Start Up No.1,059: Facebook bans right-wing extremists, esports takes training!, questions over Apple’s kids app ban, and more


Take two layers of graphene (this is one), twist one by 1.1 degrees, and you get a superconductor. CC-licensed photo by UCL Mathematical + Physical Sciences on Flickr

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

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

Instagram and Facebook ban far-right extremists • The Atlantic

Taylor Lorenz:

»

In an effort to contain misinformation and extremism that have spread across the platforms, Instagram and its parent company, Facebook, have banned Alex Jones, Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Paul Nehlen under their policies against dangerous individuals and organizations. They also banned the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly made anti-Semitic statements.

Infowars is subject to the strictest ban. Facebook and Instagram will remove any content containing Infowars videos, radio segments, or articles (unless the post is explicitly condemning the content), and Facebook will also remove any groups set up to share Infowars content and events promoting any of the banned extremist figures, according to a company spokesperson. (Twitter, YouTube, and Apple have also banned Jones and Infowars.)

Jones, Yiannopoulos, Watson, Loomer, Nehlen, and Farrakhan are all personally banned, as are any accounts set up in their likeness. But users may still praise those figures on Instagram and share content related to them that doesn’t violate other Instagram and Facebook terms of service. “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” a Facebook spokesperson said via email.

«

So overdue. Very interesting to see Facebook (and thus of course Instagram) decide that they want to be known for not hosting extremism, and in favour of truth. It also puts a lot of the edge cases on notice: tip too far over, and you’re out.
unique link to this extract


Hitting the gym makes esports athletes more successful • The Next Web

Rachel Kaser:

»

A study by Professor Ingo Froböse of the University of Cologne found that, even though they appear to be sitting still, esports players are frequently putting out a lot of effort. As Froböse told Deutsche Welle, “The amount of cortisol produced is about the same level as that of a race-car driver. This is combined with a high pulse, sometimes as high as 160 to 180 beats per minute, which is equivalent to what happened during a very fast run, almost a marathon.”

Given those demands, and how often and how long players have to practice, it’s probably no surprise esports pros have to maintain good fitness just to survive.

Eric Sanders, head of eSports operations with 100 Thieves, which has pros in League of Legends, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Apex Legends, told TNW players often get up early or stay up late in order to hit the gym while still getting their hours in with the game. “We have a fair amount of players who work out 5-6 days a week… we have a few guys on our Call of Duty team who’ll play until 11 at night and go lift at 11:30.”

So what do esports players do when they hit the gym? There’s no one answer that best suits all pros — many have their own trainers and routines they follow. But most team managers and coaches who spoke with TNW said it’s not the specific exercise that matters, but the consistent routine.

Jasper Schellens, fitness and nutrition coach with FaZe Clan, an organization that started with three YouTubers but has since ballooned into teams in six separate esports, said to TNW of the exercises he assigns, “rowing exercises, chin-ups… they’re sitting down a lot and leaning forward a little bit, so I try to focus a lot more on the back exercises because it pulls them straight so they don’t get neck or back pain… I also try to work on their cardio so they don’t fatigue as much or as fast.”

«

OK, they might have an elevated pulse, but that’s not the same as being in aerobic or anaerobic stress, which is what athletes encounter.
unique link to this extract


Pornhub is “extremely interested” in acquiring Tumblr • Buzzfeed News

Ryan Broderick:

»

Pornhub Vice President Corey Price said in an email to BuzzFeed News that the porn-streaming giant is extremely interested in buying Tumblr, the once uniquely horny hub for young women and queer people that banned adult content last December to the disappointment of many of its users.

Price said that restoring Tumblr’s NSFW edge would be central to their acquisition of it, were it to actually happen.

Tumblr owner Verizon is reportedly currently seeking a buyer for the blogging platform, which according to the Wall Street Journal has struggled to meet revenue targets.

“Tumblr was a safe haven for those who wanted to explore and express their sexuality, adult entertainment aficionados included,” Price told BuzzFeed News. “We’ve long been dismayed that such measures were taken to eradicate erotic communities on the platform, leaving many individuals without an asylum through which they could comfortably peruse adult content.”

«

You know, I can see that being a really good fit. Pornhub would know how to monetise the porn, and it could expand its income base with the non-porn on Tumblr.

And of course Verizon didn’t have a clue what to do with Tumblr.
unique link to this extract


The US government wants a man at the center of a massive “cryptocurrency scheme” held without bail • Amy Castor

Amy Castor is a freelance journalist who has been covering many of the twists and turns of the crypto world:

»

The US government wants a football businessman linked to an investigation into $850 million of missing Tether and Bitfinex funds to be held without bail.

According to a memorandum in support of detention filed with the District Court of Arizona on May 1, Reginald Fowler poses a serious fight risk due to his overseas connections and access to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The court doc also presents startling new twists in an already tangled plot—a “Master US Workbook,” which details the financial operations of the “cryptocurrency scheme,” fake bond certificates worth billions of dollars, and a counterfeit money operation.

Reggie Fowler

Fowler, 60, is a football businessman. He was a former co-owner of the Minnesota Vikings and the original main investor in the Alliance of American Football (AAF)—an attempt to form a new football league. The AAF collapsed when Fowler withdrew funding—after the Department of Justice froze his bank accounts in late 2018.

I did a search on Pacer and got a number of hits showing Fowler has been in and out of courts for years. In fact, in 2005, ESPN reported that he had been sued 36 times.

«

The allegations against Fowler are jawdropping – including one that says he tried to pass off fake bonds for billions of dollars.
unique link to this extract


The successful conspiracy inside YouTube to kill Internet Explorer 6 • Chris Zacharias

Chris Zacharias:

»

I do not recall the exact triggering event that led to our web development team laying out plans to kill IE6 over lunch in the YouTube cafeteria. Perhaps it was the time I pushed out a CSS stylesheet that included an attribute selector on a semi-supported HTML element. Any reasonable web developer would expect this to be ignored by browsers not up to the task. This was not the case with older flavors of IE. Under very specific conditions, an attribute selector on an unsupported HTML element in IE would create an internal recursion that would at best, cause the browser to crash and at worst, trigger a blue screen of death. Or perhaps it was the hundredth time one of our software engineers had innocently pushed out an tag with an empty src attribute. Nobody joining the team could be expected to know that in early versions of IE, the browser would load the root path “/” for empty src attributes. The tag would suddenly behave like an , loading our homepage and all of its dependent resources in what could become an exponentially expanding recursive loop. Whenever an empty image tag found its way on to the homepage, it was all-hands-on-deck emergency to locate and replace the offending code before we melted our servers into paperweights.

Regardless of whatever the event at that time was, it had been brutal and it had been IE6 related.

«

I love how this account begins in the tone of an old man at the opening of a film talking to a young helper. I think the screenplay then says “DISSOLVE TO YOUTUBE CAFETERIA”. Like tears in the rain…

Also, it’s not a conspiracy if it’s for good, right?
unique link to this extract


There used to be an app for that • Medium

OurPact makes a “control your kid’s screen time” app which Apple recently yanked from the App Store, saying that its use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) – an API Apple provides – left it vulnerable to hacking:

»

Shortly after the release of the iPhone in 2007, a growing body of research confirmed the negative impact of excessive screen time exposure for growing children and teens. In 2012, the OurPact team recognized the lack of solutions available on iOS and set out to develop comprehensive parental controls for families. We don’t just develop OurPact, we use it in our own homes.

From day one, our focus has been what’s best for parents and their children. A core part of that mission is a commitment to data protection and user privacy — we never have and never will sell or provide any user data to any third party.

Since its initial release, OurPact has employed a public, documented Apple technology known as MDM.

While MDM was initially intended for company-owned or personally-owned BYOD implementations, it has also been used by many parental control applications to give parents more freedom to manage their children’s mobile devices. In recent years, Apple has also extended MDM for use by children and teachers in schools.
OurPact’s core functionality would not be possible without the use of MDM; it is the only API available for the Apple platform that enables the remote management of applications and functions on children’s devices. We have also been transparent about our use of this technology since the outset, and have documented its use in our submissions to the App Store.

«

Plenty of detail in this, and Apple doesn’t come out looking at all good. The MDM point looks extremely weak, in fact.
unique link to this extract


Amazing AI generates entire bodies of people who don’t exist • Futurism

Dan Robitzski:

»

A new deep learning algorithm can generate high-resolution, photorealistic images of people — faces, hair, outfits, and all — from scratch.

The AI-generated models are the most realistic we’ve encountered, and the tech will soon be licensed out to clothing companies and advertising agencies interested in whipping up photogenic models without paying for lights or a catering budget. At the same time, similar algorithms could be misused to undermine public trust in digital media.

The algorithm was developed by DataGrid, a tech company housed on the campus of Japan’s Kyoto University, according to a press release.

In a video showing off the tech, the AI morphs and poses model after model as their outfits transform, bomber jackets turning into winter coats and dresses melting into graphic tees.

«

So that’s another group of jobs gone. (Thanks Charles Knight for the link.)
unique link to this extract


With a simple twist, a ‘magic’ material is now the big thing in physics • Quanta Magazine

David Freedman:

»

Physicists are excited about magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene [which becomes superconducting when two layers are rotated by 1.1 degrees] not because it’s likely to be a practical superconductor but because they’re convinced it can illuminate the mysterious properties of superconductivity itself. For one thing, the material seems to act suspiciously like a cuprate, a type of exotic ceramic in which superconductivity can occur at temperatures up to about 140 kelvin, or halfway between absolute zero and room temperature. In addition, the sudden jumps in twisted bilayer graphene — from conducting to insulating to superconducting — with just a tweak of an external electric field indicate that free electrons are slowing to a virtual halt, notes physicist Dmitri Efetov of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) in Barcelona, Spain. “When they stop, [the electrons] interact all the more strongly,” he said. “Then they can pair up and form a superfluid.” That fluidlike electron state is considered a core feature of all superconductors.

The main reason 30 years of studying cuprates has shed relatively little light on the phenomenon is that cuprates are complex, multi-element crystals. “They’re poorly understood materials,” said Efetov, noting that they superconduct only when precisely doped with impurities during their demanding fabrication in order to add free electrons. Twisted bilayer graphene, on the other hand, is nothing but carbon, and “doping” it with more electrons merely requires applying a readily varied electric field. “If there’s any system where we can hope to understand strongly correlated electrons, it’s this one,” said Jarillo-Herrero. “Instead of having to grow different crystals, we just turn a voltage knob, or apply more pressure with the stamps, or change the rotation angle.” A student can try to change the doping in an hour at virtually no cost, he notes, versus the months and tens of thousands of dollars it might take to try out a slightly different doping scheme on a cuprate.

Also unique, said MacDonald, is the small number of electrons that seem to be doing the heavy lifting in magic-angle twisted bilayer graphene — about one for every 100,000 carbon atoms.

«

unique link to this extract


Helping small business phones get smart with CallJoy • Google blog

Bob Summers, general manager for CallJoy:

»

My team within Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects, conducted testing and found that small businesses receive an average of 13 phone calls every day. If you apply that average to America’s 30.2 million small businesses, that would equal roughly 400 million incoming daily calls to local businesses from consumers placing a to-go order, booking an appointment, inquiring about inventory and more. That’s why we built CallJoy, a cloud-based phone agent that enables small business owners to measure, improve and automate customer service.

With CallJoy, small businesses have access to the same customer service options that have historically only been available to larger corporations. If you’re associated with small business using CallJoy, here’s how it works: After a quick setup, you’ll receive a local phone number. CallJoy will immediately begin blocking unwanted spam calls so you receive the calls that matter—the ones from customers. Then, when the phone rings, the automated CallJoy agent answers, greets callers with a custom message and provides basic business information (like hours of operation).

«

Wait – 13 calls per day? That’s about one every 45 minutes. Maybe every half hour, if you have a lunch break. That’s not a lot, is it? Basically Google seems to be turning the human responder into a web page. Wonderfully annoying for customers: now it’s a call centre!
unique link to this extract


You’re holding it wrong — touching the corner of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e reportedly kills Wi-Fi performance • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

The Samsung Tab S4 is a nice piece of hardware if you’re into Android tablets, but it’s very expensive. The new Tab S5e has some of the S4’s features but drops the price to $400. It turns out it also drops the WiFi signal when you touch the corner. Maybe we’re all just holding it wrong.

Based on reports from multiple users, the tablet’s upper left corner (in portrait) needs to remain unobstructed to maintain WiFi performance. The Tab S5e is a large-ish 10.5-inch tablet with a widescreen ratio. So, it’s a bit ungainly to hold in portrait orientation. However, in landscape, the aforementioned corner is where you’d naturally want to place your hand.

Users on Instagram have shown that WiFi connectivity can drop completely when touching the corner. Meanwhile, SamMobile has confirmed there’s an issue by eliciting a 50% drop in signal strength when covering the corner. The issue brings to mind Apple’s “you’re holding it wrong” incident with the iPhone 4.

«

Though I bet many more iPhone 4s were sold than Galaxy Tab S4Es. Wonder if this person also worked on the Fold?
unique link to this extract


Japan to develop computer virus to defend against cyberattacks • Japan Times

»

Japan will develop its first-ever computer virus by next March as a defense measure against cyberattacks, sources have said.

The Defense Ministry is considering malware that can break into a computer system, hoping such a computer virus could work as a deterrent against cyberattacks, the sources said Monday.

The government has said it is looking to enhance its defense capabilities beyond the ground, marine and air domains to address security challenges in new areas such as cyberspace and outer space amid technological advances in recent years.

Japan lags behind other countries in addressing the threat of cyberattacks. It plans to increase the number of personnel in its cyberspace unit to 220 from 150, compared with 6,200 in the United States, 7,000 in North Korea and 130,000 in China, according to the ministry.

«

“Only to be used for defensive purposes”, apparently.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,058: Silicon Valley’s new money worries, Apple’s big Watch, the trouble with Slack, the unprivate lock, and more


Every catastrophe has its deniers: the latest suggests Notre Dame’s fire wasn’t an accident. CC-licensed photo by Bradley Weber on Flickr

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Isn’t that enough? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Silicon valley is awash in Chinese and Saudi cash — and no one is paying attention (except Trump) • Vox

Theodore Schleifer:

»

This is Silicon Valley in 2019 — a playground for foreign countries eager to fulfill their grand strategies. To some extent, this is to be embraced: If the United States has a comparative advantage in tech companies — and if capitalism is global — then it should welcome the transformation of Silicon Valley. America welcomes foreign money in the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq; so, too, should it welcome foreign money in US private companies, especially from close partners like Singapore.

But the rise of foreign money has turned Silicon Valley into a geopolitical minefield for venture capitalists and startups, requiring American startups to make judgment calls and react to crosscurrents that would’ve been strange to the industry decades ago.

Who in Saudi Arabia exactly was directly liable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

Was Huawei actually a threat to America’s national security?

“It’s the world of geopolitics coming to venture,” Rob Ackerman, a venture capitalist active in cybersecurity, said. “It’s got a lot more gray than black and white — and we’re all trying to figure that out.”

Or as an American investor now living in Israel, Mike Eisenberg, recalled telling an entrepreneur recently: “You thought you’re in business. You’re actually in politics.”

This was all true even before the force that has reshaped every American industry over the past two years — Donald Trump — exacerbated that reality. Foreign money courses through the Silicon Valley bloodstream, and his administration isn’t happy about it.

But for too long, most people in Silicon Valley have treated foreign cash with a collective shrug, seeing money as money and not truly considering the ethical and regulatory challenges of taking investment from certain foreign countries, Recode interviews with more than 50 venture capitalists, startups, lawyers, and others involved in cross-border investing reveal. Now Silicon Valley is scrambling to assess its own exposure in this new world order.

Money from two countries in particular has ignited a debate in Silicon Valley about the responsibilities of startups and their investors: China and Saudi Arabia.

«

It’s all changed a hell of a lot from the days when it was a few VCs on Sand Hill Drive.
unique link to this extract


America’s favorite door-locking app has a data privacy problem • OneZero

Sage Lazzaro:

»

Latch is on a mission to digitize the front door, offering apartment entry systems that forgo traditional keys in favor of being able to unlock entries with a smartphone. The company touts convenience — who wants to fiddle with a metal key? — and has a partnership with UPS, so you can get packages delivered inside your lobby without a doorman. But while it may keep homes private and secure, the same can’t be said about tenants’ personal data.

Latch — which has raised $96m in venture capital funding since launching in 2014, including $70m in its Series B last year — offers three products. Two are entry systems for specific units, and one is for lobbies and other common areas like elevators and garages. The company claims one in 10 new apartment buildings in the U.S. is being built with its products, with leading real estate developers like Brookfield and Alliance Residential now installing them across the country.

Experts say they’re concerned about the app’s privacy policy, which allows Latch to collect, store, and share sensitive personally identifiable information (PII) with its partners and, in some cases, landlords. And while Latch is far from the only tech company with questionable data practices, it’s harder for a tenant to decouple from their building’s door than, say, Instagram: If your landlord installs a product like the keyhole-free Latch R, you’re stuck. The issue of tenant consent is currently coming to a head in New York City, where residents of a Manhattan building are suing their landlord in part over privacy concerns related to the app.

«

Latch wouldn’t be interviewed but said that it offers smartphone app unlocking, Bluetooth proximity, or keycard. But the problem is still about controlling where the information goes.
unique link to this extract


Facebook users are posting videos of themselves lighting wood on fire to spread hoaxes about the Notre Dame fire • Poynter

Daniel Funke:

»

To debunk the viral beam-burning videos, Les Décodeurs and AFP didn’t use standard digital verification tools like InVid and Google’s reverse image search. The videos are false, but they’re real.

Instead, the fact-checkers did what many outlets call “triangulating the truth” — speaking to a variety of different experts in order to prove whether or not a claim without obvious concrete evidence is true or false. In this case, AFP and Les Décodeurs spoke to scientists, fire safety experts and engineers, all of whom told them that it’s difficult to set anything on fire in the open air.

That’s no reason to conclude the Notre Dame fire, which started inside the cathedral — not in the open air — was set intentionally, the fact-checkers reported.

The viral, do-it-yourself beam-burning videos are part of a larger effort to spread misinformation about the cause of the Notre Dame fire April 15. That effort has been amplified extensively by the American right, Laurent said.

The goal is to continue pushing the false, Islamophobic narrative that Muslim terrorists were somehow behind the Notre Dame fire.

«

The article also has a graphic showing the reach of the viral nonsense, and of the fact-checking. The latter pales into insignificance.
unique link to this extract


Apple Watch has record breaking quarter and it’s not letting up • Wareable

James Stables:

»

“The [Apple Watch business] is now about the size of a Fortune 200 company, an amazing statistic when you consider it’s only been four years since we delivered the very first Apple Watch,” said Tim Cook, Apple CEO.

Impressive stuff, as Apple CFO Luca Maestri explained:

“Wearables, home and accessories revenue set a new March quarter revenue record at 5.1 billion, fuelled primarily by the strong performance of our wearables business, which grew close to 50%.

“Within this category, Apple Watch is the best-selling and most loved smartwatch in the world, and produced its best results ever for a non-holiday quarter. It’s reaching many new customers, with three-quarters of purchases going to customers who have never owned an Apple Watch before,”

This confirms what we already know – that Apple is totally bossing the smartwatch market.

But it shows how much appetite there is for this segment, and that’s good news for everyone. The walled garden of iOS and high ticket price means there’s always room for other companies to play, which explains the success of the Fitbit Versa and Samsung Galaxy Watch.

However, as CCS Insight’s Ben Wood tweeted, it’s also a great lock-in. The Apple Watch can only be used with iPhones, so those millions of people who are investing are far more likely to stay within the iOS ecosystem with a new iPhone.

«

Since you’re wondering, Fortune 200 companies in 2018 had annual revenues of more than $14.6bn. If you assume a $400 ASP, that’s 36.5m Watches sold in the 12-month period. Meanwhile, everyone in London seems to have AirPods.
unique link to this extract


The productivity pit: how Slack is ruining work • Vox

Rani Molla:

»

Consulting firm McKinsey said back in 2012 that workplace communications technologies have the potential to increase employee productivity by up to 25%.

“The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28% of the workweek managing email and nearly 20% looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks,” according to the study. McKinsey figured people would be able to more easily and quickly accomplish these task using new workplace software.

That’s happened to an extent, but other problems have arisen.

Much like the ubiquitous open-floor plan, this type of software is meant to get different parts of a company working together, to break down hierarchies, to spark chance interactions and innovations.

In practice it can be hell.

The addition of yet another communications tool can result in a surfeit of information.

On average, employees at large companies are each sending more than 200 Slack messages per week, according to Time Is Ltd., a productivity-analytics company that taps into workplace programs — including Slack, calendar apps, and the Office Suite — in order to give companies recommendations on how to be more productive. Power users sending out more than 1,000 messages per day are “not an exception.”

Keeping up with these conversations can seem like a full-time job. After a while, the software goes from helping you work to making it impossible to get work done.

«

“Power users” are the curse of these, and many other systems. They dominate conversations, flood the zone, and make it hard to feel you’re keeping up. Similarly on social media, they’re the ones who drag the conversation around to what they want to talk about – not necessarily what it should be about.
unique link to this extract


Feds just seized part of Bitfinex’s ‘missing’ $850m, arrest made • Modern Consensus

Leo Jakobson:

»

Funds seized by the feds from an HSBC Bank account were allegedly used to commit bank fraud by secretly transferring U.S. dollars to and from customers of cryptocurrency exchanges, according to an indictment issued Tuesday.

That same bank account was reportedly used by Bitfinex to transfer money to its customers when it was having trouble finding a mainstream bank willing to work with after Wells Fargo ceased doing business with it.

In an indictment announced on April 30, the U.S. Department of Justice said that funds were seized from HSBC Bank USA account 141000147, among others. That account is notable because on Oct. 6 , 2018, The Block Managing Editor Larry Cermak tweeted a screenshot of instructions from Bitfinex showing customers how to wire U.S. dollars to their wallets via HSBC Bank N.A. account 141000147, identified as belonging to Global Trading Solution, LLC.

Bitfinex appears to have gotten caught up in the case after the payment processor it was using as a bank, Crypto Capital, told them in August 2018 that $850m the exchange had on account with them had been seized by authorities. Those governments were identified by Bitfinex General Counsel Stuart Hoegner as the US, Portugal, and Poland. Crypto Capital is owned by Global Trading Solution, LLC.

«

It’s not clear if this is money laundering, outright scamming, trying to evade the authorities, or what, but Bitfinex and Tether are starting to unravel: Tether is now apparently “only 74% backed” by actual money.
unique link to this extract


Smartphone shipments experience deeper decline in Q1 2019 with a clear shakeup among the market leaders • IDC

Worldwide volumes down 6.6%; stagnation rules the day:

»

“The less than stellar first quarter in the United States can be attributed to the continued slowdown we are witnessing at the high end of the market,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “Consumers continue to hold on to their phones longer than before as newer higher priced models offer little incentive to shell out top dollar to upgrade. Moreover, the pending arrival of 5G handsets could have consumers waiting until both the networks and devices are ready for prime time in 2020.”

Samsung saw volumes drop 8.1% in 1Q19 with shipments of 71.9m. The results were enough to keep Samsung in the top spot of the market, but Huawei is continuing to close the gap between the two smartphone leaders. Despite challenging earnings in terms of profits, Samsung did say that the recently launched Galaxy S10 series did sell well during the quarter. With the 5G variant now launched in its home market of Korea and plans to bring this device and other 5G SKUs to other important markets in 2019, it will be equally crucial for Samsung not to lose focus on its mid-tier product strategy to fend off Huawei.

Huawei moved its way into a clear number two spot as the only smartphone vendor at the top of the market that saw volumes grow during 1Q19. Impressively, the company had year-over-year growth of 50.3% in 1Q19 with volumes of 59.1m units and a 19.0% market share. Huawei is now within striking distance of Samsung at the top of the global market. In China, Huawei continued its positive momentum with a well-rounded portfolio targeting all segments from low to high. Huawei’s high-end models continued to create a strong affiliation for the mid to low-end models, which are supporting the company’s overall shipment performance.

Apple had a challenging first quarter as shipments dropped to 36.4m units representing a staggering 30.2% decline from last year. The iPhone struggled to win over conusmers in most major markets as competitors continue to eat away at Apple’s market share. Price cuts in China throughout the quarter along with favorable trade-in deals in many markets were still not enough to encourage consumers to upgrade. Combine this with the fact that most competitors will shortly launch 5G phones and new foldable devices, the iPhone could face a difficult remainder of the year. Despite the lackluster quarter, Apple’s strong installed base along with its recent agreement with Qualcomm will be viewed as the light at the end of the tunnel heading into 2020 for the Cupertino-based giant.

«

Neil Cybart, a former sell-side analyst who has his own model for how Apple’s numbers fit together, reckons IDC is lowballing by a mile with its 36m figure; reckons it sold “way more”. The unit figure sales are all over the place, depending which analyst company you go to.
unique link to this extract


How taxpayers covered a $1,000 liquor bill for Trump staffers (and more) at Trump’s club • Pro Publica

Derek Kravitz:

»

At some point later that evening [during Chinese president Xi’s visit to Mar-a-Lago], a group repaired to Mar-a-Lago’s Library Bar, a wood-paneled study with a portrait of Trump in tennis whites (titled “The Visionary”) hanging nearby. The group asked the bartender to leave the room so it “could speak confidentially,” according to an email written by Mar-a-Lago’s catering director, Brooke Watson.

The Secret Service guarded the door, according to the email. The bartender wasn’t allowed to return. And members of the group began pouring themselves drinks. No one paid.

Six days later, on April 13, Mar-a-Lago created a bill for those drinks, tallying $838 worth of alcohol plus a 20% service charge. It covered 54 drinks (making for an average price of $18.62 each) of premium liquor: Chopin vodka, Patron and Don Julio Blanco tequilas and Woodford Reserve bourbon. Watson’s email did not specify how many people consumed the alcohol or who the participants were. (It stated that she “was told” the participants included then-strategist Steve Bannon and then-deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin. Bannon, who has said he stopped drinking years ago, said he didn’t drink at Mar-a-Lago and didn’t recall the episode. Hagin did not respond to requests for comment.)

The bill was sent to the State Department, which objected to covering it. It was then forwarded to the White House, which paid the tab.

The unusual cocktail hour underscores a unique push and pull in the current administration: Donald Trump’s White House pays a bill and Donald Trump’s club reaps the revenue. (It’s unclear if the White House asked any of those drinking to reimburse the government; the White House declined to comment.)

«

Still astonished that this behaviour is countenanced; there’s plenty similar in the story. It would be like Jimmy Carter insisting that the White House serve peanuts with every meal and at every function, sourced from his peanut farm – which he’d handed to his kids. (Carter was forced to sell his peanut farm on becoming president in 1976.)
unique link to this extract


Amazon’s facial-recognition technology is supercharging local police • Washington Post

Drew Harwell:

»

A grainy picture of someone’s face — captured by a security camera, a social-media account or a deputy’s smartphone — can quickly become a link to their identity, including their name, family and address. More than 1,000 facial-recognition searches were logged last year, said deputies, who sometimes used the results to find a suspect’s Facebook page, visit their home or make an arrest.

But Washington County [where Amazon’s system has been used since late 2017] also became ground zero for a high-stakes battle over the unregulated growth of policing by algorithm. Defense attorneys, artificial-intelligence researchers and civil rights experts argue that the technology could lead to the wrongful arrest of innocent people who bear only a resemblance to a video image. [Amazon’s system] Rekognition’s accuracy is also hotly disputed, and some experts worry that a case of mistaken identity by armed deputies could have dangerous implications, threatening privacy and people’s lives.

Some police agencies have in recent years run facial-recognition searches against state or FBI databases using systems built by contractors such as Cognitec, IDEMIA and NEC. But the rollout by Amazon has marked perhaps the biggest step in making the controversial face-scanning technology mainstream. Rekognition is easy to activate, requires no major technical infrastructure, and is offered to virtually anyone at bargain-barrel prices. Washington County spent about $700 to upload its first big haul of photos, and now, for all its searches, pays about $7 a month.

It’s impossible to tell, though, just how accurate or effective the technology has been during its first 18 months of real-world tests.

«

That last bit feels like it ought to have a lot more emphasis, doesn’t it? But wow, that is cheap. $7, compared with all the shoe leather and time of hunting down and going through photos.
unique link to this extract


A weather tech startup wants to do forecasts based on cell phone signals • MIT Technology Review

Douglas Heaven:

»

Other forecasters use proxies, such as radar signals. But by using information from millions of everyday wireless devices [ie mobile phones], ClimaCell claims it has a far more fine-grained view of most of the globe than other forecasters get from the existing network of weather sensors, which range from ground-based devices to satellites. (ClimaCell taps into those, too.)

The company has now opened a new research center in Boulder, Colorado, where it is developing a new mathematical model that turns cell phone observations into weather data that can be plugged into a simulation. The more accurate your picture of the weather today, the more accurate your forecast for tomorrow.

The model can be tweaked to focus on the region, the type of weather, and the frequency of updates a subscriber wants. That would help renewable-energy companies know how much sunshine is going to hit their solar panels or how much wind will hit their turbines, for example. Better forecasting lets power providers match up supply and demand.

“There’s always a need for better forecasting,” says weather scientist Ken Mylne at the Met Office, the UK’s national weather service. “It’s impossible to do perfect forecasts, but we keep trying to narrow that gap between impossibility and perfection.”

«

What isn’t made clear in the story is quite what data gets collected – barometric? (Not all phones do that.) Temperature? (Very few phones do that, if any.) It seems promising yet also hand-wavy.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,057: WeWork’s mad S-1, Apple’s mixed results, carbon-capturing technology, Pixel 3 fluffs it, and more


Jakarta is sinking fast – so Indonesia’s government will name a different city as its capital. CC-licensed photo by Mulya Amri on Flickr.

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

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

WeWork files for IPO…which is funny all by itself • Dealbreaker

Thornton McEnery:

»

Every time we’ve learned anything about WeWork, it looks more and more like the company is a financial sandcastle built on a rainy day using sand that SoftBank bought at a 500% markup. We know we like to make a big deal here about spending more than you make, but we sometimes get the urge to give WeWork a pass, because it spends sooooo much more than it makes and then creates nonsense accounting principles out of thin air to justify said drunken sailor budgeting decisions. WeWork is so brazenly full of shit about so many things that we legitimately respect the company at this point. After all, how can you not kind of love a real estate arbitrage plan that has spent so much time cosplaying up as a tech unicorn that it has staked claim to new frontiers in the exploration of affected tech pomposity? 

The release of the WeWork S-1 is going to be something of a secular holiday at Dealbreaker HQ. We look forward to waking up late, eating a reasonably strong THC edible to prepare our minds properly and then digging into the document, reading line after line composed with the single objective of pretending that “The We Company” is indeed a $70bn revolution in modern living and not just a wildly overvalued machine powered by its founder and CEO passing money between his own hands with such speed and force that he has somehow created the financial accounting equivalent of cold fusion.

Man, this IPO is gonna be a rocket.

«

“Dude, are you one of the dragons in Game of Thrones because you sure burnt them to a crisp.”
unique link to this extract


Apple’s iPhone sales drop 17% • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

»

Apple’s core iPhone business, which accounts for about two-thirds of total sales, has been hobbled by smartphone owners holding onto devices longer and by competition in China where local competitors offer lower-priced, feature-rich handsets. Its iPhone sales fell 17% in the quarter to about $31bn.

Apple blunted the damage from its iPhone business by extending the robust growth of services like app sales and streaming-music subscriptions, which collectively jumped 16%. It also said it would increase the size of its ongoing share buyback program by $75bn.

The report on Tuesday capped off a mixed bag of results from tech giants, including a major stumble by Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. that caused its stock to plunge nearly 8% on Tuesday. The digital-advertising giant and e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. both over the past week reported their slowest revenue growth in four years as their core businesses showed signs of maturity.

«

The headline’s a little misleading: Apple’s iPhone revenues dropped 17%. (Counterpoint Research reckons iPhone unit sales dropped by 20%.) Mac revenues dropped 5%, but iPad revenues were up 21% (!), “Wearables, Home and Accessories” up 30% (!!) and Services up 16% (~, wait for News+ and TV+ and so on to feed in). China was down 22%, which apparently isn’t as bad as some had been expecting. The revenue falloff – and iPhone sales drop – was all in emerging markets, and China.
unique link to this extract


Bloomberg alleges Huawei routers and network gear are backdoored • Ars Technica

Peter Bright:

»

Vodafone, the largest mobile network operator in Europe, found backdoors in Huawei equipment between 2009 and 2011, reports Bloomberg. With these backdoors, Huawei could have gained unauthorized access to Vodafone’s “fixed-line network in Italy.” But Vodafone disagrees, saying that while it did discover some security vulnerabilities in Huawei equipment, these were fixed by Huawei and in any case were not remotely accessible, and hence they could not be used by Huawei.

Bloomberg’s claims are based on Vodafone’s internal security documentation and “people involved in the situation.” Several different “backdoors” are described: unsecured telnet access to home routers, along with “backdoors” in optical service nodes (which connect last-mile distribution networks to optical backbone networks) and “broadband network gateways” (BNG) (which sit between broadband users and the backbone network, providing access control, authentication, and similar services).

In response to Bloomberg, Vodafone said that the router vulnerabilities were found and fixed in 2011 and the BNG flaws were found and fixed in 2012. While it has documentation about some optical service node vulnerabilities, Vodafone continued, it has no information about when they were fixed. Further, the network operator said that it has no evidence of issues outside Italy.

«

Bloomberg hyped this like crazy, but it feels storm-teacuppy here.
unique link to this extract


These ads think they know you • The New York Times

Stuart Thompson:

»

“The way ads are targeted today is radically different from the way it was done 10 or 15 years ago,” said Frederike Kaltheuner, who heads the corporate exploitation program at Privacy International. “It’s become exponentially more invasive, and most people are completely unaware of what kinds of data feeds into the targeting.”

With that in mind, we want to share how we targeted these ads, what we learned, and why it might disturb you.

Targeted advertising was once limited to simple contextual cues: visiting ESPN probably meant you’d see an ad for Nike. But advertising services today use narrow categories drawn from a mind-boggling number of sources to single out consumers. (Like many publishers, The Times uses targeted advertising to find potential subscribers and readers.)

To build the ads for our experiment, we imagined some extremely specific targets and built profiles of those people. Then we chose 16 attributes that matched those profiles from a list of about 30,000 – a list that’s rarely seen by people outside the industry.

We could do this because many companies, like retailers and credit card providers, sell customer information to data companies. Most data providers declined to tell us where their data comes from or how they built their models, so the sources in the ads below come from the ad experts who helped us create the campaign. Our experiment would have been blocked on Facebook because the company bans most ads showing how you’ve been targeted…

…“In the next election, I think it is inevitable that every single voter will have been profiled based on what they have been reading, watching and listening to for years online,” said Johnny Ryan, the chief policy officer at Brave, a private web browser that allows users to block ads and trackers.

«

Very clever piece of work.
unique link to this extract


Indonesia’s planning minister announces capital city move • BBC News

»

Indonesia is moving its capital city away from Jakarta, according to the country’s planning minister.

Bambang Brodjonegoro said President Joko Widodo had chosen to relocate the capital in “an important decision”.

The new location is not yet known. However state media reports one of the front runners is Palangkaraya, on the island of Borneo.

Jakarta, home to over 10 million people, is sinking at one of the fastest rates in the world.

The announcement comes after Mr Widodo declared victory in the country’s general election earlier this month, though official results will not be announced until May 22.

The idea of moving the capital has been floated several times since the country gained independence from the Dutch in 1945. In 2016, a survey found that the mega-city had the world’s worst traffic congestion. Government ministers have to be escorted by police convoys to get to meetings on time.

«

They’re moving it because of the sinking, not the traffic: at present rates the whole city will be underwater by 2050. That’s 30 years away. One generation.
unique link to this extract


Lackner’s carbon-capture technology moves to commercialization • Arizona State University

»

The proprietary technology acts like a tree that is thousands of times more efficient at removing CO2 from the air. The “mechanical trees” allow the captured gas to be sequestered or sold for re-use in a variety of applications, such as synthetic fuels, enhanced oil recovery or in food, beverage and agriculture industries. 

Unlike other carbon-capture technologies, SKH’s technology can remove CO2 from the atmosphere without the need to draw air through the system mechanically using energy-intensive devices. Instead, the technology uses the wind to blow air through the system. This makes it a passive, relatively low-cost and scalable solution that is commercially viable. If deployed at scale, the technology could lead to significant reductions in the levels of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere, helping to combat global warming…

…The “mechanical tree” is a novel geometery that is agnostic to wind direction. Each one contains a stack of sorbent-filled disks. When the tree-like column is fully extended and the disks spread apart, air flow makes contact with the disk surfaces and the CO2 gets bound up. During regeneration, the disks are lowered inside the bottom container. Inside the chamber, the CO2 is released from the sorbent. The released gas is then collected, purified, processed and put to other uses, while the disks are redeployed to capture more CO2.

«

Promising, though shouldn’t it just be sequestration?
unique link to this extract


This pollution-busting window cleans the air with photosynthesis • WIRED UK

Anna Marks:

»

What if your windows could photosynthesise? London-based design practice ecoLogicStudio has created Photo.Synth.Etica, a “biocurtain” that captures one kilogram of carbon dioxide per day – the equivalent of 20 large trees. The carbon-neutral biocurtain uses microalgae to capture carbon dioxide from polluted air and produce oxygen. “It is a new kind of urban symbiosis,” says co-founder Claudia Pasquero.

As the Sun’s rays shine through Photo.Synth.Etica, the microalgae photosynthesise: polluted urban air enters the bottom of the curtain and gradually rises to meet the cyanobacteria cells in the living cultures. These consume the toxic particles so that the air is cleaned as it rises, while also sequestering the carbon and producing oxygen, which is released at the top. “The curtain interacts with the air of the environment in which it is embedded,” Pasquero explains. “It acts as a medium that allows the air to flow through and trade CO2 with the microalgae before escaping the system.”

The curtain is designed to be hung from the side of a building. It is composed of 16 modules, each 2m x 7m, and made from two layers of transparent bioplastic, which are welded together to create pockets of microalgae suspended in a biogel medium. This results in a bright green, snake-like pattern that becomes luminescent at night.

«

Price between £270 to £1,800 per square metre, depending. Trees are pretty much free, of course, though they take a lot longer to “fabricate”.
unique link to this extract


Google Pixel 3 is a sales disappointment, sells less than the Pixel 2 • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

basically Google is admitting that there is some tough competition out there for the Pixel 3 and that the phone isn’t selling as well as its predecessor. Google doesn’t break out “hardware results” in its earnings report, so we can only guess at what the year-over-year difference is. It was bad enough to mention in an earnings call, though.

We weren’t huge fans of the changes in the Pixel 3. The smaller version was $799—$150 more than the Pixel 2 from the year earlier—and the larger Pixel 3 XL was $50 more than the Pixel 2 XL, or $899. For this extra money, Google downgraded from a metal back to glass, it stuck with a meager 4GB of RAM—the lowest of any Android flagship—and it even made some software blunders like locking users into its half-baked gesture navigation system (which it is still trying to fix in this year’s Android Q release). To top it all off, the designs were pretty ugly, ranging from the dated Pixel 3 bezels to the outrageously large display notch on the Pixel 3 XL.

As for the Pixel 3’s competition, Google has to deal with mainstream juggernauts like Apple’s iPhone XS and Samsung’s Galaxy S10—phones from two companies with a stronger focus on hardware, more carrier deals, and bigger advertising budgets. In the enthusiast market, Samsung offers higher specs, and OnePlus offers better value with a device like the OnePlus 6T.

Google’s Pixel distribution network is also downright terrible compared to the competition. Google sells the Pixel in only a tiny handful of countries, while its competitors have a worldwide presence. The Pixel 3 is for sale in a whopping 12 countries and has zero retail stores. In the US, Google’s only real carrier partner is Verizon.

«

The distribution network is much the same as last year. The key difference is the price, really. And would Pixel 2 owners upgrade? Google would be looking to get Pixel 1 owners, and skim off others. Too late, it seems.
unique link to this extract


Huawei gains record 34% of China’s declining smartphone market • Canalys

»

China’s smartphone market contracted 3% to 88.0m units in Q1 2019, making it the market’s worst performance since 2013. Market leader Huawei grew its share to a record 34%, up by more than 10% on the same period last year, making it the only vendor in the top five to report growth in an otherwise declining market. Huawei (including Honor) shipped just under 30m smartphones. It was followed by Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi and Apple, which each suffered year-on-year declines.

…”Oppo and Vivo are both shifting their product strategies to refresh their brands,” said Canalys Research Analyst Yiting Guan. Vivo is going for a bigger product portfolio in China to cover a wider range of consumer demographics than before, and now offers seven product families. Oppo has put a strong emphasis on its new Reno series to renew its appeal in the mid-to-high-end segment. More interestingly, its RealMe spin-off has been brought from India to China to compete at the low end with Xiaomi and Huawei, including Honor.

Xiaomi recorded quarterly growth against its weak Q4 last year as it improved its channel inventory situation, but still suffered a year-on-year decline in both shipments and market share…Apple shipped 6.5m iPhones in the last quarter, suffering its worst decline in two years. “Despite the iPhone’s installed base in China being well over 300 million, it is vital that Apple prevents users deserting it for Android vendors. Apple faces a challenge in China to localize its software and services offerings as quickly as in Western markets,” said Jia.

«

unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,056: the marijuana conviction cleanup, Wikipedia’s Brexit war, Apple defends app zap, will 5G mess up weather forecasts?, and more


Anki, the AI/robotics company behind Anki Drive, is shutting down. Now what for the cars? CC-licensed photo by Jason Kneen on Flickr.

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

An algorithm wipes clean the criminal pasts of thousands • BBC News

Dave Lee:

»

This month, a judge in California cleared thousands of criminal records with one stroke of his pen. He did it thanks to a ground-breaking new algorithm that reduces a process that took months to mere minutes. The programmers behind it say: we’re just getting started solving America’s urgent problems…

…It’s estimated there are a million people in California with a cannabis-related charge in their past, an invisible shackle that blocks opportunities to get housing, jobs and thousands of other things most of us would regard as necessities.

Yet fewer than 3% of people thought to qualify have sought to have their records cleared since the passing of the new law. It’s thought many are overwhelmed or intimidated by the complex expungement process. The clinic may only come to town once every few months, if at all. Others simply don’t know expungement is possible.

But now, work to automate this entire ordeal has begun – with remarkable results.

“I formed the opinion that this is really our responsibility,” said George Gascon, San Francisco’s district attorney. Though almost 10,000 people in the city were predicted to be eligible for expungement, just 23 had come forward.

So in January 2018, Mr Gascon pledged to proactively review past marijuana cases – but there was a snag.
San Francisco’s District Attorney George Gascon quickly realised doing the task manually would take too long.

“When we started to do this by hand, we recognised very rapidly that this was going to take a long time.”
He enlisted Code For America, a non-profit organisation that works on creating Silicon Valley-esque solutions to problems within the many antiquated systems powering the US government.

«

Tech for good! It can happen.
unique link to this extract


The once-hot robotics startup Anki is shutting down after raising more than $200 million • Recode

:

»

Anki, the robotics company that has raised over $200m in venture capital, is laying off its entire staff and the startup is shuttering, Recode has learned.

In a teary all-hands meeting on Monday morning, CEO Boris Sofman told his staff they would be terminated on Wednesday and that close to 200 employees would be paid a week of severance, according to people familiar with the matter. Sofman had told employees a few days earlier that the company was scrambling to find more money after a new round of financing fell through at the last minute, imperiling the company’s future.

The startup is frequently called “cute” for the little robots it produces like Cozmo, but it has raised serious money from investors like Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, whose co-founder, Marc Andreessen, at one point sat on the company’s board.

Anki said last fall that it “approached” $100m in revenue in 2017 and expected to exceed that figure in 2018. So this isn’t some small lemonade stand closing down.

Leadership had previously told employees that it was fielding acquisition interest from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Comcast.

The company said in a statement to Recode that it was left “without significant funding to support a hardware and software business and bridge to our long-term product roadmap.”

«

Damn. Anki did the self-driving cars that were demonstrated at Apple’s WWDC in 2013, but after that struggled to find a hit. Sofman has vision, though; I hope his next fares better. Again: the hardest thing to make in hardware is a profit.
unique link to this extract


The facts about parental control apps • Apple

»

We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened.

Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history. We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017.

MDM does have legitimate uses. Businesses will sometimes install MDM on enterprise devices to keep better control over proprietary data and hardware. But it is incredibly risky—and a clear violation of App Store policies—for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device. Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user’s device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes.

«

It’s very unusual for Apple to make a public statement like this. It removed 11 of 17 of the most-downloaded screen time/parental control apps, which the NY Times suggested was anti-competitive. Apple’s saying: not at all.
unique link to this extract


Global 5G wireless networks threaten weather forecasts • Nature

Alexandra Witze:

»

The US government has begun auctioning off blocks of wireless radio frequencies to be used for the next-generation mobile communications network known as 5G. But some of these frequencies lie close to those that satellites use for crucial Earth observations — and meteorologists are worried that 5G transmissions from cellphones and other equipment could interfere with their data collection.

Unless regulators or telecommunications companies take steps to reduce the risk of interference, Earth-observing satellites flying over areas of the United States with 5G wireless coverage won’t be able to detect concentrations of water vapour in the atmosphere accurately. Meteorologists in the United States and other countries rely on those data to feed into their models; without that information, weather forecasts worldwide are likely to suffer.

“This is a global problem,” says Jordan Gerth, a meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

«

But the US, as often happens, isn’t listening.
unique link to this extract


Why pleasure always trumps possessions • Financial Times

Janan Ganesh:

»

The savings rate among millennials is already dire. In 2017, the property magnate Tim Gurner said they had no right to bewail their asset-poverty while they subsisted on “smashed avocado at $19”. It was what the novelist Joyce Cary once called a “tumbril remark”: a Marie Antoinette-ish incitement to revolution.

Gurner was duly routed on social media for his lavish idea of the millennial lifestyle. No one thought to defend that lifestyle on its own terms. And it is eminently defensible. Is it really intelligent to spend the prime years of your life living below your means? Is the far-off prospect of an asset worth more than a consistent flow of sensory treats in the present?

Shakiest of all is the premise that an asset lasts and an experience does not. Once a pleasure has been consumed — a holiday taken, a concert attended — that is not the end of the matter. The memory becomes itself a kind of asset, and an inflation-proof one at that. It can sustain you later in life. And by later in life, I mean much earlier than I expected. I am already mawkishly wistful about my twenties, which were spent in rented flats that were better than anywhere I could have afforded to buy. The idea that I have “nothing to show for it” is eccentric. I have the best years of my life to show for it. A financial adviser would have had me in a Zone 6 grotto, saving up much cash, storing up no memories.

«

Because economists can’t value what they can’t price.
unique link to this extract


Making sense of Huawei • Balding’s World

Christopher Balding, a co-author of the “Who owns Huawei?” paper that I linked to last week, which Huawei sorta-kinda tried to rebut with a 90-minute press conference which ended up mostly confirming what the paper said:

»

There are a few remaining issues I would like to cover here given that there is some confusion or dispute on these points.

All unions in China are under the umbrella of the All China Federation of Trade Unions and all companies with more than 25 employees are required by law to have unions. Each union, at any level is responsible to the union organization above it. This upward relationship exists all the way so that every union in China is technically a member of the All China Federation of Trade Unions and responsible to its head. This is not an interpretation, this is clear Chinese law in the law on trade unions. Huawei even acknowledges this stating that “Huawei pays a portion of its compensation package to Shenzhen’s Federation of Trade Unions via Huawei’s own Union. Huawei’s Union is registered under Shenzhen’s Federation of Trade Unions.”

• Huawei has argued that this is a non-story because other companies have at times used similar structures. We never claimed this was an entirely unique structure. Our primary claim is that Huawei is not telling the truth by saying they are employee owned private company.

«

unique link to this extract


Made in China, exported to the world: the surveillance state • The New York Times

Paul Mozur, Jonah M. Kessel and Melissa Chan:

»

Ecuador’s system, which was installed beginning in 2011, is a basic version of a program of computerized controls that Beijing has spent billions to build out over a decade of technological progress. According to Ecuador’s government, these cameras feed footage to the police for manual review.

But a New York Times investigation found that the footage also goes to the country’s feared domestic intelligence agency, which under the previous president, Rafael Correa, had a lengthy track record of following, intimidating and attacking political opponents. Even as a new administration under President Lenín Moreno investigates the agency’s abuses, the group still gets the videos.

Under President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government has vastly expanded domestic surveillance, fueling a new generation of companies that make sophisticated technology at ever lower prices. A global infrastructure initiative is spreading that technology even further.

Ecuador shows how technology built for China’s political system is now being applied — and sometimes abused — by other governments. Today, 18 countries — including Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates and Germany — are using Chinese-made intelligent monitoring systems, and 36 have received training in topics like “public opinion guidance,” which is typically a euphemism for censorship, according to an October report from Freedom House, a pro-democracy research group.

«

Want to know what it isn’t good at? Stopping crimes such as assault.
unique link to this extract


A bitter turf war is raging on the Brexit Wikipedia page • WIRED UK

Matt Reynolds:

»

Originally posted in January 2014, what began life as “Proposed referendum on United Kingdom membership of the European Union” has bloated into a 11,757-word behemoth.

But the article’s vast size is the least of its problems. In private, and on discussion pages, editors tell tales of turf wars, sock puppet accounts, and anonymous figures hellbent on stuffing the article with information that supports their point of view.

“I was heavily involved with the Brexit page, but gave up more than a year ago because the level of bias on it proved impossible to address and the aggravation of trying to deal with that was not worthwhile,” says EddieHugh, a Wikipedia editor who has made 186 edits on the Brexit page – making them one of its most prolific contributors. Since leaving the page behind, EddieHugh now specialises in editing entries about obscure mid-century jazz musicians.

For the dedicated cabal of Wikipedians who are still editing the page, the battle against bias is never-ending. “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view,” reads the second of the Wikipedia “five pillars”, the fundamental principles that guide editing on the website. But who gets to decide what counts as neutrality?

“Brexiteer-types frequently complain that the page has an anti-Brexit bias because the page simply covers what credible economic research indicates about the likely impact of Brexit,” says Snoogans Snoogans, who has made 12% of all the edits on the page. As with all of the editors I spoke to for this piece, Snoogans asked to be referred to by their Wikipedia moniker.

“I edit a lot of controversial politics pages and have experienced death threats and attempts to doxx me as a result,” they say. On the Brexit page, Snoogans mainly adds information to the section that details the potential impact of Brexit on the UK and Europe, one of the most controversial aspects of the page.

«

Predictable, I suppose. But at least Wikipedia has checks and balances, of sorts.
unique link to this extract


Uber’s IPO and local network effects • Tech-Thoughts

Sameer Singh on Uber’s IPO prospectus, and the problems he sees ahead:

»

Unlike Airbnb and Amazon, Uber’s network effects exist purely within a tight geographical radius (within a few miles). Both Amazon and Airbnb could scale up a supply network in one location, leverage that to grow demand in another which would then attract more supply in that location and so on. However, Uber needs to scale up a supply network in one location and then start from scratch all over again at the next one. In other words, when Uber expands into a new market, its only advantage is capital. This is especially troublesome when first movers in local markets (e.g. Grab in Southeast Asia, Didi in China, Yandex in Russia, Ola in India etc.), have already established local supply networks, which makes competition even more of an uphill climb. 

Notably, the pattern of local network effects isn’t limited to the ridesharing business. It also affects food delivery, grocery delivery, classifieds, C2C marketplaces or any service that needs to be delivered locally (and in-person). One common theme among these industries is that tend to be regionally fragmented. Apart from Uber, can you think of a single, standalone and global player in ridesharing, food delivery or classifieds? The very nature of local network effects makes it nearly impossible (or in Uber’s case, prohibitively expensive) for these businesses to expand to multiple markets.

Uber has been attempting to divest local units and find other avenues of growth to make up for their network effect handicap. Micromobility is one that Uber seems particularly bullish about. The fact that nearly 50% of vehicle trips are under three miles clearly shows that there is latent demand for scooter and bike rental services. But the complete lack of network effects strains pricing power and unit economics even further.

«

Singh hasn’t been writing much lately, which is a loss to us all. He always has a smart take. There’s a remark in here about “asymptotic network effects” – when a network gets “good enough” – which can probably be broadened to social networks too.
unique link to this extract


Winter is here • The Ecologist

Nathan Thanki considers how well Game Of Thrones works as an allegory about our own attitude to climate change:

»

Everybody knows winter is coming. The Starks have been beating their drum about it forever. It’s literally their motto. Yet nobody seems to care. Sound familiar? 

The challenge in both our world and Game of Thrones is that existential threats don’t automatically unite the realms behind a common cause. Especially when said threats are seen to be far-off, either temporally or geographically.

Naive notions that logic would prevail doomed both Jon Snow’s and liberalism’s approach to communicating the problem. 

For some, seeing is believing and it is enough. But not for everybody, and certainly not for the likes of Cersei. Jon and friends go to extraordinary lengths to secure proof that the threat is real in the hope that this will convince Cersei to abandon her agenda and call a truce. In a better world it would. But neither we nor Jon live in that world. 

For Cersei, it doesn’t really matter that winter is coming to the north. All that matters is maintaining the power of her house and the pursuit of a narrow self-interest. If she can use the fact that winter is coming to her advantage, all the better. That should definitely sound familiar…

…Those in the centres of power in both worlds are as unmoved by faraway destruction as they are by the suffering of the people at their feet – be that in Fleabottom or the left-behind places of the industrialised world.

We would do well to remember that there’s no point appealing to the better natures of the Cersei Lannisters of this world.

«

unique link to this extract


The feature Apple needs to change in AirDrop • Yahoo Finance

Rob Pegoraro:

»

AirDrop’s default setting, which only lets people already in your contacts list send you files, isn’t the problem. But if you spend enough time with other people who use iPhones, you’ll probably find somebody not in your contacts list offering to share a file via AirDrop.

For example, Donald Glover used AirDrop to give away shoes at Coachella. And after my daughter’s Brownie troop had an event at our neighborhood’s Apple Store two weeks ago, the staff offered to AirDrop pictures of the kids to the parents on hand.

My wife was unable to take them up on this offer, since she uses an Android phone. But anybody with an iPhone would have only had to switch AirDrop to accepting files from “Contacts Only” to “Everyone,” either via the iOS Control Center or in the Settings app under the General heading…

The predictable result: creepy guys exploiting this to send photos of a particular body part to iPhones, especially those whose names suggest they’re used by women. It seems to happen most often on crowded trains, but in 2017, a friend had this happen on an airplane. Unfortunately, the flight attendants she summoned for help were unable to locate the offender and transfer him to the cargo hold.

Apple’s response every time has been to remind iPhone users that they can switch AirDrop back to “Contacts Only” or to “Receiving Off.” That’s not good enough. AirDrop’s architecture enables this abuse, and telling targets of it to change how they use this feature is a lame response.

The simplest fix would be to have AirDrop’s “Everyone” setting expire after a few minutes—the suggestion cybersecurity consultant Ken Munro offered to the BBC in 2015 after what appears to be the first reported case of “cyber flashing.”

«

I was ready to ignore this – 90% of people never shift from defaults – but for that “expire after time” suggestion, which is fair. Perhaps in iOS 13?
unique link to this extract


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

Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,055: the 5G threat, a new Chinese IoT vulnerability, fining Facebook, the climate change number, Google bans Baidu spinoff’s apps, and more


Swine fever has led to the slaughter of millions of pigs in China; expect pork prices to rise. CC-licensed photo by angieandsteve 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. No spoilers! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The terrifying potential of the 5G network • The New Yorker

Sue Halpern:

»

A totally connected world will also be especially susceptible to cyberattacks. Even before the introduction of 5G networks, hackers have breached the control center of a municipal dam system, stopped an Internet-connected car as it travelled down an interstate, and sabotaged home appliances. Ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches have become so common that more Americans are afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime. Adding more devices to the online universe is destined to create more opportunities for disruption. “5G is not just for refrigerators,” Spalding said. “It’s farm implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely different threat that we’ve never experienced before.”

Spalding’s solution, he told me, was to build the 5G network from scratch, incorporating cyber defenses into its design. Because this would be a massive undertaking, he initially suggested that one option would be for the federal government to pay for it and, essentially, rent it out to the telecom companies. But he had scrapped that idea. A later draft, he said, proposed that the major telecom companies—Verizon, AT+T, Sprint, and T-Mobile—form a separate company to build the network together and share it. “It was meant to be a nationwide network,” Spalding told me, not a nationalized one. “They could build this network and then sell bandwidth to their retail customers. That was one idea, but it was never that the government would own the network. It was always about, How do we get industry to actually secure the system?”

«

unique link to this extract


P2P weakness exposes millions of IoT devices • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs:

»

The security flaws involve iLnkP2P, software developed by China-based Shenzhen Yunni Technology. iLnkP2p is bundled with millions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, including security cameras and Webcams, baby monitors, smart doorbells, and digital video recorders.

iLnkP2P is designed to allow users of these devices to quickly and easily access them remotely from anywhere in the world, without having to tinker with one’s firewall: Users simply download a mobile app, scan a barcode or enter the six-digit ID stamped onto the bottom of the device, and the P2P software handles the rest.

But according to an in-depth analysis shared with KrebsOnSecurity by security researcher Paul Marrapese, iLnkP2P devices offer no authentication or encryption and can be easily enumerated, allowing potential attackers to establish a direct connection to these devices while bypassing any firewall restrictions.

Marrapese said a proof-of-concept script he built identified more than two million vulnerable devices around the globe (see map above). He found that 39% of the vulnerable IoT things were in China; another 19% are located in Europe; 7% of them are in use in the United States.

«

You might say “why would you trust Chinese P2P software?” but the problem is that it’s often embedded in the device, and you don’t really get a chance to query it. And Chinese software is notoriously bad. There’ll be a botnet using these within a few days, at a guess.
unique link to this extract


If a $5bn fine is chump change, how do you punish Facebook? • The New York Times

Charlie Warzel:

»

That the FTC is negotiating what appears to be a trivial fine, suggests that the organization isn’t just deferential to Facebook, but that it doesn’t truly understand the company’s power.

“We don’t have a good regulatory framework [for Facebook] because this kind of scale and impact is unprecedented. And our ideas for remedies, things like fines, are based on an outdated view of how markets work,” the Glitch CEO and longtime developer, Anil Dash, told me.

“The FTC is based on the premise of markets where consumers have choice,” Mr. Dash continued. “As long as their remedies are conceived of within that outdated framework, it will remain structurally impossible for them to hold any major platform accountable in any meaningful way.”

Don’t believe the critics? Then just ask the market. As BuzzFeed News pointed out on Wednesday, in just one hour of after-hours trading after signaling its impending $3bn to $5bn fine, Facebook’s market capitalization increased by $40bn.

Which means that most fines likely to be considered by the FTC might amount to what Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, described to me as “a parking ticket and a news release.”

Some with insider experience disagree. A former FTC consumer protection official told me Thursday that if the numbers they’d heard around the fine are real, “they might not be transformative to the bottom line” but would be “symbolic of the gravity.” Similarly, they believed the organization could add requirements that “change the way Facebook handles and shares data. I’d be very surprised if Facebook didn’t continue in the same general lines of business, but operating with more restrictions,” they said.

«

Nope, that’s not going to be what they do. They’ll just plough on.
unique link to this extract


Chinese hog farms ‘panic’ as swine virus continues roiling herds • Bloomberg

:

»

China, which produces about half the world’s pork, has seen its biggest ever drop in the number of hogs over the past few months, said Wang. The country’s productive sow herds slumped 21% on year in March after a 19% drop in February, ministry data showed. As well as leading to a surge in pork prices, the epidemic could also cut demand for soybeans, an animal feed ingredient, where China is the world’s largest importer.

Lack of bio-security measures at many of small farms, coupled with a large number of live hogs being transported long distances, are to blame for the spread of the disease, said Wang. The outbreak in Hainan on Sunday follows the occurrence at two farms confirmed Friday by the Ministry of Agriculture.

China’s soybean imports in the year to September may fall to 85-86 million tons, said Chen Gang, vice chairman of the China Vegetable Oil Industry Association, below the US Department of Agriculture’s 88 million ton forecast.

The decline in the pig herd will reduce demand for soymeal, a product of soy crushing, for the first time in years, said Chen, whose association overseas the major crushers including those run by state-owned Cofco.

«

Expect the price of pork to go up. It’s also going to wallop soy farmers when demand goes down.
unique link to this extract


The one number you need to know about climate change • MIT Technology Review

David Rotman:

»

It’s the social cost of carbon… For most of us, it’s a way to grasp how much our carbon emissions will affect the world’s health, agriculture, and economy for the next several hundred years. Maximilian Auffhammer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes it this way: it’s approximately the damage done by driving from San Francisco to Chicago, assuming that about a ton of carbon dioxide spits out of the tailpipe over those 2,000 miles.

Common estimates of the social cost of that ton are $40 to $50. The cost of the fuel for the journey in an average car is currently around $225. In other words, you’d pay roughly 20% more to take the social cost of the trip into account.

The number is contentious, however. A US federal working group in 2016, convened by President Barack Obama, calculated it at around $40, while the Trump administration has recently put it at $1 to $7. Some academic researchers cite numbers as high as $400 or more…

…the researchers have found that climate change will kill far more people than once thought. Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago economist who co-directs the Climate Impact Lab with Hsiang, says that previous mortality estimates had looked at seven wealthy cities, most in relatively cool climates. His group looked at data gleaned from 56% of the world’s population. It found that the social cost of carbon due to increased mortality alone is $30, nearly as high as the Obama administration’s estimate for the social cost of all climate impacts. An additional 9.1 million people will die every year by 2100, the group estimates, if climate change is left unchecked (assuming a global population of 12.7 billion people).

«

I’d have gone for the $400 figure. Straight off, you need to get people to realise the gravity of what’s ahead. It’s so ironic that the Avengers: Endgame film is pulling in more than $1bn at the box office, and its baddie basically does what climate change does. But faster.
unique link to this extract


Google is banning a Play Store developer with more than half a billion app installs and ties to Baidu • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman:

»

As of today, 46 apps from DO Global, which is partly owned by internet giant Baidu, are gone from the Play store. BuzzFeed News also found that DO Global apps no longer offer ad inventory for purchase via Google’s AdMob network, suggesting the ban has also been extended to the internet giant’s ad products.

Google would not comment specifically on the removals, but a source with knowledge of the action said the company was moving to ban DO Global overall, and that more app removals would follow.

“We actively investigate malicious behavior, and when we find violations, we take action, including the removal of a developer’s ability to monetize their app with AdMob or publish on Play,” a Google spokesperson said.

Prior to the app removals, DO Global had roughly 100 apps in the Play store with over 600 million installs. Their removal from the Play store marks one of the biggest bans, if not the biggest, Google has ever instituted against an app developer. DO Global was a subsidiary of Baidu until it was spun out last summer; Baidu retains a 34% stake.

After this story was published. DO Global issued a statement to BuzzFeed News that acknowledged and apologized for “irregularities” in its apps, and said it accepts Google’s decision.

«

Hooray for curated app stores, I guess, and users (and journalists) who keep a close eye on them.
unique link to this extract


Facebook admits it ran hundreds of Trump campaign ads that violate Facebook rules • Popular

Judd Legum:

»

Melania Trump’s birthday is April 26. For weeks, the Trump campaign has used the First Lady’s big day — she’ll be 49 — to build their email list. They’ve run thousands of ads urging Facebook users to sign a “card to wish Melania a Happy Birthday!”

But today the Trump campaign is doing something different. It has produced hundreds of ads targeting women in practically every city in Texas.

These ads, accessible through the Facebook political ad library, go on and on and on. The campaign appears to be leaning on Melania to bolster Trump’s low support with women. Focusing on Texas, which some Democrats believe is the next swing state, is also an interesting choice.

But these ads also explicitly violate Facebook’s ad guidelines because they include “prohibited content.” Facebook’s rules prohibit ads that reference the “personal attributes” of the people being targeted.

“Ads must not contain content that asserts or implies personal attributes” Facebook’s rules state, including “direct or indirect assertions or implications about a person’s… gender identity.” The phrase “Attention Ladies” at the beginning of each of these ads violates the guidelines…

…Asked what Facebook is doing to prevent political ads that violate its policies from running in the first place, a spokesperson said, “we’re always looking to improve our enforcement, which is never perfect.” The company acknowledges that the ads were “subject to Facebook’s ad review system, which relies primarily on automated tools to check ads against these policies.”

«

So basically nothing at all, especially if it misses “Attention Ladies”.
unique link to this extract


Glitz, glamour, now guilty: spectacular fall of New York’s socialite scammer • The Guardian

Edward Helmore:

»

[Anna] Sorokin, a would-be art collector with plans to open a members-only arts club, carried out a lengthy and elaborate fraud on New York’s glitziest social strata under the name of Anna Delvey.

On Thursday, the Russian-born 28-year-old dubbed the “Soho grifter” was found guilty of swindling hotels, restaurants, a private jet operator and banks out of more than $200,000. She faces up to 15 years in prison.

But some of the charges in a case that has transfixed Manhattan society didn’t hold, including an alleged attempt to fraudulently obtain a $22m (£17m) loan, and an accusation that she had swindled $60,000 from a friend who had paid for a lavish trip to Morocco.

But for the most part, a jury agreed that Sorokin had fraudulently manoeuvred herself into “the best position to take money” from a social milieu that exists in a twilight of openings and events on the periphery of a tight-knit world of wealthy art collectors, dealers and auctioneers…

“‘Fake it until you make it,’” lawyer Todd Spodek said during opening statements in her trial last month. Spodek conceded that his client’s practice was unethical but, he claimed, not illegal because she planned to pay everyone back. “Any millennial will tell you,” he said, “it is not uncommon to have delusions of grandeur.”

«

I thought I had linked to The Cut’s coverage of this from May 2018, but apparently not. It’s fascinating.
unique link to this extract


Things got weird for the stablecoin Tether – Bloomberg

Matt Levine:

»

A month later, according to Bitfinex’s and Tether’s lawyers, they started to worry that the money at Crypto Capital had maybe already been stolen, and that the $625 million that Bitfinex transferred to Tether in their Crypto Capital accounts might be worthless. A month later! As I put it on Twitter, “Bitfinex took $625m in real money at a real bank from Tether, and in exchange gave Tether back $625m in fake money at a fake bank.” Or as the attorney general’s office put it:

»

That “credit” was illusory, though, since Bitfinex knew at the time that Crypto Capital was refusing or unable to process withdrawals or return funds. In effect, in November 2018 Respondents fraudulently shifted most or all of Bitfinex’s risk of loss of several hundred million dollars onto Tether’s balance sheet, but continued to represent to the market that tethers were fully “backed” by US dollars sitting safely in a bank account. They were not.

«

Now, to be fair, Bitfinex and Tether deny that the money at Crypto Capital was stolen. Bitfinex put out a statement this morning saying that “the New York Attorney General’s court filings were written in bad faith and are riddled with false assertions, including as to a purported $850m ‘loss’ at Crypto Capital”:

»

On the contrary, we have been informed that these Crypto Capital amounts are not lost but have been, in fact, seized and safeguarded. We are and have been actively working to exercise our rights and remedies and get those funds released.

«

Also, to be fair, after they “grew concerned” about Crypto Capital in December, Bitfinex and Tether re-papered this transaction, reversing the $625m Crypto Capital transfer and instead characterizing the money that Bitfinex took from Tether as a loan (that Bitfinex will have to pay back with real money rather than with a ledger entry at Crypto Capital). On the other hand they also expanded the size of the loan to let Bitfinex take even more money from Tether.

«

This is absolutely stunning, though completely expected. Tether has looked to me either like a money-laundering scheme or a scam or both for months. Seems like it might be the latter.
unique link to this extract


Managing editor, news • Amazon Jobs

:

»

The Managing Editor, News will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking crime news alerts to our neighbors. This position is best suited for a candidate with experience and passion for journalism, crime reporting, and people management.

«

The suitable candidate, besides having around five years’ experience in a breaking news environment, will have a “deep and nuanced knowledge of American crime trends”.

I’m guessing, since they’ll be working in Amazon’s Ring (video doorbell) business, that they’re not going to be delivering the latest about impeachment or Paul Manafort getting banged up; it’ll be about Prowlers Reported In Your Area. News to scare people into buying (or loving) your product. What a world.
unique link to this extract


Apple held talks with Intel about buying its smartphone-modem chip business • WSJ

Tripp Mickle, Cara Lombardo and Dana Cimilluca:

»

The talks started around last summer and continued for months before halting recently, around the time Apple reached a multiyear supply agreement for modems from Intel rival Qualcomm Inc., QCOM +1.85% some of the people said.

Intel is now exploring strategic alternatives for its modem chip business, including a possible sale—to Apple or another acquirer, the people said. It has already received expressions of interest from a number of parties and has hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to manage the process, which is in an early stage. Should there be a deal, it could yield as much as a few billion dollars for Intel, some of the people said.

The Intel-Apple talks, which haven’t been previously reported, reflect growing openness by the iPhone maker toward the idea of big acquisitions, people familiar with the company’s operations said. The talks also are part of broader tumult in the smartphone sector as sales growth has stalled, squeezing the iPhone business that has long driven Apple’s profits…

…Selling the modem business would allow Intel to unload a costly operation that was losing about $1bn annually, according to another person familiar with its performance. Any sale would likely include staff, a portfolio of patents and modem designs related to multiple generations of wireless technology, said Patrick Moorhead, principal at Moor Insights & Strategy, a technology firm.

«

Entirely predictable that Apple would look at buying this. It probably decided just to hire all the useful staff instead. (Interesting that the story has a cast-of-thousands byline. Most stories like this have a single writer.)
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,054: the Tesla hunters, expiring app permissions on Facebook, Kodi boxes are malware traps, are YouTube kids exploited?, and more


Greta Thunberg stopped using airplanes years ago – and is dismissive of politicians’ efforts so far on climate change. CC-licensed photo by World Economic Forum on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Getting warmer. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The uncanny power of Greta Thunberg’s climate-change rhetoric • The New Yorker

Sam Knight:

»

In 2015, the year Thunberg turned twelve, she gave up flying. She travelled to London by train, which took two days. Her voice, which is young and Scandinavian, has a discordant, analytical clarity. Since 2006, when David Cameron, as a reforming Conservative Party-leadership contender, visited the Arctic Circle, Britain’s political establishment has congratulated itself on its commitment to combatting climate change. Thunberg challenged this record, pointing out that, while the United Kingdom’s carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen by 37% since 1990, this figure does not include the effects of aviation, shipping, or trade. “If these numbers are included, the reduction is around ten% since 1990—or an average of 0.4% a year,” she said.

She described Britain’s eagerness to frack for shale gas, to expand its airports, and to search for dwindling oil and gas reserves in the North Sea as absurd. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before,” she said. “Like now. And those answers don’t exist anymore. Because you did not act in time.”

The climate-change movement feels powerful today because it is politicians—not the people gluing themselves to trucks—who seem deluded about reality. Thunberg says that all she wants is for adults to behave like adults, and to act on the terrifying information that is all around us. But the impact of her message does not come only from her regard for the facts. Thunberg is an uncanny, gifted orator. Last week, the day after the fire at Notre-Dame, she told the European Parliament that “cathedral thinking” would be necessary to confront climate change.

Yesterday, Thunberg repeated the phrase. “Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking,” she said. “We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

«

The failure in politics laid bare. (I didn’t know that detail about her taking the train. Nor, I think, did a lot of those sneering on social media.)
unique link to this extract


The crowdsourced social media swarm betting Tesla will crash and burn • Los Angeles Times

Russ Mitchell:

»

Machine Planet [their Twitter handle] belongs to a large and growing network of Tesla skeptics who connect on Twitter through $TslaQ — Tesla’s stock symbol, followed by Q, a stock exchange notation for a company in bankruptcy. Which Tesla, to be clear, is not. What Tesla is, relatively speaking, is heavily shorted: About 32.7 million of its shares, or 27.7% of those available for trade, have been borrowed by short sellers and then sold. They must be paid back at some point — at a lower price, the shorts hope.

Pronounced Tesla-Q, the channel has emerged as a crowd-sourced stock research platform. Contributors divide up research duties according to personal interest and ability, with no one in charge.

Some use commercial databases to track Tesla-loaded ships from San Francisco to Europe and China. Some are experts at automotive leasing or convertible bonds. Some repost customer complaints about Tesla quality and service. One contributor, whose Twitter handle is TeslaCharts, assembles collected data to offer graphical representations of Tesla’s own reports and $TslaQ’s findings.

And some do reconnaissance, posting photos and videos of Tesla storage lots, distribution centers, even the company’s Fremont assembly plant as seen from above.

A major aim is to change the mind of Tesla stock bulls and the media. The research helps individual short sellers decide when to move in and out of the stock. But it’s clear from the posts that $TslaQ can be just as vitriolic as Tesla fans are adoring.

«

unique link to this extract


Why won’t Twitter treat white supremacy like ISIS? Because it would mean banning some Republican politicians too • Motherboard

Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler:

»

At a Twitter all-hands meeting on March 22, an employee asked a blunt question: Twitter has largely eradicated Islamic State propaganda off its platform. Why can’t it do the same for white supremacist content?

An executive responded by explaining that Twitter follows the law, and a technical employee who works on machine learning and artificial intelligence issues went up to the mic to add some context. (As Motherboard has previously reported, algorithms are the next great hope for platforms trying to moderate the posts of their hundreds of millions, or billions, of users.)

With every sort of content filter, there is a tradeoff, he explained. When a platform aggressively enforces against ISIS content, for instance, it can also flag innocent accounts as well, such as Arabic language broadcasters. Society, in general, accepts the benefit of banning ISIS for inconveniencing some others, he said.

In separate discussions verified by Motherboard, that employee said Twitter hasn’t taken the same aggressive approach to white supremacist content because the collateral accounts that are impacted can, in some instances, be Republican politicians.

«

Twitter insists this is “completely untrue”. But it’s peculiar that David Duke and similar can blather on without any action.
unique link to this extract


API updates and important changes • Facebook Developer News blog

Eddie O’Neil:

»

as of today, previously approved user permissions that your app has not used or accessed in the past 90 days may be considered expired. Access to expired permissions will be revoked. Going forward, we will periodically review, audit, and remove permissions that your app has not used. Developers can submit for App Review to re-gain access to expired permissions.

«

Good idea – and it would be great if other platforms did this too. Why not make it the default on Twitter, iOS, Android? 90 days is a long time not to use an app or its permissions.
unique link to this extract


Facebook racism? Black users say racism convos blocked as hate speech • USA Today

Jessica Guynn:

»

For Wysinger, an activist whose podcast The C-Dubb Show frequently explores anti-black racism, the troubling episode [of Liam Neeson’s talking about wanting when young to kill someone black in retaliation for an attack on a friend] recalled the nation’s dark history of lynching, when charges of sexual violence against a white woman were used to justify mob murders of black men.

“White men are so fragile,” she fired off, sharing William’s post with her friends, “and the mere presence of a black person challenges every single thing in them.”

It took just 15 minutes for Facebook to delete her post for violating its community standards for hate speech. And she was warned if she posted it again, she’d be banned for 72 hours.

Wysinger glared at her phone, but wasn’t surprised. She says black people can’t talk about racism on Facebook without risking having their posts removed and being locked out of their accounts in a punishment commonly referred to as “Facebook jail.” For Wysinger, the Neeson post was just another example of Facebook arbitrarily deciding that talking about racism is racist.

“It is exhausting,” she says, “and it drains you emotionally.”

Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims it’s trying to protect.

«

unique link to this extract


Apple power adapters recalled because they risk shocking people • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

»

Apple on Thursday announced a recall of some AC wall adapters that were sold in Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Kingdom because they may “break and create a risk of electrical shock,” the company said. Customers who own them are asked to stop using them immediately, following six “incidents” Apple knows about.

Apple included the wall plugs with some of its iOS and Mac products in the aforementioned locations and sold them between 2003 and 2010. The plug was also included in Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, which was sold worldwide. Customers can identify if their device is among those recalled by looking at the inside of the white adapter. Just unplug it first.

Apple said that affected devices have “no letters on the inside slot where it attaches to the main power adapter.”

«

Looks like a shonky batch got through the QA process.
unique link to this extract


Pirated streaming devices are filled with malware, researchers find • CNET

Alfred Ng:

»

While you may have bought a bona fide Apple TV or Roku to watch shows on Netflix or Hulu, there’s an entire market online for jailbroken and modified devices that are tuned to watch this same content for free. They come at a much cheaper price and offer free, unlimited access to shows that you’d normally have to pay a subscription fee for.

These devices work just like a Roku or a Fire TV Stick – you plug it into your TV and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. In some cases, they’re loaded with apps.

If the hardware isn’t laced with malware, the apps are, Timber Wolfe, a principal at Dark Wolfe Consulting, found in his research. He said 40% of apps for these devices were infected with malware that can take over a camera or microphone on the network within the first hour.

As viewers move to streaming devices to watch shows, like Apple TVs, Rokus, Chromecasts and Fire TVs, black market sellers have capitalized on cordcutters by offering pirated alternatives. Cybercriminals have taken notice, by targeting these bootleg boxes with malware, researchers found.

«

Not just the camera: these “Kodi boxes” grab usernames and passwords by probing the user network; people who buy them are seven times more likely to report problems with malware.
unique link to this extract


‘It’s not play if you’re making money’: how Instagram and YouTube disrupted child labour laws • The Guardian

Julia Carrie Wong:

»

Somewhere along the spectrum between garden variety stage-parenting and straight-up abuse are situations such as the headline-grabbing April Fool’s Day “prank” pulled by YouTube stars Cole and Savannah LaBrant on their daughter, six-year-old Everleigh Rose.

Earlier this month, the couple published a video showing Everleigh in distress. “You haven’t even told the vlog yet, do you want to tell the vlog?” Cole LaBrant prompted the child, as she cried and hid her face under a blanket in the opening moments of the video. The tears were the result of the LaBrants telling Everleigh they were going to give her dog away but they didn’t mean it; the dog giveaway was an April Fool’s Day prank gone too far…

…The LaBrants did not respond to questions about whether they pay Everleigh a percentage of their YouTube revenues or have a savings account for her.

To Paul Petersen, legal protections like those in California should apply equally to Everleigh, who lives in the state, and the Hobson kids in Arizona or the McClures in New Jersey.

“It’s shameful” said Petersen, who founded a support and advocacy group for former child performers, A Minor Consideration, in 1991.

“YouTube is in San Bruno, California, which is under the authority of California law,” he added. “If you’re going to broadcast the images of minor children and pay them, the provisions of California law must apply. That is the position of A Minor Consideration. That’s why we changed the law.”

«

Rather like Uber, it seems as though geographical law is going to catch up with YouTube and those who exploit it.
unique link to this extract


China exploits fleet of US satellites to strengthen police and military power • WSJ

Brian Spegele and Kate O’Keeffe:

»

US law effectively prohibits American companies from exporting satellites to China, where domestic technology lags well behind America’s. But the US doesn’t regulate how a satellite’s bandwidth is used once the device is in space. That has allowed China to essentially rent the capacity of US-built satellites it wouldn’t be allowed to buy, a Wall Street Journal investigation found.

Tangled webs of satellite ownership and offshore firms have helped China’s government achieve its goals. Some of America’s biggest companies, including private-equity firm Carlyle Group in addition to Boeing, have indirectly facilitated China’s efforts, the Journal found.

All this appears to run counter to the US’s stance of confronting China’s military buildup and condemning what international watchdog groups describe as widespread human-rights abuses by China’s police. That includes in far-flung territories, where the satellites help the government beam communications. Current and former US officials who reviewed the Journal’s findings called the satellite deals worrisome examples of China using U.S. commercial technology for strategic gain.

“It’s a serious ethical and moral problem as well as a national-security issue,” said Larry Wortzel, a former chairman of the bipartisan US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a group that advises Congress.

Boeing, in response to questions, said it has put on hold its latest satellite deal involving China, the one that would bolster the Chinese rival to GPS.

«

unique link to this extract


The promises and perils of the AI-powered airport of the future • Fast Company

Devin Liddell:

»

Imagine even an early version—informed by cameras, sensors, and an airport network in which every passenger and every bag is a node—that simply develops a basic understanding of a few interrelated data sets. A computer vision system with a dynamic comprehension of who’s at the gate and who’s not, the bags they have and the other people they’re traveling with, and even how these people physically move, can then bring those disparate data sets together to answer the question that matters most: How can we board everyone in the fastest way that never creates a line? The system would also coordinate communications with you and your fellow passengers in ways that are far more personalized than the class- and zone-based boarding routines used today. This future could liberate flyers—and the gate itself—in ways that are difficult to predict. At the very least, airport gates would feature fewer crowded waiting rooms, and passengers would spend more leisure time at airport restaurants and stores—or, even better, less time in the airport overall.

There is a more pessimistic side to this narrative, though. If AI can be used to optimize airport and airline processes, it can be used to re-architect those processes in ways that don’t necessarily benefit passengers, and instead benefit commercial interests. Put simply, AI’s strength at seeing what’s happening could be used to manipulate passengers. That fatigued family with three bored and hungry kids? AI could help ensure they’re funneled through a security checkpoint that’s adjacent to a toy shop or fast-food restaurant where they are more likely to make impulsive purchases.

«

Plenty more ideas too. Though it doesn’t have to be AI, does it? And the facial recognition element worries people.
unique link to this extract


It’s 2019 and USB-C is still a mess • Android Authority

Robert Triggs lets rip. I think that all you need to know is contained in the following:

»

Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article first published in 2018. 

«

That’s not to say that Triggs hasn’t done some good work here to show what a mess things are. Definitely worth your time, if only for the teeth-grinding nodding frustration. (And to show how messed up things are, I have two tags for this topic: “usbc” and “usb-c”. Can’t even standardise on that.)
unique link to this extract


The truth about dentistry • The Atlantic

Ferris Jabr:

»

Studies that explicitly focus on overtreatment [unnecessary procedures for financial gain] in dentistry are rare, but a recent field experiment provides some clues about its pervasiveness. A team of researchers at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university, asked a volunteer patient with three tiny, shallow cavities to visit 180 randomly selected dentists in Zurich. The Swiss Dental Guidelines state that such minor cavities do not require fillings; rather, the dentist should monitor the decay and encourage the patient to brush regularly, which can reverse the damage. Despite this, 50 of the 180 dentists suggested unnecessary treatment. Their recommendations were incongruous: Collectively, the overzealous dentists singled out 13 different teeth for drilling; each advised one to six fillings. Similarly, in an investigation for Reader’s Digest, the writer William Ecenbarger visited 50 dentists in 28 states in the U.S. and received prescriptions ranging from a single crown to a full-mouth reconstruction, with the price tag starting at about $500 and going up to nearly $30,000.

A multitude of factors has conspired to create both the opportunity and the motive for widespread overtreatment in dentistry. In addition to dentistry’s seclusion from the greater medical community, its traditional emphasis on procedure rather than prevention, and its lack of rigorous self-evaluation, there are economic explanations. The financial burden of entering the profession is high and rising. In the U.S., the average debt of a dental-school graduate is more than $200,000. And then there’s the expense of finding an office, buying new equipment, and hiring staff to set up a private practice. A dentist’s income is entirely dependent on the number and type of procedures he or she performs; a routine cleaning and examination earns only a baseline fee of about $200.

In parallel with the rising cost of dental school, the amount of tooth decay in many countries’ populations has declined dramatically over the past four decades, mostly thanks to the introduction of mass-produced fluoridated toothpaste in the 1950s and ’60s.

«

unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,053: Facebook faces $3bn fine, AirPods 3 on the way?, laundry robot folds without folding, the Fold’s fatal flaw, and more


Huawei says its P30 can spruce up a smartphone shot of the moon. Others don’t think so. CC-licensed photo by Christopher Dart on Flickr.

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

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

Facebook sets aside billions of dollars for a potential FTC fine • The Washington Post

Elizabeth Dwoskin and Tony Romm:

»

Facebook on Wednesday said it would set aside $3bn to cover costs in its ongoing investigation with the US Federal Trade Commission over the social media company’s privacy practices, as its recent scandals take a toll on its balance sheet in a big way.

That number, which the company said could ultimately range between $3bn and $5bn, correlates with the size of the fine the agency is expected to levy against the tech giant and would be represent the largest the FTC has ever imposed.

Facebook’s decision to set aside billions of dollars comes as the company continues negotiating with the FTC on a settlement that would end its investigation. As part of those talks, federal officials have sought to force Facebook to pay a fine into the billions of dollars, sources previously told the Post. That would set a new record for the largest fine imposed by the FTC for a repeat privacy violation, after Google had to pay $22.5m a few years ago.

The FTC came to determine that violations could result in a multi-billion dollar fine after computing the number of times Facebook breached a 2011 order with the government to improve its privacy practices.

«

This is going to be quite a thing to watch. Will Facebook, like Google, be able to shrug it off and move on? If the FTC hands down that size of fine it’s going to lead a lot of news bulletins. That will get a lot of peoples’ attention.
unique link to this extract


Laundroid company folds before its giant robot does • Engadget

Nick Summers:

»

A small part of us always knew the Laundroid was too good to be true. The black obelisk, developed by Japanese company Seven Dreamers, was supposed to be a washing machine, dryer, ironing and laundry-folding robot rolled into one. It was the perfect appliance, in short, for chore-dodging so-and-sos who hate dealing with grimy clothes. But that dream has come to a predictable end. Today, Seven Dreamers filed for bankruptcy in Japan, all but ensuring its halo product will never reach store shelves. According to Teikoku Databank, a private credit research agency, the company owes 2.25 billion yen ($20.1 million USD) to 200 creditors.

Clearly, the product was too ambitious.

«

Ya think? But, good headline.
unique link to this extract


Huawei: why UK is at odds with its cyber-allies • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

»

Australia concluded in August that it was impossible to “mitigate” the national security risks involved in allowing Huawei to form any part of its 5G network, because next-generation networks would operate in a different way to their predecessors.

The reason for this, it added, was that the relationship between two distinct bits of the network would change.

The first part – “the core” – it said was where the “most sensitive functions occur”, including device authentication, voice and data-routing and billing.

The second – “the edge” – referred to equipment including antennae and base stations that is used to capture the radio signals emitted by wireless devices and send them into the core.

The key phrase in a ministerial statement then explained: “The distinction between the core and the edge will disappear over time.”

One of the country’s spy chiefs, Mike Burgess, later expanded on this, saying that as 5G technologies matured, the expectation was that the distinction between the edge and core “collapses” because “sensitive functions” would begin to move outside of the protected part.

Part of the reason for this, he explained, would be to take advantage of the lower latencies 5G offers – the lag between issuing a command and getting a response. This, for example, could help make it safe to direct surgical robots or remote-controlled vehicles from afar.

«

However Theresa May thinks this doesn’t matter – against the advice of her defence secretary and home secretary (the latter is advised by the security services), she has apparently ruled that Huawei can be used in non-core 5G systems.
unique link to this extract


Huawei P30 Pro ‘Moon Mode’ is mired in new controversy • Android Authority

:

»

new testing of this Moon Mode feature suggests Huawei’s method of getting shots like the one above is shady at best and unethical at worst, if the testing results are legitimate. (Android Authority Ed: This sentence has been slightly altered from the original to reflect the ambiguity of the test results).

The official user’s guide for the Huawei P30 Pro describes Moon Mode as such: “Moon Mode helps to adequately capture the beauty of the moon along with fine details like moonbeams and shadows.”

Supposedly, this is how the system works:
• A user holds the Huawei P30 Pro towards the moon and zooms in a bit using pinch-to-zoom on the camera.
• The P30 Pro identifies (using AI) that the user is trying to take a photo of the moon, and thus suggests Moon Mode.
• The user selects Moon Mode and the camera system then “helps you get a clear shot” using the aforementioned algorithms.

Huawei doesn’t go into any specific detail on how the Moon Mode algorithm actually works. From the language in the user’s guide and marketing materials, Huawei seems to suggest that the algorithm takes the information in your specific photo and then enhances that specific image by using known information about the face of the moon to clarify, stabilize, and otherwise “fix” the image.

According to anecdotal research by some industrious photographers though, this is potentially not completely true. According to tests performed by Wang Yue at Zhihu, the Huawei P30 Pro isn’t just enhancing the image information the user captures but actually placing pre-existing imagery of the moon into the photo.

«

There’s a more detailed examination of this (in Chinese) at Zhihu. It sure feels like Huawei is streeeeeetching the truth here, which it has done a number of times in its claims. (In its response to AA, it says that it “recognises and optimizes details within an image” but doesn’t replace them.) Guess it needs someone in the west to try a picture in a few weeks’ time at the full moon.
unique link to this extract


LG Electronics to suspend mobile phones production in South Korea this year: Yonhap • Reuters

Heekyong Yang and Ju-min Park:

»

South Korea’s LG Electronics plans to suspend manufacturing of its loss-making mobile phones in the country this year and shift the production to its existing plant in Vietnam, Yonhap News Agency said on Wednesday.

Citing an unidentified source, Yonhap reported that LG decided to move its local handset production to Vietnam to help turn around the money-losing smartphones division.

LG’s mobile business, in the red for seven quarters, and intensifying price competition in the global TV market likely weighed on its first quarter earnings, analysts have said.

«

Can’t see it making a difference. And the mobile business has been losing money for 14 quarters, not seven. The South Korean factory does high-end phones, which is 10%-20% of its output. The mobile is circling the drain; or, if you prefer, the event horizon.
unique link to this extract


AirPods 3 said to be launched by year-end 2019 • Digitimes

Aaron Lee and Willis Ke:

»

Apple is reportedly set to release its third-generation AirPods for sales by the end of 2019, with the new wireless earphones to incorporate a noise cancellation function. And Taiwan’s Inventec reportedly will be the major assembler of AirPods 3, while China’s Luxshare Precision will also grab part of the orders for the new device, according to industry sources.

Apple has dominated the global market for true wireless headsets. Statistics show that the company delivered 35 million pairs of AirPods in 2018, commanding a 75% global market share. Sales boom of AirPods is expected to linger on, with annual shipments likely to surge to 50 million sets in 2019.

Inspired by the booming sales of AirPods, many consumer brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi and web giants including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are also moving to roll out their own true wireless earphones to cash in on the growing demand, the sources said.

To meet challenges from rivals, Apple and its supply chain partners are looking to raise the bar by adding new features to AirPods 3, including the noise cancellation function.

«

That would probably fit into a September launch; noise cancellation would be a reason to bump up the price, and leave the price of the current AirPods where it is. Clever.
unique link to this extract


Here’s why we think Galaxy Folds are failing • iFixit

Kevin Purdy:

»

Knowing how OLEDs react to prying, moisture, oxygen, or nearly anything, it’s plain to see—from reviewers’ photos alone—that the Fold is literally inviting trouble into its fragile innards.

In pictures posted in The Verge’s hands-on impressions (before their Fold review unit broke), you can clearly see gaps at the top and bottom of the hinge when the full screen is open. A close-up of the hinge on its side, with accumulated pocket detritus, makes it even clearer. And the back of the Fold, even with the hinge closed or partially open, doesn’t look airtight.

“These are some of the biggest ingress points I’ve seen on a modern phone,” [iFixit lead teardown engineer Sam] Lionheart said. “Unless there’s some kind of magic membrane in there, dust will absolutely get in the back.” It’s important to note, too, that Samsung has offered no IP rating for the Fold. [IP rating indicates protection against dust and/or water ingress.]

Bohn finds it baffling the way his Fold unit broke. Especially because the first time he saw a “bump” under the Fold screen was late one night. After consulting with Samsung, he closed the phone and put it aside until the morning. The next day, examining the phone, Bohn saw two bumps under the screen.

“It seems odd to me that it appeared where it did,” Bohn said. “It’s hard to believe that I would not have noticed a piece of debris inching its way up from the bottom.” To us, this suggests the debris, both pieces, may have gotten in from the back hinge. Backing this up is Swiss reviewer Lorenz Keller, who tweeted at Bohn that his Fold also developed a bump, at a point that was the mirror opposite of Bohn’s defects. Keller’s bump eventually went away, which may be the result of the hinge being open enough to allow debris back out.

«

Maybe test it outside the lab next time before setting a release date. Though Samsung is presently suggesting it will go ahead with the launch, in June. Sounds hopelessly optimistic: these are fundamental design faults.
unique link to this extract


Innovate? Big tech would rather throw us a broken Samsung Galaxy Fold • The Guardian

I wrote a thing:

»

are there no new boundaries to explore in technology other than phone-tablets? (And why is nobody calling the Fold a “phablet”, a word coined when phones started to grow to the size of bread slices?) Again and again, technology companies show a peculiar deafness to users’ desires. Facebook has the rare distinction of having been cited in a United Nations report on genocide, and was used by Russia to try to steer the US presidential election. So what’s it doing about that? Good news: political ads will in future have teeny-tiny labels you can click to find out who funded them. That’s going to fix it all!

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Anyone who has visited San Francisco, at the upper end of Silicon Valley, knows it desperately needs a solution to homelessness: which is why millions of dollars are being poured into scooter startups so that moneyed people can get away from them faster. Similarly, America’s health system is absurdly expensive, so tech companies have invented systems that let you scan a cheque and email the image rather than posting the thing, thus saving you the cost of a stamp.

Somewhere, it’s all gone a bit off-kilter.

«

unique link to this extract


How Nest, designed to keep intruders out of people’s homes, effectively allowed hackers to get in • Washington Post

Reed Albergotti:

»

Nest, which is part of Google, has been featured on local news stations throughout the country for hacks similar to what the Thomases experienced [where hackers accessed a webcam in a child’s room]. And Nest’s recognizable brand name may have made it a bigger target. While Nest’s thermostats are dominant in the market, its connected security cameras trail the market leader, Arlo, according to Jack Narcotta, an analyst at the market research firm Strategy Analytics. Arlo, which spun out of Netgear, has around 30% of the market, he said. Nest is in the top five, he said.

Nik Sathe, vice president of software engineering for Google Home and Nest, said Nest has tried to weigh protecting its less security-savvy customers while taking care not to unduly inconvenience legitimate users to keep out the bad ones. “It’s a balance,” he said. Whatever security Nest uses, Sathe said, needs to avoid “bad outcomes in terms of user experience.”

Google spokeswoman Nicol Addison said Thomas could have avoided being hacked by implementing two-factor authentication, where in addition to a password, the user must enter a six-digit code sent via text message. Thomas said she had activated two-factor authentication; Addison said it had never been activated on the account.

«

That last bit is worth noting: Thomas probably thought her Nest was protected because it’s a Google device and she has 2FA on her Gmail account. That’s not the same as her Nest account – but understanding that requires a lot of compartmentalisation.

But 2FA v password isn’t “a balance”. It’s an on-off switch, a Rubicon. 2FA is robust; a password isn’t.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,052: blockchain hacks by the numbers, Fortnite’s big crunch, smart speakers ahoy!, Intuit’s free tax filing tricks, and more


The French Scrabble champion can’t speak French. Process that. CC-licensed photo by Hubert Figuière 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. But how do you prove a machine didn’t pick them? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A ‘blockchain bandit’ is guessing private keys and scoring millions • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Last summer, Adrian Bednarek was mulling over ways to steal the cryptocurrency Ethereum. He’s a security consultant; at the time, he was working for a client in the theft-plagued cryptocurrency industry. Bednarek had been drawn to Ethereum, in particular, because of its notorious complexity and the potential security vulnerabilities those moving parts might create. But he started instead with the simplest of questions: What if an Ethereum owner stored their digital money with a private key—the unguessable, 78-digit string of numbers that protects the currency stashed at a certain address—that had a value of 1?

To Bednarek’s surprise, he found that dead-simple key had in fact once held currency, according to the blockchain that records all Ethereum transactions. But the cash had already been taken out of the Ethereum wallet that used it—almost certainly by a thief who had thought to guess a private key of 1 long before Bednarek had. After all, as with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, if anyone knows an Ethereum private key, they can use it to derive the associated public address that the key unlocks. The private key then allows them to transfer the money at that address as though they were its rightful owner.

That initial discovery piqued Bednarek’s curiosity. So he tried a few more consecutive keys: 2, 3, 4, and then a couple dozen more, all of which had been similarly emptied. So he and his colleagues at the security consultancy Independent Security Evaluators wrote some code, fired up some cloud servers, and tried a few dozen billion more.

«

This is an amazing, amazing story; it’s a mixture of detective story and thriller, though the script needs work.
unique link to this extract


How Fortnite’s success led to months of intense crunch at Epic Games • Polygon

Colin Campbell:

»

Polygon interviewed current and former employees of Epic, including full-time staff, managers, and contractors working in development, QA, and customer service departments. They all requested that their identities be protected, for fear of retribution from Epic or other employers in the game industry. Epic requires that current and former staff sign nondisclosure agreements limiting their ability to speak about the company’s operations.

“I work an average 70 hours a week,” said one employee. “There’s probably at least 50 or even 100 other people at Epic working those hours. I know people who pull 100-hour weeks. The company gives us unlimited time off, but it’s almost impossible to take the time. If I take time off, the workload falls on other people, and no one wants to be that guy.

“The biggest problem is that we’re patching all the time. The executives are focused on keeping Fortnite popular for as long as possible, especially with all the new competition that’s coming in.”

A representative for Epic conceded that workers had endured extreme working hours. “People are working very hard on Fortnite and other Epic efforts,” said a spokesperson in an email interview. “Extreme situations such as 100-hour work weeks are incredibly rare, and in those instances, we seek to immediately remedy them to avoid recurrence.”

But meeting player demand and maintaining the game’s momentum has forced some to endure ongoing crunch.

“The executives keep reacting and changing things,” said the source. “Everything has to be done immediately. We’re not allowed to spend time on anything. If something breaks — a weapon, say — then we can’t just turn it off and fix it with the next patch. It has to be fixed immediately, and all the while, we’re still working on next week’s patch. It’s brutal.

«

The price of success: success, like failure, requires hard work, but the bar for what’s acceptable is higher.
unique link to this extract


Majority of US homes will have smart speaker next year • Strategy Analytics

»

There will be more US homes with smart speakers than without by the end of next year, according to the latest projections from Strategy Analytics. The report predicts that the 50% threshold will be reached in late 2020, and the US will be the first country in the world to reach this level of smart speaker ownership. The report predicts that by the end of 2023 eight countries will have a majority of smart-speaker owning households. The research also predicts global sales of more than 134 million smart speakers and screens in 2019, rising to 280 million by 2024.

The other countries reaching the 50% threshold in the next four years will be the UK, Ireland, Canada, South Korea, Australia, Germany and France. Widespread availability of apps and services in major languages is a key factor behind the success of smart speakers in these countries. Other markets, where less familiar languages are used, will tend to track behind the leading nations in smart speaker adoption.

«

That’s a lot of timers being set and music being played.
unique link to this extract


Samsung’s reputation founders on rush for lead in folding phones • Bloomberg

Sam King, Mark Gurman and Min Jeong Lee:

»

Initial prototypes would crack like a dried sheet of paper if folded about 10,000 times, people familiar with the matter said. Still, Samsung recognized its potential. It started to recruit mechanical engineers who could devote themselves to building a hinge the size of a finger, after the company realized the key to preventing cracks was to evenly distribute pressure. Engineers were encouraged to file as many patents as possible to prevent competition from creeping into a market that didn’t exist at the time, the people said, asking not to be identified as they aren’t authorized to speak publicly.

All seemed on track till last week, when reports of damage to review models started to surface, from a malfunctioning screen after a thin film was peeled off to a display that flickered wildly. Samsung retrieved the units but initially maintained the product would launch as planned on April 26. On Monday, executives convened at their headquarters and debated for hours before finally pulling the plug, the people said.

In initial investigations, Samsung engineers determined that removing the top layer of film — something they hadn’t anticipated users would do – damaged the product, people familiar with the matter said. Its designers had been preoccupied with perfecting the so-called crease where the device folded, they said.

«

John Gruber’s article about this screwup points out that someone in QC must have noticed. So did marketing override them? Or did they not notice, which would be worse?
unique link to this extract


Japan has a new emperor. Now it needs a software update • The New York Times

Ben Dooley, Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno on how Japan is having to get ready for May 1, when its new emperor means it’s day 1 of year 1 of the new emperor Reiwa:

»

The headaches have prompted a national conversation over whether it is finally time for Japan to move entirely over to the Gregorian calendar. The country uses the Gregorian calendar when dealing with other countries and to coordinate global events, such as the 2020 Olympics. Most people here have also already adopted it in their personal lives.

One lawyer, Jiro Yamane, has even sued the government over the change, arguing that forcing people to measure time by the life of the emperor violates their constitutional right to individual dignity.

“Only Japan exists in this different space and dimension of time,” said Mr. Yamane, who is scheduled to argue his case in front of a Tokyo district court at the end of May. “It’s incompatible with international society.”

“Why are the Japanese so hung up on it?” he added.

It may just be that Japan has a hard time letting go. The country still depends on fax machines. It is one of the last places in the world where Tower Records, the once iconic music store, has stayed open, still selling CDs.

The new era, to many, is symbolic of a fresh start. Government offices expect couples will rush to register their marriages on the first day of the new era.

«

unique link to this extract


The US measles outbreak is a reminder of the power of viral information • Financial Times

Marietje Schaake:

»

A tweet that has 500 likes looks more popular than a post that harvests three thumbs up. People have come to trust the wisdom of the crowd, or the top results in a search, whether on the subject of heart disease or crimes committed by immigrants. On platforms like YouTube and Google search, whether information is sent up or down the rankings is, at least in part, determined by how many people click on and share it.

Knowing whether such reactions come from real people or are auto-generated is crucial. Bots can be distinguished from people through pattern recognition: an account that sends a message exactly every 30 seconds during 72 hours is unlikely to be from a person typing and swiping.

Transparency rules should require platforms to make clear when bots are involved and the sources of advertising. Knowing who is paying to amplify and spread medical hoax messages is as important as knowing the sources of political ads. With more information, we may better understand the links between the anti-vaccination movement and politicians including Marine Le Pen in France, Beppe Grillo in Italy and Donald Trump in the US, who have all questioned the medical, as well as political, establishments.

The recent measles outbreaks remind us that our understanding of the toxic impact of algorithms on people’s actions is proven, and that ad hoc protection measures are not enough.

«

Schaake is an MEP – so this is the sort of thing that could become law. What if it’s law in Europe and not in the US?
unique link to this extract


Apple now prioritizing MacBook keyboard repairs with quoted next-day turnaround time • MacRumors

Joe Rossignol:

»

Apple’s memo, titled “How to support Mac customers with keyboard-related repairs in store,” advises Genius Bar technicians that these keyboard repairs should be “prioritized to provide next-day turnaround time”:

»

Most keyboard-related repairs will be required to be completed in store until further notice. Additional service parts have been shipped to stores to support the increased volume.

These repairs should be prioritized to provide next-day turnaround time. When completing the repair, have the appropriate service guide open and carefully follow all repair steps.

«

Apple did not provide a reason for this change, but the company is known for customer satisfaction, so it could be trying to speed up the process a bit to alleviate frustration.

The turnaround time for MacBook and MacBook Pro repairs shipped to Apple’s off-site facilities has typically ranged between three to five business days, and sometimes longer, so next-day turnaround would be much more convenient for customers if Genius Bars can actually fulfill that ambitious timeframe.

«

The clock must be ticking for the butterfly keyboard. There isn’t a commentator who will defend it; quite a few won’t buy a model with one. (If you want an Apple laptop with the scissor key mechanism, the low-end MacBook Air with non-retina screen is still available.) Apple executives, up to Phil Schiller and probably above, know what influencers say about it. It is costing Apple money, every day, both in the repair it has to do, and the lost sales to influencers and those who listen to them. It’s also costing in brand equity every moment it clings onto this calamitous design.

Sure, it would need a redesign of the body for every model that uses it. Guess what? Apple has resources for design. It could even just dust off the old ones – the tooling would be in place.
unique link to this extract


My search for a boyhood friend led to a dark discovery • WIRED

Douglas Preston:

»

One fall day [when he was eight years old], my mother gave me an empty cookie tin with a picture of a great ship plowing through waves, surrounded by gulls. Petey came over, and I said, “Let’s fill this with treasure and bury it.” We decided to leave it in the ground for 10 years and dig it up when we were 18. The year was 1964.

Petey and I spent hours debating what to put in the tin. The treasure had to be something valuable enough that our grown-up selves would be glad to have it back. We gathered our best things and laid them out on my bed for inspection. Most of them struck us as childish junk, but a few stood out as objects with adult gravitas. I chose a Morgan silver dollar, a coiled-up trilobite fossil, and my finest arrowhead—an ancient beauty flaked out of petrified wood in which you could still see the tree rings. Among Petey’s treasures were a squirrel skull, a miniature brass cannon from the USS Constitution’s gift shop, and an intricate blob of lead he had made by melting fishing sinkers on the stove and pouring the molten metal into water. It was a method of telling the future, he said. The blob predicted that his life would be one of wealth, success, and happiness.

As we looked over our carefully assembled treasures, they still didn’t seem adequate for a great journey into the future. I had an idea: Why not each write the story of our lives? Whatever else we put in the tin, we knew this would make for good reading, especially if we’d forgotten our childhoods, like most adults we knew.

«

Preston later returned to where he thought the capsule was buried, but couldn’t find it. Then he tried to find his friend. (This isn’t a technology story, unless using Google makes it so. In which case, fine.)
unique link to this extract


Here’s how TurboTax just tricked you into paying to file your taxes • ProPublica

Justin Elliott and Lucas Waldron:

»

Did you know that if you make less than $66,000 a year, you can prepare and file your taxes for free?

No? That’s no accident. Companies that make tax preparation software, like Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, would rather you didn’t know.

Intuit and other tax software companies have spent millions lobbying to make sure that the IRS doesn’t offer its own tax preparation and filing service. In exchange, the companies have entered into an agreement with the IRS to offer a “Free File” product to most Americans — but good luck finding it.

Here’s what happened when we went looking.

Our first stop was Google. We searched for “irs free file taxes.”

And we thought we found what we were looking for: Ads from TurboTax and others directing us to free products.

«

Of course the ads weren’t going to show where you can do it for free, but the lengths to which Intuit goes to make sure that people can’t find the really free service is astonishing. There must have been web designers who went home at the end of a day having completed the task of obfuscation. How did they feel, I wonder?
unique link to this extract


Winner of French Scrabble title does not speak French • NPR

Bill Chappell:

»

The Scrabble career of Nigel Richards went from great to astounding this week, after he won the French-language Scrabble World Championships. A New Zealand native, Richards has won several English-language titles; his new victory follows weeks of studying a French dictionary.

“He doesn’t speak French at all, he just learnt the words,” his friend (and former president of the New Zealand Scrabble Association) Liz Fagerlund tells the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French I wouldn’t think.”

It was only in late May that Richards began his quest to win the French world title, according to the French Scrabble Federation. That’s when he set about memorizing the French Scrabble dictionary.

«

What’s fascinating about this is that it’s an example of machine learning, done by a human. Scrabble ability isn’t about linguistic skill, it’s about pattern matching: seeing what letter combinations are permitted. What Richards does is essentially no different from what DeepMind’s Go program, or a self-driving car system, does. None of them speaks French, or understands Go, or understands driving. (Well, Richards might.)
unique link to this extract


The Mueller Report shows cheap automation fueled the Russia mess • Gizmodo

Brian Merchant:

»

According to RBC Magazine, the IRA [St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation outlet] employed fewer than 100 employees in the “American Department” of its so-called “troll farm.” The department’s budget for two years of operations was $2m. If your goal is to sow nationwide political discord and get that nation’s media to pay attention, that’s a lot cheaper than buying TV ads.

It also reportedly spent just $100,000 on Facebook ads, which is kind of a hilariously paltry sum if you’re hoping to swing elections, though experts regard it as likely just an experiment, a small part of the IRA’s posting regimen. And Twitter botnets are even cheaper. Dapper cyberlord Joseph Cox wrote about assembling his own Russian botnets for less than $100 in 2017, and security researchers have determined that they’ve only gotten more sophisticated since the 2016 election.

Twitter identified some 50,000 automated accounts that were affiliated with the IRA and were retweeting pro-Trump messages leading up to the election. Cox bought 1,000 accounts for $45. You don’t have to be an experienced coder to set these botnets up, either; you just need a little cash, the ability to Google ‘botnet services’ (or better yet, poke around on the dark web for them), and an openness to getting scammed here and there. It’s really easy to do.

“Overseas it’s a pretty cheap service,” Russell tells me. “They even advertise ON Twitter for it. Lots of Arabic bots I have ran into actually advertised for botting using Twitter.”

«

Merchant does point out that we don’t know how much influence this had. But every drop of water is part of the lake.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,051: India’s fake news deluge, China’s hacking onslaught, who owns Huawei?, and more


This is as much as you’ll see of it for a few weeks – perhaps longer. CC-licensed photo by Twitter Trends 2019 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.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold smartphone release delayed • WSJ

Timothy W. Martin:

»

Samsung Electronics is delaying the rollout of its Galaxy Fold smartphone until at least next month after some tech reviewers said their test devices had malfunctioned.

The Galaxy Fold, the industry’s first mainstream foldable-screen device, was slated to start selling in the US on Friday, with a price tag of nearly $2,000. But Samsung, citing the problems reported by reviewers, said Monday it plans to announce a new release date for the phone in the coming weeks.

“Initial findings from the inspection of reported issues on the display showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge,” the company said. “There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance.”

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported Samsung’s plans to delay the phone’s release, with people familiar with the matter pointing to problems affecting the handset’s hinge and its main screen.

«

Huawei’s isn’t due until the autumn. I don’t think it’s going to make a lot of noise about it. I highly recommend Joanna Stern’s video non-review of the Fold.
unique link to this extract


How eleven people try to stop fake news in the world’s largest election • Bloomberg

Saritha Raj:

»

“In a country largely driven by local and community news, we knew it was critical to have fact-checking partners who could review content across regions and languages,” Ajit Mohan, Facebook’s managing director and vice president in India, wrote in a recent company blog post.

Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers in India analyze news in 10 of India’s 23 official languages, more than any other country, according to a spokesperson.

“Fact-checking is part of a broader strategy to fight false news that includes extensive work to remove fake accounts; cut off incentives to the financially-motivated actors that spread misinformation; promote news literacy; and give more context about the posts they see,” the company said in a statement.

Facebook has said that fighting misinformation is a top priority, and that it hands such critical responsibilities over to contractors to help it keep a better-informed watch around the world at all hours. Contractors also work for much less than the typical Facebook employee, can appear more objective than the company’s own employees, and can make for easier scapegoats if needed.

A visit to Boom’s offices makes clear that the scale of Facebook’s response in India so far isn’t enough. The small team appears capable and hardworking almost to a fault, but given the scale of the problem, they might as well be sifting grains of sand from a toxic beach. “What can eleven people do,” says Boom Deputy Editor Karen Rebelo, “when hundreds of millions of first-time smartphone-internet users avidly share every suspect video and fake tidbit that comes their way?”

«

You can start to wonder now whether it wouldn’t be better just to turn this stuff off. Speaking of which…
unique link to this extract


Sri Lanka shut down social media. My first thought was ‘good’ • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:

»

when the Sri Lankan government temporarily shut down access to American social media services like Facebook and Google’s YouTube after the bombings there on Easter morning, my first thought was “good.”

Good, because it could save lives. Good, because the companies that run these platforms seem incapable of controlling the powerful global tools they have built. Good, because the toxic digital waste of misinformation that floods these platforms has overwhelmed what was once so very good about them. And indeed, by Sunday morning so many false reports about the carnage were already circulating online that the Sri Lankan government worried more violence would follow.

It pains me as a journalist, and someone who once believed that a worldwide communications medium would herald more tolerance, to admit this — to say that my first instinct was to turn it all off. But it has become clear to me with every incident that the greatest experiment in human interaction in the history of the world continues to fail in ever more dangerous ways.

In short: Stop the Facebook/YouTube/Twitter world — we want to get off.

«

I feel there’s a strengthening undercurrent that agrees this is true: social media isn’t actually helping us solve our problems.
unique link to this extract


2018: “We had to stop Facebook”: when anti-Muslim violence goes viral • Buzzfeed News

Aisha Nazim, in mid-2018:

»

Government officials, researchers, and local NGOs say they have pleaded with Facebook representatives from as far back as 2013 to better enforce the company’s own rules against using the platform to call for violence or to target people for their ethnicity or religious affiliation. They repeatedly raised the issue with Facebook representatives in private meetings, by sharing in-depth research, and in public forums. The company, they say, did next to nothing in response.

Ethnic tensions run deep in Sri Lanka, particularly between the majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority groups, and the country has seen a troubling rise in anti-Muslim hate groups and violence since the end of its decades-long civil war in 2009. Many of those hate groups spread their messages on Facebook. The problem came to a head in March when Buddhist mobs in central Sri Lanka burned down dozens of Muslim shops, homes, and places of worship. In response, the government blocked social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, in a decision it says was made to prevent the violence from spiraling further out of control. Facebook, officials said, couldn’t be relied on to respond to posts and videos inciting violence quickly enough.

“[Facebook] would go three or four months before making a response,” Harin Fernando, minister of telecommunications and digital infrastructure, told BuzzFeed News. “We were upset. In this incident, we had no alternative — we had to stop Facebook.”

«

And at Easter weekend there was a wave of attacks on churches and hotels; extremist Muslim groups are blamed. Again and again it feels as though Facebook really isn’t helping things, even if it isn’t directly involved in them.
unique link to this extract


Chinese hacking steals billions; US businesses turn a blind eye • PBS

Laura Sullivan and Cat Schuknecht:

»

for its part, the Chinese government officially denied to NPR and FRONTLINE that it has been involved in such practices.

But that’s not what former U.S. Attorney David Hickton found. When he took over in the Western District of Pennsylvania in 2010, he says, he was inundated with calls from companies saying they suspected China might be inside their computer systems.

“I literally received an avalanche of concern and complaints from companies and organizations who said, ‘We are losing our technology — drip, drip, drip,’ ” he says.

Hickton opened an investigation and quickly set his sights on a special unit of the Chinese military — a secretive group known as Unit 61398. Investigators were able to watch as the unit’s officers, sitting in an office building in Shanghai, broke into the computer systems of American companies at night, stopped for an hour break at China’s lunchtime and then continued in the Chinese afternoon.

“They were really using a large rake — think of a rake [like] you rake leaves in the fall,” he says. “They were taking everything … personal information, strategic plans, organizational charts. Then they just figured out later how they were going to use it.”

But when Hickton went to the companies, eager for them to become plaintiffs, he ran into a problem. None of the companies wanted any part of it. Hickton says they had too much money on the line in China.

«

Greed, or fear. But it’s been going on for absolutely years. Now it seems companies might feel it’s time to act, or at least speak up.
unique link to this extract


A cartoon intro to DNS over HTTPS • Mozilla Hacks

Lin Clark:

»

On-path routers can track and spoof DNS because they can see the contents of the DNS requests and responses. But the Internet already has technology for ensuring that on-path routers can’t eavesdrop like this. It’s the encryption that I talked about before.

By using HTTPS to exchange the DNS packets, we ensure that no one can spy on the DNS requests that our users are making.

In addition to providing a trusted resolver which communicates using the DoH protocol, Cloudflare is working with us to make this even more secure… Cloudflare will make the request from one of their own IP addresses near the user. This provides geolocation without tying it to a particular user. In addition to this, we’re looking into how we can enable even better, very fine-grained load balancing in a privacy-sensitive way.

Doing this — removing the irrelevant parts of the domain name and not including your IP address — means that DNS servers have much less data that they can collect about you.

«

Thanks to Seth Finkelstein, we have the answer to the puzzle of what yesterday’s Sunday Times link was about: DNS over HTTPS. It’s not clear what Google’s timetable is for making this the default in Chrome, but BT is worried enough about it to have highlighted it in a discussion paper written earlier in April, which explains it pretty well.

Would have been nice if the Times writeup had explained this. But the journalists didn’t seem to understand it themselves.
unique link to this extract


How the Boeing 737 Max disaster looks to a software developer • IEEE Spectrum

Gregory Travis:

»

Long ago there was a joke that in the future planes would fly themselves, and the only thing in the cockpit would be a pilot and a dog. The pilot’s job was to make the passengers comfortable that someone was up front. The dog’s job was to bite the pilot if he tried to touch anything.

On the 737, Boeing not only included the requisite redundancy in instrumentation and sensors, it also included redundant flight computers—one on the pilot’s side, the other on the copilot’s side. The flight computers do a lot of things, but their main job is to fly the plane when commanded to do so and to make sure the human pilots don’t do anything wrong when they’re flying it. The latter is called “envelope protection.”

Let’s just call it what it is: the bitey dog.

Let’s review what the MCAS does: It pushes the nose of the plane down when the system thinks the plane might exceed its angle-of-attack limits; it does so to avoid an aerodynamic stall. Boeing put MCAS into the 737 Max because the larger engines and their placement make a stall more likely in a 737 Max than in previous 737 models.

When MCAS senses that the angle of attack is too high, it commands the aircraft’s trim system (the system that makes the plane go up or down) to lower the nose. It also does something else: Indirectly, via something Boeing calls the “Elevator Feel Computer,” it pushes the pilot’s control columns (the things the pilots pull or push on to raise or lower the aircraft’s nose) downward.

«

Related to yesterday’s link about Boeing, I received this email from Drew, one of our readers:

My cousin is a long term Boeing employee in Seattle and I wanted to share his insight: Boeing moved the Dreamliner production out of Seattle after a failed attempt to completely break the Washington Machinists Union contract in 2016 (even though most employees lost their pensions and other long-term benefits anyway). As part of the move Boeing eliminated the previously standard two-mechanic or two-machinist QA inspections. Now only one set of human eyes examines the work of robots. Increasingly automation is checking the work of automation.

This is the big failure on the Dreamliner- the robotic QA will verify a wire is soldered and carries a current, but is not programmed to notice metallic debris dangerously close to the solder joint. It’s the kind of issue any 19 year old would notice, but QA AI doesn’t include in their model or training data. Boeing has humans spot checking automated QA but doesn’t share those results with the team. But hey, they’re saving so much money!

unique link to this extract


A hotspot finder app exposed two million Wi-Fi network passwords • TechCrunch

:

»

A popular hotspot finder app for Android exposed the Wi-Fi network passwords for more than two million networks.

The app, downloaded by thousands of users, allowed anyone to search for Wi-Fi networks in their nearby area. The app allows the user to upload Wi-Fi network passwords from their devices to its database for others to use.

That database of more than two million network passwords, however, was left exposed and unprotected, allowing anyone to access and download the contents in bulk.

Sanyam Jain, a security researcher and a member of the GDI Foundation, found the database and reported the findings to TechCrunch.

We spent more than two weeks trying to contact the developer, believed to be based in China, to no avail. Eventually we contacted the host, DigitalOcean, which took down the database within a day of reaching out.

«

Crazy app: you can upload the SSID and password for any Wi-Fi network. And then it’s sitting there on its database, which turns out to be not that secure (predictably enough). Why would you trust some random app from the Play Store, except that it says “free Wi-Fi!!!!” It’s greed blinding people to security.
unique link to this extract


Another warning sign • National Review

Yuval Levin:

»

On January 15 of 2017, a few days before Trump’s inauguration, the President-Elect was interviewed by the Washington Post, and when asked about health care he said his team would soon propose its own health-care reform—that it was worked out, and that it would not reduce coverage numbers but would cost less than Obamacare. The statement sent the little conservative health policy world into a frenzy: What was this plan? Who was working on it? What kinds of ideas was it based on? The barrage of group emails was soon ended, however, by a note from a member of Trump’s little policy circle, who would soon become a senior administration official. The message was simple: Trump had no idea what he was talking about, the proposal he mentioned was a figment of his imagination, and don’t worry about it—everything was under control.

This was simultaneously reassuring and alarming in the way that Mueller’s window into the administration is. It was evidence that there were people around the president who were doing the work required to govern and make decisions, but it was also evidence that the president was not at the center of that process, and that a significant amount of their work involved deciding when to ignore him. That pattern has of course repeated over and over in the two years that have followed.

As Mueller’s report demonstrates, the willingness of his subordinates to be insubordinate has generally served Trump well, because his own judgement is often so shockingly bad that almost anyone else’s judgment (including that of some very shady characters) would be better.

«

Levin’s concern is that Trump has been lucky so far: there hasn’t been an emergency that has required coordinated time-sensitive action by the administration, directed from the top. (Although: Puerto Rico?)
unique link to this extract


Who Owns Huawei? • SSRN

Christopher Balding and Donald C. Clarke in an open-access paper:

»

A number of pertinent facts about Huawei’s structure and ownership are in fact well known and have been outlined many times in the Chinese media, but the myth of Huawei’s employee ownership seems to persist outside of China. This article, drawing on publicly available sources such as media reports, corporate databases, and court cases, aims to refute this myth once and for all.

In summary, we find the following:

• The Huawei operating company is 100% owned by a holding company, which is in turn approximately 1% owned by Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and 99% owned by an entity called a “trade union committee” for the holding company.

• We know nothing about the internal governance procedures of the trade union committee. We do not know who the committee members or other trade union leaders are, or how they are selected.

• Trade union members have no right to assets held by a trade union.

• What have been called “employee shares” in “Huawei” are in fact at most contractual interests in a profit-sharing scheme.

• Given the public nature of trade unions in China, if the ownership stake of the trade union committee is genuine, and if the trade union and its committee function as trade unions generally function in China, then Huawei may be deemed effectively state-owned.

• Regardless of who, in a practical sense, owns and controls Huawei, it is clear that the employees do not.

«

The spotlight is really being turned on Huawei now that its global ambitions are so widely known (and the west has fallen behind in 5G). The next year or two could be crucial as more comes out.
unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,050: Sri Lanka shuts social nets, where are the smart guns?, Samsung’s Fold reviewed (and delayed), and more


Puzzled? You will be too when you read a story about Chrome getting “encrypted”. CC-licensed photo by Chris Potter 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. Bonus episode, director’s cut. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The smart gun doesn’t exist because of New Jersey and the NRA • Bloomberg

Polly Mosendz , Austin Carr , and Neil Weinberg:

»

The 2002 bill stipulated that once smart guns went on sale anywhere in the US, New Jersey’s gun dealers would have three years to take all other weapons off their shelves. If anyone sold a smart gun, in other words, all guns sold in New Jersey would have to be smart.

The NRA feared the New Jersey legislation could spread to other states and quickly urged its millions of members to protest. The group said in a statement that it doesn’t oppose research but “opposes any law prohibiting Americans from acquiring or possessing firearms that don’t possess ‘smart’ gun technology.”

The New Jersey law did just that. Which made it the perfect tool for mobilizing bitter opposition to any attempt to sell smart guns, even hundreds of miles away from New Jersey. When a gun-store owner in Rockville, Md., named Andy Raymond decided to become one of America’s first smart-gun retailers in 2014, he had to import the merchandise from overseas. The burly, tattooed owner of Engage Armament found a German-made Armatix iP1 pistol that could only be fired when a watch with an embedded RFID chip was within 15 inches of the firearm.

Protesters attacked his store on social media, making national headlines. Their fear was that the first retail sale of a smart gun could start New Jersey’s clock ticking toward the ban on sales of conventional guns enacted by the Childproof Handgun Law. Raymond reported death threats, and he posted a video online in which he sipped whiskey and explained that selling smart guns would draw “fence-sitters” to the pro-gun camp. He slammed the NRA’s hypocrisy on the issue.

The NRA tested the Armatix iP1 and found it “disappointing at best, and alarming at worst,” in a scathing review distributed to members. Others have found issues with the same gun. Armatix at the time said the gun passed all tests by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Poor reviews meant that, thanks to the New Jersey law, the NRA could argue that a firearm it deemed unreliable could be the only gun available to purchase in the future. The smart gun went from being viewed as politically toxic by gun-rights supporters to outright dangerous.

«

Related, in a roundabout way: an in-depth piece in the New Yorker about the NRA’s extremely dubious accounting and interrelationship with its own PR agency. I remember writing about smart guns when I was at New Scientist around 1994. Always promised, never arrived.
unique link to this extract


Sri Lanka blocks social media after attacks • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan:

»

Sri Lanka placed a nationwide block on social media sites after more than 200 people died in multiple attacks on Sunday. The government, in taking the drastic step, cited “false news reports” it said were circulating online.

The shutdown, which the government said would be temporary, highlights the challenges the world’s most powerful tech companies face in curbing the spread of misinformation and propaganda in the aftermath of terrorist attacks. It also raises questions of censorship and a government’s ability to turn off the world’s most popular websites.

In announcing the ban on its official news portal, Sri Lanka named Facebook and Instagram among the sites it had blocked.

YouTube, Snapchat and the messaging apps WhatsApp and Viber were also blocked, according to the internet monitoring group NetBlocks. Twitter did not appear to be blocked. Twitter is not as widely used in Sri Lanka as are Facebook and WhatsApp, according to Sanjana Hattotuwa, senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

«

Remember 2011, when the UK government considered shutting down BlackBerry Messenger during the riots? But it didn’t. Times are changing.
unique link to this extract


Warning over Google Chrome browser’s new threat to children • The Sunday Times

Nicholas Hellen and Richard Kerbaj:

»

Internet safety watchdogs and intelligence agencies are holding crisis talks about a new version of Britain’s most popular web browser, which they fear will endanger children.

They say Google’s plans to encrypt Chrome will make it harder to block harmful material, including child-abuse images and terrorist propaganda. The new version will bypass most parental control systems and undermine the government’s attempts to stop under-18s viewing pornography…

…Broadband companies block millions of dangerous sites by installing filters that can read the internet’s “address book”, known as domain name servers.

However, the planned encryption will allow users to bypass the filters and connect instead to Google’s servers. Supporters argue it will boost privacy and security and prevent governments from snooping on people.

But a government official said its ability to investigate paedophiles and terror cells would be hampered. And intelligence and law enforcement officials fear Google could use it to amass unprecedented detail on people’s browsing habits, to be held by Google under Californian law.

“Google will have a lot more than their searches — it will have their entire browser history. That’s an incredible amount of data,” he said. It will also be able to track devices rather than just household accounts.

«

Does anyone know what they’re on about? It sounds like they’re talking about DNS query encryption, but I can’t find anything suggesting Google is going to do that. (Thanks Charles Knight, who is as confused as us all, for the link.)
unique link to this extract


Popular apps in Google’s Play Store are abusing permissions and committing ad fraud • Buzzfeed News

Craig Silverman and Jeremy Singer-Vine:

»

A host of popular Android apps from a major Chinese developer, including a selfie app with more than 50 million downloads, have been committing large-scale ad fraud and abusing user permissions, a BuzzFeed News investigation of popular Android apps has found. In several cases, the apps took steps that concealed their connections to the developer, DO Global, to users and failed to clearly disclose they were collecting and sending data to China. The investigation also raises questions about Google’s policing of apps in the Play store for fraud and data collection practices.

DO Global is a Chinese app developer that claims more than 800 million monthly active users on its platforms, and was spun off from Baidu, one of China’s largest tech companies, last year. At least six of DO Global’s apps, which together have more than 90 million downloads from the Google Play store, have been fraudulently clicking on ads to generate revenue, and at least two of them contain code that could be used to engage in a different form of ad fraud, according to findings from security and ad fraud researchers Check Point and Method Media Intelligence.

The DO Global apps were identified after BuzzFeed News gathered a list of close to 5,000 popular apps from the Google Play store, along with associated information, such as the developer’s name, number of installs, and requested permissions.

«

Checkpoint Software has written a blogpost about it. This is some malicious stuff. That it’s Chinese probably isn’t a big part of it, but it makes going after them much harder. But the really painful part is that all of these apps are useless: “Selfie Camera” (you have one), AIO Flashlight, and so on. Utter crap. That’s what makes app stores such a pain to use.
unique link to this extract


Claims of shoddy production draw scrutiny to a second Boeing jet • The New York Times

Natalie Kitroeff and David Gelles:

»

Facing long manufacturing delays, Boeing pushed its work force to quickly turn out Dreamliners, at times ignoring issues raised by employees.

Complaints about the frenzied pace echo broader concerns about the company in the wake of two deadly crashes involving another jet, the 737 Max. Boeing is now facing questions about whether the race to get the Max done, and catch up to its rival Airbus, led it to miss safety risks in the design, like an anti-stall system that played a role in both crashes.

Safety lapses at the North Charleston plant have drawn the scrutiny of airlines and regulators. Qatar Airways stopped accepting planes from the factory after manufacturing mishaps damaged jets and delayed deliveries. Workers have filed nearly a dozen whistle-blower claims and safety complaints with federal regulators, describing issues like defective manufacturing, debris left on planes and pressure to not report violations. Others have sued Boeing, saying they were retaliated against for flagging manufacturing mistakes.

Joseph Clayton, a technician at the North Charleston plant, one of two facilities where the Dreamliner is built, said he routinely found debris dangerously close to wiring beneath cockpits.

“I’ve told my wife that I never plan to fly on it,” he said. “It’s just a safety issue.”

In an industry where safety is paramount, the collective concerns involving two crucial Boeing planes — the company’s workhorse, the 737 Max, and another crown jewel, the 787 Dreamliner — point to potentially systemic problems.

«

Hell of a story, which gets to the question of distributed manufacturing systems, and how people can raise objections within them.
unique link to this extract


Samsung Galaxy Fold review: broken dream • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

On an objective basis, using the same standards we apply to any smartphone, the screen on the Galaxy Fold is bad. And that is wild to say because, again, subjectively, I deeply enjoy using it.

The biggest issue everybody wants to know about is the crease. There’s just no pretending that it isn’t there or that you don’t see it or feel it when you run your finger across it. Especially when you’re looking at it from an angle, it’s just a really obvious line through the middle of the screen. What’s worse, it’s a really obvious line that has two different color temperatures on either side of it when you look at it from an angle.

But when you start using the Fold, it tends to disappear. I stopped seeing it; it is actually difficult to spot when you’re looking at the Fold straight-on, which means that my subjective experience is just that it’s a great little 7-inch tablet. The screen is just slightly smaller than the iPad mini’s, but the Galaxy Fold has radically smaller bezels.

If that were the whole story, I’d tell you that the crease is a sort of modern version of the notch: a thing that is annoying but ultimately something you can get used to. I could tell you that it’s one of the things that is just going to happen on a folding phone, then move on to say that the colors are super vivid, the text is sharp, and it gets plenty bright.

But I can’t tell you that because the crease is just the start of this screen’s issues.

«

Bohn basically assumes that Samsung is going to figure out why multiple review screens failed before it starts selling them to consumers but even so essentially says it’s not worth buying. Samsung has postponed its launch events in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Over to you, Huawei.
unique link to this extract


Mueller report: Sarah Sanders makes tortured effort to explain her lies • Vox

Aaron Rupar:

»

On Thursday evening and Friday morning, Sanders repeatedly downplayed that lie as a mere “slip of the tongue” [the excuse she used in testifying under oath to the FBI; lying to them can lead to a prison sentence]. But as ABC’s George Stephanopoulos pointed out to her in an interview on Friday morning, she used the line about “countless members of the FBI” multiple times in the days following Comey’s firing — a revelation undercutting her claim that she merely misspoke.

“You said it was a ‘slip of the tongue’ when you talked about ‘countless FBI members,’ [contacting her to say they were glad Comey had been fired] yet you repeated it twice the very next day,” Stephanopoulos said. “That’s not a slip of the tongue, Sarah, that’s a deliberate false statement.”

Sanders, however, refused to own it, and bizarrely blamed her lie on Democrats.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t a robot like the Democratic Party that went out for two-and-a-half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign, that they had evidence to show it, and that the president and his team deserved to be in jail,” she said.

«

A reminder of what Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2018:

»

»

“I actually really like Sarah. I think she’s very resourceful. But she burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”

«

«

Over which lots of conservatives got upset. But Sanders is confirmed as a liar. In which sense, she fits in perfectly to Trump’s administration. However, nobody should believe a word she says ever again.
unique link to this extract


CIA warning over Huawei • The Times

Lucy Fisher and Michael Evans:

»

American intelligence shown to Britain says that Huawei has taken money from the People’s Liberation Army, China’s National Security Commission and a third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network, according to a UK source.

The US shared the claims with Britain and its other partners in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance — Australia, New Zealand and Canada — earlier this year, with the UK entering the final stages of a wider review into its next generation mobile network rollout.

The funding allegation is the most serious claim linking the world’s largest telecoms equipment manufacturer to the Chinese state. Huawei insists that it is a private company that is independent of influence from the government and has repeatedly denied posing any security risks. Critics, however, warn that China’s laws oblige companies to co-operate with its security branches, and that “backdoors” could be built into software allowing it to spy on or disrupt British communications.

The Whitehall review into plans for Britain’s introduction of 5G will be discussed by Theresa May, cabinet ministers and security chiefs at the National Security Council, expected to be held next week. A Whitehall source said of the review: “I don’t think it’s massively supportive [towards Huawei].”

«

Obliging cooperation with security branches and building in backdoors is something that the UK’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) forces too. It’s also instructive to notice the sources here: Lucy Fisher is the defence correspondent. This is careful leaking by UK security sources to push a narrative. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s untrue; only that this is intended to be aired.
unique link to this extract


Canada group sues government over Google’s Sidewalk Labs • BBC News

»

“Canada is not Google’s lab rat,” said the association’s executive director and general counsel MJ Bryant. “We can do better. Our freedom from unlawful public surveillance is worth fighting for.”
The association is suing Waterfront Toronto, municipal, provincial and federal governments. Although Waterfront Toronto is funded through federal, provincial and municipal purses, it does not report to the city or the province.

Sidewalk Labs – a firm owned by Google’s parent Alphabet – won a bid with Waterfront Toronto in October 2017 to develop a 12-acre patch of industrial landscape in Toronto, Ontario into a “smart city”.

But the deal struck between the government-funded organisation and Sidewalk Labs has been mired in controversy and shrouded in secrecy.

Ontario’s auditor general said oversight of the project was a concern in her report last December.

In February, the Toronto Star reported that Sidewalk Labs intends to expand onto 300 adjacent acres and build a light-rail line – in exchange for a cut of development fees and property taxes.
The land is potentially worth billions, according to the Star.

Jim Balsillie, the former co-CEO of BlackBerry, called the project a “colonizing experiment in surveillance capitalism attempting to bulldoze important urban, civic and political issues.
“Of all the misguided innovation strategies Canada has launched over the past three decades, this purported smart city is not only the dumbest but also the most dangerous”.

«

unique link to this extract


Apple paid $5 billion to $6 billion to settle with Qualcomm: UBS

Kif Leswing:

»

Apple probably paid Qualcomm between $5 billion and $6 billion to settle the litigation between the two companies, UBS analyst Timothy Arcuri estimated in a note distributed on Thursday.

Apple probably also agreed to pay between $8 and $9 in patent royalties per iPhone, estimated UBS, based on Qualcomm’s guidance that it expects earnings per share to increase by $2 as a result of the settlement.

The UBS estimate suggests that Apple paid a high price to end a bitter legal battle that spanned multiple continents and threatened Apple’s ability to release a 5G iPhone and put pressure on Qualcomm’s licensing business model that contributes over half of the company’s profit…

…Arcuri wrote that the one-time payment was likely for royalty payments that Apple had stopped paying when the two companies were embroiled in litigation, and that is how it was calculated.

The settlement is “a solid outcome for Qualcomm and certainly better than the [roughly] $5 [royalty payment] assumption we had been making,” Arcuri wrote.

If Apple does pay between $8 and $9 in royalties per iPhone it would be a significant increase over the $7.50 in royalties that it previously paid Qualcomm per phone, according to Apple COO Jeff Williams’ testimony in an FTC trial.

«

unique link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified