Start Up No.1203: why ‘cancel culture’ is a hit, fake news keeps on thriving, Egypt tries to kill the tuk-tuk, another Google messaging app!, and more

Instagram says it’s going to try to enforce its minimum age limit of 13 – for new users. Let’s see how that goes. CC-licensed photo by Stock Catalog on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Not to be mocked. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Instagram to collect ages in leap for youth safety, alcohol ads • Reuters

Paresh Dave:


Facebook Inc’s Instagram said it will require birthdates from all new users starting on Wednesday, expanding the audience for ads for alcohol and other age-restricted products while offering new safety measures for younger users.

Until now, Instagram except for limited circumstances has required its 1 billion users only to say they are at least 13 years old.

Instagram said advertisers were not the driving force for the new requirement. Gambling and birth control are among other types of ads restricted to older audiences by Instagram policies and laws. 

The policy change could help stave off passage of costly child safety and data privacy regulations as lawmakers and family safety groups in the United States, Britain and elsewhere criticize the app for exposing children to inappropriate material.

The birthdate requirement is the latest step Instagram has taken to move away from longstanding principles such as anonymity that had distinguished it from Facebook’s namesake app.

“Understanding how old people are is quite important to the work we’re doing, not only to create age-appropriate experiences but to live up to our longstanding rule to not allow access to young people,


Maybe it’s something to do with all those lawsuits heading its way, and the furore over children under 13 using it? The admission that the “experiences” haven’t been “age-appropriate” is subtle, but there it is. And of course the age-appropriateness is a forced export from the US: what if we judge that it should be 14 or 16 in the UK, rather as our drinking age is lower? Do we get a say?
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Five reasons why people love cancel culture • Psychology Today

Rob Henderson:


“Cancel culture” describes how large groups of people, often on social media, target those who have committed some kind of moral violation. They are often cast out of their social and professional circles. Both the term “cancel culture” and the activity itself are becoming more popular. Especially among young people. 

Here are 5 reasons why cancel culture is so effective. 


They’ll feel quite self-evident in retrospect – raises (your) social status, reduces enemies’ social status, strengthens social bonds, makes enemies show themselves, has fast payback. But seeing it written down brings it into focus.
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Egyptian government seeks to do away with popular tuk-tuks • Associated Press

Isabel Debre and Mohamad Salah:


Motorized rickshaws known as tuk-tuks have ruled the streets of Cairo’s slums for the past two decades, squeezing through dusty alleys, dodging trash bins and fruit stands, blaring rhythmic electro-pop and navigating the city’s chaos to haul millions of Egyptians home every day.

Now the government is taking its most ambitious stand yet again against the polluting three-wheeled vehicles: in a push to modernize the country’s neglected transport system, it plans to replace tuk-tuks with clean-running minivans.

“This is for the health and safety of all Egyptians,” said Khaled el-Qassim, the spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Local Development, which is spearheading the initiative. “We’re creating a more beautiful image of our country.”

The state had long turned a blind eye as tuk-tuks became part of the fabric of life in Cairo’s vast informal settlements.

The new plan requires that drivers sell their tuk-tuks for scrap and take loans to buy new minivans — or risk fines and even prosecution. It has raised fears that the poorest Egyptians, already squeezed by economic austerity measures, will shoulder the bulk of the burden.

“I’d rather work as a thief than pay for this minivan,” said Ehab Sobhy, a 47-year-old who earns 130 pounds, about $8, a day plying the densely-packed district of Shobra in his weathered black-and-yellow tuk-tuk, sporting a decorative Islamic sticker in place of a license.

“If they take this away … how is my family going to eat,” asked Sobhy. Even with a government loan, he said he wouldn’t be able to afford the 90,000 pounds he estimates he’d need for the new minivan.


The minivans are gas-powered, so it’s hardly a triumph for the environment either. Even if it succeeds, the Egyptian government is probably going to lose here.
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Google Photos launches private messaging for quickly sharing photos • The Verge

Nick Statt:


Google is finally acknowledging that photos nowadays are as much about communication as they are form of memory collection. For years, the only way to share photos through the company’s otherwise fantastic Google Photos service has been to create a cumbersome shared album. But starting Tuesday, Google has launched a revamped share option that’s effectively a private messaging feature built into the Google Photos iOS and Android mobile and website.

Now, when you want to share a photo, you no longer have to create an entire album. You can send a one-off message to a friend, so long as they also have Google Photos installed, that contains a photo, just as you would on Instagram, Snapchat, SMS, or any other chat app.


This is great, because nobody has any means of sending a photo to someone else they know by any method, and Google doesn’t already have a gazillion chat apps. (Pls run this past the fact-checkers.)
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How fake news is still fooling Facebook’s fact-checking systems • OneZero

Will Oremus:


the good news is that Facebook’s systems are having at least some effect, the bad news is that they’re far from foolproof. And unless Facebook continually improves them, propagandists will likely only get better at finding ways around them.

The Pelosi story [claiming, falsely, she has diverted $2.4bn from US social security to Trump’s impeachment] offers one instructive example. It has been widely debunked, including by at least two of Facebook’s official fact-checking partners, Politifact and Yet, when you go to post the article link to Facebook, the platform offers no warning, no hint that it might be bogus. Likewise, when it appears in your News Feed, nothing indicates that it’s false.

Facebook couldn’t say definitively why one of the most viral political articles on its platform remained untouched by its fact-checking warnings months after it was published, and even for weeks after Avaaz’s study called attention to it. But there are at least two possible culprits.

First, it appears that Politifact’s fact check was applied in Facebook’s system to a different version of the false Pelosi claim, one that appeared in the form of a photo with overlaid text, rather than an article link. Second, the article version may have skirted a fact check in part because the outlet that published it — — identifies as a “satire” site, a label that experts say has become a popular fig leaf for misinformation merchants. That’s a label you’ll see if you click the link in your News Feed, and stop to pay attention to the site’s tagline, URL, or “About” page, rather than simply reacting to the headline and story itself, as so many people do. (There is also a watermark on the image accompanying the story that includes the word “satire,” though it’s so tiny as to be barely legible.)

Satire presents a quandary for Facebook’s fact-checkers: Slap earnest warning labels on every Onion story and suppress users’ ability to share it, and you essentially eradicate political humor from the platform, while insulting the intelligence of millions of Onion fans who are in on the joke. But what about self-described “satire” sites whose headlines seem calculated to mislead and inflame rather than amuse?


Though you have to wonder about anyone who could believe it would cost $2.4bn to impeach Trump.
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Inside Larry Page’s turbulent Kitty Hawk: returned deposits, battery fires and a Boeing shakeup • Forbes

Jeremy Bogaisky:


In 2017, success seemed to be just around the corner for Kitty Hawk, the secretive flying-car company that’s bankrolled by Google cofounder Larry Page and run by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford AI and robotics whiz who had launched Google’s self-driving car unit. Kitty Hawk had just shown off a prototype of the Flyer, a single-seat, battery-powered aircraft intended to be a low-altitude fun machine for use over water, like a jet ski on rotors, with handling that would make flying as easy as driving. “I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight,” Page said at the time. The startup promised to put the Flyer in eager buyers’ hands by the end of the year.

Late that year the Mountain View, California-based company also began flight-testing a more ambitious project in New Zealand: a two-seat electric self-flying taxi called Cora that Kitty Hawk says will enable city dwellers to soar over gridlocked streets. “Just imagine traveling at 80 miles an hour in a straight line at any time of day without ever having to stop,” Thrun told the Guardian a few months after Cora was unveiled. “It would be transformational to almost every person I know.”

Two years later, however, Kitty Hawk’s promise to bring personal flying to the masses has failed to take wing yet amid technical problems and safety issues with Flyer and unresolved questions about its practical use, according to four former Kitty Hawk employees who were among six who spoke to Forbes on the condition of anonymity due to nondisclosure agreements. At the same time, the company may have given up control of Cora, sources suggest. [This was subsequently confirmed.]


Maybe Larry doesn’t have the Midas touch after all. Still, he’ll have more time to devote to this now.
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Internet Society CEO: Most people don’t care about the .org sell-off – and nothing short of a court order will stop it • The Register

Kieren McCarthy:


El Reg has quizzed Andrew Sullivan, the president and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC), about his organistion’s decision to sell the non-profit .org registry to private equity outfit Ethos Capital.

We have previously covered the controversy over the proposed sale, the continued failure of ISOC and DNS overseer ICANN to answer detailed questions, and efforts by both to push the deal forward even while opposition to it grows.

Your correspondant asked Sullivan whether he expected the amount of criticism from the internet community that has erupted in recent days.

“I did expect some people to be unhappy with the decision, I expected some pushback,” he told The Register, adding: “But the level of pushback has been very strong.”

He was aware, he says, that people would not like two key aspects of the decision: the move from a non-profit model to a for-profit one; and the lack of consultation. He had explanations ready for both: “The registry business is still a business, and this represented a really big opportunity, and one that is good for PIR [Public Interest Registry].”

As for the lack of consultation: “We didn’t go looking for this. If we had done that [consulted publicly about the sale .org], the opportunity would have been lost. If we had done it in public, it would have created a lot of uncertainty without any benefit.”


Not answered: why did they think it was important to sell off .org? As McCarthy – who has followed the internet domain market for years (he tracked down and wrote about the shenanigans behind the ownership of – points out, there’s no way longstanding .org sites are going to move if the price goes up. Yet they’re the ones least likely to be able to pay. It’s a shockingly bad decision.
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The missing link between spreadsheets and data visualization • RAWGraphs


First, insert your data into RAWGraphs

As simple as a copy-paste.

RAWGraphs works with delimiter-separated values (i.e. csv and tsv files) as well as with copied-and-pasted texts from other applications (e.g. Microsoft Excel, Google Spreadsheets, TextEdit, …). It also works with CORS-enabled endpoints (APIs).

No worries, your data is safe.

Even though RAWGraphs is a web app, the data you insert will be processed only by the web browser. No server-side operations or storages are performed, no one will see, touch or copy your data!

Second, choose from a wide range of visual models.

Conventional and unconventional layouts.

We designed and developed RAWGraphs with designers and vis geeks in mind. That’s why we focused on providing charts that are not easy to produce with other tools. But don’t worry, you can also find bar charts and pies! Something missing? See how easy is to build your own model.


I feel like I’ve been seeing “finally! Visualise your spreadsheet data!” for the past 10 years at least. They’re always nice, but not as convenient as your spreadsheet software. But this is open source, so maybe we’ll find a way to make it last. Generates vectors or PNGs, so that’s promising.
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The one-traffic-light town with some of the fastest internet in the US • The New Yorker

Sue Halpern:


McKee, an Appalachian town of about twelve hundred tucked into the Pigeon Roost Creek valley, is the seat of Jackson County, one of the poorest counties in the country. There’s a sit-down restaurant, Opal’s, that serves the weekday breakfast-and-lunch crowd, one traffic light, a library, a few health clinics, eight churches, a Dairy Queen, a pair of dollar stores, and some of the fastest Internet in the United States. Subscribers to Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative (PRTC), which covers all of Jackson County and the adjacent Owsley County, can get speeds of up to one gigabit per second, and the coöperative is planning to upgrade the system to ten gigabits. (By contrast, where I live, in the mountains above Lake Champlain, we are lucky to get three megabytes.) For nearly fifteen million Americans living in sparsely populated communities, there is no broadband Internet service at all. “The cost of infrastructure simply doesn’t change,” Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, told me. “It’s no different in a rural area than in Washington, D.C. But we’ve got thousands of people in a square mile to spread the cost among. You just don’t in rural areas.”

Keith Gabbard, the CEO of PRTC, had the audacious idea of wiring every home and business in Jackson and Owsley Counties with high-speed fibre-optic cable. Gabbard, who is in his sixties, is deceptively easygoing, with a honeyed drawl and a geographically misplaced affection for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up in McKee and attended Eastern Kentucky University, thirty-five miles down Route 421; he lives with his wife, a retired social worker, in a house next door to the one in which he grew up. “I’ve spent my whole life here,” he said. “I’m used to people leaving for college and never coming back. The ones who didn’t go to college stayed. But the best and the brightest have often left because they felt like they didn’t have a choice.”


Lovely piece. But the reality of how a fast connection changes the possibilities is enormously underappreciated: it has value that goes beyond simple money. (I speak as someone who lives in a rural area where we used to be lucky to get 3Mbps; then fibre arrived some months back, and everything is possible.)
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Worldwide loudspeaker market under pressure, but with pockets of growth • Futuresource Consulting


The consumer loudspeaker market is facing challenges from shifting listening habits, as consumers look beyond traditional audio products, fixing their sights on smart speakers and headphones. However, the category is showing some resilience, and recent changes in loudspeaker preferences means trade value is faring better than volume, according to a new worldwide loudspeaker report from Futuresource Consulting.

Comprising bookshelf speakers, floor standing speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, home theatre speakers and computer speakers, the consumer loudspeaker market achieved 45 million shipments worldwide in 2018, with a trade value of $2.8bn. That equates to a 12% year-on-year decrease in units and a 5% drop in value.

“The growth in streaming services is transforming the relationship that people have with music,” says Guy Hammett, Market Analyst at Futuresource Consulting. “It’s altering audio consumption habits and we’re seeing a rapid change in the mix of devices people wish to buy and own. Combine this with trends towards convenience, simplicity, fewer and smaller speakers and less cabling, and there are clear challenges ahead for the traditional loudspeaker market. Just three years ago, the value of the wireless speaker market was less than double that of loudspeakers. Now it’s nearly three times the value.”


That’s a hell of a flip to wireless. The triumph of Bluetooth.
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Start Up No.1202: Facebook’s chatbot hit, Ring and the police, tracking MPs’ extra income, Escobar’s folding phone (really), and more

Sundar Pichai is on top of Google – and now of its holding company Alphabet too. CC-licensed photo by Daniel Cukier on Flickr.

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

A letter from Larry and Sergey • Google Blog


Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost. While it has been a tremendous privilege to be deeply involved in the day-to-day management of the company for so long, we believe it’s time to assume the role of proud parents—offering advice and love, but not daily nagging!

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about! 

Sundar brings humility and a deep passion for technology to our users, partners and our employees every day. He’s worked closely with us for 15 years, through the formation of Alphabet, as CEO of Google, and a member of the Alphabet Board of Directors. He shares our confidence in the value of the Alphabet structure, and the ability it provides us to tackle big challenges through technology. There is no one that we have relied on more since Alphabet was founded, and no better person to lead Google and Alphabet into the future.


TL;DR: Sundar Pichai replaces Larry Page at the top of the company that owns Google. My hot take on this is: Alphabet is going to turn back into Google, the battleship around which the other businesses sail in more or less close formation. I don’t see Pichai finding it too much of a hassle running both Alphabet and Google.

Where does Page go? More to the point, where has he been the past few years? In September 2018 Bloomberg asked “Where’s Larry?” and didn’t have an answer. Sergey Brin is also going to stop being “President”, and the role won’t be filled. But they’ll keep their shares: unaccountable power at one of the biggest, more powerful companies in the world.
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Facebook gives workers a chatbot to appease that prying uncle • The New York Times

Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac:


Some Facebook employees recently told their managers that they were concerned about answering difficult questions about their workplace from friends and family over the holidays.

What if Mom or Dad accused the social network of destroying democracy? Or what if they said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, was collecting their online data at the expense of privacy?

So just before Thanksgiving, Facebook rolled out something to help its workers: a chatbot that would teach them official company answers for dealing with such thorny questions.

If a relative asked how Facebook handled hate speech, for example, the chatbot — which is a simple piece of software that uses artificial intelligence to carry on a conversation — would instruct the employee to answer with these points:

• Facebook consults with experts on the matter.

• It has hired more moderators to police its content.

• It is working on A.I. to spot hate speech.

• Regulation is important for addressing the issue.

It would also suggest citing statistics from a Facebook report about how the company enforces its standards.


Just in case your family didn’t think that you had been absorbed into a cult.
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Liam Bot • Glitch



The ‘Liam Bot’ teaches Facebook employees what to say if friends or family ask difficult questions over the holidays. We hope it’s helpful!

Uncle: When are you planning on having kids?

🤖: Some problems lend themselves more easily to A.I. solutions than others.


Reload for all the answers to those difficult, difficult questions. (It would be nice to be able to pose your own questions, but I guess you can’t have everything.)
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Building a more honest internet • Columbia Journalism Review

Ethan Zuckerman:


Thirty years after the invention of the World Wide Web, it’s increasingly clear that there are significant flaws in the global model. Shoshana Zuboff, a scholar and activist, calls this model “surveillance capitalism”; it’s a system in which users’ online movements and actions are tracked and that information is sold to advertisers. The more time people spend online, the more money companies can make, so our attention is incessantly pulled to digital screens to be monitored and monetized.

Facebook and other companies have pioneered sophisticated methods of data collection that allow ads to be precisely targeted to individual people’s consumer habits and preferences. And this model has had an unintended side effect: it has turned social-media networks into incredibly popular—some say addictive—sources of unregulated information that are easily weaponized. Bad-faith actors, from politically motivated individuals to for-profit propaganda mills to the Russian government, can easily harness social-media platforms to spread information that is dangerous and false. Disinformation is now widespread across every major social-media platform.

In response to the vulnerabilities and ill effects associated with large-scale social media, movements like Time Well Spent seek to realign tech industry executives and investors in support of what they call “humane tech.” Yes, technology should act in the service of humanity, not as an existential threat to it. But in the face of such a large problem, don’t we need something more creative, more ambitious? That is, something like radio? Radio was the first public service media, one that still thrives today. A new movement toward public service digital media may be what we need to counter the excesses and failures of today’s internet.


(Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT.)
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Ring let police view map of video doorbell installations for over a year • CNet

Alfred Ng:


For more than a year, police departments partnered with Amazon’s Ring unit had access to a map showing where its video doorbells were installed, down to the street, public documents revealed. So while Ring said it didn’t provide police with addresses for the devices, a feature in the map tool let them get extremely close. The feature was removed in July.

Public documents from the Rolling Meadows Police Department in Illinois, obtained by privacy researcher Shreyas Gandlur and reviewed by CNET, revealed that police had access to a heat map that showed the concentration of Ring cameras in a neighborhood.

In its default state, the heat map showed police where Ring cameras are concentrated: the darker the shade, the more the cameras. But when zoomed in, it would show light circles around individual locations, essentially outing Ring owners to police. Police could also type in specific addresses to see the cameras in the surrounding area.

In a statement, Ring denied that its heat map tool gave exact locations of its users.

“As previously stated, our video request feature does not give police access to the locations of devices. Ring is constantly working to improve our products and services and, earlier this year, we updated the video request process to no longer include any device density information,” the company said.


As heat maps go, it gave you a pretty good idea where the devices were.
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UK MPs’ additional income • Lobo


The annual salary for an MP in the United Kingdom is £79,468. But MPs can earn additional income by, for example, giving speeches, writing articles and advising companies. They must declare these earnings, but not in a format that enables easy comparison across MPs. So, we’ve written some code which converts all their payment declarations into a common format. All £8.4 million of them. Here’s what we found.

Between 8th June 2017 and 31st October 2019 (the most recent Parliament), the average MP earned £12,879. That’s roughly £5,330 every 12 months, earned mostly through second jobs (with a fixed, regular salary).  But also through other ad-hoc tasks like giving speeches. We can’t see income from rental properties or financial assets.

Most MPs have not declared any additional earnings. This means that earnings are concentrated: 15 MPs account for over 50% of total earnings. Boris Johnson alone earned almost 10% of the total: nearly £800,000 or £27,440 a month. That was mostly earned through giving speeches. All 15 top-earners are men.


Only one of those 15 isn’t a Conservative. Would love to see this for previous Parliaments. And the gender gap is remarkable.
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Climate change is forcing one person from their home every two seconds, Oxfam says • CNN

Jack Guy, CNN:


People are seven times more likely to be internally displaced by floods, cyclones and wildfires than volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and three times more likely than by conflict, according to the report released Monday,

The issue is one of a raft of topics set to be discussed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 25, which starts on Monday in Madrid.

Oxfam is calling on the international community to do more to fund recovery programs for poorer countries affected by the climate emergency, which is set to intensify as extreme weather events are projected to increase in both severity and frequency.

Low- and lower-middle income nations, such as India, are more than four times more likely to be affected by climate-fueled displacement than high-income countries like Spain and the US, according to the report.

Geography also plays a role, with about 80% of those displaced living in Asia.

Small island developing states (SIDS), such as Cuba, Dominica and Tuvalu, are particularly badly affected, making up seven of the top 10 countries with the highest rates of displacement from extreme weather disasters between 2008 and 2018.


I’d really like to know what governments’ detailed reports about food production, shortages and mass migration look like. A question I’ve seriously been wondering about is in which decade of this century governments will introduce rationing.
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Pablo Escobar’s brother unveils folding smartphone with help of hot models • TMZ


Pablo Escobar’s brother knows how to move merchandise — show off the goods … and make sure to toss in a little extra eye candy. Or a lot.

The notorious Colombian kingpin’s bro, Roberto, is adding to his tech portfolio by unveiling one of the world’s first foldable smartphones. Based on the ad … sexy women in lingerie will especially enjoy using it.

According to his company, Escobar Inc., the flexible screen Android easily folds out into a 7.8in screen tablet … and comes with all the top-of-the-line bells and whistles.

Its name – the Escobar Fold 1. Retail price – $349. The company says they’ll sell out quickly, because it’s only producing 100,000 units to start … so get ’em while they’re hot.


First, I don’t think the quality’s going to be up there – this has surely come from a Chinese knockoff company, especially at that price.

Second, what a classic celebrity magazine story: don’t care about interrogating the tech, just look at the name!

Third, I don’t think you’d really want to make a complaint to customer service. “What did you say your address was? Ah, we’ll send someone round to deal with.. the problem.” (Thanks Jim C for the link.)
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Why the paper on the CRISPR babies stayed secret for so long • MIT Technology Review

Antonio Regalado:


More than a year after the birth in China of twin girls known as Lulu and Nana, the world’s first gene-edited babies, the affair is still shrouded in secrecy. US researchers and universities have given incomplete or equivocal accounts of their involvement with He Jiankui, the Chinese biophysicist who used CRISPR to make changes to the girls’ DNA while they were still embryos. In China, if you distribute a news story to WeChat asking what happened to the twins, state censors will issue a takedown notice.

No reason is given. No appeal is possible.

The silence hasn’t served only to conceal what really happened to the girls. It is hiding the scientific facts themselves. Starting late last year, manuscripts written by He describing the creation of the twins were considered for publication by at least two supremely influential journals: Nature and JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Neither has published his work.

The reason isn’t only that He’s project trampled ethics rules. Another major obstacle to a full account is that He has not been seen or heard from for months. He didn’t make it to his home village for Chinese New Year in February, his father told us. His lab and data, according to one insider, were seized by Chinese authorities last December, and his original team of 10 has scattered to the four winds. An American collaborator, Michael Deem of Rice University, is the subject of an investigation by that institution; it has come to no public conclusion or disclosed any findings. So there may be nobody who can answer questions, expand upon the data, or carry out follow-up experiments, as scientific review by a journal often demands.

Although the reaction to the CRISPR babies was overwhelmingly negative, the future that the unpublished manuscripts unveil—a future of genetically engineered humans—is coming faster than many people realize. Genome-writing techniques are improving at a blazing pace. Select researchers remain keen to employ them in human embryos, tempted by the chance to prevent disease or improve heredity. The fear is they will do it again in secrecy, in some other country with lax oversight, and repeat He’s mistakes.


Hang on – a country that has access to CRISPR and high-quality laboratories and yet has lax oversight? Where is it, Jurassic World? But at least the article (3,000+ wds) goes into the detail of the paper, and why it hasn’t been published: the gene-deleting work with CRISPR might have gone wrong.
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Start Up No.1201: Wikipedia + Wayback = better, Greenland’s melt worsens, Facebook’s strange way with facts, and more

Amazingly, this company is – in a roundabout way – responsible for a lot of the image compression you see online. CC-licensed photo by Bertrand Duperrin on Flickr.

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

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

The Internet Archive is making Wikipedia more reliable • WIRED

Klint Finley:


The reason people rely on Wikipedia, despite its imperfections, is that every claim is supposed to have citations. Any sentence that isn’t backed up with a credible source risks being slapped with the dreaded “citation needed” label. Anyone can check out those citations to learn more about a subject, or verify that those sources actually say what a particular Wikipedia entry claims they do—that is, if you can find those sources.

It’s easy enough when the sources are online. But many Wikipedia articles rely on good old-fashioned books. The entry on Martin Luther King Jr., for example, cites 66 different books. Until recently, if you wanted to verify that those books say what the article says they say, or if you just wanted to read the cited material, you’d need to track down a copy of the book.

Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Internet Archive, you can click the name of the book and see a two-page preview of the cited work, so long as the citation specifies a page number. You can also borrow a digital copy of the book, so long as no else has checked it out, for two weeks—much the same way you’d borrow a book from your local library. (Some groups of authors and publishers have challenged the archive’s practice of allowing users to borrow unauthorized scanned books. The Internet Archive says it seeks to widen access to books in “balanced and respectful ways.”)

So far the Internet Archive has turned 130,000 references in Wikipedia entries in various languages into direct links to 50,000 books that the organization has scanned and made available to the public. The organization eventually hopes to allow users to view and borrow every book cited by Wikipedia, with the ultimate goal being to digitize every book ever published.


Start enough projects, and you’ll eventually have one that’s world-beating. But these two are both world-beating.
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Greenland melt involves massive waterfalls encased in ice, raising fears about sea level rise • The Washington Post

Andrew Freedman:


Scientists are keenly interested in how meltwater on the surface of the Greenland ice sheet — the largest contributor to global sea level rise — acts to speed up the movement of ice toward the sea by lubricating the underside of the ice surface. The new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that scientists are underestimating the number of melt ponds that partially, and rapidly, drain into the ice sheet each year. This means tweaks may be needed to the computer models used to predict sea level rise from Greenland.

This is the first study to show that partial lake drainage can occur through cracks in the ice, rather than overtopping or other mechanisms, which was previously the assumption. This means even more water is reaching the base of the ice sheet than previously thought.


We are very, very screwed.
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Coal power becoming ‘uninsurable’ as firms refuse cover • The Guardian

Julia Kollewe:


The number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving Lloyd’s of London and Asian insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels, according to a new report.

The report, which rates the world’s 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declares that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance.

Ten firms moved to restrict the insurance cover they offer to companies that build or operate coal power plants in 2019, taking the global total to 17, said the Unfriend Coal campaign, which includes 13 environmental groups such as Greenpeace, Client Earth and Urgewald, a German NGO. The report will be launched at an insurance and climate risk conference in London on Monday, as the UN climate summit gets underway in Madrid.

The first insurers to exit coal policies were all European, but since March, two US insurers – Chubb and Axis Capital – and the Australian firms QBE and Suncorp have pledged to stop or restrict insurance for coal projects.


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The rise of solar power is jeopardising the west Australia energy grid, and it’s a lesson for all of Australia • ABC News

Daniel Mercer:


While much of the debate about the intersection of climate and energy policy is focused on the eastern states — and its national electricity market (NEM) — western Australia (WA) is hurtling towards a tipping point.

At heart of the state’s problem is its isolation.

Unlike states such as South Australia, which has even higher levels of renewable energy, WA cannot rely on any other markets to prop it up during times of disruption to supply or demand.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which runs WA’s wholesale electricity market (WEM), said the islanded nature of the grid in WA made it particularly exposed to the technical challenges posed by solar.

AEMO chief executive Audrey Zibelman said these challenges tended to be most acute when high levels of solar output coincided with low levels of demand — typically on mild, sunny days in spring or autumn when people were not using air conditioners.

On those days, excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system, pushing the amount of power needed from the grid to increasingly low levels.

Ms Zibelman said WA’s isolation amplified this trend because the relative concentration of its solar resources meant fluctuations in supply caused by the weather had an outsized effect.

The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system.

The problem was coal-fired plants were not designed to be quickly ramped up or down in such a way, meaning they were ill-equipped to respond to sudden fluctuations in solar production.


Filed under “problems you didn’t expect to have”.
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I ditched Google for DuckDuckGo. Here’s why you should too • WIRED

James Temperton:


It all started with a realization: Most the things I search for are easy to find. Did I really need the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithms of Google to assist me? Probably not. So I made a simple change: I opened up Firefox on my Android phone and switched Google search for DuckDuckGo. As a result, I’ve had a fairly tedious but important revelation: I search for really obvious stuff. Google’s own data backs this up. Its annual round-up of the most searched-for terms is basically a list of names and events: World Cup, Avicii, Mac Miller, Stan Lee, Black Panther, Megan Markle. The list goes on. And I don’t need to buy into Google’s leviathan network of privacy-invading trackers to find out what Black Panther is and when I can go and see it at my local cinema.

While I continue to use Google at work (more out of necessity, as my employer runs on G-Suite), on my phone I’m all about DuckDuckGo. I had, based on zero evidence, convinced myself that finding things on the internet was hard and, inevitably, involved a fair amount of tracking. After two years of not being tracked and targeted, I have slowly come to realize that this is nonsense.

DuckDuckGo works in broadly the same way as any other search engine, Google included. It combines data from hundreds of sources, including Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and Bing, with its own web crawler to surface the most relevant results. Google does exactly the same, albeit on a somewhat larger scale. The key difference: DuckDuckGo does not store IP addresses or user information.

Billed as the search engine that doesn’t track you, DuckDuckGo processes around 1.5 billion searches every month. Google, for contrast, processes around 3.5 billion searches per day. It’s hardly a fair fight, but DuckDuckGo is growing. In 2012 it averaged just 45 million searches per month.


You can see the growth in DuckDuckGo’s traffic directly. Though I don’t get why he says he continues to use Google at work “more out of necessity”. If search isn’t special on his phone, why on his desktop? Also: DDG’s traffic graph seems to be fractal – the same at every magnification.
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Huawei manages to make smartphones without American chips • WSJ

Asa Fitch and Dan Strumpf:


Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees export licenses, last month said U.S.-based chip makers were being granted licenses to resume some other deliveries. The department has received nearly 300 license applications, he said.

Meanwhile, Huawei has made significant strides in shedding its dependence on parts from U.S. companies. (At issue are chips from U.S.-based companies, not those necessarily made in America; many U.S. chip companies make their semiconductors abroad.)

Huawei long relied on suppliers like Qorvo Inc., the North Carolina maker of chips that are used to connect smartphones with cell towers, and Skyworks Solutions Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based company that makes similar chips. It also used parts from Broadcom Inc., the San Jose-based maker of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips, and Cirrus Logic Inc., an Austin, Texas-based company that makes chips for producing sound.

While Huawei hasn’t stopped using American chips entirely, it has reduced its reliance on U.S. suppliers or eliminated U.S. chips in phones launched since May, including the company’s Y9 Prime and Mate smartphones, according to Fomalhaut’s teardown analysis. Similar inspections by iFixit and Tech Insights Inc., two other firms that take apart phones to inspect components, have come to similar conclusions.


Impressive. How’s it doing on not using Google software, though?
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How a nude ‘Playboy’ photo has been a mainstay in testing tech for decades • Medium

Corinne Purtill:


“Once upon a time, I was the centerfold of Playboy,” says the former model, who now goes by the name Lena Forsen, in the film’s final moments. “But I retired from modeling a long time ago. It’s time I retired from tech, too.”

At the peak of Lena’s popularity, the strongest argument in favor of using the image in research was that so many others had done the same. Stripped from its original context, the Lena image was simply a recognizable pattern of pixels that could be manipulated, compressed, and then compared with the results of other compressions of the same image.

“At the height, it was used in everything from journal papers to textbooks,” said Deanna Needell, a mathematics professor at UCLA. “For a long time, I didn’t attend a single conference in image processing where she didn’t appear in someone’s talk. And now it is still, sadly, not uncommon.” To demonstrate that Lena wasn’t the only available face with the right amount of texture and shading, Needell and a colleague used a photograph of the model Fabio Lanzoni in a 2013 paper on image reconstruction.

The real-life implications of a ’70s-era Playboy centerfold being presented as a neutral image was apparent as recently as 2014. Maddie Zug, then a high school junior, was one of a handful of girls in a mostly male artificial intelligence class told to use the Lena image in a coding class assignment.

The teacher emphatically instructed the class not to search for the full image on Google, which of course everyone promptly did. Instantly, the awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys became the intensely awkward experience of being one of few girls in a room of teenage boys snorting and laughing over a picture of a naked lady.


The 1970s have so much to answer for. The reason why that photo was used? Men brought Playboy to work.
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How a dog called Peter sparked Malta’s political crisis • The Guardian

Juliette Garside:


A week of arrests and resignations, of drama and fury unlike anything Malta has seen in generations, might not have happened but for the keen nose of a police sniffer dog called Peter.

On Wednesday 13 November, the spaniel was screening passengers when he alerted his handlers to the smell of cash. Lots of it.

Customs reportedly found €210,000 (£178,000) in the belongings of a man preparing to board a flight to Istanbul.

The economic crimes unit were called and a day later, the incident led to the arrest of a taxi driver, Melvin Theuma.

Under questioning by police, Theuma made the sensational claim that he had acted as intermediary in the contract killing of Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Now, as a consequence of Theuma’s claims, the EU’s smallest state is in the throes of its biggest political convulsion since the 1960s, when the former British colony became an independent country.

At the heart of it all is the murder of Caruana Galizia, who died two years ago when a bomb planted under the seat of her rental car was detonated near her home in the village of Bidnija.


Dogs do not lie. This is why they are good. Malta (where I lived for a while as a child) has really gone to all kinds of hell.
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Facebook issues corrective label on user’s post under new Singapore fake news law • Reuters

Fathin Ungku and John Geddie:


Facebook said on Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.

“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.

The correction label was embedded at the bottom of the original post without any alterations to the text.

The Singapore government said on Friday it had instructed Facebook “to publish a correction notice” on a Nov. 23 post which contained accusations about the arrest of a supposed whistleblower and election rigging.

Singapore, which is expected to call a general elections within months, said the allegations were “false” and “scurrilous” and initially ordered user Alex Tan, who runs the States Times Review blog, to issue the correction notice on the post.

Tan, who does not live in Singapore and says he is an Australian citizen, refused and authorities said he is now under investigation.


Got that? Now read on.
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Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker quits over political ad exemption • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


Facebook’s only Dutch factchecker has quit over the social network’s refusal to allow them to highlight political lies as being false.

The online newspaper had been Facebook’s only factchecking partner in the Netherlands since Leiden University dropped out of the programme last year. The website had sole responsibility for marking Facebook and Instagram news content for Dutch users as being false or misleading, in order to help power the social network’s tools that suppress distribution of misinformation.

According to an NPO 3 interview with’s editor-in-chief, Gert-Jaap Hoekman, the relationship ended over Facebook’s decision to ban it from checking content and adverts posted by politicians. “What is the point of fighting fake news if you are not allowed to tackle politicians?” Hoekman asked.

The organisation has had an uncomfortable relationship with Facebook since May, when labelled an advert from a Dutch politician as “unsubstantiated” – a move that was reversed by Facebook, which enforced its rules against factchecking politicians. But the “final straw”, according to the NPO programme, was when Facebook again pushed the factcheckers to reverse rulings against the far-right Freedom party (PVV) and FvD party.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We value the work that has done and regret to see them go, but respect their decision as an independent business.

“Fighting misinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry…”


…but Facebook doesn’t want to wield any of those prongs.
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Silicon Valley braces for belt-tightening • The Information

Cory Weinberg:


Airbnb racked up heavy losses in the first half of this year as it spent heavily on marketing and adding employees. While it recorded a big profit in the third quarter, three people familiar with the matter said, the rest of the year might not make up for the early performance. It isn’t clear whether Airbnb will make cuts, but investors have increasingly been scrutinizing the company’s high overhead expenses as it prepares to go public next year, two of the people said.

Other startups already have taken steps to tighten their belts. Opendoor, a home-buying service valued at $3.8bn, dramatically slowed a planned expansion to new markets this year, and its CEO has talked publicly about trying to be more frugal. Mattress maker Casper, which is likely to go public next year, recently trimmed staff to conserve cash. The changes, described by people close to the companies, haven’t previously been reported.

Rich Boyle, a general partner at venture capital firm Canaan Partners, said startup boards that he sits on have had more discussions in recent months about how to prepare for tougher times, including whether to reduce staff, slow office expansion and invest in fewer new products or services. Those considerations represent a reality check for investors and entrepreneurs accustomed to the last decade of “everything is up and to the right, everything easy to raise,” he said.

The poor IPO performances of Uber and Lyft, and WeWork’s failed attempt to go public, demonstrated that public investors want to see clear pathways to profits. Another factor, he said, was a pullback by SoftBank, which had been plowing money into tech startups since it launched its enormous Vision Fund in 2017.

“There is a sentiment shift,” Boyle said. “We’re entering one of the phases where it’s not growth at all costs.”


If SoftBank has finally got some accountants who know the meaning of “mark-to-market” and can read a P/L, that’s probably a good thing, even if it means fewer [insert pointless food/pursuit of choice] for startups. Though one also wonders if this is the first cold wind presaging a much colder business climate for everyone.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1200: China forces face scans for mobile, fake news and fake viewers, EU looks again at Google, iPhone = iPod?, and more

Reversing cameras are now obligatory on cars in the US: what’s the economic justification? CC-licensed photo by Maria Palma on Flickr.

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A selection of 10 links for you. “The right to carry narwhal tusks and fire extinguishers”. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

China due to introduce face scans for mobile users • BBC News


People in China are now required to have their faces scanned when registering new mobile phone services, as the authorities seek to verify the identities of the country’s hundreds of millions of internet users.

The regulation, announced in September, was due to come into effect on Sunday.

The government says it wants to “protect the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace”. China already uses facial recognition technology to survey its population. It is a world leader in such technologies, but their intensifying use across the country in recent years has sparked debate.

When signing up for new mobile or mobile data contracts, people are already required to show their national identification card (as required in many countries) and have their photos taken. But now, they will also have their faces scanned in order to verify that they are a genuine match for the ID provided…

…When the regulations were announced in September, the Chinese media did not make a big deal of it.

But online, hundreds of social media users voiced concerns about the increasing amount of data being held on them.
“People are being more and more strictly monitored,” one user of the Sina Weibo microblogging website said. “What are they [the government] afraid of?”


Increasingly creepy; but what’s more concerning is that it creates a sort of mission creep for other countries: they can say, when they introduce new biometric requirements, that “it’s not as bad as China’s” – which will be true, but no less intrusive and concerning because of the potential for abuse. (Imagine the Trump administration with a facial recognition database of citizens.)
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Rear Visibility and some unresolved problems for economic analysis • SSRN

Cass Sunstein:


Rearview cameras produce a set of benefits that are hard to quantify, including increased ease of driving, and those benefits might have been made a part of “breakeven analysis,” accompanying standard cost-benefit analysis.

In addition, rearview cameras significantly improve the experience of driving, and it is plausible to think that in deciding whether to demand them, many vehicle purchasers did not sufficiently anticipate that improvement.

This is a problem of limited foresight; rearview cameras are “experience goods.” A survey conducted in 2019 strongly supports this proposition, finding that about 56% of consumers would demand at least $300 to buy a car without a rearview camera, and that fewer than 6% would demand $50 or less. Almost all of that 6% consists of people who do not own a car with a rearview camera. (The per-person cost is usually under $50.)

These conclusions have general implications for other domains in which regulation has the potential to improve social welfare, even if it fails standard cost-benefit analysis; the defining category involves situations in which people lack experience with a good whose provision might have highly beneficial welfare effects.


The US has made rear-view cameras obligatory since 2014, and (even) the Trump administration backed that in 2018. Sunstein points out that “it is not easy to identify a market failure to justify the regulation”. The long list of “backover” stories (children killed or injured by reversing vehicles) suggests that’s because it’s difficult to value a child’s life.
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Episode 203: Tech Election – Part 2 • Talking Politics podcast


We talk about the impact of different online platforms on the general election campaign, from Twitter and Facebook to WhatsApp and TikTok. Is micro-targeting getting more sophisticated? Is viral messaging getting more important? Or are traditional electioneering techniques still driving voter engagement? Plus we ask whether there’s any scope left for a ‘December surprise’. With Charles Arthur, former technology editor of the Guardian, and Jennifer Cobbe, from the Cambridge Trust and Technology Initiative.


One comment on this was “you’re usually a world class podcast, but this episode was really boring”. Knock yourself out.
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Sham news sites make big bucks from fake views • BBC News

Vivienne Nunis:


Often the sites are not designed to be seen by human eyes at all. The website also – at first glance – appears to be a regular news site for a city in south Texas. There are stories about local residents and President Trump’s border wall with Mexico.

But the stories have no publication date. There are no contact details for the editorial staff and the site loads slowly due to the large number of ads. Yet the site has had 3.7 million page views over the past three months, according to data from analytics firm SimilarWeb.

Not bad for a news site covering a city of just 260,000 people.

But the audience is fake. Bots are used to give the impression of high traffic, generating very real revenue for the site’s creators.

“We estimate each site is making at least $100,000 [£77,450] a month,” said Vlad Shevtsov, director of investigations at Social Puncher, the firm that exposed a number of fraudulent news sites. The organisation says ad fraud is a million-dollar industry.

Dig a little deeper into the Laredo Tribune’s user data, and there are other clues it is not legitimate. Advertisers might ask why there were 500,000 page views in September, which jumped to a staggering three million views in October.

Ads for major UK brands including Virgin Media, Superdrug and even TV Licensing were all displayed on related sham news sites seen by the BBC.

“We hope more can be done across the industry to clamp down on these instances of pay-per-con advertising fraud,” said a Virgin Media spokesman.

Google says the Laredo Tribune does not breach its advertising rules, and it found no issues with traffic to the site.

“That means that next month, the anonymous owner will get the next payout cheque from Google,” said Mr Shevtsov.


Google not realising that the site is fake is a bad sign – for Google, and for everyone else trying to run a legitimate news site.
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Exclusive: EU antitrust regulators say they are investigating Google’s data collection • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:


EU antitrust regulators are investigating Google’s collection of data, the European Commission told Reuters on Saturday, suggesting the world’s most popular internet search engine remains in its sights despite record fines in recent years.

Competition enforcers on both sides of the Atlantic are now looking into how dominant tech companies use and monetise data.

The EU executive said it was seeking information on how and why Alphabet unit Google is collecting data, confirming a Reuters story on Friday.

“The Commission has sent out questionnaires as part of a preliminary investigation into Google’s practices relating to Google’s collection and use of data. The preliminary investigation is ongoing,” the EU regulator told Reuters in an email.

A document seen by Reuters shows the EU’s focus is on data related to local search services, online advertising, online ad targeting services, login services, web browsers and others.

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has handed down fines totalling more than €8bn to Google in the last two years and ordered it to change its business practices.


Google’s not going to change its business practices.
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On being proud to be British • Medium

Martin Shapland:


James Ford is the man wielding the fire extinguisher [against the attacker on London Bridge who killed two people with a knife]. He murdered a 21-yr-old [Amanda Champion, aged 21] who had learning difficulties in 2004, for which he is coming to the end of a lengthy life sentence.

He happened to be at the same event [as the London Bridge attacker] on rehabilitation on day release and helped to stop another man murdering more than he managed. What does it say about Britishness? Are we unredeemable? In another age he would have been put to death for his crime, he’s no hero, but does he, and we, deserve a second chance?

And then there is the attacker. Usman Khan. Previously convicted for acts of terrorism in 2012. Clearly unredeemable and incapable of rehabilitation. Yet he too was British and part of our story.


The fact that one man defending the public is a convicted killer, and that the man attacking the public hadn’t killed anyone (because he had been stopped first) is a stunning detail. The parents of Ford’s victim did not, and do not, forgive him; it was in some ways a more brutal murder than those Khan carried out. The death penalty might have satisfied Champion’s parents, yet denied someone their life in this present day if Ford hadn’t been there.
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Scrapping paper car tax discs has cost nearly £300million • Daily Mail

Tom Payne:


Scrapping the paper car tax discs has led to a surge in fee dodging and cost nearly £300m, the Daily Mail can reveal.

Ministers claimed moving the system online would cut costs and reduce tax evasion. But the changes have led to a dramatic rise in motorists either deliberately dodging tax or forgetting to pay it. It means the Treasury has lost an estimated £281m since 2014.

Last night, critics described the scheme as a failure and said the millions could have been spent on improving our crumbling roads. Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Getting a piece of paper to stick in the windscreen might seem a quaint idea in the digital age, but what we’ve lost is the daily reminder it provided for all to see when the next payment was due.”

…Roadside surveys by the DVLA reveal that losses from car tax were around £35m in 2013/14 – the last year when discs were in use. But this has risen to £94m in 2019 alone, with an ‘upper estimate’ of £281m since 2014. Some tax will be reclaimed or repaid later, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said.

…The coloured disc system was overhauled by then-Chancellor George Osborne as part of a ‘Red Tape Challenge’ to streamline services. Every vehicle’s tax status is now kept on a DVLA computer and drivers are automatically posted or emailed reminders. But evidence shows renewal letters can be sent to old addresses or are missed in mountains of junk mail.

Of those found dodging tax, 54% were caught two months after they should have renewed – suggesting the evasion is accidental. The increase is being blamed on another change in the system that requires drivers to pay tax every time a vehicle changes hands.


I’d guess that intentional dodging is made easier by this – register the vehicle to an old or fake address. But police can check automatically whether a vehicle is taxed. It’s an enforcement gap.
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SMS replacement is exposing users to text, call interception thanks to sloppy telcos • VICE

Joseph Cox:


SRLabs didn’t find an issue in the RCS standard itself, but rather how it is being implemented by different telecos. Because some of the standard is undefined, there’s a good chance companies may deploy it in their own way and make mistakes.

“Everybody seems to get it wrong right now, but in different ways,” Nohl said. SRLabs took a sample of SIM cards from a variety of carriers and checked for RCS-related domains, and then looked into particular security issues with each. SRLabs didn’t say which issues impacted which particular telecos.

Some of those issues include how devices receive RCS configuration files. In one instance, a server provides the configuration file for the right device by identifying them by their IP address. But because they also use that IP address, “Any app that you install on your phone, even if you give it no permissions whatsoever, it can request this file. So now every app can get your username and password to all your text messages and all your voice calls. That’s unexpected,” Nohl said.

In another instance, a teleco sends a text message with a six-digit code to verify that the RCS user is who they say they are, but “then give you an unlimited number of tries” to input the code, Nohl said. “One million attempts takes five minutes,” he added, meaning that it could be possible to brute force through the authentication process.

“All of these mistakes from the 90s are being reinvented, reintroduced,” Nohl said. “It is being rolled out for upwards of a billion people already who are all affected by this.”


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This iPhone app will make you nostalgic for the iPod click wheel • The Verge

Tom Warren:


An iOS developer is building an iPhone app that will turn the smartphone into an iPod Classic with its nostalgic click wheel. Elvin Hu, a design student at Cooper Union college in New York City, has been working on the project since October, and shared an early look at the app on Twitter on Thursday. It essentially turns your iPhone into a fullscreen iPod Classic with a click wheel that includes haptic feedback and click sounds just like Apple’s original device.

It has generated a lot of interest on Twitter, with even the “father of the iPod,” Tony Fadell, noting it’s a “nice throwback.” Hu built the app because he was working on a paper about the development of the iPod at school. “I’ve always been a fan of Apple products since I was a kid,” revealed Hu in an email to The Verge. “Before my family could afford one, I would draw the UI layout of iPhone on lids of Ferrero Rocher boxes. Their products (among other products, such as Windows Vista and Zune HD) have greatly influenced my decision of pursuing design as a career.”


It’s a lovely concept, though apparently he’s waiting to see whether Apple will approve it because of patents and IP and so on. Fingers crossed he gets the thumbs-up: it’s exactly what Steve Jobs described about the flexibility of having a screen rather than a keyboard: that you can turn the phone into any app you want. Including the thing it replaced.
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Britain fights its last election, again • The Atlantic

Tom McTague:


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s core strategy is to embrace radicalism, and in doing so feed off the publicity it generates, turning Tory attack lines into free campaign commercials. Each Labour policy is actively designed to impose costs, not avoid them, on the minority of Britons who have large assets, income, or wealth, and to redistribute it across the population. Criticism of these policies, therefore, in Labour’s eyes, only serves to elevate them in the public consciousness.

This is, in effect, the same strategy the party employed in 2017, when it won far more seats than expected but still fell well short of a parliamentary majority. It comes through clearly in its latest manifesto, which promises to increase day-to-day government outlays by £80 billion ($103 billion) a year to pay for a slate of new giveaways. The scale of the proposed spending spree means that for every extra pound the Conservatives are proposing to spend if elected, Labour is offering 28. The crux of Labour’s plan, however, is not so much the scale of the spending but the proposal to load all of the extra tax burden onto the top 5% of earners. Corbyn and his aides are betting that the more the Tories attack Labour’s manifesto, the more the 95% of the country that would benefit from the Labour plan will hear about it. In other words, they have taken the strategy that failed to win the last election, and doubled down on it.

Despite emerging from the 2017 contest with the most votes and the most seats, the Tories, by comparison, had thrown away their slender majority in a vote they seemed all but guaranteed to win—and win big. It was a historic debacle that eventually cost Theresa May her job and the Conservative Party the chance to enact the version of Brexit it wanted. This year, under a new leader but with a strikingly similar offer, it is now crystal clear what the Tories have concluded went wrong the first time: Whereas May claimed it was because they allowed Labour to paint them “as the voice of continuity,” Johnson has decided they offered voters far too much change last time.


Terrific analysis about the strange times we live in – and how a Lynton Crosby memo from 2017 that was ignored now seems to form the core of the Tories’ approach.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1199: Twitter pauses account cull, bad bags for life, TikTok helping repression, Toshiba’s cancer blood drop test, and more

A reconstruction of Game 3 of the match between Lee Sedol and AlphaGo. (Go players will recognise it’s not exactly accurate.) Lee has now quit. CC-licensed photo by Alvin Trusty on Flickr.

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A selection of 9 links for you. Try the turkey. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Go master Lee Sedol says he quits unable to win over AI Go players • Yonhap News Agency



South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol, who retired from professional Go competition last week after gaining worldwide fame in 2016 as the only human to defeat the artificial intelligence (AI) Go player AlphaGo, said his retirement was primarily motivated by the invincibility of AI Go programs.

“With the debut of AI in Go games, I’ve realized that I’m not at the top even if I become the number one through frantic efforts,” said Lee.

“Even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated,” he said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Monday.

AlphaGo, built by Google’s DeepMind Technologies, won four of its five matches against Lee in March 2016, but Lee’s sole win in Game 4 remains the only time a human has beaten the AI player.
Reflecting on the historic Game 4 on March 13, 2016, Lee attributed his win to a bug in the AlphaGo program.

In the game, Lee’s unexpected move at white 78 developed a white wedge between blacks at the center. The apparently embarrassed AlphaGo responded poorly on move 79, suddenly turning the game in Lee’s favor. AlphaGo then declared its surrender by displaying a “resign” message on the computer screen.
Lee’s white 78 is still praised as a “brilliant, divine” move that offered a ray of hope to humans frustrated by AIs.

But Lee said he managed to win Game 4 due to AlphaGo’s buggy response to his “tricky” moves. “My white 78 was not a move that should be countered straightforwardly. Such a bug still occurs in Fine Art (a Chinese Go-playing computer program). Fine Art can hardly be defeated even after accepting two stone handicaps against humans. But when it loses, it loses in a strange way. It’s due to a bug,” Lee said.


Watching the film of Lee’s match against AlphaGo, I thought that Lee had completely underestimated what it would be like to play against a computer that was as good as him. Against a human, you get tiny clues about anxiety or confidence after each move. The machine gives you nothing – it’s a brick wall against which you pound your head. That’s psychologically exhausting, and then destructive; you doubt everything, because you’re getting no feedback.

A lot of people are going to get that feeling as more machines begin to take over human jobs.
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Twitter account deletions on ‘pause’ after outcry • BBC News

Dave Lee:


Twitter has said it will “pause” plans to disable inactive accounts following user backlash, a day after announcing plans for a huge cull of such accounts.

The social network said it now would not remove accounts until it had a process for “memorialising” dead users on the network. It admitted not having a policy in place was a “miss on our part”.

The firm said it was taking action on inactive accounts due to regulatory concerns. It said once it had a full process in place, account deactivations would occur in the EU first. This was in order, Twitter said, to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“We apologise for the confusion and will keep you all posted,” the company said in a series of tweets posted on Wednesday.

On Monday Twitter had begun contacting users who hadn’t logged in in the past six months, warning them that they would have their accounts deleted unless they signed in and agreed to the firm’s latest privacy policy.

After reporting from the BBC and others, the company admitted it had not considered the issue of the potential upset that would be caused by the removal of accounts belonging to users who had died.
Writing on TechCrunch, Drew Olanoff, a communications officer at investment firm Scaleworks, said his “heart sank” when he learned of Twitter’s plans, as he often checked in on his father’s account, several years after his death.

“It’s my way, odd or not, of remembering him. Keeping his spirit alive. His tweets are timestamped moments that he shared with the world,” Mr Olanoff wrote. “And Twitter is sweeping them up like crumpled-up paper and junk in a dustbin.”


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‘Bags for life’ making plastic problem worse, say campaigners • The Guardian

Sandra Laville:


Plastic “bags for life” should be banned or raised in price, campaigners say, as new figures reveal a surge in the bags is fuelling a rise in the plastic packaging footprint of leading supermarkets.

Despite high profile promises by the country’s best known supermarkets to tackle the amount of plastic waste they create, their plastic footprint continues to rise, according to research from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace.

In 2018, supermarkets put an estimated 903,000 tonnes of plastic packaging onto the market, an increase of 17,000 tonnes on the 2017 footprint.

The surge is fuelled in part by a huge rise in the sale of “bags for life” by 26% to 1.5bn, or 54 bags per household.

Seven out of the top 10 supermarkets increased their plastic footprint year-on-year. Only Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s achieved reductions, and those were marginal, the report said.

The report is calling for a ban on bags for life, or a rise in price to at least 70p to cut the plastic mountain which is fuelling pollution.


A radio discussion of this had a woman and a man on it. The man said that the problem was that people didn’t love their multi-use bags enough. The woman pointed out that the problem was that the bags for life she’d bought on the previous trip were never in the car when she next went to the shop.

I got the distinct impression that the man had never done the family shop.
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TikTok’s owner is helping China’s campaign of repression in Xinjiang, report finds • The Washington Post



Chinese tech giants including ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, and Huawei Technologies are working closely with the Communist Party to censor and surveil Uighur Muslims in China’s western region of Xinjiang, according to a new report published Thursday.

New evidence of links between the security apparatus and China’s biggest tech companies comes just days after TikTok shut down the account of an American teenager who’d sought to highlight China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang during what began as a makeup video.

After widespread condemnation for censoring an American, TikTok backtracked and reactivated the account of Feroza Aziz, a 17-year-old high school junior in New Jersey.

In a detailed new report, experts at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre concluded that many Chinese tech companies “are engaged in deeply unethical behaviour in Xinjiang, where their work directly supports and enables mass human rights abuses.”

…Since last year, ByteDance has flourished. Its TikTok app has been downloaded a billion times — nearly 100 million of which came from the United States — and it has a jaw-dropping valuation of $75bn.

ByteDance has also been working with Xinjiang authorities under a program called “Xinjiang Aid,” whereby Chinese companies open subsidiaries or factories in Xinjiang and employ locals who have been detained in the camps. Its operations are centered on Hotan, an area of Xinjiang considered backward by the Communist Party and where the repression has been among the most severe.


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Cryptocurrency exchanges across China halt services amid crackdown • The Japan Times

Zheping Huang and Olga Kharif:


China’s latest crypto-crackdown is already claiming its first casualties.

At least five local exchanges have halted operations or announced they will no longer serve domestic users this month, after regulators issued a series of warnings and notices as part of a cleanup of digital currency trading.

China is stepping up scrutiny of its massive cryptocurrency industry just weeks after President Xi Jinping ignited a market frenzy by declaring Beijing’s support for the blockchain technology that underpins the sector. But financial watchdogs including the Chinese central bank have in past weeks ordered cryptocurrency firms to shutter and warned investors to be wary of digital currencies, seeking to rein in a market prone to excesses. Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like service, suspended accounts operated by major exchange Binance Holdings Ltd. and blockchain platform Tron.

Taken together, the latest wave of shutdowns and restrictions represent the biggest cleanup of the sector since an initial Chinese clampdown in September 2017. Although exchanges that allow users to buy Bitcoin and Ether with fiat money were banned, trading had remained rampant in China through over-the-counter platforms or services that deal with cryptocurrency assets only.


China squeezes and expands this field like it’s playing an accordion.
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Machine learning has revealed exactly how much of a Shakespeare play was written by someone else • MIT Technology Review


Once the algorithm has learned the style in terms of the most commonly used words and rhythmic patterns, it is able to recognize it in texts it has never seen.

[Petr] Plecháč [at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague] follows exactly this technique. He first trains the algorithm to recognize Shakespeare’s style using other plays written at the same time as Henry VIII. These plays are The Tragedy of Coriolanus, The Tragedy of Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest.

He then trains the algorithm to recognize the work of John Fletcher using plays he wrote at this time—Valentinian, Monsieur Thomas, The Woman’s Prize, and Bonduca.

Finally, he lets the algorithm loose on Henry VIII and asks it to determine the author of the text, using a rolling window technique to scroll through the play.

The results are interesting. They tend to agree with [James] Spedding’s analysis [made in 1850] that Fletcher wrote scenes amounting to almost half the play. However, the algorithm allows a more fine-grained approach that reveals how the authorship sometimes changes not just for new scenes, but also towards the end of previous ones. For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, the model suggests a mixed authorship after line 2081 and finds that Shakespeare takes over completely at line 2200, before the start of Act 4, Scene 1.

Plecháč also trained his model to recognize the work of Philip Massinger but finds little evidence of his involvement. “The participation of Philip Massinger is rather unlikely,” he concludes.

That’s interesting work that shows how linguists and literary analysts are using machine learning to better understand our literary past.


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Global smartphone demand was weak in third quarter of 2019 • Gartner


Global sales of smartphones to end users continued to decline in the third quarter of 2019, contracting by 0.4% compared with the third quarter of 2018, according to Gartner, Inc. Demand remained weak as consumers became more concerned about getting value for money.

“For the majority of smartphone users, desire has shifted away from owning the least expensive smartphone. Today’s smartphone user is opting for midtier smartphones over premium-tier ones because they offer better value for money,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research director at Gartner. “In addition, while waiting for 5G network coverage to increase to more countries, smartphone users are delaying their purchase decisions until 2020.”

This shift has led brands such as Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, OPPO and Vivo to strengthen their entry-level and midtier portfolios. This strategy helped Huawei, Samsung and OPPO grow in the third quarter of 2019. By contrast, Apple recorded another double-digit decline in sales, year over year


Gartner puts the total at 387.5m: top five are Samsung (79m), Huawei (65.8m), Apple (40.8m), Xiaomi (32.3m), OPPO (30.8m). “Others” are just over a third of the market, down from 40% a year ago: it’s the smaller players who are getting squeezed, just as in the PC market. Earlier this month IDC said the top five were the same, in the same order, and “Others” below 30%, but that the world market grew by 0.8% year-on-year to 358.3m.

That’s quite a difference in the total, but in growth terms it’s a wash – the market’s flat. 8 more phones per thousand, or 4 fewer phones per thousand, it’s not a noticeable difference.
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Toshiba says its device tests for 13 cancer types with 99% accuracy from a single drop of blood • The Japan Times


Toshiba Corp. has developed technology to detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99% accuracy, the company announced Monday.

Toshiba developed the diagnosis method together with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University, and hopes to commercialize it in “several years” after starting a trial next year.

The method could be used to treat cancer in its early stage, it said.

The method is designed to examine the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted in blood from cancer cells. Toray Industries Inc. and other companies have also developed technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample.

“Compared to other companies’ methods, we have an edge in the degree of accuracy in cancer detection, the time required for detection and the cost,” Koji Hashimoto, chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory, told a press briefing.

The test will be used to detect gastric, esophageal, lung, liver, biliary tract, pancreatic, bowel, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers as well as sarcoma and glioma.


“Hello, Toshiba headquarters, how may I direct your call? Oh. Elizabeth Holmes? Again? Sorry, but as we said, you can’t borrow our machine and write ‘THERANOS’ on the side.”
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When Instagram killed the tabloid star • The New York Times

Amanda Hess:


Celebrity culture, in the first decade of this century, took the form of a kind of misogynistic death cult. Somewhere in Hollywood, Lindsay Lohan was falling out of an SUV. Tara Reid was falling out of a club nearby. It was open season on drunk girls. Flashbulbs alighted on their smeared mascara and slackened jaws. “Upskirt” photographs, in which a paparazzo literally stooped so low that he could snap under a woman’s skirt as she exited a car, were a genre unto themselves.

The strip of sidewalk between a chauffeured limousine and an unhooked velvet rope formed the line of scrimmage between the celebrities and the tabloid press. It was all motivated by an antagonistic but symbiotic relationship among the famous people, the paparazzi and the fans. We watched it all with a compulsive loathing.

Few could predict that, just a few years later, this era of Hollywood would inspire nostalgia. But it has. “Pop Culture Died in 2009,” curated by a young man who was in grade school when Britney Spears commandeered the clippers at a hair salon and shaved her head, resurrects the era’s Us Weekly spreads and pap shots on Tumblr, retelling old tabloid tales about Mischa Barton and Paris Hilton and the “Leave Britney Alone” guy. What happened in 2010? Instagram happened.

In October of that year, that free photo-sharing app with a hipster sheen hit the iPhone. Several months later, Justin Bieber — the biggest star to take to the platform — posted a moody shot of Los Angeles traffic, and suddenly, we weren’t snapping hungrily at the window of a famous person’s car anymore. We were in the passenger seat. As more celebrities signed up, we gained access to their kitchens and bedrooms and closets and bathrooms. Celebrity culture moved inside. It was domesticated. The paparazzi were left stranded on the pavement. Now Us Weekly just prints photographs that celebrities have uploaded to Instagram.


Ponder this for a moment: what if Princess Di(ana) had lived in the Instagram era? Would she have been able to prevent the paparazzi hounding her, by posting her own pictures for worldwide consumption, short-circuiting their endless efforts to picture her at every moment? (For younger readers: Princess Di, as she was known, was an early version of Kate Middleton, only less happy.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: The unique links should now actually link. Thanks Lila H for pointing out they didn’t (the result of code loss a little while back.)

Start Up No.1198: climate hits crisis, farewell Clive James, TikTok bends the truth, who’ll fire Zuck (or Zuck Jr)?, and more

iFixit has some strong views about Apple’s responses to the US Congress over repairing its devices. CC-licensed photo by Dunk %uD83D%uDC1D on Flickr.

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

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

Climate emergency: world ‘may have crossed tipping points’ • The Guardian

Damian Carrington:


The world may already have crossed a series of climate tipping points, according to a stark warning from scientists. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”.

Tipping points are reached when particular impacts of global heating become unstoppable, such as the runaway loss of ice sheets or forests. In the past, extreme heating of 5C was thought necessary to pass tipping points, but the latest evidence suggests this could happen between 1C and 2C.

The planet has already heated by 1C and the temperature is certain to rise further, due to past emissions and because greenhouse gas levels are still rising. The scientists further warn that one tipping point, such as the release of methane from thawing permafrost, may fuel others, leading to a cascade.

The researchers, writing in a commentary article in the journal Nature, acknowledge that the complex science of tipping points means great uncertainty remains. But they say the potential damage from the tipping points is so big and the time to act so short, that “to err on the side of danger is not a responsible option”. They call for urgent international action…

…Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article, said: “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points. The simple version is the schoolkids [striking for climate action] are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system under way, or very close.”


Remember Hemingway on bankruptcy – gradually, and then suddenly. But you can come back from bankruptcy. Earth won’t be so forgiving.
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Clive James: ‘A wisecracking literary phenomenon who was on fire with life itself’ • The Guardian

Robert McCrum:


[in his TV criticism] he found a voice – a voice that he cherished, I suspect, to his penultimate breath. In its prime, there was nothing quite like it: who can forget his observation that Murray Walker, the motor racing commentator, always broadcast “as if his trousers were on fire”.

The best of Clive’s myriad and prodigal cracks – for instance that “Perry Como gave his usual impersonation of a man who has simultaneously been told to say ‘cheese’ and shot in the back by a poisoned arrow” or that Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron resembled “a brown condom filled with walnuts” – had an unequalled, surreal hilarity that disguised a ferociously determined Grub Street bruiser who wanted to compete in every literary Olympiad going.

This was the essential Clive James. Possibly it transformed his final years into a redemption that might otherwise have been a living hell. His injury time sponsored the indefatigable bibliography of a writer obsessed with Memento Mori (poetry, columns, an audacious new translation of The Divine Comedy, essays on Larkin and Game of Thrones, and ever more poetry).

On fire with life itself, he even began to outlive his own material. The Japanese maple that had inspired a globally viral poem in 2014 became first an embarrassment (the poet did not die), then a reproach (it grew into a sturdy sapling), and finally a black joke (it pegged out before him).


I’ve heard there was occasionally a ghostwriter for his TV column; the books of collected columns – Visions Before Midnight, The Crystal Bucket and Glued To The Box – were essential reading if you wanted to understand how a critical voice could develop, back in the days when shared cultural experiences frequently, rather than rarely, happened via TV.
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Apple told Congress how repair should work. They were intentionally misleading • iFixit

Kevin Purdy of iFixit:


In addition to their questions, Congress’ antitrust subcommittee also subpoenaed emails from Apple, as well as from Amazon, Facebook, and Alphabet (a.k.a. Google). The majority of the probe centers around software lock-in, market share, and app store practices. But the most interesting questions put to Apple are about subjects we’re pretty familiar with: batterygate, third-party repair and Apple’s new program for it, and their pact with Amazon to remove third-party refurbishers.

Apple’s on-the-record responses (PDF) were written by an attorney, and there’s a lot of room for interpretation, expert question-dodging, and at least one flat-out incorrect statement we can spot. Let’s dig in.

The first sixteen questions relate to software functions of mobile devices. The shortest summary of Apple’s responses is: We can’t offer our users much choice, because nobody designs their software as thoughtfully as we do, and some of our favorite features can’t be ported out to other browsers or apps. Questions 12 through 16 are odd and fun, if you want to witness Congress’ quixotic quest to get Apple to admit that Google Maps is better.

The good stuff, however, comes after that. We’ll hop around a bit, because some of the questions fit together in non-sequential groups.


It’s a pretty comprehensive takedown. Notably there’s a lot of doubt about “for each year since 2009, the costs of providing repair services has exceeded the revenue generated by repairs”.
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You can’t fire Mark Zuckerberg’s kid’s kids • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:


No substantive laws govern tech. Most important, many leaders of these powerhouse companies are in effect unfireable: in order to get the boot, they essentially have to fire themselves. And guess how often that happens?

Welcome to the world of perpetual dual-class stock, an old finance trick that has been used — and now abused — with great enthusiasm by the tech giants.

The car-sharing firm Lyft has it. Dropbox has it. Snap has it. Google’s parent company Alphabet has it. WeWork’s co-founder and chief executive had so much control of the company that investors were forced to pay him a king’s ransom to go away in preparation of an IPO. (which was later abandoned). And, perhaps most important of all, Facebook has it.

In a dual-class stock structure, a company issues shares to some shareholders that give them more voting rights, and sometimes other powers. Most simply, the general public gets shares with less voting power, and sometimes with none at all (Snap made this famous). With perpetual dual-class stock, founders and their families, and perhaps other key executives, get shares with voting power that gives them control over a company forever.

Various versions of dual-class stocks have been around for a long time. The founders of the Ford Motor Company used them to protect their long-term vision against investor short-termism. It’s also been employed by family-owned media giants, like The New York Times Company, Viacom and News Corp, which arguably have mission-driven businesses.

But tech has taken the use of the dual-class stock organization to new heights. More than 50% of tech companies use it, and often from their very beginning as startups.


Always astonishing how these companies are able to go public with these skewed share structures.
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A 17-year-old posted to TikTok about China’s detention camps. She was locked out of her account • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell and Tony Romm:


Feroza Aziz started her TikTok video like a typical makeup tutorial, telling viewers she would show them how to get long eyelashes. Then the 17-year-old stopped abruptly, calling instead on viewers to start researching the harrowing conditions facing Muslims in China’s detention camps.

The surprising bit of modern satire quickly went viral on TikTok, the short-video app and global phenomenon owned by a Beijing-based tech firm. But in the hours afterward, Aziz said her TikTok profile showed she was suspended. By Tuesday, she told The Washington Post, she remained unable to access her account.

The videos, and Aziz’s suspension, have quickly touched off a public debate about one of the world’s fastest-growing social apps, including over its approach to political issues and its support of free speech in countries outside China, where its parent company ByteDance is headquartered.

TikTok representatives said Tuesday that Aziz’s account was not suspended because of her criticism of China. “TikTok does not moderate content due to political sensitivities and did not do so in this case,” Eric Han, head of the company’s U.S. trust and safety team, said in a statement to The Post.
Instead, he said a previous account of hers had been banned because she had posted a video referencing Osama bin Laden that had violated rules about promoting terrorist content. TikTok officials said late Tuesday that Aziz’s current account was only affected because she had used a phone tied to a previous TikTok ban, and that she can use the account on other devices.


Nope. She got back into her account, and the video was gone. TikTok pushes stuff down, or out, when it wants to. This isn’t the first time that content uncomfortable to China has been driven down out of sight.
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Xiaomi growth slows in third quarter as China smartphone demand wanes • Reuters

Josh Horwitz:


Demand for smartphones has eased in China as consumers hold on to devices for longer. Shoppers have also rallied behind Huawei, boosting sales at the world’s second-largest smartphone maker, which the United States has added to a trade blacklist.

Smartphone sales still account for most of Xiaomi’s revenues but it has been promoting its internet services division, which mainly consists of online ad sales. The business, however, accounts for just 10% of total revenue – the same proportion as when the company listed its stock in August 2018.

Revenues at Xiaomi’s smartphone business fell 8% to 32.3 billion yuan in the quarter ended Sept. 30. The company sold about 32.1m phones during the period, roughly one million units fewer than a year earlier.

Total revenue rose 5.5% to 53.66 billion yuan from the same period last year, largely in line with analysts’ expectations according to Refinitiv data.

Xiaomi has looked to foreign markets to make up for the sales drop at home but that came at a price with selling and marketing expenses jumping 16% in the quarter.


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Uber’s ‘dirty little secret’: shared driver accounts • WSJ

Parmy Olson and Sarah Needleman:


Transport for London, the city’s main transportation regulator, said earlier this week it determined 14,000 Uber rides in late 2018 and early 2019 weren’t conducted by authorized drivers, but by others who had been able to substitute their photos to use a real driver’s account.

Several drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps, in London and elsewhere, say the practice of account sharing is an open secret, discussed in private groups on social media or on messaging apps used by drivers. Uber says account sharing is an issue globally, including in the US…

…The issue identified in London involved 43 drivers who managed to trick the Uber app into thinking they were inside special Uber offices. The offices, called Greenlight hubs, are the only place where drivers in London can update their profile photo.

Uber said it remedied the photo-fraud problem in London in October and rolled out fixes world-wide. The Uber spokeswoman, however, said it isn’t necessarily a “silver bullet.”

Drivers say photo swapping provides a simple way for one driver to temporarily transfer access to an authorized ride-hailing account to someone else. Drivers taking a vacation or an extended break, for instance, can try to rent out their Uber credentials to others. Another technique: Two or more drivers can alternate shifts on the same account.


It’s all over the place, according to the article. Any weakness is sure to be exploited mercilessly, especially for money on a service which is squeezing you dry.

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Hindustan Times uses Snapchat filters to enable sexual assault survivors to speak freely on camera • Media news

Caroline Scott:


While covering India’s first Climb Against Sexual Abuse, Yusuf Omar, mobile editor, Hindustan Times, used Snapchat’s filters to film open and honest interviews with rape survivors under the age of 18, without needing to blur or silhouette their faces.

“I thought there must be a more accessible way to disguise someone’s face using new technology, and Snapchat was just that,” said Omar.

The event, which saw 50 young people climb the Chamundi Hills in Mysore, India, in a bid to undo the taboo and stigma existing around sexual violence, was documented by Omar using just an iPhone 6 and a selfie-stick that doubled up as a monopod.

The complex face-mapping software used by Snapchat allows users to transform their appearance with a range of filters, and turn themselves into a dog, a lion, or a fire-breathing dragon, for example – usually seen as features designed to entertain.

But this technology can have “serious applications for journalism,” Omar told He found that Snapchat’s filters enabled him to get raw, emotional interviews with the young survivors taking part in the climb.

In a series of one-on-one interviews during the climb, Omar asked each interviewee to choose a filter to disguise themselves.

“Recording with a mask gave them the sense of legitimacy and security that I wasn’t going to be able to show their face, as opposed to trusting a journalist saying ‘yes, we will blur you afterwards’, so they felt empowered and in control of the narrative.”


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It’s way too easy to get a .gov domain name • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:


Earlier this month, KrebsOnSecurity received an email from a researcher who said he got a .gov domain simply by filling out and emailing an online form, grabbing some letterhead off the homepage of a small U.S. town that only has a “.us” domain name, and impersonating the town’s mayor in the application.

“I used a fake Google Voice number and fake Gmail address,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous for this story but who said he did it mainly as a thought experiment. “The only thing that was real was the mayor’s name.”

The email from this source was sent from exeterri[.]gov, a domain registered on Nov. 14 that at the time displayed the same content as the .us domain it was impersonating — — which belongs to the town of Exeter, Rhode Island (the impostor domain is no longer resolving).

“I had to [fill out] ‘an official authorization form,’ which basically just lists your admin, tech guy, and billing guy,” the source continued. “Also, it needs to be printed on ‘official letterhead,’ which of course can be easily forged just by Googling a document from said municipality. Then you either mail or fax it in. After that, they send account creation links to all the contacts.”

Technically, what my source did was wire fraud (obtaining something of value via the Internet/telephone/fax through false pretenses); had he done it through the US mail, he could be facing mail fraud charges if caught.


Not something that foreign state actors would be exactly terrified about, though.
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Amazon warehouse reports show worker injuries • The Atlantic

Will Evans:


The clock was always ticking on Amazon’s promised delivery time. Dixon had to scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit her quota, she said, and Amazon always knew when she didn’t.

Dixon’s scan rate—more than 300 items an hour, thousands of individual products a day—was being tracked constantly, the data flowing to managers in real time, then crunched by a proprietary software system called ADAPT. She knew, like the thousands of other workers there, that if she didn’t hit her target speed, she would be written up, and if she didn’t improve, she eventually would be fired.

Amazon’s cutting-edge technology, unrelenting surveillance, and constant disciplinary write-ups pushed the Eastvale workers so hard that in the last holiday season, they hit a coveted target: They got a million packages out the door in 24 hours. Amazon handed out T-shirts celebrating their induction into the “Million Unit Club.”

But Dixon, 54, wasn’t around for that. She started the job in April 2018, and within two months, or nearly 100,000 items, the lifting had destroyed her back. An Amazon-approved doctor said she had bulging discs and diagnosed her with a back sprain, joint inflammation, and chronic pain, determining that her injuries were 100% due to her job. She could no longer work at Amazon. Today, she can barely climb stairs. Walking her dog, doing the dishes, getting out of her chair—everything is painful. According to her medical records, her condition is unlikely to improve.

So this holiday-shopping season, as Amazon’s ferocious speed is on full display, Dixon is at a standstill. She told Reveal in mid-October that her workers’-compensation settlement was about to run out. She was struggling to land a new job and worried she’d lose her home.

“I’m still too young to feel like I’m 90 years old,” Dixon said, sitting in the living room of her Corona, California, home, which was decorated with inspirational sayings (“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”). “I don’t even know how I’m going to make it in a couple of months.”


The headline at the top is what search engines see; the headline humans see on the page is “Ruthless quotas at Amazon are maiming employees”. Why are robots seeing the watered-down version of this headline? Worried about hurting their feelings?

Also: with the US’s regressive healthcare system, exploitation of the poor by the rich really comes into sharp focus.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1197: Google fires activist staff, India’s coal sputters, IPv4 all gone, Bose’s headphone row, Brexit gets worse, and more

Lots of Americans believe they’ve already got 5G – including iPhone users, who definitely haven’t. CC-licensed photo by Rob Pegoraro on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Not a king? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google fires four workers active in labor organizing • The New York Times

Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi:


Google on Monday fired four employees who had been active in labor organizing at the company, according to a memo that was seen by The New York Times.

The memo, sent by Google’s security and investigations team, told employees that the company had dismissed four employees “for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies.” Jenn Kaiser, a Google spokeswoman, confirmed the firings but declined to elaborate.

The dismissals are expected to exacerbate rocky relations between Google’s management and a vocal contingent of workers who have protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment, its treatment of contract employees, and its work with the Defense Department, federal border agencies and the Chinese government.

Tensions have increased as Google has cracked down on what had long been a freewheeling work culture that encouraged employees to speak out. Google recently canceled a regular series of companywide meetings that allowed workers to pose questions to senior executives and began working with a consulting firm that has helped companies quell unionization efforts…

…In the memo, Google said the fired employees had repeatedly searched for, looked through and distributed information “outside the scope of their jobs.” One of the workers set up notifications to receive emails detailing the work and whereabouts of other employees without their knowledge or consent, the memo said.

“This is not how Google’s open culture works or was ever intended to work,” the memo said.

When asked last week by The Times, Google could not point to a specific rule that forbade setting up these notifications but said it was investigating to determine if this and other behavior violated the company’s code of conduct.


Lots of questions here. If getting notifications is not how the culture “works or was ever intended to work”, how was it possible? There seems to be an unstated understanding that though the tools to do this existed, the staff would never find need to use them – an assumption that is now breaking down.

Second, those data security policies seem very weighted towards higher-ups. It’s OK for the higher-ups to spy on the staff (which a browser extension effectively does), but not vice-versa. And I don’t recall anyone at Google getting fired when the company collects too much data about people outside Google (Wi-Fi network details, Safari cookie exploits for ads).

But the long and short is that Google is hitting an inflexion point. It’s either going to rediscover its early, freewheeling character, or it is going down the road of a locked-down business that will become another Microsoft, sclerotically stuck in its trajectory. Profitable, but a creative husk.
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Consumers are confused by 5G, survey finds • Strategy Analytics Online Newsroom


Surveying consumers in the US via web-survey, key report findings include:

• Nearly two thirds of consumers surveyed claimed ‘Basic Familiarity’ or to be ‘Very Familiar’ with 5G, but of this nearly one fifth of consumers already thought they had 5G.
• While one in four consumers in the US listed 5G as an important feature, one in five didn’t yet see a need for 5G, or wanted to wait until the benefits of 5G were proven before purchasing this technology.
• Apple fans in the US believe they are 5G leaders despite market reality. But when asked which brand they would buy for 5G capabilities, overall consumers ranked Samsung neck and neck with Apple as the most preferred.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXS and report author commented, “Outside of Apple and Samsung, the battle for 5G will largely be in the mid-tier – smartphones with a retail price of $600 and below. A wave of new entrants for 5G from China, as well as new Nokia devices, could be also be damaging to brands such as LG and Motorola, who are most at risk given their low repeat purchase intentions in the 5G era.”


I expect that the Apple users were looking at the “5G” logo in the top of their phone, put there by AT&T in its network signal to fool people that it’s ahead of the game. In reality, it’s going to have it in a few cities by February 2020.
link to this extract

Health concerns mount as more old sewer pipes are lined with plastic • Scientific American

Robin Lloyd:


Earlier this year Nicole Davis arrived at one of the San Antonio, Tex., offices of the audiology practice she co-owns, ready to see the day’s patients. But upon entering her office, Davis says she quickly noticed a noxious odor that smelled like paint thinner. Her eyes started burning. By noon, she felt nauseated and dizzy, with the burning sensation spreading to her nose and throat. Her mouth went numb. Co-workers in the building told Davis that they felt ill, too. By the evening, she says, she was vomiting.

Two days later, Davis received an e-mail from an employee for a construction firm that was doing work that week on municipal pipes below street-level near the building. The employee apologized in the e-mail for Davis’s “recent experience” and attached a technical document describing the hazards and health risks associated with materials used to make plastic in the pipe project. The e-mail and attachment do not state that the work caused the odor or Davis’s reaction.

The company was renovating an underground sewer pipe with a widely and increasingly used technique called cured-in-place pipes. A felt or composite sleeve is saturated, typically with a polyester or vinyl ester resin. Workers thread the sleeve through an underground pipe and then inflate and heat it, often with steam or hot water. The sleeve hardens to form a continuous plastic liner along the old pipe’s inner walls. The technique is less expensive and takes less time than fully replacing old sewer-system pipes and stormwater culverts.

Davis has recovered from most of what she says her doctor told her were neurological effects from a chemical exposure.


Clever technique but seems like they need to work the bugs out. And admit that it’s going to generate lots of toxic chemicals in the short term.
link to this extract

India’s electricity-sector transformation is happening now • Institute for Energy Economics + Financial Analysis

Tim Buckley:


The Indian energy market transformation is accelerating under Energy Minister Piyush Goyal’s leadership.

The most recent and most persuasive evidence is the collapsing cost of solar electricity—a collapse that has gone beyond anyone’s expectations, and the results are in: solar has won.

The global energy market implications are profound.

Recent events have given manifest life to Mark Carney’s landmark 2015 speech in which Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned of stranded-asset risks across the coal industry. This month alone has seen the cancellation of 13.7 gigawatts (GW) of proposed coal-fired power plants across India and an admission that US$9bn (8.6GW) of already operating import-coal-fired power plants are potentially no longer viable.

To put an Australian and a global seaborne thermal coal-trade perspective on it, these development strike at the very viability of the Carmichael export thermal coal proposal. They speak as well to a worldwide transition in progress.

India solar tariffs have been in freefall for months. A new 250MW solar tender in Rajasthan at the Bhadla Phase IV solar park this month was won at a record low Rs2.62/kWh, 12% below the previous record low tariff awarded across 750MW of solar just three months ago at Rs2.97/kWh.


Coal-fired thermal plants make up about 55% of installed generation capacity in India (it’s the world’s third-largest producer and importer) but they’re increasingly unsustainable – because of water shortages, apart from anything else – and working at about 50% of their 196GW (196,000 MW) capacity. Renewables + nuclear were 35% by September 2018.
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The RIPE NCC has run out of IPv4 addresses • RIPE


This event [the awarding of the last IPv4 internet address] is another step on the path towards global exhaustion of the remaining IPv4 addressing space. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of an IPv4 transfer market and greater use of Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGNAT) in our region. There are costs and trade-offs with both approaches and neither one solves the underlying problem, which is that there are not enough IPv4 addresses for everyone.

Without wide-scale IPv6 deployment, we risk heading into a future where the growth of our Internet is unnecessarily limited – not by a lack of skilled network engineers, technical equipment or investment – but by a shortage of unique network identifiers. There is still a long way to go, and we call on all stakeholders to play their role in supporting the IPv6 roll-out.


In case you don’t follow it: IPv4 is “old” internet addressing, a bit like a 32-bit processor: it can only address a specific number of points. (We actually passed that number ages ago, but various network tricks have made it feasible to keep using IPv4.)

The 64-bit version is IPv6, but people are reluctant to shift there because they’d like everyone else to have made the switch first. I still don’t have a clear idea of how many routers, for example, function on IPv6.
link to this extract

Big Tech’s big defector • New Yorker

Brian Barth:


[longtime venture capitalist Roger] McNamee saw the tech industry as an experiment in creative and profitable problem-solving. He grew unnerved by its ethical failures only in 2012, when Uber came to him for investment capital. He decided that Silicon Valley had changed. “These guys all wanted to be monopolists,” he said recently. “They all want to be billionaires.”

McNamee was convinced that Facebook was different. Then, in February, 2016, shortly after he retired from full-time investing, he noticed posts in his Facebook feed that purported to support Bernie Sanders but struck him as fishy. That spring, the social-media-fuelled vitriol of the Brexit campaign seemed like further proof that Facebook was being exploited to sow division among voters—and that company executives had turned a blind eye. The more McNamee listened to Silicon Valley critics, the more alarmed he became: he learned that Facebook allowed facial-recognition software to identify users without their consent, and let advertisers discriminate against viewers. (Real-estate companies, for example, could exclude people of certain races from seeing their ads.)

Ten days before the Presidential election, McNamee sent an e-mail to Zuckerberg and Sandberg. “I am disappointed. I am embarrassed. I am ashamed,” he wrote. “Recently, Facebook has done some things that are truly horrible and I can no longer excuse its behavior. . . . Facebook is enabling people to do harm. It has the power to stop the harm. What it currently lacks is an incentive to do so.”

Within hours, both Zuckerberg and Sandberg sent McNamee cordial replies, assuring him that they were already working to address some of the issues he’d raised, and dispatched a Facebook executive, Dan Rose, to talk to him. Rose told McNamee that Facebook was a platform, not a publisher, and couldn’t control all user behavior. Since leaving the investment world, McNamee had been looking forward to being a full-time musician. But Rose’s dismissiveness rattled him. “They were my friends. I wanted to give them a chance to do the right thing. I wasn’t expecting them to go, ‘Oh, my God, stop everything,’ but I was expecting them to take it seriously,” he said. “It was obvious they thought it was a P.R. problem, not a business problem, and they thought the P.R. problem was me.”


The lesson: don’t spurn the VC. (Also well worth it for the line “He and Nancy Pelosi, now the Speaker of the House, had been introduced some twenty years earlier, by the Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart…”)
link to this extract

How a chance meeting with Twitter bosses landed a Nigerian developer his dream job • CNN

Aisha Salaudeen:


Dara Oladosu met Jack Dorsey, who was on a “listening and learning tour” in Africa with other Twitter executives and met with members of Nigeria’s tech community and business executives.

One of their first stops was a meeting with tech publishers where Oladosu’s app, Quoted Replies, a Twitter-based bot that helps users collate quoted replies to tweets was discussed.
Oladosu was not on the initial invite list for the event held at TechpointNG but a last minute invitation ensured he got to meet the Twitter bosses.

“Titi…the person that interviewed me for the Techpoint articles got me a pass to the event Jack was at. She asked if I could make it there and coincidentally I was on leave at work at the time so I made it before the event ended,” Oladosu told CNN.

Impressed by his work, Dorsey and his team including Kayvon Beykpour, Product Lead and co-founder of Periscope, Parag Agrawal, Chief Technology Officer, and Mike Montano, Engineering Team Lead invited him to join them.

“Someone from the audience was talking about the bot when I got to the event. So, when the person finished, Titi introduced me as the developer who built it. I got the microphone and explained what Quoted Replies was about and how I built it,” Oladosu said.
In a video from the event, Kayvon Beykpour, Twitter’s Product Lead said the team is willing to implement Quoted Replies on Twitter as a feature and would like Oladosu to join the team to work on it.


link to this extract

Hidden cam above Bluetooth pump skimmer • Krebs On Security

Brian Krebs:


“I believe this is the first time I’ve seen a camera on a gas pump with a Bluetooth card skimmer,” said Detective Matt Jogodka of the Las Vegas Police Department, referring to the compromised fuel pump pictured below.

The fake panel (horizontal) above the “This Sale” display obscures a tiny hidden camera angled toward the gas pump’s PIN pad.
It may be difficult to tell from the angle of the photograph above, but the horizontal bar across the top of the machine (just above the “This Sale $” indicator) contains a hidden pinhole camera angled so as to record debit card users entering their PIN.

Jogodka said although this pump’s PIN pad is encrypted, the hidden camera sidesteps that security feature.

“The PIN pad is encrypted, so this is a NEW way to capture the PIN,” Jogodka wrote in a message to a mailing list about skimming devices found on Arizona fuel pumps. “The camera was set on Motion, [to] save memory space and battery life. Sad for the suspect, it was recovered 2 hours after it was installed.”

Whoever hacked this fuel pump was able to get inside the machine and install a Bluetooth-based circuit board that connects to the power and can transmit stolen card data wirelessly. This allows the thieves to drive by at any time and download the card data remotely from a mobile device or laptop.


So they were able to get a long way into the machine. Inside job? Even if they did it in the dead of night you’d expect there would be CCTV.
link to this extract

Bose customers beg for firmware ceasefire after headphones fall victim to another crap update • The Register

John Oates:


Owners of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones are still trying to get the company to either fix or roll back a firmware update that removed noise-cancelling functions from their over-ear gear.

The problems date back to July and some owners seem to have managed to get Bose to exchange their cans for the company’s shiny new 700 headphones.

We were contacted by a reader who was first given a set of version II headphones when his V1 set were borked. When the updated firmware borked them as well, he declined the offer of a replacement set and was given a pair of 700s. Firmware version 4.5.2 was fingered as the main culprit.

Like all Bose gear, the cans don’t come cheap – they’ll set you back £259.95 to be precise, or £349.95 for a pair of limited edition white 700s.

Pissed-off punters have filled a deafening 182 pages of Bose’s support forums with complaints.

One has even set up a petition to beg for a pause on firmware updates until a fix is found.

The main complaint is that Bose seems to be deaf to the problem and the easiest solution – to roll everyone back to the previous firmware and restore noise cancelling.

As of Thursday, Bose was claiming that new firmware is coming soon to solve the problem, a long five-month wait for angry customers.

We’ve contacted Bose’s UK PR again but don’t expect to hear back. The company kept very quiet when firmware updates stopped their TV soundbars making any sound.


That’s incredible. Screwed it up with two different types of devices? QC clearly not standing for “quality control”.
link to this extract

Ivan Rogers on Brexit: the worst is yet to come • Prospect Magazine

Ivan Rogers, formerly the UK’s ambassador to the EU, in a speech made recently:


The publicly avowed [Boris] Johnson intention is to be much more distant from the EU, and to adopt a model on both goods and services which is substantially more divergent from EU rules and standards.

He DOES NOT WANT a so-called “high alignment” model.

That is, after all, the whole basis of the appeal his redraft of the Political Declaration accompanying the Withdrawal Agreement had to the Conservative Right that Mrs May’s deal did not.

Hers kept us in their view too closely regulatorily aligned with the EU. They viewed that as wholly unacceptable. His liberates us to diverge much more radically.

For many, that was, after all, the whole point of exiting. Essentially, I think, because they believe that the main benefits of Brexit are the greater capacity to deregulate. Not that they wish to say that during an election campaign, which currently seems to be about both main Parties making lavish promises to spend money we haven’t got.

That does not suggest to me huge faith that a deregulatory model actually has any real appeal to the great British public.

But that deregulatory purpose is now central—from food hygiene to financial services, from environmental to social regulation to state aids—to the EU perception of what Brexit is all about. Which is a further reason why the next phase will be more difficult, not less.

It has always been true that if Brexit turned out to mean diverging much more substantially than say, Norway, and leaving both the Single Market and the Customs Union, the exit process will take longer and be more difficult than Ministers are still professing to believe is achievable.


Excoriating about pretty much everyone, but this point about deregulation is the one that is being glossed over in the election campaigning.
link to this extract

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: In yesterday’s article about pigs, the disease is African swine fever, not Asian swine flu. Thanks, Tom.

Start Up No.1196: Berners-Lee calls for halt on political ads, the dumbest smartwatch, China’s pork crisis, crypto’s scammers, and more

The new alternative to Uber, which has had its licence revoked in London. CC-licensed photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

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

Sir Tim Berners-Lee attacks Tories over misinformation • BBC News

Rory Cellan-Jones:


The inventor of the World Wide Web has accused the Conservatives of spreading misinformation during the general election campaign.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee described the renaming of a Tory Twitter account as a fact checking body as “impersonation”.

“That was really brazen,” he told the BBC. “It was unbelievable they would do that.”

During a live TV leaders’ debate on Tuesday the Tory press office account @CCHQ was rebranded “factcheckuk”.

The renaming remained for the duration of the hour-long debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives have said “no one will have been fooled” by the move.

But Sir Tim said the renaming “was impersonation. Don’t do that. Don’t trust people who do that.”
He went on to compare what happened with someone impersonating a friend for the purpose of defrauding them. “What the Conservative Party has done is obviously a no no. That’s amazingly blatant,” Sir Tim said.

The Conservative Party has yet to respond to a BBC request for comment on Sir Tim’s criticism, but has previously insisted that it was clear at all times that the Twitter account belonged to the party.

The web’s creator also called on Facebook to stop allowing targeted political adverts. He issued a personal appeal to the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to ban them before the election. Sir Tim said: “It’s not fair to risk democracy by allowing all these very subtle manipulations with targeted ads which promote completely false ideas. They do it just before the election, and then disappear.”


It wasn’t clear, but it feels like this was an own goal for the Conservatives: it undermines trust.
link to this extract

Cheap kids smartwatch exposes the location of 5,000+ children • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:


A cheap $35 kids’ smartwatch made in China was caught exposing the personal details and location information for more than 5,000 children and their parents.

In a report published today by the Internet of Things testing division of AV-TEST, researchers said they found egregious security measures put in place to protect the backend and mobile app of the M2 smartwatch, made by Chinese company SMA.

“The Chinese SMA-WATCH-M2 tops the security failures of other manufacturers by far,” said Maik Morgenstern, CEO and the Technical Director of AV-TEST, whose team has been testing kids smartwatches for more than two years.

The SMA W2 kids smartwatch has been around for years. It was designed to work with a companion mobile app. Parents would register an account on the SMA service, pair their child’s smartwatch to their phone, and use the app to track the kid’s location, make voice calls, or get notifications when the child would leave a designated area.

The concept is not new, as there are plenty of similar products on the market, varying in prices from $30 to $200-$300. However, Morgenstern suggests that SMA created one of the most insecure products on the market.

For starters, Morgenstern says anyone can query the smartwatch’s backend via a publicly accessible web API. This is the same backend where the mobile app also connects to retrieve the data it shows on parents’ phones.

Morgenstern says there’s an authentication token in place that’s supposedly there to prevent unauthorized access, but attackers can supply any token they like, as the server never verifies its validity.


link to this extract

Hours of daylight mapped as a function of latitude and time of year • FlowingData

Nathan Yau:


Reddit user harpalss animated hours of day light by latitude and day of year. Just let it hypnotize you.

They used this formula to calculate daylight hours.


Wonderful idea and execution. (Via Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning.)
link to this extract

Uber is fighting to survive in London after losing its licence • The New York Times

Adam Satariano and Amie Tsang:


London is one of Uber’s most lucrative markets, but also home to some of its most contentious struggles with government authorities. The company has been in a battle to retain its license in the British capital for years.

In 2017, authorities in London also revoked Uber’s license for, among other reasons, poor oversight of drivers. Uber appealed the decision and was granted a 15-month license after it agreed to more government supervision and several policy changes, including adopting rules on how to report incidents to the police, keeping tired drivers off the road and naming a new independent board to oversee British operations.

City authorities acknowledged that Uber “has made a number of positive changes and improvement to its culture, leadership and systems,” but said it had not gone far enough. The company’s license was due to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Monday.

The transport authority said one main issue was a flaw in Uber’s system that let unauthorized drivers sneak onto it. The drivers sidestepped rules by colluding with authorized drivers to pick up riders under their account. At least 14,000 trips were conducted by at least 43 drivers using the workaround.

“This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers,” Transport for London said.

This practice, known as “account spoofing,” is a challenge for gig-economy platforms to police. Food delivery companies have also seen people working under the accounts of others to sidestep policies.

London officials cited other safety deficiencies at Uber, including instances when dismissed or suspended drivers were able to create another account. Transport for London found several examples in which drivers did not have the correct insurance. The regulators said that because of the volume of problems, they had lost faith in Uber’s ability to improve.


Astonishing what happens when you have a regulator that’s actually prepared to regulate. Do we really think that these unauthorised rides only happen in London?
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‘Not enough pork in the world’ to deal with China’s demand for meat • The Guardian

Bibi van der Zee:


Pork imports into China have also rocketed. In September last year 94 million kg were shipped in, but the ASF [Asian swine flu] crisis has pushed imports to 161m kg this year and officials are now rushing to certify farms in Brazil, Ireland and several other countries for export at an unprecedented rate to satisfy demand. Two weeks ago, they lifted a ban on imports from Canada.

As a result pork prices are rising outside China too. Europe has seen a jump of at least 35% since the beginning of the year. “The problem is that total global pork exports in 2018 were 8m tonnes, and China is short 24 million,” said Claxton. “There just isn’t enough pork in the world to fill the gap.”

African swine fever is a highly contagious virus which is fatal to pigs. It is extremely hardy, can survive being cooked and processed, and will endure in frozen meat for a number of years. It is transmitted directly between animals, or by the feeding of infected meat, and there have also been cases of infected animal feed.

ASF has been circulating in Europe for a number of years, but it began to spread at a more rapid rate last year. It is now reported in more than 40 countries, and earlier this week was discovered to have leapt 300km across Poland from its easternmost provinces to farms near its western border.

Alistair Driver of UK monthly magazine Pig World said this was extremely concerning. “That is just 70km from the German border, and Germany is one of the largest pork exporters in the world.”


Who had “pig pandemic” creating a world trade crisis in 2019?
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Rev transcribers face low pay and disturbing recordings • The Verge

Dani Deahl:


One transcriber working for Rev says that, for them, the recordings that graphically detail someone being abused or assaulted are the most difficult to get through. For other transcribers at Rev, it’s the videos from police body cams that show dead bodies and people who have been attacked, or files where children talk about where an abuser touched them. “Of course, I have the option not to work on such files, but I have no way of knowing what I’m clicking on until I hear it,” the Revver says. A Rev transcriber can choose from a long list of largely unidentified recordings when picking what to work on. The trouble is, a file submitted under the “legal” category might be “a corporate law meeting,” the Revver says, or “a police recording with someone screaming in distress.”

Rev made headlines this month after it slashed minimum pay for its transcribers from 45 cents per audio / video minute transcribed to 30 cents. The company justified the change by saying it was also increasing the pay for more difficult files, and so, ultimately, the amount paid out to transcribers would be about the same. But even though Rev says the changes will only affect a “very small number of jobs,” workers say they are seeing substantial pay cuts because of the change — and for some, the work increasingly isn’t worth the time and stress…

…Nearly every Revver who spoke with The Verge said they were exposed to graphic or troubling material on multiple occasions with no warning. This includes recordings of physical and verbal abuse between intimate partners, graphic descriptions of sexual assault, amateur porn, violent footage from police body cameras, a transphobic rant, and, in one instance, “a breast augmentation filmed by a physician’s cell phone, being performed on a patient who was under sedation.”

It doesn’t bother everyone, but for some, it can be overwhelming. “I’ve finished more than one file in tears because listening to someone talk about being abused or assaulted is emotionally taxing, and frankly I have no training or expertise that really helps me cope with it,” one Revver tells The Verge.


Also: the pay rate is set by an algorithm. Hard to know how it could be worse.
link to this extract

Study: almost half of new cancer patients lose their entire life savings • Insider

Lana Bandoim:


According to a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine, 42% of new cancer patients lose all of their life savings in two years because of treatment. The average amount a cancer patient lost was $92,098.

After tracking 9.5 million cancer patients from 2000 to 2012, researchers also learned that 62% of all cancer patients are in debt because of their treatment, and 55% of them owe at least $10,000.

Overall, the total medical costs for cancer are $80bn in the US.

Even if you have insurance, it may not cover all the medical costs associated with cancer. From high deductibles to large copayments, cancer patients can end up with a huge stack of bills.


That figure for “total medical costs” is completely made up. It could be any number, depending how you decide to allocate the cost of drugs, hospital time and doctors. You could also factor in the “cost” to the economy of sick people who aren’t able to contribute because they don’t have any money because it went on cancer treatment they can’t afford. And yet there are Americans who find the idea of publicly funded healthcare repellent.

Also: 1 in 2 women, and 1 in 3 men, will develop cancer during their lifetime.
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The secret life and strange death of Quadriga founder Gerald Cotten • Vanity Fair

Nathaniel Rich:


Cotten returned for [sailing] lessons the following summer, though not as often. He was busy. Then, in December, Robertson called Sunnybrook to explain that Gerry, while on their honeymoon in Jaipur, had died suddenly. She wanted to sell the Gulliver. When national news articles began to appear a month later, they emphasized another detail: Cotten was the only person with the passwords to the accounts holding Quadriga’s funds—cryptocurrency and cash—worth approximately a quarter billion U.S. dollars. Nobody knew how to find the money.

The yacht salesman had questions, though it was not his job to ask questions. More than 75,000 Quadriga account holders also had questions. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court declared the company bankrupt and selected the accounting firm Ernst & Young to serve as its third-party monitor, responsible for securing the lost funds belonging to Quadriga’s creditors. Additional investigations were begun by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the FBI; and at least two other law enforcement agencies that have not been publicly disclosed (though one of them is likely a federal agency in Japan). The most effective and thorough investigation to date, however, has been conducted by anonymous accounts posting on Twitter, Reddit, Pastebin, and Telegram. Their findings, though baroquely technical, could be distilled to a two-word conclusion:

Gerry’s alive.


Odd how the story’s essentially the same with “the missing cryptoqueen” (about another cryptocoin, OneCoin): huge promise around a cryptocurrency, and then the central person vanishes abruptly and a fortune is unspoken for. With OneCoin, it was a more straightforward pyramid scheme. (Meanwhile, bitcoin is swooning nicely for Thanksgiving as people sell their positions to get some money they can use to buy actual things.)
link to this extract

OK Boomer, who’s going to buy your 21 million homes? • WSJ

Laura Kusisto:


By 2037, one quarter of the US for-sale housing stock, or roughly 21 million homes, will be vacated by seniors. That is more than twice the number of new properties built during a 10-year period that spanned the last housing bubble.

Most of these homes will be concentrated in traditional retirement communities in Arizona and Florida, according to Zillow, or parts of the Rust Belt that have been losing population for decades. A more modest infusion of new housing is expected in pricey coastal neighborhoods of New York or San Francisco where younger Americans are still flocking in large numbers.

On the face of it, this doesn’t sound all bad. Dying homeowners have always needed to be replaced by younger ones and the US has for a number of years suffered from a shortage of housing, a development that has dampened recent home sales activity and kept many millennials stuck in rentals.

But the buyers coming behind the baby boomers, the Gen Xers, are a smaller and more financially precarious generation with different preferences, posing a new kind of test for the housing market.

One problem is that the bulk of the supply won’t necessarily be in places where these new buyers want to live. Gen Xers and the younger millennials have shown thus far they would rather be in cities or suburbs in major metropolitan areas that offer strong Wi-Fi and plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance—like the Frisco suburbs of Dallas or the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.


Doesn’t it just mean that the homes will sell for less than the boomers had hoped? The bigger problem is going to be those Florida homes: the climate crisis is going to make them close to unsaleable quite quickly.

Going to be a thing in the UK too, I expect.
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YouTube Masthead is a massive auto-playing video ad for TV • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:


Earlier this year YouTube tested a huge new ad format for its TV experience called a Masthead. Today, that new ad format is rolling out widely to all users.

Announced in a brief post, YouTube says that its beta test of this new ad format was successful in select markets leading to the now global rollout of the Masthead ad format. The new format is available to all advertisers on a CPM basis as part of a cross-screen advertising campaign on YouTube.

YouTube’s Masthead ad format is not subtle by any means, appearing over the entire top portion of the TV app. Further, that ad auto-plays silently and expands to full-size when the user hovers over the ad. Advertisers, such as FOX, call this “first of its kind” initiative a “fantastic way” to promote its content. The TV network has been using the YouTube Masthead to promote its hit show The Masked Singer.


Autoplaying, unskippable (unlike the ads that come on broadcast or cable TV that you might watch with a digital video recorder, aka DVR). The only way to avoid them is to sign up to the paid-for YouTube Premium. TV advertising in the modern internet age begins to look a lot like it did in the 1950s – more targeted, but no less annoying.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1195: Facebook under attack, the election polls to watch, does your site fit on a floppy?, and more

Antarctic ozone hole 2019
The 2019 ozone hole over Antarctica is the smallest since 1982. Credit: Nasa Goddard Space Laboratory.

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A selection of 12 links for you. Have a gander. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Read Sacha Baron Cohen’s scathing attack on Facebook in full: ‘greatest propaganda machine in history’ • The Guardian


I’m just a comedian and an actor, not a scholar. But one thing is pretty clear to me. All this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history.

The greatest propaganda machine in history.

Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear. It’s why YouTube recommended videos by the conspiracist Alex Jones billions of times. It’s why fake news outperforms real news, because studies show that lies spread faster than truth. And it’s no surprise that the greatest propaganda machine in history has spread the oldest conspiracy theory in history – the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous. As one headline put it, “Just Think What Goebbels Could Have Done with Facebook.”

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

When I, as the wannabe gangsta Ali G, asked the astronaut Buzz Aldrin “what woz it like to walk on de sun?” the joke worked, because we, the audience, shared the same facts. If you believe the moon landing was a hoax, the joke was not funny.


It’s a remarkable speech; a must-read.
link to this extract

Sacha Baron Cohen’s anti-Facebook rant at the ADL summit was pure moral panic •

Robby Soave:


without Section 230, social media companies would have to resort to being wildly censorious across all corners of the internet. Section 230 is the web’s First Amendment—the very thing that has allowed unfettered free speech to flourish in the years since online conversation became the norm.

It’s fine to note that this climate of free expression has come at a cost—that yes, horrible people can say things that are evil and false, and Facebook may not be obligated to do anything about it (though Section 230 does not apply in all cases). But we should not overstate these downsides. Cohen, for instance, warned that “hate crimes are surging” as a consequence of our society’s tolerance for intolerance speech. This is an oft-expressed fear by progressives, but the notion that hate crimes are being committed more frequently than ever before isn’t actually supported by the available evidence.

Similarly, another free-speech skeptic, The New Yorker’s Andrew Marantz, claimed in a well-read New York Times op-ed that “Free Speech Is Killing Us” and something must be done. But violent crime is lower than ever, and politically-motivated violence is especially rare. We have more protections for free speech, more ways to express ourselves than ever before, and if anything, less violence.

Cohen concluded his remarks with a call to stop “the greatest propaganda machine in history,” by which he means the cumulative impact of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Google. That’s ridiculous hyperbole: The companies are not engaged in some coordinated effort to spread lies or promote an agenda.


The Section 230 point is relevant, but he’s wrong about hate crime. The FBI statistics show those as:
2018: 7,120 cases
2017: 7,106 (on the same page)
2016: 6,121
2015: 5,850
2014: 5,479.

That’s a pretty clear upward trend: up 30% in four years. And propaganda machines? They’re really good at it.
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White nationalists are openly operating on Facebook. The company won’t act • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:


Just a few weeks earlier, Red Ice TV had suffered a serious setback when it was permanently banned from YouTube for repeated violations of its policy against hate speech. But Red Ice TV still had a home on Facebook, allowing the channel’s 90,000 followers to stream the discussion on Facebook Watch – the platform Mark Zuckerberg launched as a place “to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things”.

The conversation wasn’t a unique occurrence. Facebook promised to ban white nationalist content from its platform in March 2019, reversing a years-long policy to tolerate the ideology. But Red Ice TV is just one of several white nationalist outlets that remain active on the platform today.

A Guardian analysis found longstanding Facebook pages for VDare, a white nationalist website focused on opposition to immigration; the Affirmative Right, a rebranding of Richard Spencer’s blog Alternative Right, which helped launch the “alt-right” movement; and American Free Press, a newsletter founded by the white supremacist Willis Carto, in addition to multiple pages associated with Red Ice TV. Also operating openly on the platform are two Holocaust denial organizations, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust and the Institute for Historical Review.

“There’s no question that every single one of these groups is a white nationalist group,” said Heidi Beirich, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project, after reviewing the Guardian’s findings. “It’s not even up for debate. There’s really no excuse for not removing this material.”


As a result of writing this piece, Carrie Wong was harassed by Breitbart News and the Daily Stormer, and white nationalist groups in between. Facebook talks the talk, but it doesn’t walk the walk.
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Slack’s new rich text editor shows that Markdown still scares people • VICE

Ernie Smith:


Slack just updated its longtime editor for its primary interface—and the rich-text result hints at a longstanding tension over how much of a helping hand users need from their text editors and communication programs.

Power users, like programmer Arthur O’Dwyer, make the case that they don’t really need any—and the rich-text interface they added just gets in the way. “I wish Slack would provide a way to disable the WYSIWYG rich-text-input box,” he wrote in a viral blog post. “I don’t think it’s useful, and it’s extremely annoying to have to keep backspacing to fix mistakes.”

After the decision was criticized by O’Dwyer and others (and after this article was published), Slack told Motherboard that it would switch gears and provide an option to bring the old interface back.

It noted that it was trying to make the app more palatable to the broader audience of users it’s gained in recent years since. But concerns from older users who liked the prior Markdown-driven interface led the company to rethink the decision, and bring the tool back in the coming weeks.

“Our recently introduced WYSIWYG formatting toolbar was developed with that broader customer community in mind,” the company said. “We thought we had nailed it, but we have seen an outpouring of feedback from customers who love using Slack with markup.”


Markup, markdown, can’t we all just get along?
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How a Facebook employee helped Trump win—but switched sides for 2020 • WSJ

Deepa Seetharaman:


[During the 2016 US election, James] Barnes [who had joined Facebook’s political ad sales team in 2013] frequently flew to Texas, sometimes staying for four days at a time and logging 12-hour days. By July, he says, he was solely focused on the Trump campaign. When on-site in the building that served as the Trump campaign’s digital headquarters in San Antonio, he sometimes sat a few feet from Mr. Parscale.

The intense pace reflected Trump officials’ full embrace of Facebook’s platform, in the absence of a more traditional campaign structure including donor files and massive email databases.

The Trump campaign would give Mr. Barnes certain videos or images, such as a video of Donald Trump Jr. urging voters to help build the border wall. Mr. Barnes would experiment with different ways to display the ad. One might say “donate” while another would say “give.” Some videos would be vertical, others square. Buttons could be highlighted in red or green.

Each variation of the ad would be targeted to certain demographics. It could be as specific as 18-to-24-year-old men who visited the Trump campaign donation page and made it to the third step but never finished, according to Mr. Barnes. They tested all the variations and doubled down on those that raised the most money.

Trump campaign officials have said that some days the campaign churned out 100,000 separate versions of Facebook ads.

One official from the 2016 Trump campaign said it primarily relied on Mr. Barnes for troubleshooting and complained to Facebook about periodic technical issues that the campaign argued hurt its performance. The official, who is also working on Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, declined to comment further.

Mr. Barnes’s Democratic counterparts at Facebook weren’t getting the same reception. Tatenda Musapatike, a former Facebook employee who worked with Democratic PACs and other independent expenditure groups in 2016, said she felt many Democrats held Facebook at arm’s length.

“For James, he’d suggest something and they’d say, ‘Sure, let’s try it,’” said Ms. Musapatike. “It was a battle for us to get anything accepted at a much smaller scale.”


A key difference: the Democrats were still fighting like it was 2004.
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The Google tax • Seth’s Blog

Seth Godin:


Actually, there are two.

The first is the tax we each pay so that companies can bid against each other to buy traffic from Google. Because their revenue model is (cleverly) built on both direct marketing and an auction, they are able to keep a significant portion of the margin from many industries. They’ve become the internet’s landlord.

The difference between a successful business in New York and an unsuccessful one is just a few percentage points–the successful ones pay 95% of their profit to landlords, while the unsuccessful ones pay 105%.

It doesn’t matter if there are competitors to Google in search: the model of bidding for attention is so economically compelling (because attention is so scarce), that companies are going to be paying ever more to reach people in this way–or allow their competitors to do so.

The second is harder to see: Because Google has made it ever more difficult for sites to be found, previously successful businesses like Groupon, Travelocity and Hipmunk suffer. As a result, new web companies are significantly harder to fund and build. If you’re dependent on being found in a Google search, it’s probably worth rethinking your plan.


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Does your website fit on a floppy? • Fitonafloppy

Brendon Body:


A floppy disk’s capacity is 1.44MB.

Webpages are getting bigger and bigger. The internet is getting faster and faster but not everywhere at the same pace. A floppy is a physical reminder of filesize.

Assets Audited (On page load):
HTML; CSS/Fonts; JavaScript; Images (excluding inline data source)

How long to download on various mobile devices:
2G EDGE (0.1Mbit/s): 2 minutes
3G HSPA (~1.5Mbit/s): 8 seconds
4G LTE Category 4 (~15Mbit/s): less than 1 second
5G (~150Mbit/s): less than 1 second

« does; doesn’t (2.2MB); does; doesn’t (2.6MB); wouldn’t load.
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Los Angeles authorities warn travelers of charging-station hackers • The Washington Post

Drew Jones:


The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is warning travelers using Los Angeles International Airport of a new scheme targeting people who need a quick boost at public USB charging stations. The USB charging scam, also known as “juice jacking,” involves hackers spoofing charging stations to steal information.

Similar to credit-card skimming, fake charging stations are set up via port or cable, and unknowing users who plug into them expose their devices to malware attacks that can lock their devices and export sensitive contents such as passwords and bank account numbers into the hands of waiting information thieves.

“#ICYMI: Avoid using public USB charging stations at airports and other locations,” the district attorney’s office wrote on Twitter.

Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak says investigators from his office have seen scammers whom they know to be involved in identity-theft schemes with the software and hardware capable of performing the “juice jacking” scam. He says his office wants to give travelers the information they need to protect themselves.

“It’s something that people should be aware is possible,” he said. “And they mostly don’t know that it is.”

Sometimes phone security is taken for granted, he says, along with the knowledge that the phone’s charging port is also how the phone sends and receives data…

…A key thing to look out for is whether your phone displays a “Do you trust this computer?” message when you plug into a USB outlet. Sisak said that’s an easy giveaway that a data device has been connected to it. On anything that’s not your home computer, the answer should always be “no.”


I think “Don’t Trust” on an iPhone, but perhaps Android offers “No”. Particularly relevant this week because lots of Americans are travelling for Thanksgiving.
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Brexit didn’t cause all our divisions • UnHerd

Freddie Sayers:


The most powerful data modelling technique in politics at the moment, is something called MRP. It stands for “multilevel regression with post-stratification” —  not exactly catchy — and the number of people who fully understand it in the UK can be counted on two hands.

But, roughly speaking, you conduct a huge survey, normally 10,000 or more so that you have sufficient numbers to look at small subsets of people, and you then analyse what the most predictive characteristics are behind the question you’re interested in, for example whether race, education or income is more predictive of how people are going to vote (that’s the ‘multilevel regression’ part).

Then, once you have identified the most predictive characteristics, you use what you know about the people in each constituency, and in combination with any local effects you observe in your sample, you can estimate the outcome in every constituency in the land (that’s the ‘post stratification’).

With this method, instead of crude national swings, you create something close to a simulated version of the whole electorate, in miniature, in all its complex glory.

The defining moment for MRP arrived during the general election of 2017. The conventional opinion polls had showed a dramatic narrowing, with most still showing Theresa May’s Conservatives significantly ahead on election day. The Westminster bubble was expecting her to build on, not lose, David Cameron’s majority.

But as well as their conventional poll, YouGov had also run an MRP model, and, instead of a majority this one pointed to something very different: a hung parliament, with the Tories losing ‘safe’ seats such as Kensington, Canterbury and Ipswich. Two weeks before polling day they gave it to the Times, who put it on the front page with the headline: Shock Poll Predicts Tory Losses.

Almost nobody believed it, but it turned out to be astonishingly accurate.


And YouGov has another MRP poll coming out some time this week. Watch for it.
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2019 ozone hole is the smallest on record since its discovery • NASA

Ellen Gray and Theo Stein:


Abnormal weather patterns in the upper atmosphere over Antarctica dramatically limited ozone depletion in September and October, resulting in the smallest ozone hole observed since 1982, NASA and NOAA scientists reported today [October 2019].

The annual ozone hole reached its peak extent of 6.3 million square miles (16. 4 million square kilometers) on Sept. 8, and then shrank to less than 3.9 million square miles (10 million square kilometers) for the remainder of September and October, according to NASA and NOAA satellite measurements. During years with normal weather conditions, the ozone hole typically grows to a maximum area of about 8 million square miles in late September or early October.

“It’s great news for ozone in the Southern Hemisphere,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for Earth Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But it’s important to recognize that what we’re seeing this year is due to warmer stratospheric temperatures. It’s not a sign that atmospheric ozone is suddenly on a fast track to recovery.”.


Don’t say there’s never any good environmental news. Though the graph below of the size of the hole, and the minimum ozone level isn’t super-encouraging. CFCs have multi-decade survival in the upper atmosphere, and related chemicals are still being produced (CFC and HCFC smuggling is quite common across Pakistan’s border, according to a paper I read while trying – and failing – to find data about world CFC production by year).

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The United States is starting to look like Ukraine • The New York Times

Bret Stephens:


Donald Trump ought to be impeached and removed from office. This isn’t what I thought two months ago, when the impeachment inquiry began. I argued that the evidence fell short of the standards of a prosecutable criminal act. I also feared impeachment might ultimately help Trump politically, as it had helped Bill Clinton in 1998. That second worry might still prove true.

But if the congressional testimonies of Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland, Alexander Vindman and especially Fiona Hill make anything clear, it’s that the president’s highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine.

It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine. The judgment Congress has to make is whether the American people should be willing, actively or passively, to go along with it.

I’ve followed Ukrainian politics fairly closely since 1999, when I joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal Europe. It has consistent themes that should sound familiar to American ears.

The first theme is the criminalization of political differences. Years before Trump led his followers in “Lock Her Up” chants against Hillary Clinton, then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did exactly that against his own political rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on a variety of byzantine charges after she had narrowly lost the 2010 election.

She spent three years in prison before her release during the 2014 Maidan Revolution. Key to Yanukovych’s efforts to discredit Tymoshenko was — who else? — Paul Manafort.


Manafort who is, of course, deservedly in prison now. But as an observation: when you’ve lost Bret Stephens..
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Florida dog drives in circles for an hour, video shows • The Washington Post

Hannah Knowles:


Anna Sabol, who lives across from the cul-de-sac, told the Sun-Sentinel she started watching the car’s strange doughnuts after her own dogs began to bark. She looked out her window to see officers gathered around.

It took her a while to realize that a canine was behind the wheel, she said. “First I thought I saw somebody backing up, but then they kept going and I’m like, ‘Okay, what are they doing?’ ” she recounted to local news station WPBF-TV. Her reaction when a dog got out of the vehicle: “This is turning weird.”

Sabol told the Sun-Sentinel that the car finally stopped after going up a lawn and hitting a mailbox. The dog’s owner has reportedly promised to fix the damage.

No one was hurt, and the silver 2003 Mercury Sable sustained only minor damage, the Port St. Lucie Police Department said. It described Max in a statement as “fine, healthy and happy.”

“They should give that dog a license,” Sabol told the Sun-Sentinel. “He drives better than some people I’ve seen on the roads here.”


Perfect payoff line. (I’d have linked directly to the Sun-Sentinel but apparently it hasn’t worked out how to show adverts to people in Europe without breaking the law about data collection.)
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1194: are the grifters here to stay?, judges warns on AI decisions, Trump’s Apple nonsense, and more

Facebook and Google seem to be having (limited) second thoughts about political advertising. CC-licensed photo by outtacontext on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Crowded under the bus? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The next decade will be just as bad • The New York Times

Farhad Manjoo:


Why are we being overrun by scams? Society’s signals for judging reputation and trustworthiness haven’t caught up with the changing tech. Even though we know better, we reflexively mistake Instagram for reality — online influence is seen as a proxy for real-world authenticity, and so we are constantly falling under the sway of people who’ve found ways to game the digital realm. On your phone, the Fyre Festival looks irresistible.

We are also too easily blinded by wealth, or markers for wealth. Anna Sorokin, the Russian immigrant convicted this year of conning New York society into thinking she was a German heiress named Anna Delvey, defrauded hotels and banks of hundreds of thousands of dollars by pretending to be rich. She’d hand out $100 bills to anyone and everyone. “For a stretch of time in New York, no small amount of the cash in circulation was coming from Anna Delvey,” Jessica Pressler wrote.

You could argue that my take on the end of truth is too gloomy. Consider the clarifying power of #MeToo — how in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Cosby and other once-powerful men, we witnessed the power of facts and objective, clear eyed investigation to alter the brutal power structures that had long held victims in silence…

…You might also argue that collectively, we’re getting better at spotting hucksters and frauds. The resistance grifters had a good run, but we found them out. Less than a year from now, if not sooner, Trump, too, may hit the end of his run.

But I’m skeptical that these things signal some reason for optimism. Our information system has slipped its moorings, and as a result, lying and scheming and fraud has simply become too effective a life strategy.


Show us what you’ve got, 2020!
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Google crackdown on political ads ‘will have minimal impact in UK’ • The Guardian

Alex Hern:


A new rule banning microtargeting in political adverts will have minimal impact in the UK, the Guardian has learned, because the majority of political advertisers do not use the tools anyway.

Instead, British political advertisers spend the bulk of their money on search adverts with simple targeting to individual keywords. Often, those keywords relate to opposing parties: on Thursday, the Conservative party bought an advert for searches for the word “Labour” that took users to, a site set up by the Tories to attack Labour’s expected policies before either party had released their manifesto.

Google announced on Wednesday that it would ban microtargeting in political ads, starting in the UK “within the week”. When the ban comes into place, advertisers will only be allowed to narrow down audiences based on three general categories: age, gender and postcode-level location.

But in the UK, according to a Google source, political advertisers already lack access to “custom affinity” audience targeting, the most powerful form of microtargeting, which lets them define very narrow groups of voters and target specific messages to them. Other forms of microtargeting, such as focusing on a geographic point or targeting similar audiences to other content, were available but were rarely used by British advertisers, the source said. As a result, the ban would have minimal impact on the UK election.


It’s a perfect “strategy credit”: get positive publicity over a controversial topic by not doing something you’re already bad at doing, but which a rival is good at doing.
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Facebook weighs steps to curb narrowly targeted political ads • WSJ

Emily Glazer:


Facebook is considering making changes to its political-advertising policy that could include preventing campaigns from targeting only very small groups of people, people familiar with the matter said, in an effort to spurn the spread of misinformation.

The company in recent weeks has weighed increasing the minimum number of people who are targeted in political ads from 100 to a few thousand, the people said.

Facebook has sought feedback on potential changes with large Republican and Democratic political ad buyers—about that possible change and other ideas—in efforts to limit how misinformation is spread, since ads with false or misleading information are often targeted toward specific audiences, one of the people said…

…Though it is unclear if or when Facebook could roll out any changes, it has hinted that modifications to its political ad policy could be possible. It left the door open again in response to Google’s announcement Wednesday.

Candidates from both parties have ramped up spending this year. Digital political ad spending is expected to reach $2.9bn in 2020, up from $1.4bn in 2016, according to Borrell Associates Inc., a consulting firm.


I wonder if that last paragraph contains any clues about why Facebook doesn’t want to give up political advertising.
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Bigger fines would help to keep political fight fair • The Times

Louise Edwards is director of regulation at the Electoral Commission:


The outcry over @CCHQPress changing its Twitter profile to @factcheckuk during the leadership debate is an example of how highly the public value political transparency. We’ve no doubt that the political leaders of all our major parties share this value.

Transparency is the reason printed campaign material must to carry an imprint telling you who funded it. Our research tells us that, in general, the public find online campaigning helpful, and we agree. Anything that gives voters the information they need to make a decision about how to vote is a good thing.

The problem comes when voters don’t know — and can’t find out — who the source is. That’s why we’ve been calling since 2003 for the same rules to apply to digital materials.

People tell us that their concerns about online campaigning focus on the use of targeted messages that spread false or misleading information, and on who is paying for the message to be circulated. Parties and campaigners should heed this concern and give careful consideration to messaging they might present as fact when it is simply opinion, albeit informed opinion.

Imprints might not stop the spread of false information but they would certainly help us all to understand who is behind campaigning material and what their agenda might be. Add to this education work that seeks to increase digital and political literacy, and we could start to stem the tide of misinformation aimed at voters during an election. It’s a topic that governments around the globe are grappling with. Implementing our calls for imprints would be an important first step…

…For anyone concerned that some campaigners do still break the rules, the answer is to make such rule-breaking prohibitively expensive. Our fines are currently capped at £20,000 per offence at a time when a political party could spend up to £19m in a general election. If we really want to keep the fight fair and deter campaigners and parties from breaking the rules in the first place, we need the power to levy larger fines.


How likely is it, though, that a party that wins by breaking the rules will implement legislation to making breaking the rules prohibitively expensive?
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Judge sounds ‘serf’ warning on digital public services • UKAuthority

Michael Cross:


One of the UK’s top tier judges has made an extraordinary public warning about the potential dangers of automating decision-making in public services.

In a public lecture this month, Supreme Court Justice Lord Sales (Philip Sales QC) asserted that while, while digital government offers the potential of huge savings, it also has the potential to undermine human dignity and human rights.

“Access to public services is being depersonalised,” he said. “The individual seems powerless in the face of machine systems and loses all dignity in being subjected to their control.

“The movement here threatens to be from citizen to consumer and then on to serf.”

In his lecture for the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, Sales added his voice to a growing campaign for independent regulation of machine learning algorithms. Decisions made by AI could embed human prejudices in inflexible code without a “capacity for mercy”, he said.

“AI may get to the stage where it will understand the rules of (the legal principle of) equity and how to recognise hard cases, but we are not there yet.” In the meantime “we need to build a structure of legal obligations on those who design and build algorithms”.


If the judges are saying it…
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Google Assistant can now navigate websites, book movie tickets • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:


Google says the feature works with “more than 70 cinemas and ticketing services, such as Fandango,, AMC, or MJR Theaters in the US, or ODEON in the UK.” While all of those services could have coded up special hooks for the Google Assistant, that’s not what’s going on here—instead this feature is powered by a feature Google calls “Duplex on the web.” You might remember “Duplex” as Google’s futuristic phone-call bot that can book restaurants over the phone while sounding like a real human. This “Duplex on the web” doesn’t make phone calls, though, and instead navigates websites for you and completes the movie ticket purchase. Google announced this feature earlier in the year during the Google I/O keynote, where CEO Sundar Pichai defined Duplex as “the approach by which we train AI on simple but familiar tasks to accomplish them and save you time.”

Buying movie tickets on your behalf through a website means Google Duplex navigates to the site, searches for a movie, fills in your personal info and your credit card details, and, after a confirmation step, completes the purchase, mashing all the necessary “next” and “buy” buttons along the way. You can watch it do all this yourself on your phone screen, and if there’s anything that Duplex doesn’t know how to deal with, like making a reservation for a specific seat, it will stop and ask you. We’ve had autofill for some time, and this is like autofill plus auto-navigation.

The technology to automatically navigate webpages is interesting, but this is something that will generally help only casual movie ticket buyers.


Google’s being cautious about how it rolls out Duplex; wise.
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Google Stadia users are reporting overheated Chromecast Ultra devices • Android Authority

Hadlee Simons:


Google Stadia has been out for a few days now, letting you stream high quality games via a solid internet connection. You don’t need a gaming console or anything fancy either, as you can stream titles on your TV via a Chromecast.

Unfortunately, it seems like several people on reddit have reported that their gaming sessions are being cut short due to overheating Chromecast Ultra devices.

“I was in the middle of a fight in Destiny 2 when suddenly my Chromecast died and lost connectivity to the network. I went to unplug it from the power and it was extremely hot,” read a post from user armadeon7479. Several other users chimed in to report that their streaming dongles were either hot or had shut down during a session.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem specifically related to Stadia though, as users noted that the Chromecast Ultra is prone to overheating in the first place. In fact, complaints about overheating Chromecasts date back to the very first device.


That’s 2014, for the first device. Five years and there are still problems with overheating?

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Trump is lying about the ‘new’ ‘Apple’ factory • The Verge

Russell Brandom:


In advance of Trump’s factory tour today, I took a look at the strange relationship that’s developed between Tim Cook and Donald Trump over the past three years. One of the things that popped up was one specific story that Trump would tell about Apple, in rally after rally and meeting after meeting. The idea was that Trump had somehow induced the company to build a new factory in the US, through some combination of tax cuts and trade policy, which was both very politically useful and also very much not true.

Today, perhaps not surprisingly, he told the lie again.

“We’re seeing the beginning of a very powerful and important plant,” Trump said at the factory. “Anybody that followed my campaign, I would always talk about Apple, that I want to see Apple building plants in the United States. And that’s what’s happening.”

This is not true for a couple reasons — one of them nitpicky and one of them a lot more serious. The nitpicky problem is that Apple isn’t actually building a manufacturing plant. The company is building a new campus in Austin, but it’s miles away from the factory and the jobs are going to be very similar to the kind of white-collar design and engineering work that Apple does in Cupertino. Apple doesn’t do its own manufacturing, and the plant Trump is standing in belongs to a contractor called Flex Ltd (formerly Flextronics).


Notable how the Wall Street Journal report on this visit didn’t pick up any of those inaccuracies by Trump; it didn’t even report him going out and saying he’d opened the plant. The NY Times did point out his multiple errors.

Cook got what he wanted: no tariffs on iPhones. But at what price?
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Inside Apple’s iPhone software shakeup after buggy iOS 13 debut • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:


The new development process will help early internal iOS versions to be more usable, or “livable,” in Apple parlance. Prior to iOS 14’s development, some teams would add features every day that weren’t fully tested, while other teams would contribute changes weekly. “Daily builds were like a recipe with lots of cooks adding ingredients,” a person with knowledge of the process said.

Test software got so crammed with changes at different stages of development that the devices often became difficult to use. Because of this, some “testers would go days without a livable build, so they wouldn’t really have a handle on what’s working and not working,” the person said. This defeated the main goal of the testing process as Apple engineers struggled to check how the operating system was reacting to many of the new features, leading to some of iOS 13’s problems.

Apple measures and ranks the quality of its software using a scale of 1 to 100 that’s based on what’s known internally as a “white glove” test. Buggy releases might get a score in the low 60s whereas more stable software would be above 80. iOS 13 scored lower on that scale than the more polished iOS 12 that preceded it. Apple teams also assign green, yellow and red color codes to features to indicate their quality during development. A priority scale of 0 through 5, with 0 being a critical issue and 5 being minor, is used to determine the gravity of individual bugs.

The new strategy is already being applied to the development of iOS 14, codenamed “Azul” internally, ahead of its debut next year. Apple has also considered delaying some iOS 14 features until 2021 — in an update called “Azul +1” internally that will likely become known as iOS 15 externally — to give the company more time to focus on performance. Still, iOS 14 is expected to rival iOS 13 in the breadth of its new capabilities, the people familiar with Apple’s plans said.

The testing shift will apply to all of Apple’s operating systems, including iPadOS, watchOS, macOS and tvOS.


I’d love to know where iOS 13 came on that 1-to-100 scale. I’d put it well below iOS 12 – if the latter was, say, 85, this has been about 65. The particular bug I hate is that Messages crashes from the lockscreen if you type more than 37 characters in a reply. Where’s that going to go on a 0-5 scale? Not high. (It’s not a data loss bug.) But it’s annoying nonetheless – the irksome kind of bug.

But more to the point, how has Apple let this get so out of whack? Was it gradual, or did something precipitate it?
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Huawei’s upcoming Android tablet is an iPad Pro with a hole-punch display | Android Central

Philip Berne:


Rumor site 91Mobiles has spotted renders of a new Huawei tablet that could sit at the high-end of Huawei’s mid-screen range. The tablet has a smooth look with a thin bezel and a ‘hole-punch’ selfie camera on the front screen.

Leaks label this tablet with an internal codename “Marx,” but prolific Twitter leaker Evan Blass chimed in to say this would be the Huawei “MatePad Pro.”

Source: 91Mobiles

The device is pictured with Huawei’s professional-looking keyboard attachment, similar to Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard. 91Mobiles also claims the tablet will support Huawei’s M-Pen stylus. A few other details can be inferred from the leak, including a USB-C port and bottom-firing speakers, but important items like the stylus silo or the fate of the 3.5mm headphone jack are unclear.

The new Huawei tablet is shown in black and white. What is not so black and white, however, is the fate of Huawei’s Android devices. Huawei is currently locked out of the Google services program while the Chinese company is under investigation by the U.S. government. It’s unclear what OS this new tablet is running, but assuming it’s anything like the Mate 30 Pro, it’ll be a build of Android 10 / EMUI 10 without access to Google services.


“Similar to” Apple’s iPad Pro keyboard? Everything from the square proportions of the tablet edges to the use of a groove on the Pencil is a complete ripoff of Apple’s design. Shameful.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified