Start Up: China’s LinkedIn friends, notching Huawei?, gender pay improbability, bitcoin redux, and more


Longer tweets are more popular – by some metrics – than short ones, new data suggests. Photo by Corine Bliek 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 15 links for you. Things just kept coming. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

German intelligence unmasks alleged covert Chinese social media profiles • Reuters

Thomas Escritt:

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Germany’s intelligence service has published the details of social network profiles which it says are fronts faked by Chinese intelligence to gather personal information about German officials and politicians.

The BfV domestic intelligence service took the unusual step of naming individual profiles it says are fake and fake organizations to warn public officials about the risk of leaking valuable personal information via social media.

“Chinese intelligence services are active on networks like LinkedIn and have been trying for a while to extract information and find intelligence sources in this way,” including seeking data on users’ habits, hobbies and political interests, they said.

Nine months of research had found that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted on the LinkedIn professional networking site by fake profiles disguised as headhunters, consultants, think-tankers or scholars, the BfV said.

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link to this extract


Huawei P11 might also have a notch • GSMArena

“Yordan”:

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Huawei is preparing to launch its next flagship the P11 in February and first leaked firmware files suggest a surprise is on the way. According to XDA Developers, the Chinese manufacturer is going to introduce the phone with a notch on the front screen, similar to what we’ve seen in the iPhone X, Essential PH-1, and Sharp Aquos S2.

The overlay image comes from a reference in a configuration file that defines the “RoundCornerDisplay”. Multiple files are associated with this definition, all of them appearing to assist in avoiding drawing over parts of the screen to accommodate the unique display.

Another file has the word “notch” in its name “ro.config.hw_notch_size” with the value set to “258,84,411,27”. It might represent left, top, right and bottom offsets in moving screen content.

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I think the aim of this is just to make the screen look like the iPhone X because it’s so striking, and in China – Huawei’s biggest market – it’s a status thing. See also: Huawei offering Force Touch (but then not following through).
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Twitter users like long tweets more than short ones • Buzzfeed

Alex Kantrowitz:

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Given the deluge of complaints about Twitter’s 280-character limit when it debuted this fall, you’d think people would be ignoring the new, lengthier tweets.

But that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Early data shows tweets above 140 characters are being liked and retweeted at a rate approximately double that of their shorter counterparts. BuzzFeed News obtained the data from SocialFlow, a publishing tool used by approximately 300 major publishers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

SocialFlow reviewed tens of thousands of tweets published between Wednesday 29 November and Wednesday 6 December, analyzing clicks, retweets, and likes. It determined that tweets above 140 characters are being retweeted 26.52 times on average compared with 13.71 times for tweets of 140 characters and below. The company also found that longer tweets are being liked — again on average — 50.28 times compared with 29.96 times for shorter tweets. Clicks per tweet for the time period analyzed were about even.

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I’d have liked to see a comparison from before there were 280-character tweets, though Twitter claims to have done something like that itself. I’m not sure if I engage any more than I did before.
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The point of Patreon isn’t how many people earn a full-time living • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow responds to last week’s article about how many/few people make anything like a living via Patreon:

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Art is an irrational market; artists make art without regard to the laws of supply and demand. There are — and always have been — more people who’d like to make a living in the arts than the arts will sustain. That means that artists produce material without any rational expectation of any meaningful return on their investments, and this puts them at great risk from the distributors (retailers, platforms) and financiers (publishers/studios/labels, ad networks, etc) who have historically been key to connecting them to their audiences.

What’s more, there’s returns on scale in both financing and distributing, which is why (for example), we’ve ended up with five publishers, one major online bookseller, and one major brick-and-mortal bookseller. This anti-competitive concentration in both sectors has the effect of eroding the share of income from successful work that goes to the creator, moving an ever-larger slice to the other parts of the art industry. In 1999, first novels were selling to science fiction publishers for about $7,000 (about $10,200 in 2017 dollars). Today, first novels are selling for…about $7,000. And yet, if anything, more writers are producing first novels than in 1999…

…The right way to look at a 2% success rate in delivering a full-time living to creators on Patreon is to first compare that number to the percentage of people who, for example, send a demo to a record label and then get to quit their jobs to be full-time musicians (that’s a lot less than 2%). The right way to look at the remaining 98% of Patreon artists who earn some money from the service is to compare how much money they get, compared to how much money they’d get if they had to rely on more indirect (and less artist-friendly) sources like ad brokers and traditional retail channels.

On both of these metrics, Patreon is performing beautifully. On these metrics, Patreon is a fucking godsend to artists.

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link to this extract


Cluster of UK companies reports highly improbable gender pay gap • FT

Billy Ehrenberg-Shannon, Aleksandra Wisniewska and Sarah Gordon:

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The gap between wages paid to men and women has become a hot political and corporate issue. Seeking to hold employers accountable, the UK government this year began requiring companies and public sector bodies with more than 250 employees to publicly report their median and mean gap. Roughly 9,000 companies must submit their numbers by April 1 but as of Thursday only 311 had done so.

Experts on pay said that it was highly anomalous for companies of that size to have median and mean pay gaps that were identical because the two statistics measure different things. The mean gap measures the difference between the average male and female salary while the median gap is calculated using the midpoint salary for each gender.

Of the 16 companies that said they had no pay gap, eight also said that they employed exactly the same number of men and women in the four pay grades that must be reported.

“While it is certainly possible for organisations with 250 or more employees to have no gender pay gap, common sense dictates that it is entirely implausible that they would have no gap on both the median and mean measure, while having exactly equal numbers of men and women in each of the four pay quartiles,” said Jonathan Portes, professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London.

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So having demanded them, will the government actually take any action and look into these extremely unlikely figures?
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Please invest responsibly — an important message from the Coinbase team • Coinbase

Brian Armstrong is co-founder and CEO of Coinbase:

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Despite the sizable and ongoing increases in our technical infrastructure and engineering staff, we wanted to remind customers that access to Coinbase services may become degraded or unavailable during times of significant volatility or volume. This could result in the inability to buy or sell for periods of time. Despite ongoing increases in our support capacity, our customer support response times may be delayed, especially for requests that do not involve immediate risks to customer account security. You can read more in our Coinbase User Agreement.

We also wanted to remind customers of some of the risks associated with trading digital currency. Digital currencies are volatile and the prices can go up and down. Due to the rapidly changing price of digital currencies, some customers may not have sell limits that are sufficient relative to the value of total digital currency they are storing on Coinbase.

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TL;DR: don’t play in the futures market if you can’t handle a margin call when things go south. Even shorter version: you could lose it all.
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Andy Rubin has returned to his company weeks after he took leave amid allegations of inappropriate behavior • Recode

Theodore Schleifer:

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Rubin as of Friday ended the personal leave that he took in November after dealing with personal issues, according to two people familiar with his activities. His leave was reportedly only shared with employees on November 27, though a company representative said at the time that he began his leave earlier that month.

The CEO of Essential last month took leave as The Information was about to report that an “internal investigation determined that he had carried on an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate,” when he served as a top executive at Google.

Rubin has denied any wrongdoing and stressed that the relationship was consensual.

The decision to return to Essential will likely calm jitters about the future of the phone company, which has raised $330m to develop its highly anticipated product. Rubin, the creator of the Android operating system, is a dominant figure in the phone industry.

Even while on leave from Essential, Rubin was still able to show up to work at the same physical workplace. That’s because he did not take a similar leave from Playground Global, the venture capital firm he founded, which shares the same office space as Essential.

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What sort of nonsense is this? Essential PR person claims he’s on leave of absence where he’s not actually absent just as questions are asked in media? Uh-huh.
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Android to iPhone, part two: What I’ve liked about switching to the iPhone X • Android Police

David Ruddock has been trying out the iPhone X for a month or so, having never used iOS before. Here’s his bit on notifications:

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I will get this out of the way: notifications on iOS are terrible. Actually bad. Just not good. I will cover that in my next post.

But! iOS does do one thing right with them, at least for me: it cuts down on information overload. Just looking at my Android phone’s notification bar practically compels me to clear it out. I don’t really like that feeling – it’s a distraction and keeps me from focusing on whatever I’m actually trying to do with my phone in a given moment, constantly sending me back and forth between apps and clearing out the bar.

iOS requires you to authorize an app to send notifications on its first run after install. What I’ve noticed is that, oftentimes, I really don’t need many apps to send me notifications… ever. I don’t need to hear from the Kindle app, the Amazon app, Google Maps, Dropbox, the New York Times, YouTube, or Yelp. The list goes on, but you get the idea: I get fewer notifications on iOS than I do on Android because iOS has forced me to think about which apps I actually want to get them from.

Not only that, the lack of notification icons in the status bar area means that unless you pull down the notification tray, you just don’t see your notifications all that often. You might catch a glimpse of them when you go to unlock the phone, but as soon as your swipe up, they’re gone.

I don’t find I’m any less effective at responding to emails or messages on iOS than I am on Android. I do find I am significantly less mentally burdened with the task of managing my notifications. It’s going to make me take a long, hard look at how I manage my notifications on Android when I switch back.

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There’s plenty more to digest in this post. His next one, later this week, will be about the things he hasn’t liked with iOS, and he says it’s going to be longer.
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Android Oreo review: performance and stability • BirchTree

Matt Birchler, continuing his series comparing his experience using Oreo on a Pixel 2 with his experiences on an iPhone; though he’s usually an iOS user, he’s also very familiar with Android:

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In day to day use, Android on the Pixel 2 does not feel much slower than the iPhone 8. Apps launch quickly on the Pixel, sometimes even faster than they do on the iPhone. Part of this is due to the shorter animations on Android, but other times it is just that the Pixel is just as fast or faster than the iPhone. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say this before, but apps actually tend to launch a tiny bit quicker on Android than they do on iOS.

Once you get into apps, the experience changes a bit. While iOS takes milliseconds longer on average to load apps, once you’re in apps everything seems to go in iOS’s favor. First is general performance things like scrolling, which holds steady at what appears to be 60fps much more often than Android. Scrolling through lists or websites is where this is more noticeable, as Android has a slightly harsher feeling to moving around pages. It’s not bad by any means, and may be a preference thing, but i just feel more like I’m directly manipulating content on iOS than I do on Android.

Adding to this feeling of direct manipulation is the touch response on the Pixel 2 is noticeably slower than it is on the iPhone. There’s a slight delay in my finger moving and the screen updating behind it on iOS, but on Android the delay is much more pronounced. This lends to the overall feeling I sometimes get that I’m imputing commands to the phone rather than directly moving around the content on screen.

Finally, I have had some inconsistency when tapping a notification on my lock screen to go straight to that app. Usually it’s fine, but there have been dozens of times where the phone locks up for about 5 seconds between entering my fingerprint to unlock and the app actually coming up.

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He’s also not complimentary about Android stability, or third-party apps. The latter is a situation that seems to be unchanging over time.
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Amazon, Google and Apple top the biggest tech disappointments of 2017 • CNBC

Todd Haselton with his list of things that he wasn’t happy about. Those mentioned are Amazon, Google, LG, Fitbit, Apple and Essential.

However there’s one key difference between the Apple product, and the products from the others. See if you can guess what it is before you click through.
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YouTube to launch new music subscription service in March • Bloomberg

Lucas Shaw:

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The new service could help appease record-industry executives who have pushed for more revenue from YouTube. Warner Music Group, one of the world’s three major record labels, has already signed on, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. YouTube is also in talks with the two others, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, and Merlin, a consortium of independent labels, the people said.

Paid services from Spotify and Apple Music have spurred a recovery in the music business, which is growing again after almost two decades of decline. Yet major record labels say the growth would be even more significant if not for YouTube, which they criticize for not compensating them enough, considering how much people use the site to listen to tunes. Music is one of the most popular genres of video on YouTube, which attracts more than a billion users a month.

YouTube hasn’t had the same success as Apple or Spotify in convincing people to sign up for its paid music services, though it’s not for lack of trying. Google introduced audio-only streaming service Google Play Music in 2011. YouTube Music Key came along in 2014, giving subscribers ad-free music videos. That morphed into YouTube Red in 2016, letting users watch any video without advertising.

The new service, internally referred to as Remix, would include Spotify-like on-demand streaming and would incorporate elements from YouTube, such as video clips, the people said. YouTube has reached out to artists to seek their help in promoting the new service, one of the people said.

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I was going to say – isn’t this what Google Play Music is already meant to be? Though I’ve never seen a single statistic for the number of signed-up users for that.

However, if this gets going it will be the final nail for Pandora, which looks ropey anyway. And what about Soundcloud and Deezer?

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The Bulgarian government is sitting on $3bn in bitcoin • CoinDesk

Nikhilesh De:

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A crackdown on organized crime by Bulgarian law enforcement in May resulted in the seizure of more than 200,000 bitcoins – an amount worth more than $3bn at today’s prices.

According to a press release dated May 19 from the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC), a regional organization comprised of 12 member states including Bulgaria, a total of 213,519 bitcoins were seized that month. Twenty-three Bulgarian nationals were arrested during the operation, and officials said at the time that the arrests and subsequent asset seizures followed an investigation into an alleged customs fraud scam.

As of press time, the amount seized is worth approximately $3.3bn, at a price of roughly $15,524, according to CoinDesk’s Bitcoin Price Index (BPI).

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The seizure was because some hackers tried to evade $6m in customs fee on some imports. At the time, the bitcoins were worth $500m – still nothing to sneeze at.
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Bitcoin is hot, but good luck using it • Bloomberg Gadfly

Stephen Gandel:

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The idea, though, that bitcoin is being rapidly adopted, or even just gradually, is a myth. In 2013, a number of retailers and companies, large and small, started accepting bitcoin. Four years later, shoppers can’t use it at any large physical retailer. What’s more, not only have Walmart and The Gap not adopted bitcoin, many of the places that said they would no longer do.

A long list of merchants that take bitcoin has circulated the Internet for the past few years, published most recently on 99bitcoins.com. But the list is mostly bogus. Many of the businesses on the list no longer take bitcoin or never did. There is a bitcoin payment button for online electronics retailer Newegg.com, but when I tried to use it for a Nintendo Switch, it didn’t work. Even Bloomberg is on the list, but my colleagues in billing say you can’t pay your terminal fee in bitcoin. Nor can you get a subscription to BusinessWeek or any of Bloomberg’s other publications or services…

…a number of sites that track bitcoin, like Blockchain.info, show that use is up. On average, the daily value of bitcoin transactions has risen just more than 400% this year compared with the first 11 months of last year, according to Blockchain.info. But given the fact the number of places accepting it is falling, that seems hard to believe. The number is supposed to track just the volume of bitcoins used to buy actual goods or services. Even bitcoin believer Burniske thinks the figure has likely been inflated by all the people who have rushed into bitcoin as an investment. Worse, the cost to complete those transactions is rising even faster, with fees charged up nearly 2,200% this year, although it’s still minuscule on an absolute level, a fee of just 0.05% of the average transaction this year. 

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The simple thing people miss about cryptocurrencies • The Information

Jessica Lessin:

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Given the technical nature of these tokens, it shifts power to engineers not bankers. And it treats money as a product that can be improved and optimized for different purposes.  

Thinking of currency as product is a big leap for most traditional investors to make. Of course, you can invest without making that leap. You can make or lose money by buying the tokens just because you think they will go up or down without understanding anything about them. It’s also true that most tokens issued today are flawed products, with limited utility that aren’t worth trying to understand let alone betting on over the long-term.

But discussing cryptocurrencies based on how much bitcoin has appreciated this month (or year) misses the big picture. Technology is changing every industry and it is impossible for me to believe it won’t change our financial system. That’s particularly true because our current system—while stable—is imperfect.

Cryptocurrencies can be more secure and more efficient to exchange. They can be inflation-proof and are easier to settle and easier to interoperate. Those advantages, more than the relentless rise in bitcoin’s price, is what drives the true bitcoin believers. They believe bitcoin could be a superior financial product…

…Consumers may not even notice the impact of the technology. Most of the benefits of cryptocurrencies will play out of the back end of the financial system. You may still transact with your credit card. Everything that happens once you swipe may be different.

While certainly a disruptive idea, evolving our current financial system to take advantage of cryptocurrencies is not a crazy one. When you use a dollar or a euro, you are deciding to trust the U.S. or the EU. When you buy bitcoin or ethereum, you are choosing to trust the community of people who maintain the software and the system that keeps track of the transactions (the ledger).

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This is a much more reasonable take on bitcoin and the interest in it.
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Later iPhone X release hurts Apple share • Kantar Worldpanel

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In the three months ending October 2017, iOS share fell in key markets, making clear the impact of the flagship iPhone X not being available to buy in the month of October. And, as Windows continued to drop in share, Android was able to gain 4.3 percentage points in the big five European markets, 8.2% in the USA, and 7.5% in Japan. Urban China remained a bright spot for Apple, with its share edging up 0.5% in the latest three months to reach 17.4%…

…Urban China, a market once overrun with new challengers, is maturing, with the top five players all posting strong growth and the long tail of challenger brands falling away rapidly. In the three months ending in October 2017, the top five brands – Huawei, Xiaomi, Apple, Vivo, and Oppo – made up 91% of sales, compared to 79% a year earlier.

“Chinese brands like Meizu, LeTV, Coolpad, ZTE, and Lenovo were once on the same trajectory as the like of Xiaomi, but any momentum they once had has abruptly stopped, with many struggling to get past a 1% share,” Sunnebo said. “Samsung’s performance in China continues to deteriorate, with its share now down to just 2.2% of that market.”

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The crunch in China is quite a thing, unnoticed (mostly) in the west. (Neil Cybart of Above Avalon picked up on it, though.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: AlphaGo conquers chess, enter Amazon, Silicon Valley’s model problem, bitcoin’s future, and more


This will probably pay better than a Patreon account, data suggests. Photo by humbert15 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. Now with record approval ratings! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Amazon wants a key to your house. I did it. I regretted it • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler (and no, the boss – Bezos didn’t force him to do it or be nice about it):

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The good news is nobody ran off with my boxes — or burgled my house.

The bad news is Amazon missed four of my in-home deliveries and charged me (on top of a Prime membership) for gear that occasionally jammed and makes it awkward to share my own door with people, apps, services — and, of course, retailers — other than Amazon.

“Amazon Key has had a positive reception from customers since its launch last month,” Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said. “There have been situations where we haven’t gotten it right with a delivery and we use these situations to continue making improvements to the service.”

Big tech companies love building walled gardens, in ham-handed attempts to keep customers loyal. But for an ask this big (total access to your home, after all), Amazon needs to make Key better…

…When you use Amazon Key, you get a phone alert with a window when a delivery might occur. If no one is home, the delivery person taps an app that grants one-time access to unlock your door, places the package inside, then relocks the door. (They don’t recommend Key if you have a pet, and won’t come in if they hear barking.) The moment the door unlocks, the Cloud Cam starts recording — and sends you a live stream of the whole thing. It’s a surreal 15 seconds.

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Not only but also: finicky setup, occasional bugs leading to fake warnings, and a door that ended up with Schrödinger’s Lock.
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From territorial to functional sovereignty: the case of Amazon • Law and Political Economy

Frank Pasquale:

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Economists tend to characterize the scope of regulation as a simple matter of expanding or contracting state power. But a political economy perspective emphasizes that social relations abhor a power vacuum. When state authority contracts, private parties fill the gap. That power can feel just as oppressive, and have effects just as pervasive, as garden variety administrative agency enforcement of civil law. As Robert Lee Hale stated, “There is government whenever one person or group can tell others what they must do and when those others have to obey or suffer a penalty.”

We are familiar with that power in employer-employee relationships, or when a massive firm extracts concessions from suppliers. But what about when a firm presumes to exercise juridical power, not as a party to a conflict, but the authority deciding it? I worry that such scenarios will become all the more common as massive digital platforms exercise more power over our commercial lives…

…For example: Who needs city housing regulators when AirBnB can use data-driven methods to effectively regulate room-letting, then house-letting, and eventually urban planning generally? Why not let Amazon have its own jurisdiction or charter city, or establish special judicial procedures for Foxconn? Some vanguardists of functional sovereignty believe online rating systems could replace state occupational licensure—so rather than having government boards credential workers, a platform like LinkedIn could collect star ratings on them.

In this and later posts, I want to explain how this shift from territorial to functional sovereignty is creating a new digital political economy. Amazon’s rise is instructive.

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I was lucky enough to spend some time with Frank at Cambridge University earlier this year when he was a visiting fellow. He’s very incisive. His talk is here (on YouTube), if you have 16 minutes to spare. You do, right?
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Three ways to remake the American economy for all • The Guardian

Senator Elizabeth Warren is a Democrat senator who might be a candidate for president in 2020. She gave a speech at the Open Markets Institute about dealing with monopoly power, especially in technology:

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Donald Trump used to talk about the danger of monopoly. But that talk has pretty much disappeared now that he is president. Once he took the oath, he began stacking his administration with a who’s who of former lobbyists, Wall Street insiders, and corporate executives committed to tilting the scales even further in favor of their powerful friends and against everybody else. And just days ago, the Republican Congress handed out a giant tax giveaway to Wall Street corporations and the super-rich, leaving working families and college students to pick up the tab.

To rebuild an economy that works for everyone, not just the big guys, it is critical to reduce concentrated power in our markets. The federal government has the tools to do it; Congress handed antitrust enforcers those tools over a century ago. But those tools have been sitting on the shelf for decades, gathering dust.

Antitrust enforcers placed those tools on the shelf when they adopted Chicago School principles that narrowed the scope of antitrust laws; they moved away from the goal of protecting competition. It’s time to demand that antitrust enforcers pick up those tools, dust them off, and start enforcing the law again…

…It’s time to hold those corporations accountable for these competition-killing practices. And let’s be clear: holding everyone accountable means everyone. The investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election has exposed how influential giant tech platforms can be. There is no exception in antitrust laws for big tech.

It’s time for antitrust enforcers to start looking critically at the ways in which massive amounts of data can be manipulated in ways that choke off competition.

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Google’s AlphaZero destroys Stockfish in 100-game match • Chess.com

Mike Klein:

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Chess changed forever today. And maybe the rest of the world did, too.

A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine. 

Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, didn’t stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

That’s right – the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of “machine learning,” specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not “taught” the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns…

…GM Peter Heine Nielsen, the longtime second of World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, is now on board with the FIDE president in one way: aliens. As he told Chess.com, “After reading the paper but especially seeing the games I thought, well, I always wondered how it would be if a superior species landed on earth and showed us how they play chess. I feel now I know.”

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The article includes one of the games. It feels quite different from how a human plays. AlphaGo seems to play as though it has all the time in the world; that it’s not particularly worried by threats, but equally wants to make exchanges on its own terms. Stockfish never seems to force it. AlphaZero even shows which openings are best. Queen’s Gambit and English Opening, apparently. (I prefer Bird’s Opening. Get things started.)

As Eric David notes at Silicon Angle:

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What makes DeepMind’s latest accomplishment is noteworthy is the fact that it conquered three games with very different rule sets using a single AI. AlphaGo Zero, the latest version of AlphaGo, began “tabula rasa” without any prior knowledge or understanding of Go, shogi or chess, but the AI managed to achieve “superhuman performance” in all three games with stunning speed. IBM spent more than 10 years perfecting Deep Blue before it successfully mastered chess. AlphaGo Zero did it in just 24 hours.

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Critical security flaws remain in smartwatches for kids • Forbrukerrådet

Norway’s Consumer Council on Mnemonic’s smartwatches, the “Gator” model:

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Gator Norge gave the customers of the Gator2 watches a new Gator3 watch as compensation. The Gator3 watch turned out to have even more serious security flaws, storing parents and kids’ voice messages on an openly available webserver. The new watches also came with a significantly more expensive phone subscription.

In October, GPSforBarn launched the new app (GPSforalle) that works together with the watches. It contains similar security flaws as described with their previous app, the SeTracker. [in October 2017]

It is disconcerting that manufacturers, importers and retailers do not have better control over the products that they are selling. This is especially worrying when regarding safety-related products directed toward children, that could instead put the child in harm’s way, [Norway’s digital director of the Consumer Council] Finn Myrstad says.

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The previous complaints were that “strangers can easily take control of the watch and track, eavesdrop on and communicate with the child. They may be able to track the child as it moves or make it look like the child is somewhere it is not. Some of the data is transmitted and stored without encryption.”

And they managed to make it worse?
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After noon: digitalization wins the day – Nautilus Labs Logbook • Medium

Anthony DiMare on the strange way that ships report back to shore only at nautical noon:

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On one particular voyage, a shipping company using Nautilus Platform noticed that the data collected directly from the ship’s engine showed a surprising variance in speed: the vessel ran at a higher speed during the day and at a lower speed overnight, while the average of the two was reported at noon.

If the shoreside teams had relied only on these reports, they would have misunderstood the vessel’s true performance. Total consumption would have been compared against the averaged speed — even though a ship requires exponentially more fuel to raise speed linearly.
In this case, the shoreside operator called the crew and inquired why they were seeing this behavior in the auto logged data. The operator had a simple request: please travel at a lower, consistent average speed for the rest of the journey. The net result was thousands of dollars of fuel saved — in that one leg alone of that one journey.

For most shipping companies, the prospect of saving a few thousand dollars on bunkers in one voyage isn’t that interesting. But it’s important to understand the long-term implications of this improved insight, as it impacts every decision our client would have made about the vessel in question. Let’s consider what would have happened, if the operator in this case didn’t have real-time visibility into the vessel’s actual performance.

If the crew continued to repeat the behavior without the operator’s knowledge, that vessel would have over-consumed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of fuel over the course of a year — and millions of dollars in its practical lifespan.

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So easy to forget how big savings can come from increased granularity in systems which have previously had the bare minimum.

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Making Money from Data • DIGITS to DOLLARS

Jonathan Goldberg:

»

We recently spoke to the CTO of a large industrial company that manufactures big industrial systems. Like everyone else, they were trying to develop an IoT strategy. We sat with him while a software vendor was pitching their vision of the future, full of monetization possibilities. He was polite, at first, but after a while he broke in and said, “Before you go any further, you have to realize that almost all the data we capture is wort nothing.” That conversation only went down hill from there. However, he made a valid point. His company have been adding all kinds of sensors to their equipment for years.  They could capture petabytes a day, probably more. But 99.9% of that data essentially translated into “Status: Unchanged”.

We are not arguing that all data is worthless. However, we think it is clear that capturing value from data in the physical world is still a very poorly understood process. During the last Bubble in the 1990′,s we read a profile of a software company that had pitched its order system to a mid-sized produce distributor. After months of evaluation, the distributor determined that their existing fax-based system was still much more efficient than the fancy web-based system. It probably took another decade for software to bridge that gap. We think it may take that long for machine learning to make much difference to most companies.

«

Another decade of all the hype?
link to this extract


No one makes a living on Patreon • The Outline

Brent Knepper:

»

despite the revolutionary rhetoric, the success stories, and the goodwill that Patreon has generated, the numbers tell a different story.

Patreon now has 79,420 creators, according to Tom Boruta, a developer who tracks Patreon statistics under the name Graphtreon. (He has his own Patreon — “Graphtreon is creating Patreon graphs, statistics, and history” — which earns more than $500 a month.) Patreon lets creators hide the amount of money they are actually making, although the number of patrons is still public. Boruta’s numbers are based on the roughly 80% of creators who publicly share what they earn. Of those creators, only 1,393 — 2% — make the equivalent of federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, or $1,160 a month, in October 2017. Worse, if we change it to $15 per hour, a minimum wage slowly being adopted by states, that’s only 0.8% of all creators. In this small network designed to save struggling creatives, the money has still concentrated at the top.

«

This is the way of all networks, the way of the world: there are very few who are good at anything, and it’s always a pyramid. The only question is how wide the pyramid is; how sharp the slope from financial success to abject poverty.
link to this extract


Silicon Valley is sneaking models into this year’s holiday parties • Bloomberg

Sarah Frier:

»

Local modeling agencies, which work with Facebook- and Google-size companies as well as much smaller businesses and the occasional wealthy individual, say a record number of tech companies are quietly paying $50 to $200 an hour for each model hired solely to chat up attendees. For a typical party, scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 8, Cre8 Agency LLC is sending 25 women and 5 men, all good-looking, to hang out with “pretty much all men” who work for a large gaming company in San Francisco, says Cre8 President Farnaz Kermaani. The company, which she wouldn’t name, has handpicked the models based on photos, made them sign nondisclosure agreements, and given them names of employees to pretend they’re friends with, in case anyone asks why he’s never seen them around the foosball table.

“The companies don’t want their staff to be talking to someone and think, Oh, this person was hired to socialize with me,” says Kermaani, who’s sending models to seven tech parties in the same weekend.

«

Now they’re just going to suspect it of everyone, though.
link to this extract


CBOE to begin bitcoin futures trading December 10 • CoinDesk

Omkar Godbole:

»

The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) has announced that its planned bitcoin futures product will begin trading on Dec. 10.

In a statement published today, the firm said that trading would commence at 5 p.m. CT, with the first full day of trading starting that Monday. Trading on the CBOE Futures Exchange (CFE) under the “XBT” ticker, the company added in its release that trading of the futures product would be free through the end of December.

The announcement is a notable one given that a bitcoin future being launched by CME Group will go live the following week on Dec 18.

Ed Tilly, CBOE’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement: “Given the unprecedented interest in bitcoin, it’s vital we provide clients the trading tools to help them express their views and hedge their exposure. We are committed to encouraging fairness and liquidity in the bitcoin market. To promote this, we will initially offer XBT futures trading for free.”

The launch confirmation comes months after the Chicago-based exchange first detailed its plans to create a bitcoin futures product. At the time in August, the CBOE was working with New York-based bitcoin exchange Gemini, which is run by investors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, ahead of the launch.

«

Hmm. Can you have a working futures market in something that everyone – a phrase used loosely – seems to think will only increase in price? (Note I don’t say “value”.) Though it might create something of a brake if there’s enough money in the futures market betting on lower prices.
link to this extract


Bitcoin marketplace NiceHash gets hit by hackers who make off with millions in bitcoins • Mashable

»

NiceHash announced the thievery on their Facebook page, saying, “Clearly, this is a matter of deep concern and we are working hard to rectify the matter in the coming days.”

NiceHash’s head of marketing Andrej P. Škraba told the Wall Street Journal that an estimated 4,700 bitcoin were taken from the company’s bitcoin wallet.

One thing to note: as the value of a bitcoin continues to go up, so, too does the value of the heist. As of post time, the value of a single bitcoin has surpassed $15,000 (with prices on some local Korean exchanges already topping $19,000), meaning the value of the heist has, for the time being, surpassed $70m.

«

A couple of years ago it would have been $70,000. Timing is everything.
link to this extract


Don’t blame the US election on fake news. Blame it on the media • Columbia Journalism Review

Duncan Watts and David Rothschild:

»

While it may have been the case that the 20 most-shared fake news stories narrowly outperformed the 20 most-shared “real news” stories, the overall volume of stories produced by major newsrooms vastly outnumbers fake news. According to the same report, “The Washington Post produced more than 50,000 stories over the 18-month period, while The New York Times, CNN, and Huffington Post each published more than 30,000 stories.” Presumably not all of these stories were about the election, but each such story was also likely reported by many news outlets simultaneously. A rough estimate of thousands of election-related stories published by the mainstream media is therefore not unreasonable.

What did all these stories talk about? The research team investigated this question, counting sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues. In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration). They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal. Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

To reiterate, these 65,000 sentences were written not by Russian hackers, but overwhelmingly by professional journalists employed at mainstream news organizations, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. In just six days, The New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: limiting chatbots, online media meltdown, Steam dumps bitcoin, Oracle v Google, and more


How much energy is bitcoin mining using? Let’s have a geothermally heated debate! Photo by Nathan11466 on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Yes, it will get fixed soon. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Drawing invisible boundaries in conversational interfaces • Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei on how text chatbots keep disappointing us, where voice ones (usually) don’t:

»

none of the voice assistants to date sounds close to replicating the natural way a human speaks. These voice assistants may have more human timbre, but the stiff elocution, the mispronunciations, the frequent mistakes in comprehension, all quickly inform the user that what they are dealing with is something of quite limited intelligence. The affordances draw palpable, if invisible, boundaries in the user’s mind, and they quickly realize the low ROI on trying anything other than what is likely to be in the hard-coded response tree. In fact, I’d argue that the small jokes that these UI’s insert, like answering random questions like “what is the meaning of life?” may actually set these assistants up to disappoint people even more by encouraging more such questions the assistant isn’t ready to answer (I found it amusing when Alexa answered my question, “Is Jon Snow dead?” two seasons ago, but then was disappointed when it still had the same abandoned answer a season later, after the question had already been answered by the program months ago).

The same invisible boundaries work immediately when speaking to one of those automated voice customer service menus. You immediately know to speak to these as if you’re addressing an idiot who is also hard of hearing, and the goal is to complete the interaction as quickly as possible, or to divert to a human customer service rep at the earliest possible moment.

[I read on Twitter that one shortcut to get to a human when speaking to an automated voice response system is to curse, that the use of profanity is often a built-in trigger to turn you over to an operator. This is both an amusing and clever design but also feels like some odd admission of guilt on the part of the system designer.]

It is not easy, given the simplicity of textual UIs, to lower the user’s expectations. However, given where the technology is for now, it may be necessary to erect such guardrails. Perhaps the font for the assistant should be some fixed-width typeface, to distinguish it from a human. Maybe some mechanical sound effects could convey the robotic nature of the machine writing the words, and perhaps the syntax should be less human in some ways, to lower expectations.

«

link to this extract


Israeli device banishes finger-pricking for sugar levels in diabetes patients • The Times of Israel

Shoshana Solomon:

»

Caesarea-based startup Cnoga Medical Ltd. says it has come up with a way to track blood glucose levels without pricking or pain. Its glucose meter, already approved for use in numerous countries worldwide, uses a camera to provide a diagnosis of blood glucose levels by observing the changing colors of the user’s finger.

During a short training period, the device learns to correlate the user’s skin tone with previous glucose level readings.

The technology got the green light on Monday from one of the world’s leading diabetes specialists, Prof. Andreas Pfützner, MD, PhD, who came to Israel to present the company with his findings after having tested the technology in two clinical studies in Germany.

“The results were surprising,” he told The Times of Israel in a phone interview.  Pfützner held two clinical trials at his institute to validate the performance of the technology, and in both studies he found that the medical device performed “with a surprising level of accuracy,” the same as that of needle sensors.

“Cnoga achieved the same level of monitoring as the invasive devices,” he said.

«

It’s quite big – about the size of a 9V battery pack – but non-invasive is a big plus.
link to this extract


Steam is no longer supporting Bitcoin • Group Announcements :: Steam Blog

»

As of today [December 6], Steam will no longer support Bitcoin as a payment method on our platform due to high fees and volatility in the value of Bitcoin.

In the past few months we’ve seen an increase in the volatility in the value of Bitcoin and a significant increase in the fees to process transactions on the Bitcoin network. For example, transaction fees that are charged to the customer by the Bitcoin network have skyrocketed this year, topping out at close to $20 a transaction last week (compared to roughly $0.20 when we initially enabled Bitcoin). Unfortunately, Valve has no control over the amount of the fee. These fees result in unreasonably high costs for purchasing games when paying with Bitcoin. The high transaction fees cause even greater problems when the value of Bitcoin itself drops dramatically.

Historically, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile, but the degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months, losing as much as 25% in value over a period of days. This creates a problem for customers trying to purchase games with Bitcoin.

«

Store of value and/or medium of exchange or just speculative instrument?
link to this extract


Serious faults in Digiconomist’s Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index • Zorinaq

Marc Bevand:

»

The author of the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index makes fundamentally flawed assumptions, causing it to demonstrably overestimate the electricity consumption of Bitcoin miners by 1.5× to 3.6×, and likely by 2.0× to 2.5×.

His main error, amongst others, is making the wrong assumption that a fixed “60%” of mining revenues are spent on electricity. “60%” is pulled out of thin air and miscalculated due to a misunderstanding from the author. As of 22 November 2017 he still has not fixed this incorrect assumption.

«

The BECI is the thing which makes one think that bitcoin mining is going to be a serious challenge for the electricity grid in a few years. Here, Becand takes it to task. In detail.

But, but, but! That’s not the end of the story. “Digiconomist” arrives in the comments to make defend his (I assume) case. Bevand fights back. Digiconomist responds.

This has been going since February 2017, and they keep updating it. (Latest update: 22 November.) It reminds me of this Star Trek episode.
link to this extract


Native Mobile Apps Part 1 • David Bressler

Bressler has hit the age everyone eventually hits: he needs glasses for reading, but not for other stuff. But it’s hard to read text on his phone:

»

I remem ber when Apple first had a sys tem font pref er ence that worked across apps. Before then, using a Black ber ry or Win dows Mobile, I remem ber hav ing to change the font set ting for each app indi vid u al ly (if the app sup port ed one). It was awk ward at best. Font sizes between apps were incon sis tent dri ving the OCD (fig u ra tive, not diag nos ti cal ly lit er al) part of me insane.

I remem ber the relief that I could go to one set ting on the iPhone and nev er have to think about it again.

Here’s the thing.

I now have the sys tem font set to the high est size. It works great, most ly. How ev er…

Respon sive apps either can’t, can’t eas i ly, or have devel op ers that don’t care to imple ment the sys tem font set ting in their apps. I could call out banks, hos pi tals, and even Coin Mar ket Cap (where I track my cryp to port fo lio dai ly) and Telegram (where I learn more about Cryp to) that don’t sup port the sys tem font.

It dri ves me insane when peo ple don’t accept that their crap py respon sive apps are crap py. I under stand why they have to be some times done (some apps just aren’t that impor tant)… but that’s not the case with the ones I’m most ly using.

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link to this extract


Inside Oracle’s cloak-and-dagger political war with Google • Recode

Tony Romm:

»

Oracle’s aggressive legal maneuvering has evolved into a political campaign against Google, sources say.

Take the fight over online privacy, which consumed the U.S. Congress this spring. At the time, lawmakers had just rolled back rules that would have required companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon to obtain permission before selling their customers’ web-browsing histories to advertisers. Some Republicans said the rules targeting ISPs were heavy-handed and unfair because they didn’t apply to tech giants like Facebook and Google in equal measure. To that end, one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, introduced a bill that aimed to subject both industries to tougher privacy regulations.

Naturally, Google opposed that idea — and speaking through one of its trade associations, the search giant pledged to fight. Days after Blackburn introduced the bill, however, Oracle publicly praised the lawmaker for her work product. Many in tech saw it as an odd move for a company with no search or advertising business.

Then, Oracle purchased mobile billboards in Blackburn’s home state, Tennessee, in an apparent bid to rile locals about the power and reach of Silicon Valley, two sources told Recode. “Internet companies betrayed you,” the ad began. It didn’t mention Google by name, but it still charged that the industry had “sold your most sensitive and personal information for $125bn in advertising revenue last year.”

“Paid for by Oracle,” it read in fine print at the bottom.

«

link to this extract


Mecklenburg computer servers held for ransom by hacker • Charlotte Observer

Steve Harrison:

»

Mecklenburg County government has been paralyzed by an unknown computer hacker after a county employee unknowingly opened an email attachment Monday that unleashed spyware and a worm into the county’s computer system.

County manager Dena Diorio said Tuesday night that the hacker has essentially frozen the county’s electronic files. The hacker is seeking $23,000 for an encryption key that would release the files.

The hacker’s deadline: 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“The files on the servers are being held for ransom,” she said before a commissioners meeting Wednesday.

Diorio said the county is working with a third-party technology company to decide what to do. She said she is open to paying the ransom, which would be paid in bitcoin.

But Diorio said that paying the ransom would present a number of other potential problems, not including rewarding the hackers.

“If you pay the bitcoin, there is always a risk they won’t give you the encryption key,” she said. “And they could go back for more (money).”…

…Diorio said the hackers don’t have access to people’s health records, Social Security numbers or credit card information.

“Social Security numbers are protected and health information is protected,” she said.

She said an example of the problem is the county’s code enforcement office, where much of the work is done electronically. Employees no longer have access to their records. But she said they are switching to paper records for work on Wednesday.

«

Well, you could always consider how much you spend on having airgapped backups. Also: “unknown hacker”? Is that different from “known hacker”? They probably just put the ransomware together like Lego. (Thanks JC for the link.)
link to this extract


Analysis: Facebook performance declined for news published in 2017 • Medium

Matt McAlister:

»

we may be witnessing a decline in Facebook’s influence on news. The new numbers are hiding it in plain sight.

The median average engagements number, the 50th percentile or half of all articles, has been declining most of the year. In Spring the median engagements figure was 36. And now in December that number is down to 23.

Total month-to-month engagements may look encouraging, but the highest performers are the only ones to benefit. The bottom 90% of articles are all in a steady decline.
While it may appear as if the company is obscuring an overall decline by introducing a topline increase, we don’t know what Facebook’s intentions are with this change. It’s conceivable this pattern started well before the change and that we are only now seeing truth with more accurate figures than what we had access to before.

Sampling would surely skew toward flatter growth in a viral system, and now that they report ‘real’ engagements, as they claim, we might be seeing patterns that have been there for years.

Regardless, the larger trend is not good news for news. If most of the news is getting shared less and less on Facebook then publishers will likely also see a reduction in an important source of customer visits, both new customers and loyal customers.

«

That is absolutely tiny amounts of sharing, and implies huge numbers of articles are thrown into a void as deep as the Marianas Trench.
link to this extract


Ziff-Davis has bought Mashable at a fire-sale price and plans to lay off 50 people • Recode

Peter Kafka on the sale, priced at about $50m (after a recent funding round valued it at $250m:

»

Mashable’s new owners plan on keeping the site running but want to refocus the company on tech and tech-lifestyle content. That will mean laying off about 50 of the site’s employees and offering other Mashable employees jobs at other Ziff Davis publications, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans, who says founder Pete Cashmore will stay with the company.

Ziff Davis specializes in running low-cost publishers that generate a significant amount of their revenue from “affiliate commerce” — usually executed via in-text links which pay the publisher when a reader clicks on the link, or buys something after clicking on the link. Last year, the company made a bid for the Gawker Media sites when those properties were in a bankruptcy auction.

Mashable’s collapse comes amid increasing skepticism about online publishers that depend on digital advertising, as Google and Facebook eat up increasing amounts of that market. Last week, BuzzFeed said it was laying off about 100 people — around 6% of its workforce — as it looked for new revenue streams to augment its core “native” ads business.

«

Mashable started in Cashmore’s bedroom, and at this rate it’s going to end up there too. Its recent “pivot to video”, when it laid off a ton of people who just wrote words, clearly didn’t do the trick.
link to this extract


Pivot to subscriptions • Medium

Nick Hagar on TheStreet moving to a subscription model:

»

Companies across digital media are reaching a moment of truth, one that’s been coming for the 10 years they’ve failed to turn a profit. But while other publications are now pivoting to video, TheStreet’s already been there, done that, and it didn’t work. According to Digiday, “while video views have grown substantially, according to former employees, boosted by the liberal use of autoplay, consumer advertising revenue grew just 2% during the most recent quarter, per the company filing.”
Instead, it’s banking on the value it provides to readers, focusing on events and subscriptions. I think this is a smart move for a niche publication with a dedicated audience, and it’s the approach places like Digiday and The Information rely on.

«

TheStreet (and sister publication The Deal) now have fewer than 40 editorial people, having cut about 10 recently. The noose tightens…
link to this extract


Zeta Global acquires commenting service Disqus • TechCrunch

Frederic Lardinois:

»

Marketing tech company Zeta Global is making good use of its recent $140m Series F funding round. After acquiring Boomtrain earlier this year, the company today announced it has acquired Disqus, a service you’re probably familiar with thanks to its ubiquitous online commenting service that powers the commenting sections of sites that range from TMZ to The Atlantic and Entertainment Weekly.

A source close to the two companies tells us that the acquisition price was close to $90m. This marks Zeta’s eleventh acquisition since it was founded in 2007.

Zeta Global’s acquisitions have typically focused on more fundamental technologies like AI and machine learning, customer lifecycle management and other adtech related services. At first glance, Disqus doesn’t quite seem to fit into this list, but Disqus sits on a huge data set that goes beyond your favorite troll’s political comments.

“Marketers typically have to make trade-offs between reaching engaged audiences on social platforms with massive reach and using tools that give them control and access to granular targeting capabilities,” said Zeta Global CEO, chairman and co-founder David A. Steinberg. “Disqus strengthens Zeta’s ability to offer the best of both worlds with the scale, visibility and performance marketers have been asking for.”

«

“Granular targeting capabilities”. In other words, ads (and other profiling, to be sold on to who knows which company and used for who knows what) based on what you comment on. The case for not commenting on anything – or trying to delete your Disqus profile – just grew sizably.
link to this extract


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.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Russia’s fake Twitter news, Facebook for kids?, cracking iOS 11, Google v Amazon, and more


We don’t have a picture of data leaking from a database, so here’s the aquatic equivalent. Photo by THomas Good on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. No, target=_blank to open the links in new windows/tabs isn’t implemented yet. Give it a day or so. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How the Kremlin tried to pose as American news sites on Twitter • Bloomberg

Selina Wang:

»

The Kremlin-backed Russian Internet Research Agency operated dozens of Twitter accounts masquerading as local American news sources that collectively garnered more than half-a-million followers. More than 100 news outlets also published stories containing those handles in the run-up to the election, and some of them were even tweeted by a top presidential aide. These news imposter accounts, which are part of the 2,752 now-suspended accounts that Twitter Inc. has publicly disclosed to be tied to the IRA, show how the Russian group sought to build local communities of followers to disseminate messages.

Many of the news imposter accounts amassed their following by tweeting headlines from real news sites, while others sought to represent certain communities. They targeted a diverse set of regions across the political spectrum, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston. Several of the accounts were impersonating local news outlets in swing states, like @TodayPittsburgh, @TodayMiami and @TodayCincinnati.

«

How soon before the US rules that Twitter is an agent of a foreign power?
link to this extract


A popular virtual keyboard app leaks 31 million users’ personal data • ZDNet

Zack Whittaker:

»

Personal data belonging to over 31 million customers of a popular virtual keyboard app has leaked online, after the app’s developer failed to secure the database’s server.

The server is owned by Eitan Fitusi, co-founder of AI.type, a customizable and personalizable on-screen keyboard, which boasts more than 40 million users across the world.

But the server wasn’t protected with a password, allowing anyone to access the company’s database of user records, totaling more than 577 gigabytes of sensitive data.

The database appears to only contain records on the app’s Android users.

The discovery was found by security researchers at the Kromtech Security Center, which posted details of the exposure alongside ZDNet…

…The company also promises to “never share your data or learn from password fields,” but we saw one table containing more than 8.6 million entries of text that had been entered using the keyboard, which included private and sensitive information, like phone numbers, web search terms, and in some cases concatenated email addresses and corresponding passwords.

…”It raises the question once again if it is really worth it for consumers to submit their data in exchange for free or discounted products or services that gain full access to their devices,” [Kromtech head of communications Bob Diachenko] added.

«

It’s like Dirty Harry. “This is a multi-gigabyte server which could blow your passwords and typing all over the net. In all this excitement, I can’t remember whether I set a password on the server or not. Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, DO YA?”
link to this extract


Facebook ‘Messenger Kids’ lets under-13s chat with whom parents approve • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

»

It’s important to understand that kids under 13 still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, parents download the Messenger Kids app to a child’s iPhone or iPad (Android coming soon). Once the parent has authenticated it with their own account, they set up a mini-profile with their kid’s name and photo. Then, using the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app, parents can approve anyone who is friends with them as a contact for their kid, like aunts and uncles or godparents. Messenger Kids is interoperable with the main Messenger app, so adults don’t actually have to download the Kids app.

Kids still can’t be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy. So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid’s parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult’s child as a contact for their own kid. This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids, and something Facebook might be able to improve with a way for Messenger Kids to let children perhaps photograph a QR code on their playmate’s app to request that their parents connect…

…One thing that might surprise some people is that there’s no way for parents to secretly spy on what their kids are saying in their chats. Instead, parents have to ask to look at their kids’ screen, which Chung says is a more common behavior pattern. The exception is that if kids report a piece of objectionable content, their parents will be notified but still not shown the content in their own app.

«

Facebook did a ton of research with parents (including those in the military) to find out the best approach here. It found that kids already had access to hardware: 93% of 6-12 years olds in the US had access to a tablet or smartphone, 66% had their own device, and 60% of parents surveyed said kids under 13 used messaging apps, social media or both.

But at its core, it’s about getting people – even those under age – to use Facebook more. In the end, that’s not working out well for adults already. Why should it be any better for children? If they want to call the grandparents, there’s Skype or Facetime.
link to this extract


iOS 11 leaves iOS devices more vulnerable to edge-case attacks, says phone-cracking company ElcomSoft • 9to5Mac

Ben Lovejoy:

»

Anyone wanting to access private data from an iPhone used to face two challenges, says the company in a blog post (which was experiencing loading problems at the time of writing). First, they had to access the device itself, which usually requires knowing or cracking the passcode. Second, even with the passcode, you could not access all the data on the device unless you could also crack the password used for the encrypted backup of the device.

It is the encrypted backup that contains Keychain data, allowing you to easily access any account used by the phone’s owner, as well as application data and more. Indeed, in many cases, authorities and other attackers focus their efforts on cracking the backup rather than the device itself, as it provides easier access to more data.

Prior to iOS 11, if you made an encrypted backup to iTunes, the password protecting that backup was used every time in future, even if you switched Mac…

…Apple documents this process, so it’s clearly a deliberate decision rather than a bug.

It seems likely that Apple is balancing convenience against security here, taking the view that anyone who has the device passcode usually has legitimate access to the device. The new behavior would be helpful to anyone who forgot their encrypted backup password, as well as families of anyone who passed away but had shared their passcode with family members.

My personal view is that the change makes sense. The risk created by it is real edge-case stuff: someone has physical access to my device and knows my passcode. The benefit is that there’s an escape plan for the many people who forget rarely-used passwords – like, in this case, an encrypted backup password that is typically only needed when upgrading devices.

«

Elcomsoft has a point. Question is, how many people give up their passcode to those they shouldn’t?

link to this extract


Fun with Facebook ads? • ZGP

Don Marti:

»

Most of the ads that I was getting to start with were for free-to-play NSFW games, so I changed my profile to “female”. Jackpot! All of a sudden I started getting much more professional ads, including IT products and services for big companies, and training classes for online marketing skills (yes, including a Facebook ad for a class on how to advertise on Facebook). What I guess happened is that the more business-focused advertisers put in gender-neutral bids, and while I was “male” on the site, they got outbid by the game companies specifically targeting male users.

(Dudes, I highly recommend going “female” on Facebook if you haven’t already, especially if you might be embarrased about people seeing too much décolletage in the ads when they walk by. So there’s your personal infotainment tip for today.)

But what did I do? I had fixed a problem, so I broke it some more. I went ahead and stayed female, but increased my age to 88. Big mistake.

«

It’s quite remarkable what you then get.
link to this extract


Bitcoin could cost us our clean-energy future • Grist

Eric Holthaus:

»

As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called “mining”) get more and more difficult — a wrinkle designed to control the currency’s supply.

Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers combined.

The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge — an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.

That sort of electricity use is pulling energy from grids all over the world, where it could be charging electric vehicles and powering homes, to bitcoin-mining farms. In Venezuela, where rampant hyperinflation and subsidized electricity has led to a boom in bitcoin mining, rogue operations are now occasionally causing blackouts across the country. The world’s largest bitcoin mines are in China, where they siphon energy from huge hydroelectric dams, some of the cheapest sources of carbon-free energy in the world. One enterprising Tesla owner even attempted to rig up a mining operation in his car, to make use of free electricity at a public charging station.

In just a few months from now, at bitcoin’s current growth rate, the electricity demanded by the cryptocurrency network will start to outstrip what’s available, requiring new energy-generating plants.

«

Though I linked to the data about bitcoin mining using so much energy, the fact of its exponential increase in demand had passed me by. Only if fewer people mine will the difficulty come down, and then the demand. But that’s only going to happen if the price drops precipitously.
link to this extract


YouTube is gone from Amazon Fire TV and Echo Show again, as Google vs Amazon heats up • BGR

Yoni Heisler:

»

In a bold strike against Amazon, Google earlier today pulled support for its YouTube app from both the Amazon Echo Show and the Fire TV. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because we previously went down a similar road this past September. Back then, Google explained that the Echo Show’s implementation of YouTube lacked integral features and created a broken experience for users. YouTube ultimately returned to the Echo Show in late November, though sources familiar with the matter tell TechCrunch that Amazon at the time implemented a workaround that wasn’t authorized by Google.

So now we’re back to square one, with Echo Show users left unable to access any YouTube content. Fire TV users, meanwhile, will lose access on January 1. In a statement on the matter, Google accused Amazon of refusing to sell certain Google branded products.

“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services,” Google said. “But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

«

It’s telling that Google’s (only available) reprisal for not having its hardware sold on a store is to make its services unavailable on that store’s hardware. Who do we think loses more here?
link to this extract


How brands secretly buy their way into Forbes, Fast Company, and HuffPost stories • The Outline

Jon Christian:

»

Interviews with more than two dozen marketers, journalists, and others familiar with similar pay-for-play offers revealed a dubious corner of online publishing in which publicists, ranging from individuals like Satyam to medium-sized “digital marketing firms” that blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients in articles that make no mention of the financial arrangement.

People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.

One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name. To make the references seem natural, he said, he often links to case studies and how-to guides published by the startup on its own site.

«

I’ve heard about variants of this for a while, specifically around the Forbes “contributors” (who aren’t staff; in effect they’re outside bloggers). After I’d left the Guardian, I saw claims that there were similar paid links at The Guardian. I investigated them via those who claimed to have paid for links: they didn’t check out. (I think the middlemen selling links claimed it so they could charge more for the places where they could sell links.)

It’s an unsurprising wrinkle. Good journalism by Christian to pin it down.
link to this extract


Apple’s HomePod isn’t about Siri, but rather the future of home audio • Apple Insider

Daniel Eran Dilger:

»

Apple’s intent for HomePod isn’t just being a copy of Echo. Despite a dubious “tell-all” report for Bloomberg by Mark Gurman (the same person who likes to announce on camera how far ahead Amazon is over Apple in its Alexa voice app partnerships) that portrayed Apple’s HomePod as a disjointed, incompetently run skunkworks project, the reality is that HomePod is doing something very different than Amazon.

It does not appear that anyone at Bloomberg understands anything about Apple’s strategy, but rather only views the company through a distorted lens of other companies’ marketing nonsense. That explains why Gurman earlier insisted in 2015 that his sources had confirmed that the second generation of Apple Watch would get a low-quality camera just like Samsung’s failed Gear smartwatch. This made no sense at all for many reasons but was received and propagated by other outlets as reliable news, before being forgotten. Years later, there’s no camera on Apple Watch.

Like the original Mac, NeXT, iPhone and iPad, HomePod isn’t an attempt to merely clone the status quo, but rather an effort to take very expensive new technology and make it affordable to the mass market. HomePod is the pinnacle of Apple’s resurgent efforts to push advanced audio technology since its acquisition of Beats. It’s not just a wireless speaker with Siri.

«

HomePod is miles from “mass market”. Echo, Dot, Google Home: those are priced for the mass market. Trying to drive mass market purchasing of high-quality audio because it’s high-quality audio is doomed to failure. (CDs offered higher-quality audio, but it was their convenience that made them sell.)

There’s a legitimate question about how big and how useful the “smart speaker” market can be, but Apple’s definitely playing in it. Coming so late to the game, it doesn’t have the luxury of redefining the market.
link to this extract


HP, Asus announce first Windows 10 ARM PCs: 20 hour battery life, gigabit LTE • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

Just shy of a year after announcing that Windows was once again going to be available on ARM systems, the first two systems were announced today: the Asus NovaGo 2-in-1 laptop, and the HP Envy x2 tablet.

Branded as Always Connected PCs, the new Windows on ARM systems are positioned as bringing together the best of PCs and smartphones. They have PC form factors, with the productivity enabled by a real keyboard, touchpad, and general purpose operating system capable of running regular Windows software, but they bring with them the seamless switching between LTE and Wi-Fi, instant on, multiple working day battery life, and slimline, lightweight packaging that we’re accustomed to on our phones.

The Asus laptop boasts 22 hours of battery life or 30 days of standby, along with LTE that can run at gigabit speeds. HP’s tablet offers a 12.3 inch, 1920×1280 screen, 20 hours battery life or 29 days of standby, and a removable keyboard-cover and stylus. Both systems use the Snapdragon 835 processor and X16 LTE modem, with HP offering up to 8GB RAM and 256GB storage to go with it…

…The emulator runs in a just-in-time basis, converting blocks of x86 code to equivalent blocks of ARM code. This conversion is cached both in memory (so each given part of a program only has to be translated once per run) and on disk (so subsequent uses of the program should be faster, as they can skip the translation). Moreover, system libraries—the various DLLs that applications load to make use of operating system features—are all native ARM code, including the libraries loaded by x86 programs. Calling them “Compiled Hybrid Portable Executables” (or “chippie” for short), these libraries are ARM native code, compiled in such a way as to let them respond to x86 function calls.

While processor-intensive applications are liable to suffer a significant performance hit from this emulation—Photoshop will work in the emulator, but it won’t be very fast—applications that spend a substantial amount of time waiting around for the user—such as Word—should perform with adequate performance.

«

Seems like a better approach than the first time round with ARM. That’s quite some battery life, too.
link to this extract


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Start Up: social media explained, Oreo reviewed, cheaper iPads?, make your own Brexit!, and more


Is the BBC approaching the end of the line? Photo by l-b-p-2011 on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. None co-written by Paul Manafort. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A simple theory of Moore’s Law and social media • Marginal REVOLUTION

Tyler Cowen, here in part:

»

6. Consider a second distinction, namely between people who are too sensitive to social information, and people who are relatively insensitive to social information.  A quick test of this one is to ask how often a person’s tweets (and thoughts) refer to the motivations, intentions, or status hierarchies held by others.  Get the picture?  (Here is an A+ example.)

7. People who are overly sensitive to social information will be driven to distraction by Twitter.  They will find the world to be intolerably bad.  The status distinctions they value will be violated so, so many times, and in a manner which becomes common knowledge.  And they will perceive what are at times the questionable motives held by others.  Twitter is like negative catnip for them.  In fact, they will find it more and more necessary to focus on negative social information, thereby exacerbating their own tendencies toward oversensitivity.

8. People who are not so sensitive to social information will pursue social media with greater equanimity, and they may find those media productivity-enhancing.  Nevertheless they will become rather visibly introduced to a relatively new category of people for them — those who are overly sensitive to social information.  This group will become so transparent, so in their face, and also somewhat annoying.  Even those extremely insensitive to social information will not be able to help perceiving this alternate approach, and also the sometimes bad motivations that lie behind it.  The overly sensitive ones in turn will notice that another group is under-sensitive to the social considerations they value.  These two groups will think less and less of each other.  The insensitive will have been made sensitive.  It’s like playing “overrated vs. underrated” almost 24/7 on issues you really care about, and which affect your own personal status.

9. The philosophy of Stoicism will return to Silicon Valley.  It will gain adherents but fail, because the rest of the system is stacked against it.

10. The socially sensitive, very smart people will become the most despairing, the most manipulated, and the most angry.  The socially insensitive will either jump ship into the camp of the socially sensitive, or they will cultivate new methods of detachment, with or without Stoicism.  Straussianism will compete with Stoicism.

«

An excellent analysis. (There are 13 points in all.) Though I think it’s Metcalfe’s law, relating to networks, that’s more relevant than Moore’s.
link to this extract


Android Oreo review: an iOS user’s review (Introduction) • BirchTree

Matt Birchler:

»

I have been using the Google Pixel 2, which is the latest and greatest Android phone out there. I chose this phone for my experiment because I wanted to leave no room for my conclusions to be colored by a bad OEM skin on top of Android or by a lower quality phone as my comparisons to iOS should be as fair as possible. Since I wanted to review Oreo, a Pixel was my only option in October, and thankfully that Pixel has top of the like specs and the best Android camera out there. This is Android how Google intended it.

The very, very TLDR version of my review is as follows:

Android has grown up considerably over the last decade. It’s no longer a complete disaster of a user experience, and some elements have actually surpassed what Apple is doing with iOS. Notifications are much better than they are on iOS and Google Assistant is more accurate and more helpful than Siri. that said, there are a million little (and not so little) things that truly make Android a sub-par experience for me. Your milage may vary, but the abysmal third party software available for the platform, poor inter-app communication, and countless stability issues make Android a place I only want to visit for a month or two per year, not something I can see myself using full time.

«

Everyone praises Android’s handling of notifications. Birchler’s points about inter-app communication (in the second part of this series) may surprise those who think it’s an Android strength.
link to this extract


Brexit options: interactive diagram • Brexitoptions

»

Click on the buttons above to explore some Brexit scenarios — relevant sections will turn purple

«

This is a terrific illustration of where the UK would (will?) sit under various outcomes. Most of them look worrying to me. (Guess which one puts the UK on the same side of the fence as Turkey. Some irony there.)

Beautiful graphics, too.
link to this extract


TV channels have ‘up to 10 years’ to meet tech threat • FT

Matthew Garrahan:

»

concerns are growing across Europe that the central role of public service broadcasters, or PSBs, will diminish.

“The growth and dominance of these companies is a threat to our entire media ecosystem,” said Noel Curran, director-general of the European Broadcasting Union, which represents PSBs. “Everybody in European media needs to ask: where are we going to be in five to 10 years?”

In Britain, programming delivered via broadband and made available on-demand has shaken television’s hierarchy, under which PSBs were the first ports of call on a television’s remote control and were easily regulated.

“What we have taken for granted as critical to the health of UK television is coming under serious threat,” said Jonathan Thompson, chief executive of Digital UK, which is owned by the BBC, ITV and Arqiva, the company that owns and operates the national transmitter network.

Under UK broadcasting regulations, public service channels must be prominently displayed in the electronic programme guides of cable and satellite providers.

But no such regulations exist for programming viewed on-demand: global digital subscription services such as Netflix “with deep pockets and big ambitions . . . are quickly muscling their way into prime position,” Mr Thompson said.

«

link to this extract


F-35 stealth fighter caught spying on its owners • News Australia

Jamie Seidel:

»

While privacy is a concern when it comes to personal internet and smartphone use, it’s becomes a whole different matter when applied to the military.

“Due to national considerations, there is a need for a filter where the user nations can exclude sensitive data from the data stream that is shared by the system with the manufacturer Lockheed Martin,” Gjemble told ABC Nyheter.

An unidentified participant walks past a poster advertising US defence equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth multirole fighter at the 2017 Berlin Security Conference in Berlin.

At the heart of the problem is the F-35’s artificial intelligence dubbed ALIS: it is responsible for logging performance data, as well as monitoring and optimising the aircraft’s sophisticated equipment. To do so it ‘phones home’ to Texas.

Norway says it has become impatient with continued delays in the promised provision of a data “filter” by Lockheed Martin. So it’s started its own project to find ways to block its new F-35s from reporting back to their former US masters.

It’s also worried that it won’t be able to optimise — or protect — the extremely sensitive Mission Data Files. These data packs optimise aircraft performance under different conditions, as well as provide a database of regional challenges and conditions.

Again, Norway wants Lockheed Martin out of the loop.

«

link to this extract


Apple agrees to deal with Ireland over $15bn unpaid tax issue • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

Ireland will begin collecting €13 billion ($15.46 billion) in back taxes from Apple Inc. as soon as early next year after both sides agreed to the terms of an escrow fund for the money, Ireland’s finance chief said Monday.

The European Union in 2016 ordered Dublin to retrieve the billions of euros from Apple in uncollected taxes, which the EU said Apple avoided paying with the help of sweetheart tax deals from Ireland.

A year after that decision, however, Ireland still hadn’t recouped the money, leading the EU in October to refer Dublin to the bloc’s highest court, the European Court of Justice, for failing to implement the decision.

Ireland has said the money collection was held up by negotiations over the escrow account, which will hold the company’s dues while both Apple and Ireland appeal the EU’s 2016 decision in court.

Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe Monday said he expected the flow of money from Apple to begin in the first quarter of 2018 once they complete the tendering processes to determine who would operate the account and who would then manage the fund.

«

Apple’s still disputing it, but this gets the money a little closer to Ireland’s exchequer.
link to this extract


I tried emailing like a CEO and quite frankly, it made my life better • Buzzfeed

Katie Notopoulos:

»

On a Monday morning, I began my experiment. I opened my email, deleted a few purely mailing list items, and got to work. For all the PR pitches I wasn’t interested in, I fired off a quick, “Thanks, but this is a pass for me.” It felt empowering.

The week before the experiment, I sent 21 emails total.

The week I started the experiment, I sent 84. (To be fair, about 25 of those were replies to people who emailed me specifically after I tweeted out that I was doing this experiment. I got a bunch of jokey emails, which I dutifully replied to.)

The other key part of boss-style email is doing a lot of email on the phone. This meant goodbye to my old crutch of “I’ll reply when I get to a computer.” I would fire off emails from my phone on the subway, walking around at lunch, on the toilet at the office. For the first time, I actually started using the suggested Gmail replies, which are actually pretty useful in the sense of purely transmitting information.

That first Monday, as I fired off a bunch of not-super-important emails, something strange happened. I felt…extremely good. I was high on the fumes of efficiency. No longer did a little cloud hang over me, the nagging feeling you get when you know you’re supposed to do something and can’t remember what.

The high didn’t wear off after that first day. It lasted all week. I applied the method to my personal email as well, and although I don’t get as many personal emails, I found it worked even better there.

«

FINALLY.
link to this extract


No, I don’t want to configure your app! • Quils in Space

“Quil”:

»

There seems to be a very interesting trend re-emerging in software development lately, influenced by Node’s philosophy, perhaps, where to use anything at all you first need to install a dozen of “dependencies,” spend the next 10 hours configuring it, pray to whatever gods (or beings) you believe in—even if you don’t. And then, if you’re very lucky and the stars are properly aligned in the sky, you’ll be able to see “Hello, world” output on the screen.

Apparently, more configuration always means more good, as evidenced by new, popular tools such as WebPack and Babel.js’s 6th version. Perhaps this also explains why Java was such a popular platform back in the days.

HYPOTHESIS: The popularity of a tool is proportional to the amount of time it makes their users waste.

«

Though this post is from January 2016, it’s still true. I did try an app called Focos, which shows the output from the depth-mapping systems on the iPhone, and it has a different approach to making you configure the app: it doesn’t even begin explaining how to use it until you press some element. (Then it shows you in detail.) Much better than forcing you to sit through an intro.
link to this extract


Spam is back • The Outline

Jon Christian:

»

an individual who posted on a blackhat hacker forum that he could sell a database of tens of millions of US phone numbers, complete with associated email and postal addresses, told me that though he himself is annoyed by robocalls, he does what he needs to in order to earn a living. He obtains phone numbers from data sellers and lead generation sites that offer users free stuff in exchange for giving up their contact information, he said, and insisted that though he’s been slapped with fines in the past, he now complies with laws governing the sale of phone numbers.

“I mean I see it as a tool to help marketers find the right person,” said that man, who identified himself as Brian Masin during a Skype chat interview.

Masin, who said he’s based in the DC metro area and made as much as $160,000 per year in the internet marketing business, though not all from selling phone numbers, also mused that “if you buy homesec[u]rity online then you deserve” to get “duped.”

In addition to the FTC, a number of app developers and people like telecom consultant Roger Anderson, who created a posse of phone bots designed to waste robocallers’ time by pretending to be human, have all taken up the fight — but today, the calls still persist.

The second coming of spam isn’t just robocalls, of course. It’s rampant on Twitter, for example, where vast botnets boost follower counts for money and push political propaganda. It crops up on Tinder and OkCupid, where bots with voluptuous profile pictures stumble through flirty banter — “I am totally a sex addict” — and inevitably send links to websites that demand credit card numbers. Ashley Madison, a hookup site for extramarital affairs that gained notoriety when its user data was stolen in 2015, harbored millions of “sexbot” accounts intended to sucker users into paying for premium membership.

The volume of spam email has leveled off overall, and Google says it can detect 99.9% of spam and phishing attempts in Gmail. But what email spam is left has become more sophisticated and criminal.

«

Spam never went away, it just mutated. It’s like E.coli – its presence is an indicator of a sort of health.
link to this extract


Video: Seoul taps citizens for ambitious solar power goal • Tech in Asia

Here’s the transcript (via Steven Millward):

»

South Korea is building a “solar city.” In Seoul, mini solar panels are installed on apartment balconies. One can produce enough energy to run a fridge, which means lower electricity bills.

Goal: 1 million households with mini solar panels.

Target: Seoul’s citizens will produce 1 gigawatt of power by 2022. That’s about the same as one nuclear reactor

«

It doesn’t look particularly pretty, but you have to admire the determination.
link to this extract


Apple plans new inexpensive 9.7in iPad for 2018, says sources • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

»

Apple is considering a new inexpensive 9.7in iPad priced at around US$259 for 2018, according to sources from related upstream suppliers, which added that the device should be able to attract more demand from price-oriented consumers, allowing Apple to maintain its present 10 million-unit tablet shipments a quarter.

With the new device, the sources expect the tablet market to witness a new wave of price competition among first-tier players including Samsung Electronics, Amazon, Huawei and Lenovo.

With the tablet market already becoming mature, Apple has been seeing weakening sales for its iPad series, while Android-based tablet shipments have also been declining. Most second- and third-tier brand vendors had already stepped out of the market, while China-based white-box tablet players had also shifted their focuses to other product lines after Intel stopped providing subsidies for using its CPUs.

«

To be precise, the non-iPad market has shrunk for the past two quarters (per IDC) while iPad sales have grown for two quarters, but it’s too soon to call a trend – though total tablet sales, including Windows tablets (by IDC’s definition, ie “slates”) have been falling for 12 successive quarters. Given that, any sort of growth is good. If Apple is going after the cheaper players, that could drive some out. Lenovo has no business selling tablets: it’s too small and doesn’t make money on them.
link to this extract


Australia to probe Facebook, Google over media disruption • Reuters

Jonathan Barrett and Tom Westbrook:

»

Like their rivals globally, Australia’s traditional media companies have been squeezed by online rivals, as advertising dollars have followed eyeballs to digital distributors such as Google, Facebook and Netflix Inc.

The government ordered the probe as part of wider media reforms, amid growing concern for the future of journalism and the quality of news following years of declining profits and newsroom job cuts and the rise of fake news.

“We will examine whether platforms are exercising market power in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators and advertisers,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.

The inquiry also would study how Facebook and Google operated to “fully understand their influence in Australia”, he added.

A Google spokesman said, “We look forward to engaging with this process as relevant.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The idea for an ACCC investigation was hatched during media reform negotiations in parliament earlier this year, which resulted in a relaxation of ownership laws to allow the country’s big players to boost their market share to better compete against online disruptors.

Independent media analyst Peter Cox told Reuters it was unclear what measures the competition regulator could recommend to the government even if it found the country’s media sector was increasingly anti-competitive.

“You could see this as a stepping stone towards another type of reform, such as tax,” said Cox.

«

So some means of getting them to pay taxes? Still not sure how that would work. And it’s completely obvious what they’ve been doing. (Thanks Oh Aye for the link.)
link to this extract


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Start Up: Facebook failing fake news crackdown, concerns on Face ID apps, Thiel’s legacy, Google’s romances, and more


What do MPs get up to when it comes to sharing passwords? Photo by Stuck In Customs 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.


So! You didn’t receive your email last Friday, but instead it arrived Sunday? (Yes, it did. Go look.) That’s because you, personally,, tripped the volume of emails this account sends over into Mailchimp’s paid tier, but I didn’t notice until Saturday. Duh. Now it’s paid up, and the emails will continue.

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

‘Way too little, way too late’: Facebook’s factcheckers say effort is failing • The Guardian

Sam Levin:

»

“I don’t feel like it’s working at all. The fake information is still going viral and spreading rapidly,” said one journalist who does fact-checks for Facebook and, like others interviewed for this piece, was not authorized to speak publicly due to the continuing partnership with the company. “It’s really difficult to hold [Facebook] accountable. They think of us as doing their work for them. They have a big problem, and they are leaning on other organizations to clean up after them.”

Facebook announced to much hype last December [2016] that it was partnering with third-party factcheckers – including the Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News, PolitiFact and FactCheck.org – to publicly flag fake news so that a “disputed” tag would warn users about sharing debunked content. A Guardian review this year found that the fact-checks seemed to be mostly ineffective and that “disputed” tags weren’t working as intended.

Now, some of the factcheckers are raising concerns, saying the lack of internal statistics on their work has hindered the project and that it is unclear if the corporation is taking the spread of propaganda seriously.

Another fact-checking source said it was rare to see the fact-checks actually lead to a “disputed” tag on Facebook, raising questions about how the tool was functioning. Factcheckers said they had queries about how often the tags were placed on articles, what effect they had on the content and what sites were most often targeted – but said that Facebook had not provided information.

«

Related: NYMag’s take on this piece: Facebook’s fact-checking effort was always going to fail
link to this extract


Lenses are being reinvented, and cameras will never be the same • MIT Technology Review

These are UV-etched silicon with sub-light wavelength features on their surfaces:

»

Metalenses have a wide range of applications. The most obvious is imaging. Flat lenses will make imaging systems thinner and simpler. But crucially, since metalenses can be fabricated in the same process as the electronic components for sensing light, they will be cheaper.

So cameras for smartphones, laptops, and augmented-reality imaging systems will suddenly become smaller and less expensive to make. They could even be printed onto the end of optical fibers to acts as endoscopes.

Astronomers could have some fun too. These lenses are significantly lighter and thinner than the behemoths they have launched into orbit in observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. A new generation of space-based astronomy and Earth observing beckons.

But it is within chips themselves that this technology could have the biggest impact. The technique makes it possible to build complex optical bench-type systems into chips for optical processing.

«

More detail at ArXiv. The article has much more explanation of what metalenses are.
link to this extract


Google reckoning with history of interoffice romance by top execs • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

»

The romantic relationships within the walls of Google made ideal fodder for gossip columns and magazine profiles.

Co-founder Larry Page dated Google lieutenant Marissa Mayer in the company’s early days, and co-founder Sergey Brin later drew attention for dating Amanda Rosenberg, a younger colleague. CEO Eric Schmidt dated publicist Marcy Simon when she did work for Google. The stories had sex, money and power against a backdrop of one of the world’s largest tech empires. It was like something out of a rebooted soap opera—Dynasty 2.0.

But an examination by The Information found that those interoffice relationships, and others featuring some of the company’s top leaders, have for years been a flashpoint of frustration and anger among Google’s employees. The relationships often violated at least the spirit of a company policy that prohibits superiors from secretly dating subordinates. But employees noted that there had been no apparent repercussions for the powerful, mostly male, leaders who had such relationships.

As a result, many Google employees expressed the opinion that the company’s culture appears to tolerate, or even endorse, such workplace relationships. In interviews with nearly 40 current and former Google employees, many said the issue had tainted the perception of women who earn promotions, created uncomfortable encounters at off-site events and had raised concerns over whether human resources would address inappropriate conduct. Some described their own experiences with sexual harassment at the company.

«

Wow. The story goes on to name a senior married (male) Google figure who it says had a relationship with a junior colleague – and a child by her. She left the company. Ooooof.
link to this extract


How Peter Thiel and the Stanford Review built a Silicon Valley Empire • Stanford Politics

Andrew Granato on Thiel, who founded the Stanford Review magazine when he was there in 1987:

»

Thiel was asked [in January 2017] how he knew that Trump was going to win. After all, wasn’t it extremely risky to go all-in for Trump when he was down in the polls and Silicon Valley strongly supported Clinton? Thiel replied that, two weeks before the election, some of his closest advisors and confidants wondered to him if they had backed the wrong horse and if it was too late to back off supporting Trump. Thiel, according to his own retelling, responded, “Are we allowed any knowledge other than social scientific knowledge?” And he argued that while the polls did seem to indicate that Trump would lose, he was more confident in his personal assessment of how the world works than the polls. Thiel’s confidence, of course, was vindicated when Trump won.

A former editor described Thiel’s response as “very much in character” for him: “On every major platform he’s built in his life, whether fighting a government authority or an upstart competitor, he tends to come up with ideas and dig in deep to them, and he doesn’t walk away.”

In Oct. 2016, shortly after Thiel donated $1.25 million to Trump, Thiel publicly apologized for passages in his 1995 book The Diversity Myth, such as claiming that some alleged date rapes were “seductions that are later regretted,” saying in a statement, “More than two decades ago, I co-wrote a book with several insensitive, crudely argued statements. As I’ve said before, I wish I’d never written those things. I’m sorry for it. Rape in all forms is a crime. I regret writing passages that have been taken to suggest otherwise.” But three months later, during the after party of the 30-year anniversary event at Thiel’s home, according to a former editor, Thiel stated that his apology was just for the media, and that “sometimes you have to tell them what they want to hear.”

«

Thiel isn’t immune from post-justification, then; Trump’s win was an accident of a tiny proportion of votes – less than 1% of those cast – in three states. An interesting article about a submarine in the seas of influence. (Thanks John N for the link.)

link to this extract


Apple is sharing your face with apps. That’s a new privacy worry • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

Apple’s face tech sets some good precedents—and some bad ones. It won praise for storing the face data it uses to unlock the iPhone X securely on the phone, instead of sending it to its servers over the Internet.

Less noticed was how the iPhone lets other apps now tap into two eerie views from the so-called TrueDepth camera. There’s a wireframe representation of your face and a live read-out of 52 unique micro-movements in your eyelids, mouth and other features. Apps can store that data on their own computers.

To see for yourself, use an iPhone X to download an app called MeasureKit. It exposes the face data Apple makes available. The app’s maker, Rinat Khanov, tells me he’s already planning to add a feature that lets you export a model of your face so you can 3D print a mini-me.

“Holy cow, why is this data available to any developer that just agrees to a bunch of contracts?” said Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst at Forrester Research…

…It’s not clear how Apple’s TrueDepth data might change the kinds of conclusions software can draw about people. But from years of covering tech, I’ve learned this much: Given the opportunity to be creepy, someone will take it.

Using artificial intelligence, face data “may tell an app developer an awful lot more than the human eye can see,” said Forrester’s Khatibloo. For example, she notes researchers recently used AI to more-accurately determine people’s sexuality just from regular photographs. That study had limitations, but still “the tech is going to leapfrog way faster than consumers and regulators are going to realize,” said Khatibloo.

«

Fowler’s point about the creep of creepiness is well made. (Though note it’s not detailed enough to hack your phone.)
link to this extract


Hacking the House: do MPs care about cyber-security? • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones on the row over Nadine Dorries MP sharing her login details with her staff:

»

does the House of Commons have a cyber-security policy? And if so, what does it say about logins? After all, this summer Parliament was hit by what was described as a “sustained and serious” cyber attack by hackers trying to access MPs’ email accounts.

It turns out there is a chapter in the House of Commons staff handbook which is very clear on this matter, and on the care needed to be taken with sensitive information stored on computers. Among a list of things it says “You MUST NOT” do is “share your password”.

Pretty clear then? Ah, but that applies to staff, not their bosses.

I consulted a couple of MPs – one Conservative, one Labour – about their attitudes to cyber-security. Both said that they would not dream of sharing their computer login – but admitted that most of their colleagues were far more lax. One told me that in general House of Commons cyber-security had been “really really bad”, although had improved since the July attack.

The MP went on: “Most MPs have that fatal combination of arrogance, entitlement and ignorance, which mean they don’t think codes of practice are for them.”

The other member – who had by the way come under attack from Russian hackers – said that it would be hard to enforce any code: “Ultimately this is a result of each MP and their office functioning as entirely independent small businesses. If one person wants to make daft decisions there is no way of forcing them not to.”

«

The importance of the Dorries tweet is that it could explain how pornography got onto Damian Green’s computer, and yet he didn’t view it. Someone else on his staff was using his login.
link to this extract


Computational Propaganda in Poland: false amplifiers and the digital public sphere • The Computational Propaganda Project

Robert Goraw at the Oxford Internet Institute:

»

This report provides the first overview of political bots, fake accounts, and other false amplifiers in Poland. Based on extensive interviews with political campaign managers, journalists, activists, employees of social media marketing firms, and civil society groups, the report outlines the emergence of Polish digital politics, covering the energetic and hyper-partisan “troll wars”, the interaction of hate speech with modern platform algorithms, and the recent effects of “fake news” and various sources of apparent Russian disinformation.

The report then explores the production and management of artificial identities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks— an industry confirmed to be active in Poland—and assesses how they can be deployed for both political and commercial purposes. The quantitative portion of the report features an analysis of Polish Twitter data, and demonstrates that a very small number of suspected bot accounts are responsible for a disproportionally large proportion of activity on the sampled political hashtags.

«

It’s getting slightly exhausting how full social networks are with lying crap.
link to this extract


#KateSteinle hashtag visualizations • Medium

Erin Gallagher:

»

Hashtags associated with the #KateSteinle verdict were megaphoned by at least 37 cyborgs that are tweeting between 47 to 739 tweets per day, including a brand new account that changed its “identity” mid-campaign. These supercharged accounts amplified hashtags that began as an angry public reaction to the Kate Steinle verdict but turned into a digital campaign of ethnic intimidation against immigrants.


#KateSteinle user-to-hashtag network 25,241 tweets November 30 — December 2

I started capturing tweets for hashtags associated with the #KateSteinle verdict on November 30 at 9:30pm est. From November 30 to December 2 at 11am est, I documented 37 accounts that are tweeting more than humanly possible and amplifying hashtags. There are more than 37 and they may not be intentionally coordinating together, however the effect of these cyborgs tweeting the same hashtags in the same time frame is like an engine running in the background, driving up the quantities of tweets and magnifying the reach of the trends.

The first account I looked at in this hashtag — Annon86368030 — was one of the top users for several hashtags and it appeared abnormal in gephi graphs. This is a brand new account that was created on November 30. Below you can see the account’s profile as it appeared when I found it on Friday morning December 1 and the after screenshot from December 2 when it changed to a plain black avatar and header image and changed its location from Kekistan to United States.

Despite being a brand new account, Annon86368030 managed to tweet 696 tweets in about one day.

«

(For non-Americans, the Steinle verdict came from a murder/manslaughter trial of a Mexican national, deported multiple times from the US, who shot dead a woman in San Francisco in 2015. He didn’t deny the shooting but claimed it was an accident. He faces a prison sentence for handgun possession, but was acquitted of murder and manslaughter. As you’d expect, his immigration record was not part of the trial evidence.)

What’s surprising about this analysis is that accounts created on a day can tweet so much. I thought they’d be rate-limited. (Thanks Jim C for the link.)
link to this extract


This robot aced an exam without understanding a thing • CNBC

Ruth Umoh:

»

The Todai Robot, for example, was able to write a 600-word essay on maritime trade in the 17th century better than most students. Noriko Arai, AI expert and member of the team that built the robot, explains in her TED Talk “Can a Robot Pass a University Entrance Exam?” that this wasn’t because it possesses intelligence, but rather because it can recognize key words.

“Our robot took the sentences from the textbooks and Wikipedia, combined them together, and optimized it to produce an essay without understanding a thing,” Arai says.

“We humans can understand the meaning,” she says. “That is something which is very, very lacking in AI.”
Over the last year, there has been increasing concern over how smart robots are becoming and the eventual eradication of certain industries. However, most of the focus has been on the loss of blue collar jobs. But according to David Lee, vice president of innovation at UPS, it’s not just jobs like factory worker and truck driver at risk.

In his TED Talk titled, “Why Jobs of the Future Won’t Feel Like Work,” Lee says that even the smartest, highest-paid people will be affected by the “tremendous gains in the quality of analysis and decision-making because of machine learning.”

«

Its essay was marked in the top 20% of students on an entrance exam to the University of Tokyo. I’m not sure this matters. Better questions are: can it act on what it reports? Can it decide whether the content is correct or not? Synthesizing human writing is, as this demonstrates, something lots of students learn to do. What’s more important is learning what to do next.
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Google Home Mini crash/reboot if volume is too high • Google Product Forums

»

Not sure that this is the EXACT problem but it is the symptoms.

If I’m playing a song on Play music, then it will reboot after a few seconds.
After reboot, if I say “Set volume to 6” it will play the song ok.

Happens with multiple songs and extremely often.

«

Confirmed by multiple people. (And at Reddit.) Hardware, or possibly software, is hard.
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If your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch unexpectedly restarts • Apple Support

»

If your device with iOS 11 unexpectedly restarts repeatedly on or after December 2, 2017, learn what to do. 

Try to update your device to iOS 11.2. After you tap Download and Install, the download will continue even if your device restarts. Wait for the update to complete.
If you can’t update, turn off notifications for all the apps on your device, then update your device to iOS 11.2:
• Tap Settings > Notifications.
• Tap an app, then turn off Allow Notifications. Repeat this step for each app.
• Update your device to iOS 11.2.

«

Software is hard.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Google faces Safari suit, Proton’s search query, the guy who killed Trump’s tweets, and more


Best estimates suggest this is the best-selling “stationary smart speaker”. But how big is the upside? Photo by MarkGregory007 on Flickr.

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

UK class action accuses Google of unlawfully harvesting personal data • The Guardian

Graham Ruddick:

»

More than 5 million people in the UK could be entitled to compensation from Google if a class action against the internet giant for allegedly harvesting personal data is successful.

A group led by the former executive director of consumer body Which?, Richard Lloyd, and advised by City law firm Mischon de Reya claims Google unlawfully collected personal information by bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone between June 2011 and February 2012.

They have launched a legal action with the aim of securing compensation for those affected. The group, called Google You Owe Us, says that approximately 5.4 million people in Britain used the iPhone during this period and could be entitled to compensation.

Google is accused of breaching principles in the UK’s data protection laws in a “violation of trust” against iPhone users.

«

Odd. This case was litigated back in 2014, where it was established that there is a tort in law of misuse of private data. That case dribbled away before it could reach the Supreme Court – Google is believed to have settled out of court – but now it’s back again with a new cast. It’s like a musical that never closes. (The establishment of the tort as a precedent means this case is very likely to succeed.)
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Why did ProtonMail vanish from Google search results for months? • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

»

In 2015, ProtonMail had passed half a million users. Earlier this year it exited beta, and added iOS and Android apps. It now has around two million users, according to founder Andy Yen. Back in March he told TechCrunch that ProtonMail was approaching break even — through donations and paid accounts.

However, in a blog post published on 26 October titled “Search Risk”, the company claims Google nearly killed its product and seriously dented its profitability by disappearing “ProtonMail” from relevant search results.

In November 2015, Yen writes that the company noticed it was no longer appearing in Google search results for related search queries — despite roughly doubling its user base by that fall — whereas all other major search engines were still returning ProtonMail prominently in their results:

ProtonMail tracked this situation through Spring 2016, trying to get in touch with Google to query why it had vanished from search results — and initially having no luck getting a response. It only eventually got an acknowledgment of the complaint in August after it had tweeted at Google staff.

After that public exchange, ProtonMail was apparently informed within a few days that Google had “fixed something” — and after that it was able to see immediately positive results:

A quick test confirms that a search for “secure email” or “encrypted email” in Google now returns ProtonMail as the top or second result.

«

They say they haven’t heard of other cases like it. Haven’t they heard of Foundem, which was suppressed for ages by Google? They probably will soon – Yelp has asked them to join an antitrust coalition against Google.
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A stationary smart speaker mirage • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart on the Amazon Echo/Dot/etc and Google Home and Sonos One:

»

The major takeaway from customer surveys regarding smart speakers usage is that there isn’t any clear trend. If anything, smart speakers are being used for rudimentary tasks that can just as easily be done with digital voice assistants found on smartwatches or smartphones. This environment paints a very different picture of the current health of the smart speaker market. The narrative in the press is simply too rosy and optimistic.

Ultimately, smart speakers end up competing with a seemingly unlikely product category: wearables. In fact, stationary smart speakers and wrist wearables share a surprising amount of similarities. Each is ultimately based on handling tasks formerly given to smartphones and tablets. Two examples are delivering both digital voice assistants and sound. If the goal is to rely on a digital voice assistant, an Apple Watch wearer has access to Siri at pretty much every waking  moment. When simply wearing an Apple Watch, Siri is instantly available everywhere in the home. The same kind of access to Alexa would require five, ten, or maybe even 15 Echo speakers spaced strategically throughout the home (another reason why Echo sales are becoming increasingly misleading – some consumers may be buying a handful of $20 speakers at one time). With a cellular Apple Watch, Siri is now available outside the home even when users are away from their iPhones. Meanwhile, Alexa is stuck within four walls – at least until Amazon unveils its Alexa smartwatch. 

Wearables contain a much more attractive long-term value proposition than stationary smart speakers that have to be connected to a wall outlet. In addition, the presence of a screen provides even more value as it has become very clear that voice-first or voice-only interfaces just aren’t that efficient.

The writing is on the wall. The stationary speaker market is a stopgap measure taking advantage of relatively low wearables adoption. My estimate is that Apple Watch adoption stands at 3% of the iPhone user base (10% to 15% of iPhone users in the U.S.). As that percentage increases, my suspicion is we will start to see the stationary smart speaker market begin to experience usage and retention troubles.

«

I think he’s right that most people buy the cheapest one – ie the Dot – so there’s a race to the bottom. But what if wearables don’t quite take off?
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Arkansas prosecutors drop murder case that hinged on evidence from Amazon Echo • NPR

Colin Dwyer:

»

Arkansas prosecutors have dropped their case against James Bates, whom they had charged with first-degree murder partly with the help of evidence collected by an Amazon Echo smart speaker. On Wednesday, a circuit court judge granted their request to have the charges of murder and tampering with evidence dismissed.

The prosecutors declared nolle prosequi, stating that the evidence could support more than one reasonable explanation.

The move marks a curious end to a still more curious case, which had revolved around the role played by a personal assistant device that’s supposed to begin recording as soon as someone says its wake word — “Alexa,” in this case — in its presence.

«

I guess *drum roll* they couldn’t get Alexa to talk.

I’ll get me coat.

link to this extract


Apple Heart Study launches to identify irregular heart rhythms • Apple

»

Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s unique optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with powerful software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise. The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm.

«

(You have to be over 17 to download the free app: “Infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco or drug use or references.” Huh?)

Or you can get a $199 Watch band and a $99 annual subscription to a new offering from KardiaBand, which acts as an EKG with a thumb pulse reader attached to the band.
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Google’s new Android app stops other apps from wasting your data • The Verge

Jacob Kastrenakes:

»

there’s a big button at the top of the app that lets you stop all background data usage, so only the app that’s actively onscreen can use mobile data. A chat-head style bubble will also pop up to let you know how much data your currently running app is using up. And if you don’t want to block every single app from using background data, Datally will let you go in and control data usage on an app by app basis, too.

If you’re a longtime Android user, Datally might not sound all that exciting. Nearly all of the app’s functions are already built into Android directly. But those features are hidden inside the settings menu, and they aren’t spelled out quite as neatly as they appear to be inside Datally. As a standalone app, it’ll also be much easier for people to find and remember to use.

Datally is being released as part of Google’s Next Billion Users initiative, which is focused on making Google products more usable in countries that have limited mobile connections and where lower-end hardware remains widespread.

«

Um.. wouldn’t it be better just to improve the settings layout? Or make it a marquee feature when people are setting up or updating their phone?

“Background App Refresh” (which this sounds like) is part of, yes, Settings on iOS; so is whether apps can use mobile data. This seems like a strange landgrab.
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Meet the man who deactivated Trump’s Twitter account • TechCrunch

Ingrid Lunden:

»

His last day at Twitter [working on customer service at the Trust and Safety team] was mostly uneventful, he says. There were many goodbyes, and he worked up until the last hour before his computer access was to be shut off. Near the end of his shift, the fateful alert came in.

This is where Trump’s behavior intersects with Duysak’s work life. Someone reported Trump’s account on Duysak’s last day; as a final, throwaway gesture, he put the wheels in motion to deactivate it. Then he closed his computer and left the building.

Several hours later, the panic began. Duysak tells us that it started when he was approached by a woman whom he didn’t know very well. According to Duysak, the woman said that she had been contacted by someone asking about Duysak in connection with Trump’s Twitter account. After a moment of disbelief, he said he then looked at the news and realized what had happened.

«

Bahtiyar Duysak. He’s never going to have to buy himself a drunk again in his life.
link to this extract


Goodbye, Twitter • Rambling Space

Can Duruk likes Twitter; it’s the only social network he’s on. And he’s giving up Twitter. Why?

»

Would [a Nazi who appeared in his mentions] try to gang up on me? I have been bullied on Twitter before, people have tried to steal my account many times. But here was a Nazi. And then it hit me. Why am I engaging with Nazis? Why is this on me? Because Twitter wants me to.

There’s a perverse belief in American society that corporations exist on a different plane of reality. It’s not just Main Street vs Wall Street. But that corporations do business, and there are people, and sometimes they interact via #brands or whatever, but largely they are separate. But that’s just dumb. Corporations exist in a society. They are made up of people, operate via people. They have people on their boards, their employees are people. Software might be eating the world, but it hasn’t yet.

Corporations have voices. Here in the western world, they largely operate in democratic societies with a strong rule of law. They trust some people cannot come and take their property away. And more importantly, these people that make up these companies trust that their lives won’t be in danger for just being themselves, for being who they are. Yet, here we have people who want to throw it all out, and the strongest reaction from most social networks is “meh”. The profits Twitter (tries to) make are predicated on a set of values that these want to overthrow. Twitter is fine with it.

«

Read too his thought experiment on what Trump would have to do to be kicked off the service. (Permanently, I mean.)
link to this extract


We’re all part of Trump’s show • The New York Times

Bret Stephens:

»

The Trump news is scarier, funnier, more salacious and more relevant than anything else on TV. It’s why the apolitical Jimmy Fallon has floundered in the age of Trump while the hyperpolitical Stephen Colbert has thrived. For a president who cares more about ratings than he does about polls, this is the ultimate vindication. He minds less if you hate him so long as he knows that you’re thinking about him.

The truth about Trump is not that he’s crazy. He’s a narcissist and a neurotic with a feral talent for attracting the attention he craves. In Russia, Putin can compel attention thanks to his complete control over most media and many other aspects of ordinary life. In the United States, citizens can deprive Trump of his political oxygen simply by turning off and tuning out.

«

It would be terrific if politicians – and the media – would ignore the junk in the tweets and focus on the politics. Trump has actually accomplished very little. But the US TV networks are like cats and his tweets a laser pointer.
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$99/month is a steal for CloudApp for iMobile • bylr.net

Dan Byler was browsing for an iOS-native cloud service and came across a thing called “CloudApp”:

»

The Setup Instructions info link goes to Apple’s own iCloud support site. And in case it’s hard to read, the app basically lists iCloud’s services as its list of features.1

But hey, it’s cheap! Only $99/month!

I nearly fell prey to the scam myself: while screenshotting the app, I accidentally subscribed (because of the way TouchID is integrated into the home button – and the home button is part of taking screenshots):

Fortunately, I know how to cancel iTunes subscriptions, but I’m sure a lot of the app’s users don’t.

I reported the app to Apple on November 26, but as of writing this (three days later) the app is still live in the App Store. Perhaps this helpful review of the App Store Review Guidelines will help inform whether this app is legitimate, according to the current rules:

1.1.6 False information and features, including inaccurate device data or trick/joke functionality, such as fake location trackers.

«

Not available in the UK. Unclear whether it’s still available in the US.

link to this extract


November 2016: American Airlines pilots upset with holiday bid schedule • Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Andrea Ahles, in November 2016:

»

American Airlines pilots are upset about their December flight schedules, saying that the carrier’s computer software unfairly assigned high-seniority pilots to fly on Christmas.

In a hotline sent to 15,000 pilots on Thursday evening, the Allied Pilots Association said the problems occurred with the version of preferential bidding system software used to create the December schedules.

“It has been botched,” said Dan Carey, the union’s president, at a news briefing on Wednesday. “We have senior pilots who will be working over the holidays in December and junior pilots who will be off.”

According to the union, a newer version of the software that American received in November could have been used to avoid some of the seniority issues. However, American’s information technology team said the software had not been fully tested and senior management chose to use the older version.

«

Something tells me that the problems that American announced this week weren’t down to a “computer glitch”. (Via Wendy Grossman.)
link to this extract


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.

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Amazon’s smart camera, Apple fixes root bug, Buzzfeed cuts, PCs to fall further, and more


American Airlines has a ticklish problem with its pilots this Christmas. Photo by Nick Chill Photograph on Flickr.

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

AWS launches DeepLens artificial intelligence camera • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

»

The high-definition DeepLens camera, which AWS is revealing Wednesday at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, ships with pretrained models that will make it easier for developers to start doing things like recognizing text characters that appear in a video stream. Alternatively, developers will be able to train their own image recognition models with the help of AWS’ new SageMaker AI service and then run those models on the camera.

DeepLens is coming out two months after Google — one of Amazon’s top cloud competitors — unveiled the Clips AI-powered camera, which captures photos and videos when interesting things happen in front of it.

But while Clips is intended for consumers and therefore could one day contribute meaningful revenue to Google parent company Alphabet, DeepLens is aimed at a more technical audience.

“It’s really designed to allow everyday developers to get experience doing machine learning and deep learning,” Andy Jassy, CEO of AWS, told CNBC’s Jon Fortt in an interview this week.

In that sense, DeepLens bears a resemblance to Dash Buttons that AWS has previously sold to developers. A Dash Button is a dead-simple gadget with a single large button. Using AWS services, developers could control what happened when people pushed the button.

«

link to this extract


BuzzFeed is laying off 100 employees after missing its revenue goals • Recode

Peter Kafka:

»

BuzzFeed is laying off about 100 employees — about 6% of its workforce — after it failed to hit its 2017 revenue targets.

And Greg Coleman, the longtime digital advertising executive who joined the company as its president in 2014, is moving out as well. BuzzFeed is looking for a chief operating officer to take on some of his duties.

The cuts come as digital publishers worry that most of the money online advertisers are spending is going to two companies: Google and Facebook.

In a memo to his staff, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti described 2017 as a “transformational year” and said the company “dramatically grew.” But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the company’s 2017 revenue fell short of its target by 15% to 20 percent, and investors and managers are worried about its spending.

Peretti says the cuts will affect the company’s business staff in the U.S. and both business and editorial staff in the U.K. He says the company will restructure its business team to help it diversify its revenue streams away from its dependence on “native” advertising.

«

link to this extract


Despite pockets of growth the personal computing device market is expected to decline at a -2% CAGR through 2021 • IDC

»

Traditional PC shipments are expected to drop from 260.2m units in 2016 to 248.1m in 2021 units, resulting in a five-year CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of -0.9%. However, when detachable tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro are added in, the five-year CAGR improves to +0.3%. Out of the five major product categories in the PCD market, desktops and slates will continue to decline over the duration of the forecast, while detachable tablets, workstations, and notebook PCs will show signs of volume improvement.

Although the 0.3% CAGR is positive news, examining the market along geographic lines shows the PCD market will continue to face challenges in growing both volume as well as margins. With over 69% of shipments in emerging markets going toward traditional notebooks and slate tablets in 2021, price points remain very sensitive in countries once pegged as ripe for growth. Conversely, while convertibles and ultraslim notebooks have found increased favor in developed markets, China will be the only developing market among the top 10 markets for these devices in 2021.

“Detachable tablets are expected to see double-digit growth from 2018 through 2021,” said Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “Windows-based detachables already count for close to 50% of the volume in this category and this isn’t expected to change much over the duration of the forecast. Apple’s iPad Pro lineup will remain at 30-35% of the category with the remainder going to Google-based devices. It is clear this is a category that has the interest and now investments from both PC and smartphone OEMs, but when looking at the overall PCD market it accounts for just 5% of volume in 2017, growing to 9.4% in 2021.”

«

link to this extract


Union says over 15,000 American Air flights in December have no pilots assigned • Reuters

Alana Wise:

»

Thousands of December flights on American Airlines (AAL.O) do not yet have pilots scheduled to work because of a system scheduling error, the carrier’s pilots union said as it gears up for one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

A glitch in the system that bids for pilots’ time off based on seniority is behind the shortage, the Allied Pilots Association union said. The group estimated that more than 15,000 flights from Dec. 17-31 – a critical holiday travel period – were affected.

“Basically there’s a crisis at American for manning the cockpits,” said Dennis Tajer, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association.

The system error was disclosed to pilots on Friday, the union said.

“We are working through this to make sure we take care of our pilots and get our customers where they need to go over the holiday,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said on Wednesday.

In an email sent to employees, American had offered pilots extra pay to work certain flights in the busy holiday period, but a grievance filed by the union against management said that the restrictions on overtime pay were a violation of the group’s contract.

As of early on Wednesday, the union said management had still not reached out to discuss how best to resolve the shortage.

«

It’s not a “glitch in the system”. The computer worked fine. The programmers screwed up. Maybe they were at Ryanair before or something.
link to this extract


Apple releases macOS High Sierra security fix for critical root vulnerability • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

»

While the security vulnerability was a rather serious one, Apple has promptly responded with a fix less than 24 hours after it became public. The issue did not affect older versions of macOS, although there doesn’t appear to be a fix available for macOS 10.13.2 beta yet as the fix (downloadable here) only appears to apply to macOS 10.13.1 for now.

Apple issued this statement to 9to5Mac following the software fix:

»

Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS.

When our security engineers became aware of the issue Tuesday afternoon, we immediately began working on an update that closes the security hole. This morning, as of 8 a.m., the update is available for download, and starting later today it will be automatically installed on all systems running the latest version (10.13.1) of macOS High Sierra.

We greatly regret this error and we apologize to all Mac users, both for releasing with this vulnerability and for the concern it has caused. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes to help prevent this from happening again.

«

«

That’s about 24 hours (though it’s a huge blot on Apple’s copybook). Installation doesn’t require a restart. I didn’t get hacked. How about you?
link to this extract


Why [blank] gets you root • Objective See

Patrick Wardle:

»

I was intrigued by this bug [which lets you log in remotely or via the Terminal as the superuser “root” even when that is disabled], so decided to track down its root cause! That is to say, what is underlying reason for the bug?

First, let’s look what’s happening at a high level. When a user (or attacker) attempts to log into an account that is not currently enabled (i.e. root), the system will create that account with whatever password the user specifies…even if that password is blank. This is why to perform this attack via the UI, you have to click on ‘Unlock’ twice…

…Apple has now patched the bug! Kudos to them for the quick turn around. They assigned it CVE-2017-13872, and state in the security release notes that the bug was “a logic error existed in the validation of credentials.” Their patch “improved credential validation.” Diffing the PlistFile binary, we can see they expanded error checking to detect invalid credentials (i.e. when an non-authenticated attacker tries to set the root password).

«

Wardle goes into a lot of detail about what happened: it seems to be a non-zero output from a subroutine that ought to return a zero. It now checks for authentication. Would love to know the diff against the previous OS version, and why this arose. (I think Apple is drilling into this, possibly with real drills, right now.)
link to this extract


Paywall will be Wired’s ‘hedge against the future’ • WSJ

Benjamin Mullin:

»

Wired has not yet set a price for its paywall, [editor-in-chief Nick] Thompson said, but he expects it will cost less than a Spotify Premium subscription, which runs $9.99 a month. The paywall will be metered, but the magazine, which is owned by Condé Nast, has not yet finalized how many articles visitors will be able to read for free each month.

“The simple reason that we’re going to a paywall model is that I think it’s going to make money, and I’d like us to make more money,” Mr. Thompson said. “The deeper reason we’re going to a paywall model is because you need to hedge against the future.”

Encouraging readers to pay for quality journalism is something of a passion project for Mr. Thompson, 42, who said his plan has been to install a paywall at Wired since he started as editor in January. When he was editor of NewYorker.com, the site—also owned by closely held parent company Condé Nast—launched a successful paywall in 2014.

Condé Nast executives say the online subscription models at the New Yorker and Wired may be followed by paywalls at its other properties as the magazine industry undergoes profound changes, with ongoing declines in print revenue and heightened competition for digital advertising. The upheaval has led other publishers to look for the exits this year, including Rolling Stone pursuing a sale, Time Inc. getting acquired by Meredith Corp., and Rodale Inc. selling to Hearst.

«

Going to be chasing an ever-dwindling pool of people willing to pay yet another subscription, I think.
link to this extract


Zipline’s drones are delivering blood to hospitals in Rwanda • Time

Aryn Baker:

»

by the time mother and child arrived at the district hospital in Kabgayi, Ghislane had stopped moving. “We arrived too late,” Hamwe says. “There was no sign of life. I thought she was dead.” The nurses offered a blood transfusion as a last resort. Hamwe, numb and distracted, agreed. She was already on her phone, messaging the bad news to family back in the village.

Meanwhile, a lab technician at the hospital laboratory was typing out his own message, a request for two units of pediatric red blood cells, O+. Normally he would have dispatched a car and driver to the central blood bank in the capital, Kigali, a 3-hour round trip. But this time he was trying something new. His phone flashed a confirmation message: the blood was on its way, with an estimated delivery time of just six minutes.

Before long the high-pitched whine of a drone could be heard circling the hospital grounds. As it passed over the lab’s parking lot, it released a red cardboard box, attached to a paper parachute. Inside were two packets of blood, wrapped in insulating paper and still cold from refrigeration. A nurse rushed the blood over to the emergency wing, and within minutes, it was pumping into Ghislane’s small, limp body through an IV. The child opened her large brown eyes. It was Dec. 21, 2016, and Ghislane had just become the first person in the world who owes her life to a drone delivery.

«

The road network is often impassable; no such problem for a drone. Hospitals often don’t have the budget or electricity to refrigerate blood stocks. Range of 150km. (Do they recharge at the other end?)
link to this extract


Earthworms can reproduce in Mars soil simulant • Phys.Org

»

Two young worms are the first offspring in a Mars soil experiment at Wageningen University & Research. Biologist Wieger Wamelink found them in a Mars soil simulant that he obtained from NASA. At the start he only added adult worms. The experiments are crucial in the study that aims to determine whether people can keep themselves alive at the red planet by growing their own crops on Mars soils.

To feed future humans on Mars a sustainable closed agricultural ecosystem is a necessity. Worms will play a crucial role in this system as they break down and recycle dead organic matter. The poop and pee of the (human) Martian will also have to be used to fertilise the soil, but for practical and safety reasons we are presently using pig slurry. We have since been observing the growth of rucola (rocket) in Mars soil simulant provided by NASA to which worms and slurry have been added. “Clearly, the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant,” said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

«

Hope Matt Damon has his flight booked. Though I don’t recall worms being mentioned in the film (or book).
link to this extract


A fake Bruce Willis story is being monetized by Google AdSense and prominently featured on YouTube • Media Matters

Alex Kaplan:

»

Google, through its advertising network Google AdSense, is monetizing multiple fake news websites spreading a bogus story that actor Bruce Willis wants critics of President Donald Trump to move out of the United States. Additionally, the made-up story is featured prominently on YouTube, which is owned by Google. This is just the latest example of Google floundering in its supposed efforts to fight fake news.

On November 27, Snopes.com flagged a “made-up news story” that circulated on fake news websites alleging that actor Bruce Willis said Trump was “doing great. In fact, he just might be the best US President ever.” The fake news articles additionally claimed that Willis said Trump’s critics should “go to Canada or something.” As Snopes noted, the fake story was based off of an October 2015 appearance by Willis on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he dressed up as Trump.

The fake story has gone viral, spreading to multiple fake news websites. Combined, the posts have received well over 100,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Several of the websites running the story are using Google AdSense – identifiable by the blue triangle in the top right corner – to make money off of the fake story. (A previous Media Matters report found that Google AdSense was one of the most widely used advertising networks by fake news websites.) At least one of these posts with AdSense advertisements is on a website registered in Denmark.

«

Not surprising that AdSense is used; it’s gigantic and easy to get into. But how do you root out stuff like this? They can pretend that they’re “satire” sites.
link to this extract


Android’s Andy Rubin left Google after inquiry found inappropriate relationship • The Information

Reed Albergotti:

»

Andy Rubin, the creator of Android and a key executive at Google Inc. for nine years, left the company in 2014 shortly after an internal investigation determined that he had carried on an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, The Information has learned.

Google initiated its investigation after an employee complained to the company’s Human Resources division about her relationship with Mr. Rubin, according to three people familiar with the matter. The people declined to elaborate on the specific nature of the woman’s complaint against Mr. Rubin.

Like many companies, Google has a policy that prohibits supervisors from having a relationship with a subordinate. Any manager entering into such a relationship has to report it to the company, which will move one of the two to a different department. The woman who made the complaint worked in Google’s Android division while Mr. Rubin ran it, The Information has confirmed… Two people familiar with the investigation said the conclusions were also discussed with Mr. Rubin.

These people, who did not want to be named because the matter was confidential, said the internal investigation concluded that Mr. Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement.Two people familiar with the investigation said the conclusions were also discussed with Mr. Rubin.

These people, who did not want to be named because the matter was confidential, said the internal investigation concluded that Mr. Rubin’s behavior was improper and showed bad judgement…

Mike Sitrick, a spokesman for Mr. Rubin, denied that Mr. Rubin had done anything wrong or that his departure from Google was related to the complaint and investigation.

«

Rubin is now taking a leave of absence from Essential “for personal reasons” after The Information contacted his spokesman. Unclear whether the two events are linked.
link to this extract


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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Uber’s secrets stealer, dumb smart homes, 3m lost bitcoins, impossible intelligence, and more


Apple’s got a problem with High Sierra’s root password: there isn’t one. Photo by autowitch on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Judge stalls Uber trade-secret theft trial after discovering biz ran a trade-secret stealing op • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:

»

A judge today delayed the start of a trade-secret theft case against Uber – after evidence that the upstart operated a secret trade-secret-stealing unit was revealed at the last minute.

US district judge William Alsup said it would be a “huge injustice” for the trial to start as scheduled next week, after he was sent a letter by the US Attorney for Northern California last week that shed light on Uber’s secretive Strategic Services Group.

“If even half of what’s in that letter is true it would be a huge injustice to force Waymo to go to trial and not be able to prove the things that are said in that letter,” Alsup said during a hearing Tuesday morning in Uber’s home city, San Francisco.

Further intrigue followed the testimony of Uber’s former security analyst Richard Jacobs who Judge Alsup threatened to subpoena to give testimony and appears to have been the source of the information about the secretive unit…

…According to the security analyst, Uber actively sought to steal trade secrets from its rivals and set up the unit to do so.

The unit worked in parallel to Uber, and used “anonymous servers” that were separate from the main company to carry out its work. The unit also ran its own Wickr messaging service that was “invisible… not part of the regular server system,” and which automatically deleted messages, covering its trails.

The judge and Waymo’s lawyer quizzed Jacobs at the hearings, asking about specific allegations including that Uber had acquired the code base of rival operators as well as details of their drivers and business metrics.

«

Ooof. That’s a black op.
link to this extract


Don’t lock yourself out of your smart home: always carry a key • iMore

Serenity Caldwell:

»

Philips Hue is an example of a smart home system that degrades well: When the company’s lighting products are on and connected to their Internet-enabled bridge, they can be controlled from an app, Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. If the internet goes down, they can still be controlled by the switch of their parent light.

Same with Nest’s thermostat: Even if the internet goes down, Nest is still hard-wired into your wall so that you can adjust the temperature manually.

In theory, the same goes for smart locks: Most of them attach to the rear of a deadbolt, so your original key stays intact; should the lock’s smarts fail for any reason, you’ll still have the key.

But bringing automation and intelligent sensors to the smart home game has changed our habits. If you have a door that automatically locks behind you and knows when you return, you’re less likely to think about bringing its key when you go empty the garbage.

Unfortunately, that trust can quickly evaporate.

«

The obvious question: if you need a key to get into your smart lock, why not just use an old-fashioned lock?
link to this extract


macOS High Sierra ‘root’ security bug: Stop and do this NOW • iMore

Rene Ritchie:

»

This is a zero-day exploit. Lemi Orhan Ergin tweeted to Apple’s support account that he had discovered a way to log into a Mac running High Sierra by using the superuser “root” and then clicking the login button repeatedly. (Mac’s running Sierra or earlier versions of the OS are not affected.)

Ergin should absolutely have disclosed this to Apple and given the company a chance to patch it before it went public, and Apple should never have allowed the bug to shop, but none of that matters right now.

Here’s what’s important: The “root” account allows super-user access to your system. It’s supposed to be disabled by default on macOS. For whatever reason, it’s not on High Sierra. Instead, “root” is enabled and currently allows access to anyone without a password.

So, anybody who has physical access to your Mac or can get through via screen sharing, VNC, or remote desktop, and enters “root” and hits login repeatedly, can gain complete access to the machine.

Setting “root” password “fixes” the problem.

«

Apple is working on a fix. You can fix it in three steps in the Terminal. Personally? Not going to bother. You can’t get into it from the login window; you need to have access (via those methods mentioned) to the machine. Those are off, and screen lock keeps intruders away. Yeah, come at me.

Crappy of Ergin, though.
link to this extract


Lost: four million bitcoins gone forever study says • Fortune

Jeff John Roberts and Nicolas Rapp:

»

Just as gold bars are lost at sea or $100 bills can burn, bitcoins can disappear from the Internet forever. When all 21 million bitcoins are mined by the year 2040, the actual amount available to trade or spend will be significantly lower.

According to new research from Chainalysis, a digital forensics firm that studies the bitcoin blockchain, 3.79 million bitcoins are already gone for good based on a high estimate—and 2.78 million based on a low one. Those numbers imply 17% to 23% of existing bitcoins, which are today worth around $8,500 each, are lost.

While others have speculated about the number of lost bitcoins, the Chainalysis findings are significant because they rely on a detailed empirical analysis of the blockchain, where all bitcoin transactions are recorded.

«

That’s a lot of value. 7,500 are lost on a hard drive in a Welsh landfill. (That’s $75m at present prices.)
link to this extract


June 2016: how Yahoo derailed Tumblr • Mashable

Seth Fiegerman, in June 2016:

»

several Tumblr staffers we spoke with are quietly fantasizing about the social network getting spun off if Yahoo is sold as expected [to Verizon – a sale which has since gone through], however unlikely that spinoff scenario may be. The most popular rumor is that Karp would buy back Tumblr – though no one knows if he can afford it – to save his company from the grips of Yahoo, or whichever new owner comes along next.

Tumblr’s stumbles under Yahoo may go down as a cautionary tale, both for the perils of a large corporation buying a hot startup and for Silicon Valley’s belief that any social network reaching hundreds of millions of people will inevitably generate boatloads of cash one day. Tumblr was slow to monetize before it was acquired, struggled to grow revenue enough to meet its new parent company’s expectations in the first year and struggled even more to keep up with ambitious goals when Yahoo began to meddle.

The massive Tumblr acquisition may also come to highlight Mayer’s broader management missteps in making flashy bets, trusting deputies with limited knowledge of a product to oversee it and some mix of arrogance or denial in failing to quickly right those wrongs when necessary.

“It’s such a black eye,” says one former Yahoo executive. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

«

This doesn’t quite explain why Tumblr is seeing falling engagement. Stopped being the hot thing? Wasn’t mobile enough? Perhaps the latter, given how bad Yahoo has been at mobile.
link to this extract


Tesla truck will need energy of 4,000 homes to recharge, says study • FT

Peter Campbell and Nathalie Thomas:

»

One of Europe’s leading energy consultancies has estimated that Tesla’s electric haulage truck will require the same energy as up to 4,000 homes to recharge, calculations that raise questions over the project’s viability. 

The US electric carmaker unveiled a battery-powered truck earlier this month, promising haulage drivers they could add 400 miles of charge in as little as 30 minutes using a new “megacharger” to be made by the company. 

John Feddersen, chief executive of Aurora Energy Research, a consultancy set up in 2013 by a group of Oxford university professors, said the power required for the megacharger to fill a battery in that amount of time would be 1,600 kilowatts.

That is the equivalent of providing power for 3,000-4,000 “average” houses, he told a London conference last week, and is 10 times as powerful as Tesla’s current network of “superchargers” for its electric cars. 

Tesla declined to comment on the calculations.

«

Either a super-slow recharge, or you’ll have to deliver stuff to power stations a lot.
link to this extract


It’s OK to hate your spreadsheet – The Fieldbook Blog • Medium

Jason Crawford:

»

You’ve been thinking about moving to a “real” client tracking system (or CRM, or inventory). But nothing out there tracks your process as closely as the custom spreadsheet you made for yourself.

We understand, and we created Fieldbook just for you. Fieldbook is an online database that’s as easy to use as a spreadsheet, and lots of people like you have switched to it from Excel or Google Sheets, solving their spreadsheet headaches without giving up their customizations.
But we’ve learned from talking to our customers that it’s not always obvious how to move from a spreadsheet to a database system like Fieldbook, or how to reorganize your sheets to take full advantage of the features it offers.

That’s why we’re launching a new campaign called “I Hate My Spreadsheet”: We’ll take anyone’s ugly, frustrating spreadsheet and turn it into a tidy, delightful Fieldbook database—for free.

Our data experts will split up complex sheets into smaller ones, collect scattered info in one place for searchability, and eliminate data duplication. We do all the work, you don’t pay a cent until you’ve had a chance to try it and decide you want to keep it.

«

If you’ve got one of those spreadsheets…
link to this extract


Brands heed social media. They’re advised not to forget word of mouth • The New York Times

Janet Morrissey:

»

On average, 19% of a brand’s sales — or between $7trn and $10trn in annual consumer spending in the United States — are driven by social conversations, both online and offline, according to a new study conducted by Engagement Labs, a Canadian company that analyzes conversations around brands.

The study, which looked at 170 brands, found that companies often wrongly saw social media as an accurate and sufficient guide for tracking consumer sentiment. Often, though, that social conversation might be much different from what people are saying in private conversations with friends and family, the study said.

“The danger is you can make some pretty big mistakes if you assume the conversations happening online are also happening offline,” said Brad Fay, chief research officer at Engagement Labs and a co-author of the study. “Very often, they’re heading in different directions.”

The most negative and most outrageous comments often get the most traction on social media. And sometimes, people post comments about a topic just to get a reaction or to reflect an “image” or appear “cool” to their social media followers, when their actual views may be the opposite.

«

Terrible headline. Social media is word of mouth, but not representative. I like Jesse Singal’s take on this study and article:

»

people don’t know what to make of certain online conversations simply because so many standard conversational norms and rules and guardrails have been upended (20 years ago, it was much harder to bombard someone with death threats knowing that there was almost zero chance of being held accountable for it). So sometimes they respond similarly to how they would were the conversation in question taking place offline — traditionally, if a company got what felt like a flood of complaints, it probably meant something meaningful, because the cost of communicating with a company was higher. Today, I could send 100 angry tweets to a 100 companies in the next hour if I wanted.

«

link to this extract


Huawei says it can do better than Apple’s Face ID • Engadget

Jon Fingas:

»

Huawei has a history of trying to beat Apple at its own game (it unveiled a “Force Touch” phone days before the iPhone 6s launch), and that’s truer than ever now that the iPhone X is in town. At the end of a presentation for the Honor V10, the company teased a depth-sensing camera system that’s clearly meant to take on Apple’s TrueDepth face detection technology. It too uses a combination of infrared and a projector to create a 3D map of your face, but it can capture 300,000 points in 10 seconds — that’s 10 times as many as the iPhone X captures.

It’s secure enough to be used for payments (unlike the OnePlus 5T), and almost as quick to sign you in as the company’s fingerprint readers at 400 milliseconds. Even the silly applications of the tech promise to be better. The company showed off a not-so-subtle Animoji clone that could tell when you were sticking out your tongue in addition to tracking the usual facial expressions.

«

Wow!

»

There’s one major catch to this system: it’s not actually part of a product yet. Huawei’s Honor team showed the system without mentioning what phones would use it, let alone when they would ship.

«

Ah. Remember Huawei’s Force Touch implementation which it demonstrated before Apple? Still isn’t shipping in volume. Don’t hold your breath on this one.
link to this extract


Inside Airbnb’s Russian money-laundering problem • Daily Beast

Joseph Cox:

»

Scammers are leveraging Airbnb to launder dirty cash from stolen credit cards, according to posts on underground forums and cybersecurity researchers consulted by The Daily Beast.

The news shows how fraudsters will seize any opportunity they can, especially when there is an opening for pushing cash through online services, which sometimes require relatively little effort, a computer, and just a bit of creativity.

“People [have] been doing it forever,” one current and experienced credit-card scammer told The Daily Beast.

The Daily Beast found a number of recent posts on several Russian-language crime forums, in which users were looking for people to collaborate with to abuse Airbnb’s service. According to Rick Holland, VP of strategy from cybersecurity firm Digital Shadows, these operations rely on an individual or group using legitimate or stolen Airbnb accounts to request bookings and make payments to their collaborating Airbnb host. The host then sends back a percentage of the profits, despite no one staying in the property. 

In essence, it’s a way to extract value out of stolen credit cards. In another case, fraudsters might buy electronic goods such as iPhones with stolen cards to then resell at a profit. This is the same idea of laundering funds, just with Airbnb.

«

link to this extract


How often do consumers intentionally click mobile ads? • eMarketer

»

A new survey found that most consumers say they rarely or never mean to click on ads served up on their phones.

Button, a mobile partnership platform that facilitates discovery and transactions for brands, and App Annie, a mobile app data and insights provider, surveyed 1,106 US smartphone users ages 18 to 73. The study found that for the most part, consumers aren’t too keen on mobile ads.

Take millennials, for example. More than four in 10 said they rarely click on a mobile ad, and another 17% said they never did.

While there were some (31%) who said they sometimes click on a mobile ad, very few (10%) did so regularly.

This was the case for older consumers as well. In fact, baby boomers were the least likely to engage with mobile ads. Nearly a quarter said they never did, while another 49% said they rarely did so. Just 4% said they clicked on a mobile ad at least somewhat often.

Meanwhile, ads promoting mobile apps tell a somewhat different story. The study found that when it comes to those types of ads, consumers are more engaged than with ads in general. But even that engagement rate is declining.

«

Frankly, I’m surprised it’s that high. Given these are self-reported, these may be on the low side – people hit ads all the time because they’re under their fingers.
link to this extract


Google says a fix has been identified for Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL random reboots • Android Police

Richard Gao:

»

Quite a few people have been experiencing random reboots on their Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL smartphones, and they’ve all been left to helplessly wait for the problem to be resolved. However, Google is saying that it’s now identified a fix, though specifics weren’t discussed.

Orrin, a community manager in Google Product Forums’ Pixel User Community, relayed the above message to a number of threads that had been created about random reboots. Aside from the facts that a fix has been discovered and that a fix will be rolling out in a couple of weeks, we still don’t have any information about why this was occurring and what the fix does.

«

Given the tiny number of phones that Google has sold, this laundry list of problems is just amazing.
link to this extract


The impossibility of intelligence explosion • Medium

François Chollet:

»

What would happen if we were to put a freshly-created human brain in the body of an octopus, and let in live at the bottom of the ocean? Would it even learn to use its eight-legged body? Would it survive past a few days? We cannot perform this experiment, but given the extent to which our most fundamental behaviors and early learning patterns are hard-coded, chances are this human brain would not display any intelligent behavior, and would quickly die off. Not so smart now, Mr. Brain.

What would happen if we were to put a human — brain and body — into an environment that does not feature human culture as we know it? Would Mowgli the man-cub, raised by a pack of wolves, grow up to outsmart his canine siblings? To be smart like us? And if we swapped baby Mowgli with baby Einstein, would he eventually educate himself into developing grand theories of the universe? Empirical evidence is relatively scarce, but from what we know, children that grow up outside of the nurturing environment of human culture don’t develop any intelligence beyond basic animal-like survival behaviors. As adults, they cannot even acquire language.

If intelligence is fundamentally linked to specific sensorimotor modalities, a specific environment, a specific upbringing, and a specific problem to solve, then you cannot hope to arbitrarily increase the intelligence of an agent merely by tuning its brain — no more than you can increase the throughput of a factory line by speeding up the conveyor belt.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: killer Pokemon Go, the anonymity of memes, Samsung’s ballsy battery, damn you CAPTCHA!, and more


Tumblr activity is declining. How long has it got? Photo by Scott Beale on Flickr.

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

How a Radio Shack robbery could spur a new era in digital privacy • The New York Times

There’s a Supreme Court case with a decision expected in June which could have a huge effect on privacy law in the US:

»

The case concerns Timothy Ivory Carpenter, who witnesses said had planned the robberies, supplied guns and served as lookout, typically waiting in a stolen car across the street. “At his signal, the robbers entered the store, brandished their guns, herded customers and employees to the back, and ordered the employees to fill the robbers’ bags with new smartphones,” a court decision said, summarizing the evidence against him.

In addition to presenting testimony, prosecutors relied on months of records obtained from cellphone companies to prove their case. The records showed that Mr. Carpenter’s phone had been nearby when several of the robberies happened. He was convicted and sentenced to 116 years in prison.

Mr. Carpenter’s lawyers said cellphone companies had turned over 127 days of records that placed his phone at 12,898 locations, based on information from cellphone towers. Prosecutors could tell whether he had slept at home on given nights and whether he attended his usual church on Sunday mornings.

“Never before in the history of policing has the government had the time machine it has here,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Mr. Carpenter. Mr. Wessler said prosecutors should be required to obtain a warrant when they seek more than 24 hours’ worth of location data.

«

link to this extract


Death by Pokémon GO • SSRN

Mara Faccio and John McConnell, both of Purdue University:

»

Based on detailed police accident reports for Tippecanoe County, Indiana, and using the introduction of the virtual reality game Pokémon GO as a natural experiment, we document a disproportionate increase in vehicular crashes and associated vehicular damage, personal injuries, and fatalities in the vicinity of locations, called PokéStops, where users can play the game while driving.

The results are robust to using points of play, called Gyms, that cannot be used to play the game while driving as a placebo.

We estimate the total incremental county-wide cost of users playing Pokémon GO while driving, including the value of the two incremental human lives lost, to be in the range of $5.2m to $25.5m over only the 148 days following the introduction of the game. Extrapolation of these estimates to nation-wide levels yields a total ranging from $2bn to $7.3bn for the same period.

«

That’s quite a cost. And don’t forget there are confirmed reports of people dying in crashes while texting, tweeting, etc.
link to this extract


Samsung hails ‘graphene ball’ battery success • FT

Song Jung-a:

»

Samsung said the graphene-based battery would take just 12 minutes to be fully charged; current lithium-ion batteries take about an hour. The new battery could also be used for electric vehicles, as it can maintain stability at up to 60 degrees Celsius. 

The company has stepped up its research into battery technology in the wake of last year’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphone safety debacle. The recall and subsequent withdrawal of the fire-prone model cost the company more than $5bn, and some of the phones caught fire due to faulty lithium-ion batteries, according to Samsung.

SAIT has developed a way to use silica to synthesise graphene like three-dimensional popcorn, and use the graphene “balls” as material for advanced lithium-ion batteries, the company said. Samsung has applied for patents for the technology in South Korea and the US. 

According to experts, graphene is more energy efficient so it allows room for other cathode materials. As a result, smartphones with graphene-based batteries can be slimmer and lighter but with a greater capacity.

«

link to this extract


A sense of units and scale for electrical energy production and consumption • Our World in Data

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser:

»

To make our full data entry on Energy Production & Changing Energy Sources as useful and clear as possible, we have standardized all of our energy data into a single energy unit: the watt-hour (Wh). The only variation on the watt-hour which we have used is in scaling large numbers into kilowatt, megawatt or gigawatt-hours (which are one thousand, million, and billion watt-hours, respectively). The base unit of the watt-hour, however, remains consistent. This should help to reduce confusion for the first of the three reasons [described earlier in the blogpost].

To address the latter two challenges we have produced the chart shown below, which aims to provide a sense of scale for both electricity production and consumption [clicking on this chart offers a pop-out version, for which some finer aspects can be more easily read]. It is comprised of two scales: electricity production and electricity consumption. On the left-hand side we have a chart which extends from zero up to 100,000 MWh. The individual arrows represent the daily electrical outputs of different plant types; as we see, there is a large range of outputs depending on the size and conditions of the specific facility. The average daily output of specific power plants (some of which you may recognize) are shown and labelled as individual stars.

«

This is useful.
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A Thanksgiving carol: how those smart engineers at Twitter screwed me • Errata Security

Rob Graham, at his parents for Thanksgiving, is helping to stop his mum being bothered by Twitter email notifications:

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It’s now obvious my mom accidentally clicked on the [Confirm] button. I don’t have any proof she did, but it’s the only reasonable explanation. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have gotten the “Moments” messages. My mom disputed this, emphatically insisting she never clicked on the emails.

It’s at this point that I made a great mistake, saying:

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Twitter has very smart engineers. What’s the chance they made the mistake here, or…”.

I recognized condescension of words as they came out of my mouth, but dug myself deeper with:

“…or that the user made the error?”

This was wrong to say even if I were right. I have no excuse. I mean, maybe I could argue that it’s really her fault, for not raising me right, but no, this is only on me.

Regardless of what caused the Twitter emails, the problem needs to be fixed. The solution is to take control of the Twitter account by using the password reset feature. I went to the Twitter login page, clicked on “Lost Password”, got the password reset message, and reset the password. I then reconfigured the account to never send anything to my mom again.

But when I logged in I got an error saying the account had not yet been confirmed. I paused. The family dog eyed me in wise silence. My mom hadn’t clicked on the [Confirm] button – the proof was right there.

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So how the hell is she getting the emails? All will be explained.
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Hundreds of iPhone users complain about the word ‘It’ autocorrecting to ‘I.T’ on iOS 11 • Mac Rumors

Joe Rossignol:

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Many users claim the apparent autocorrect bug persists even after rebooting the device and performing other basic troubleshooting.

A temporary workaround is to tap Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement and enter “it” as both the phrase and shortcut, but some users insist this solution does not solve the problem.

A less ideal workaround is to toggle off auto-correction and/or predictive suggestions completely under Settings > General > Keyboard.

The issue is notable given Apple just recently addressed a similar bug that caused the letter “i” to autocorrect to “A[?]” on iOS 11 and later. The fix was included in iOS 11.1.1, publicly released in early November.

This similar “it” to “I.T” issue does not appear to be fixed in iOS 11.1.1 and later. It’s unclear if a future software update will be required to address the problem…

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Seems as though Apple is being too aggressive with the machine learning applied to typing.
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Tumblr is tumbling • Medium

Álex Barredo:

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Less than a year after the deal was closed, Tumblr peaked in activity. By February of 2014, there were more than 106m new posts each day on the platform. Today that figure has been slashed by two thirds to around 35m.


Tumblr peak of activity was between Dec 2013 and February 2014 (Álex Barredo)

These figures are derived by tracking the incremental unique identification of every new post on Tumblr. By comparing it with the date of the posts themselves, we can know a very close to exact number of posts made a day. The figures are backed up by Tumblr’s public stats (which isn’t updated constantly, so it’s not easy to get exact data) as archived on the Internet Wayback Machine for different times in history.

The number of new blogs created every day has also decreased. Every day, more than 130,000 blogs are created, according to Tumblr public stats. That metric is half of what it was at its peak, also in early 2014, when more than 240,000 new blogs were opened on the platform every day, a 45% decrease.

With new blogs and new posts going down every month, it’s hard to see how many actual users are left on the platform. Tumblr has never publicly disclosed active accounts figures, a semi-standard way of measuring engagement in social platforms.

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There might be some sort of floor for use, but there’s no sign it has been hit yet. Separately, founder David Karp announced on Monday that he’s leaving. Funny thing: in August 2013 it was revealed that if he stayed for at least four years, he’d get a $110m earn-out from the $1bn purchase.
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The many faces of “Distracted Boyfriend” • I/O – Medium

Leigh Alexander:

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We are reconsidering and rediscovering what “truth” means in a world where plentiful, malleable, manipulable digital society looms larger and larger. On one hand, the word “empathy” comes up frequently in tech industry conversation around how to help users feel a sense of human relationship toward others when they are not present or “real” in the familiar sense, or when some kind of interface is involved. On the other hand, many people say they struggle with overwhelm, suddenly hyperconnected to the real, daily stories of people suffering from natural disasters, state violence, racism, or abuse.

Under these circumstances, stock photos are the ideal medium for public cartooning. They are the only thing left on the internet that is “anonymous,” in a sense — the people in the photos are often white actors pretending to be people in generic or inane situations, and thus are some of the few uncomplicated targets left. They are pictures of what we used to believe the world looked like, before the internet made us real to each other, for better or worse.

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This is a wonderful essay. There are two others, previous to it. One about “the slimy Technicolor world of satisfying YouTube videos” takes you to quite a strange place.
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Linux champion Munich will switch to Windows 10 in €50m rollout • ZDNet

Nick Heath:

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Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said the move to Windows 10 [on 29,000 PCs, beginning in 2020 for two years] is necessary to simplify the management of the city’s desktops. By switching the Windows 10, he says the council will no longer have to run two desktop operating systems side-by-side. Reiter was referring to a longstanding practice at Munich of running both LiMux and a minority of Windows machines, which are kept for applications not compatible with Linux and where virtualization is not an option.

“We always had mixed systems and what we have here is the possibility of going over to a single system. Having two operating systems is completely uneconomic,” he said, speaking at the full council meeting yesterday where the move to Windows was approved.

There is disagreement over what proportion of machines run Windows, with critics of the current setup saying it is as high as 40% PCs, while others argue it stands at about 20%. That said, the council has been running both systems side-by-side for more than 10 years, but has only recently highlighted managing twin systems as a problem.

Beyond simplifying the city’s desktop estate, Mayor Reiter said a return to Windows was needed to resolve unhappiness with the performance of Munich’s IT.

“I’ve never said I’m an expert in IT procurement. But I’m backed by 6,000 co-workers who also aren’t satisfied with the performance of the existing systems,” he said.

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Didn’t want to try Chromebooks?
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Google’s CAPTCHAs don’t prove you’re human – they prove you’re American • Terence Eden’s Blog

Terence Eden:

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A few days ago, I had to complete a CAPTCHA. One of those irritating little web tests which is supposed to prove that you are a human. Here’s what I got:

Guess what, Google? Taxis in my country are generally black. I’ve watched enough movies to know that all of the ones in America are yellow. But in every other country I’ve visited, taxis have been a mish-mash of different hues.

This annoys me. Will Google’s self driving cars simply not recognise London’s Black Cabs? Will any yellow car in the UK be classified as a taxi by the infallible algorithm? Will Google refuse to believe I’m human simply because I don’t know what a Twinkie is?

Before sticking a comment below, riddle me this – if something costs a half-a-crown, and you pay with a florin, how many tanners will you get in your change?

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Add this to the “British children saying ‘call 911′”.
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