Start Up No.1,169: Zuckerberg speaks up, biggest child sex abuse site shuts, Qatar cools the world (badly), VR loses focus, and more


Got some of these? Congratulations – you can probably unlock someone’s Galaxy S10. CC-licensed photo by Kevin Dooley on Flickr.

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

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

Zuckerberg defends Facebook’s handling of controversial Trump ad • The Washington Post

Tony Romm:

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Asked if the Pelosi incident [of the deepfake video] illustrated a serious gap at Facebook, Zuckerberg agreed. “If anything becomes a big issue, and we haven’t already prepared for it, then that means we were too slow in preparing for it,” he said. “And I think figuring out which types of deepfakes are actually a threat today, versus are a theoretical future threat once the technology advances, is one of the things that we need to make sure we get right.”

But Zuckerberg stood behind the way Facebook, which has long eschewed fact-checking political ads, handles political ads. “I think we’re in the right place on this,” he said. “In general, in a democracy, I think that people should be able to hear for themselves what politicians are saying.”

The Trump campaign ad about the Bidens made claims about their connections to Ukraine, a critical element in the congressional impeachment inquiry. Biden’s campaign asked Facebook to remove the ad, describing it as false, but the social network declined, pointing to a policy against fact-checking such political speech. The company’s response drew widespread rebukes from Biden and other 2020 Democratic candidates, including Warren, many of whom have charged that Facebook essentially is profiting from misinformation.

Speaking at Georgetown later Thursday, Zuckerberg acknowledged the company once considered prohibiting political ads but decided against it, believing it “favours incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

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He also had his own stab at rewriting history, insisting he created TheFacebook so that people could talk about the 2003 Iraq war. Actually it was meant to be a cross between a dating site and a college yearbook. Also worth reading: Josh Constine on why Facebook should give up political ads. And the full Facebook video is here.
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The Republican political operatives who call the shots at Facebook • Popular.info

Judd Legum:

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In recent months, Facebook has repeatedly taken actions that benefit Republicans and the right-wing. [List of examples snipped.]

Why is this happening? Popular Information spoke with three former Facebook employees to find out. All of them pointed to the leadership in Facebook’s powerful DC office. 

“Everyone in power is a Republican,” one former Facebook employee based in the DC office told Popular Information. The person requested anonymity because they are still employed in the tech industry. 

Indeed, the three top leaders of Facebook’s DC office all have extensive backgrounds in Republican politics: Vice President for Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan; Vice President for U.S. Public Policy Kevin Martin; and Public Policy Director for Global Elections Katie Harbath. 

“Decisions are made to benefit Republicans because they are paranoid about their reputation among conservative Republicans, particularly Trump,” the former Facebook employee said.  The other former Facebook employees did not agree to be quoted. 

Facebook declined to respond to a detailed set of questions about the operation of Facebook’s DC office. “We’re not going to have a comment to share,” a Facebook spokesman told Popular Information. 

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It’s very, very fishy.
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Inside the shutdown of the ‘world’s largest’ child sex abuse website • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker:

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This morning, the Justice Department announced that it had brought charges against the administrator and hundreds of users of the “world’s largest” child sexual exploitation marketplace on the dark web.

For me, it marked the end of a story I’ve wanted to write for two years.

In November 2017, I was working for CBS as the security editor at ZDNet. A hacker group reached out to me over an encrypted chat claiming to have broken into a dark web site running a massive child sexual exploitation operation. I was stunned. I had previous interactions with the hacker group, but nothing like this.

The group claimed it broke into the dark web site, which it said was titled “Welcome to Video,” and identified four real-world IP addresses of the site, said to be different servers running this supposedly massive child abuse site. They also provided me with a text file containing a sample of a thousand IP addresses of individuals who they said had logged in to the site. The hackers boasted about how they siphoned off the list as users logged in, without the users’ knowledge, and had more than a hundred thousand more — but they would not share them.

If proven true, the hackers would have made a major breakthrough in not only discovering a major dark web child abuse site, but could potentially identify the owners — and the visitors to the site.

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A few terrifying details: the site administrator began it when he was 18 years old; he carried out transactions in bitcoin; he brought in about $5m; some of the login IPs came from government and high-profile companies; half the 8TB of videos there contained images not seen before; there may have been about a million users of the site, and fewer than 400 have been arrested. The ages of those arrested and convicted ranges from 22 to 70.
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Qatar, facing unbearable heat, has begun to air-condition the outdoors • Washington Post

Steven Mufson:

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It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed “a giant hair dryer” at Qatar.

Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field.

Ghani, an engineering professor at Qatar University, designed the system at Al Janoub, one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup. His breakthrough realization was that he had to cool only people, not the upper reaches of the stadium — a graceful structure designed by the famed Zaha Hadid Architects and inspired by traditional boats known as dhows.

“I don’t need to cool the birds,” Ghani said.

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar’s milder winter.

The change in the World Cup date is a symptom of a larger problem — climate change.

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Don’t adapt, destroy?
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How a massive Facebook scam siphoned millions of dollars from unsuspecting boomers • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

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In late November 2018, Asher Burke gathered his employees in their San Diego office and laid out a vision for how Ads Inc. was going to become an e-commerce powerhouse.

The tanned and muscular 27-year-old CEO detailed plans to merge the company he founded in 2015 with another e-commerce company, and hire 20 or so new employees with expertise in developing products, such as electric toothbrushes and hair extensions, to be sold online.

The goal was to “build a company that is a digital assembly line of brands that would appeal to every single person in this room,” he said in a recording obtained by BuzzFeed News, calling it “a really exciting vision worth getting up in the morning for and sinking your teeth into.”

At the time, Ads Inc. was a growing business with tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue and roughly 20 people in its San Diego office. And Burke — a politically connected entrepreneur who had served as deputy political director of the Republican Party of San Diego — was its founder, CEO, and mastermind.

There was just one problem: Ads Inc.’s business was a massive Facebook scam, and it had little, if any, expertise in legitimate e-commerce.

Since 2015, Ads Inc. has made money — lots of it — by executing one of the internet’s most persistent, lucrative, and sophisticated scams: the subscription trap. The subscription trap works by tricking people into buying what they think is a single free trial of a celebrity-endorsed product. Although the customers would receive the product — which in most cases was not made by Ads Inc. itself — in reality, the celebrity has nothing to do with the offer. And in purchasing the free trial, the customer unwittingly commits to a pricey monthly subscription designed to be hard to cancel.

As for the products, a current employee described the diet and male enhancement offerings as “the worst of the worst … China-made sawdust in a capsule.”

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Reality check for VR as projects scrapped • The Times

Matthew Moore:

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The [BBC] confirmed the closure this week of its VR hub team, responsible for the production and commissioning of films.

The unit was founded in 2017 after Facebook launched the Oculus Rift headset, when companies were convinced of the technology’s potential.

It released well-reviewed experiences including 1943 Berlin Blitz, a recreation of a Second World War bombing raid. The films are believed to have attracted tiny audiences, however, compared with other BBC content…

Analysts say the problem is that cheap headsets, which rely on smartphones, offer a disappointing experience. More sophisticated hardware, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, are too expensive for most consumers at about £400 to £500.

Shipments of VR and augmented reality sets are forecast to reach 8.9 million units this year, but the industry remains a tech minnow. In comparison, more than 1.5 billion smartphones are sold around the world annually.

…VR’s spread has been hampered by complaints about feelings of nausea and isolation while using headsets.

George Jijiashvili, senior analyst at Ovum, the media consultancy firm, predicted that more sophisticated VR tech, such as the Oculus Quest headset, would catch on as prices fell. “The problem is not that VR is failing but that the wrong expectations were set. Now the industry has had a bit of a reality check.”

The BBC declined to disclose how much was spent on VR projects. Members of the team will be moved to other work.A spokeswoman said: “It has been an important part of our charter commitment to promote technological innovation and maintain a leading role in research and development which benefits the whole industry.”

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Battery life: a magnitude shift – the Apple iPhone 11, 11 Pro & 11 Pro Max review • Anandtech

Andrei Frumusanu:

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possibly the biggest changes to Apple’s line-up this year is the device’s vastly increased battery capacities. The Pro models in particular have seen significant increases: the 11 Pro gets a 3046mAh battery which represents a 14.5% increase compared to the XS, and the 11 Pro Max gets a 3969mAh battery which represents a very large 25% increase. The Pro Max is now the first Apple device which has a battery capacity comparable to Android phones out there, some of which have offered similar large capacities for a few years now…

…The battery results in our web test are outstanding. Apple in this generation has gone from being average in battery life to showcasing some of the best results we’ve seen in the market.

What is very interesting here is how our absolute test runtimes end up compared to Apple’s marketing claims. Apple has promised +1H, +4H and +5H of battery life for the 11, 11 Pro and the 11 Pro Max compared to their predecessors, and what we measured is 1.08H, 3.9H and 5.27H, which is pretty damn near Apple’s promoted figures, pointing out to some very similar testing conditions between our test and Apple’s internal metrics.

If we break this down a bit and theorize a bit, if we take the XS Max 10.31H result, multiply by 1.25x for the increased battery capacity (12.88H), multiply again naively by 1.15x for the more efficient screen (14.82H), we’re left with a ~5% margin which would account for the more efficient SoC. Give or take margin of error here or there, the results we’re seeing shouldn’t be all too surprising. The math would also check out for the iPhone 11 without a newer display: 5% increased battery capacity and an on average ~3% more efficient SoC.

There’s not much to say about the new iPhone 11 series’ battery life other than it’s exemplary. More importantly, Apple has managed to finally catch up and exceed the battery life of the LCD iPhone 8 and Plus models from 2 years ago.

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The graph on the page certainly shows that.
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Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock works if eyes are shut • BBC News

Chris Fox:

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Google has confirmed the Pixel 4 smartphone’s Face Unlock system can allow access to a person’s device even if they have their eyes closed.

One security expert said it was a significant problem that could allow unauthorised access to the device.

By comparison, Apple’s Face ID system checks the user is “alert” and looking at the phone before unlocking.

Google said in a statement: “Pixel 4 Face Unlock meets the security requirements as a strong biometric.” Speaking before the launch, Pixel product manager Sherry Lin said: “They are actually only two face [authorisation] solutions that meet the bar for being super-secure. So, you know, for payments, that level – it’s ours and Apple’s.”

On Tuesday, BBC News tested the Face Unlock feature on the new Pixel 4. Using the default settings, the phone still unlocked if the user pretended to be asleep. The test was repeated on several people, with the same result.

Images of the Pixel 4 leaked before launch showed a setting labelled: “Require eyes to be open,” in the facial-recognition menu. However, this setting was not present on the devices loaned to BBC News. And Google told BBC News it would not feature on the Pixel 4 when it went on sale, on 24 October.

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So… not really super-secure. Will it be disqualified from payments?
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Samsung will fix bug that lets any fingerprint unlock a Galaxy S10 • Engadget

Steve Dent:

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The Samsung Galaxy S10’s fingerprint reader has been balky from day one, with users reporting it could be unlocked with a 3D-printed fingerprint. Worse, a buyer recently discovered that if you install a third-party screen protector, a non-registered user could unlock the phone. Now, Samsung has acknowledged the problem and promised to patch it soon, according to Reuters.

“Samsung Electronics is aware of the case of the S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch,” the company told Reuters in a statement. The problem has been deemed serious enough that an online bank in South Korea, KaKaobank, has advised owners to switch off fingerprint recognition until it’s resolved.

It’s not clear what’s causing the problem, but the Galaxy S10 uses an ultrasonic sensor to detect fingerprint ridges. Plastic or silicon screen protectors can stymie it, so Samsung has been recommending that buyers used approved protective devices. That doesn’t explain why the system is allowing access to non-registered fingerprints, however, so Engadget has reached out to Samsung for more information.

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Samsung didn’t have any more information, other than that it was “investigating this internally”. Possibly with flamethrowers. What’s unclear is whether the fingerprint registration was done before or after the protector was put on. If the former, then you can break into any S10 by putting a screen protector onto it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,168: Amazon’s unstoppable run, Yahoo slays Groups, camera chain shuttering?, we love smart speakers, and more


A ‘glass floor’ is keeping America’s richest dolts from the ignominy they deserve. CC-licensed photo by d_diony on Flickr.

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

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

Is Amazon unstoppable? • The New Yorker

Charles Duhigg has a colossal piece, in which this passage seems to capture how things have changed:

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When David Kahan became the chief executive of Birkenstock Americas, in 2013, he began to discover how thoroughly Amazon had changed his industry. Kahan had started his career as a shoe salesman at Macy’s; he went on to become a sales manager at Nike and, eventually, a top executive at Reebok. Birkenstocks have been made by hand, in Germany, for two hundred and forty-five years—thirty-two workers touch every pair. When Kahan became C.E.O., Amazon was among the company’s top three shoe sellers. “They sold millions of dollars’ worth of our shoes,” Kahan told me. “But during my first year I was sitting in my office, where I can hear the customer-service department, and we were getting a flood of people saying their shoes were falling apart, or they were defective, or they were clearly counterfeits, and, every time the rep asked where they had been purchased, the customer said Amazon.”

Kahan investigated, and found that numerous companies were selling counterfeit or unauthorized Birkenstocks on Amazon; many were using Fulfillment by Amazon to ship their products, which caused them to appear prominently in search results. “We would ask Amazon to take sellers down—or, at least, tell us who is counterfeiting—but they said they couldn’t divulge private information,” Kahan told me.

Kahan also discovered that Amazon had started buying enormous numbers of Birkenstocks to resell on the site. The company had amassed more than a year’s worth of inventory. “That was terrifying, because it meant we could totally lose control of our brand,” he said. “What if Amazon decides to start selling the shoes for ninety-nine cents, or to give them away with Prime membership, or do a buy-one-get-one-free campaign? It would completely destroy how people see our shoes, and our only power to prevent something like that is to cut off a retailer’s supply. But Amazon had a year’s worth of inventory. We were powerless.”

…Kahan told me that, with the rise of Amazon, the give-and-take that has long undergirded the retail economy has become lopsided in a titan’s favor. “Capitalism is supposed to be a system of checks and balances,” he said. “It’s a marketplace where everyone haggles until we’re all basically satisfied, and it works because you can always threaten to walk away if you don’t get a fair deal. But when there’s only one marketplace, and it’s impossible to walk away, everything is out of balance. Amazon owns the marketplace. They can do whatever they want. That’s not capitalism. That’s piracy.”

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Understand what’s changing in Yahoo Groups • Groups Help – SLN31010

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Yahoo has made the decision to no longer allow users to upload content to the Yahoo Groups site. Beginning October 21, you won’t be able to upload any more content to the site, and as of December 14 all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed. You’ll have until that date to save anything you’ve uploaded.

What features will go away?
• Files
• Polls
• Links
• Photos
• Folders
• Calendar
• Database
• Attachments
• Conversations
• Email Updates
• Message Digest
• Message History

What will happen to the site?
• The Yahoo Groups site will continue to exist, however, all public groups will be made private or restricted. Any new group members will need to request an invite or be invited by an admin. Admins will still be able to manage various group settings, though some functionality will be limited.

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It would have been simpler to say what features would remain, wouldn’t it? Seems like it’s going to become a write-only site. Well, apart from you can’t upload any content that isn’t an email.

So will you be able to use Yahoo Groups “going forward” (aka “after December 14”)?

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You’ll still be able to communicate with your groups via email and search for private groups on the site. In addition, admins will continue to have limited access to group settings and administration tools.

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IOW: mostly not. Not explained: why Yahoo is going this. My guess: to prevent liability for illegal and illicit content. (Thanks Paul G for the pointer.)
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Jessops owner plans to call in administrators • BBC News

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The owner of camera chain Jessops, Dragons Den star Peter Jones, plans to call in administrators to help salvage the struggling High Street brand.

Mr Jones bought the chain from administrators in 2013 after it collapsed under £81m of debt.
But since then, the firm, which has 46 shops, has not made a single profit and losses have mounted in recent years.

Now Mr Jones reportedly intends to seek a rescue deal for the firm’s property arm, JR Prop Limited.

Last year alone, the business, which employs 500 people, saw its rent costs increase to £4.7m.
Lease charges, which include rent on stores, increased from £4.4m in 2017.

Now Mr Jones is reportedly planning to seek a rescue deal, known as a company voluntary agreement (CVA) with its landlords and lenders. This is an insolvency process that allows a business to reach an agreement with its creditors to pay off all or part of its debts.

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How surprising, at a time when everyone is walking around the streets carrying devices with built-in cameras capable of sending a picture anywhere in the world, that a high street chain of shops selling cameras and accessories can’t turn a profit. I always thought Jones’s purchase was quixotic; I think it will struggle even with drastic rent cuts and shutterings.
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Google chief: I’d disclose smart speakers before guests enter my home • BBC News

Leo Kelion comes up with a question Rick Osterloh hadn’t expected:

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It’s an admission that appears to have caught Google’s devices chief by surprise.

After being challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests smart devices – such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display – are in use before they enter the building, he concludes that the answer is indeed yes.

“Gosh, I haven’t thought about this before in quite this way,” Rick Osterloh begins.

“It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity.”

And then he commits.

“Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.”

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Despite security concerns, British owners still love their smart speakers • Strategy Analytics

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Nearly one in four UK households now owns a smart speaker, and while many users are concerned about security issues, the vast majority love their devices. A new survey by Strategy Analytics of more than a thousand smart speaker users found that nearly six in ten are concerned that voice-controlled devices will record sounds or conversations without their consent, and nearly half will not share payment information via their smart speaker.

However, 88% of users are satisfied with their smart speaker and three quarters say they are much more useful than they had expected. More than 60% prefer using voice to a touchscreen or keyboard, and 50% even say they now can’t imagine life without one. The results are based on an online survey of 1048 smart speaker users carried out in July/August 2019.

The report also found that 31% of non-owners plan to buy a smart speaker for the first time within the next 12 months. This is in spite of the fact that security is a concern for a minority of these potential buyers – 13% say that they haven’t bought one yet because they are concerned generally about security and 7% because they don’t want their data shared.

In addition, two thirds of existing owners say they will definitely buy another smart speaker, nearly a third within the next twelve months. More than half of owners already have more than one smart speaker in the home, confirming once again how these devices are becoming central to the emerging smart home lifestyle.

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Worried, but shrugging their shoulders. This seems to be how people deal with cognitive tension.
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The ‘glass floor’ is keeping America’s richest idiots from failing • Huffington Post

Michael Hobbes:

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In 2014, Zach Dell launched a dating app called Thread. It was nearly identical to Tinder: Users created a profile, uploaded photos and swiped through potential matches. 

The only twist on the formula was that Thread was restricted to university students and explicitly designed to produce relationships rather than hookups. The app’s tagline was “Stay Classy.” 

Zach Dell is the son of billionaire tech magnate Michael Dell. Though he told reporters that he wasn’t relying on family money, Thread’s early investors included a number of his father’s friends, including Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. 

The app failed almost instantly. Perhaps the number of monogamy-seeking students just wasn’t large enough, or capping users at 10 matches per day limited the app’s addictiveness. It could also have been the mismatch between Thread’s chaste motto and its user experience. Users got just 70 characters to describe themselves on their profiles. Most of them resorted to catchphrases like “Hook ’em” and “Netflix is life.” 

After Thread went bust, Dell moved into philanthropy with a startup called Sqwatt, which promised to deliver “low-cost sanitation solutions for the developing world.” Aside from an empty website and a promotional video with fewer than 100 views, the effort seems to have disappeared. 

And yet, despite helming two failed ventures and having little work experience beyond an internship at a financial services company created to manage his father’s fortune, things seem to be working out for Zach Dell. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is now an analyst for the private equity firm Blackstone. He is 22. 

America has a social mobility problem. Children born in 1940 had a 90% chance of earning more than their parents. For children born in 1984, the odds were 50-50. 

Most accounts of this trend focus on the breakdown of upward mobility: it’s getting harder for the poor to become rich. But equally important is the decline of downward mobility: the rich, regardless of their intelligence, are becoming more likely to stay that way.

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If you haven’t watched the TV series Succession (which I came to late, in only the past three weeks), then you should. It’s about a rich family of venal, foolish, mostly incompetent children and their successful, venal, indifferent father. Though the tale of Zach Dell is enough to make you want to punch the soft furnishings.
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Analysis: UK renewables generate more electricity than fossil fuels for first time • Carbon Brief

Simon Evans:

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In the third quarter of 2019, the UK’s windfarms, solar panels, biomass and hydro plants generated more electricity than the combined output from power stations fired by coal, oil and gas, Carbon Brief analysis reveals.

During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.

This is the first-ever quarter where renewables outpaced fossil fuels since the UK’s first public electricity generating station opened in 1882. It is another symbolic milestone in the stunning transformation of the UK’s electricity system over the past decade.

Nevertheless, a lack of progress in other parts of the economy means the UK remains far off track against its upcoming legally-binding carbon targets, let alone the recently adopted goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

At the start of this decade in 2010, the 288TWh generated from fossil fuels accounted for around three-quarters of the UK total. It was also more than 10 times as much electricity as the 26TWh that came from renewables.

Since then, electricity generation from renewable sources has more than quadrupled – and demand has fallen – leaving fossil fuels with a shrinking share of the total.

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Though of course this is electricity generation – not total energy, which includes vehicle fuel. I’d love to know how much the latter uses.
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Machine learning can’t flag false news, new studies show • Axios

Joe Uchill:

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After different researchers showed that computers can convincingly generate made-up news stories without much human oversight, some experts hoped that the same machine-learning-based systems could be trained to detect such stories. But MIT doctoral student Tal Schuster’s studies show that, while machines are great at detecting machine-generated text, they can’t identify whether stories are true or false.

Many automated fact-checking systems are trained using a database of true statements called Fact Extraction and Verification (FEVER).

In one study, Schuster and team showed that machine learning-taught fact-checking systems struggled to handle negative statements (“Greg never said his car wasn’t blue”) even when they would know the positive statement was true (“Greg says his car is blue”).
The problem, say the researchers, is that the database is filled with human bias. The people who created FEVER tended to write their false entries as negative statements and their true statements as positive statements — so the computers learned to rate sentences with negative statements as false.
That means the systems were solving a much easier problem than detecting fake news. “If you create for yourself an easy target, you can win at that target,” said MIT professor Regina Barzilay. “But it still doesn’t bring you any closer to separating fake news from real news.”
Both studies were headed by Schuster with teams of MIT collaborators.
The bottom line: The second study showed that machine-learning systems do a good job detecting stories that were machine-written, but not at separating the true ones from the false ones.

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Myanmar’s great tech switch is chance to become part of world’s web • Asia Nikkei

Chan Jia Hao:

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As early as 1999, Myanmarese characters had been added to the Unicode standard. But sanctions by the US against the country’s military dictatorship discouraged tech businesses like Microsoft from rolling out Unicode support for Myanmar. More than 90% of websites worldwide use Unicode today.

Instead, internet users relied on a homegrown font, Zawgyi, as a substitute. Approximately 90% of Myanmar-based websites have been using Zawgyi for their data encoding and digital content over the last decade.

Global tech giants like Huawei, Samsung and Facebook therefore supported both Unicode and Zawgyi standards, to capture the latter’s substantial user-base – but this did not mean Myanmar was properly integrated.

Eliminating Zawgyi now is no easy feat for a developing Myanmar. A shift in the standard implies normal internet users having to relearn how to input the script and the massive rewriting of digital content, such as webpages and databases. The bulk of Myanmar’s citizens and businesses had been relying on Zawgyi-based content for commercial and day-to-day purposes.

Converting millions of local data from Zawgyi to Unicode at different times also risks clashes. These can result in disrupted communications between Myanmar’s ministries, local telcos, devices, apps, website content and internet users for an indefinite period of time.

The decision to migrate now, however, does arrive with some time-sensitive reasons.

During its transition to civilian rule, Myanmar’s government produced an economic strategy with a strong emphasis on developing its information and communications technology sector. It also drafted a Universal Service Strategy, whose aim was for all of Myanmar’s citizens to have access to telecommunication services by 2022.

There has been promising growth in internet penetration already. Individuals using the internet rose from less than 1% of the population in 2011 to 31% in 2017. Fixed broadband subscriptions increased nearly fourfold between 2015 and 2017 to 121,000, albeit still at a low level in a country of 53 million.

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*whispers* don’t mention the genocide enabled by the internet. (And did the non-Unicode system make it even harder for Facebook to monitor posts?)
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Asynchronous communication: the real reason remote workers are more productive • Doist.com

Amir Salihefendic (who just happens to be CEO of the “asynchronous” Doist, but even so)
:

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If employees are consistently more productive when working away from the office, there’s something broken about the modern workplace.

According to the Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Overload”, the time employees spend on collaboration has increased by 50% over the past two decades. Researchers found it was not uncommon for workers to spend a full 80% of their workdays communicating with colleagues in the form of email (on which workers’ spend an average of six hours a day); meetings (which fill up 15% of a company’s time, on average); and more recently instant messaging apps (the average Slack user sends an average of 200 messages a day, though 1,000-message power users are “not the exception”).

As one office worker told New York Magazine, “I used to wake up and turn off the alarm and check Tinder. Now I wake up and check Slack.”
This trend toward near-constant communication means that the average knowledge worker must organize their workday around multiple meetings, with the time in between spent doing their work half-distractedly with one eye on email and Slack.

To make matters worse, the rise of mobile technology means that workplace communication is no longer limited to the physical workplace or work hours. We can, and do, check email and respond to messages at any time, day or night. As a result, we’re never fully off the clock. As one office worker told New York Magazine, “I used to wake up and turn off the alarm and check Tinder. Now I wake up and check Slack.”

Slack boasts that users spend 9 hours per workday connected to the app. 90 minutes of active usage spread over 9 hours is a whole lot of interruptions.
This highly synchronous way of working would be understandable if it produced results, but there is more and more evidence that all the real-time communication overhead makes it hard to focus, drains employees’ mental resources, and generally makes it more difficult to make meaningful progress on work.

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Are China’s tantrums signs of strength or weakness? • The Atlantic

Zeynep Tufekci:

»

maybe we are entering a new age when China will push around Western companies to make its point. For all we know, Xi Jinping is looking across the Pacific at the crumbling governance, the failing infrastructure, the hollowed-out manufacturing capacity, the myriad elite failures, and the general decay in Western societies and has decided that the time is here to confidently declare that if you want to do business with China, its China’s way or the (crumbling) highway. He might have decided that the time when it needed to deploy strategic silence on the divergence in stated values is over, essentially telling us “Free speech, free shmeech” and getting away with it.

Judging by the speed with which these companies have rushed to kowtow, maybe he’s right?

Or, alternatively, in this truly global and interconnected world, China might be experiencing its own form of failure and weakness, with a more and more centralized rule pushing a cult of personality around the leader. After all, China has its own problems with decadence, corruption, and inequality. Many high-level officials have families with multiple passports and expansive overseas wealth. A mixture of authoritarian malaise and loss of agility might be causing the country to lash out, without proper strategic analysis. This same dynamic seems to be at work in China’s approach to the Hong Kong protests, which could have been defused early through a few symbolic concessions. It’s as though China doesn’t even understand a city that is under its own jurisdiction.

Is China an integrated part of the global failure and corruption of elites, failing in its own way due to shortsightedness and incompetence? Or is it a confident new superpower that is just beginning to throw its weight around? I can’t say for sure…

«

Insightful as ever; the extent to which western companies have self-censored (she points to another example involving jeweller Tiffany) is worrying.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,167: Twitter warns Trump (subtly), WeWork squeezes Meetup, Google Pixel 4 kills Daydream, and more


California’s natural wildfires are being made worse by climate change. CC-licensed photo by Daria Devyatkina on Flickr.

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

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

World leaders on Twitter: principles & approach • Twitter blog

»

We want to make it clear today that the accounts of world leaders are not above our policies entirely. The below areas will result in enforcement action for any account on our service (without consideration of the potential public interest value in allowing the Tweet to remain visible behind a notice):

• Promotion of terrorism
• Clear and direct threats of violence against an individual (context matters: as noted above, direct interactions with fellow public figures and/or commentary on political and foreign policy issues would likely not result in enforcement)
• Posting private information, such as a home address or non-public personal phone number
• Posting or sharing intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent
• Engaging in behaviors relating to child sexual exploitation; and
• Encouraging or promoting self-harm.

«

Basically, a new rule for Donald Trump. You’re not allowed to retweet such tweets, but you can quote-tweet them to point out that they’re awful.
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WeWork is desperately squeezing cash out of Meetup.com by taxing 225,000 communities • FreeCodeCamp

Quincy Larson, founder of FreeCodeCamp:

»

Last night Meetup.com quietly rolled out a new pricing structure.

Effective “October”, Meetup is reducing the amount of money event organizers have to pay each month from $20 per month to $2 a month.

Wow – that sounds great. Group organizers don’t have to pay as much? So why is everyone so mad? Well, Meetup is also adding a new $2 fee every time a person RSVPs for a meetup. Every. Single. Time.

Let’s do some quick math. Before, it cost a group of people $20 per month to use Meetup.com to organize their events. With this new pricing, let’s assume you have a medium-sized meetup group that meets once a week and has 30 RSVPs each time. The group’s total collective Meetup.com fees will now go from $20 per month to: ($2 * 30 RSVPs * 4 events per month) = $240

Oh, wait – I forgot to add that Meetup.com will still charge group organizers $2 per month on top of this. So $242. That’s a 1,210% increase in cost.

«

Estimated number of groups: 225,000. WeWork bought Meetup in 2017 for an estimated $200m. Going premium like this will probably kill 90% of those groups, but that’s 22,000 generating $240 every time they have a meetup.

Larson reckons it’s going to turn into a wasteland very soon.
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California’s PG&E blackouts are a climate warning • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

Millions of people across California lost their power this week, after the local utility Pacific Gas and Electric intentionally shut off electrical lines to avoid starting wildfires in dangerously dry and windy conditions. The outage—termed a “public-safety power shutoff”—stretched hundreds of miles across the state’s northern half, dousing the lights in affluent Bay Area suburbs, on Sacramento Valley ranches, and in large coastal cities such as Eureka.

By yesterday afternoon, more than 600,000 customers faced a blackout, including hundreds of hospitals, the utility said. But that number belies the scale of the shutoff: An entire apartment building can count as a single “customer,” according to The New York Times.

In one sense, the blackout was caused by an overlapping set of crises—legal, financial, and ecological—that now confronts the state. But in a larger sense, it looked like a preview of mid-21st-century governance. When political leaders envision the century of climate change to come, they often speak of massive floods and dangerous droughts. But the experience of Californians this week—frustrated, needlessly inconvenienced, and saddled with aging infrastructure built for the wrong century—will define the mass experience of climate change as much as any deluge or inferno.

«

PG+E cut off the power so that sparks from lines wouldn’t ignite wildfires like the ones earlier this year (where it was at fault). The cost of paying for those fires was colossal; it declared bankruptcy. The costs are billions, and all down to climate change.
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Limiting global warming to 2°C: the philosophy and the science • The Conversation

Lawrence Torcello and Michael Mann:

»

Industrial civilization must become technologically, economically, politically, and morally sustainable to hold the earth’s temperature below 2°C (3.6°F) higher than its preindustrial average. The problem is not insurmountable. It is possible, then, that we’ll benefit in the long run from having to deal with human-caused global warming, by being forced to mature politically and ethically.

As of yet, however, the world has largely failed to move beyond moral, political, and economic parochialism. Our continued failure will supplant the promise of sustainability with a legacy of collapse.

At our present pace of fossil fuel burning we will, by 2036, exceed the 2°C limit (using the Northern Hemisphere mean temperature on a true pre-industrial (1750-1849) baseline under the assumption of a mid-range (3°C) equilibrium climate sensitivity). And if we reach 2°C warming, then natural feedback could threaten to drive further warming, making it possible for warming in the range of 3°C or more to occur. If temperatures warm 3°C (5.4°F) or more, we may simply be unable to cope with the consequences.

In short, our current model of development could prove catastrophic for human civilization and the natural world.

«

Just something to consider on a Wednesday morning.
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Google’s Project Soli: the tech behind Pixel 4’s Motion Sense radar • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

By now, you’ve heard: the new Google Pixel 4 has a tiny radar chip inside it, which allows you to swipe or wave your hand to do a few things. More importantly, Motion Sense (as Google has branded it) is designed to detect your presence. It knows if you’re there. The technology comes from Project Soli, which was first demonstrated publicly in 2015 and is now inside the Pixel 4 as its first major commercial implementation. Responding to a few air gestures is fairly minor, but Google sees the potential for it to eventually become much more.

That’s always the way with new computing interfaces. The mouse and the touchscreen led to giant revolutions in computing, so you see the potential for a new one to do the same thing. It’s a trap Apple CEO Tim Cook himself fell into when he introduced the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch, saying it was as important as the mouse. (It wasn’t.)

Luckily, Google isn’t claiming quite so much for Motion Sense, but it does have a similar problem. The gap between things that Motion Sense could do and what it actually does in this first version is huge. In theory, putting radar on a phone is a revolution. In practice, it could be seen as just a gimmick.

«

Bohn makes it pretty clear that he thinks it’s a gimmick:

»

Do I really need my phone to wake up a half-second before I touch it, saving me a tap on the screen? Is it really that difficult to hit the snooze button?

It’s not. But then again, Google isn’t promising the world here. It’s just promising a slightly nicer, more seamless experience. Poupyrev points out that lots of people use the little autoreply buttons instead of just typing out “yes” manually. “At the end of the day, the technology that wins is what’s easy to use,” he argues. “It’s just as simple as that. And removing a small amount of friction is what gets people more and more adapted to the technology.”

«

Nope. Google’s been working on this since 2015 (as Project Soli in ATAP). Notice how Apple just dumped its essentially undiscoverable 3D Touch from its phones. This is the same.
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Google discontinues Daydream VR • Venturebeat

Emil Protalinski:

»

Google’s Daydream, Android’s built-in virtual reality platform, is as good as dead. Following the company’s annual hardware event today, Google confirmed to VentureBeat that the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL do not support the VR platform. Furthermore, Google stopped selling the Daydream View headset today. There are also no plans to support Daydream in future Android devices, Pixel or otherwise. “We are no longer certifying new devices,” a Google spokesperson confirmed. The Daydream app and store will continue to function for now.

A Google spokesperson shared the following statement with VentureBeat:

»

We saw a lot of potential in smartphone VR — being able to use the smartphone you carry with you everywhere to power an immersive on-the-go experience. But over time we noticed some clear limitations constraining smartphone VR from being a viable long-term solution. Most notably, asking people to put their phone in a headset and lose access to the apps they use throughout the day causes immense friction.

There also hasn’t been the broad consumer or developer adoption we had hoped, and we’ve seen decreasing usage over time of the Daydream View headset. So while we are no longer selling Daydream View or supporting Daydream on Pixel 4, the Daydream app and store will remain available for existing users.

«

«

You’d have thought the tiniest bit of normal-person testing would have shown them that the idea of putting your smartphone into something you then put over your head is an utter non-starter. The lack of developer adoption probably reflects there being more rational people there. True, you have to try; but you don’t have to splurge a lot of money on it for years.

And so the future of virtual reality heads towards another choke point.
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Google Pixel 4 buyers won’t get unlimited photo uploads at original quality • The Verge

Chris Welch:

»

The Pixel 4 and 4 XL will launch without one of the original great reasons for owning a Pixel phone: free unlimited photo backups to Google Photos at full resolution. Google’s website for the new devices only notes that they’re eligible for the same storage option as any other phone, which is unlimited backups at “high quality.” This option compresses your images when they’re uploaded to the cloud, which is why Google is able to offer it so freely.

Nowhere on the Pixel 4 site does it mention free storage at original quality, which was a major incentive for purchasing the original Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3. iPhone owners had to keep an eye on their iCloud storage, but Pixel users could always snap away care free. Not anymore. Google didn’t extend it to the Pixel 3A and 3A XL, but that was understandable due to their much lower price point. The Pixel 4 starts at $799, and the XL version is $899. These aren’t cheap phones.

Pixel 3 owners get free storage for their original-quality photos and videos until January 31st, 2022. So they’re in the clear for a long time before having to worry about paying anything. But the Pixel 4 won’t get you special treatment anymore. Google has confirmed directly to The Verge that the deal isn’t on offer this time around.

«

Odd thing to leave off; you’d think that storage costs have continued to fall in the year since the 3 was sold. Maybe Google’s expecting to sell a ton more of these, as it has better distribution. Even so, seems like a strange thing to nickel-and-dime people on.
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Google can’t fix the Android update problem • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

Take the recent report from Counterpoint Research, which points out that Nokia is far and away the best manufacturer when it comes to issuing major OS updates (after Google and Essential, both of which have far fewer devices to support). It includes this revealing chart, which plots out the percentage of a company’s “portfolio” adoption of Android 9 Pie in the year since it’s been released.


Source: Counterpoint Research White Paper: “Software and Security Updates: The Missing Link for Smartphones” Counterpoint Research

The thing that jumps out at you in this chart is how far ahead Nokia is! But this is actually a chart about failure. Here, let me highlight the most important quadrants:


Six months after release, only one manufacturer managed to get half of its portfolio updated, and only two managed over a quarter. A full year after release, only three managed to break the 50% mark! And the two most important and largest manufacturers — Samsung and Huawei — ended up at around 30 and 40 percent, respectively.

The lion’s share of phones sold during that period were running the latest version, but very few existing phones were upgraded to 9.

«

That colouring of the quadrants – here’s the fast and thorough (empty), here’s the slow and incomplete (almost all of them) – is very perceptive. Of course, you say, the important thing is that Google Play and its APIs get updated independently of the underlying OS, so everyone’s happy, right? But developers in the comments say it’s a costly pain, and that’s important – and surely the reason why iOS still tends to get the first bite at new apps.
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EU warns of 5G risks amid scrutiny of Huawei • WSJ

Anna Isaac and Parmy Olson:

»

The European Union has identified a series of specific security threats posed by foreign vendors of telecommunications equipment, significantly heightening the bloc’s scrutiny of suppliers like Huawei Technologies Co., according to officials familiar with the matter and a privately circulated risk assessment prepared by European governments.

Earlier in the week, the EU released a public report warning that hostile states or state-backed actors posed a security threat to new 5G mobile networks being rolled out around the world. 5G promises faster connection speeds and the ability to link lots of devices—from cars to pacemakers—to the internet.

Separately, in a nonpublic risk analysis that EU member states have recently circulated, governments raise specific security threats posed by telecom-equipment suppliers, particularly from countries with “no democratic and legal restrictions in place.” A draft of the analysis, which hasn’t been previously reported, was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The new assessment has raised alarm among officials in European capitals over Huawei, in particular, according to officials familiar with the report. Huawei has been a big supplier of network gear in large European economies like the U.K. and Germany. European leaders will lay out specific guidelines for member states on how best to approach issues of security within 5G networks later this year.

«

Will the UK, which might have left the EU by then, pay any attention? Huawei kit is deeply embedded in BT’s systems.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,166: Apple defends Tencent connection, Zuckerberg’s right-wing meetups, PC market grows (sorta), what’s next for Fortnite, Sully on MCAS, and more


Pinterest has intentionally suppressed the ability to discover certain content on its site. CC-licensed photo by Lawrence G. Miller on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Just read what it says on the cards. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Pinterest built one of Silicon Valley’s most successful algorithms • OneZero

Will Oremus:

»

[In 2017] Mike Caulfield, a media literacy and online communications expert at Washington State University Vancouver… went looking for political culture on Pinterest, and what he found was just about as ugly as what you’d expect on any other social platform. There were boards full of fake news, ethnic stereotypes, and QAnon conspiracy theories.

Caulfield argued that Pinterest’s aggressive recommendation algorithm, coupled with its reliance on user-created “boards” of related images, can turn a user’s feed into a hate-filled cesspool within minutes. “After just 14 minutes of browsing, a new user with some questions about vaccines could move from pins on ‘How to Make the Perfect Egg’ to something out of the Infowarverse,” Caulfield wrote.

Part of the problem, as explained by Middlebury College’s Amy Collier, is that spammers game Pinterest’s algorithm by putting viral political memes on the same board as, say, T-shirts they want to sell. When users engage with the memes, the algorithm shows them other items from the same board, on the theory that they might also be of interest. Eventually, it shows them the T-shirts, some fraction of them buys one, and the spammer profits.

Caulfield says he’s accustomed to tech companies ignoring his critiques or getting defensive. So Pinterest’s reaction surprised him: They thanked him for highlighting the problem and invited him to meet with company executives and share ideas for how to solve it. And then, at least on the anti-vaxx issue, they followed through.

In August, Pinterest changed how its search engine treats queries about vaccines. Rather than surfacing the most popular vaccine-related pins, Pinterest said it would now show only pins from major health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the CDC.

«

So unusual it merits being written about.
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Huawei Mate X is supposedly being released in China this month • Android Police

Manuel Vonau:

»

the company has confirmed that it’s launching its own take on foldables in China this month, while a video showing off the device and its retail box has been making its rounds on Twitter.

Chinese outlet cnBeta says the phone is slated to be released in China by the end of this month, though it warns that initial supply will likely not last too long due to low production yield. The Mate X was previously scheduled for June, but following the Galaxy Fold debacle revolving around dirt and dust entering the device’s hinge and display, Huawei has apparently decided to redesign vital parts of its product as well to ensure it won’t face the same issues Samsung already had to work through.

«

Outward folding screen, and the Google ban almost surely means no Google apps. China-only, which is probably going to be fortunate, because I can’t see an outward-folding plastic screen surviving very long in the real user world.
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Why you should care about ultra-wideband (UWB): fine-grained location sensing isn’t just for lost luggage • Diginomica

Kurt Marko goes into some of the technical details about UWB, and its potential uses by car makers and others:

»

Apple doesn’t go to the expense of developing and embedding a new component in hundreds of millions of iPhones without some significant plans that justify the space in those space-starved devices. Earlier this year, there were abundant rumors of Apple using UWB in a Tile-like ID tag for highly accurate location tracking, however, there are several other applications in the FiRa taxonomy above that would be even more compelling in a phone, including:

• Indoor mapping and navigation with much greater precision than GPS- or Bluetooth LE-based systems
• Smart home and vehicle access and control using a phone or Apple Watch (if, when Apple adds UWB to its Watch) to replace a key fob
• Augmented Reality that uses precise location and movement information in apps
• Mobile payments that are more secure than NFC by being resistant to eavesdropping attacks and able to define a precise, limited bubble around the payer’s location.

Whatever Apple ends up introducing, you can bet it will unleash a torrent of copycats jumping on the UWB bandwagon.

«

The rest is a really good primer on UWB.
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Apple defends the way it shares Safari browser data with Google or Tencent • CNET

Ian Sherr:

»

Apple is refuting press reports that it sends some users’ private browsing data to Google and the Chinese tech company Tencent, saying it safeguards people’s information in its own systems and doesn’t send most easily identifiable website information to other companies…

…In Apple’s documentation, the iPhone maker said its Safari browser “may send information calculated from the website address to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing to check if the website is fraudulent. These browsing providers may also log your IP address.”

But in a statement, Apple said it actually doesn’t send information to Google or Tencent. Instead, it receives a list of bad websites from both companies and then uses it to protect people as they surf the web. Apple sometimes obscures the information about the website people visit if it requests more information to check if a questionable website is malicious. The URL, or website address being checked, “is never shared with a safe browsing provider,” Apple said in the statement, originally provided to Bloomberg.

But, Apple said, the internet or IP address of the person’s browser may be shared with Google or Tencent. For people concerned about their privacy, the service can be turned off in Safari preferences on the iPhone or Mac.

«

Took 24 hours to get there, so Apple’s improving on this.
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Chinese propaganda app doubles as new spying tool for authorities, report says • The Washington Post

Anna Fifield:

»

The Chinese Communist Party appears to have “superuser” access to the entire data on more than 100 million Android-based cellphones through a back door in a propaganda app that the government has been promoting aggressively this year.

 An examination of the coding of the app used by phones running the Android operating system shows it enables authorities to retrieve messages and photos from users’ phones, browse their contacts and Internet history, and activate an audio recorder inside the devices.

“The [Chinese Communist Party] essentially has access to over 100 million users’ data,” said Sarah Aoun, director of technology at the Open Technology Fund, an initiative funded by the U.S. government under Radio Free Asia. “That’s coming from the top of a government that is expanding its surveillance into citizens’ day-to-day lives.”…

…The Open Technology Fund contracted Cure53, a German cybersecurity firm, to break apart the app and determine its exact capabilities.

The Cure53 researchers investigated the Android version of the app, which is used in smartphones made by Chinese manufacturers such as Huawei, Oppo and Vivo, but did not look into the version available on Apple’s iOS. Android-based phones account for the vast majority of smartphones in China, with Apple making up only 6% of the market as of June, according to Counterpoint, a research consulting firm based in Hong Kong.

Apple said that, while the app could be downloaded on its devices, this type of “superuser” surveillance could not be conducted on Apple’s operating system.

«

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Traditional PC market continues to grow despite issues in the supply chain • IDC

»

Worldwide shipments of traditional PCs, comprised of desktops, notebooks, and workstations, reached 70.4m units in the third quarter of 2019 (3Q19), according to preliminary results from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker. Demand in the commercial segment combined with trade tensions between the United States and China to drive the market forward, resulting in a second consecutive quarter of growth with shipments increasing by 3% over the third quarter of 2018.

“With higher tariffs on the horizon PC makers once again began to push additional inventory during the quarter though the process was a bit more difficult as many faced supply constraints from Intel, leaving AMD with more room to grow,” said Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC’s Mobile Device Trackers. “The trade tensions are also leading to changes in the supply chain as most notebook manufacturers are now prepared to move production to other countries in Asia, such as Taiwan and Vietnam.”

“Commercial demand should accelerate as enterprises work through the remainder of their Windows 10 migration,” added Linn Huang, research vice president, Devices & Displays. “The number of months until the end of service (EOS) date of Windows 7 can be counted on one hand. With January 14, 2020 drawing nigh, the commercial market should be able to digest the extra inventory over the next several quarters. Supply constraints may loom in subsequent quarters, so excess may not be a bad position for channel inventory through the remainder of the year.”

«

Basically, growth driven by fear that prices will hike up next quarter (which they will). The top five companies now have just under 80% of the whole market; they’re tightening their grip.
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Domino’s turns Pizza Checker AI into workplace surveillance tool • iTnews Australia

Julian Bajkowski:

»

Australian pizza empire Domino’s might tout its AI driven “pizza checker” as a big win for customers, but on the floor of the kitchen the device that scans toppings and matches them to orders has become a powerful surveillance tool to keep staff and product on spec.

After a rough start out of the gates thanks to teething issues, Domino’s on Thursday revealed progress on deploying the mighty food scanner which is being pushed to investors as a major competitive edge over junk food rivals in terms of efficiency and consistency.

Having spent more than a year talking up the product-enhancing potential of the Pizza Checker, Domino’s on Thursday updated impatient shareholders on the rollout and performance of the device, including how it’s being used to assist underperforming franchisees.

In a 91 slide deck delivered at Domino’s investor day, chief executive Don Meij and Australian head Nick Knight revealed the automated checker was now being used for “franchisee and operations team alignment” with the head office now “incorporating pizza checker for ‘scorecard’ bonus system”.

However company insists the technology isn’t being used as a basis to select or initiate store buybacks, telling iTnews that neither franchise profitability nor pizza quality data was not a factor in such discussions.

«

Except it does send data back to a “central data lake”, which is a fabulous phrase. And it does prod stores that are underperforming. Congratulations! AI is running the business.
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Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s private meetings with conservative pundits • POLITICO

Natasha Bertrand and Daniel Lippman:

»

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been hosting informal talks and small, off-the-record dinners with conservative journalists, commentators and at least one Republican lawmaker in recent months to discuss issues like free speech and discuss partnerships.

The dinners, which began in July, are part of Zuckerberg’s broader effort to cultivate friends on the right amid outrage by President Donald Trump and his allies over alleged “bias” against conservatives at Facebook and other major social media companies. “I’m under no illusions that he’s a conservative but I think he does care about some of our concerns,” said one person familiar with the gatherings, which multiple sources have confirmed.

News of the outreach is likely to further fuel suspicions on the left that Zuckerberg is trying to appease the White House and stay out of Trump’s crosshairs. The president threatened to sue Facebook and Google in June and has in the past pressured the Justice Department to take action against his perceived foes.

“The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about the Justice Department, under Bill Barr, bringing an enforcement action to break up the company,” said one cybersecurity researcher and former government official based in Silicon Valley.

«

Zuckerberg is no fool, and covering himself in case the Republicans get in again (or even hold some balance of power post-2020) is sensible. Reprehensibly sensible: they’re trying to yank him as far right as they possibly can, which is a long way as they’re basically the most right-wing politicians in the elected world.
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Fortnite Chapter 2 trailer leaks, and it has boats on a new map • VentureBeat

Jeff Grubb:

»

Fortnite isn’t over quite yet. Epic Games is about to bring the game back with Chapter 2 – Season 1, according to a leaked trailer. Twitter account SkinTrackerCom tweeted the 30-second promo for Fortnite’s latest Battle Pass. That tweet is now gone, but I captured the video. You can watch it.

The clip shows off a collection of new skins you can acquire for your character in the battle pass. But it also confirms that a new map is on the way. This environment features rivers and boats, which should shake up gameplay for long-time players.

«

So that’s your breakfast/lunch/dinner conversation sorted out.
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My letter to the editor of New York Times Magazine • Sully Sullenberger

»

In “What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 MAX?” William Langewiesche draws the conclusion that the pilots are primarily to blame for the fatal crashes of Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian 302. In resurrecting this age-old aviation canard, Langewiesche minimizes the fatal design flaws and certification failures that precipitated those tragedies, and still pose a threat to the flying public. I have long stated, as he does note, that pilots must be capable of absolute mastery of the aircraft and the situation at all times, a concept pilots call airmanship. Inadequate pilot training and insufficient pilot experience are problems worldwide, but they do not excuse the fatally flawed design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was a death trap. As one of the few pilots who have lived to tell about being in the left seat of an airliner when things went horribly wrong, with seconds to react, I know a thing or two about overcoming an unimagined crisis. I am also one of the few who have flown a Boeing 737 MAX Level D full motion simulator, replicating both accident flights multiple times

«

When you’re being told off by Sully (you’ll recall he successfully ditched his plane with no loss of life in the Hudson river after a bird strike took out both engines), you know you got something wildly wrong. He’s really down on MCAS and says it shouldn’t have been approved by Boeing or the FAA.

Boeing’s problems are only getting bigger.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,165: Apple’s China browsing problem, Turkey blocks social media, fracking means methane, blocking tech tax dodges, and more


NMR data for more than 100 scientific papers about cyanobacteria – seeking cancer cures – is in doubt due to a code glitch. CC-licensed photo by Dave Thomas on Flickr.

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

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

How safe is Apple’s Safe Browsing? • A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering

Matthew Green:

»

This morning brings new and exciting news from the land of Apple. It appears that, at least on iOS 13, Apple is sharing some portion of your web browsing history with the Chinese conglomerate Tencent. This is being done as part of Apple’s “Fraudulent Website Warning”, which uses the Google-developed Safe Browsing technology as the back end. This feature appears to be “on” by default in iOS Safari, meaning that millions of users could potentially be affected.

As is the standard for this sort of news, Apple hasn’t provided much — well, any — detail on whose browsing history this will affect, or what sort of privacy mechanisms are in place to protect its users. The changes probably affect only Chinese-localized users (see Github commits, courtesy Eric Romang), although it’s difficult to know for certain. However, it’s notable that Apple’s warning appears on U.S.-registered iPhones.

Regardless of which users are affected, Apple hasn’t said much about the privacy implications of shifting Safe Browsing to use Tencent’s servers. Since we lack concrete information, the best we can do is talk a bit about the technology and its implications. That’s what I’m going to do below.

«

This isn’t a good look for Apple. Event may have overtaken by the time this appears, but if not it’s setting itself up for another week of trouble. China is becoming Apple’s tar baby.
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Dealing with China isn’t worth the moral cost • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:

»

There is a school of thought that says America should not think of China as an enemy. With its far larger population, China’s economy will inevitably come to eclipse ours, but that is hardly a mortal threat. In climate change, the world faces a huge collective-action problem that will require global cooperation. According to this view, treating China like an adversary will only frustrate our own long-term goals.

But this perspective leaves out the threat that greater economic and technological integration with China poses to everyone outside of China. It ignores the ever-steeper capitulation that China requires of its partners. And it overlooks the most important new factor in the Chinese regime’s longevity: the seductive efficiency that technology offers to effect a breathtaking new level of control over its population.

There was a time when Westerners believed that the internet would be the Communist regime’s ruin. In a speech in 2000 urging Congress to normalize trade relations with China, President Bill Clinton famously quipped: “There’s no question China has been trying to crack down on the internet. Good luck! That’s sort of like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.” The crowd of foreign policy experts erupted in knowing laughter.

China proved them wrong. It didn’t just find a way to nail Jell-O; it became a Jell-O master carpenter. Through online surveillance, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and the propagandistic gold mine of social media, China has mobilized a set of tools that allow it to invisibly, routinely repress its citizens and shape political opinion by manipulating their feelings and grievances on just about any controversy.

«

We were so busy preventing the surveillance of ‘1984’ happening in the west that we didn’t think it would happen in the east. Blistering piece from Manjoo. (Thanks John Naughton for the link.)
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China’s global reach: surveillance and censorship beyond the Great Firewall • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Danny O’Brien:

»

The Great Cannon is a large-scale technology deployed by ISPs based in China to inject javascript code into customers’ insecure (HTTP) requests. This code weaponizes the millions of mainland Chinese Internet connections that pass through these ISPs. When users visit insecure websites, their browsers will also download and run the government’s malicious javascript—which will cause them to send additional traffic to sites outside the Great Firewall, potentially slowing these websites down for other users, or overloading them entirely.

The Great Cannon’s debut in 2015 took down Github, where Chinese users were hosting anti-censorship software and mirrors of otherwise-banned news outlets like the New York Times. Following widespread international backlash, this attack was halted.

Last month, the Great Cannon was activated once again, aiming this time at Hong Kong protestors. It briefly took down LIHKG, a Hong Kong social media platform central to organizing this summer’s protests.

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Turkish ISP blocks social media sites near Syrian border • WIRED

Paris Martineau:

»

Turkey restricted access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp in at least three cities in the southern part of the country for about 48 hours earlier this week as it launched an attack on northern Syria, according to data collected by civil society group NetBlocks and reviewed by WIRED. Turkey moved against Kurdish forces in northern Syria Wednesday, launching an air and ground assault on a militia allied with the US days after President Donald Trump pulled US troops out of the area.

Turks close to the border rely on those social media services to access and share uncensored news.

NetBlocks tests suggest that beginning Wednesday at around 1 am UTC (9 pm Tuesday ET), users in the cities of Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, and Hatay were blocked from accessing some popular social media platforms and message services while connected to Turkey’s leading internet service provider, Türk Telekom. Access appeared to be restored early Friday morning UTC, the data suggests. Türk Telekom is partially owned by Turkey’s government.

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Mastercard, Visa, eBay drop out of Facebook’s Libra payments network • WSJ

AnnaMaria Andriotis and Peter Rudegeair:

»

The biggest financial companies that Facebook recruited to launch a world-wide cryptocurrency-based payments network have backed out of the project, threatening to derail an ambitious initiative to remake global finance before it ever gets off the ground.

Visa, Mastercard, Stripe and eBay said Friday they were withdrawing from the coalition of companies that had originally signed on to help launch the libra cryptocurrency, following PayPal, which dropped out of the Libra Association last week.

The moves came after lawmakers, central bankers and regulators expressed deep concerns about the libra project.

The loss of four of the largest payments companies in the world leaves Facebook without much of the muscle it assembled for libra, a digital currency it hoped would make it a player in e-commerce and global money transfers. The project now mostly hinges on smaller payments companies, telecommunications providers, venture-capital firms, e-commerce merchants and nonprofits.

“I would caution against reading the fate of Libra into this update,” David Marcus, the Facebook executive overseeing the project, wrote Friday on Twitter. “Of course, it’s not great news in the short term, but in a way it’s liberating…”

«

The reason they pulled out is because today (Monday) is when they’d have to formally sign up and hand over $10m to be a member of Libra, and they’ve all been leant on heavily by regulators and politicians who don’t like the idea.

I still wouldn’t write Libra (or libra) off. I suspect Facebook really wants this to happen. If it can get it close to getting off the ground, or figure a way through the regulatory thicket, then they’ll be back on board in a flash.
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A code glitch may have caused errors in more than 100 published scientific studies • VICE

Maddie Bender:

»

Yuheng Luo, a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, discovered the glitch this summer when he was verifying the results of research conducted by chemistry professor Philip Williams on cyanobacteria. The aim of the project was to “try to find compounds that are effective against cancer,” Williams said.

Under supervision of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa assistant chemistry professor Rui Sun, Luo used a script written in Python that was published as part of a 2014 paper by Patrick Willoughby, Matthew Jansma, and Thomas Hoye in the journal Nature Protocols. The code computes chemical shift values for NMR, or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a common technique used by chemists to determine the molecular make-up of a sample.

Luo’s results did not match up with the NMR values that Williams’ group had previously calculated, and according to Sun, when his students ran the code on their computers, they realized that different operating systems were producing different results. Sun then adjusted the code to fix the glitch, which had to do with how different operating systems sort files.

Willoughby, the first author of the 2014 study who wrote the script, called the new study “a beautiful example of science working to advance the work we reported in 2014.”

«

Here’s the paper on discovering the glitch. Windows 10 and MacOS Mavericks (10.13) give the same result; Ubuntu 16 and MacOS Mojave (10.14) give results that don’t agree with the other two, or each other. The reason: the way they sort files. The script expects pairs of data files to process. If the file pairing goes wrong, the outputs are wrong.
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More methane in atmosphere linked to more fracking • National Geographic

Stephen Leahy:

»

Scientists have measured big increases in the amount of methane, the powerful global warming gas, entering the atmosphere over the last decade. Cows or wetlands have been fingered as possible sources, but new research points to methane emissions from fossil fuel production—mainly from shale gas operations in the United States and Canada—as the culprit.

The “massive” increase in methane emissions occurred at the same time as the use of fracking for shale gas took off in the US, says Robert Howarth, an ecologist at Cornell University and author of the study published Aug 14 in the journal Biogeosciences.

“We know the increase is largely due to fossil fuel production and this research suggests over half is from shale gas operations,” Howarth says in an interview.

This big methane increase matters because methane heats up the climate over 80 times more than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. After 20 years most of the methane becomes CO2, which can last for hundreds of years.

«

This is from August, but still relevant. And will be for hundreds of years.
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Tech giants shift profits to avoid taxes. There’s a plan to stop them • The New York Times

Jim Tankersley:

»

[Last] Wednesday’s release brought an 18-page framework plan [from the OECD] that officials hope will form the basis of an international agreement on digital taxation as early as next year. That framework would fundamentally alter how and where companies that operated across national borders were taxed, though it leaves the details of those tax rates to future negotiators. It suggests new rules on where companies should pay taxes — largely based on where their sales occur — and on which profits are subject to taxation.

“In a digital age, the allocation of taxing rights can no longer be exclusively circumscribed by reference to physical presence,” the framework states. “The current rules dating back to the 1920s are no longer sufficient to ensure a fair allocation of taxing rights in an increasingly globalized world.”

The framework applies only to multinationals with annual revenues of about $825 million or higher. It excludes manufacturing suppliers and resource extraction companies, like oil companies.

As it stands, the framework appears to be a victory for large, consumption-heavy countries like the United States, China and much of Western Europe, and a loss for so-called tax havens, like Ireland. Advancing the negotiating process is a win for large multinationals, even though a final deal could put them on the hook to pay more in taxes, because the alternative appears to be a series of country-by-country digital taxes that could be expensive to comply with.

“Amazon welcomes the publication of these proposals by the OECD, which are an important step forward,” a spokeswoman said Wednesday in an email.

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Underscores, optimization & arms races • Humane Tech on Medium

Anil Dash on the early days of the web (well, around 2004):

»

people wanted to have the whole title of their article show up in the web address. Part of this was just because it looked cool, but some folks had started to suspect that having those words in the address might help a blog post rank higher on Google. (Google was still a smaller player in the overall web search market at the time, but it was already by far the most popular search engine amongst internet geeks.)

But here’s the thing: web addresses can’t have spaces in them. To include a full title with spaces in a web address for a blog, the spaces would either have to be removed (ugly!) or converted into something equivalent. Since we were one of the first to encounter this issue, our team designed to have our content management system use underscores, based on the rationale that underscores were the character that most closely resembled a blank space.

The end result? Anybody who used our tools could write a a blog post entitled “My Great Cookie Recipe” and it would live at an address that looked like example.com/2005/04/my_great_cookie_recipe.html. By contrast, the WordPress team thought that hyphens looked better, so blog posts published on their tool would look more like example.com/2005/04/my-great-cookie-recipe. Sure, these different tools made slightly different choices about which character to use, but such a subtle distinction couldn’t be meaningful, right?

As it would turn out, we’d stumbled across a harbinger of how the entire web was about to change.

«

This was a harbinger of the whole gigantic industry of SEO – but also whether Google would follow the web, or vice-versa.
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Nomad’s new Base Station Pro offers a taste of what Apple’s AirPower had promised • Techcrunch

Darrell Etherington:

»

This is pretty similar to what Apple’s AirPower promised, before its unfortunate demise. The hardware similarly makes use of a matrix of multiple charging coils, which interlink to offer charging capabilities across the surface of the Base Station Pro. Perhaps intentionally, Aira’s website URL is ‘airapower.com,’ one letter off from Apple’s shelved first-party accessory.

Nomad’s charger inherits the same aesthetics of the company’s existing chargers, which means you get a black soft leather surface for putting your devices on top of, and the surrounding frame is made of slate gray aluminum. The charger should look and feel very premium, if Nomad’s other Base Stations are any indication.

The Base Station Pro supports charging speeds of up to 5W each, which is not the max supported by the iPhone or other devices – but according to Aira co-founder Jake Slatnick, that’s not actually much of a limitation at all.

“An interesting detail that we’ve learned through benchmarking is that our 5W output charge time is comparable to other 10W advertised chargers,” Slatnick explained via email. “It turns out, as soon as the phone starts to heat up, the charge speed slows down significantly, usually below 5W. The 7.5W chargers seem to only last at those speeds for a few minutes. We think the performance right now is on par with everything else and that it shouldn’t be noticeable to most users.”

«

(Thanks Adewale Adetugbo for the link.)
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Attacker pinpointed victim’s home from eye image • NHK WORLD-JAPAN News

»

A man who attacked a woman working as a so-called idol reportedly located her home by using an image reflected in her eyes in a photo on social media.

Twenty-six-year-old Hibiki Sato was indicted on Tuesday for attacking the woman in her 20s.

Sato allegedly covered the woman’s mouth from behind with a towel as she returned to her condominium in Tokyo on the night of September 1. He pulled her down, groped her, and injured her.

Sato said he was a big fan of the woman. He reportedly told investigators he got a clue to her address from the photo showing a train station reflected in her eyes.

Sato used Google’s Street View service to find the station, waited for her there and followed her.

Sato also found out where the woman lived by using videos she’d posted on social media that showed how her curtains were positioned and how lights shone through her windows.

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What the whatting what.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,164: Apple and Google draw fire over Hong Kong, Facebook finds gambling kids, movie poster cliches, Dyson dumps electric car, and more


Your computer vision system maybe didn’t expect this. CC-licensed photo by Evan on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. That wasn’t so hard, was it? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Apple, Google pull Hong Kong protest apps after China uproar • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Jeff Horwitz and Yoko Kubota:

»

Apple and Google both removed apps associated with Hong Kong’s antigovernment protests from their digital stores in recent days, thrusting the two Silicon Valley giants into the controversy engulfing US companies related to the unrest.

Apple removed from its App Store a crowdsourced map service that allows Hong Kong protesters to track police activity, one day after the Chinese Communist Party-run People’s Daily newspaper lashed out at the iPhone maker, calling the app “toxic software.”

Apple said it pulled the app, called HKmap.live, because of concerns it endangered law enforcement and residents.

Separately, Alphabet’s Google unit removed from its Google Play store a mobile game that allowed players to role-play as a Hong Kong protester. According to the developer, Google said the app, called “The Revolution of Our Times,” violated rules related to “sensitive events.”

Google pulled the app after a request from the Hong Kong police, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A Google spokesman said that the company has a policy that prohibits developers from “capitalizing on sensitive events such as attempting to make money from serious ongoing conflicts or tragedies through a game”, and that it found the app to be in violation of this policy.

«

Maciej Cieglowski, who is in Hong Kong, calls bullshit on Tim Cook’s claims (in a verified internal email) that the HKLive app has been used maliciously to target police officers for violence. The site is still available as far as we know as a web app (which certainly proves that there are situations where the web thoroughly trumps apps).

Google’s position – only the WSJ seems to have reported it – seems defensible, at least given that you can call what’s going on there “serious ongoing conflict”.
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Dyson has scrapped its electric car project • BBC News

»

Dyson, the UK-based company best known for its vacuum cleaners, has scrapped a project to build electric cars.

The firm, headed by inventor Sir James Dyson, said its engineers had developed a “fantastic electric car” but that it would not hit the roads because it was not “commercially viable”.

In an email sent to all employees, Sir James said the company had unsuccessfully tried to find a buyer for the project. The division employs 500 UK workers.

Dyson had planned to invest more than £2bn in developing a “radical and different” electric vehicle, a project it launched in 2016. It said the car would not be aimed at the mass market. Half of the funds would go towards building the car, half towards developing electric batteries.

In October 2018 Dyson revealed plans to build the car at a new plant in Singapore. It was expected to be completed next year with the first vehicles due to roll off the production line in 2021.

The company also planned to invest £200m in the UK in research and development and test track facilities. Much of that money has already been spent and Dyson said it would use the site for other projects.

«

Not commercially viable. Too early? Or too much of a cash guzzler?
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The dumb reason your fancy computer vision app isn’t working: Exif Orientation • Medium

Adam Geitgey:

»

Exif metadata is not a native part of the Jpeg file format. It was an afterthought taken from the TIFF file format and tacked onto the Jpeg file format much later. This maintained backwards compatibility with old image viewers, but it meant that some programs never bothered to parse Exif data.

Most Python libraries for working with image data like numpy, scipy, TensorFlow, Keras, etc, think of themselves as scientific tools for serious people who work with generic arrays of data. They don’t concern themselves with consumer-level problems like automatic image rotation — even though basically every image in the world captured with a modern camera needs it.

This means that when you load an image with almost any Python library, you get the original, unrotated image data. And guess what happens when you try to feed a sideways or upside-down image into a face detection or object detection model? The detector fails because you gave it bad data.

You might think this problem is limited to Python scripts written by beginners and students, but that’s not the case! Even Google’s flagship Vision API demo doesn’t handle Exif orientation correctly.

«

Turns out there is code that can do it. But you have to know that you need it.
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Newsrooms, let’s talk about G Suite • Freedom Of The Press Foundation

Martin Shelton:

»

If you work in a newsroom, there’s a good chance you work with colleagues on Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and more. G Suite software is simple and powerful. In fact, here at Freedom of the Press Foundation, we use it too. But we also lack viable alternatives with the flexibility needed in modern newsrooms, and anyone working in a newsroom has probably asked themselves: What can Google see? What about our most sensitive conversations and documents? What about documents that concern our own unreleased reporting, or information on our sources?

(Full disclosure: I previously worked at Google, and for a long time, even I didn’t know.)

Documents within your G Suite domain are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning that Google has everything they need to read your data. This insight into user data means that U.S. agencies have the ability to compel Google to hand over relevant user data to aid in investigations. G Suite also offers organizations powerful tools to monitor and retain information about their employees’ activities.

In our ideal world, Google would provide end-to-end encrypted G Suite services, allowing media and civil society organizations to collaborate on their work in a secure and private environment whenever possible. Until we have a way to do that, journalists should understand the risks alongside the benefits of using G Suite, and how to be mindful when using it.

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Encrypting documents like this would be slightly tricky, and would lead to a ton of stories about terrorists.
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Americans and digital knowledge • Pew Research Center

Emily Vogels and Monica Anderson:

»

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues varies greatly depending on the topic, term or concept. While a majority of US adults can correctly answer questions about phishing scams or website cookies, other items are more challenging. For example, just 28% of adults can identify an example of two-factor authentication – one of the most important ways experts say people can protect their personal information on sensitive accounts. Additionally, about one-quarter of Americans (24%) know that private browsing only hides browser history from other users of that computer, while roughly half (49%) say they are unsure what private browsing does.

This survey consisted of 10 questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge of a range of digital topics, such as cybersecurity or the business side of social media companies. The median number of correct answers was four. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2% got all 10 questions correct.

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The 18 movie poster cliches – and what they tell you about the film • The Poke

»

This is brilliantly done by LamerisiremaL who has identified a whole bunch of movie poster cliches and exactly what they tell us about the film we’re about to watch.

«

It truly is. “Back to back” (think: Mr + Mrs Smith), all yellow, disembodied eye, loner seen from behind… you’ll recognise these. (Thanks Geraint Preston for the link.)
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Kicking off transformation in Madagascar • Public Digital

Emily Middleton:

»

the challenges Madagascar faces are stark: in a country of 25.5 million people, around 19 million live on less than $1.90 a day. Around one third of adults are illiterate, and educational outcomes are low. Infrastructure is an enormous challenge: only 13% have access to electricity, for example.

Yet Madagascar also has enormous potential. There is a large pool of software developer talent, evidenced by a burgeoning tech industry of more than 230 firms employing around 15,000 people. Broadband speeds in Madagascar are the fastest in Africa, and ahead of many other countries – including the UK and France. There are 9.7 million mobile subscriptions, and the number of internet users grew by 37% between 2018 and 2019. Madagascar’s youthful population – more than 40% are aged 14 or under – also leads many to speculate that these trends are likely to continue.

As outlined in the President’s programme, transformation of public services is a major priority for the government.

Digital technology will not address Madagascar’s challenges alone. But we think there’s an opportunity to use agile, user-centred approaches to improve the way existing public services are delivered – even where those services are mostly or wholly offline for the moment. Simplifying processes and improving design brings its own benefits, as well as preparing for future digitisation.

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Amazing stats on Madagascar. (Public Digital is a “digital transformation consultancy”.)
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It’s easy to despair and do nothing after the Halle synagogue shooting. But we shouldn’t • Fast Forward

Becca Lewis:

»

When features get exploited by bad actors, tech platforms eschew responsibility and claim it is beyond their control. Or they assure the public they are doing everything in their power to stop the spread of harm. (Twitch, in the aftermath of Halle, said they were “ shocked and saddened” by the gunman’s actions, and that “Twitch has a zero-tolerance policy against hateful conduct, and any act of violence is taken extremely seriously. We are working with urgency to remove this content and permanently suspend any accounts found to be posting or reposting content of this abhorrent act.”)

Perhaps there is some truth to this, but it seems a weak defense; it simply reinforces the fact that companies are proactive and fast when it comes to releasing new revenue streams, but reactive and slow when minimizing harms. The platforms build Pandora’s boxes with little concern to what’s inside, and then they sell them to the public and tell us to open them.

In any case, we can’t go back in time and ask Facebook or any other companies to make different, more ethical choices. If live streaming is around to stay, we have to move forward in the world as it currently exists. Despite all this — my momentary losses of words and my pessimism about big technology firms and the features they build — I know the most important thing in these moments is resisting apathy and despair. One of the goals of the live streamed shootings is to normalize this kind of violence and weaken responses against it. Apathy and despair is exactly what the shooters want.

«

So she’s saying we can do nothing… but not to despair. Yet of course we can stop people livestreaming. You just make it harder, or only allow verified people to do it. It’s how TV stations have worked. It’s hardly rocket science.
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Children ‘interested in’ gambling and alcohol, according to Facebook • The Guardian

Alex Hern and Frederik Hugo Ledegaard:

»

Facebook has marked hundreds of thousands of children as “interested in” adverts about gambling and alcohol, a joint investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation has found.

The social network’s advertising tools reveal 740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged as being interested in gambling, including 130,000 in the UK. Some 940,000 minors – 150,000 of whom are British – are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages.

These “interests” are automatically generated by Facebook, based on what it has learned about a user by monitoring their activity on the social network. Advertisers can then use them to specifically target messages to subgroups who have been flagged as interested in the topic.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We don’t allow ads that promote the sale of alcohol or gambling to minors on Facebook and we enforce against this activity when we find it. We also work closely with regulators to provide guidance for marketers to help them reach their audiences effectively and responsibly.”

The company does allow advertisers to specifically target messages to children based on their interest in alcohol or gambling. A Facebook insider gave the example of an anti-gambling service that may want to reach out to children who potentially have a gambling problem and offer them help and support.

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*golf clap* Well played, Facebook insider. Well played indeed.
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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review: ‘good’ is as good as it gets • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

the software works by presenting you with a lot of screens you can quickly scroll through. In one direction, you have notifications. In the other, there are a bunch of widgets with discrete pieces of information. I enjoy jamming through these screens more with a physical bezel, but the touch-sensitive one isn’t terrible and much better than not having this kind of control at all.

One of the reasons this interface works is that it’s fast. Especially if you go with a simple watchface that doesn’t have a bunch of information in complications, it’s convenient to just rotate through your weather, calendar, and fitness. (It’s such a good idea that Google lifted it wholesale for Wear OS.) That would never work if the watch were slow. You will have some delays when launching full apps, but the widget system means you don’t have to that often.

I also like that it has Spotify on it, and it’s relatively easy to download Spotify playlists directly to the watch. But the quality of third-party apps drops off steeply from there. There’s no built-in mapping or directions app, and the app store doesn’t have anything good to fill the gap. The third-party app situation isn’t very good at all, but then again, it’s not great on any platform…

…it has an always-on screen option, as all watches should. The screen looks great to me, even when viewing it outdoors in bright sunlight. I left it on and regularly got two full days of battery life, sometimes a little more if I didn’t exercise.

Speaking of exercise, you should think of this as a smartwatch first and a fitness tracker second. Samsung does have a lot of tracking options and Samsung Health is actually better than you might expect, but overall accuracy in terms of steps and distance has been problematic.

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No inbuilt mapping/directions app? Poor fitness tracking? You might as well just buy a watch.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,163: China v Hong Kong v the tech world, watch Tokyo’s trains, Apple delays iCloud file sharing, and more


We took the “save” icon and made a real thing out of them! 5.25in and 3.5in floppy disks. CC-licensed photo by Luc Betbeder 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. Not valid in Delaware. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Melbourne cyber conference organisers pressured speaker to edit ‘biased’ talk • The Guardian

Josh Taylor:

»

Organisers at the Australian Cyber Conference in Melbourne asked a speaker to edit his speech on Australia’s anti-encryption legislation, after they had dropped two other speakers, who were delivering talks related to whistleblowing, from the line-up at the last minute.

Guardian Australia has learned that Ted Ringrose, partner with legal advice firm Ringrose Siganto was told to edit his speech, and conference organisers had sent him an edited version of his slide pack on his talk stating that the original version was “biased”.

He said they took issue with a comparison between Australia’s encryption laws and China’s, despite the fact that his talk points out that while Australia’s look worse on the surface, in reality it is “just about as bad”.

Ringrose said he pushed back at the attempted censorship and the conference organisers agreed to let him present his talk as planned.

This is in contrast to the decisions made regarding speeches by US whistleblower Thomas Drake and University of Melbourne researcher Dr Suelette Dreyfus.

On Tuesday it was reported former national security agency executive turned whistleblower Drake, along with Dreyfus, were kicked off the conference agenda in what Drake described as an “Orwellian” move by the conference partner, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC).

«

So strap in as we do another edition of “western countries/companies or China: which is behaving worse?”
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Social media use could change for Americans after China’s NBA shutdown • CNBC

David Reid:

»

Beijing’s power over international companies was also highlighted back in August when Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg stepped down after one of the airline’s pilots was found to have taken part in the protests.

With this latest swipe back at corporate business, China has underlined how sensitive it is to criticism and reinforced the strict rules it wants to be followed by overseas firms wanting to earn money in the country.

Speaking to CNBC’S Street Signs Tuesday, James Pethokoukis, an economic policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said U.S. firms in China would face increasingly difficult choices.

“Perhaps in how employees use social media but more importantly about how to do business in China,” he said, before adding that a cultural boycott by overseas entertainment, similar to what was seen in South Africa in the 1980s, was also a possible outcome.

“I can easily see how there will be increasing pressure on the NBA or Hollywood to limit or change how it does business in China,” said Pethokoukis.

“Perhaps no more red carpet or premieres in Shanghai as long as there are crackdowns in Hong Kong and internment of Uighurs in western China,” he added.

«

So who loses out, exactly? This is shaping up to be a defining cultural clash of the next decade. If China has the money to buy everything, and if it is the largest market for lots of western things, do companies which aren’t headquartered in China have to obey its rules? Why? Do you get a sort of cultural race to the bottom of obsequiousness (apologies for the image) because you can have more money?
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Thread by @Grummz: “This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS I am giving up playing Classic WoW…” • Twitter

Mark Kern is a “game designer, CEO, writer”:

»

This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS I am giving up playing Classic WoW, which I helped make and helped convince Blizzard to relaunch. There will be no Mark of Kern guild after all.

Let me explain why I am #BoycottBlizzard. I am ethnically Chinese. I was born in Taiwan and I lived in Hong Kong for a time. I have done buisiness with China for many years, with serveral gaming companies there.

«

As you’ll recall from yesterday, Blizzard banned a pro gamer for supporting the Hong Kong protesters. This is a link to his whole thread, which is detailed and powerful.
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‘Protecting rioters’: China warns Apple over app that tracks Hong Kong police • The Guardian

Verna Yu:

»

The app HKmap.live, which crowdsources the location of police and anti-government protesters, was approved by Apple on 4 October and went on its App Store a day later, after the company reversed an earlier decision to reject the submission, according to an anonymous developer cited in the South China Morning Post. The app displays hotspots on a map of the city that is continuously updated as users report incidents, hence allowing protesters to avoid police.

The headline of the People’s Daily commentary carried by its official microblog on Wednesday said: “Protecting rioters – Has Apple thought clearly about this?”

It went on to say: “Allowing the ‘poisonous’ app to flourish is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings.”

The HKmap.live is reportedly the most downloaded app under the travel category in the iOS App Store for Hong Kong.

Without specifically naming the app, the People’s Daily commentary said it allowed “Hong Kong rioters to openly commit crime while openly escaping arrests”. It said Apple’s approval of the app made it an “accomplice” in the protests because it “blatantly protects and endorses the rioters”. It questioned what the company’s intentions were.

It also criticised Apple for allowing Glory to Hong Kong – an unofficial anthem frequently sung by protesters during the ongoing anti-government movement – to be available for download in the Apple music store.

«

This is even trickier than the usual political rapids Apple has to negotiate over China. Hong Kong is part of China, but it is a separate part (something like, but not exactly like, Puerto Rico’s relationship to the US), and Apple has separate app stores for Hong Kong and for China. So should complaints about Hong Kong that come from China be ignored?
unique link to this extract


The ‘radically different’ Essential Phone 2 is on its way, but why? • PCWorld

Michael Simon:

»

In a thinly veiled tease of the next Essential Phone, Rubin tweeted out a series of pics of what he calls a “new UI for a radically different formfactor (sic).” A few hours later, his company confirmed the images as showing “a new device to reframe your perspective,” claiming that “it’s now in early testing with our team outside the lab.”

And radical it is. The phone looks to have a a glossy “Colorshift” back with a single bulbous camera, a hole-punch selfie cam, uniform bezels, and an extra-tall screen that puts the Note 10+‘s 19.5:9 aspect ratio to shame. In all honesty, it looks more like a new Apple TV remote than a phone, and it raises for more question than answers.

Let’s start with the most obvious one: what operating system is it running? Rubin touted the unique UI of the new device, but the two screenshots don’t look like any version of Android I’ve ever seen. So it’s safe to say that it’s a proprietary OS designed for the screen’s a ridiculous ratio. Rubin may have the Android pedigree to stand one, but the last thing we need is a new smartphone OS in 2019.

«

If it really is a new smartphone OS, then this is the last we’ll see of Essential. Writing an OS and then updating it is a huge revenue suck which nobody thanks you for. Add to that the absurd aspect ratio of this phone, and you have 2019’s biggest non-seller. This is far, far worse than the Galaxy Fold.
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Shazam financials reveal it added 78m users in 2018 • Musically

Stuart Dredge:

»

Shazam reached 478 million annual active users in 2018, which is 78 million more than in the previous year. The company’s revenues fell by 23% to £31.4m last year, but it swung from a loss of £17.7m in 2017 to a profit of just under £124m in 2018.  That’s the benefit of being bought by a global tech giant like Apple, which completed its acquisition of Shazam in November 2018…

…The financials don’t tell us much else useful about Shazam’s business in the year of its acquisition, although as in 2017, the company’s administrative expenses alone (£39.8m) outweighed its revenues. But balancing P&L is a thing of the past for Shazam now: the director’s note suggests “a reasonable expectation that the Company and the Group have adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future.” Well, quite.

«

unique link to this extract


Report: Blockchain app transaction volume down nearly 40% • The Next Web

David Canellis:

»

The total transactional volume of blockchain apps (dapps) across the six major dapp-centric networks hit just $2.03bn last quarter, down by nearly 40%.

More troubling, just 148 dapps launched in Q3 of this year. That’s less than the monthly average of the first half of 2019 (when 164 new ones were deployed every month).

Still, over half of those transactions were related to cryptocurrency gambling, reports dapp explorer Dapp.com with its latest quarterly analysis.

«

“Cryptocurrency gambling” seems tautologous.
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Kuo: iPad Pro with rear 3D ToF camera and scissor mechanism MacBooks to launch in 1H 2020 • MacRumors

Tim Hardwick:

»

Apple will launch a new iPad Pro with a rear-facing 3D Time of Flight camera in the first quarter of 2020, according to a new report out today from Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and seen by MacRumors.

We’ve previously heard multiple rumors suggesting a time-of-flight camera system for Apple’s 2020 iPhones and iPad Pros, including info from Kuo himself, but this is the first time that he’s specified the 3D sensing camera system will be available in new iPad Pro models to be released early next year.

A time-of-flight camera system measures the time that it takes for a laser or LED to bounce off of objects in a room, providing an accurate 3D map of the surroundings. A rear time-of-flight camera would also bolster photo quality and offer new and improved AR applications.

Two of the iPhones set to be released in 2020 will also feature 3D sensing rear camera setups with time-of-flight (ToF) camera lenses, according to a previous note from Kuo in July.

The Apple analyst has also revealed his predicted schedule for Apple’s MacBook lineup refresh. We’ve already learned that Apple is planning to use a scissor mechanism rather than a butterfly mechanism for its upcoming 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is expected to be announced as soon as this month.

However, Kuo has said that after the 16-inch MacBook Pro launches, future Macs coming in 2020 will also swap over to a scissor mechanism rather than a butterfly mechanism, resulting in more durable keyboards that are not as prone to failure from heat, dust and other small particulates.

«

ToF seems an odd thing to include if you don’t have a really clear application in mind. But scissors crossed for the new (old) keyboard design.
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A real-time 3D digital map of Tokyo’s public transport system • Github

Akihiko Kusanagi:

»

The data for this visualization are sourced from Open Data Challenge for Public Transportation in Tokyo, which includes station information and train timetables as well as real-time data such as train location information and status information of multiple railway lines in the Greater Tokyo area.

«

You’ll need a fast connection, but this is amazing: a 3D live map of Tokyo and its underground lines with live tracking of the trains. Oh, and incoming aircraft at Haneda Airport. I never tire of seeing these things.
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Floppy disk history: the evolution of personal computing • HPE

Steven Vaughan-Nichols:

»

The floppy disk seems so simple now, but it changed everything. As IBM’s history of the floppy disk states, this was a big advance in user-friendliness. “But perhaps the greatest impact of the floppy wasn’t on individuals, but on the nature and structure of the IT industry. Up until the late 1970s, most software applications for tasks such as word processing and accounting were written by the personal computer owners themselves. But thanks to the floppy, companies could write programs, put them on the disks, and sell them through the mail or in stores. “It made it possible to have a software industry,” says Lee Felsenstein, a pioneer of the PC industry who designed the Osborne 1, the first mass-produced portable computer. Before networks became widely available for PCs, people used floppies to share programs and data with each other—calling it the ‘sneakernet.'”

In short, it was the floppy disk that turned microcomputers into personal computers.

The success of the Apple II made the 5.25in drive the industry standard. The vast majority of CP/M-80 PCs, from the late 70s to early 80s, used this size floppy drive. When the first IBM PC arrived in 1981, you had your choice of one or two 160 kilobyte (K—yes, just one K) floppy drives.

Throughout the early 80s, the floppy drive became the portable storage format. (Tape quickly was relegated to business backups.) At first, the floppy disk drives were built with only one read/write head, but another set of heads were quickly incorporated. This meant that when the IBM XT PC arrived in 1983, double-sided floppies could hold up to 360 K of data.

«

I have a false memory of using 12in floppies on CP/M PCs in the 1980s; in fact, they were the 8in ones. They just seemed like they were the size of vinyl records compared to the sleeker 5.25in ones – which, in turn, came to seem monstrous (and also fragile) compared to the sturdier 3.5in ones.

And that’s before you get to the price-per-floppy. You know how a few years ago you’d hoard USB storage sticks? It was that way with floppies, except writers often had to send copy on floppy in the post. You only tried that with a 5.25in one once.
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Apple delays iCloud Drive file sharing until next spring • Cult of Mac

Killian Bell:

»

Apple’s All Features webpage for macOS, which lists everything that’s new in Catalina, stated earlier this week that iCloud Drive file sharing would launch before the end of this year.

The page has been updated following the public rollout of macOS Catalina on Monday, however. File sharing will now be available in spring of next year.

Communication Limits for Screen Time, which fall under the same asterisk on that All Features page, also appear to have been delayed until early 2020.

File sharing, which allows users to collaborate on files through iCloud and see updates as they happen, is a key feature of competing cloud storage services like Dropbox.

«

Well, yeah. iCloud offers various tiers at 5GB, 50GB, 200GB and 1TB; Dropbox offers 2GB for free, or 1TB at the same price as Apple ($9.99/month). The key thing Dropbox has is that sharing. Though of course you can just focus on putting stuff you want to share into Dropbox, and keep the stuff you want to share only with yourself in iCloud.
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An AI pioneer wants his algorithms to understand the ‘why’ • WIRED

Will Knight:

»

In March, Yoshua Bengio received a share of the Turing Award, the highest accolade in computer science, for contributions to the development of deep learning—the technique that triggered a renaissance in artificial intelligence, leading to advances in self-driving cars, real-time speech translation, and facial recognition.

Now, Bengio says deep learning needs to be fixed. He believes it won’t realize its full potential, and won’t deliver a true AI revolution, until it can go beyond pattern recognition and learn more about cause and effect. In other words, he says, deep learning needs to start asking why things happen.

The 55-year-old professor at the University of Montreal, who sports bushy gray hair and eyebrows, says deep learning works well in idealized situations but won’t come close to replicating human intelligence without being able to reason about causal relationships. “It’s a big thing to integrate [causality] into AI,” Bengio says. “Current approaches to machine learning assume that the trained AI system will be applied on the same kind of data as the training data. In real life it is often not the case.”

«

Certainly a desirable aim, though most humans would struggle with the “why” of many of their actions. Or, of course, we post-rationalise – we decide at a subconscious level, and then make up reasons why.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,162: US and China row over censorship, the bubbly Galaxy Fold, Bitfinex sued for a trillion, Cormac McCarthy’s science papers, and more


Endangered species? Vodafone is closing a thousand shops around Europe. CC-licensed photo by bazzadarambler 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. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Adobe cancels all user accounts in Venezuela to comply with Trump order • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

Adobe is deactivating all user accounts in Venezuela, saying that the action is necessary to comply with an executive order issued by President Donald Trump. The action affects both free and paid accounts.

In an FAQ titled “Adobe compliance with US Executive Order,” the company explained yesterday why it is canceling its Venezuela-based customers’ subscriptions:

»

The US Government issued Executive Order 13884, the practical effect of which is to prohibit almost all transactions and services between US companies, entities, and individuals in Venezuela. To remain compliant with this order, Adobe is deactivating all accounts in Venezuela.

«

Adobe appears to be interpreting the executive order more broadly than other companies. Microsoft’s Office 365 and other cloud services are still available in Venezuela, for example. The executive order itself says the US action is targeted at the Venezuelan government and people who provide material support to the regime.

A US government notice states that the order does not affect all commerce between the US and Venezuela. “US persons are not prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the country or people of Venezuela, provided blocked persons or any conduct prohibited by any other Executive order imposing sanctions measures related to the situation in Venezuela, are not involved,” the notice says. (In this context, a “person” is an individual or an entity such as a corporation or other type of organization.)

«

Strap in, because we’re in for a bumpy ride of countries v companies in today’s edition.
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The China cultural clash • Stratechery

Ben Thompson:

»

at least as of this afternoon, there is a hint of unrest on the [TikTok] site: while searches for “Hong Kong” show city views and high school students playing along with the latest TikTok meme, searching for Hong Kong in Chinese (香港) brings up a video that shows the protestors as hooligans and vandals (this was the first result as of this afternoon, and the only video relating to the protests):

There appear to be similar efforts in the case of the NBA controversy. Searching for the “Warriors”, “Lakers”, and “Rockets” brings up the sort of content you would expect:

However, searching for the same team names in Chinese (“勇士”, “湖人”, and “火箭”, respectively) shows basketball-related results for the first two and nothing related for the third:

This should raise serious concern in the United States and other Western countries: is it at all acceptable to have a social network that has a demonstrated willingness to censor content under the control of a country that has clearly different views on what constitutes free speech?

There is an established route for undoing this state of affairs: earlier this summer China’s Kunlun Tech Company agreed to divest Grindr under pressure from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS); Kunlun Tech had acquired Grindr without undergoing CFIUS review. TikTok similarly acquired Musical.ly without oversight and relaunched it as TikTok for the Western market; it is worth at least considering the possibility of a review given TikTok’s apparent willingness to censor content for Western audiences according to Chinese government wishes.

«

The key question though is posed by Thompson slightly later:

»

“I am increasingly convinced this is the point every company dealing with China will reach: what matters more, money or values?”

«

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Blizzard subreddit closes after devs suspend Hearthstone player for pro-Hong Kong statements • Kotaku UK

Ian Walker:

»

Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai recently made waves when, during an official competition, he voiced support for Hong Kong amidst ongoing protests over Chinese rule. He’s since been suspended from competition by Hearthstone developer Blizzard and stripped of his tournament winnings, a move that has been widely criticised. During all this turmoil, the Blizzard forum on Reddit has chosen to close until further notice.

As was first reported by Eurogamer, moderators at the Blizzard subreddit set the forum to be private this afternoon. Naturally, players and fans continued to voice anger and dissatisfaction with Blizzard elsewhere. For now, the Hearthstone subreddit remains active, with much of the discussion focused on how to request refunds for various Blizzard purchases and some saying they are quitting Hearthstone altogether in protest of Wai’s punishment.

“I’ve played Hearthstone since early 2014,” one Reddit user said. “I’ve spent around £200 in the game and countless of hours. Today was my last day playing Hearthstone. You all know it by now. What Blizzard has done, or rather what they have become, is just a straight up tragedy. Vote with your wallet people, it’s the only language they understand.”

«

Didn’t have Hong Kong on the list as “crucially divisive topic of 2019”, but here we are. Bad from Blizzard, though.
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One year after ‘The Big Hack’ • Pixel Envy

Nick Heer on a year sine Bloomberg’s story suggesting that China had infiltrated the motherboards of servers for companies such as Apple and Amazon:

»

Michael Riley — who reported the story alongside Jordan Robertson — took to Twitter on October 5 to point out that the physical evidence would make it “hard to keep more [details] from emerging”.

So far, that has not happened.

On October 9, the duo published a followup story claiming that backdoor hardware was found on a Supermicro server belonging to a telecom firm. Their report relied on documents provided by Yossi Appleboum who subsequently argued in an interview with ServeTheHome that Bloomberg’s characterization was incorrect. Appleboum claimed that the problem is broader than Supermicro and the entire supply chain in China was compromised; however, no evidence was provided publicly to support his assertions.

And that was pretty much the last update we heard from Bloomberg’s reporters regarding this important information security scoop. Michael Riley published just one story between October 9, 2018 and August 31, 2019; Jordan Robertson reported nothing for Bloomberg until September 2, 2019. Given an entire year to dig around on this huge story, no other publication has been able to independently verify their claims.

«

Speaking as a journalist, I’d say Riley and Robertson got played by US intelligence acting for the Trump administration who wanted to create an atmosphere of distrust towards China as part both of a security clampdown and as leverage in the trade war. But Bloomberg doesn’t want to admit that. Or, apparently, even investigate it.
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Taiwan flag emoji disappears from latest Apple iPhone keyboard • Hong Kong Free Press

Kris Cheng:

»

The Republic of China flag emoji has disappeared from Apple iPhone’s keyboard for Hong Kong and Macau users. The change happened for users who updated their phones to the latest operating system.

Updating iPhones to iOS 13.1.1 or above caused the flag emoji to disappear from the emoji keyboard. The flag, commonly used by users to denote Taiwan, can still be displayed by typing “Taiwan” in English, and choosing the flag in prediction candidates.

The change was spotted by Hong Kong online forum users recently. The iOS 13.1.1 update rolled out at the end of September in order to fix bugs.

«

And apparently this persists in the 13.2 beta 1. There’s a point where things start to look craven. When does Apple say “no” on this?
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Vodafone to close 1,000 shops across Europe • Financial Times

Nic Fildes and Jonathan Eley:

»

Vodafone is to shut 1,000 shops as part of an overhaul of its retail estate.

The telecoms company operates 7,700 stores across Europe but wants to change its role on the high street to reflect changing consumer behaviour.

Nick Read, chief executive, said it also expected to transform roughly 40% of its stores. That could involve upgrading existing shops to larger formats or downgrading them to kiosk-like “click-and-collect” outlets where consumers can pick up pre-ordered items.

He said 15% of the company’s stores would shut within two years as a result of the overhaul.

“If you believe 40% of your transactions are going to be digital, then how does that impact why someone goes to a store? The journeys and purpose of the stores changes,” he said.

«

I’m a little surprised that so many phone shops have survived so long. We’ve hit saturation; sales are slowing. The shop in my local town (a Carphone Warehouse) is almost always empty. For the staff inside it must either be the best or the worst imaginable job.
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A RoboCop, a park and a fight: how expectations about robots are clashing with reality • CNBC

Katie Flaherty:

»

When a fight broke out recently in the parking lot of Salt Lake Park, a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles, Cogo Guebara did what seemed the most practical thing at the time: she ran over to the park’s police robot to push its emergency alert button.

“I was pushing the button but it said, ‘step out of the way,’” Guebara said. “It just kept ringing and ringing, and I kept pushing and pushing.”

She thought maybe the robot, which stands about 5 feet tall and has “POLICE” emblazoned on its egg-shaped body, wanted a visual of her face, so she crouched down for the camera. It still didn’t work.

Without a response, Rudy Espericuta, who was with Guebara and her children at the time, dialed 911. About 15 minutes later, after the fight had ended, a woman was rolled out on a stretcher and into an ambulance, her head bleeding from a cut suffered during the altercation.

Amid the scene, the robot continued to glide along its pre-programmed route, humming an intergalactic tune that could have been ripped from any low-budget sci-fi film. The almost 400-pound robot followed the park’s winding concrete from the basketball courts to the children’s splash zone, pausing every so often to tell visitors to “please keep the park clean.”

«

But the button is connected to someone. See if you can guess who, or what.
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Novelist Cormac McCarthy’s tips on how to write a great science paper • Nature

Van Savage and Pamela Yeh:

»

Van Savage, a theoretical biologist and ecologist, first met McCarthy in 2000, and they overlapped at the Sante Fe Institute (SFI) for about four years while Savage was a graduate student and then a postdoc. Savage has received invaluable editing advice from McCarthy on several science papers published over the past 20 years. While on sabbatical at the SFI during the winter of 2018, Savage had lively weekly lunches with McCarthy. They worked to condense McCarthy’s advice to its most essential points so that it could be shared with everyone. These pieces of advice were combined with thoughts from evolutionary biologist Pamela Yeh and are presented here. McCarthy’s most important tip is to keep it simple while telling a coherent, compelling story. The following are more of McCarthy’s words of wisdom, as told by Savage and Yeh.

«

I’d have to say that the authors break McCarthy’s rule about paragraphs in the above paragraph. But in general his rules are solid ones that anyone can benefit from – not just science paper writers.
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Collapse OS — Why? • CollapseOS

Since we mentioned McCarthy (author of The Road), here’s an idea from the Reddit user “z80ftw”:

»

I expect our global supply chain to collapse before we reach 2030. With this collapse, we won’t be able to produce most of our electronics because it depends on a very complex supply chain that we won’t be able to achieve again for decades (ever?).

The fast rate of progress we’ve seen since the advent of electronics happened in very specific conditions that won’t be there post-collapse, so we can’t hope to be able to bootstrap new electronic technology as fast we did without a good “starter kit” to help us do so.

Electronics yield enormous power, a power that will give significant advantages to communities that manage to continue mastering it. This will usher a new age of scavenger electronics: parts can’t be manufactured any more, but we have billions of parts lying around. Those who can manage to create new designs from those parts with low-tech tools will be very powerful.

Among these scavenged parts are microcontrollers, which are especially powerful but need complex tools (often computers) to program them. Computers, after a couple of decades, will break down beyond repair and we won’t be able to program microcontrollers any more.

To avoid this fate, we need to have a system that can be designed from scavenged parts and program microcontrollers.

«

Well, I guess that counts as optimism? Of a sort? That things will collapse but only far enough that we have to scavenge microcontrollers, rather than scavenging each other. (The Zilog Z80, by the way, is an 8-bit processor.)
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Bitfinex and Tether Ltd sued for allegedly printing $2.8bn of ‘fake’ Tether (USDT) and causing the crypto market bubble of 2017-2018 • Crypto.IQ

Zachary Mashiach:

»

A class-action lawsuit has been initiated against Bitfinex, the largest USD to crypto exchange in the world, and Tether Limited, the operators of the most popular stablecoin with a circulation in excess of $4bn, in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. The class-action lawsuit is on behalf of all people who held cryptocurrencies after Oct. 6, 2014, and the Plaintiffs expect damages to surpass $1.4trn. 

Notably, Bitfinex and Tether Limited were already under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) before this class action lawsuit was initiated. This new lawsuit actually sheds a significant amount of light on the purported illegal activities for which the government is investigating Bitfinex and Tether Limited.

«

I’ve been suspicious about Tether for a very long time, since if it was linked to money coming into the cryptocurrency market, it didn’t follow the way that interest in the cryptocurrency market flowed.
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Screen Size Map

»

An interactive map of screen sizes for responsive and adaptive design.

«

The neat thing is that as you look at each screen size, it shows you what percentage of people have that size. Though for pretty much all the sizes, it says “under 2%”.
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The Samsung Galaxy Fold is great… if you live in a bubble • WSJ

»

Samsung’s relaunched foldable phone fixes some of the first issues but now comes with a long list of warnings about handling the phone carefully. WSJ’s Joanna Stern retreats to a sealed dome in the woods to review the innovative device.

«

Another video review, which has Stern’s signature blend of laconic, sardonic, and yes-but-in-the-real-world observation. Unparalleled. She brings out all the Fold’s good points – and then points out the bad ones. Perfectly done.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,161: New Yorker machine writing, predicting the hits, Apple ups iPhone production?, deepfake detail, and more


Waze might not be able to predict crashes ahead of time, but it’s good for saying they’ve happened. CC-licensed photo by 7-how-7 on Flickr.

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

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

Can a machine learn to write for the New Yorker? • The New Yorker

John Seabrook:

»

For several days, I had been trying to ignore the suggestions made by Smart Compose, a feature that Google introduced, in May, 2018, to the one and a half billion people who use Gmail—roughly a fifth of the human population. Smart Compose suggests endings to your sentences as you type them. Based on the words you’ve written, and on the words that millions of Gmail users followed those words with, “predictive text” guesses where your thoughts are likely to go and, to save you time, wraps up the sentence for you, appending the A.I.’s suggestion, in gray letters, to the words you’ve just produced. Hit Tab, and you’ve saved yourself as many as twenty keystrokes—and, in my case, composed a sentence with an A.I. for the first time.

Paul Lambert, who oversees Smart Compose for Google, told me that the idea for the product came in part from the writing of code—the language that software engineers use to program computers. Code contains long strings of identical sequences, so engineers rely on shortcuts, which they call “code completers.” Google thought that a similar technology could reduce the time spent writing e-mails for business users of its G Suite software, although it made the product available to the general public, too. A quarter of the average office worker’s day is now taken up with e-mail, according to a study by McKinsey. Smart Compose saves users altogether two billion keystrokes a week.

«

Long, but entertaining – and includes segments where the AI suggests the content. It’s pretty good. Worryingly good.
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Cheap Android smartphones have a disturbing secret • Fast Company

Michael Grothaus:

»

Seventeen dollars for a smartphone sounds like a great deal, especially for people living in poverty who can barely afford rent.

But there’s a problem: low-cost smartphones are privacy nightmares.

According to an analysis by the advocacy group Privacy International, a $17 Android smartphone called MYA2 MyPhone, which was launched in December 2017, has a host of privacy problems that make its owner vulnerable to hackers and to data-hungry tech companies.

First, it comes with an outdated version of Android with known security vulnerabilities that can’t be updated or patched. The MYA2 also has apps that can’t be updated or deleted, and those apps contain multiple security and privacy flaws. One of those pre-installed apps that can’t be removed, Facebook Lite, gets default permission to track everywhere you go, upload all your contacts, and read your phone’s calendar. The fact that Facebook Lite can’t be removed is especially worrying because the app suffered a major privacy snafu earlier this year when hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users had their passwords exposed. (Facebook did not respond to request for comment.)

Philippines-based MyPhone said the specs of the MYA2 limited it to shipping the phone with Android 6.0, and since then it says it has “lost access and support to update the apps we have pre-installed” with the device. Given that the MYA2 phone, like many low-cost Android smartphones, runs outdated versions of the Android OS and can’t be updated due to their hardware limitations, users of such phones are limited to relatively light privacy protections compared to what modern OSes, like Android 10, offer today.

The MYA2 is just one example of how cheap smartphones leak personal information, provide few if any privacy protections, and are incredibly easy to hack compared to their more expensive counterparts.

«

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Waze data can help predict car crashes and cut response time • WIRED

Aarian Marshall:

»

In May, a team of medical researchers with UCLA and UC Irvine published a paper in the journal Jama Surgery suggesting that places in California might be able to use data from the crowdsourced traffic app Waze to cut emergency response times. (Waze has a four-year-old program that gives cities traffic data in exchange for real-time information about problems its users might want to avoid, like sudden road closures.) By comparing the data from the Google-owned service with crash data from the California Highway Patrol, the researchers concluded that Waze users notify the app of crashes an average of 2 minutes and 41 seconds before anyone alerts law enforcement.

That almost three minutes of lead time might not always be the difference between life and death, says Sean Young, a professor of medicine at UCLA and UCI who serves as executive director of the University of California Institute for Prediction Technology. But “if these methods can cut the response time down by between 20% to 60%, then it’s going to have the positive clinical impact,” he says. “It’s generally agreed upon that the faster you get into the emergency room, the better the clinical outcomes will be.”

Last year, the Transportation Department’s Volpe Center wrapped up its own analysis of six months of Waze and accident report data from Maryland, and found something similar: Its researchers could build a computer model from the crowdsourced info that closely followed the crashes reported to the police. In fact, the crowdsourced data had some advantages over the official crash tallies, because it caught crashes that weren’t major enough to be reported, but were major enough to cause serious traffic slowdowns. The government researchers wrote that the model could “offer an early indicator of crash risk,” identifying where crashes might happen before they do.

Now the DOT is funding additional research, this time with cities that might actually use the data.

«

It’s not quite predict car crashes; more “identify where they’re likely to happen”.
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Using Spotify data to predict what songs will be hits • Tech Xplore

Ingrid Fadelli:

»

According to the researchers [who published a preprint on ArXiv of a system which used four different machine learning models to look at patterns of hits and non-hits, and draw conclusions], if record labels were to use any of these models to predict what songs will be more successful, they would probably choose a model with a high precision rate than one with a high accuracy rate. This is because a model that attains high precision assumes less risk, as it is less likely to predict that a non-successful song will become a hit.

“Record labels have limited resources,” Middlebrook said. “If they pour these resources into a song that the model predicts will be a hit and that song never becomes one, then the label may lose lots of money. So if a record label wants to take a little more risk with the possibility of releasing more hit records, they might choose to use our random forest model. On the other hand, if a record label wants to take on less risk while still releasing some hits, they should use our SVM model.”

Middlebrook and Sheik found that predicting a billboard hit based on features of a song’s audio is, in fact, possible. In their future research, the researchers plan to investigate other factors that might contribute to song success, such as social media presence, artist experience, and label influence.

“We can imagine a world where record labels who are constantly seeking new talent are inundated with mix-tapes and demos from the “next hot artists,”” Sheik said. “People only have so much time to listen to music with human ears, so “artificial ears,” such as our algorithms, can enable record labels to train a model for the type of sound they seek and greatly reduce the number of songs they themselves have to consider.”

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Is the problem at record labels really that they don’t have enough time to listen to the music?
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Inside Google Stadia • WIRED UK

Stephen Armstrong:

»

For all Stadia’s promises, there remains one big question: can it succeed? And what will it mean for the gaming industry if it does?

“This is definitely the kind of power move that only a large tech company could make,” says David Farrell, lecturer in computer games at Glasgow Caledonian University. We meet in a pub in Edinburgh, south of Scotland’s gaming hub Dundee, where the companies behind Lemmings, Grand Theft Auto, Crackdown and Minecraft were all originally based. In 2018, Edinburgh-based Cloudgine, which developed real-time cloud gaming technology, was bought by Fortnite creators Epic Games to help move its Unreal game engine into the cloud.

“Cloud gaming is the future – although when it comes to the next generation of consoles, Google’s offering isn’t the most exciting thing around, and it’s not clear how long it’ll take to get there,” he says. “In the long term, Google isn’t really trying to be Xbox; they’re trying to be the platform on which everyone else builds their cloud gaming. EA is using Google as its streaming provider rather than developing its own streaming tech – so essentially, they’re offering their ‘Netflix of gaming’ on the back of Google technology. Unless Google comes up with some killer app games, it’s just building the pipes for cloud gaming to run through.”

George Jijiashvili, senior analyst at tech research giant Ovum, has reservations about the technology, especially when it comes to latency and lag. “Most of what Google is promising is possible and deliverable, but there are three or four pain points that will take a few years to be ironed out,” he says. “The biggest one is networks – they can open up new data centres closer to hubs, but most of the networks users are receiving are low quality, and were put in place to transfer voice or small packets of data.”

Majid Bakar insists Google has developed a solution to this. “Our platform and infrastructure allows for techniques that create additional time buffers,” he says. “We can generate frames in less time than it takes consoles or PCs, and with our machine learning experience we have built models to help with the prediction and generation of content faster. This counteracts the impact of network distribution time.”

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As Farrell says: it’s really about the games. You can have as many data centres as you like, but without the games it’s nothing.
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Most deepfakes are used for creating non-consensual porn, not fake news • VICE

Joseph Cox:

»

While media, politicians, and technologists panic over the risk of deepfakes impacting elections, a new study has found that the vast, vast majority of deepfakes are pornographic in nature. On top of that, to the surprise of absolutely no one, all of the pornographic deepfakes analyzed in the study exclusively targeted women.

The news acts as a reminder that although in the future political actors may adopt deepfakes for the purposes of disinformation, at the moment their use is squarely in their original, designed purpose: to target and harass women.

“[A] key trend we identified is the prominence of non-consensual deepfake pornography, which accounted for 96% of the total deepfake videos online,” the study, titled The State of Deepfakes and authored by cybersecurity company Deeptrace , reads.

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This misses the point, though. The problem isn’t how many. It only takes one deepfake video going viral and being believed by a significant number of people to make a difference. It only takes a couple being shared in closed Facebook groups to make a small difference. This is a danger at the margins, not in the main field.
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Donald Trump tax return history: a history of presidents providing tax returns • Esquire

Kevin Kruse:

»

On November 17, 1973, the president [Richard Nixon] sought to reestablish his credibility in the fantasy-friendly confines of Disney World. In a televised Q&A session with 400 newspaper editors, he hoped to convince the nation of his honesty and integrity. He only made things worse.

Nixon grew increasingly angry and agitated at the podium when the Orlando press conference turned to questions about his finances. Reporters had been hounding him for weeks, asking how he could afford two separate private homes on his relatively meager presidential salary and whether he’d benefitted personally from administration dealings. There had even been rumors that the President of the United States was being bankrolled in some way by the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

Grabbing the podium with both hands and bobbing nervously on his feet, Nixon tried to dispel the rumors and shore up his credibility:

»

Let me just say this, and I want to say this to the television audience: I made my mistakes, but in all of my years of public life, I have never profited, never profited from public service—I have earned every cent. And in all of my years of public life, I have never obstructed justice. And I think, too, that I could say that in my years of public life, that I welcome this kind of examination, because people have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I am not a crook. I have earned everything I have got.

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Well, it turned out his tax returns hadn’t been totally on the up-and-up. And then there was the little matter of impeachment. Trump’s been told to hand over his tax returns. I’m looking forward to November 17.
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Facebook to pay $40m in proposed settlement in video metrics suit • Hollywood Reporter

Eriq Gardner:

»

On Friday, several advertising agencies revealed the details of a proposed settlement with Facebook that would end a class action alleging the social media giant overstated the average time its users spent watching video.

According to a brief in support of the settlement, Facebook would pay $40 million to resolve claims. Much of that would go to those who purchased ad time in videos, though $12 million — or 30% of the settlement fund — is earmarked for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The suit accused Facebook of acknowledging miscalculations in metrics upon press reports, but still not taking responsibility for the breadth of the problem. “The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60%-80%; they were inflated by some 150 to 900%,” stated an amended complaint.

Faced with claims of violating unfair competition law, breaching contract and committing fraud, Facebook contested advertisers’ injuries, questioning whether they really relied on these metrics in deciding to purchase ad time. In early rounds in the litigation, Facebook was successful in getting the judge to pare the claims, though until a settlement was announced, several of the claims including fraud were still live. Even after agreeing to pay $40m for settlement, Facebook maintains the suit is “without merit.”

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“900%” inflation is tenfold. Is Facebook really suggesting that advertisers wouldn’t look at something claiming they’ll watch for 100 seconds when it’s really 10 seconds, and not be persuaded? Or 10 seconds vs 1 second? You only have to ask to know how crazy that defence is.
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Apple increases production of iPhone 11: sources • Nikkei Asian Review

Cheng Ting-Fang, Lauly Li, and Kensaku Ihara:

»

Apple has told suppliers to increase their production of its latest iPhone 11 range by up to 10%, or 8 million units, the Nikkei Asian Review has learned, following better-than-expected demand worldwide for its new cut-price handset.

The increase in orders appears to validate Apple CEO Tim Cook’s new strategy of enticing budget-conscious consumers with cheaper models amid the weakening world economy. The order boost of between 7 million and 8 million units is equivalent to total annual phone shipments this year by Google, a rising iPhone rival in Apple’s home US market.

“This autumn is so far much busier than we expected,” one source with direct knowledge of the situation said. “Previously, Apple was quite conservative about placing orders,” which were less than for last year’s new iPhone. “After the increase, prepared production volume for the iPhone 11 series will be higher compared to last year,” the source said.

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So there’s downward pressure on pricing as the phone market becomes saturated and people don’t need the tippy-top specs because there’s very little difference as the improvement in capabilities becomes harder to discern. Neat burn on Google, though.
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Mike Postle: why is this the point where he started winning at poker? • YouTube

If you read the lead item in yesterday’s posting, you’ll know there’s a discussion about how Mike Postle is able to win while playing a “high variance” poker style. If you’re interested in more, then via David Chu, here’s a link to a video (whose title is different from mine – I’m not suggesting Postle cheats!) which points to a peculiar breakpoint at which Postle stops losing and starts winning.

It’s to do with his phone, though what I find astonishing about what’s going on is that all the players have their phones with them and are fiddling with them all the time. How do you stop people cheating, or using some kind of card-counting, or whatever, in that situation?

The Postle allegation, though, seems to be about a much more sophisticated method of knowing what others are doing. If he’s doing it, he’s well beyond card-counting.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,160: the poker ‘cheating’ fight, TikTok bans political ads, cryptocurrency mining’s real cost, Paypal exits Libra, and more


Taiwan: is is an “independent state” or a “province of China”? It depends when you ask Wikipedia. CC-licensed photo by Matthew Fang on Flickr.

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

The cheating scandal rocking the poker world • The Ringer

David Hill:

»

The fact is, the mystery was solved a long time ago. It’s just like De Niro’s Ace Rothstein says in Casino when the yokel slot attendant gets hit for three jackpots in a row and tells his boss there was no way for him to know he was being scammed. “Yes there is,” Ace replies. “An infallible way. They won.”

According to one poster on TwoPlusTwo, in 69 sessions on Stones Live, [Mike] Postle has won in 62 of them, for a profit of over $250,000 in 277 hours of play. Given that he plays such a large number of hands, and plays such an erratic and, by his own admission, high-variance style, one would expect to see more, well, variance. His results just aren’t possible even for the best players in the world, which, if he isn’t cheating, he definitely is among.

Add to this the fact that it has been alleged that Postle doesn’t play in other nonstreamed live games at Stones, or anywhere else in the Sacramento area, and hasn’t been known to play in any sizable no-limit games anywhere in a long time, and that he always picks up his chips and leaves as soon as the livestream ends. I don’t really need any more evidence than that. If you know poker players, you know that this is the most damning evidence against him. Poker players like to play poker. If any of the poker players I know had the win rate that Mike Postle has, you’d have to pry them up from the table with a crowbar.

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This is weirdly fascinating, though it all feels like circumstantial evidence; there’s absolutely nothing suggesting directly that Postle cheats in any way. But people love an internet rabbit hole.
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The broken record: why Barr’s call against end-to-end encryption is nuts • Ars Technica

Sean Gallagher:

»

Much of the reasoning behind the need to prevent end-to-end encryption by default—an argument used when Apple introduced it as part of iMessage and repeated multiple times since—is that criminals are inherently stupid, and giving them protection by default protects them from being stupid and not using encryption.

Facebook has offered end-to-end encryption as an option for Messenger conversations for years now, and it offers the service as part of WhatsApp as well. But because encryption requires an extra (and non-intuitive) step to turn it on for Messenger, most people don’t use it—apparently even criminals sending messages they think aren’t under surveillance. It’s like the Dunning-Kreuger effect in that case—the belief is that criminals think they’re “using the juice” and it’s concealing them from being observed.

The problem is not all criminals are idiots. And while Facebook may have contributed massively to the reporting of child pornography in recent years, there are other services that even the idiots could move to if it becomes apparent that they’re not out of sight. Take Telegram, for instance—where much of 8chan moved to after the site lost its hosting—or WhatsApp or Signal, which provide end-to-end voice and messaging encryption. On top of those, there are a host of “dark Web” and “deep Web” places where criminals, including those exploiting children, operate.

Based on conversations I’ve had with researchers and people in law enforcement, there is a significant amount of tradecraft related to these types of crimes floating around in forums. Not all of it is very good, and people get caught—not because they didn’t have end-to-end encryption but because they used it with the wrong person…

…While fighting child exploitation, terrorism, or any other fundamental evil is vitally important, the risks posed by banning encrypted communications between citizens, customers and businesses, journalists and sources, whistleblowers and lawyers, and every other legal pairing of entities who may have some need to communicate in confidence are too high to justify mandating an untenable, universal, extraordinary level of access for government to communications.

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The Lib Dems are using data to profile every voter in UK – and give you a score • Sky News

:

»

The Liberal Democrats are profiling every voter in the country by rating their political preferences, Sky News can reveal.

This includes which party they will vote for in the next election and whether they are a Remainer or Leaver.

The percentage ratings – there are at least 42 in total, although the identity of only 37 are known – estimate whether someone voted Leave or Remain in the 2016 EU referendum and predict how they would vote if there was a second poll in 2019.

Other scored characteristics include “Likelihood of being a Labour voter in 2019”, “Likelihood of being a core Lib Dem” and “Net difference in likelihood of voting for the Conservative or Brexit Party in 2019”.

The system, which uses a sophisticated computer model to generate the scores, also assesses personal outlooks, giving a percentage to “Likelihood of being a pragmatic liberal”.

The Liberal Democrats also use software which estimates the age and first language of voters by analysing their names.

The name Rowland Manthorpe, for instance, is categorised as “older: probably older”…

…The data used to create the scores comes from a range of sources, including the UK electoral register, phone and doorstep canvassing, anonymous online surveys, and publicly available data such as census area classifications, which categorise different regions according to their populations.

The Liberal Democrats also employed “consumer/market research data”, which it bought from a third party.

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Seems fair enough, and if you were running a political party wouldn’t you want to be able to focus your resources where they’ll be best used? This is just fighting fire with fire.
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Cryptodamages: monetary value estimates of the air pollution and human health impacts of cryptocurrency mining • ScienceDirect

Andrew Goodkind, Benjamin Jones, Robert Berrens (all from the University of New Mexico):

»

we estimate the per coin economic damages of air pollution emissions and associated human mortality and climate impacts of mining these cryptocurrencies in the US and China. Results indicate that in 2018, each $1 of Bitcoin value created was responsible for $0.49 in health and climate damages in the US and $0.37 in China. The similar value in China relative to the US occurs despite the extremely large disparity between the value of a statistical life estimate for the US relative to that of China.

Further, with each cryptocurrency, the rising electricity requirements to produce a single coin can lead to an almost inevitable cliff of negative net social benefits, absent perpetual price increases. For example, in December 2018, our results illustrate a case (for Bitcoin) where the health and climate change “cryptodamages” roughly match each $1 of coin value created.

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China and Taiwan clash over Wikipedia edits • BBC News

Carl Miller:

»

Anyone can write or edit entries on Wikipedia, and in almost every country on Earth, communities of “Wikipedians” exist to protect and contribute to it. The largest collection of human knowledge ever amassed, available to everyone online for free, it is arguably the greatest achievement of the digital age. But in the eyes of [Wikimedia Taiwan board member Jamie] Lin and her colleagues, it is now under attack.

The edit war over Taiwan was only one of a number that had broken out across Wikipedia’s vast, multi-lingual expanse of entries. The Hong Kong protests page had seen 65 changes in the space of a day – largely over questions of language. Were they protesters? Or rioters?

The English entry for the Senkaku islands said they were “islands in East Asia”, but earlier this year the Mandarin equivalent had been changed to add “China’s inherent territory”.

The 1989 Tiananmen Square protests were changed in Mandarin to describe them as “the June 4th incident” to “quell the counter-revolutionary riots”. On the English version, the Dalai Lama is a Tibetan refugee. In Mandarin, he is a Chinese exile.

Angry differences of opinion happen all the time on Wikipedia. But to Ms Lin, this was different. “It’s control by the [Chinese] Government” she continued. “That’s very terrible.”

BBC Click’s investigation has found almost 1,600 tendentious edits across 22 politically sensitive articles. We cannot verify who made each of these edits, why, or whether they reflect a more widespread practice. However, there are indications that they are not all necessarily organic, nor random.

Both an official and academics from within China have begun to call for both their government and citizens to systematically correct what they argue are serious anti-Chinese biases endemic across Wikipedia. One paper is called Opportunities And Challenges Of China’s Foreign Communication in the Wikipedia, and was published in the Journal of Social Sciences this year.

In it, the academics Li-hao Gan and Bin-Ting Weng argue that “due to the influence by foreign media, Wikipedia entries have a large number of prejudiced words against the Chinese government”.

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Control the language and you control the thought, as Orwell described.
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TikTok says it won’t allow any political ads on its platform • ABC News

Catherine Thorbecke:

»

As the 2020 presidential election nears, TikTok, the wildly popular video-sharing app among young people, said it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

“While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s light-hearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time,” TikTok’s vice president for Global Business Solutions Blake Chandlee said in a blogpost on their website explaining their policies for paid ads.

The video-sharing social media app, which reportedly has 500 million users, has become an especially popular place for young people to share DIY music videos.

“In that spirit, we have chosen not to allow political ads on TikTok,” Chandlee added. “Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience.”

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1) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the platforms did this?
2) Chinese-owned app doesn’t want political advertising. That probably isn’t surprising.
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PayPal drops out of Facebook’s Libra payments network • WSJ

Peter Rudegeair:

»

The San Jose-based payments company “made the decision to forgo further participation” in the Libra Association, the group backing the libra cryptocurrency, a spokesman said in an email. PayPal remains supportive of libra’s mission and will continue to discuss how to work together in the future, the spokesman said.

PayPal’s announcement comes days after The Wall Street Journal reported that Visa Inc., Mastercard Inc., and other financial partners that had agreed to back libra are reconsidering their involvement following a backlash from US and European government officials.

“Each organization that started this journey will have to make its own assessment of risks and rewards of being committed to seeing through the change that Libra promises,” said Dante Disparte, head of policy and communications for the Libra Association, in an email. Mr. Disparte added that 1,500 entities have said they are interested in participating in libra…

…“We believe that our more than 20 years of payments expertise can not only contribute value to the Libra Association, but it also gives us the opportunity to work with and learn from other leading organizations,” PayPal Chief Executive Dan Schulman wrote in a blog post in June. The post has since been deleted.

Lawmakers and regulators in the US and Europe were quick to criticize libra after it was unveiled in June, citing concerns about how Facebook and other companies involved would protect users’ privacy and stop criminals and terrorists from using it to launder money.

This summer, PayPal was one of a number of companies that received a letter from the US Treasury Department that asked for a complete overview of its money-laundering compliance programs and how libra would fit into it.

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China introduces facial-recognition step to get new mobile number • Quartz

Jane Li:

»

From Dec. 1, people applying for new mobile and data services will have to have their faces scanned by telecom providers, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a Sept. 27 statement (in Chinese).

MIIT said the step was part of its efforts to “safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of citizens in the cyberspace” and to control phone and internet fraud. In addition to the facial-recognition test, phone users are also banned from passing their mobile phone numbers to others, and encouraged to check if numbers are registered under their name without their consent.

Most countries require some form of ID to sign up for mobile phone contracts—versus for prepaid services—but the facial-recognition requirement seems to be a first. In China, it’s only the latest example of the technology’s embrace by a government that is using it for everything from catching jaywalkers to nabbing criminals at concerts to social profiling, even as other countries go slow due to concerns over privacy and human rights. The new decree is an upgrade of China’s real-name registration system for mobile phone users launched in 2013, which requires people to have their national IDs checked and photos taken by carriers to get a new number. The facial-recognition step will match the image against the person’s stored ID.

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Suuuure, it’s to stop phone fraud. China really is becoming increasingly scary in its determination to have the most possible data on all its citizens, and to use that for control.
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Shingy reflects on his time at AOL and what’s next • NY Mag

Brian Feldman:

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Q: you think the reaction was overblown. But as someone who was looking at it from the outside, I think it looked like AOL — a company that, at that point, had a sort of stodgy reputation — was just trying and failing to be cool somehow.

David Shing (Shingy): I don’t think it was overblown. I just think it was if you’re inside media or you’re inside brands or you’re an executive in the media, you kind of get the context because there is context. When somebody comes on for three minutes or something, it just seems like the context is completely off. That’s why my comms team probably should’ve said no to it. And it ended up being what it was. It wasn’t overblown; I just think it was current and ripe for the picking. I just happened to be picked.

At AOL around that time, do you recall any internal reaction?

People thought it was fantastic. Kept them in the news cycle, made us seem far more interesting, meant we had interesting people that just didn’t — it wasn’t stodgy, it’s just a lot of people didn’t know that. I think I represented more of the “not stodgy,” if that makes sense. It’s this historical, 25-year-old brand. It wasn’t like, “Oh my God, now what?” 2014, 2015 is an interesting time anyway. Everyone’s trying to create the app of the century, iPad strategies, everyone’s having a crack at it, trying to be culturally relevant. I was just agnostic, talking about stuff that’s going on, whatever.

That fills in a lot of gaps

Really? I thought that stuff had been written about.

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I read this interview and it seems he wasn’t a performance. Though could anyone have performed like that?
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Closed curtains, phone chargers, clean remotes and other hotel hacks • Washington Post

Natalie Compton:

»

Hotels are supposed to be designed with guests in mind, but sometimes the masterminds behind hotel planning miss the mark. You will discover these flaws when they’re annoying you from your bed at midnight. It’s the air conditioner that blows too forcefully on your head or the WiFi router blinking brightly. When hotel-room frustration strikes, turn to easy hacks to fix your problems.

Twitter became a helpful resource for travel-hack discovery after user Rick Klau posted a trick he saw on the site years ago that he says has improved every night he has spent in hotel rooms since. The hack: using a hanger to secure light-leaking curtains in your room.

The post by Klau, who is a senior operating partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), resulted in more than 1,600 replies. Some gave other creative answers to Klau’s same problem, such as using binder clips or pen caps or old-fashioned clothespins to secure curtains together. Many of the responses addressed other hotel-specific issues with equally ingenious patches. Here are some of the best they offered.

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These are legitimately great. The one for the TV remote is maybe for the germophobic, but you can’t fault it.
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New in-ear AirPods with noise cancellation found in iOS 13.2 beta • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

Rumors about new Apple AirPods with noise cancellation aren’t exactly new, dating back a couple of years. But now a glyph found in iOS 13.2 reveals what the new AirPods with noise cancellation will look like.

They remind me of Apple’s old in-ear headphones, but wireless, similar to how the AirPods look like EarPods without the wires. The icon is found in a component of the system related to accessibility settings, suggesting that these will work as hearing aids, similar to what can be done with the current AirPods.

Other references found in the OS suggest the new AirPods will have different listening modes, with or without noise canceling, which is being called “focus mode” in the system. The new AirPods have the model code B298.

It’s possible the new AirPods with noise cancellation will be announced later this month, when Apple is expected to have another special event.

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It’s something of a guess that they’ll have noise cancellation – that feels more like a wish. But if they fit more ears, that alone would be an improvement. The current “one size has to fit all” is frustrating for some.
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