDSL2 or cable broadband connection may be harder,” he said, adding that how the packages were priced would be a factor in adoption.


I’ll believe it when I see it.
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Lattis Ellipse Smart Bike Lock review: equal parts smart and frustrating • CNET

Patrick Holland:


In everyday use, the lock worked… okay. But there were many times I struggled with it. For example when we filmed the video accompanying this review, I tried to lock my bike to a thicker post and ended up dropping my phone and cracking the screen. This scenario happened frequently: Holding the two pieces of lock and my phone, while tapping the screen to force the Ellipse closed.

The Ellipse app does provide a “handsfree” alternative called auto lock and auto unlock. To use, I close the Ellipse around my bike and the rack, walk away, and the app automatically triggers it to lock. The same thing happens in reverse to unlock it: I just have to walk towards the lock.

This is a good idea, but it doesn’t work consistently. Sometimes it took an unnerving amount of time for the lock to trigger. Also, this doesn’t quite solve the problem when I had to physically hold the Ellipse closed to lock it. I wish the Ellipse was integrated with the Apple Watch or Wear OS device to free up my hands.

There were also instances when my phone’s Bluetooth connection was off, and I had to wait for it to connect to the Ellipse and then unlock it. For those moments, I opted to use the lock’s built-in touch keypad. But even then, the keypad was annoying, too. It feels like touch technology from 10 years ago. I was only able to enter my passcode successfully when I used a deliberately slow touch.


The “smart” bit is that it can tell if there’s a theft (or attempt), or if it thinks you’ve had a crash. The stupid bit is described in the extract above: it’s too hard to lock.
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YouTube TV shows tough economics of skinny bundles • The Information

Jessica Toonkel and Tom Dotan:


As hundreds of thousands of people continue to drop cable and satellite TV every quarter, some are signing up for cheaper streaming versions introduced in the past few years. Google’s YouTube TV has so far amassed close to 800,000 subscribers while Hulu with Live TV is near a million, The Information has learned (see chart below). Including Dish’s Sling TV and AT&T’s DirecTV Now, the total number of people using these services is close to six million—75% higher than last October. But it’s still a fraction of the estimated 92 million people who still pay for satellite and cable.

But these streaming services have yet to figure out how to make money. In fact, the more people they sign up, the more money they lose. That’s because the services are paying more for programming than what they’re charging consumers. YouTube TV, for instance, is estimated to be paying $49 per subscriber a month—$9 more than it charges—for most of its channels, according to people familiar with the situation.

That highlights the challenge for these streaming cable services and the broader entertainment industry. The streaming services were meant to provide a cheaper alternative to traditional cable, keeping the lucrative cable channel business alive for companies like Disney, 21st Century Fox and Time Warner. But they haven’t changed the fundamental cost structure of cable. Entertainment companies charge the new services as much—or in some cases, more—than what they charge satellite and cable services to carry their TV networks. Entertainment companies couldn’t offer discounts to the new services even if they wanted to: contractual provisions ensure that big cable operators like Comcast always get the lowest rate on programming.

“The fundamentals of the pay TV business are still broken,” said one person who’s arranged these deals. “You just had deeper-pocketed people wanting to play in this business for a number of different reasons.”


This slightly misses the point. Once people abandon cable for a skinny bundle, they’re very unlikely to go back. That gives the skinny players a loyal subscriber, and thus the chance to carefully boil the frog – raise prices or push upsells. Outcome: longer-term profit. And they have huge numbers of unconverted potential users.
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Britain proposes tougher foreign investment rules to protect national security • Reuters

Andrew MacAskill and Ben Martin:


The decision to tighten the screening of foreign investment rules marks a further shift in policy for the world’s fifth-largest economy which has traditionally been one of the most open markets to global mergers and acquisitions.

Britain is pressing ahead with the changes in parallel with similar efforts in other western economies such as Germany and Australia amid growing levels of Chinese investment.

Under the new rules, the government will broaden its power to investigate deals regardless of the size of the companies’ revenue or market share and have the right to scrutinize any transaction in any sector of the economy.

The government will also have the power to intervene when a company wants to acquire an asset such as a particular piece of technology or intellectual property rather just when they are seeking to buy or take control of a firm.

At present the government can only intervene if a deal creates a group with 25% of the market or with turnover of over £70m ($91.72m). That has already been reduced to £1m for companies that make technology with military or dual-use applications.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy expects the changes will mean the government will investigate around 50 deals on national security grounds each year, up from one this year so far and one last year.


In years gone by this would have been a standard move for a left-wing Labour government, and there would have been eye rolling from right-wing Tories about how you can’t interfere in the free market and that foreign investment is important. (It’s how most of the water and electricity companies are now foreign-owned.)

Now? Everyone’s worried about China and the shutters come down.
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Infowarzel 7/23 • Campaign Monitor

Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed has a newsletter, and one of his topics in the latest is about Elon Musk’s crazy ranting style on Twitter, and what or how the news media should cover it:


How can the media best cover newsworthy figures who’re extremely thin-skinned and extremely online? Public opinion about Elon’s tweets seems to have largely mirrored the reaction in 2015 to Trump’s use of Twitter: first it’s novel (he’s so accessible!), then a mix of shock and outrage, calls for him to knock it off, and then the contrarian opinion that he should tweet more, because it shows the world what a total boob he is.
Personally, I’m not sure what the press ought to do, though it feels increasingly like the current practice (person tweets → tweets are aggregated into news stories → large freakout/backlash → backlash is aggregated into more news stories) is reactive and counterproductive. In the end, despite all the bluster and punditry, the winner in all of this seems to be the Musks and Trumps of the worlds. Their original grievances/musings are repeated endlessly; they’ve commandeered the news cycle.
I touched on a lot of this last week, but increasingly it feels like the press (self very much included) lack a blueprint for dealing with people like Musk or Trump. In a tweet this week the brilliant Zeynep Tufekci described the situation this way: “It’s like we’re supposed to fight oxygen but our only tools are matches.”


Tufekci is a genius. Totally stealing that one. There’s also a Linda Smith comment I saw recently, playing on a Margaret Thatcher comment (about blocking Irish Republican Army spokesmen from speaking on British TV to “deny them the oxygen of publicity”): “I don’t know about the oxygen of publicity. I wish we didn’t give him the oxygen of oxygen.”
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Sonos aims to raise up to $264m in IPO • Financial Times

Tim Bradshaw and Nicole Bullock:


Initial pricing details released in an updated filing on Monday, as the company kicked off its roadshow in New York, suggest Sonos itself could raise up to $105.6m, while selling stockholders will receive up to $158.3m in proceeds. KKR, the company’s largest shareholder, is selling only a small portion of its holding. 

Sonos said it expected to sell shares at $17-$19, although that price could change as it makes its pitch to Wall Street investors in the coming days, ahead of a likely market debut in August. On a fully diluted basis, at the midpoint of the current pricing range, that would leave Sonos’s valuation above $2bn but below the $2.5bn-$3bn range it was said to have been targeting as it readied for and IPO earlier this year.

When it published its full prospectus earlier this month, Sonos revealed it had 18% revenue growth in the six months to March, up from 10% in the financial year ending in September 2017. 

Alongside Netgear’s planned spin-off of its internet-connected security camera business Arlo, Sonos will be a test of investors’ appetite for consumer electronics businesses. Previous US flotations, such as Fitbit and GoPro, have performed poorly, although Roku, the TV streaming technology company, has fared better in recent months. 


August is an interesting time to IPO. Market quiet (in theory). More to the point, none of the big companies will have announced results – or new hardware. That’s the way to get the shares moving.
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Google: security keys neutralized employee phishing • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs on Google’s requirement for its 85,000 staff:


“We have had no reported or confirmed account takeovers since implementing security keys at Google,” the spokesperson said. “Users might be asked to authenticate using their security key for many different apps/reasons. It all depends on the sensitivity of the app and the risk of the user at that point in time.”

The basic idea behind two-factor authentication (2FA) is that even if thieves manage to phish or steal your password, they still cannot log in to your account unless they also hack or possess that second factor.

The most common forms of 2FA require the user to supplement a password with a one-time code sent to their mobile device via text message or an app. Indeed, prior to 2017 Google employees also relied on one-time codes generated by a mobile app — Google Authenticator.

In contrast, a Security Key implements a form of multi-factor authentication known as Universal 2nd Factor (U2F), which allows the user to complete the login process simply by inserting the USB device and pressing a button on the device. The key works without the need for any special software drivers.

Once a device is enrolled for a specific Web site that supports Security Keys, the user no longer needs to enter their password at that site (unless they try to access the same account from a different device, in which case it will ask the user to insert their key).

U2F is an emerging open source authentication standard, and as such only a handful of high-profile sites currently support it, including Dropbox, Facebook, Github (and of course Google’s various services). Most major password managers also now support U2F, including Dashlane, Keepass and LastPass. Duo Security [full disclosure: an advertiser on this site] also can be set up to work with U2F.


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Passionate sports fans are more likely to endorse right-wing policies • Pacific Standard

Tom Jacobs:


The 1,051 participants completed an online survey in November of 2016. They were asked whether they considered themselves a fan of, or closely followed, “professional or collegiate football, basketball, baseball, or another sport.” For each sport they followed, they indicated how often they watched or listened to games, and whether they engaged in six fan-related behaviors, including wearing team clothing.

They also answered questions about their political attitudes, including their endorsement of traditional gender roles, support for the military, and which factors they considered most important to a person’s “ability to improve themselves financially and get ahead in life.” Strong beliefs in the importance of “ambition, hard work, and good money-management skills” reflected an individualistic mindset.

Altogether, the study found that 81% of men and 65% of women followed at least one sports team. “Football was the most popular sport, with 56% identifying as fans, followed by baseball (38%) and basketball (26%),” the researchers report.

“Basketball fans are more likely than those who do not follow sports to lean Democratic,” they write. Otherwise, spectator sports attract people from across the political spectrum pretty much equally.

However, ideological differences emerged when the researchers compared casual fans with real enthusiasts. “Fan intensity is significantly associated with the belief that economic success is due to individual effort,” they report. It was also strongly associated with support for the armed forces.


I wonder if Trump’s advisors had knowledge of this sort of information when they picked their fight with (black) NFL players who take a knee during the US national anthem; his tweets couched it as disrespectful to the military. Their protest is nothing to do with that; it’s about police violence towards black citizens. The lie shouted loudest persisted, though.
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Facebook to publish data on Irish abortion referendum ads • The Guardian

Emma Graham-Harrison:


Facebook is to publish comprehensive data on political advertising during Ireland’s abortion referendum campaign, giving an unprecedented insight into targeting of voters on social media, and setting a powerful precedent for election transparency.

The US company has told Irish politicians it will provide anonymised details of the amount spent on targeting Irish voters on its platform between 1 March and 25 May, and the number of referendum-linked ads that had been purchased.

It will also provide details of proposed advertisements, and proposed spending, that it had rejected after bringing in a ban on foreign organisations paying for online campaigns inside Ireland.

The Irish Green party leader, Eamon Ryan, who has been pushing for greater transparency and new legislation to regulate online political campaigning, welcomed the social media firm’s decision. He said he hoped it would set a new benchmark for democracy in the internet era.

“Providing data about online spending in the recent Irish abortion referendum sets an important precedent, which should apply now in every future vote,” Ryan said.


Not perfect, but a big improvement. Facebook is already making it harder for people outside a country to buy ads in another one (based on location) – I know someone who tested this. The next question is tracing the “dark money” that flows to “think tanks” that are often just fronts for foreign money.
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2016: beware of Uber vomit scam, passenger says • SF Gate

Mike Moffitt:


A New York City ride-share passenger was sickened to discover that Uber charged her $200 in addition to the fare in order to clean up vomit that she supposedly spewed over the car.

But Meredith Mandel told Gothamist that when she and her companions reached their destination in Williamsburg shortly before 1:30 a.m., they left the Uber vehicle without even a belch, much less puddles of puke.

When she saw the PayPal charge — $19 plus the $200 cleaning fee — for the two-mile trip, she naturally was outraged.


Naturally. Just proving that this scam, highlighted here yesterday, isn’t new at all. Though it has reversed the positions of power. In the old days, if you hurled in the taxi, it was tough for them to extract your money. Now it’s easy; the harder thing is proving you didn’t. (Thanks Papanic for the link.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.883: fertility app woes, Roku’s ad truth, four-day week yay!, hot MacBook Pros, ‘vomit fraud’, and more

Is Google Translate being trained on Bible content – and getting a bit religious nutty as a result? Photo by George Redgrave 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.

PLEASE NOTE that this week will have a shorter posting schedule: Monday (this one), Tuesday, and Wednesday. After that I’m on a fortnight’s break.

A selection of 14 links for you. Re-up. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

‘I felt colossally naive’: the backlash against the birth control app • The Guardian

Olivia Sudjic tried an app called “Natural Cycles”:


One paid-for post I saw featured a still life of a puppy, a pair of on-trend headphones, a self-help book and a thermometer, with a 250-word caption starting with “5 things I need in the morning. Cuddles from Bee [the dog], tea, music, positive quotes and the first thing I do when I wake up – my Natural Cycles thermometer.” But I found that taking your temperature regularly is not so easy. The number of times I leapt out of bed bleary-eyed and needing to pee, then realised I hadn’t first taken my temperature, meant I started waking up in the middle of the night to pre-emptively urinate, panicked about missing my measuring window in the morning. On the pill, it didn’t matter if I’d just woken up, was lying down or standing up when I took it. With Natural Cycles, the slightest motion seemed to count. It was comedic until it became tragic; I got pregnant when the predictions of fertile and infertile changed back and forth in one day, turning from green to red, after I had unprotected sex.

I now know that the ideal Cycler is a narrow, rather old-fashioned category of person. She’s in a stable relationship with a stable lifestyle. (Shift-workers, world-travellers, the sickly, the stressed, insomniacs and sluts be advised.) She’s about 29, and rarely experiences fevers or hangovers. She is savvy about fertility and committed to the effort required to track hers. I could add that her phone is never lost or broken and she’s never late to work. She wakes up at the same time every day, with a charged phone and a thermometer within reach.


Tech is no match for the female reproductive system.
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Roku is in the ad business, not the hardware business, says CEO • The Verge

Chris Welch:


CEO Anthony Wood was frank and open about his company’s evolving business strategy in an interview on this week’s Vergecast. “We don’t really make money… we certainly don’t make enough money to support our engineering organization and our operations and the cost of money to run the Roku service,” he said. “That’s not paid for by the hardware. That’s paid for by our ad and content business.”

If you’ve got a Roku TV or streaming gadget, you’ve no doubt seen advertising for shows and apps plastered on the home screen. That’s some prime real estate. The shortcut buttons on the remote control — you know, with one or two that you’ll never use — are also paid placement. “It’s kind of an exchange of value. We help content distributors find customers, sign up customers, and promote their content, and we get paid for that.”

But it goes much deeper. Roku is learning fast as it hulks up its advertising operation, and now partially controls the ad infrastructure for some apps on its platform. So if you’re using an app like Crackle, some of the ads you’ll see are sold by Roku itself. Business Insider recently reported that “in some cases, Roku insists on selling 30% of a publisher’s ad inventory for an app if they want to be distributed on Roku devices.”

Netflix, Hulu, and other major streaming services are big enough that they don’t let Roku directly sell ads for their apps, but many smaller players do.


Roku went public earlier this year, so it needs a message that it’s got a reliable income stream. Certainly the hardware isn’t priced for profit.
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A four-day workweek? A test run shows a surprising result • The New York Times

Charlotte Graham-McLay:


A New Zealand firm that let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five says the experiment was so successful that it hoped to make the change permanent.

The firm, Perpetual Guardian, which manages trusts, wills and estates, found the change actually boosted productivity among its 240 employees, who said they spent more time with their families, exercising, cooking, and working in their gardens.

The firm ran the experiment — which reduced the workweek to 32 hours from 40 — in March and April this year, and asked two researchers to study the effects on staff.

Jarrod Haar, a human resources professor at Auckland University of Technology, said employees reported a 24% improvement in work-life balance, and came back to work energized after their days off.

“Supervisors said staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks,” Mr. Haar said. “Their actual job performance didn’t change when doing it over four days instead of five.”

Similar experiments in other countries have tested the concept of reducing work hours as a way of improving individual productivity. In Sweden, a trial in the city of Gothenburg mandated a six-hour day, and officials found employees completed the same amount of work or even more. But when France mandated a 35-hour workweek in 2000, businesses complained of reduced competitiveness and increased hiring costs.


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Video raises concerns about excessive thermal throttling on 2018 MacBook Pro w/ Intel Core i9 • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:


YouTuber Dave Lee, a respected and popular reviewer, shared his hands-on with the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro this evening, showcasing the top-of-the line model with the 2.9GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i9 processor. Apple offers the processor exclusively with the 15-inch model in the form of a $300 upgrade.

In his video, Lee explains that after a “few seconds” of high-intensity work, such as editing in Adobe Premiere, throttling begins to kick-in and limits the clock speed. In Lee’s testing, the average clock speed while under load for the MacBook Pro is around 2.2GHz.

Lee compares the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s performance to that of a 2018 Aero 15X, which uses an Intel i7 processor with a base clock of 2.2GHz. That machine is able to secure an average clock speed of 3.1GHz thanks to Turbo Boost.

This i9 in the MacBook can’t even maintain the base clock speed. Forget about Turbo Boost, it can’t even maintain the 2.9GHz base clock speed, which is absurd. This CPU is an unlocked, overclock-able chip, but all of that CPU potential is wasted inside this chassis, and the thermal solution inside this chassis.

Somewhat humorously, Lee ran a render time test using Adobe Premiere (which is rather poorly optimized for macOS) with the MacBook Pro in his freezer in an attempt to cool the machine as it rendered. In doing this, the render time dropped from nearly 40 minutes to 27 minutes.


Apple Insider reckons it knows why:


Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pro chassis was designed more than two years ago. We got the first glimpse of it in a photograph in May of 2016.

At the time, Intel was promising smaller and smaller dies, with lower and lower TDP to go with it. The company didn’t make its own die-shrink projections. Even the processor in the MacBook Pro currently is well over 18 months late, according to Intel’s ever-shifting timetables.

Odds are, Apple was counting on this when it developed the enclosure.

Apple is hardly the only vendor dealing with i9 thermal conditions, and like we said, Premiere performs far better with Nvidia GPU silicon than AMD Radeon gear which explains most of the Dell ripping through the test. However, while related, this isn’t really the meat of the matter given that Lee put the MacBook Pro in the freezer and got better completion speeds out of it.

Video producer Lee suggested that the entire MacBook Pro cooling solution, an Apple-designed heatsink and fan module, is insufficient for the beefy (and hot) i9 Intel silicon as it stands.


One has to observe that Apple keeps designing itself into a thermal corner.
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Why Is Google Translate spitting out sinister religious prophecies? • Motherboard

Jon Christian:


On Twitter, people have blamed the strange translations on ghosts and demons. Users on a subreddit called TranslateGate have speculated that some of the strange outputs might be drawn from text gathered from emails or private messages.

“Google Translate learns from examples of translations on the web and does not use ‘private messages’ to carry out translations, nor would the system even have access to that content,” said Justin Burr, a Google spokesperson, in an email. “This is simply a function of inputting nonsense into the system, to which nonsense is generated.”

When Motherboard provided Google with an example of the eerie messages, its translation disappeared from Google Translate.

There are several possible explanations for the strange outputs. It’s possible that the sinister messages are the result of disgruntled Google employees, for instance, or that mischievous users are abusing the “Suggest an edit” button, which accepts suggestions for better translations of a given text.

Andrew Rush, an assistant professor at Harvard who studies natural language processing and computer translation, said that internal quality filters would probably catch that type of manipulation, however. It’s more likely, Rush said, that the strange translations are related to a change Google Translate made several years ago, when it started using a technique known as “neural machine translation.”

In neural machine translation, the system is trained with large numbers of texts in one language and corresponding translations in another, to create a model for moving between the two. But when it’s fed nonsense inputs, Rush said, the system can “hallucinate” bizarre outputs—not unlike the way Google’s DeepDream identifies and accentuates patterns in images.


Another theory: Google did some training using the Bible, as translated into different languages. Notice that bit where the weird translation disappears when notified to Google PR. This is either (a) preventing others confirming it or (b) improving the system when notified by users. Pick your preference.

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Farewell, Google Maps • In der Apotheke

Bartłomiej Owczarek and Tomasz Nawrocki run a startup which helps people find medicines at p[hysical pharmacies; they’ve previously used Google Maps, but suddenly found the prices rising dramatically:


After a conference call with Google Maps customer service (who, contrary to the email, offered no discounts or credits whatsoever) we realised that price increases are huge:

• Current free usage limit of 750k requests monthly turns into ca. 28k requests (almost 30 times less)

• Current $0.5 for commercial usage becomes $7 (14 times more), $5.60 with high volume

Importantly, prices are the same from US to the Africa, despite the fact that revenue generation is vastly different in most developed countries compared to the others. We know it well from comparing Polish market to Germany, as we expand there. 

Comparison of Google Maps monthly bill before and after price hike

If we maintained current monthly usage of both maps and Places (ie. location search), the cost of Google Maps would be multiple times higher than the total cost of all other infrastructure.


They are going with MapBox and MapTiler – but also swapped in some code so that they can quickly swap between providers.
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Vomit fraud could make your Uber trip really expensive • Miami Herald

Catalina Ruiz Parra:


The next time you use Uber, check your bill. The trip could turn out to be expensive — not just for the distance but for a type of fraud that is on the rise.

It’s called “vomit fraud,” a scam repeatedly denounced in social networks yet still taking place around the world.

And Miami, of course, is a common spot.

What is it? Passengers request Uber cars, which deliver them to their destination. So far so good.

But soon the passenger receives a note from Uber reporting an “adjustment” in the bill and an extra charge that can range from $80 to $150, depending on the driver’s degree of crookedness.

If you think that’s frustrating, you’re right. But the worst is still to come.

The passenger, unaware of what’s happening, tries to contact Uber. The only way to do that is through the “help” button on the company’s app or internet page.

The first reply usually goes something like this: “I understand that it can be disconcerting to receive adjustments to the tariff after your trip ended … In this case, your driver notified us that during your trip there was an incident in the vehicle and therefore a cleanup fee of $150 was added.”

The message is accompanied by photos of the alleged incident — vomit in the vehicle. The Uber driver had sent the images to the company, which considered them sufficient evidence to add the cleanup charge to the bill.


I’d imagine the drivers just have a stock or multiple pictures that they send. (Does Uber check the EXIF data for the photo?) Or perhaps they throw some vegetable soup over it? Either way, Uber is caught in the middle – and regulators say it’s not up to them.
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Evolutionary algorithm outperforms deep-learning machines at video games • MIT Technology Review


Many genomes [of evolving code, where “good” code is reused] ended up playing entirely new gaming strategies, often complex ones. But they sometimes found simple ones that humans had overlooked.

For example, when playing Kung Fu Master, the evolutionary algorithm discovered that the most valuable attack was a crouch-punch. Crouching is safer because it dodges half the bullets aimed at the player and also attacks anything nearby. The algorithm’s strategy was to repeatedly use this maneuver with no other actions. In hindsight, using the crouch-punch exclusively makes sense.

That surprised the human players involved in the study. “Employing this strategy by hand achieved a better score than playing the game normally, and the author now uses crouching punches exclusively when attacking in this game,” say Wilson and co.

Overall, the evolved code played many of the games well, even outperforming humans in games such as Kung Fu Master. Just as significantly, the evolved code is just as good as many deep-learning approaches and outperforms them in games like Asteroids, Defender, and Kung Fu Master.

It also produces a result more quickly. “While the programs are relatively small, many controllers are competitive with state-of-the-art methods for the Atari benchmark set and require less training time,” say Wilson and co.

The evolved code has another advantage. Because it is small, it is easy to see how it works. By contrast, a well-known problem with deep-learning techniques is that it is sometimes impossible to know why they have made particular decisions, and this can have practical and legal ramifications.


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24% of Tesla Model 3 orders have been canceled, analyst says • CNN

Jordan Valinsky:


Cancellations for Model 3 orders have picked up in recent weeks. Refunds now outpace deposits for Tesla’s new mass-market electric car, according to Needham & Co. analyst Rajvindra Gill. Tesla disputes that.

In an analyst note delivered to clients Thursday, Gill cited extended wait times for the car, the expiration of a $7,500 tax credit, and the fact that Tesla has not yet made the $35,000 base model of the car available for purchase yet.

About one in every four Model 3 orders is canceled, Gill said, double the rate from a year ago. Customers have to put down a refundable $1,000 deposit to reserve a Model 3, then pay another $2,500 to choose their specific version. They pay the rest when the car is delivered.

The wait time for a Model 3 is about 4 months to a year, and base model customers could wait until 2020, Gill said.

A Tesla spokesperson denied that Model 3 cancellations exceed new orders. The spokesperson also said the wait times that Gill cites are outdated. Tesla’s website currently lists wait times from 1 month to 9 months.


There are signs of stress at Tesla, and none of them being leavened.
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WhatsApp to limit message forwarding after rumor-led violence in India • WSJ

Krishna Pokharel:


Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service is making it harder for users world-wide to forward content, after the spread of rumors on the app led to mob violence and the killing of more than 20 people in India.

False messages about roaming child-kidnapping gangs spread through WhatsApp—one of the most widely used apps in India with over 200 million monthly active users—have triggered a spate of lynching as panicked groups attack strangers they find suspicious, Indian authorities have said.

WhatsApp’s announcement Thursday came a day after Facebook under a new policy said it would begin removing misinformation that could spark violence. The initiative will start in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which have also struggled with violence fueled by false reports spread on social media.

The Indian government earlier this month asked WhatsApp to take immediate action to stop the misuse of its platform, saying rumors circulated on the messaging service had led to deadly attacks.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company said in a blog post that it is putting restrictions on the number of groups to which a message can be forwarded.


The things Facebook touch turn to crap, don’t they?
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Risky Thailand cave rescue relied on talent, luck—and on sticking to the rules • Ars Technica

Chris Peterman is a professional diver with 16 years’ experience, and understands the dangers of cave diving; he nearly died once, as he recounts, and so can explain the challenges that the Thai football team faced:


Cave diving has five rules. These sum up the hard-won wisdom of the cave-diving community, as conducted through the analysis of cave-diving accidents and fatalities. Though the exact wording of each will differ from instructor to instructor, the rules are:

• Be well-trained and do not dive beyond your certification level
• Never use more than one third of your breathing gas to enter the cave—reserve one third for exiting and one third for emergencies
• Maintain a physical guideline back to the cave entrance at all times
• Never dive below the appropriate depth for your breathing gas mixture
• Carry at least three lights per person—one main and two back-ups

Since these rules were introduced in the late 1970s (first as only three rules, later expanding to five), fatalities per number of dives have dropped among the cave-diving community. Today, the largest segment of fatalities in underwater caves comes not from certified cave divers but from divers not specifically trained by a professional cave instructor to be in that environment.

The first of these rules is therefore simple, and one that I broke badly: never dive beyond your certification level.


Rock climbing has similarly made itself safer and safer though the accretion of experience and technology, though it doesn’t have rules in quite the same way.
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The best thing about Samsung’s exciting new tablet might also be a fatal flaw • BGR

Chris Smith:


just like the iPhone X, the Galaxy Tab S4 will sacrifice the fingerprint sensor, a feature many people love on a smartphone or tablet.

Apple replaced Touch ID with Face ID, a secure 3D facial recognition system that’s a first for the industry. Samsung doesn’t have that luxury, however.

In lack of a 3D front-facing camera, Samsung will employ the Intelligent Scan feature that’s already available on the Galaxy S9.

In case you’re not familiar with that, that’s a mix between the iris scanner and facial recognition system that Samsung has had for years. SamMobile discovered a video from the official Galaxy Tab S4 firmware that plays when you’re configuring Intelligent Scan on the tablet.


It’s not as secure as Face ID, which means you’d want to go with a passcode/password, which is a retrograde step. I’m already interested to see what the second generation of Apple’s Face ID is like; the first is pretty good, but there was a huge difference between the first generation of Touch ID and the second.
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Registry of Open Data on Amazon Web Services


This registry exists to help people discover and share datasets that are available via AWS resources. Learn more about sharing data on AWS.

See all usage examples for datasets listed in this registry.


This is pretty amazing. Landsat pictures (zoom in on your house!), IRS 990 filings, satellite data labelled for machine learning, 5bn web pages from web crawling, a global database (from broadcast, print and online news) from every country identifying key events, OpenStreetMap, bourse data from the German stock market, Hubble telescope data… it’s such a colossal reservoir of data waiting to be made use of. Sure, many others have got there first, but what could come from cross-matching Landsat data with OSM with bourse data with key events? And then applying machine learning to that?
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Congress to leave Trump’s deal with China’s ZTE untouched • Bloomberg

Jenny Leonard and Erik Wasson:


Negotiators from the Senate and House of Representatives late Thursday agreed to abandon efforts to reinstate harsher sanctions against the Chinese telecommunications-equipment maker as part of the defense policy bill, the people said. Both chambers are expected to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act next week.

Draft language advanced in the House earlier this year focused on a procurement ban for ZTE products, whereas the Senate approved language that would reinstate the sales ban for US companies to sell to ZTE. The White House strongly opposed any efforts by Congress to block its deal for ZTE to resume business.

The Trump administration in April announced a seven-year ban on US exports to ZTE after it said the company violated sanctions agreements by selling American technology to Iran and North Korea. The move forced ZTE to announce it was shutting down.

Trump reversed course in May, saying he was reconsidering penalties on ZTE as a personal favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Later that month, his administration announced it would allow the company to stay in business after paying a new fine, changing its management and providing “high-level security guarantees.”

Following through on the promise, the Commerce Department last week lifted a ban on American firms selling products to ZTE after the company paid the final tranche of a $1.4bn penalty by placing $400m in escrow at a US bank. Congresspeople from both parties had blasted the Trump administration for helping ZTE.


This is the sort of revival to make Lazarus whistle in admiration.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.882: Huawei under UK scrutiny, experts on EC v Android, Facebook light on alt-right, Samsung’s folding phone?, and more

An event like Trump-Putin in Helsinki overwhelms Google News’s algorithm. Photo by Garret Keogh 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. Well, how many technology sections did you need? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Exclusive: Britain says Huawei ‘shortcomings’ expose new telecom networks risks • Reuters


Technical and supply-chain issues with equipment made by Chinese firm Huawei have exposed Britain’s telecom networks to new security risks, a government report said on Thursday.

The assessment, made in a report signed off by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency, will intensify the espionage debate around Huawei Technologies, which has come under increasing fire in the United States and Australia over concerns it could facilitate Chinese government spying.

The report was released after sources told Reuters that senior British security officials say they can now give only limited assurances that Huawei’s UK operations pose no threat to national security, downgrading their previous position.

“Identification of shortcomings in Huawei’s engineering processes have exposed new risks in the UK telecommunication networks and long-term challenges in mitigation and management,” officials said in the report.

Huawei, the world’s biggest producer of telecoms equipment, said that it welcomed the thrust of the report by the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Centre (HCSEC) oversight board, which it said showed supervision by British authorities was working well.

“The report concludes that HCSEC’s operational independence is both robust and effective. The Oversight Board has identified some areas for improvement in our engineering processes,” a Huawei spokesman said.


The report concluded that it wasn’t certain that Huawei’s manufacturing would prevent espionage by Chinese operatives inserting things into products as they were made (rather as the NSA did with Cisco routers). That’s not good, given that BT’s entire telecoms backbone relies on Huawei.
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The EU fining Google over Android is too little, too late, say experts • The Guardian

Samuel Gibbs:


[The EC’s demands are] a similar strategy to that employed by the EC in 2004, when it forced Microsoft to release a version of Windows without Windows Media Player and later offer a browser choice screen, which allowed users to select a web browser other than Internet Explorer.

But as with the Media Player-free version of Windows, Windows XP N, for which there was no demand, consumers are unlikely to buy a version of Android without Google’s services.

“The EU’s stance is arguably six to eight years too late,” said [Geoff] Blaber [of CCS Insight]. “Android has already helped establish Google apps and services as essentials for consumers in the western world.

“While the separation of apps from the operating system may help foster competition over the longer term, manufacturers will continue to need to offer Google services to be competitive and address consumer demand.”

Richard Windsor from research company Radio Free Mobile said that because users in the EU are so accustomed to using Google services and have come to prefer them “separating Google Play from the rest of Google’s Digital Life services would have very little impact as users would simply download and install them from the store”.

The EC also ordered Google to stop paying smartphone manufacturers and mobile network operators through revenue sharing for exclusively including Google Search on their phones. Finally, Google is also ordered to stop blocking manufacturers from using so-called forked or modified versions of Android, such as Amazon’s Fire OS, if they want to use Google services on their other devices.


Android was 40% of sales share (the first indicator of market dominance) in 2Q 2011, according to IDC. It had 40% of the installed base of smartphones by 2012. Even allowing then for the possibility that Windows Phone might have blown the bloody doors off, the EC is five years too late in this: market dominance was established long before Margrethe Vestager even pulled back her chair. Her predecessor, Almunia, was a failure. That’s evident now.

Nokia did try an Android-without-Google phone in 2014 – the Nokia X. It sank without trace. The game had finished by then.
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The spread of true and false news online • Science


There is worldwide concern over false news and the possibility that it can influence political, economic, and social well-being. To understand how false news spreads, Vosoughi et al. used a data set of rumor cascades on Twitter from 2006 to 2017. About 126,000 rumors were spread by ∼3 million people. False news reached more people than the truth; the top 1% of false news cascades diffused to between 1000 and 100,000 people, whereas the truth rarely diffused to more than 1000 people. Falsehood also diffused faster than the truth. The degree of novelty and the emotional reactions of recipients may be responsible for the differences observed.


This is only the abstract (I can’t get at the full text – help welcomed) but those are some dramatic numbers.
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On a big story like the Helsinki Trump/Putin summit, Google News’ algorithm isn’t up to the task • Nieman Journalism Lab

Rich Gordon:


look what I found at the top of the “Full coverage” page for the Trump/Putin press conference:

All four of these items come, directly or indirectly, from Fox News. Even worse, none of them is a factual report about the press conference — and all are commentary from the conservative end of the political spectrum, more specifically Trump sympathizers:

• From Fox News directly: “Dr. Gorka on the left’s reaction to the Trump-Putin summit”;
• From Fox News Insider: “WATCH: Tucker Carlson Previews TUESDAY Interview With President Donald Trump”;
• From RealClearPolitics, a story about a Fox News interview: “Stephen F. Cohen: Do You Prefer Impeaching Trump, Or Avoiding Nuclear War With Russia”;
• From The Hill, a story about comments Tucker Carlson made on Fox News: “Tucker Carlson: Mexico has interfered in U.S. elections ‘more successfully’ than Russia.”

The fact that Google News thinks the four most important stories about the summit all come from or are based on Fox News is just stunning. Especially considering that the fallout from the press conference included criticism of Trump from conservative voices like Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham and John McCain.

Look, I understand that we have a polarized political environment and that publishing a partisan spin on the news is a reliable way for digital publishers to build an audience. One of the reasons I would go to Google News is to find different perspectives on an important story.


It could be that this is skewed by what Gordon normally searches on (if he writes about right-wing outlets), but this only emphasises that Google isn’t doing what we assume it should be doing – providing access to information – and instead is pushing people towards reinforcement of what they think.

And if not, then something is seriously wrong. Though Google News has been broken, as a concept, almost from its inception.
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Undercover Facebook moderator was instructed not to remove fringe groups or hate speech • The Verge

Nick Statt:


An investigative journalist who went undercover as a Facebook moderator in the UK says the company lets pages from far-right fringe groups “exceed deletion threshold,” and that those pages are “subject to different treatment in the same category as pages belonging to governments and news organizations.” The accusation is a damning one, undermining Facebook’s claims that it is actively trying to cut down on fake news, propaganda, hate speech, and other harmful content that may have significant real-world impact.

The undercover journalist detailed his findings in a new documentary titled Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network, that just aired on the UK’s Channel 4. The investigation outlines questionable practices on behalf of CPL Resources, a third-party content moderator firm based in Dublin, Ireland that Facebook has worked with since 2010.

Those questionable practices primarily involve a hands-off approach to flagged and reported content like graphic violence, hate speech, and racist and other bigoted rhetoric from far-right groups. The undercover reporter says he was also instructed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, which is the minimum age requirement to sign up for Facebook in accordance with the Child Online Protection Act, a 1998 privacy law passed in the US designed to protect young children from exploitation and harmful and violent content on the internet.


It is truly surreal how awful far-right stuff is tolerated by American companies.
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Samsung plans to launch foldable-screen phone early next year • WSJ

Timothy Martin:


Samsung Electronics Co. is planning to introduce a foldable-screen smartphone early next year, according to people familiar with the matter, as the world’s largest phone maker eyes a splashy device to help re-energize its slumping handset business.

The Samsung prototype, which bears the internal code name “Winner,” features a screen that measures about 7 inches diagonally, roughly the size of a smaller tablet, these people said.

The screen can be folded in half, like a wallet, these people said. When the phone is folded, its exterior shows a small display bar on one side and cameras on the other, they said.

A foldable-screen device has long been a hotly rumored industry pursuit, with several phone makers said to be developing models. Unlike a traditional flip phone, the device when opened would be almost all screen, giving consumers a large display akin to a tablet, with the portability of a phone that could fit in a consumer’s hand, pocket or purse.

Other manufacturers have launched smartphones that fold, but those devices used two screens connected at their phone frames.

The new Samsung design—using a foldable screen—could help rejuvenate a handset industry that has struggled to find new dazzling features to impress consumers.


(Narrator’s voice: it didn’t rejuvenate the handset industry, because nobody cared that your phone could fold.)
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British broadband speed map • FT

Alan Smith, Nic Fildes, David Blood, Max Harlow, Caroline Nevitt and Ændrew Rininsland:


The areas of the country with ultrafast internet have often taken a go-it-alone approach. Small telecoms operators such as B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) in Lancashire and CityFibre in York have replaced old copper wires with their own fibre-optic networks that are independent of the traditional national network, controlled by Openreach, BT’s engineering arm.

And while the data show that speeds are generally faster in urban areas compared with rural ones, this is often the result of strong investment in the suburbs. One of the most striking features of the British internet reality is that connections are very poor in the centre of the main cities, including London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. In many of those cases, the speed is below the 10 MBit/s threshold set for the “universal service obligation” that the government is set to introduce as a minimum standard for broadband access over the coming years.

In Britain, the digital divide is often not between urban and rural areas: it is between the suburbs and the inner city.


Terrific interactive where you input a postcode and get an idea of how you compare against somewhere else. (The introductory graphic comparing part of Knightsbridge, in expensive London, with rural Shropshire is an eye-opener.) However we’re no closer to truly fast, universal wired broadband because there hasn’t been competition, unlike the situation that was mandated in mobile (where there were two, then four, then five principal competitors).
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Be My Eyes: how can I help a blind person to see? • The Big Tech Question

Barry Collins:


The headline on this story sounds like hyperbole or an advertising slogan. Trust me, it’s not. The simply brilliant Be My Eyes app genuinely lets you see on behalf of someone who is blind or visually impaired.

The app works by turning the visually impaired person’s smartphone into a live video camera. When they need help identifying something – whether it’s a caller at their door, a tin of food in their cupboard or a packet of painkillers – they put out a request for help. Within seconds, one of the app’s 1.5 million volunteers will answer the call and be their eyes, using live video to see what’s in front of the visually impaired person and tell them what it is.

It’s hard to think of a more ingenious use of a smartphone – which is one of the reasons why it picked up a BT Tech4Good Award at the ceremony at BT HQ in London yesterday.


This is amazing, and as Barry says, such a good and somehow obvious – in retrospect – idea.
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How do movie genre tastes change with age? • Stephen Follows


The data for today’s piece came from Pearl and Dean’s public microsite, comScore, IMDb and the Office of National Statistics.  It focuses on films released between 2005 and 2015, inclusive.

Movies were permitted to have up to three genres, and I used IMDb’s genre classification system.  This explains why the overall choices of any age group add up to more than 100%.  For example, Alien Vs Predator is not only a bad action movie but also a bad horror movie and a bad sci-fi movie.

The Pearl and Dean exit poll data is designed to help cinema advertisers and it does not cover all movies, meaning that there will be a slight bias towards the bigger, advertiser-friendly movies.  That said, in this article I’m looking at the overall UK cinema population and the majority of those tickets are bought for the major movies (an average of 75% of the box office goes to the 50 highest grossing films each year). Therefore, if your focus is independent or art-house cinema then you may find that your audience skews older.

The chart comparing UK population and cinema receipts requires some nit-picky detail to ensure we all understand exactly what it’s showing.  The UK population data is from the Office of National Statistics in 2014 and shows what percentage of the UK population aged over six years old falls into each of the six categories.  I excluded everybody aged six and under because we don’t have cinema data for that age group and I wanted to compare like with like.  The cinema data is a calculation based on exit polls and the total box office income.


Comedy and adventure decline, action and SF have a mid-age peak, drama and romance grow. Now go and finance a film.
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How one company defied the odds and is grossing almost $1 billion in revenue… in Nigeria • Medium

Efosa Ojomo:


In 1988 Nigeria was not a premier investment destination. Life expectancy for the country’s 91 million people was 46 years; gross domestic product (GDP) was about $23bn; GDP per capita was about $256; 78% of people lived on less than $2 per day; about 37% of people had access to sanitation while roughly 58% had access to improved water source; Nigeria had experienced six coups in its short 28 years of existence as a republic; it was also under military rule in 1988 so technically and literally, anything could happen. In fact, in 1993 Nigerians unhappily welcomed General Sani Abacha, one of the most corrupt and brutal dictators Nigeria would ever know, to rule the country. In short, if you were an investor, Nigeria was just not the place to go.

But the executives at Tolaram Group paid little to no attention to those statistics. In 1988, Tolaram began importing instant noodles into Nigeria. Since then the company has vertically integrated in-country and has grown their Indomie Noodle® instant noodle sales to a staggering $700m a year. A packet of noodles cost about 18 cents. They sell more than 4.5 billion packets of noodles per year. In 1988, Nigeria did not have an instant noodle market. How was Tolaram able to set up and sustain operations in one of the most difficult countries to do business? After assessing Tolaram’s strategy, I cannot help but highlight the following attributes and impacts of their business — business model targeting non-consumption, interdependence, patient capital, and job creation and tax revenue.


Astonishing story – part of a series.
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Anatomy of a butterfly (keyboard)—teardown style • iFixit

Sam Lionheart digs deeper (and notes a MacRumors story which says the new design is to prevent debris problems:


what does this silicone barrier [on the keys] actually look like? Are the keys wrapped in individual cushions? Did Apple just hide one of those goofy keyboard covers in this device? Like an ogre onion, this keyboard is a series of layers, so let’s get to peeling. In order to get to the keyboard at all you need to gut the MacBook, peel off a large backing sticker, remove a whole brace of screws and bust through more than a dozen rivets. And you wonder why Apple is replacing entire top case assemblies—including batteries—when they only really need to replace the keyboard. Apple could have saved themselves a lot of money, grief, and a ton of negative press if they just made this thing easier for their own techs to work on. And even after the irreversible pin removal, we still need to cook the thing under a pile of iOpeners to loosen the adhesive holding it together.

Oh, and remove all 64 keycaps on the laptop.


The complexity and irreversibility of this design is truly strange.
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Siri’s last remaining cofounder is out at Apple — The Information

Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin:


[Tom] Gruber is retiring and will be pursuing personal interests in photography and ocean conservation, said people. His departure comes as the Siri group is undergoing a major leadership change, with the announcement last week that John Giannandrea, the former Google artificial intelligence research and search chief who joined Apple in April, would take over the unit. Apple’s head of search, Vipul Ved Prakash, has also left the company.

Mr. Gruber was the last of three cofounders of Siri Inc., the digital assistant startup, which Apple bought in April 2010 for $200m. The two other cofounders, Dag Kittlaus and Adam Cheyer, departed from Apple several years ago, around the time Siri was first integrated as a feature into the iPhone by Apple in 2011. Messrs. Kittlaus and Cheyer later went on to found another digital assistant startup called Viv Labs, which was acquired by Samsung in 2016 for more than $200m.

Mr. Prakash was the CEO of Topsy, a search engine company Apple acquired for more than $200m in 2013. The search team sits within the Siri group.


Topsy used to be a terrific search engine for Twitter; I couldn’t point now to what its effects have been on Apple’s search efforts (which I assume are mainly in its app stores?).

Gruber is retiring – if that’s definitely what he’s doing – at the age of 59. Sounds reasonable. It’s all going to change with Giannandrea in charge.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.881: Google faces Android penalty, trolls and feeding, peak oil (again?), truths about the DNC, and more

If Netflix can keep a new US customer for a year, it’s in profit, analysts reckon. Photo by Mon Œil on Flickr.

Please note: I’m taking a day off tomorrow for fun personal reasons, so there won’t be a Thursday edition. Back on Friday.

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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

It takes 11 months for Netflix to achieve payback on each new US subscriber • Videonet

John Moulding:


Netflix’s cost of adding new subscribers in the U.S. has rocketed in recent years, reaching $100 per net new subscriber, according to figures from Ampere Analysis, a leading research/analyst firm covering the entertainment sector. The cost of acquiring each new U.S. subscriber was stable at around $60 between 2013-2015, Ampere Analysis notes.

The company says 14% of Netflix’s expenditure is on marketing related costs today. Increased marketing spend, combined with falling subscriber growth on its home soil, mean it takes the SVOD giant 11 months to achieve payback on net new domestic customers.

Ampere Analysis believes that if international markets follow the same trajectory as the U.S., with increasing levels of marketing required to drive a steady rate of new customers, subscriber acquisition costs could rise to around one-fifth of Netflix’s total costs. Meanwhile, the analyst firm estimates that Netflix churn is running at 20% annually (you can see their methodology below).

“The lengthening payback period – coupled with ever-rising content costs – goes a long way to explaining Netflix’s recent testing of a new premium price tier,” Ampere Analysis declares. “That will help the streaming giant offset its rising cost base.”

Richard Broughton, Research Director at Ampere Analysis, says: “With declining domestic growth rates and spiralling acquisition costs, Netflix faces a very real set of challenges if it is to continue to command such a strong position. Our research shows that while Netflix can continue to enjoy relatively low acquisition costs for international subscribers and a buoyant market keen to embrace SVoD, it cannot afford to take its eye off the ball in the domestic market, even momentarily. Its ability to grow ARPU will be critically important to manage long-term growth – domestically and abroad.” 


To me that sounds… OK? Outside the US, the cost is $40-$45. With its growing catalogue and excellent interface, it has the killer product as fast internet spreads. Its UI in particular is so well tuned – if you compare it with rivals, it’s streets ahead.
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Walmart plots rival to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video • The Information

Jessica Toonkel, Tom Dotan and Priya Anand:


Walmart is considering launching a subscription streaming video service to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, people familiar with the situation told The Information. Such a move could be enormously costly for the retailer but would demonstrate its determination to compete on multiple fronts with Amazon in particular.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer sees an opportunity to undercut Netflix and Amazon on price. Walmart is thinking of a service priced below $8 per month, according to one of the people. Netflix has been steadily raising the price of its service, which now costs between $8 and $14 a month, while Amazon charges $8.99 a month for its Prime Video service. Walmart is also considering an ad-supported free service…

…While Walmart already offers an online video on demand service called Vudu, that hasn’t become popular. Launch of a subscription service would be a major expansion in entertainment. In taking such a step, Walmart would join numerous tech and telecom companies that see TV shows as a way to attract customers. Apple is now financing production of shows for a new service, while Facebook has launched a video offering called Facebook Watch.


This is a bad idea. Sure, it’s big, but it’s an elephant trying to dance. Vudu should be enough warning.
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Europe tries to shut the Google stable door • CCS Insight

Geoff Blaber is an analyst at CCS; the EC is expected to announce on Wednesday a fine and “action” on Google’s tying of Google apps to Android:


The size and scale of the Android ecosystem, coupled with the business model interdependencies of Google, manufacturers, operators and app developers, mean the case is decidedly more complex than that of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer bundling. There’s a substantial risk that despite the commission’s best intentions, its action results in unintended consequences that ultimately penalize the consumer.

The strength of Google’s position has invited increased scrutiny by the European Commission. In the wake of the 2017 verdict on Google Shopping results, Android was a natural next target. With more than 2 billion active devices and stringent requirements for manufacturers about how Android is used when coupled with Google apps and services, it is unsurprising the commission has sought to take action.

Although an open-source operating system, Android was introduced as a vehicle for Google’s licensable apps and services and to extend Google’s business model as engagement shifted to mobile devices. In this context, Android has been incredibly successful.

And yet Europe’s stance is arguably six to eight years too late. The commission is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. A related problem is that there is no clear alternative to Android. Apple’s iOS is an alternative from a consumer perspective, but Google has definitively beaten any licensable alternatives. Had the commission’s determination been made even five years ago, it would have opened a door of opportunity for others such as Microsoft. Today most contenders are themselves built on an Android code base.

Although a move to separate apps from the operating system may help foster competition over the longer term, Android has served its purpose in cementing Google services in consumers’ minds. At least in the West, manufacturers will still have to offer Google services to be competitive and meet consumer demand.


As he says: it’s years too late if it’s really to make a difference. I’ve never felt that the Android case is anywhere near as egregious as the Google Shopping case, where Google suppressed search results from other sites to favour its own.
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Greek court rules to extradite Alexander Vinnik, accused of laundering $4bn in bitcoin • Coin Telegraph

Helen Partz:


A Greek court has ruled to extradite the alleged former operator of crypto exchange BTC-e, Alexander Vinnik, to France, local news outlet CNN Greece reported Friday, July 13.

The 39-year old Russian national Vinnik, also known colloquially as “Mr. Bitcoin,” was indicted by U.S. authorities on charges of fraud and money laundering last year, reportedly involving up to $4 billion in Bitcoin (BTC).

Vinnik’s Greek lawyer Ilias Spyrliadis confirmed to Russian news agency TASS that “the court has granted France’s request for Vinnik’s extradition.” Spyrliadis also revealed that he is planning to appeal against the court’s decision in the Greek Supreme Court.

According to CNN Greece, Vinnik himself challenged the decision of the Greek court on extradition to France, denying the allegations of French authorities, who issued a warrant, in which the alleged BTC-e owner was accused of “defraud[ing] over 100 people in six French cities between 2016 and 2018.” Vinnik responded that he was “transferring e-money through a platform,” considering it as “legitimate personal transactions.”


Four billion? Billion??
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The conventional wisdom about not feeding trolls makes online abuse worse • The Verge

“Film Crit Hulk”:


Whether we’re talking about AOL, AIM, early 4chan, or the early days of Twitter, there has always been a myth about the time and place where things were more innocent, when trolling was all in good fun. But what everyone really remembers about these proverbial times isn’t their purity. It’s how they didn’t see the big deal back then. They remember how they felt a sense of permission, a belief that it was all okay. But that was only true for those who were like them, who thought exactly like they did. All the while, someone else was getting stepped on and bullied while others laughed. The story of the internet has always been the same story: disaffected young men thinking their boorish and cruel behavior was justified or permissible.

And it was always wrong.

The second great lie is that trolling is harmless…

…The third great lie is about what fixes it…

The premise of “don’t feed the trolls” implies that if you ignore a troll, they will inevitably get bored or say, “Oh, you didn’t nibble at my bait? Good play, sir!” and tip their cap and go on their way. Ask anyone who has dealt with persistent harassment online, especially women: this is not usually what happens. Instead, the harasser keeps pushing and pushing to get the reaction they want with even more tenacity and intensity. It’s the same pattern on display in the litany of abusers and stalkers, both online and off, who escalate to more dangerous and threatening behavior when they feel like they are being ignored. In many cases, ignoring a troll can carry just as dear a price as provocation.


Terrific article. I feel as though in technology, the hardware business is in stasis generally. Now we’re trying to work out the social and software side.
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Is the oil industry repeating a critical error? •

Kurt Cobb:


The recent rebound in oil prices should spur some investment elsewhere, especially where genuine financial returns await. But the punishing price decline in oil from 2014 to 2016 and the slow recovery that followed has resulted in deep cuts in exploration and development throughout the industry (if not so much in the U.S. tight oil fields).

In response, the International Energy Agency has been waving its arms for some time that this dearth of investment will mean constrained supplies after 2020. In addition, Rystad Energy, an independent energy research firm, reported at the end of last year that 2017 saw a record low in oil discoveries. It noted that exploration expenditures had dropped 60% from 2014 to 2017. Without a substantial reversal of this trend, the firm expects supply deficits. (Translation: There won’t be enough oil to go around in the not-too-distant future.)

Meanwhile, writer Gail Tverberg has been pounding home her counterintuitive thesis that peak world oil production won’t be accompanied by high prices. Rather, it will be the result of prices too low for much of the remaining oil to be extracted profitably. In other words, in Tverberg’s opinion there isn’t an oil price that is both low enough to avoid economic stagnation (i.e., a price that consumers can readily afford) and yet high enough to incentivize oil companies to extract sufficient quantities of oil to prevent a decline in the overall rate of production worldwide.


It’s been ages since I thought about Peak Oil (probably true for you too). But prices are creeping up again, up 50% in a year – though well short of their 2012-14 levels.
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App traps: how cheap smartphones siphon user data in developing countries • WSJ

Newley Purnell:


For millions of people buying inexpensive smartphones in developing countries where privacy protections are usually low, the convenience of on-the-go internet access could come with a hidden cost: preloaded apps that harvest users’ data without their knowledge.

One such app, included on thousands of Chinese-made Singtech P10 smartphones sold in Myanmar and Cambodia, sends the owner’s location and unique-device details to a mobile-advertising firm in Taiwan called General Mobile Corp., or GMobi. The app also has appeared on smartphones sold in Brazil and those made by manufacturers based in China and India, security researchers said…

…Thi Thi Moe, a sales clerk in Mandalay, Myanmar, said she was unaware until being informed by The Wall Street Journal that GMobi was collecting data from her Singtech P10 phone. She said she had become annoyed in recent months at frequent advertisements on its screen for mobile games.

“I don’t want that kind of app on my phone,” said the 28-year-old, who added that she bought her phone last year for $77. “I’m not familiar with the technology, but it seems like it shouldn’t be taking my private information.”

…Upstream Systems, a London-based mobile commerce and security firm that identified the GMobi app’s activity and shared it with the Journal, said it bought four new devices that, once activated, began sending data to GMobi via its firmware-updating app. This included 15-digit International Mobile Equipment Identification, or IMEI, numbers, along with unique codes called MAC addresses that are assigned to each piece of hardware that connects to the web. The app also sends some location data to GMobi’s servers located in Singapore, Upstream said.

Upstream also said that in recent months it blocked GMobi’s app from making suspicious attempts to sign up users for paid services, such as mobile games. Had the app been successful, users would have been billed more than $7m in total across eight countries, Upstream said. GMobi’s Mr. Wu said the company wasn’t responsible for any malicious activity emanating from its app.


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Trump’s ‘missing DNC server’ is neither missing nor a server • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:


It’s true that the FBI doesn’t have the DNC’s computer hardware. Agents didn’t sweep into DNC headquarters, load up all the equipment and leave Democrats standing stunned beside empty desks and dangling cables. There’s a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with a deep state conspiracy to frame Putin.

Trump and his allies are capitalizing on a basic misapprehension of how computer intrusion investigations work. Investigating a virtual crime isn’t a like investigating a murder. The Russians didn’t leave DNA evidence on the server racks and fingerprints on the keyboards. All the evidence of their comings and goings was on the computer hard drives, and in memory, and in the ephemeral network transmissions to and from the GRU’s command-and-control servers.

When cyber investigators respond to an incident, they capture that evidence in a process called “imaging.” They make an exact byte-for-byte copy of the hard drives. They do the same for the machine’s memory, capturing evidence that would otherwise be lost at the next reboot, and they monitor and store the traffic passing through the victim’s network. This has been standard procedure in computer  intrusion investigations for decades. The images, not the computer’s hardware, provide the evidence.

Both the DNC and the security firm Crowdstrike, hired to respond to the breach, have said repeatedly over the years that they gave the FBI a copy of all the DNC images back in 2016. The DNC reiterated that Monday in a statement to the Daily Beast.

“The FBI was given images of servers, forensic copies, as well as a host of other forensic information we collected from our systems,” said Adrienne Watson, the DNC’s deputy communications director. “We were in close contact and worked cooperatively with the FBI and were always responsive to their requests. Any suggestion that they were denied access to what they wanted for their investigation is completely incorrect.”

The FBI declined comment for this story, but in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last year, then-director James Comey said that Crowdstrike “ultimately shared with us their forensics.”


Most people don’t know what computer forensics involves (even though the process has been pretty much the same for about 30 years), nor how much information a computer collects (pretty much everything, apart from the specific keystrokes – and sometimes even those).
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US ban on China’s ZTE forces telecoms to rethink business: sources • Reuters

Eric Auchard:


[Russian and emerging markets carrier] Veon was especially hard hit, suffering launch delays at its Italian joint venture and in Ukraine, near network outages in Bangladesh, and lesser disruptions at its Pakistan operations, sources at the Amsterdam-based operator told Reuters. “Veon has decided to second source everything,” a person familiar with the strategy shift at Veon said of moves to reduce dependence on any one supplier of network gear.

“We don’t want the company to be in the same position we were in when the U.S. (ban on ZTE) came out: It caused massive problems in three or four of our markets,” the source said.

Perhaps the biggest setback was for Italian mobile operator Wind Tre, which had a €1bn ($1.17bn) contract with ZTE to upgrade radio equipment.

The ban forced ZTE to abandon more than half of the remainder of the contract, and Wind Tre will use gear from network supplier Ericsson instead, sources told Reuters.

The original deal had marked ZTE’s biggest breakthrough into the European market, which has been dominated by regional players such as Ericsson of Sweden and Nokia of Finland.


It still feels as though Trump let ZTE off the hook too easily. What has China offered, exactly?
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The secret Facebook groups for people with shocking DNA test results • The Atlantic

Sarah Zhang:


not all biological parents want to be found. In conversations and correspondence with more than two dozen people for this story, I heard of DNA tests that unearthed affairs, secret pregnancies, quietly buried incidents of rape and incest, and fertility doctors using their own sperm to inseminate patients. These secrets otherwise would have—or even did—go the grave. “It’s getting harder and harder to keep secrets in our society,” says CeCe Moore, a prominent genetic genealogist who consults for the television show ‘Finding Your Roots’. “If people haven’t come to that realization, they probably should.”

St. Clair told me she sees it as a generational shift. The generation whose 50-year-old secrets are now being unearthed could not have imagined a world of $99 mail-in DNA kits. But times are changing, and the culture with it. “This generation right now and maybe the next 15 years or so, there’s going to be a lot of shocking results coming out. I’d say in 20 years time it’s going to dissipate,” she predicted. By then, our expectations of privacy will have caught up with the new reality created by the rise of consumer DNA tests.

But until then, hundreds, maybe thousands, of people like St. Clair are left to piece together their family histories, containing the fallout of a DNA test however they can. The best help, many have found, is each other.

“It was better than therapy,” Dawn, 54, says of joining the DNA NPE Friends group. “I tried therapy. It didn’t work.” (The Atlantic agreed to identify by first name only the people who have not revealed their misattributed parentage to friends and family.) Therapists, friends—they all had trouble understanding why the revelation mattered so much. When Dawn told her close friends that her biological father had Italian heritage, they joked about making cannoli. “They don’t understand the gravity,” she says. She herself didn’t quite understand until it happened to her either. Dawn had spent her whole life suspecting her father was not her biological father, yet the revelation still left her unmoored. “The very foundation of who I thought I was was ripped out from under me,” she says. “Until that moment, I had no idea how much stock I had put in my family to identify to find who I was.”


What had been a staple of reality TV morning shows becomes untelevised reality.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified