Start Up: how Instagram works, a Trumpy troll unmasked, MasterMap mystery, India’s big solar bet, and more


Apple showed off its new iOS 12 apps – and then told you how not to use them. Photo by Mark Mathosian on Flickr.

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Instagram’s algorithm works • TechCrunch

Josh Constine:

»

Instagram relies on machine learning based on your past behavior to create a unique feed for everyone. Even if you follow the exact same accounts as someone else, you’ll get a personalized feed based on how you interact with those accounts.

Three main factors determine what you see in your Instagram feed:

• Interest: How much Instagram predicts you’ll care about a post, with higher ranking for what matters to you, determined by past behavior on similar content and potentially machine vision analyzing the actual content of the post.

• Recency: How recently the post was shared, with prioritization for timely posts over weeks-old ones.

• Relationship: How close you are to the person who shared it, with higher ranking for people you’ve interacted with a lot in the past on Instagram, such as by commenting on their posts or being tagged together in photos

…TechCrunch can’t verify the accuracy of these claims, but this is what Instagram’s team told us:

Instagram is not at this time considering an option to see the old reverse chronological feed because it doesn’t want to add more complexity (users might forget what feed they’re set to), but it is listening to users who dislike the algorithm.

• Instagram does not hide posts in the feed, and you’ll see everything posted by everyone you follow if you keep scrolling.

• Feed ranking does not favor the photo or video format universally, but people’s feeds are tuned based on what kind of content they engage with, so if you never stop to watch videos you might see fewer of them.
Instagram’s feed doesn’t favor users who use Stories, Live, or other special features of the app.

• Instagram doesn’t downrank users for posting too frequently or for other specific behaviors, but it might swap in other content in between someone’s if they rapid-fire separate posts.

• Instagram doesn’t give extra feed presence to personal accounts or business accounts, so switching won’t help your reach.

• Shadowbanning is not a real thing, and Instagram says it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

«

Nice to know how your mind is being arranged without your knowledge.
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Apple’s Shortcuts app lets Siri do everything • Engadget

Edgar Alvarez:

»

Siri is getting smarter thanks to a new app called Shortcuts, which will let you build your own commands with any application. With the Tile app, for example, you can say “Hey Siri, I lost my keys,” and that will then alert the tiny gadget attached to your keys.

You can create more shortcuts for things such as “Surf time,” which will prompt Siri to look up the weather report before you head to the beach. Shortcuts is also going to allow Siri to make suggestions to you, like that you should call your mom or grandma on their birthday. While Google Assistant has had access to features like these for some time, it’s still great to see Apple finally letting Siri integrate deeper with third-party apps — even if you have to do some of the legwork yourself.

Siri Shortcuts seems to stem from Apple’s acquisition of Workflow in 2017, an app that focused on performing multiple tasks with a single tap. This is essentially Apple’s take on If This Then That (IFTTT), and Siri is going to be better because of it. Let’s hope so, at least.

«

This could be really interesting, and take Apple straight into voice control for lots of things. What I don’t get is how it would be useful if your phone is locked: presently you have to unlock it to do anything app-related with Siri. Or perhaps an unlocked phone is the starting point.
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Apple unveils ways to help limit iPhone usage • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

»

Apple on Monday unveiled new controls to help people curb the amount of time they spend on iPhones and iPads, as well as allow parents to remotely track and limit their children’s use of those devices—a response to growing societal concern that adults and children are too focused on phones.

The company said a new app it will release in September called “Screen Time” will provide users with weekly reports of the apps they use and allow them to set time limits for their use of those apps. Parents will be able to use the system to remotely monitor the apps their children use and limit their time on devices.

«

So both Apple and Google are trying to get us to use our phones less, or feel guilty about it. Will it work, though? Lots though that seems good – even overdue: better notification control, better parental controls, and will work on phones right back to 2013’s iPhone 5S. That’s a lot of phones.
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Wireless system can power devices inside the body • MIT News

Anne Trafton:

»

MIT researchers, working with scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have developed a new way to power and communicate with devices implanted deep within the human body. Such devices could be used to deliver drugs, monitor conditions inside the body, or treat disease by stimulating the brain with electricity or light.

The implants are powered by radio frequency waves, which can safely pass through human tissues. In tests in animals, the researchers showed that the waves can power devices located 10 centimeters deep in tissue, from a distance of 1 meter.

“Even though these tiny implantable devices have no batteries, we can now communicate with them from a distance outside the body. This opens up entirely new types of medical applications,” says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor in MIT’s Media Lab and a senior author of the paper, which will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM) conference in August.

Because they do not require a battery, the devices can be tiny. In this study, the researchers tested a prototype about the size of a grain of rice, but they anticipate that it could be made even smaller.

«

It’s a little like RFID (where the radio frequency makes the aerial “ring”, generating power) but slightly more sophisticated. Though after reading John Carreyrou’s book Bad Blood, about Theranos, you find that any claim of medical advance wants peer review.
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Trump’s loudest anti-Muslim Twitter troll is a shady vegan married to an (ousted) WWE exec• Huffington Post

Luke O’Brien:

»

She was supposed to be a Russian bot. That seemed like the best explanation for @AmyMek. No normal person could be so prolific and prejudiced.

For five years, the mysterious Twitter account ― which has more than 200,000 followers, including Sean Hannity, Roseanne Barr and the personal account of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and has earned endorsements from Donald Trump and Michael Flynn ― has tirelessly spewed far-right propaganda and, above all, Islamophobia. Around 25 tweets a day, sometimes more, the majority of them designed to stoke hatred of Muslims.

The bigotry was garden-variety Islamophobia: memes about Sharia executions and child rape, genital mutilation and Muslims torturing and butchering various life forms while dusky columns of Saracens, every one of them a potential jihadist, march into Western lands bent on pillage. What made @AmyMek special was her industriousness. She never took a break.

“She’s a major cog in the Islamophobia machine,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy and civil rights organization that @AmyMek often attacks.

Her Twitter timeline was one long screed that reflected the collective id of the Make America Great Again movement. Tea party rage, evangelical hokum and white supremacy ― it was all there. In sufficient volume, this kind of hate can now turn any no-account right-winger into a star on social media. And it worked for @AmyMek.

But who was she?

«

O’Brien put together the few clues that Amy Jane Mekelburg left in her Twitter stream, and put them together. (One suspects that he got some tipoffs, though he manages to obscure where they came from. But a subsequent statement from Mekelburg’s family suggest they’ve known for a while, and disapprove of her actions strongly.) For that, he was accused of “stalking” by right-wing idiots who like to make stuff up.

More generally, this shows how social media amplifies people not because they’re trustworthy, but because they’re polarising. She has over 220,000 followers.

Notably, though, she has hardly tweeted in the past couple of days.
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AT&T and Verizon want to run big ad-tracking networks to rival Facebook • The Verge

Nilay Patel:

»

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke at the Code Conference today, where he took issue with the government’s antitrust lawsuit blocking its purchase of Time Warner. Then he laid out exactly why he wants to buy it: to sell ads to the customers it already tracks.

»

[Time Warner’s] Turner has an amazing inventory of advertising that they just kind of sell broadly. It’s not a very targeted advertising approach. AT&T has an amazing amount of data — customer data for 40 million pay TV subscribers in North and South America, 130 million mobile subscribers, 16 million broadband subscribers. We have really great customer insight on what kind of shows and media content they’re viewing, where they are, all kinds of information on the consumer. Can you pair a very formidable ad inventory with a very formidable amount of data and information on the customer — viewership data and all kinds of other information — and can you create something unique just from a straight advertising platform and change how you’re monetizing content?

«

To sum that up, AT&T’s plan is to use the data it tracks and collects about customers on its networks — including location data and all the media they consume over those networks — to serve targeted ads for high prices against Time Warner content.

«

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What’s happening with MasterMap and the Geospatial Commission? • Owen Boswarva

Boswarva notes that a Budget promise to establish “by May 2018” how to open MasterMap, the UK mapping agency’s key product, hasn’t been met:

»

MasterMap is free to use for public authorities under a central funding agreement, but commercial terms apply for use by businesses, charities and the general public. A corporate licence for full coverage of the Topography Layer alone is £4,581,000 per year, so it’s easy to see why open data campaigners think MasterMap has untapped potential for re-use in the wider national interest.

In principle releasing MasterMap as open data should be a straightforward, if bold, economic decision. The challenge is mostly in the implementation.

Back in 2010 a previous Government recognised the need for a base layer of freely re-usable national geospatial infrastructure, and we got OS OpenData – an adaptable toolkit of mapping products that radically expanded the accessibility of geographic information in Britain.

Today, with increasingly detailed sources of geographic data coming online from BIM, citizen science, urban sensor networks, and earth observation, that demand has shifted to a more granular level. We need open MasterMap, and the Topography Layer in particular, to function as the new collaborative base layer for location intelligence in Britain.

By now Cabinet Office must have realised there’s no way to effectively ring-fence the benefits for small businesses. SMEs operate within supply chains, and exploiting MasterMap across the full range of potential applications on the web requires frictionless sharing of data. But opening MasterMap will still benefit small businesses “in particular”, because the costs associated with the current licensing model are a barrier to entry that discourages small businesses much more than large corporates.

Releasing MasterMap as open data will have a significant secondary benefit: the potential to unlock thousands of additional spatial datasets, held by local authorities and other public bodies, that cannot be published as open data now because they are derived from closed MasterMap data.

«

This would be a huge win for free data in the UK. We pay the government to collect it; why don’t we get to use it for free?
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Some quick thoughts on the public discussion regarding facial recognition and Amazon Rekognition this past week • AWS News Blog

Matt Wood is general manager of AI at Amazon Web Services:

»

Amazon Rekognition is a service we announced in 2016. It makes use of new technologies – such as deep learning – and puts them in the hands of developers in an easy-to-use, low-cost way. Since then, we have seen customers use the image and video analysis capabilities of Amazon Rekognition in ways that materially benefit both society (e.g. preventing human trafficking, inhibiting child exploitation, reuniting missing children with their families, and building educational apps for children), and organizations (enhancing security through multi-factor authentication, finding images more easily, or preventing package theft). Amazon Web Services (AWS) is not the only provider of services like these, and we remain excited about how image and video analysis can be a driver for good in the world, including in the public sector and law enforcement.

There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities. Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly or risk legal penalties and public condemnation. AWS takes its responsibilities seriously. But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future. The world would be a very different place if we had restricted people from buying computers because it was possible to use that computer to do harm.

«

That’s true, but there were plenty of restrictions on who you could sell computers to – Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, China, and so on. The concerns over Rekognition are about who gets to use it; exactly like those computer export restrictions.
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How Apple programmer Sal Soghoian got apps talking to each other • WIRED

»

In 2014, after Apple announced a ton of new tools for apps to work together in iOS 8, [David] Barnard and [Justin] Youens [both iOS developers outside Apple] started brainstorming ways these tools could make their app better. Their plan was to find a way to run x-callback-urls in succession to create script-like actions. They had effectively dreamed up Automator for iOS, but their fear of being burned again by Apple’s often convoluted and murky app approval process held them back from following through.

Looking back, Barnard says that was a strategic blunder.

The team behind Workflow didn’t share those fears. In the winter of 2014, its app debuted on the App Store. It looked a lot like what you’d imagine Automator for iOS would be—to create a workflow, you’d select the actions you want, then drag and drop them together in a way that brought your tasks to completion. You could do things like send an ETA to a contact based on your current location, download all the pictures on a webpage, or quickly post photos to Instagram with all your favorite hashtags already included. If there was a task on your phone that took too much time and mental energy to do over and over again, there was a good chance you could try to automate it using Workflow. It even tied pieces together with x-callback-url.

Just over two years after the app’s debut, Apple acquired Workflow and its team for an undisclosed amount of money. Apple hasn’t been clear on why it bought Workflow, but Greg Pierce thinks it’s promising for the future of automation. “Maybe we’ll see something [in 2018] that gives people a platform to do more professional work,” he says.

«

This article appeared before the WWDC announcements. Though it has Soghoian in the headline, he isn’t a hero of iOS, and I personally have never found Automator on the Mac useful – I write in Applescript. But it was he who kept the flame of Applescript alive in Apple for years, and that is crucial.
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India approves massive new 5,000 megawatt solar farm • Climate Action Programme

»

The Indian Government has given planning permission to a huge new solar project which is set to become one of the largest in the world.

The approval for a 5,000 megawatt (MW) solar farm in the state of Gujarat was announced earlier this month by the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy.

The first 1,000MW stage of the project will be put out to tender soon.

Once complete the project near the town of Dholera will be the largest solar farm in India, stretching over 11,000 hectares and eclipsing the 2,255 MW Bhadla solar park currently under development in Rajasthan.

Saudi Arabia recently signed an initial deal to build a larger 200 GW solar farm, the first stage of which will be 7,200 MW.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani, said on Twitter that the Dholera project is estimated to attract 25,000 crore rupees ($3.7bn), and employ 20,000 people.

«

11,000 hectares is about 42 square miles.
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Conspiracy theories are eating this alt right-friendly site from the inside • Daily Beast

Kelly Weill:

»

Last week, Sanduja set off a firestorm on the [Gab] site, after he perceived Jared Wyand (an alt-righter who was kicked off Twitter, ostensibly for claiming that Star Wars promotes “white genocide”) to to be threatening him.

“You have a false sense of security that leads to a leaky mouth in a room full of highly capable men who have their backs to the walls,” Wyand wrote Sanduja on Gab. “That’s a very large mistake but don’t let it stop you. 😉”

Sanduja replied that he was reporting the message to law enforcement.

“Obviously I saw that as a threat because it was clearly coded and was clearly designed to intimidate and suppress my right to speech,” he told The Daily Beast. “I have to look out for my own personal safety because to be frank with you, my job is very dangerous. The things I do are very dangerous. The reality that is I am trying to liberate people around the world from tyranny, essentially, speech censorship, and our team faces a lot death threats.”

Over the past week on Gab, Sanduja has shared a number of anti-Islamic posts, including one describing a rise in European babies named Muhammed as a “Jihad of the womb.”

Sanduja declined to describe how many reports Gab has made to law enforcement (he previously stated that he was reporting the person who sent him a drawing of a noose), but said that Gab had complied with law enforcement investigations in the past.

A strain of hard-right Gab users have bashed management for the reports to police, as well as Sanduja for announcing that he had blocked more than 5,000 Gab users. (To do so is anti-free speech, to hear this crowd tell it.) But Torba claims some of the police reports are false flags.

«

Oh, by the way, Utsav Sanduja is chief operating officer of Gab. They seem like a nice bunch, don’t they? No. (If you read on, it’s clear there’s an utterly paranoid streak to their thinking which requires them to see infiltration and enemies in everything.) Journalists who report on this stuff put me in mind of the workers sent to clear out fatbergs from sewers: I’m glad someone does it, and I’m thankful it’s not me.
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Fake Fortnite APKs are out there, don’t be tricked into downloading one • Android Police

Richard Gao:

»

Given Fortnite’s current hotness, we understand if you’ve been scouring the webs for an APK to download onto your phone. After all, Epic Games said that Fortnite would be making its way to Android this summer, and it’s basically summer at this point. But be forewarned: Fortnite is not out on Android yet, and anything you see claiming to be a Fortnite APK is a scam.

A Google search will reveal more than a few Fortnite Android scams out there, and they’re all over YouTube as well. Some, like the one you see above, have actually purchased advertisement space on YouTube to further deceive people. Most of them can be easily spotted from their broken English and generally crappy web design, but it wouldn’t be difficult for anyone who isn’t a complete idiot to make something more convincing.

«

The fake apps steal Fortnite accounts. Well, of course. The fake games are a side effect of the delay between the iOS release and the Android release, and that of course is because of the difference in the number of devices to be supported. (Side note: one of the kids won a round of 1 v 99 and so has been elected this household’s tribute. May the odds be ever in their favour.)
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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: Microsoft buying Github, Google’s dashed drone hopes, let’s trade war!, beating dark ads, and more


Android tablets seemed to have been unceremoniously demoted on Google’s developer site. But not so! Photo by Aaron Yoo 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. Tariff-free. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Microsoft is said to have agreed to acquire coding site GitHub • Bloomberg

Dina Bass and Eric Newcomer:

»

Microsoft Corp. has agreed to acquire GitHub Inc., the code repository company popular with many software developers, and could announce the deal as soon as Monday, according to people familiar with the matter.

GitHub preferred selling the company to going public and chose Microsoft partially because it was impressed by Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. Terms of the agreement weren’t known on Sunday. GitHub was last valued at $2bn in 2015.

The acquisition provides a way forward for San Francisco-based GitHub, which has been trying for nine months to find a new CEO and has yet to make a profit from its popular service that allows coders to share and collaborate on their work. It also helps Microsoft, which is increasingly relying on open-source software, to add programming tools and tie up with a company that has become a key part of the way Microsoft writes its own software.

Frank Shaw, a spokesman for Microsoft, declined to comment. GitHub didn’t return an email seeking request for comment.

«

Sounds likely: Microsoft wants to get in front of programmers; it wants to know what trends are in programming; this is a great way to do that. Nadella’s Microsoft is an adaptable creature.
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Leaked emails show Google expected lucrative military drone ai work to grow exponentially • The Intercept

Lee Fang:

»

Google has sought to quash the internal dissent in conversations with employees. Diane Greene, the chief executive of Google’s cloud business unit, speaking at a company town hall meeting following the revelations, claimed that the contract was “only” for $9 million, according to the New York Times, a relatively minor project for such a large company.

Internal company emails obtained by The Intercept tell a different story. The September emails show that Google’s business development arm expected the military drone artificial intelligence revenue to ramp up from an initial $15 million to an eventual $250 million per year.

In fact, one month after news of the contract broke, the Pentagon allocated an additional $100 million to Project Maven.

The internal Google email chain also notes that several big tech players competed to win the Project Maven contract. Other tech firms such as Amazon were in the running, one Google executive involved in negotiations wrote. (Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.) Rather than serving solely as a minor experiment for the military, Google executives on the thread stated that Project Maven was “directly related” to a major cloud computing contract worth billions of dollars that other Silicon Valley firms are competing to win.

The emails further note that Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing arm of Amazon, “has some work loads” related to Project Maven.

«

But now it isn’t going to renew the contract. Employee pressure can make a difference, which is heartening.
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How to win a trade war • FiveThirtyEight

Rachael Dottle:

»

You (Yes, you!) have just been elected president of your very own country. Congratulations! Now it’s time to get to work. There is another country out there that has goods you can buy, and you have goods it may want to buy. Your job is to choose your foreign economic policy — which you’ll do in the little game we’ve prepared for you below.

The rules go like this: You can cooperate with the other country, allowing the free flow of its goods into your country. Or you can defect, imposing tariffs on the foreign goods. And because you will trade with the same country over and over again, you have to decide whether to stick with a single strategy no matter what or whether to change course in response to your opponent. The other country faces the same choice, but you can’t know in advance what plan they’ve chosen. Free trade helps both countries, generating big windfalls for both sides. But it’s possible for a single country to improve its own situation at the other’s expense — you both have a selfish incentive to defect, taxing the imports from the other country and helping only yourself. However, if you both defect, you both wind up isolated, cutting yourselves off from the market and reducing earnings on both sides.

So, give it a try. Another randomly chosen FiveThirtyEight reader will play the part of the other country.

«

It’s Prisoner’s Dilemma, iterative version. As has been shown by multiple tournaments, the optimal strategy is “nice tit-for-tat”: cooperate (no tariff) in the first round, do whatever your opponent just did to you (cooperate or defect – ie, no tariff, or tariff) in each subsequent round.
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Removing Trending from Facebook • Facebook Newsroom

Alex Hardiman, head of news products:

»

We’re removing Trending soon to make way for future news experiences on Facebook. We introduced Trending in 2014 as a way to help people discover news topics that were popular across the Facebook community. However, it was only available in five countries and accounted for less than 1.5% of clicks to news publishers on average. From research we found that over time people found the product to be less and less useful. We will remove Trending from Facebook next week and we will also remove products and third-party partner integrations that rely on the Trends API.

We’ve seen that the way people consume news on Facebook is changing to be primarily on mobile and increasingly through news video. So we’re exploring new ways to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them, while making sure the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources.

«

Suuuuuure. Trending turned out to be a terrible idea, open to being gamed – as it was – and made worse by firing the humans who had done it and giving the job to machines. (This Wired article from February tells the inside story on that.)
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How Ireland beat dark ads • Foreign Policy

Rachel Lavin and Roland Adorjani:

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Niamh Kirk, a journalism and digital media researcher at Dublin City University, carried out an analysis of the groups that had been buying ads before this ban [on Irish 8th amendment referendum ads] and found that the role played by foreign groups was small but significant. Nine% of ads were from groups based outside of Ireland.

Twenty-eight ads in the TRI database (3% overall) were from groups based in the United States, one was from Canada, three were from France, and the origin of 39 (4% overall) was unclear.

There was also the question of funding. Irish electoral law states that all donations to political campaigns above 100 euros must be registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), meaning the groups paying for these ads should have been publicly declared.

But a number of the ads were being put out by groups that were either not registered or else completely anonymous — especially those coming from the retain side.

Another electoral fear was bots — automated social media accounts used to promote certain topics or users and shut down others. They’ve played a key role in disrupting democratic discourse on Twitter. The Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University found that bots supportive of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election outweighed Hillary Clinton’s 5-to-1.

The same techniques threatened Ireland’s abortion discussion. An analysis of more than 400,000 tweets collected two months before the referendum found a significant proportion of botlike activity.

Out of 165,323 tweets for #Savethe8th (the anti-abortion hashtag), 14% came from accounts with numerical names (3 or more numbers in the handle), 6% were from accounts with numbers in their names and no location, and 2% had no bios in addition to the previous two markers.

Out of 267,274 tweets for #Repealthe8th, the figure for such botlike activity was half of the anti-abortion campaign.

«

Perhaps not allowing these sorts of ads – which can be micro-targeted – would be a good idea, since it’s so hard to make sure that they’re in any way legitimate. And that’s before you get onto the content that isn’t advertising but which gets pushed around Facebook and so on.
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Embattled Chinese telecom giant ZTE beefs up lobbying muscle • Daily Beast

Lachlan Markay:

»

ZTE Corporation struck a contract with D.C. lobbying and public relations powerhouse Mercury Public Affairs on May 14, a day after Trump tweeted that he would consider lifting the penalties that had been imposed on the company as punishment for its violation of sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

The Mercury consultant working on the account is Bryan Lanza, a veteran of the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. Less than two weeks after Lanza’s work began, the Trump administration announced that it had reached a tentative deal to ease those penalties, a move criticized by lawmakers of both parties.

Many factors likely contributed to the resolution of the ZTE penalties, including efforts to leverage ongoing trade negotiations with China. But the swiftness of the Trump administration’s efforts to reach an agreement with the company—and the equally swift decision of that company to bring on a prominent Trumpworld figure—underscores the new world of influence peddling in Washington D.C. An infamously impulsive president, prone to bucking political norms and changing legislative priorities, has compelled companies to turn to K Street just to keep up.

Former aides to any president are a particularly lucrative draw in DC’s influence industry. And true to form, companies looking to win favor with President Trump have frequently turned to those he once employed. Lanza remains close with the White House and occasionally speaks with the president himself.

The Trump administration plan is a lifeline for ZTE. The Commerce Department’s decision to ban the use of American-manufactured parts in ZTE products, chiefly smartphones, prompted the company to announce that it would be forced to shut down global operations absent U.S. government relief.

«

So it’s all grace and favour again. Trump’s venality and hypocrisy never ceases to dismay, but it’s worth citing from time to time.
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Google unceremoniously removes the tablet section from official Android website • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

Google has been doing an impressive job of pretending Android tablets don’t exist for the last few years, and now it’s done pretending. Google has updated the Android website to remove the tablet section entirely. You can now use that site to learn all about Android on Phones, Wear, TV, Auto, and Enterprise. That’s it. RIP Android tablets.

As of yesterday [May 31], the tablet section still existed. You can see the last version of the page in the Internet Archive. It talked about hot new tablets like the Shield and Galaxy Tab S2. So, yeah. It wasn’t getting much attention even before Google killed it. Now, if you try to visit the URL for the tablet page, it kicks you back to the main Android site.

«

Wow, that is quite a statement – even in passive-aggressive form. Whitwam also points out that there are no Android P dev tablets. Though there might be ChromeOS tablets that run Android. Google says it made a mistake updating the site and tablets were never meant to go away.

Even with this, Android tablets come in dead last on developers’ to-do list, which generally runs iPhone, Android phones, iPad, Android tablets. Though possibly ChromeOS comes ahead of Android tablets now.
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Looking for life on a flat earth • New Yorker

Alan Burdick:

»

If we can agree on anything anymore, it’s that we live in a post-truth era. Facts are no longer correct or incorrect; everything is potentially true unless it’s disagreeable, in which case it’s fake. Recently, Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” revealed that, in an interview after the 2016 election, Donald Trump told her that the reason he maligns the press is “to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.” Or, as George Costanza put it, coming from the opposite direction, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

The flat Earth is the post-truth landscape. As a group, its residents view themselves as staunch empiricists, their eyes wide open. The plane truth, they say, can be grasped in experiments that anyone can do at home. For instance, approach a large body of water and hold up a ruler to the horizon: it’s flat all the way across. What pond, lake, or sea have you ever seen where the surface of its waters curves? Another argument holds that, if Earth were truly spherical, an airplane flying above it would need to constantly adjust its nose downward to avoid flying straight into space. If, say, you flew on a plane and put a spirit level—one of those levels that you buy at the hardware store, with a capsule of liquid and an air bubble in the middle—on your tray table, the level should reveal a slight downward inclination. But it doesn’t: the level is level, the flight is level, the nose of the plane is level, and therefore the surface of Earth must be level. Marble performed this experiment himself, recorded it, posted it on YouTube, and a co-worker started a Reddit thread that linked to it. Soon Marble had twenty-two thousand followers and a nickname, the Spirit-Level Guy.

“We’re not trying to express any degree of intellectual superiority,” he said at the conference. “I’m just trying to wake people up to the idea that they’ve been lied to. It’s what you would do with any friend.”

«

It’s hard to decide: are we entering a new dark ages, when the populace is stupid and so are the rulers, and intelligent ideas are pushed aside? Or is this just a fringe, with the necessary intelligent work continuing regardless? I side with the “fringe” idea, but the ability of totally stupid, unscientific ideas to persuade people is unsettling.
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Dixons Carphone risks loss of big mobile groups in contracts row • FT

Nic Fildes:

»

Alex Baldock, new chief executive of Dixons Carphone, warned the mobile phone sector this week that its contracts — some signed after the collapse of its rival Phones 4U in 2014 — were “unsustainable” and in need of renegotiation.

The company revealed plans to close 92 Carphone Warehouse stores and said that revisiting the contracts was a key part of its strategy to improve profitability.

“Our performance is unacceptable in mobile and we won’t tolerate it. One way or another, this performance will improve in the medium-term,” he said during an analysts call.

The mobile operators said that the bellicose statements, and demands for more cash upfront, did not signal that Mr Baldock wanted to build long-term relationships.

One person on the retail side of one of the largest networks said that it has delayed a decision on whether to re-sign with the retailer, and that it could walk away.

Another person at a rival network said that selling phone contracts through Carphone Warehouse was the “least profitable channel for operators” and that the comments suggested that the business was struggling.

«

This is an existential threat for CPW, which grew – as its name suggests – from the original demands to put mobile phones in cars. (Mobile phones were physically big in those days.) If the mobile operators pull out, it has a real problem – the same one that sank Phones4U.
link to this extract


Messenger Kids no longer requires the kids’ parents to be friends, too • TechCrunch

Sarah Perez:

»

Facebook’s Messenger Kids application, which allows children under 13 to chat with parents’ approval, is today rolling out a small, but notable change – it no longer requires that the children’s parents be Facebook friends with one another, in order for the children to connect. This solves one of the problems with the app’s earlier design, where it operated more like an extension of a parents’ own social circle, instead of one for their child.

Of course, parents still have to approve every contact their child adds, as usual.

As any parent understands, there are always going to be those friends of your child where you have an acquaintance-type, friendly but casual relationship with the parents that falls short of earning “Facebook friend” status. While you might text them for the occasional play date or nod politely at drop-off, you’re not necessarily “friends.” But your kids are friends with each other. And you’re fine with that.

The Messenger Kids update now allows those kids to connect, if you okay it.

«

This was totally predictable. My comment back in December when this was announced: “at its core, it’s about getting people – even those under age – to use Facebook more.” Letting more kids connect means they use Facebook more. Ta-da!
link to this extract


Experiment: How easy is it to spy on a smartwatch wearer? • Kaspersky Lab official blog

»

Our research has shown that data obtained from a smartwatch acceleration sensor can be used to recover information about the wearer: movements, habits, some typed information (for example, a laptop password).

Infecting a smartwatch with data-siphoning malware that lets cybercriminals recover this information is quite straightforward. They just need to create an app (say, a trendy clockface or fitness tracker), add a function to read accelerometer data, and upload it to Google Play. In theory, such an app will pass the malware screening, since there is nothing outwardly malicious in what it does.

Should you worry about being spied on by someone using this technique? Only if that someone has a strong motivation to spy on you, specifically. The average cybercrook is after easy pickings and won’t have much to gain.

But if your computer password or route to the office is of value to someone, a smartwatch is a viable tracking tool.

«

Full report here. Note that this is about an Android smartwatch; no word on doing it with an Apple Watch (which one suspects would be a lot more difficult.)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: iMessage + iCloud = secure?, Facebook and the ageist job ads, Twitter gets GDPR-y, the antibiotic problem, and more


CFC escapes look as though someone is making old fridges – but not sealing them up. Photo by ToddBF 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. Until the next ones. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Scientists race to find who is pumping an incredibly dangerous gas into the atmosphere • The Outline

Caroline Haskins:

»

The research letter [published in Nature] considers several possible options. Have there simply been natural changes in the atmosphere? Have refrigerators, air conditioning units, and foam packaging—all of which used to be made with CFCs—been rotting in landfills, releasing those CFCs? Have chlorine, fluorine, and carbon been produced, accidentally forming CFCs as a byproduct?

In all of these cases, the study claims, probably not. The amount of CFC-11 they were detecting was simply too high. The most likely scenario is that CFC-11 is being produced, but not reported. Using air circulation data, the scientists were able to conclude the plumes were probably coming from somewhere in East Asia.

“The [CFC-11 levels] increased by 25 percent,” Montzaka said. “And that was entirely unexpected so that was quite a bit of a shock.”

But where, exactly, are these CFCs coming from? Who is responsible? What are scientists and international policymakers supposed to do now?


A visualization of CFCs in regions around the globe in 2016, with darker colors indicating a higher amount of CFCs. Source: Nature

According to Paul Newman, an atmospheric scientist and co-chair of the Montreal Protocol’s Scientific Assessment Panel, scientists around the world are digging to figure it out.

“The scientists are all running around right now,” Newman told The Outline in a phone call. “Stephen [Montzaka]’s study has sort of lit a fire under a lot of people. They’re going back, they’re taking a look at their data to try and investigate, ‘maybe I got some good CFC-11 measurements.’”

«

link to this extract


So how secure is Messages in iCloud anyway? • The Mac Observer

Andrew Orr:

»

Apple says:

»

Messages in iCloud also uses end-to-end encryption. If you have iCloud Backup turned on, a copy of the key protecting your Messages is included in your backup. This ensures you can recover your Messages if you’ve lost access to iCloud Keychain and your trusted devices. When you turn off iCloud Backup, a new key is generated on your device to protect future messages and it is not stored by Apple.

«

What this means is that all of your messages are encrypted by a key generated using your device’s passcode. This makes it inaccessible to Apple and other third parties. But there’s a caveat.

If you enable iCloud Backup, that encryption key is included. It sounds like a copy of might also be stored in iCloud Keychain. That means if Apple is served a warrant by law enforcement, your iCloud Backup, along with all of its data, can be accessed. But this has always been true of iCloud Backup; the inclusion of Messages in iCloud hasn’t changed this fact.

«

If you’re really wary, then you don’t use iCloud Backup. That means you can still use iMessage, but the authorities can’t get at it except through your device.
link to this extract


German court snubs ICANN’s bid to compel registrar to slurp up data • The Register

Rebecca Hill:

»

Filing the suit was one of ICANN’s last-ditch attempts to deal with GDPR – for which it is ill-prepared, despite having had two years to work on compliance – and ensure the future of the Whois domain-name-lookup service.

Other attempts have seen ICANN unsuccessfully beg EU data protection agencies for a one-year extension to allow it to become compliant, and a temporary policy issued to registrars just one week before the GDPR enforcement date.

It is likely ICANN hoped that issues with other registrars over their contracts and GDPR would be put off until this case had made its way through the courts has been scuppered also.

However, the German court has scuppered these chances by rejecting the request for an injunction, in a ruling (PDF) that described ICANN’s application as unfounded.

ICANN had said that the technical and administrative contacts have important functions, and are needed for the stable and secure operation of the domain name system as well as to identify customers related to technical or legal issues.

But in its ruling, the court said that although it was clear that having more data makes identifying and contacting the people behind a domain more reliable, ICANN had not demonstrated that storing this other data was indispensable for its purposes.

«

It’s that “two years to work on compliance” aspect which is so amazing. American companies have really thought that they’re untouchable. Guess what? Not the case.
link to this extract


US mobile market update – Q1 2018 • Chetan Sharma

:

»

• Smartphone penetration stood at 94%.
• For the first time, there were more connected smart watches added to the network than postpaid or prepaid phones. Connected smart watches (read Apple Watch) have proved to be a surprise hit for the operators.
• The quarter saw a sharp decline (biggest decline ever) in connected tablets indicating waning interest from consumers in the segment. This might have implications to the 5G strategy for OEMs.
• Connected cars and IoT continue to dominate the net-adds. Their share of the net-adds reached historic highs in Q1 2018. In fact, the combined category commanded well over 90% share for the first time.
Again, connected vehicles was the biggest net-adds category for the quarter which was dominated by AT&T.
• While the operators struggled to maintain growth, the overall wireless market continues to grow rapidly thanks to the continued explosion on the 4th Wave by new digital players.
• Net Income rose 10% while Capex and Opex declined sharply.

«

A stagnant market; if the TMobile/Sprint merger comes off, I’d expect downward pressure on prices.
Also: handset renewal cycle is now an average of 3 years.
link to this extract


In the world of cryptocurrency, even good projects can go bad • NY Times

:

»

In one of their many promotional posts on Medium, the Envion team wrote: “As financial regulators across the globe look to regulate I.C.O.s and protect investors, Envion serves as a model for a compliant crowdsale that operates with the same transparency and integrity of traditional financial markets.”
A current spokesman for the founders, Laurent Martin, said problems had begun even before the project started fund-raising late last year, because of the chief executive the founders brought in, Matthias Woestmann.

According to Mr. Martin, the founders gave Mr. Woestmann what they thought was temporary control of their shares in the company. Mr. Woestmann later refused to give them back, and then diluted the shares of the other owners, providing him with control of the money that was raised.

Mr. Martin said the problems that had come up since then were not caused by the I.C.O. structure. Instead, he said, they are a result of Mr. Woestmann’s tactics and his refusal to give back ownership of the company.

“Envion did something truly unique in the way they protected investors,” Mr. Martin said. “It’s unfortunate that each of these bulwarks is being tested.”

«

I know I link to a lot of negative stories about cryptocurrencues; that’s because there are so many of them and this sector is so busy, with billions of dollars poured into projects which have zero hope of going anywhere. And it’s not venture capital money; it’s individuals’. It’s also a honeypot for scammers.

I hope people will come to their senses, but the lure of something for apparently nothing is too tempting.
link to this extract


Here’s why Twitter’s locking people out of their accounts • Mashable

Karissa Bell:

»

Over the past week, the company’s been suspending the accounts of people who joined Twitter before they were 13 — even if they’re now older — due to new European privacy laws.

It’s not clear just how many accounts have been affected, but a look at the r/Twitter subreddit and the #TwitterLockout hashtag shows a substantial number of users have reported suspensions in recent days. VentureBeat also reports that at least one business account, which had listed a “birthdate” as the company’s founding date, had also been suspended. 

Users are reporting receiving emails and notifications from Twitter alerting them that their accounts can no longer be accessed. Some have reported the suspensions have immediately followed a prompt to add their birthdate to their profile.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the record, but Mashable has confirmed the lockouts are a direct result of the company’s implementation of GDPR guidelines.

«

That really is quite weird. I guess it’s because that means twitter holds data from them from before they were 13.

Just give your birthday as 1/1/1970 – the Unix birthday. Easy to remember, probably isn’t yours, passes age requirements. Until you miss the job ads, as below…
link to this extract


Facebook, Amazon, and hundreds of companies post targeted job ads that screen out older workers • Vox

Alexia Fernández Campbell:

»

The plaintiffs argue that Amazon, T-Mobile, Ikea, Facebook, and hundreds of other companies target the ads so they are only seen by younger Facebook users.

The lawsuit revolves around Facebook’s unique business model, which lets advertisers micro-target the network’s users based on their interests, city, age, and other demographic information. In the past, equal rights advocates have sued Facebook for accepting ads that discriminate against consumers based on their religion, race, and gender.

Facebook has argued that the company is not legally responsible when other companies buy ads that violate the law. But in a new filing, the CWA has now added Facebook to its complaint as one of the companies accused of violating civil rights laws by targeting its own job ads to younger users.

Here is one ad Facebook posted, submitted by the plaintiffs, inviting users to a career fair with Facebook recruiters. The ads were visible only to users between the ages of 21 and 55:

Facebook ad submitted as evidence in Bradley v. T-Mobile. US District Court for the Northern District of California

Facebook has denied that these kinds of ads are a form of age discrimination.

«

Very predictable that if there’s a way to discriminate, companies will use it.
link to this extract


Google will try to tackle latest iPhones with Pixel phone upgrades • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

The Alphabet Inc. unit is planning at least two new models, likely to be dubbed the “Pixel 3” and “Pixel 3 XL,” said people familiar with the matter. The larger phone is designed with a nearly edge-to-edge screen, except for a thicker bezel known as a chin at the bottom of the phone. The display also will [like the iPhone X] have a notch – or a cutout – at the top. The smaller model will look similar to the Pixel 2 and won’t include the notch or edge-to-edge look, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren’t yet public.

Google’s Pixel smartphones are widely regarded as some of the best Android-based devices, but they continue to lag far behind Apple Inc.’s iPhone and products from Samsung Electronics Co. in sales and market share. Google shipped fewer than 4 million units in 2017, according to data from analytics company IDC. That compares with 216 million iPhones shipped in the same period. Google intends to keep updating its Pixel line annually as it sees the hardware division as important to the company’s long-term future.

«

This headline is nonsense. How is selling one-fiftieth as many phones as a putative rival “tackling”? The question should be about what Google’s strategic aim is in selling the Pixel, because – except for the edgiest of edge cases – it’s not about getting people to dump their iPhones.

So why is the hardware division important? If you’re selling what amounts to a rounding error in the wider scheme of things, what’s the purpose? With the Nexus, when Android phones were a wild mishmash, there was a clarity: show how it should be done. Is that still the case with the Pixel? You wouldn’t know from this report, which is where Gurman’s writing fails, for me. Don’t just recount the boring stuff. Explain the boring stuff, because someone in Google must have an idea why they’re doing it.
link to this extract


Antibiotic resistance crisis worsening because of collapse in supply • The Guardian

Nicola Davis:

»

The antibiotic resistance crisis which is threatening to render many diseases untreatable is being fuelled not just by overuse of the drugs, but a fragile supply chain that is at risk of collapse, experts have warned.

The authors of a white paper by the Dutch non-profit organisation Access to Medicine say a lack of access to specific antibiotics can lead to less appropriate drugs being prescribed for an infection, or even the use of lower doses – both of which increase the risk of antibiotic resistance – as well as delay for treatment. What’s more, they say, low stocks can lead to price hikes and mean poor quality medicines become rife.

“The right products need to reach the right patients at the right time,” said Dr Jayasree Iyer, executive director of the Access to Medicine Foundation and co-author of the report.

Among the shortages flagged is that of the common antibiotic benzathine penicillin G, which was found by to be unavailable in 39 countries in 2015, including India, Australia and the US, and is the only drug that can prevent and treat the transmission of syphilis from mother to child. The shortage, the report notes, coincided with the growing rise of syphilis in Brazil that has resulted in an uptick in babies born with congenital illnesses.

The report also cites a recent shortage of the intravenous antibiotic and antibacterial combination piperacillin-tazobactam. Caused by an explosion at a Chinese factory that produced raw materials for the medication, the situation led doctors in the UK to warn that patients were being put at risk from reliance on alternative medications, with supplies of the drug restricted to severe cases of sepsis and ventilator-acquired pneumonia.

«

Back in 1997 the then UK science minister said to me his biggest concern was the lack of investment by pharmaceutical companies in new antibiotics, and the overuse of existing ones. Nothing has changed in over 20 years.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: explaining bitcoin’s price fall, an AI winter?, Meeker’s latest trends, ultrasonic attack!, and more


Don’t just sit there, look at the geotargeted ads on your phone. Photo by adm 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. Deja vu again? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AI winter is well on its way • Piekniewski’s blog

Filip Piekniewski is sceptical on the AI/ML front:

»

One of the key slogans repeated about deep learning is that it scales almost effortlessly. We had the AlexNet in 2012 which had ~60M parameters, we probably now have models with at least 1000x that number right? Well probably we do, the question however is – are these things 1000x as capable? Or even 100x as capable? A study by openAI comes in handy:

So in terms of applications for vision we see that VGG and Resnets saturated somewhat around one order of magnitude of compute resources applied (in terms of number of parameters it is actually less). Xception is a variation of google inception architecture and actually only slightly outperforms inception on ImageNet, arguably actually slightly outperforms everyone else, because essentially AlexNet solved ImageNet. So at 100 times more compute than AlexNet we pretty much saturated architectures in terms of vision, or image classification to be precise. Neural machine translation is a big effort by all the big web search players and no wonder it takes all the compute it can take (and yet google translate still sucks, though has gotten arguably better). The latest three points on that graph, interestingly show reinforcement learning related projects, applied to games by Deepmind and OpenAI. Particularly AlphaGo Zero and slightly more general AlphaZero take ridiculous amount of compute, but are not applicable in the real world applications because much of that compute is needed to simulate and generate the data these data hungry models need. OK, so we can now train AlexNet in minutes rather than days, but can we train a 1000x bigger AlexNet in days and get qualitatively better results? Apparently not…

«

I’m not sure I agree with him on all of this, but refuting it isn’t trivial. The point is, Google/DeepMind tends to go a long time in submarine mode, then pop up with something big. Just because you can’t see the submarine doesn’t mean it isn’t making progress – perhaps a lot.
link to this extract


Worldwide smartphone volumes will remain down in 2018 before returning to growth in 2019 • IDC

»

After declining 0.3% in 2017, the worldwide smartphone market is expected to contract again in 2018 before returning to growth in 2019 and beyond. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, smartphone shipments are forecast to drop 0.2% in 2018 to 1.462bn units, which is down from 1.465bn in 2017 and 1.469bn in 2016. Looking further out, IDC expects the market is to grow roughly 3% annually from 2019 onwards with worldwide shipment volume reaching 1.654bn in 2022 and a five year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.5%.

The biggest driver of the 2017 downturn was China, which saw its smartphone market decline 4.9% year over year. Tough times are expected to continue in 2018 as IDC forecasts consumption in China to decline another 7.1% before flattening out in 2019. The biggest upside in Asia/Pacific continues to be India with volumes expected to grow 14% and 16% in 2018 and 2019. Chinese OEMs will continue their strategy of selling large volumes of low-end devices by shifting their focus from China to India. So far most have been able to get around the recently introduced India import tariffs by doing final device assembly at local India manufacturing plants. As for components, almost everything is still being sourced from China.

«

Europe and the US have had their rapid growth; now it’s going to be the slow slide to saturation.

link to this extract


Google spinoff Dandelion uses ground energy to heat, cool homes • CNET

Sean Keane:

»

Google spinoff Dandelion unveiled on Wednesday a smart heating and air conditioning system that uses energy from the ground to regulate your home’s temperature.

The business, which originated in the semi-secret X research and development lab run by Google parent company Alphabet, was founded last year to sell geothermal energy systems to consumers. Its first commercial product is dubbed Dandelion Air.

Dandelion Air is a geothermal system that moves heat between the house and the ground using plastic pipes and a pump, bringing heat to the building in winter and pushing heat into the ground in summer.

The system is nearly twice as efficient as typical air conditioning systems and four times more efficient than traditional furnaces, the New York-based energy company said.

«

Er, to my eyes this is a completely standard ground source heat pump, and they all have that typical comparative efficiency. They’ve been around for decades. Work like a fridge in reverse. This came out of Google X? What next, a film camera?
link to this extract


How futures trading changed bitcoin prices • Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Galina Hale, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Marianna Kudlyak, and Patrick Shultz:

»

The peak bitcoin price coincided with the day bitcoin futures started trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME). In this Economic Letter, we argue that these price dynamics are consistent with the rise and collapse of the home financing market in the 2000s, as explained in Fostel and Geanakoplos (2012). They suggested that the mortgage boom was driven by financial innovations in securitization and groupings of bonds that attracted optimistic investors; the subsequent bust was driven by the creation of instruments that allowed pessimistic investors to bet against the housing market. Similarly, the advent of blockchain introduced a new financial instrument, bitcoin, which optimistic investors bid up, until the launch of bitcoin futures allowed pessimists to enter the market, which contributed to the reversal of the bitcoin price dynamics…

…Given that there is no actual asset that backs the value of bitcoin and it doesn’t provide a natural hedge as insurance against sharp moves in any other asset’s value, what will eventually determine the “fundamental” price of bitcoin is transactional demand relative to supply. We know that bitcoin is used as a means of exchange in a number of markets. The amount of bitcoins needed for these markets to function constitutes transactional demand. The supply growth of bitcoin is becoming more limited as the mining price increases. If transactional demand grows faster than supply, we would expect the price to grow.

«

The “if” in “if transactional demand grows” is doing a lot of heavy lifting – and as they also point out, as these are winner-takes-all markets, if something is able to do the transactional job better than bitcoin, all the value could migrate there. Someone said on a panel on Wednesday that bitcoin will be seen in the future as the Napster of cryptocurrencies. Could be correct.
link to this extract


Lawyers send mobile ads to phones in ER waiting rooms • NPR

Bobby Allyn:

»

Patients sitting in emergency rooms, at chiropractors’ offices and at pain clinics in the Philadelphia area may start noticing on their phones the kind of messages typically seen along highway billboards and public transit: personal injury law firms looking for business by casting mobile online ads at patients.

The potentially creepy part? They’re only getting fed the ad because somebody knows they are in an emergency room.

The technology behind the ads, known as geofencing, or placing a digital perimeter around a specific location, has been deployed by retailers for years to offer coupons and special offers to customers as they shop. Bringing it into health care spaces, however, is raising alarm among privacy experts.

“It’s really, I think, the closest thing an attorney can do to putting a digital kiosk inside of an emergency room,” says digital marketer Bill Kakis, who runs the Long Island, N.Y.-based firm Tell All Digital. Kakis says he recently inked deals with personal injury law firms in the Philadelphia area to target patients.

«

“Potentially” creepy? All-around creepy, unwarranted, unwelcome. I’m constantly amazed at Americans’ ability to monetise the smallest moments of life, as though it were an insult that any moment should be left without commerce.
link to this extract


Software is eating the world, Tesla edition • Marginal REVOLUTION

Alex Tabarrok:

»

Last week Consumer Reports refused to recommend Tesla’s Model 3 because it discovered lengthy braking distances. This week Consumer Reports changed their review to recommend after Tesla improved braking distance by nearly 20 feet with an over the air software update!

…The larger economic issue is that every durable good is becoming a service. When you buy a car, a refrigerator, a house you will be buying a stream of future services, updates, corrections, improvements. That is going to change the industrial organization of firms and potentially increase monopoly power for two reasons. First, reputation will increase in importance as consumers will want to buy from firms they perceive as being well-backed and long-lasting and second durable goods will be rented more than bought which makes it easier for durable goods producers not to compete with themselves thus solving Coase’s durable good monopoly problem.

«

Coase’s durable monopoly problem (in case you don’t have a JSTOR login) is explained on Wikipedia: essentially, it’s that in a market where you can’t resell a particular product, a monopoly provider will have to go for the lowest, rather than highest, possible price.

Tabarrok is saying that over-the-air updates make items more desirable over time, which keeps pricing higher. Makes sense. There’s also some fun discussion in the comments about how Tesla improved its braking distance so much and so quickly.
link to this extract


This AI knows who you are by the way you walk • Gizmodo

George Dvorsky:

»

Neural networks can find telltale patterns in a person’s gait that can be used to recognize and identify them with almost perfect accuracy, according to new research published in IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence. The new system, called SfootBD, is nearly 380 times more accurate than previous methods, and it doesn’t require a person to go barefoot in order to work. It’s less invasive than other behavioral biometric verification systems, such as retinal scanners or fingerprinting, but its passive nature could make it a bigger privacy concern, since it could be used covertly.

“Each human has approximately 24 different factors and movements when walking, resulting in every individual person having a unique, singular walking pattern,” Omar Costilla Reyes, the lead author of the new study and a computer scientist at the University of Manchester, said in a statement.

To create the system, Reyes compiled a database consisting of 20,000 footstep signals from more than 120 individuals. It’s now the largest footsteps database in existence. Each gait was measured using pressure pads on the floor and a high-resolution camera. An artificially intelligent system called a deep residual neural network scoured through the data, analyzing weight distribution, gait speed, and three-dimensional measures of each walking style. Importantly, the system considers aspects of the gait, rather than the shape of the footprint.

«

I certainly recall writing stories about systems that could recognise whether you were up to no good in, say, a car park by how you walked: did you head purposefully in one direction or amble around (sizing up cars)? Identification by gait has also been a thing for a while – it’s a plot strand in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. When that opened in 2015, Gizmodo asked “why does this [gait analysis] even exist??” (Though as it points out, there are many more difficult questions you could ask about MI:RN.)

And actually.. what are the circumstances where you’d use this?
link to this extract


Mary Meeker’s 2018 internet trends report: All the slides, plus analysis • Recode

Rani Molla pulls some highlights from the full presentation; these are a few of the higher highlights:

»

• Despite the high-profile releases of $1,000 iPhones and Samsung Galaxy Notes, the global average selling price of smartphones is continuing to decline. Lower costs help drive smartphone adoption in less-developed markets.
• Mobile payments are becoming easier to complete. China continues to lead the rest of the world in mobile payment adoption, with over 500 million active mobile payment users in 2017.
• Voice-controlled products like Amazon Echo are taking off. The Echo’s installed base in the US grew from 20 million in the third quarter of 2017 to more than 30 million in the fourth quarter.
• Tech companies are facing a “privacy paradox.” They’re caught between using data to provide better consumer experiences and violating consumer privacy.
• Tech companies are becoming a larger part of U.S. business. In April, they accounted for 25% of US market capitalization. They are also responsible for a growing share of corporate R&D and capital spending.
• E-commerce sales growth is continuing to accelerate. It grew 16% in the US in 2017, up from 14% in 2016. Amazon is taking a bigger share of those sales at 28% last year. Conversely, physical retail sales are continuing to decline.

«

link to this extract


How spies can use your cellphone to find you – and eavesdrop on your calls and texts too • The Washington Post

Craig Timberg on the creaking, insecure SS7 system that helps track phones for carriers, and so is exploited to track individuals:

»

[US Senator Ron] Wyden said the risks posed by SS7 surveillance go beyond privacy to affect national security. American, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies are the most active users of SS7 surveillance, experts say, and private-sector vendors have put systems within the reach of dozens of other governments worldwide. Sophisticated criminals and private providers of business intelligence also use the surveillance technology.

“America is the Number One target, far and away. Everyone wants to know what’s happening in America,” said Brian Collins, chief executive of AdaptiveMobile Security, a cellular security firm based in Dublin. “You will always be a target, whether at home or away.”

Other experts said SS7 surveillance techniques are widely used worldwide, especially in less developed regions where cellular networks are less sophisticated and may not have any protection against tracking and interception. But the experts agreed that Americans are significant targets, especially of rival governments eager to collect intelligence in the United States and other nations where Americans use their cellphones.

Collins said his firm detected a surge in SS7 queries in US networks in late 2014 that it thinks was related to the Office of Personnel Management hack in which intruders — widely reported to be Chinese — gained access to the files of millions of federal workers, including in some cases their phone numbers. (Although publicly reported in 2015, the hack began at least a year earlier.)

AdaptiveMobile Security also detected an uptick in malicious SS7 queries this month in the Middle East, in the days after President Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, Collins said. This surveillance probably was the work of intelligence agencies studying how the US move would affect oil prices and production, Collins said.

«

link to this extract


Sonic and ultrasonic attacks damage hard drives and crash OSes • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

Attackers can cause potentially harmful hard drive and operating system crashes by playing sounds over low-cost speakers embedded in computers or sold in stores, a team of researchers demonstrated last week.

The attacks use sonic and ultrasonic sounds to disrupt magnetic HDDs as they read or write data. The researchers showed how the technique could stop some video-surveillance systems from recording live streams. Just 12 seconds of specially designed acoustic interference was all it took to cause video loss in a 720p system made by Ezviz. Sounds that lasted for 105 seconds or more caused the stock Western Digital 3.5 HDD in the device to stop recording altogether until it was rebooted.

The device uses flash storage to house its firmware, but by default it uses a magnetic HDD to store the large quantities of video it records. The attack used a speaker hanging from a ceiling that rested about four inches above the surveillance system’s HDD. The researchers didn’t remove the casing or otherwise tamper with the surveillance system.

“For such systems, the integrity of the recorded data is vital to the usefulness of the system, which makes them susceptible to acoustic interference or vibration attacks,” the researchers wrote in a paper titled “Blue Note: How Intentional Acoustic Interference Damages Availability and Integrity in Hard Disk Drives and Operating Systems.”

The technique was also able to disrupt HDDs in desktop and laptop computers running both Windows and Linux. In some cases, it even required a reboot before the PCs worked properly.

«

Yet another reason to use SSDs.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: TSB thefts continue, selfish economists, AirPlay 2!, spot the drowning child, and more


If this ticket wins, the neighbours are more likely to go bust. Photo by Sean MacEntee 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 14 links for you. Not available on ABC. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

TSB left man on hold as his wedding savings were stolen • BBC News

Jon Douglas:

»

Ben Alford from Weymouth in Dorset said it took more than four and a half hours to get through to TSB, by which time most of the money had gone. He is one of many affected by fraud who have struggled to contact the bank.

TSB says it has put in “additional resources” to support customers.

Ben called TSB after he noticed a £9,000 loan with another company had been taken out in his name without his knowledge. The money had been paid into the TSB joint bank account he shares with his girlfriend, Francesca Cuff.

Ben said a £1,000 overdraft had also been set up without their permission. He says he was logged into internet banking, and waiting for someone at TSB to answer his telephone call, when he noticed that money had begun to be stolen.

“There was initially £5,000 taken out of that account followed by another amount of £4,000, he told BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme. “Had they answered their fraud line promptly, none of this money would have been taken because it could have been stopped. I literally watched the money go out of our account”.

«

Thousands of people are suffering because TSB has not just screwed up the upgrade, but let its security down calamitously. It’s disgraceful.
link to this extract


Reproducibility in machine learning: why it matters and how to achieve it • Determined.ai

JEnnifer Villa and Yoav Zimmerman:

»

You’ve been handed your first project at your new job. The inference time on the existing ML model is too slow, so the team wants you to analyze the performance tradeoffs of a few different architectures. Can you shrink the network and still maintain acceptable accuracy?

The engineer who developed the original model is on leave for a few months, but not to worry, you’ve got the model source code and a pointer to the dataset. You’ve been told the model currently reports 30.3% error on the validation set and that the company isn’t willing to let that number creep above 33.0%.

You start by training a model from the existing architecture so you’ll have a baseline to compare against. After reading through the source, you launch your coworker’s training script and head home for the day, leaving it to run overnight.

The next day you return to a bizarre surprise: the model is reporting 52.8% validation error after 10,000 batches of training. Looking at the plot of your model’s validation error alongside that of your teammate leaves you scratching your head. How did the error rate increase before you even made any changes?

«

Via Pete Warden, who is one of Google’s people working on AI. A topic that one would imagine is close to his heart.
link to this extract


The rapid evolution of Homo Economicus: brief exposure to neoclassical assumptions increases self-interested behavior • Science Direct

John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee:

»

Economics students have been shown to exhibit more selfishness than other students. Because the literature identifies the impact of long-term exposure to economics instruction (e.g., taking a course), it cannot isolate the specific course content responsible; nor can selection, peer effects, or other confounds be properly controlled for. In a laboratory experiment, we use a within- and across-subject design to identify the impact of brief, randomly-assigned economics lessons on behavior in the ultimatum game (UG), dictator game (DG), prisoner’s dilemma (PD), and public-goods game (PGG). We find that a brief lesson that includes the assumptions of self-interest and strategic considerations moves behavior toward traditional economic rationality in UG, PD, and DG. Despite entering the study with higher levels of selfishness than others, subjects with prior exposure to economics instruction have similar training effects.

«

Hmm.
link to this extract


Shutting down facebook in PNG is a reality • Papua New Guinea Post Courier

Benny Geteng:

»

Facebook users in the country can expect a month’s shutdown access to the site in PNG [Papua New Guinea] in order for the Communications and Information Technology Department to carry out research and analysis of its use.

Communications Minister Sam Basil said that the shutdown would enable the department and National Research Institute to conduct further research on how the social network was being used by users.

“The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed.

“This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly,” Mr Basil said.

The Minister said that the department could better analyse the positive impact it would have on the population during the month-long shutdown and weigh the impact of progress without or with its use.

Mr Basil said that his Ministry was trying to enforce the Cyber Crime Act which was legislated in 2016.

“The Act has already been passed, so what I’m trying to do is to ensure the law is enforced accordingly where perpetrators can be identified and charged accordingly. We cannot allow the abuse of Facebook to continue in the country.”

«

PNG population: about 8 million. Facebook users there: about 600-700,000.
link to this extract


Keeping up with the Joneses: neighbors of lottery winners are more likely to go bankrupt • Bloomberg

Peter Coy:

»

As if you needed proof that trying to keep up with the Joneses isn’t a good idea, here it is: close neighbors of lottery winners in Canada tended to spend more on conspicuous goods, put more money into speculative investments such as stocks, borrow more money—and eventually declare bankruptcy.

“The larger the dollar magnitude of a lottery prize of one individual in a very small neighborhood, the more subsequent bankruptcies there will be from other individuals in that neighborhood,” says the latest version of a working paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia by Sumit Agarwal of Georgetown University, Vyacheslav Mikhed of the Philadelphia Fed, and Barry Scholnick of the University of Alberta. It’s titled: “Does the Relative Income of Peers Cause Financial Distress? Evidence from Lottery Winners and Neighboring Bankruptcies”…

…A telltale sign was that they raised spending on things that everyone in the neighborhood could see, such as cars, but not on indoor items like furniture.

The new version adds some important insights, co-author Mikhed explained in an email. One is that neighbors who filed for bankruptcy tended to have more of their assets in high-risk investments such as stocks vs. low-risk ones like insurance and cash. That’s consistent with the theory that they were hoping to make a killing in the market and even things up with the lottery winner.

«

Keep the neighbourhood safe from lottery winners!

link to this extract


China prosecutes 98 over alleged $2bn OneCoin pyramid scheme • CoinDesk

Wolfie Zhao:

»

the legal process launched in September 2017 and has been conducted in three phases that have seen 98 people prosecuted for allegedly deceiving investors across over 20 provinces in China. A number of those have already been sentenced with up to four years in prison and/or fines ranging from 10,000–5 million yuan ($1,565–$783,000).

The prosecutor said that the scheme involved up to 2 million victims, while the amount of capital received from investors totals as much as 15 billion yuan (around $2 billion). Nearly 1.7 billion yuan ($266 million) has been recovered, the report states.

As previously reported by CoinDesk, the OneCoin scheme, which was founded by an individual called Ruja Ignatova, has been scrutinized by police in a number of countries over suspicions that it is fraudulent.

Promoters in Italy have been fined millions of euros, while authorities in India also moved to arrest suspects associated with OneCoin in April of last year and subsequently brought charges against Ignatova in July.

«

Pyramid schemes never die, they just look for new formats to exist in.
link to this extract


Morgan Stanley: Apple’s App Store clobbers Google Play • Philip Elmer‑DeWitt

Analyst Katy Huberty put together a presentation about “The Emerging Power of Apple Services”. The telling graphics are these two, I think:

and

That widening delta between the App Store and Google Play is not what had been expected. Possibly it understates advertising revenue because those figures are hard to extract, but most of the revenue will come from games, and those can be easily estimated. (Note too that Google hasn’t said much about Google Play revenue.)

But it’s clear that iOS customers are really valuable. Android has conquered the world in terms of penetration; Apple has conquered it in terms of getting wallets open.
link to this extract


Microsoft is now more valuable than Alphabet — by about $10bn • CNBC

Jordan Novet:

»

When Google first passed Microsoft in terms of stock market value six years ago, it looked like the companies were headed in opposite directions.

But over the past 12 months, Microsoft has surged 40%, more than five times Alphabet’s gain, and has again become the more valuable of the two. As of mid-day Tuesday, Microsoft was worth $749bn and Alphabet’s market capitalization stood at $739bn.

Microsoft’s latest rally has been sparked by growth in its cloud-computing business, which is bigger than Google’s though it still trails Amazon Web Services. In March, Microsoft reorganized its Windows and Devices Group and moved its engineering resources into other units, including one focusing on cloud and artificial intelligence.

Both Microsoft and Alphabet beat analysts’ expectations in the first quarter.

Google went public in 2004 and spent the next eight years closing the gap with Microsoft, which debuted on the stock market in 1986. Even after Google first passed Microsoft in 2012, the companies flip-flopped several times over the next few years.

«

The growing confidence in Microsoft is all down to Nadella tearing it away from its past obsessions – mobile and, most recently, the fixation on Windows as the centre of everything. (There’s a good recent episode of the Exponent podcast with Ben Thompson and James Allworth on this.) Google’s growing, but slower. Where’s its second act?
link to this extract


iOS 11.4 brings stereo pairs and multi-room audio with AirPlay 2 • Apple

»

HomePod, the breakthrough wireless speaker from Apple, now delivers an even more immersive listening experience throughout the home with support for HomePod stereo pairs and a new multi-room audio system in iOS 11.4. This free software update introduces the most advanced, easy to use, wireless multi-room audio system using AirPlay 2 to play music in any room from any room, move music from one room to another or play the same song everywhere using an iOS device, HomePod, Apple TV or by asking Siri. HomePod is available in the US, UK and Australia and arrives in Canada, France and Germany starting June 18.

«

So AirPlay 2 – the long-awaited, better-than-v1 flavour – arrives. Now my question is: will the tvOS update that comes with it allow you to set a HomePod as the default output for an Apple TV?

I ask because the HomePod makes a great output speaker for the Apple TV – far better than the reedy speakers of most flat-screen TVs – but although you can set the HomePod as an output, as soon as the Apple TV goes to sleep it forgets about the HomePod, and you have to tangle through the settings to get to the Audio/Video outputs again, and once more set the HomePod as output. It’s as boring to do as it is to read.

Defaults matter; being able to default to this would be huge.
link to this extract


Trump’s right-hand troll • The Atlantic

McKay Coppins speaks to, and profiles, Stephen Miller, the thirtysomething who writes many of Trump’s speeches and has been a right-wing outrageist for decades:

»

When president Trump needs to learn about an issue, he likes to stage his own cable-news-style shout-fests in the Oval Office. In lieu of primped pundits, he has to make due with White House staffers, but the basic concept is the same: two people with conflicting points of view whacking away at each other as forcefully—and entertainingly—as possible. Trump seems to process information best in this format, according to people who have worked in the administration. Often, when the debate lacks a voice for a position the president wants to hear articulated, he will call Miller into the room and have him make the case.

Miller “can play both sides for the sake of the argument,” Gidley told me. “He can come in and play the staunch conservative or the Democrat, because he understands both.” What’s more, he often wins. “You can pull a debate-club argument out of a hat and Stephen can argue it convincingly,” a former administration official said. “It’s not that he knows everything in the world—it’s that he understands Trump. He’s been dealing with him a long time, and he understands how he inputs information.”

Miller told me that while there is sometimes a need for a devil’s advocate, he spends most of his time pushing for positions that he believes in. Indeed, a review of his record thus far leaves little doubt about the agenda he’s trying to advance, from more aggressive law enforcement to a conservative-nationalist economic policy. Notably, he’s emerged as one of the most strident immigration restrictionists in an administration known for such draconian measures as forcibly separating children from their parents at the border.

But Miller’s work in the White House has also borne the same trollish hallmark that defined his campus activism.

«

The article doesn’t get to the heart of whether Miller has a cohesive political theory. But maybe he doesn’t need to. He just likes provoking.
link to this extract


What it’s like when Elon Musk’s Twitter mob comes after you • Daily Beast

Erin Biba:

»

look, you don’t have to take my word for it. Maybe a bunch of men calling me a cunt doesn’t strike you as harassment. The thing is, many, many other female journalists have experienced the same pile-on from MuskBros every time they tweet criticism of him. Shannon Stirone, a freelance journalist who covers space for publications like Popular Science, Wired, and The Atlantic, told me: “Sadly there is a pattern to what happens after criticizing Elon. There is a reason I don’t do it very often because I don’t enjoy dealing with the backlash from the army of men who come out to defend him. I’ve gotten replies calling me a ‘stupid bitch’ and names along the same vein. They are so deeply angry and instead of using their words they lash out in the only way they seem to know how which is to be abusive and demeaning.

“It is as though they’ve invested their own identity as males into Elon and his work that when anyone (especially women) dares to say anything that isn’t ‘praise for Elon’ it’s only a matter of minutes before the nasty messages come flowing in,” Stirone said. “That ‘bro’ culture is aggressive and deeply misogynistic. It’s exhausting and painful to watch my female colleagues get threats and hurtful messages sent to them all because we called him out.”

Mika McKinnon, a geophysicist and freelance science journalist who writes for Gizmodo, Racked, New Scientist, and others, has said she has stopped tagging Elon, SpaceX, or Tesla in any of her tweets in an attempt to protect herself from the onslaught of abuse.

“The cost of joining a larger conversation is too high. I’m good at handling barrages of hate mail—I was working for Gawker during Gamergate—but it takes energy and it’s easy to miss opportunities when I need to heavily filter my email and social media mentions,” McKinnon said. “This is the only person and company I deliberately avoid tagging out of a desire to not get swamped. It makes me sad that engaging in conversation is so painful, and it took me too long to realize it wasn’t worth the cost.”

«

The price of being female and having an opinion, especially about a man in the public eye, on Twitter seems calamitously high. The price of being an anonymous male and being rude about a woman in the public eye seems calamitously low. Biba received hate on Twitter, on Instagram, via email.

The “MuskBros” go after male writers too, but the implied threat is lower. The problem is the cultish behaviour, which we see again and again.
link to this extract


Apple’s Star project could be an ARM-based touchscreen hybrid with LTE • 9to5Mac

Guilherme Rambo:

»

Apple is now working on a new device, codenamed Star. With an interesting model name N84, it could be the first Mac with an ARM processor, or the first iOS notebook…or something completely different.

Macs have been using Intel processors since 2006 and Apple mobile devices have been using Apple-designed processors since 2010. It was recently reported that Apple was going to move Macs to their own processors by 2020.

We have been following information about the Star project for a few months, with sources in the supply chain. It is currently in prototype stage, with prototypes being manufactured by Pegatron, Apple’s partner in China which also manufactures other Apple iOS devices.  A small number of units have been shipped to Cupertino for testing by Apple employees. These prototypes have been in production since at least January 2018.

There’s not much information on what the device could possibly be, but we do know that it has a touch screen, a sim card slot, GPS, compass, is water resistant and it also runs EFI. EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs, which leads us to believe that the Star project could potentially be the first ARM-based Mac, with a ship date as soon as 2020.

«

Also: tweet from Longhorn, a hardware hacker, saying it’s part of a “new device family” which runs an “iOS derivative”. And Digitimes saying Pegatron (which makes laptops) is “likely to get” the order; Pegatron wouldn’t comment.

But then with a bucket of ice-cold water, Mark Gurman “is told” (doesn’t say by whom) that it’s the low-cost LCD-screen iPhone for this year which looks like the iPhone X.

So, pick your rumour.
link to this extract


Smartphone AI: separating hype and reality • CCS Insight Research

Geoff Blaber:

»

With artificial intelligence firmly at the peak of the hype curve, the industry must be collectively conscious that technologies deliver tangible benefits rather than an empty claim of intelligence. This should be easy given that artificial intelligence isn’t a new phenomenon. What is new is the way solutions are being marketed expressly under the banner of artificial intelligence.

The advent of dedicated accelerators for artificial intelligence workloads is a mixed blessing. Even defining these is difficult because of architectural similarities to digital signal processors (DSPs). Artificial intelligence is becoming pervasive in smartphones, spanning everything from power management to predictive user interface, natural language processing, object detection, facial recognition… the list is endless. For these tasks to be entirely efficient, it’s not realistic that they run exclusively on the CPU or even the graphics processing unit (GPU). Equally, developers need to have the tools to fully maximize the resources available.

This is highly reminiscent of the early days of the smartphone CPU core wars. Adding more cores created little impact beyond marketing hype until developers began writing to those cores to create multithreaded apps.

The approach taken by Qualcomm is noteworthy as it contrasts with that of Apple, HiSilicon and MediaTek, all of which are positioning a single, dedicated accelerator for artificial intelligence. Instead, Qualcomm is emphasizing its heterogeneous approach that comprises its Hexagon DSP, Adreno GPU and Kryo CPU. The Qualcomm AI Engine consists of these cores alongside software frameworks and tools to accelerate artificial intelligence app development using the platform.

«

The idea that AI-on-your-phone would be the “next big thing” is, I’m happy to point out, what I forecast in my TedX talk in Hilversum back in November 2015. (I was explaining how “selfies” became so big and peaked in 2014.)
link to this extract


Spot the drowning child • Lifeguard Rescue

For those who didn’t get enough of “drowning doesn’t look like drowning”, or who just missed it, here’s a lifeguard training video where you have to spot the drowning child. (As embedded below.)

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/aQ6h8U-rqZ4?rel=0

And – bonus! – a Hacker News discussion on the topic from 2010, which points out that trying to rescue someone who is drowning can be incredibly dangerous to you. Suggestion: take a long stick.

(Because it’s summer, and people are going to be on unfamiliar beaches for holidays soon…)
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: California considers data privacy, nuclear’s fading light, Fortnite’s heady boost, Apple v Valve, and more


How crowded is your favourite station compared to others at rush hour? Photo by Andreas Kollmorgen 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. So there. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Do not sell my personal information: California eyes data privacy measure • All Tech Considered (NPR)

Laura Sydell:

»

If voters approve the measure, businesses will be required to have a “clear and conspicuous link” on their website’s homepage titled “Do Not Sell My Personal Information.” The link would take users to a page where they can opt out of having their data sold or shared.

[San Francisco real estate developer Alastair] Mactaggart says the proposed law would not prevent Facebook, Google or a local newspaper from collecting users’ data and using it to target ads to them. But users will have a right to stop companies from sharing or selling their data. And businesses would be required to disclose the categories of information they have on users — including home addresses, employment information and characteristics such as race and gender.

The measure has the backing of consumer advocacy groups, such as Consumers Union. Justin Brookman, Consumers Union’s director of privacy and technology policy, says Europe’s new law is stricter. “This ballot initiative is actually pretty modest,” he says. “In some ways, I wish it would go further.”

Still, if the California act passes, it will be one of the broadest privacy laws in the U.S. because it will affect anyone who goes on the Internet in California. And because California is the fifth-largest economy in the world, Brookman predicts many companies will implement the same standards nationally.

«

Quite the pincer movement, between the West Coast and Europe. Given how clueless many American sites have been about GDPR – acting as though it appeared from nowhere last Friday – this might have a better chance of getting obeyed in a useful way.

Though of course the problem is always proving who sold your data.
link to this extract


What is a 51% attack? • 51Crypto

»

This website is intended to bring light to the risk of 51% attacks on smaller cryptocurrencies. It is not intended to encourage or help in completing an attack, but instead to get people talking about the problem and potential solutions.

In Proof of Work (PoW) cryptocurrencies, nodes typically are set up to recognize the blockchain with the most blocks (and therefore the most hashing power) as the correct version of history. Miners with > 50% of the network hashing power can take advantage of this by sending funds to one address on the main chain, while sending the same funds to another address on a forked copy of the blockchain that they are silently mining with more hashing power than the main chain.

Since other nodes only know about the main chain, they will see the first transaction as valid, and exchanges, etc will accept this transaction as valid. This malicious node can later release these silently mined blocks, and other nodes will accept this as the new ‘correct chain’ since it is longer. This will cause the original transaction to effectively dissappear, and nodes will recognize the funds as being sent to the address from the new chain instead. This is known as a ‘double spend’ attack.

«

It’s pretty cheap, comparatively, to do this even against bitcoin (well, ok, it would cost half a million dollars, but you could do something big). It’s very cheap, if you can organise it, to do it against tons of smaller cryptocurrencies. And as recorded previously here, it has recently happened against some others.
link to this extract


After 60 years of nuclear power, what about the cleanup? • The Atlantic

Fred Pearce:

»

Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.

«

Nuclear power’s failure is essentially an economic one. It works OK, but the cleanup costs are so horrendous that they make it impossible. Renewable energy is filling in the gap.
link to this extract


Why frames tilt forward • The 100 Billionth Person

Craig Collins observed that when you hang a picture from a single wire attached to the sides, the picture leans forward. How do you prevent that, or minimise it?

»

So what have we learned and what do I recommend?  If you want to use hooks and wires and you want to hang pictures close to the wall without undue stress on the wire or frame, I suggest using two hooks and  45° wire angles, as illustrated in the diagram at right. This may look a little complicated but it is do-able.

In the original version of this post, I provided a formula to help you with the installation, but in practice, it didn’t go far enough.  So I programmed a two-hook frame hanging calculator and posted it in a companion article titled (what else) The “Hang It with Two Hooks” Calculator.  This online calculator suggests where to fasten the D-rings, how to install the wall hooks, and the length of wire to cut.  This makes the task much easier.

Yes, two hooks present the added challenge of ensuring they are level, but this post is all about reducing forward tilt without stressing the wire or frame.  If you are up to the task of carefully positioning two hooks, you might consider eliminating the wire altogether and hang the frame directly onto the D-rings.  One drawback to this method is the visibility of the hardware; the other is the extra precision that is needed in mounting the hardware.

«

link to this extract


‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG’ led to rocketing headset sales • Variety

Brian Crecente:

»

While battle royale games like “Fortnite” and “PUBG” continue to court their own successes, it appears the sheer magnitude of players they draw is having a halo effect on headphone sales. Or at least that’s what the head of Turtle Beach tells Variety.

“The business is doing really, really well and what’s driving that — beyond our strategy and being a good quality product — is the ‘Fortnite,’ ‘PUBG,’ and battle royale craze, which has introduced a bunch of new people into games,” said Turtle Beach CEO Juergen Stark.

Turtle Beach, which accounts for nearly 46% of the gaming headset market share, saw a 185% increase in net revenue over the same period last year, according to its first-quarter earnings report released this week. The company was selling so many headsets, Stark said, that it will be spending more than $4m this quarter on air-freighting new stock into the country.

“We have pulled out all of the stops to catch up our supply,” he said.

The spike in second-quarter sales led the company to increase its forecast for both the next quarter and the year significantly. The news also more than doubled the company’s stock on Wednesday.

«

Biggest player seeing rocketing demand. No sign of Fortnite slowing down in popularity. Key quote:

»

Stark’s theory is that the games’ ability to attract a broader, new audience, their reliance on audio, and the fact that they are free to play combine to create an increased desire to purchase headphones.

“Because ‘Fortnite’ is free, there’s this opportunity to buy peripherals,” he said. “Instead of spending $60 on a game, they can spend $60 on a headset.”

«

Makes perfect sense.
link to this extract


Apple’s Phil Schiller explains why Valve’s Steam Link app was rejected • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller explained the reason behind the rejection to a MacStories reader and other Apple customers on Reddit who emailed to ask Apple to reconsider. In the email, Schiller says the Valve app violates a number of guidelines and that Apple is working with the Valve team to rectify the issue.

»

We care deeply about bringing great games to all of our users on the App Store. We would love for Valve’s games and services to be on iOS and AppleTV. Unfortunately, the review team found that Valve’s Steam iOS app, as currently submitted, violates a number of guidelines around user generated content, in-app purchases, content codes, etc.

We’ve discussed these issues with Valve and will continue to work with them to help bring the Steam experience to iOS and AppleTV in a way that complies with the store’s guidelines. We put great effort into creating an App Store that provides the very best experience for everyone.

We have clear guidelines that all developers must follow in order to ensure the App Store is a safe place for all users and a fair opportunity for all developers.

«

The Steam Link app is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac. As our sister site TouchArcade said in a review of the app, it allows for “real” PC-like game experiences on Apple devices.

“I could see a very real situation where many people just straight up stop buying things from the App Store and exclusively purchase Steam games through Valve instead,” wrote TouchArcade editor-in-chief Eli Hodapp.

«

That’s not an explanation. It’s a reiteration of what we knew must be the case – that it violated some guidelines. But which ones, how? Especially since Apple approved it on May 7 and then un-approved it on May 9. Big suspicion that it would allow an end-run around the purchase of Valve content via the App Store. But that already happens on MacOS.
link to this extract


JioPhone takes the top spot in the global feature phone market in Q1 2018 • Counterpoint Research

»

There are still around half a billion feature phones sold every year and these continue to serve the needs of the roughly two billion feature phones users globally. This is still a huge market catering to a diverse user base, many of whom still prefer feature phones over smartphones. The reasons for this loyalty to feature phones are as diverse as the user base, but include reasons like:

• Preference for simplicity
• Lighter, robust form-factors
• Longer battery life
• Lower cost

Some feature phone users also suffer from digital, economic or literacy divides and face barriers to adopt relatively expensive smartphones and data plans. In addition, this preference also stems from the fact that low-cost smartphones tend to offer poor performance and poor quality. Feature phone segment still has huge opportunity that remains to be exploited by the mobile industry.

«

Coming next: 4G featurephones.
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London underground commuting patterns through the day • Tube Heartbeat

»

People made 1.35 billion journeys on London’s iconic tube network last year.
Every weekday, London sees 2 million people commuting in on the tube… and 2 million commuting back.

This is London’s pulse.

«

This is wonderful. (Bet you this will be in Sophie Warnes’s Fair Warning newsletter on Sunday.) Watch the tube stations get busier and quieter, and which lines are the busiest. The Central Line looks really busy.

link to this extract


The hidden power of Stack Overflow • NY Mag

Brian Feldman on how much developers – well, “developers” – rely on SO for code solutions:

»

Critics of the site’s dominance are not too hard to find. In a 2015 blog post, Christian Heileman outlined the appeal of, and aimed a critical eye, at Stack Overflow’s forums. It’s a great tool for experts to discuss solutions with each other, but it’s not necessarily the right place to learn how to code. The joke you hear occasionally is that rather than being a full-stack developer, you become a full-stack-overflow developer.

Over the phone, he explained that the site is great for experts talking to each other, but its Reddit-like gamification has hazards. “When you try to learn something and these are the first results that you find,” he explained, “you get two impressions. First of all, that there’s one way of doing it. You don’t even need to think about it you just copy and paste the thing and put it live.” The second impression a user gets is simply one of unfriendliness. “‘If you do this you’re not a professional developer’ is a very common answer in that one. That can be very discouraging for someone who is just starting.”

But there are obvious downsides to relying on the internet to do your work for you, even if it offers up solutions voluntarily and with glee. Heileman — who has spent decades working at companies including Yahoo, Mozilla, and now Microsoft — believes that for novice developers, cutting corners hurts them in the long run. It’s important that they understand the code they write at a high level, rather than just relying on all-in-one solutions and packages to do the heavy lifting. This is an ongoing discussion within the developer community, most recently after an incident last year when a developer http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/03/how-11-lines-of-code-broke-tons-sites.html, breaking every other solution that relied on it [which amounted to

“I think it’s beautiful that we have those resources nowadays,” Heileman said, “but there is a danger of students just copying and pasting to get the homework out of the way rather than understanding it.”

«

The link to the npm problem shows the incredible (worrying) interdependency of lots of code systems; they even needed a particular package version number. There’s reinventing the wheel, and then there’s reusing bald tyres. Stack Overflow seems to encourage something a bit too close to the latter at times. That’s not a criticism of the site; it’s a criticism of the users, rather as it’s not Wikipedia’s fault if people over-rely on it.
link to this extract


How to see everything Amazon Echo has recorded on you • CNBC

Todd Haselton:

»

If you’re curious what Amazon Echo smart devices have recorded while in your home — as I was — you can use the Alexa app to find out.

How to see what Alexa has recorded in your home:

• Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
• Tap the menu button on the top-left side of the screen.
• Scroll down and select ‘Settings.’
• Scroll down the page and tap ‘History.’

You’ll see something like this:


(Photo: Todd Haselton | CNBC)

You’ll be able to see all of the commands Alexa has heard. In my case, I saw all of the commands I’ve issued, including asking Alexa to turn off the living room lights, to play classical music and more. If you select a recording, you can choose the option to delete it.

I didn’t see any suspicious activity where Alexa recorded a conversation in the room without my permission. But, as my screenshot shows, it does seem to hear “Alexa” an awful lot — and that’s the word that it listens to in order to wake up and begin recording.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: how Prime began, Lightning v lint, iPhone NFC expanding?, Peterson the ‘social order warrior’, and more


Unread notifications drive some peoples’ partners mad – but not the owner. Photo by Kodee Shane-Channon 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 16 links for you. To fill the remains of the day. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Invisible asymptotes • Remains of the Day

Eugene Wei joined Amazon in its early years, and was given the task of figuring out what might limit its growth – that is, what would determine its asymptotic point:

»

Fortunately for Amazon, and perhaps critical to much of its growth over the years, perhaps the single most important asymptote was one we identified very early on. Where our growth would flatten if we did not change our path was, in large part, due to this single factor.

We had two ways we were able to flush out this enemy. For people who did shop with us, we had, for some time, a pop-up survey that would appear right after you’d placed your order, at the end of the shopping cart process. It was a single question, asking why you didn’t purchase more often from Amazon. For people who’d never shopped with Amazon, we had a third party firm conduct a market research survey where we’d ask those people why they did not shop from Amazon.

Both converged, without any ambiguity, on one factor. You don’t even need to rewind to that time to remember what that factor is because I suspect it’s the same asymptote governing e-commerce and many other related businesses today.

Shipping fees.

People hate paying for shipping. They despise it. It may sound banal, even self-evident, but understanding that was, I’m convinced, so critical to much of how we unlocked growth at Amazon over the years.

People don’t just hate paying for shipping, they hate it to literally an irrational degree. We know this because our first attempt to address this was to show, in the shopping cart and checkout process, that even after paying shipping, customers were saving money over driving to their local bookstore to buy a book because, at the time, most Amazon customers did not have to pay sales tax. That wasn’t even factoring in the cost of getting to the store, the depreciation costs on the car, and the value of their time.

People didn’t care about this rational math. People, in general, are terrible at valuing their time, perhaps because for most people monetary compensation for one’s time is so detached from the event of spending one’s time. Most time we spend isn’t like deliberate practice, with immediate feedback.

«

You may be able to think how they did this. But consider what you’d do if you didn’t know how they solved it.
link to this extract


Those red alert bubbles on your phone are driving your loved one crazy • WSJ

Katherine Bindley:

»

In an era of nonstop notifications—reminders, app updates, endless text chains—electronic-alert management is starting to become a dividing line in American relationships. On one side are the compulsive clearers, who can’t abide the banners and bubbles designed to prod us into maximum smartphone hygiene. The clutter and the sense of tasks unfinished drives them to distraction.

On the other side are spouses and partners who are affected differently—which is to say not at all. Messages collect. Unread emails accumulate. Software upgrades are ignored. Apps requesting updates sit in a digital purgatory.

“I understand every couple of days you get some back up, no big deal,” says Mr. Ambrose of his wife’s phone. “This was four years’ worth of stuff.”

“I guarantee you it’s unimportant stuff,” Eve Ambrose, 35, says she told her husband at the time. She wasn’t bothered by the surreptitious phone-cleaning. She also points out that she never misses an email: “If it said 97 emails, I’m going to notice if it says 98.”

Mr. Ambrose now periodically goes into her phone to manage her notifications once she has nodded off.

Members of the laissez-faire contingent often point out that, however it looks, they have things under control.

“If it strikes my fancy, I’ll read it and if it doesn’t, I’ll swipe it off the screen,” says Graeme Farley, 35, of Cork, Ireland, who maintains an unread email count that his wife finds appalling. The couple got together about a decade ago before people were on their phones all the time.

“It wasn’t apparent when we first met each other that this would be a problem,” says Philipa Jane Farley, 36, a data-protection specialist. “I should have looked at the state of his car.”

Mrs. Farley says she lasted five minutes in her husband’s inbox while doing his taxes two years ago before she deleted 2,500 unread emails. Had there been anything important, it would be in the trash folder for 30 days before disappearing for good: “There was a safety net,” she says.

“I wasn’t fazed by it,” says Mr. Farley. Still, he says he’s planning to get better about keeping his inbox in better condition.

«

What. I mean just What. The. Whatting. What. Do they tidy their partners’ cupboards too? Their clothes drawers? That’s quite strange behaviour. Though underneath all this is a broader cause: we get too many notifications, and most of them are crap.
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Apple to expand secure wireless chip beyond payments • The Information

»

Apple is making a significant change to a wireless chip in the iPhone that will allow users to more securely unlock doors enabled with the same technology, a person familiar with the matter said.

The change to the near-field communication, or NFC, chip, which is expected to be announced next month, could pave the way for people to use iPhones for other security-sensitive interactions, from paying transit fares and opening car doors to verifying their identity in other ways.

Already, employees at Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, Calif., are using their iPhones to gain access to buildings and offices, suggesting that the technology has been deployed there, people familiar with the matter said. The campus uses an access control system made by HID Global, a leader in the industry that is owned by Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy. Apple has been talking to HID about enabling such access control on the iPhone using NFC since at least 2014, as The Information previously reported.

HID and Apple declined to comment.

«

It’s a software upgrade, so it would work back to the iPhone 6. That would be a lot of phones that would abruptly be capable of unlocking doors and so on.

Smart locks are an interesting space: the ones which work with a passcode mean that you don’t have to carry a phone with you. But if you can also connect to them online then you can do a lot – such as letting people in when you’re not. No more leaving your keys; no more locking yourself out. (Unless you’re forgetful, but that’s a problem with keys too.)
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Apple’s $539m in damages is a ‘big win’ over Samsung • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

Apple sought about $1bn in a retrial of a case that originally produced a verdict of that amount in 2012, while Samsung argued it should pay only $28m this time.

Jurors in federal court in San Jose, California, decided only on damages Thursday. It was already established that the South Korean company infringed three of Apple’s design patents – covering the rounded corners of its phones, the rim that surrounds the front face, and the grid of icons that users view – and two utility patents, which protect the way something works and is used.

“Today’s decision flies in the face of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in favor of Samsung on the scope of design patent damages,” Samsung said in a statement after the verdict. “We will consider all options to obtain an outcome that does not hinder creativity and fair competition for all companies and consumers.”

John Quinn, a lawyer for Samsung, told the judge the verdict isn’t “supported by the evidence,” and that the company would raise its objections in court filings.

Apple said in a statement that the case “has always been about more than money.”

“We believe deeply in the value of design, and our teams work tirelessly to create innovative products that delight our customers,” the company said.

The basic question for the jury was: should Samsung have to pay damages based on sales of its smartphones or just their components that infringed the iPhone maker’s patents?

A $1.05bn jury verdict in 2012 was whittled down by a previous retrial in 2013, along with appeals and adjustments. After Samsung agreed to pay some damages, the case went to the US Supreme Court in 2016 and was returned to US District Judge Lucy Koh with an order to revisit $399m of that award. Now Samsung has to pay an additional $140m.

The verdict is a “big win” for Apple, said Michael Risch, a law professor at Villanova University School of Law in Pennsylvania. After the Supreme Court’s ruling, “Apple’s upside should have been capped at what it won before,” he said. “Beating that number at trial is a huge victory given that the Supreme Court has theoretically ruled against it.”

That also makes it a “huge loss” for Samsung, “and shows the risk it took by continuing to fight,” he said. “Samsung’s luck with the jury ran out this time, and Apple received a bigger proportion of what it sought.”

«

It feels like this case and its spinoffs have been going on forever. Samsung overplayed its hand, though. The benefit it got from its copying have been far bigger, though.
link to this extract


Apple rejects Valve’s Steam Link app due to ‘business conflicts’ • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover:

»

In a statement, Valve said that Apple initially approved Steam Link for release on May 7, but ultimately decided to reject the app because of conflicts that had not been recognized by the original review team:

»

On Monday, May 7th, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release. On Weds, May 9th, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.

Valve appealed, explaining the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store. Ultimately, that appeal was denied leaving the Steam Link app for iOS blocked from release. The team here spent many hours on this project and the approval process, so we’re clearly disappointed. But we hope Apple will reconsider in the future.

«

Valve’s appeals have not been successful at the current point in time, and the company is now hoping that media attention may spur Apple to change its mind.

The Steam Link app for iOS, which was announced on May 9, is designed to allow Steam users to play their Steam games on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV using either a 5GHz WiFi network or a wired Ethernet connection to a host PC or Mac.

«

Michael Gartenberg points out that the likeliest explanation is that Apple’s coming up with something of its own that does the same which will be shown off at WWDC, and an internal screwup meant they only realised this would clash once Valve had made the announcement.

Sucks, though. Valve won’t be pleased, Valve users won’t be pleased, app developers will be wondering what the hell is going on, and if Apple really has something for WWDC it’s going to have to be amazing. And if it has nothing – what?
link to this extract


Lint • All this

Dr Drang:

»

About a month ago, I started having trouble charging my iPhone 6S. I’m not talking about the need to charge my phone more often because the battery isn’t what it used to be, although that’s definitely happening and I need to cough up the $30 to get the battery replaced. No, I’m talking about the Lightning plug on the charger cable not seating well in the port on the bottom of the phone. The plug would wiggle and often lose contact, leaving me with a phone that was still draining when I thought it was charging.

My first thought was that lint had built up in the port and needed to be cleaned out. I was at home without good lighting or good magnification, but I got a toothpick and dug around in the port, figuring that if anything was in there, that would loosen it and pull it out. When nothing emerged, I started thinking there was a problem with either the port itself or with the third-party cables I was using.

Yesterday afternoon I learned the truth.

«

It’s not quite in the league of “spiders crawled into my ear and laid eggs”, but it is pretty remarkable. And a little reminder of why wireless (inductive) charging isn’t such a bad idea.
link to this extract


Max Schrems files first cases under GDPR against Facebook and Google • Irish Times

Derek Scally:

»

[Max] Schrems, head of a new privacy lobby group noyb (None of Your Business), accused Facebook of “blackmail” for giving users only two options: accept the new rules – and hand over more data than needed to operate the service – or deactivate their account. In addition, noyb claims Facebook used “tricks” to keep its customers using the service. It claims Facebook created fake red dots suggesting new messages, which the user could only see if they agreed to the new terms of service.

“This is nothing more than an aggressive and absurd attempt to deprive data subjects of their rights,” the complaint adds.

The noyb complaints will test its entitlement under GDPR to run test cases for users, as well as new co-operation rules between national data protection bodies around Europe.

The Facebook case was filed by noyb with the Austrian data protection body DSB, which will now liaise with Ireland’s data protection commissioner (DPC). The same applies for the Instagram complaint, filed via Belgium’s DPA and the WhatsApp case, filed by noyb with Hamburg’s data commissioner (HmbBfDI) Prof Johannes Caspar.

“Nowhere else in European law was there, until now, such a wide gap between theory and practice as in data protection,” said Prof Caspar. “We have to decide quickly how to work best with our Irish colleagues on this.”

«

The “take it or leave it” approach is unlike that you find on so many other sites, where you can allow or disallow adtech ads. So Schrems, who demonstrated how flawed the “safe harbour” idea was, has a point: why can’t you use Facebook and Google with ads but without targeting?
link to this extract


Tencent chairman pledges to advance China chip industry after ZTE ‘wake-up’ call: reports • Reuters

Sijia Jiang:

»

Tencent is looking into ways it could help advance China’s domestic chip industry, which could include leveraging its huge data demand to urge domestic chip suppliers to come up with better solutions, or using its WeChat platform to support application developments based on Chinese chips, [Pony] Ma said.

“It would probably be better if we could get in to support semiconductor R&D, but that is perhaps admittedly not our strong suit and may need the help of others in the supply chain.”

China has been looking to accelerate plans to develop its semiconductor market to reduce its heavy reliance on imports and has invited overseas investors to invest in the country’s top state-backed chip fund.

«

link to this extract


GDPR mayhem: Programmatic ad buying plummets in Europe • Digiday

Jessica Davies:

»

“Revenues and [ad demand] volumes [are] expected to fall dramatically across the board,” said one publishing executive, under condition of anonymity.

The flow of inventory supply from publishers has also dropped in many exchanges, and several sources attributed that to the volume of US publishers that have pulled their programmatic ads in Europe. Titles like the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune have shut down their European sites; others like USA Today have kept their site accessible to European site visitors. USA Today has kept its site up in Europe but stripped them of ads. The New York Times’ pages do not appear to carry any programmatic ads in Europe; most are running house ads. One ad tech source said the Times is now not available on open ad exchanges. The Times has not yet responded for comment; we’ll update when it does.

The frustration for many has been directed at Google. The day before the deadline, buyers were warned also to not buy any inventory via Google on third-party exchanges, especially those using tracking and ad-verification pixels, as Google couldn’t verify whether those partners were compliant or not, according to sources. Some agency groups were alerted to this late on May 24, while others felt Google’s guidance had been nonexistent, according to agency sources.

«

Wowow. That’s quite a thing. Programmatic ad exchanges are going to struggle.
link to this extract


IBM’s Watson Health wing left looking poorly after ‘massive’ layoffs • The Register

Iain Thomson:

»

IBM has laid off approximately 50 and 70% of staff this week in its Watson Health division, according to inside sources.

The axe, we’re told, is largely falling on IBMers within companies the IT goliath has taken over in the past few years to augment Watson’s credentials in the health industry. These include medical data biz Truven, which was acquired in 2016 for $2.6bn, medical imaging firm Merge, bought in 2015 for $1bn, and healthcare management business Phytel, also snapped up in 2015.

Yesterday and today, staff were let go at IBM’s offices in Dallas, Texas, as well as in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Cleveland, Ohio, and Denver, Colorado, in the US, and elsewhere, it is claimed. A spokesperson for Big Blue was not available for comment.

“Wanted to share anonymously a massive layoff in Watson Health, potentially limited to provider acquisitions – Phytel, Explorys, Truven,” a source claimed in a message passed to The Register by Lee Conrad, a former employee and union coordinator who today runs the Watching IBM Facebook page.

«

So this could be rationalisation after a ton of takeovers; that isn’t unusual. If Watson is really failing to get traction, though, that’s a different thing.
link to this extract


I was Jordan Peterson’s strongest supporter. Now I think he’s dangerous • The Star

Bernard Schiff is emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and a longtime friend of Peterson:

»

Jordan has a complex relationship to freedom of speech. He wants to effectively silence those left-wing professors by keeping students away from their courses because the students may one day become “anarchical social revolutionaries” who may bring upon us disruption and violence. At the same time he was advocating cutting funds to universities that did not protect free speech on their campuses. He defended the rights of “alt right” voices to speak at universities even though their presence has given rise to disruption and violence. For Jordan, it appears, not all speech is equal, and not all disruption and violence are equal, either.

If Jordan is not a true free speech warrior, then what is he? The email sent through his wife’s account described Bill 28, the parenting bill, as part of the “transgender agenda” and claimed it was “misleadingly” called “All Families are Equal.” Misleading? What same-sex families and transgender people have in common is their upset of the social order. In Maps of Meaning, Jordan’s first book, he is exercised by the breakdown of the social order and the chaos that he believes would result. Jordan is fighting to maintain the status quo to keep chaos at bay, or so he believes. He is not a free speech warrior. He is a social order warrior.

In the end, Jordan postponed his plan to blacklist courses after many of his colleagues signed a petition objecting to it. He said it was too polarizing. Curiously, that had never stopped him before. He appears to thrive on polarization. I have no idea why he did that.

I have been asked by some if I regret my role in bringing Jordan to the University of Toronto. I did not for many years, but I do now.

«

This is, I think, the best piece I’ve read about Peterson, rather than the phenomenon around him: the phrase “social order warrior” captures it perfectly. It’s also instructive to listen to his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week from May 14, with three other guests and Tom Sutcliffe as the interlocutor.

At 12 minutes in, Sutcliffe suggests that 120 years ago, before women had the vote, the idea of women voting would have been radical and disruptive; isn’t his opposition to modern social movements just as reactionary, and in time might look just as wrong? The answer never comes because Peterson picks on a tiny other element and the discussion spreads out. But it’s a key question. If you want a way to think of Peterson in future, “[existing] social order warrior” seems the best way.
link to this extract


VPNFilter EXIF to C2 mechanism analysed • Securelist

“GReAT” on the Russian malware that had taken over thousands of routers, but whose command system the FBI grabbed last week:

»

Some of the things which stand out about VPNFilter are:

• It has a redundant, multi-stage command and control mechanism which uses three different channels to receive information
• It has a multi-stage architecture, in which some of the more complex functionality runs only in the memory of the infected devices
• It contains a destructive payload which is capable of rendering the infected devices unbootable
• It uses a broken (or incorrect) RC4 implementation which has been observed before with the BlackEnergy malware
• Stage 2 command and control can be executed over TOR, meaning it will be hard to notice for someone checking the network traffic.

«

It then headed off to Photobucket for instructions, taken from EXIF data – but the way that Photobucket has shut down many pages has made it impossible. So it would head to a hard-coded domain. That’s what the FBI took over.
link to this extract


Tablets and PCs set for modest 2.1% decline in 2018 as the industry finally starts to stabilize • Canalys

»

“Consumer demand will remain weak overall,” said Dutt. “Components such as DRAM will remain constrained in the short-term, and vendors will pass most of the increased costs onto customers, driving up ASPs. But dedicated gaming PCs have emerged as a genuine hotspot in large markets, such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, where eSports has helped to generate an appetite among younger consumers with disposable incomes who are willing to spend top prices for high performance. The consumer market is also more likely to see new brands challenging the likes of HP, Lenovo and Dell. Despite the sector’s weak performance, there are lower barriers to entry from a channel perspective compared with the commercial sector. Huawei and Xiaomi are already attempting to disrupt selected markets, but nether yet has a range of products or channel partners to trouble the incumbents.”

Despite a recent rise in iPad shipments, the tablet category remains in decline as consumers show a preference for smartphones as their primary mobile devices and rely on traditional PCs for more compute-intensive tasks. The category is expected to contract by almost 3% per year on average from 2017 to 2022, down almost 150m units from the market peak in 2014.

«

link to this extract


UK watchdog running dozens of probes into cryptocurrency firms • FT

Chloe Cornish and Hannah Murphy:

»

The UK’s top financial watchdog is running enquiries into 24 businesses dealing with cryptocurrencies, and has opened seven whistleblower reports related to the nascent asset class this year alone.

The move comes as regulators close in on the free-wheeling cryptocurrency industry, which raised billions of dollars last year through a novel fundraising method called initial coin offerings — crowdfunding with little, if any, protection for investors. US regulators have brought fraud charges against a number of ICOs.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Financial Conduct Authority said it was making enquiries into the activities of 24 unauthorised firms involved in cryptocurrencies to determine whether they might “be carrying on regulated activities that require FCA authorisation”.

It added that said it had opened seven whistleblower reports involving cryptocurrencies in 2018. Moore Stephens, an accountancy and consulting firm, made the FOI request.

«

A cloud no bigger than a man’s hand.
link to this extract


US launches criminal probe into bitcoin price manipulation • Bloomberg

Matt Robinson and Tom Schoenberg:

»

The illicit tactics that the Justice Department is looking into include spoofing and wash trading – forms of cheating that regulators have spent years trying to root out of futures and equities markets, the people said. In spoofing, a trader submits a spate of orders and then cancels them once prices move in a desired direction. Wash trades involve a cheater trading with herself to give a false impression of market demand that lures other to dive in too. Coins prosecutors are examining include Bitcoin and Ether, the people said.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment and CFTC officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The investigation, which the people said is in its early stages, is the US’s latest effort to crack down on an industry that was initially embraced by those who were distrustful of banks and government control over monetary policy.

But Bitcoin’s meteoric rise – it surged to almost $20,000 in 2017 after starting the year below $1,000 – has been a lure for mom-and-pop investors. That’s prompted regulators to grow concerned that people are jumping into cryptocurrencies without knowing the risks. For instance, the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened dozens of investigations into initial coin offerings, in which companies sell digital tokens that can be redeemed for goods and services, due to suspicions that many are scams.

«

link to this extract


Bitcoin backlash as ‘miners’ suck up electricity, stress power grids in Central Washington • The Seattle Times

Paul Roberts:

»

Chelan County, for example, created a special rate for miners and other so-called “high density loads,” or HDLs, back in 2015, that was effectively twice the residential rate.

Douglas County, meanwhile, began requiring miners to pay up front for any new infrastructure. Grant County PUD is establishing special rates applied to companies “whose primary revenue stream is evolving and unproven” and whose product is “vulnerable to extreme value fluctuations.”

The utilities are attempting to strike a delicate balance. By creating policies that reflect the full costs and risks of cryptocurrency mining, the utilities believe they can protect regular ratepayers while weeding out prospective miners who are unable or unwilling to make a long-term commitment to the Basin — and whose power requests are swamping utilities’ normal operations.

As Wright put it, by the end of the moratorium, the utility expects to be able to tell miners exactly what it will cost to mine in Chelan County. If miners can accept those terms, Wright says, the PUD will move forward with investments needed to handle crypto-mining’s much larger next phase. But, says Wright, “if it’s not of interest, then we can stop and go back to doing our day jobs.”

How the three utilities decide to treat this new industry will have impacts that go well beyond the Mid-Columbia Basin. Prospective miners elsewhere will be tracking the decisions intently to see whether the Basin is still worth coming to, or whether they should go instead to other cheap-power places, such as Iceland or Quebec.

And, in all likelihood, utility officials in those cheap power regions will be paying attention, too.

«

In essence, the followup to this article in Politico from March.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: FBI zaps Russian botnet, don’t listen Alexa!, the quiet location scandal, a fresh dating site hell, and more


An Uber self-driving car: its emergency response isn’t ideal. Photo by zombieite 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. Non-negotiable, but call me to check. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.


Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski

Buy it via Amazon UK (Kindle or paperback)

Buy it via Amazon US (Kindle or paperback)


Exclusive: FBI seizes control of Russian botnet • Daily Beast

Kevin Poulsen:

»

FBI agents armed with a court order have seized control of a key server in the Kremlin’s global botnet of 500,000 hacked routers, The Daily Beast has learned. The move positions the bureau to build a comprehensive list of victims of the attack, and short-circuits Moscow’s ability to reinfect its targets.

The FBI counter-operation goes after  “VPN Filter,” a piece of sophisticated malware linked to the same Russian hacking group, known as Fancy Bear, that breached the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign during the 2016 election. On Wednesday security researchers at Cisco and Symantec separately provided new details on the malware, which has turned up in 54 countries including the United States.

VPN Filter uses known vulnerabilities to infect home office routers made by Linksys, MikroTik, NETGEAR, and TP-Link. Once in place, the malware reports back to a command-and-control infrastructure that can install purpose-built plug-ins, according to the researchers. One plug-in lets the hackers eavesdrop on the victim’s Internet traffic to steal website credentials; another targets a protocol used in industrial control networks, such as those in the electric grid. A third lets the attacker cripple any or all of the infected devices at will.

The FBI has been investigating the botnet since at least August, according to court records, when agents in Pittsburgh interviewed a local resident whose home router had been infected with the Russian malware. “She voluntarily relinquished her router to the agents,” wrote FBI agent Michael McKeown, in an affidavit filed in federal court. “In addition, the victim allowed the FBI to utilize a network tap on her home network that allowed the FBI to observe the network traffic leaving the home router.”

«

That was quick.
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The LocationSmart scandal is bigger than Cambridge Analytica. Here’s why no one is talking about it • Slate

Will Oremus:

»

Motherboard reported last week that Securus had been hacked, with the credentials of 2,800 authorized users stolen, most or all of them presumably working in law enforcement or at prisons. (Securus’ main business involves helping prisons crack down on inmates’ cellphone use.) It’s a safe bet that some of those users had access to the same location-tracking tools that the Missouri sheriff abused.

So how was Securus getting all that data on the locations of mobile-phone users across the country? We learned more last week, when ZDNet confirmed that one key intermediary was a firm called LocationSmart. The big U.S. wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—were all working with LocationSmart, sending their users’ location data to the firm so that it could triangulate their whereabouts more precisely using multiple providers’ cell towers. It seems no one can opt out of this form of tracking, because the carriers rely on it to provide their service.

It gets worse. A Carnegie Mellon researcher poking around on LocationSmart’s website found that he could use a free trial service to instantly pinpoint the location of, well, just about anyone with a mobile phone and wireless service from one of those major carriers. He did this without any permission or credentials, let alone a warrant.

«

And why is it not a big story? Oremus thinks because it’s not about Trump getting elected, unlike the Cambridge Analytica story. I disagree: I think it’s because we’re so used to tracking each other that it has become ordinary. What isn’t ordinary – with the Cambridge Analytica story – is foreign interference and dark media aimed at changing peoples’ minds.
link to this extract


Pray for the souls of the people sucked into this dating site hell • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill:

»

Earlier this year, the media got very excited about Trump.dating, a site for the pro-Donald set that promised to “make dating great again.” Much of the media coverage was critical: The site only allowed users to conduct heterosexual searches; the male-half of the couple originally featured on the homepage had a child sex conviction; and its creator didn’t seem to actually exist.

Despite all this, the site attracted over 250,000 members, according to its media liaison, Sean McGrossler. He told me over email that 15% of those members paid for accounts, starting at $24.99 per month, which would mean the site has made a not immodest $1m over the last few months.

Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that NeverTrump.dating launched weeks later. It got its own round of news articles, despite being founded by a “political startup” called the “American Liberal Council” that only seems to exist on Facebook, where it mostly posts liberal memes in the style of a Russian misinformation account. (The account hasn’t posted since March and did not respond to messages.)

Intrigued by the attention these sites were getting, Alexandra Mateescu, a researcher at Data & Society Research Institute, decided to sign up, not to date a political partisan but to see who was actually on the sites. When she began looking for single men in New York City, where she lives, the results immediately struck her as odd. According to the site, there were lots of Trump supporters in her liberal hometown, and they were racially and ethnically diverse, which surprised her. Few of them referred to Trump in their profiles, though, which seemed strange given the site they’d joined. She wanted to find out more about these people, but she couldn’t message them without purchasing a membership, which she didn’t want to do, so she and a few friends tried to find the members elsewhere on the web, by using a tried-and-true method of many an online dater: reverse image-searching profile photos to see where else they appeared.

This led Mateescu to people who were not the ones described in the profiles.

«

It turns out both sites used a “turnkey dating solution” which claims to do dating sites for “almost any niche”. (She tried but was blocked from doing one for journalists.) It all looks reaallly sketchy.
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What happened to Velib, Paris’s glitchy bikeshare system? • CityLab

Feargus O’Sullivan:

»

The problems started last May, when management for the Velib system was taken over by a new contractor that, in a classic burst of nonsensical Franglais, goes by the name Smovengo. As part of an ambitious new upgrade, Smovengo promised that a third of the 14,000-plus fleet of bikes would be battery assisted e-bikes, forming part of a new more online-and-app-friendly fleet that would make managing and using the system more streamlined. This move required a complete overhaul of the network’s 1,200-plus docking stations. That’s where things went pear shaped. By the end of last summer, only half the replacement docks had been created, with those left unfinished creating ramshackle mini-eyesores across the French capital.

Those that have actually come into service, meanwhile, have been glitchy in the extreme. Some have electricity supply problems that have required contractors to temporarily wire up the stations to batteries. These not uncommonly run out of juice, meaning that many bikes are blocked for use by afternoon. To cap it all, Velib employees went on strike last month, frustrated by a decline in working conditions and benefits since Smovengo took over the Velib concession from previous operator JCDecaux.

With functioning docks scarce, the number of Velib subscribers plummeted from 290,000 to 190,000. The number of daily shares dropped by April to just 10,000 daily—from an all-time high of 100,000 daily. For the world’s first large-scale bikeshare service, this was quite a tumble. The free bike plan is thus less a bold move to fully liberate the system than an effort to mollify frustrated customers. If the problems continue into June, the free bike offer will continue into the summer.

«

A sign of the times that a bike sharing scheme going wrong becomes important.
link to this extract


Look (what you made me do): I illustrated 10 of my professional sins • Medium

Xaquín González Veira:

»

The #distractedBoyfriend meme was such a low hanging fruit. I wasn’t expecting the 3.5K likes. I can’t handle the fame.

So, I decided to really exhaust the meme by doing enough infographic-related variations that nobody in their right mind would want to be this silly again. I’m doing the industry a favor.

«

Such as this splendid one:
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Preliminary report released for crash involving pedestrian, Uber Technologies test vehicle • NTSB

»

The report states data obtained from the self-driving system shows the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking was needed to mitigate a collision. According to Uber emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.

In the report the NTSB said the self-driving system data showed the vehicle operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before impact and began braking less than a second after impact. The vehicle operator said in an NTSB interview that she had been monitoring the self-driving interface and that while her personal and business phones were in the vehicle neither were in use until after the crash.

All aspects of the self-driving system were operating normally at the time of the crash, and there were no faults or diagnostic messages.

«

It doesn’t do emergency braking when it’s under computer control, but it doesn’t alert the “driver” either. That’s all sorts of wrong. It’s a pity that someone had to die for this huge error to become apparent.
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Four serious questions about Elon Musk’s silly credibility score • Poynter

Alexios Mantzarlis:

»

Musk’s suggestion of a “credibility score” is worth discussing because building one is actually a pretty popular idea — especially among Silicon Valley types.

Some, like the Credibility Coalition, are trying to frame the problem thoughtfully, but most are imbued with the same techno-utopianism that has defined Musk’s public persona. In the past few months alone I received at least four different pitches for a system that uses artificial intelligence (of course) to rate the credibility of the entire internet.

The vision that one easy hack can fix media bias and massive online misinformation is pervasive among certain quarters. But it’s fatally flawed.

Other well-heeled journalism projects have promised to upend fact-checking by either injecting the crowd in it (WikiTribune) or developing a universal credibility score (NewsGuard). In WikiTribune’s case, the jury is still out, but the fact-checking work to date hardly seems paradigm-shifting. NewsGuard has raised $6m but has yet to launch.

Still, it’s clear that the status quo needs reform. Fact-checking might need to be blown up and reinvented. So rather than dunk on Musk, we should debate the underlying challenges of a genuine credibility score for the internet.

«

He goes through this effectively. There’s no way of doing this.
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Woman says her Amazon device recorded private conversation, sent it out to random contact • KIRO-TV

Gary Horcher:

»

Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home’s heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle [who declined to give her last name] said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'”

That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle.

“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'” Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn’t believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

“I felt invaded,” she said. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'” Danielle says she unplugged all the devices, and she repeatedly called Amazon. She says an Alexa engineer investigated.

“They said ‘our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we’re sorry.’ He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!”

«

Amazon later confirmed that this happened. But how? Unclear.
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Wearables market up 35% in Q1 2018 as Apple and Xiaomi maintain lead • Canalys

»

Apple Watch shipments stabilized after a record quarter for the company and it matched its Q1 2017 number. “Key to Apple’s success with its latest Apple Watch Series 3 is the number of LTE-enabled watches it has been able to push into the hands of consumers,” said Canalys Senior Analyst Jason Low. “Operators welcome the additional revenue from device sales and the added subscription revenue for data on the Apple Watch, and the list of operators that sell the LTE Apple Watch worldwide is increasing each month.” Apple represents 59% of the total cellular-enabled smartwatch market. “While the Apple ecosystem has a strong LTE watch offering, the lack of a similar product in the Android ecosystem is glaring. If Google decides to pursue the opportunity with a rumored Pixel Watch, it would jump-start much needed competition in this space.”

Garmin is now the second largest smartwatch vendor after Apple, with 1 million smartwatches shipped in the last quarter. “Garmin’s transition to smartwatches has been swift as it focuses its GPS expertise on catering to endurance athletes and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Vincent Thielke, Research Analyst at Canalys. “It brought much needed improvements by adding features such as Garmin Pay to the Forerunner and vívoactive series, and now offers onboard music storage on the latest Forerunner 645.

«

Very weird to still be mixing fitness bands with smartwatches. They’re really not comparable. And the WearOS space looks more and more anaemic.
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StumbleUpon is calling it quits after 16 years • The Next Web

Abhimanyu Ghoshal:

»

I fondly remember the StumbleUpon browser button: one click, and you were instantly transported to a randomly selected webpage from its vast database, with an almost certain guarantee of spotting something of interest. The company, which was once owned by eBay, gave birth to (and eventually sunsetted) an excellent video discovery tool called 5by, and had once surpassed Facebook as the #1 source of social media traffic in the US back in 2011.

But that was then, and this is now, when ‘random’ isn’t good enough, and even our ‘serendipitous’ content discoveries are closely connected to our interests, thanks to cookies that follow us around, platforms that task us with tagging all the things online, and clever algorithms that learn what we’re into.

Garrett Camp, the founder of StumbleUpon, wants fans to transition over to his other project, Mix, which he began building back in October 2015, as something like Pinterest for content.


 
It works well enough when you tell the site what you like – but after spending several minutes on there, I can tell you that it doesn’t quite recreate the magic of the SU button.

«

I never used StumbleUpon, though the death of a little bit of serendipity is always sad. Garrett Camp, who devised it, writes on Medium that “we’ve learned from SU that while simplicity and serendipity is important, so is enabling contextual curation (ie. ‘cool space photos’) instead of just clicking ‘I like it’.”
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: ZTE counts the cost, cutting the wrong red tape, the Apple news ecosystem, Uber drives out of Arizona, and more


Hey mum, why is your smartphone more interesting than me? Photo by Marco Djallo on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not in binary. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome. But first this message!


Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski


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.

ZTE estimates at least $3bn in losses from US ban • Bloomberg

»

ZTE Corp. is estimating losses of at least 20bn yuan ($3.1bn) from a US technology ban that’s halted major operations as clients pull out of deals and expenses mount, people familiar with the matter said.

The telecoms gear and smartphone maker however is hopeful of striking a deal soon and already has a plan in place – dubbed “T0” – to swing idled factories into action within hours once Washington agrees to lift its seven-year moratorium on purchases of American chips and components, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private negotiations. The company declined to comment.

Shenzhen, China-based ZTE depends on US components, such as chips from Qualcomm, to build its smartphones and networking gear. The ban, for breaching terms of a settlement over sanction-breaking sales to Iran, has all but mothballed China’s second-largest telecoms gear maker and become entangled in a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies. On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he’s reconsidering US penalties as a favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping and may instead fine the company more than $1bn.

The US action has spooked potential clients during the crucial first-half IT spending season and even prompted some to renege on agreed deals, the people said. ZTE’s shelling out an estimated 80m to 100m yuan in daily operational expenses alone while most of its 75,000 employees sit idle, the people said.

«

Meanwhile, the US Congress has blocked any move to let ZTE back in. The limbo continues; the losses so far wipe out ZTE’s net income over the past 12 years.

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Republicans can’t even cut red tape correctly • The New York Times

Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles:

»

there are huge opportunities for growth that are being hamstrung by rules that protect existing companies at the expense of new ones. A bonfire of regulations like this would be entirely wholesome for the American economy and also help to eat away at some of the hyper-inequality that is generated by these forms of crony capitalism.

Unfortunately, this is not the kind of regulation that the Trump administration has been attacking. Instead, it has been sharpening its knives for precisely the kinds of regulation that, far from distorting markets, help to improve them. In particular, regulation is often necessary to a properly functioning market when, in its absence, businesses can make a profit by pushing costs onto others, in effect forcing others to subsidize their bottom line. In two areas, the environment and finance, these are exactly the sorts of market-improving regulation that the administration has put in its cross hairs, with the effect of increasing profits via freeloading.

The classical justification for environmental regulation is that without properly designed rules, businesses do not have to pay the true costs of their economic activity (what economists call “externalities”). If a company was making money by parking vehicles in all our driveways without paying, it would be obvious, and individuals would have a remedy in the form of trespass laws. But the costs that companies generate through pollution are widespread and hard to trace. Environmental regulations, by making companies absorb the costs they would otherwise impose on the rest of us, reduce market-distorting subsidies to polluters.

One recent example of wrongheaded deregulation is the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed loosening of Obama-era rules on methane leaks from oil pipelines. Methane is a particularly nasty contributor to global warming, but pipeline companies have insufficient incentives to prevent leaks adequately. Without regulation, their profitable move is to pad their bottom lines at the expense of the global climate. In this case, deregulation is just another word for the protection of ill-gotten gains.

«

This has been the Trump admin all over: protect existing companies and strip the wrong regulations away. Coal, environment, solar – the moves have all been retrograde.
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I wish mum’s phone was never invented • BBC News

Georgina Rannard:

»

What if children told you exactly how your WhatsApping, Instagramming, emailing and news-reading makes them feel?

“I hate my mum’s phone and I wish she never had one,” is what one primary school child wrote in a class assignment.

American school teacher Jen Adams Beason posted the comment on Facebook, and revealed that four out of 21 of her students said they wished mobile phones had never been invented…

…”I would say that I don’t like the phone,” one child wrote.

“I don’t like the phone because my parents are on their phone every day. A phone is sometimes a really bad habit.” The student completed the work with a drawing of a mobile phone with a cross through it and a large sad face saying “I hate it”.

«

I often wonder what babies think of their mothers’ indifference as they are being walked around in prams or in shops or anywhere. There’s a whole generation growing up being ignored.
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‘A fun adventure, not a business’: The Weather Channel stopped publishing video on Facebook • Digiday

Sahil Patel:

»

The Weather Channel is no longer publishing videos to Facebook.

“[Facebook video] hasn’t been beneficial,” said Neil Katz, global head of content and engagement at The Weather Channel, during a speech at the Digiday Video Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona. “It has been good for Facebook, but it hasn’t been good for us.”

Over the past few years, The Weather Channel built up a network of six pages on Facebook that grew to 500 million video views per month by last May, according to Katz. (For comparison, The Weather Channel’s main page was down to 1.8 million views on Facebook in April, according to Tubular Labs.) The Weather Channel’s Facebook presence included its main page as well as “weather-adjacent” science, nature and travel verticals such as Rockets Are Cool, Crazimals and United States of Awesome.

“We went along for the ride every single step of the way,” Katz said. “But we noticed, over the course of two years, that we were being paid in all types of currencies — followers, shares, views — that did not feel like money.”

«

Such old thinking. Then again, looks like it’s time for the pivot away from video. Where now?
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Hackers infect over 500,000 routers with potential to cut off internet • CNET

Alfred Ng:

»

More than half a million routers and network devices in 54 countries have been infected with sophisticated malware, researchers from Cisco’s Talos Intelligence Group warn.

The malware, which the security researchers are calling VPNFilter, contains a killswitch for routers, can steal logins and passwords and can monitor industrial control systems. 

An attack would have the potential to cut off internet access for all the devices, William Largent, a researcher with Talos, said Wednesday in a blog post

Attacks on routers hit a sensitive spot not only because they can halt internet access, but because hackers can use the malware to monitor web activity, including password use. In April, US and UK officials warned about Russian hackers targeting millions of routers around the world, with plans to carry out massive attacks leveraging the devices. In that announcement, the FBI called routers a “tremendous weapon in the hands of an adversary.”

“Quite anything is possible, this attack basically sets up a hidden network to allow an actor to attack the world from a stance that makes attribution quite difficult,” Craig Williams, Talos’ director, said in an email.  

«

At any given time, there are huge botnets built around devices which people don’t normally interact with directly. Routers sometimes, video recorders others. Even heat pumps.
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The Apple Watch has found a surprisingly useful home with everyone that works on their feet • Quartz

Mike Murphy:

»

You might’ve noticed that the person who took your order at the bar, brought you the shoes you wanted to try on, or perhaps even patted you down at the airport security line, is sporting an Apple Watch, which starts at $329 for the newest Series 3 watch. And there’s a pretty simple explanation: Many service-industry jobs where employees have to be on their feet all day don’t allow workers to check their phones while they’re on the clock. But that rule doesn’t necessarily apply to a piece of unobtrusive jewelry that happens to let you text your friends and check the weather.

Quartz spoke with airline attendants, bartenders, waiters, baristas, shop owners, and (very politely) TSA employees who all said the same thing: The Apple Watch keeps them in touch when they can’t be on their phones at work. Apple has increasingly been pushing the watch as a health device, and seems to have moved away from marketing it as one that offers more basic utility, as Apple continues do with the iPhone. But given that roughly 23% of the US labor force works in wholesale or retail operations, perhaps it’s a market Apple should reconsider.

«

I don’t think Apple is “not considering” the market of people who aren’t meant to be standing around looking at their phones. Though it might consider some adverts targeting them.
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Uber to close self-driving operations in Arizona after fatal crash • AZ Central

Ryan Randazzo:

»

Uber is shutting down its self-driving car tests in Arizona, where one of the cars was involved in a fatal crash with a pedestrian in March, the company said Wednesday.

The company notified about 300 Arizona workers in the self-driving program that they were being terminated just before 9a.m. Wednesday. The shutdown should take several weeks.

Test drivers for the autonomous cars have not worked since the accident in Tempe, but Uber said they continued to be paid. The company’s self-driving trucks have also been shelved since the accident.

Uber plans to restart testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh once federal investigators conclude their inquiry into the Tempe crash. The company also said it is having discussions with California leaders to restart testing.

Uber has engineering hubs in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and the company said it is easier to test vehicles near those workers. Engineers from those hubs frequently traveled to Arizona to work on the testing project here.

«

That’s pretty harsh on the 300 workers. Here one day, gone the next.
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Above Avalon subscriptions turn three • Above Avalon

Neil Cybart, whose $100/year 4x/week newsletter is entering its fourth year, looks at what is changing in the Apple coverage space:

»

Apple rumor / scoop industry has dried up and consolidated. Ten years ago, there were a number of news publications that were in a legitimate position to break the next Apple scoop (some of which were likely controlled leaks from Apple). Today, there are only two or three sites that even publish Apple scoops. The consolidation in Apple scoops has been driven by Apple ramping up the amount of secrecy regarding unannounced projects. In addition, Apple “scoops” have increasingly come from research firms paying for confidential information coming out of Apple’s supply chain. One byproduct of this rumor consolidation has been a relatively high degree of turnover among Apple reporters.

Ad-supported business models are struggling. It is becoming more difficult to find ad-supported business models on the web. While there are likely a few reasons for this change, one includes ad dollars being funneled away from blogs and into podcasts and videos. This explains what appears to be an exodus of resources away from written blogs and into podcasts and video-focused efforts. Unfortunately, my suspicion is this won’t end well for many as increased competition in the podcast and video space will tend to push sponsors to those with the largest followings. Such an environment would make it increasingly difficult for independent ventures to find sustainability by chasing scale.

Paid news sites boost independents. Most news publications have embraced paid subscriptions as another way of boosting revenues. While a paid subscription to a multinational news organization may make sense for many readers, the value / price tradeoff becomes murky for readers interested in specific topics and niches. For example, the average news publications will only write about Apple once a week (if that much). This environment provides an even greater amount of oxygen to independent sites that can give the time and attention to niche subjects.

Donation / support route isn’t promising. The transition from ad-supported business models to subscription-based models hasn’t been easy for many independent sites. Going from a scenario in which all content was public to one in which only a fraction of content is public can be jarring. Most sites have handled this transition by keeping content free and instead giving paid subscribers a very marginal amount of exclusive content. In essence, sites are treating subscriptions and memberships like donations. This is not sustainable for, or attractive to, subscription-based models.

«

That point about ad-supported models is one to note. If GDPR does scare away ad-tech companies in Europe, that is going to lead to some substantial concentration.
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YouTube Music is great for record labels, but bad for music lovers • WIRED UK

Katia Moskvitch:

»

Facebook doesn’t have a good enforcement technology yet, he adds, but “is about to become a major player”. Apple Music and Spotify together count 125 million subscribers – although they are mere bit players considering the success of YouTube. Google’s baby now sports more than 1.8 billion users every month, not least thanks to the fact that it is free – not just for consumers, but also the artists themselves. “It’s the number one place where artists get discovered and hits are made,” says [MIDiA Research analyst Mark] Mulligan, and “that’s true for every single market”.

The success, however, does not translate into massive payments to the music industry. YouTube labels itself as a platform, not a music distributor, and as a result gets away with sharing less of its profits. Because of its dominance, YouTube pushes down the profits for the music industry as a whole, claims a recent study commissioned by the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC), a body representing royalty-collecting societies around the world.

The launch of YouTube Music will not be a game changer, though. Mulligan believes that the subscription-based service is “not quite a sop to the record labels, but it’s not far off”. Google simply wants to show “that it’s a good partner to the record labels… rather than needing to be in the premium business”.

Profit margins are further under pressure because of the deep fragmentation of the distribution end of the music industry. Spotify, YouTube and Apple may be digital giants, but they are jostling for space with many smaller local music streaming services around the world, plus thousands of terrestrial and digital radio and TV networks.

«

link to this extract


Google beats Amazon to first place in smart speaker market • Canalys

»

Smart speakers continue to be the world’s fastest-growing consumer technology segment, with year-on-year growth in Q1 2018 of 210% as shipments reached 9m units. Google took the top spot, beating Amazon for the first time, shipping 3.2m of its Google Home and Home Mini devices, against the 2.5m Echo devices shipped by Amazon. The US market share fell below 50% for the first time, partly due to Google and Amazon’s focus on expanding beyond their home markets, but also because of the increased traction that the technology is seeing with new vendors in markets such as China and South Korea.

Vendors shipped 1.8m smart speakers into the channel in Q1 2018 in China, while Korea overtook the UK to become the third largest market with 730,000 shipments.

Alibaba finished third overall and retained its number one position in China with 1.1 million Tmall Genie speaker shipments in Q1 2018… China’s smart speaker market is growing, with shipments up sequentially by more than 60%. Xiaomi, whose main business is selling smartphones, shipped over 600,000 of its Xiao AI speakers to China in Q1, coming a distant second after Alibaba’s Tmall Genie. “Awareness of smart speakers and their uses is growing steadily among Chinese consumers. But competition is building quickly for Alibaba, as IPO-hopeful Xiaomi takes to the smart speaker segment with much vigor in 2018.”

«

Apple’s HomePod went on sale in February; doesn’t make the top five on Canalys’s reckoning. Strategy Analytics, another research company, has its own analysis which gives Amazon 4m, Google. 2.4m, Alibaba 0.7m and Apple 0.6m. Neil Cybart, of Above Avalon, reckons Apple sold between 0.5m and 1.0m HomePods.

So one has Google on top and Apple nowhere, another has Amazon on top and Apple somewhere. Be lovely if these companies provided some clear figures sometime.
link to this extract


Environmentalists criticize Xiaomi ahead of billion-dollar IPO • Sixth Tone

Sixth Tone:

»

Two environmental groups are accusing Xiaomi of poor oversight of its supply chain after the Chinese tech giant earlier this month filed for an IPO with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, according to a joint report released Tuesday.

On May 12, the environmentalists found that a Jiangsu factory which manufactures components for Xiaomi was discharging copper-contaminated wastewater into a nearby river. According to the report, coauthored by the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and the Lüse Jiangnan Public Environment Concerned Center (PECC), tests conducted on May 12 confirmed the contamination.

The factory, owned by Taiwan-headquartered Ichia Technologies, had previously been fined 117,000 yuan ($18,000) by the provincial environmental bureau in March for the same offense. Sixth Tone’s calls to the factory went unanswered on Tuesday.

The report also accuses four other companies said to manufacture screens, casings, and other parts for Xiaomi cellphones of having past environmental violations.

On May 3, Xiaomi filed for an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, aiming for a $100 billion valuation that would make it the largest listing of the year. But the environmental groups say that the tech company did not disclose the supply chain environmental lapses in its prospectus — contravening the exchange’s full disclosure requirement.

When reached by phone on Tuesday, a Xiaomi PR representative told Sixth Tone that he was not at liberty to comment, as the company was still ascertaining the situation.

«

By “still ascertaining the situation” the spokesman meant “still ignoring the situation, which has been brought to Xiaomi’s notice multiple times over multiple suppliers in the past four years”.

But nobody much cares about environmental responsibility, unless it offers a chance to bash Apple.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: US phone slump, make a faster MacBook, Trump’s phone (in)security, Yelp v Google (again), and more


If you wanted headphones, why get them on a crowdfunding site? Photo by Lubomir Panak on Flickr.


Cyberwars small A reminder: you can buy my book Cyber Wars, published in the UK and due out in the US later this week. It investigates hacking incidents such as the Sony Pictures hack, the TalkTalk hack, ransomware, the Mirai IoT botnet, the TJX hack, and more. It looks at how the people in those organisations responded to the hacks – and takes a look at what future hacks might look like.

“A terrifying analysis of the dark cyber underworld.” – Aleks Krotoski


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

‘Too inconvenient’: Trump goes rogue on phone security • POLITICO

Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson and Daniel Lippman:

»

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

President Barack Obama handed over his White House phones every 30 days to be examined by telecommunications staffers for hacking and other suspicious activity, according to an Obama administration official.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but a senior West Wing official said the call-capable phones “are seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations. Because of the security controls of the Twitter phone and the Twitter account, it does not necessitate regular change-out.”

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Security experts reckon that for sure those are hacked by now. Trump’s number is not secret to those who want to know it. The model of phone is known. There are exploits. What’s stopping them?
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North Korea targeting defectors with Android malware attacks • ExtremeTech

Ryan Whitwam:

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North Korea has been caught tinkering with Android malware again, but this time it’s using both Facebook and Google Play to target North Korean defectors living in South Korea.

According to McAfee, North Korea’s Sun Team hackers perpetrated the attack over the last several months. They likely infected around 100 targets, which isn’t a huge number compared with most malware campaigns. However, these were all highly targeted infiltrations to gather intelligence on political opponents. There are currently around 30,000 North Korean defectors living in the south. 

The hackers used Facebook to distribute links to the malicious apps, focusing on populations and individuals who would have information about defectors. They created convincing fake profiles, often using images stolen from South Korean users as profile photos. Their posts asked the targets to download and test some Android apps hosted in the Play Store. These apps, however, were not what they appeared.

McAfee researchers found three apps uploaded by Sun Team hackers: 음식궁합 (Food Ingredients Info), Fast AppLock, and AppLockFree. All three were listed as “unreleased” in the Play Store, which kept them from garnering unwanted attention. The hackers only wanted to send specific targets to the listings. Upon installation, the apps would ask for access to contacts, SMS data, and local files before sending it all to the malware operators. This data could lead to more targets for future malware attacks, including both defectors and those who help them escape North Korea. McAfee tied the apps together as part of a single attack from the use of identical developer accounts, emails, and IP addresses.

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A bit amateurish, that last bit.
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Trump denies reaching deal with China on ZTE • The New York Times

Ana Swanson, Jim Tankersley and Raymond Zhong:

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The fate of ZTE has quickly become a key sticking point in negotiations with China, with lawmakers and others concerned that the administration would ease restrictions on the company after Mr. Trump’s suggestion in a Twitter message on May 13 that he was working with China’s president, Xi Jinping, to give ZTE “a way to get back into business, fast.”

“Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!” Mr. Trump added in the tweet.

That statement, and reports that the administration had discussed easing the penalties during a visit by Chinese trade negotiators last week, have sparked a backlash from lawmakers across the political spectrum. On Tuesday, senators took steps to limit Mr. Trump’s ability to ease restrictions on ZTE, voting to approve an amendment to pending legislation that would block the president from pardoning the company without first confirming to Congress that it was no longer violating the law.

In a 23-2 vote, lawmakers approved the amendment, which will now be included in a bill related to foreign investment controls that was offered by Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland. The amendment would require the president to certify that the company was no longer violating United States law, had not done so for a year and was fully cooperating with investigators before changing its penalties. The bill is expected to come to a vote this summer.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, blasted the idea of a deal with ZTE, saying on Twitter: “Here is #ZTE timeline: Violated U.S. sanction laws & got caught lying & covering up. Paid $1billion fine & agreed to discipline employees. But then lied again & instead of discipline gave those employees bonuses. Now we are offering same deal of fine & employee discipline?”

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Thought exercise: same situation, but Obama (or Clinton) is president, and is negotiating with China about trade, including ZTE. What would s/he do differently? I suspect much would be the same – except for the tweets, which undermine the US’s position. Even so, it’s contradictory: ZTE broke sanctions on Iran. Which Trump doesn’t like.
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Amazon teams up with law enforcement to deploy dangerous new face recognition technology • ACLU of Northern CA

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Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance. According to its marketing materials, it views deployment by law enforcement agencies as a “common use case” for this technology. Among other features, the company’s materials describe “person tracking” as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor people. Amazon says Rekognition can be used to identify “people of interest” raising the possibility that those labeled suspicious by governments — such as undocumented immigrants or Black activists — will be seen as fair game for Rekognition surveillance. It also says Rekognition can monitor “all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports” — at a time when Americans are joining public protests at unprecedented levels.

Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns. Today, the ACLU and a coalition of civil rights organizations demanded that Amazon stop allowing governments to use Rekognition.

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I think this horse has long since left the stable. If not Amazon, then it will be Facebook; or a Chinese company; or someone else. We’re already in the age of facial recognition; it’s just going to get better.
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10,200 people gave this Kickstarter start-up for 3-D headphones nearly $3m. They have nothing to show for it. • The Washington Post

Rachel Siegel:

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In a letter to backers on its Kickstarter page, the tech company Ossic wrote that it was shutting down and would not deliver any remaining orders for Ossic X headphones. The company said it had explored other financing options over the past 18 months but would still need more than $2 million more to complete mass production.

Ossic’s flameout also highlighted the challenges faced by tech companies in mass producing innovative products — from robots to smartwatches to 3-D printers — through crowdfunding sources, even as experts say platforms such as Kickstarter can be effective tools for getting a company off the ground.

“Hardware is particularly seductive in a lot of ways,” said Ethan Mollick, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “[Backers] see an example of the thing, and it feels safer preordering. Those all come together to make these things seem easier than they might be.”

A video on Ossic’s Kickstarter page showed people testing out prototypes of what the company dubbed the “first 3D audio headphones.” The company told backers on Saturday that it had completed 250 of them and began deliveries to some Kickstarter backers. But as of Saturday, Ossic was out of money and shutting down “effective immediately.” It was unclear whether backers would be refunded.

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Ossic said “OSSIC X is the world’s first headphone that instantly calibrates to your anatomy for the most accurate and immersive 3D audio”. This stuff is overplayed. (I got some nura headphones via Kickstarter. They’re ok, but too heavy to wear for any length of time, which is a drawback in headphones.) And honestly? You can buy good headphones anywhere. Avoid “stuff you can get elsewhere” on crowdfunding sites.
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Yelp files new EU complaint against Google over search dominance

Rochelle Toplensky and Hannah Kuchler:

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Yelp has filed a complaint with the EU’s antitrust watchdog against Google, arguing that the search company has abused its dominance in local search and pressuring Brussels to launch new charges against the tech giant.

European antitrust authorities fined Google €2.4bn in June 2017 for favouring its own shopping service over rival offerings in its search results. Google denied wrongdoing and has appealed that decision.

Now Yelp, which provides user ratings, reviews and other information about local businesses, wants Margrethe Vestager, the EU Competition Commissioner, to take action against Google for similar alleged abuse in the local search market, according to a copy of the complaint seen by the Financial Times…

…Yelp wrote the new complaint to make the case for local search services, arguing that Google is harming both competitors and consumers by giving preferred placement to its own offerings over rivals’. It said the search giant displays Google Local Search information at the top of the results page, while links to Yelp, TripAdvisor and other services are displayed further down, where they are rarely clicked.

The company is requesting quick action to remove the alleged favouritism, which could enable it to reopen its division in Europe.

Local search services were originally covered by a European antitrust probe launched in 2010, over how Google treated its own services in search results versus links to rivals. That investigation covered a number of specialist search services, including travel, local business and price comparison. But in 2015, Ms Vestager focused her charge sheet on price comparison services culminating in last summer’s fine.

Google declined to comment on the most recent complaint.

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I don’t have much confidence that Vestager will act quickly on this. Not because she won’t think that it’s important or merited, but because her office is astonishingly slow to act. The fine over shopping was a start, but Google’s response has been to do exactly what complainants said would harm them, and Vestager hasn’t done a thing.
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News Lit Quiz • News Literacy Project

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Which is Legit?

Test your ability to recognize and distinguish “fake news” sites from those of legitimate, standards-based news organizations.

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10 pairs of fake and real sources; a turn-based quiz. Dive in. As much as anything, reveals how important it is to be able to parse a URL.
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Overall Q1 US smartphone sales dip 11% YoY, Apple grows a record 16% YoY • Counterpoint Research

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Research Director Jeff Fieldhack said, “Dips in sales coming off a holiday period are to be expected, however there are several other factors that make this the weakest Q1 in recent years. For one, postpaid device promotions were not as enticing in the first quarter—most requiring a new line.  In addition, prepaid did not receive its usual February and Q1 bump as prepaid service promos cooled. The ramp-down of government subsidized ‘Lifeline’ programs have cut into prepaid device volumes. BYOD and refurbished devices also continue to impact new device sales.”

Exhibit 1: Monthly market pulse – OEM & market sales growth (YoY %) Trends

• Apple growth percentage is declining during launch periods. However, it has gained overall US market share because of its increasing installed base and B2B and prepaid channel improvements
• Samsung growth curve is slipping. There is increased difficulty maintaining momentum through product lifecycles
• During periods of prepaid [PAYG] weakness, ‘others’ performance declines. “Others” saw a drastic dip during the first quarter.
• The overall US market growth is on a downward slope outside of Apple launch periods.

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Down to 38.7m in the first quarter; the first time it has been below 40m for three years. The peak has passed.
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The Verge [cryptocurrency] hack, explained • The Abacus

Daniel Goldman on a cryptocurrency hack where a hacker began spoofing the time on “blocks”, suggesting they’d happened earlier than they had:

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The algorithm that Verge [the crryptocurrency, unrelated to the tech news website] uses to calculate the current difficulty [of mining] is known as Dark Gravity Wave; it involves taking a weighted average of the rate of block confirmations over a moving two-hour window. It’s a bit complex, and the details don’t really matter here — what matters is this: mining difficulty is a function of recent block frequency, and running calculations on block frequency naturally involves looking at blocks’ timestamps.

And hence the problem: if enough faulty timestamps are getting created, all bets are off. And this is what the hacker did — examining the blockchain data reveals that throughout the duration of the hack(s), every other block was submitted with a timestamp roughly one hour before the present time, tragically confusing the protocol’s mining adjustment algorithm. If the protocol were sentient and fluent in English, it would be saying something like “Oh no! Not enough blocks have been submitted recently! Mining must be too difficult — let’s make it easier!” Since timestamps were continuously being spoofed, the protocol continuously lowered the difficulty, until mining got laughably easy. To give a general idea, the average difficulty in the hours before the initial attack was 1393093.39131, while during the attack, it got as low as 0.00024414, a decrease in difficulty of over 99.999999%. Lower difficulty in submitting a block means more blocks get submitted— in this case, roughly a block every second.
The cleverness of this attack is in how it circumvents the barrier of mining difficulty instead of attempting to burst through it. If the security provided by mining power is a gate surrounding the network — a gate that’s far too strong to break through and too high to climb over — this hack gets past it by finding a way to lower it so close to the ground that it can be stepped over.

If it isn’t already obvious, this is, in and of itself, bad news.

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Yeah, it was obvious. It’s also obvious that there’s no obvious way to fix this (though it’s more complicated just than this; there’s also an algorithmic attack). Anyone determined enough can do the exact same hack again – though the hacker here clearly got a lot of ducks in a row.
link to this extract


The $299 Razer Core X is the cheapest way to give your MacBook the graphics card it deserves • BGR

Chris Mills:

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The obvious solution [to the MacBook’s lack of graphics power] is to use an external graphics card, which is now feasible thanks to software changes in recent versions of macOS, and the magic of the Thunderbolt 3 connectors that are fast and flexible enough to allow for external graphics. Razer’s Core (and the newly updated Core V2) are some of the most popular enclosures around, but they don’t come cheap: the Core V2 is $499, and you still have to supply your own graphics card, which can be hundreds of dollars more. Luckily, there is now a cheaper way.

The Razer Core X is exactly the same concept as the Core V2 — a big box into which you can stuff your graphics card — but with a few key differences. Mostly, it’s $299 rather than $499, which makes it a much more palatable option as an accessory. There’s also a slightly more powerful 650W power supply and space for a bigger graphics card. Best of all, the Core X can supply 100W of power over the USB-C cable to a connected laptop, meaning one cable charges your laptop and connects you to the external graphics. The Core V2 supplied power as well, but that maxed out at 65W, below the 80-85W that some laptops require.

That said, you do lose something, specifically the USB-A and Ethernet ports that the Core V2 had.

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That’s a graphics card which has a SIX HUNDRED AND FIFTY WATT power adapter. Run it for two hours and you’ve used more than a kilowatt. That’s crazy, given that the MacBook adapter is around 80W max. The tail is wagging the dog, power-wise. Although if you needed to edit video in specific locations, yet also wanted something light to take around, it could fit the bill.
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A new look inside Theranos’ dysfunctional corporate culture • WIRED

John Carreyrou, with another extract from his book Bad Blood:

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The biggest problem of all was the dysfunctional corporate culture in which it was being developed. [CEO and founder Elizabeth] Holmes and [COO Sunny] Balwani regarded anyone who raised a concern or an objection as a cynic and a nay-sayer. Employees who persisted in doing so were usually marginalized or fired, while sycophants were promoted.

Employees were Balwani’s minions. He expected them to be at his disposal at all hours of the day or night and on weekends. He checked the security logs every morning to see when they badged in and out. Every evening, around 7:30, he made a flyby of the engineering department to make sure people were still at their desks working.

With time, some employees grew less afraid of him and devised ways to manage him, as it dawned on them that they were dealing with an erratic man-child of limited intellect and an even more limited attention span. Arnav Khannah, a young mechanical engineer who worked on the miniLab, figured out a surefire way to get Balwani off his back: answer his emails with a reply longer than 500 words. That usually bought him several weeks of peace because Balwani simply didn’t have the patience to read long emails. Another strategy was to convene a biweekly meeting of his team and invite Balwani to attend. He might come to the first few, but he would eventually lose interest or forget to show up.

While Holmes was fast to catch on to engineering concepts, Balwani was often out of his depth during engineering discussions. To hide it, he had a habit of repeating technical terms he heard others using. During a meeting with Khannah’s team, he latched onto the term “end effector,” which signifies the claws at the end of a robotic arm. Except Balwani didn’t hear “end effector,” he heard “endofactor.” For the rest of the meeting, he kept referring to the fictional endofactors. At their next meeting with Balwani two weeks later, Khannah’s team brought a PowerPoint presentation titled “Endofactors Update.” As Khannah flashed it on a screen with a projector, the five members of his team stole furtive glances at one another, nervous that Balwani might become wise to the prank. But he didn’t bat an eye and the meeting proceeded without incident. After he left the room, they burst out laughing.

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This is just the light relief, though; there’s plenty of refusal to engage with basic reality too.
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