Start Up: hack that election!, Microsoft says patch, iPad Pro speed tested, Ivanka underfoot, and more


Charles Thacker, co-inventor of Ethernet, has died. Photo by Razor512 on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Still looking for the tapes. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to hack an election without really trying • Matt Blaze

Blaze (for those who don’t know) is an expert cryptographer who demonstrated in the 1990s that the Clinton administration’s plan for “key escrow” was fatally flawed. When it comes to hacking, he’s reliable. He wrote this – and then the addendum – on the NSA report into election hacking:

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In the immediate term, we need to find out the extent to which county election systems have been compromised. Every voting machine as well as every computer on every county election office network in the US needs to be carefully forensically examined, and any evidence of compromise investigated. That might be an expensive and laborious process, but it is our only hope of unraveling the extent to which our elections were tampered with (if they were at all), to say nothing of cleaning up any malware left behind for the next election.

In the longer term, we need better, more secure, robust and auditable voting systems. Many states are still using insecure touch-screen “DRE” systems that have been shown to suffer from serious, exploitable vulnerabilities and that provide no ability for meaningful recounts. Our democracy deserves better than that, and we now have even more reason to demand it.

Update 13 June 2017: According to this Bloomberg News article, the attack (and the investigation) was indeed more widespread than this particular NSA document would suggest, and involved voter registration databases and possibly other election systems in at least 39 states. It remains unclear if the ultimate intended targets were the registration systems themselves (which would disrupt election operations) or other county backend voting infrastructure (including voting machines and tallying software) that might share the same networks (which could compromise the tally). The full extent is simply unknown at this point. This underscores the the need to throughly forensically examine every one of the thousands of state, local and county voting system and network in the US for evidence of malware and tampering. This would be a non-trivial undertaking, and does not appear to have been been done yet, at least at any scale. But until this occurs, there is simply no way to be sure of any damage, or if any systems might still be running left behind compromised software during the next election.

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In the UK we counted more than 30 million paper votes in a single night. It only takes organisation, and it’s pretty resistant to hacking.
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What we know about the leaked secret NSA report on Russia • ABC News

Karma Allen:

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On March 22, The Intercept hosted a podcast online looking at, among other things, the public outcry over Russia’s alleged collusion with associates of President Donald Trump and the Kremlin’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

Host Jeremy Scahill said “there is a tremendous amount of hysterics” and “a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” but “there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up.”

Appearing as a guest on the podcast, Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald agreed, saying that while “it’s very possible” Russia was behind election-related hacks last year, “we still haven’t seen any evidence for it.”

Little more than a week later, Winner allegedly used a Gmail account to contact The Intercept, and she “appeared to request transcripts of a podcast,” court documents said.

More than a month later, the NSA secretly issued the classified document now at the center of the leak case. And within days, Winner allegedly found it, printed it out and mailed it to The Intercept.

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So she was trying to provide The Intercept with evidence about the topic it doubted, The Intercept showed it to a government source for checking, and the government tracked Winner down. It’s like a Greek tragedy where the hero(ine) tries to get the chorus to do something.
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Charles P. Thacker • Wikipedia

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Charles P. (Chuck) Thacker (February 26, 1943 – June 12, 2017) was a American pioneer computer designer. He worked on the Xerox Alto, which is the first computer that used a mouse-driven Graphical User Interface.

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Also co-inventor of Ethernet and worked on the laser printer.
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Microsoft warns of ‘destructive cyberattacks,’ issues new Windows XP patches • ZDNet

Ed Bott:

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Citing an “elevated risk for destructive cyberattacks” by government organizations or copycats, Microsoft on Tuesday released an assortment of security updates designed to block attacks similar to those responsible for thedevastating WannaCry ransomware outbreak last month.

The alerts highlights the risk of “potential nation-state activity.” It does not name the nation-state it suspects of being on the verge of unleashing this attack.

Today’s critical security updates are in addition to the normal Patch Tuesday releases, Microsoft said. They’ll be delivered automatically through Windows Update to devices running supported versions, including Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and post-2008 Windows Server releases.

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An update earlier in the year had the same intent (to defend against Wannacry/Eternal Blue) but perhaps pointing out now that it’s to defend against nation-state attacks will get people to actually implement it.
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WWDC 2017 :  some thoughts • Learning By Shipping

Steve Sinofsky (yes, the guy who drove Windows and introduced the Surface as a skateboard):

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I’ve been saying this for years — that ARM-based, mobile OS, with new apps geared to a new interaction model will become dominant. I didn’t expect that to be just a pocket-sized device, but based on hours of usage that is clearly the case (and at least partially responsible for iPad sales curves).

What I believe Apple has cleverly done is introduce features such as “windowing”, drag and drop, and app switching that will cause the industry to take note of the improved productivity potential while at the same time not forcing a “desktop” model on “everyone”. By and large these features are likely to fall to power users, but that is often how markets tilt. The new Files app (which is very early) will prove to be a game changer and so clearly ups the “power” of the device as many core productivity scenarios are about juggling multiple files in some workflow.

For the vast majority of people that define productivity as “Office” scenarios of notetaking, slides, lists, basic models, communicating (iOS was already the preferred mail platform by volume), and so on, the iPad with its security, reliability, robustness, performance, and also connection to phone (continuity, Messages, etc.) make for an extremely productive experience. Developers take note, as iPad-specific apps will become increasingly important in productivity categories.

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Implicit Association Test • Harvard University

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It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. Understanding such divergences is important to scientific psychology.

This web site presents a method that demonstrates the conscious-unconscious divergences much more convincingly than has been possible with previous methods. This new method is called the Implicit Association Test, or IAT for short.

In addition, this site contains various related information. The value of this information may be greatest if you try at least one test first…

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However, there’s a lot of disagreement about the suggestion that these are any use.
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Ericsson Mobility Report 1H 2017 • Ericsson

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For the next six years, more than 1 million new mobile broadband subscribers will be added per day. This means there will be an additional 2.6 billion subscribers by the end of 2022.

The June 2017 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report continues to forecast the growth of mobile technology, including IoT connections and LTE. We also explore how the unconnected can be cost-effectively connected by leveraging existing mobile infrastructure, and how attributes of 5G will make public transport via autonomous vehicles safer.

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Always worth a download and mull over; the numbers are getting mindblowing though.
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Review: Microsoft’s Surface Laptop running Windows 10 S • ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley:

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In my 10 days of use of the Intel Core i5 model with 8 GB of RAM running Windows 10 S (Creators Update release, a k a 1703), I didn’t approach the 14-hour battery life figure Microsoft touted for Surface Laptop. The Microsoft figure is for the non-real-world continuous video playback scenarios. In my intermittent, regular but non-continuous use — browsing the web, monitoring Twitter, writing posts and emails, watching YouTube videos, and playing music on Groove — I’d guess I’ve been more in the seven-plus-hour range, not including time when the machine was unused and in standby. (This is a rough calculation, obviously; I’ll update in the next couple weeks as I use the device more.)

Happily, I have not once come back to my idle machine to find that most of the battery drained while I wasn’t using the device. The default settings for 10 S on the Laptop call for the device to sleep, not hibernate, when not in use, which seems to be part of what “Modern Standby” does to help save battery.

On to the software. I have said recently that I believe I could live with a Chromebook these days, as I almost never need any Win32-only apps. The Surface Laptop proved my hypothesis was right.

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That last bit might be worrying for Microsoft. You’re wondering about her experience with the Alcantara keyboard fabric?

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…definitely going to be a love-hate thing. It feels more like a pool-table cover than a shag carpet, for those wondering about the fuzziness factor.

Microsoft included the covering as a way of differentiating its laptop and giving it a more premium feel. I admit I found myself constantly worrying about staining the cover with food/drink, sweat and tears (not unicorn ones). Officials say the fuzzy keyboard can be wiped clean easily with a damp cloth. But to me, the minuses on this outweigh the potential benefits. During the last few very warm days we’ve had here in New York, I’ve found the covering a bit too warm for my liking.

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Oh well.
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iPad Pro 10.5-inch (2017) review: this is crazy fast •Laptop Mag

Mark Spoonauer:

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The A10X Fusion chip inside the iPad could very well be the most powerful mobile processor ever. The six-core CPU and 12-core GPU combine to offer amazing power given the iPad Pro’s slim profile. Part of the reason why the iPad Pro is so swift is because of the way Apple architected the chip; the CPU and GPU share the same on-board 4GB of RAM, so there’s no waiting for the graphics to go out and grab separate memory.

The result is a tablet that beats most Windows laptops on the Geekbench 4 benchmark, which measures overall performance. The iPad Pro scored a crazy-high 9,233 on the multi-core portion of the test. That’s more than double the Galaxy Tab S3 tablet with a Snapdragon 820 chip. More impressive, the iPad Pro’s mark is whopping 42% faster than the Dell XPS 13 notebook with a 7th-generation Core i5 processor (6,498) and 17% faster than a Core i7-powered HP Spectre (7,888).

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OK, so maybe this is enough iPad Pro reviews, but the point is this: Apple is now making tablets that are faster than fully-fledged laptops. That’s an amazing change from 2010. Spoonauer’s biggest complaint? Lack of a trackpad. Telling in itself.
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Revealed: reality of life working in an Ivanka Trump clothing factory • The Guardian

Krithika Varagur, in Subang, West Java:

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The reality of working in a factory making clothes for Ivanka Trump’s label has been laid bare, with employees speaking of being paid so little they cannot live with their children, anti-union intimidation and women being offered a bonus if they don’t take time off while menstruating.

The Guardian has spoken to more than a dozen workers at the fashion label’s factory in Subang, Indonesia, where employees describe being paid one of the lowest minimum wages in Asia and there are claims of impossibly high production targets and sporadically compensated overtime.

The workers’ complaints come only a week after labour activists investigating possible abuses at a Chinese factory that makes Ivanka Trump shoes disappeared into police custody.

The activists’ group claimed they had uncovered a host of violations at the plant including salaries below China’s legal minimum wage, managers verbally abusing workers and “violations of women’s rights”.

In the Indonesian factory some of the complaints are similar, although the wages paid to employees in Subang are much lower.

Here we look at life inside the factory through interviews with workers, all who have asked for their details to be changed to avoid losing their jobs.

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China says it won’t release the people who were investigating the other factories. Ivanka had best get used to very close attention being paid to her supply chain.
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Uber CEO to take leave of absence as Holder report is released • The Information

Amir Efrati:

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Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick told employees that he will take a leave of absence as the company unveiled the findings of an investigation into the ride-hailing service’s troubled workplace culture.

In his absence, a “leadership team” of his direct reports would run the company, Mr. Kalanick told employees in an email. The Uber chief didn’t disclose when he would return from the leave, saying that “it may be shorter or longer than we expect.” Mr. Kalanick said that he needed time to grieve the loss of his mother, who was killed a few weeks ago in a boating accident that seriously injured his father. “Tragically losing a loved one has been difficult for me and I need to properly say my goodbyes.”

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It’s easy to be cynical about Kalanick doing this as the report into sexism and discrimination is released, but the effect of the sudden death of a parent is hard to estimate. (Huge long read about the Holder report at Bloomberg.)

Now Uber begins its second act.
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Galaxy Note 8 to reportedly miss out on in-screen fingerprint reader as well • SamMobile

“Asif S”:

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The Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+ are one of the best smartphones released this year. However, people who used one of these devices will quickly point out the awkward placement of the fingerprint reader. It was reported that Samsung poured a lot of money in developing an in-screen fingerprint reader for these devices, but failed to achieve favorable results in time for the mass production of the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Consumers and experts were hoping that Samsung could introduce an in-screen fingerprint reader this year with the Galaxy Note 8, thereby bringing it closer to perfection. However, a new report from Naver leads us to believe that Samsung will miss out on integrating an in-screen fingerprint reader in its upcoming flagship phablet. The report states that even Apple had a lot of problems in using a similar technology for the iPhone 8, which is expected to go on sale later this year.

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But the reports also suggest that Apple has managed to figure this out. Samsung won’t be happy if it misses out, though one expects that by spring of next year they’ll have got yields up and the “fingerprint reader on the back” will have been discarded to the dustbin of history.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: Uber exec’s beliefs, iPad Pro reviewed, blocking the trackers, AI doctors, and more


A flaw in Chrome could let it record you without you knowing. Photo by MShades on Flickr.

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

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

Uber’s Michael is said to blame board, not behavior, for ouster • Bloomberg

Eric Newcomer and Brad Stone:

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Uber Technologies Inc.’s newly ousted senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, has been dogged by public scandals, ever since his off-the-cuff remarks at a dinner party in 2014 about investigating a critical journalist. He was at the center of two more controversies made public this year that were included in an investigation into Uber’s culture. The former girlfriend of his boss, Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick, alleged that he tried to prevent her from speaking out about a work trip to a Korean escort-karaoke bar. He was also one of the executives recently alleged to hold conspiracy theories that the rape of an Uber passenger in India was linked to a local competitor.

At the same time, Michael, an Egyptian immigrant, helped Uber raise more than $10 billion, negotiate a truce with Uber’s Chinese rival and strike deals with top automakers like Daimler AG.

Michael believes that a weak board of directors, a lax internal legal team, coupled with his tight friendship with co-founder Kalanick, ultimately led to his downfall—not the scandals, two people close to Michael said.

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Remember the Doobie Brothers song “What a Fool Believes”?
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10.5-Inch iPad Pro review: a better window into the world of apps • Fast Company

Harry McCracken:

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What I’m trying to say is that the advent of the new iPad Pros isn’t like the introduction of the “new iPad” back in 2012, when the tablet gained a retina-resolution screen for the first time and the previous year’s iPad 2 suddenly looked like a jaggy antique. Instead, a device with a spectacular display has been supplanted by one that looks slightly more spectacular. (The contrast between the new iPad Pro and the original 12.9-inch model from 2015 is more significant than with the 9.7-incher.) Some of the things that are new about the new iPad Pro display will pay off once app makers have caught up: Its ability to display HDR video, for instance, will be a boon once companies such as Netflix and Amazon begin streaming HDR movies to iPads.

Already, among the beneficiaries of ProMotion’s 120Hz refresh rate is Apple’s Pencil stylus–which, it turns out, was being held back by previous iPad Pros. When I squiggled virtual ink onto the page in the Procreate app as fast as I could, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro kept up noticeably better than last year’s 9.7-inch model, creating a drawing experience that felt a little less digital and a little more real.

Like I said, Apple is obsessive about this stuff.

As for the new A10X processor–which Apple says is up to 30% faster and up to 40% faster for graphics–its promise is mostly about letting developers ratchet up the ambition of their creations.

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The Book of Jeremy Corbyn • The New Yorker

Anthony Lane explains the general election for those who don’t live in the UK. And for those who do, actually:

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And it came to pass, in the land of Britain, that the High Priestess went unto the people and said, Behold, I bring ye tidings of great joy. For on the eighth day of the sixth month there shall be a general election.

And the people said, Not another one.

And they waxed wroth against the High Priestess and said, Didst thou not sware, even unto seven times, that thou wouldst not call a snap election?

And the High Priestess said, I know, I know. But Brexit is come upon us, and I must go into battle against the tribes of France, Germany, and sundry other holiday destinations. And I must put on the armor of a strong majority in the people’s house. Therefore go ye out and vote.

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Usually I find these cod-Biblical pieces excruciating, but Lane is a cut far above the fray. Enjoy particularly the bits about the 1970s and the IRA.
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Techdirt’s Mike Masnick says lawsuit has already had a chilling effect on his site • TechCrunch

Anthony Ha:

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This suit is focused on Techdirt articles about Ayyadurai’s controversial claim that he invented email. As Masnick put it, “I gave my opinion, backed up with lots of evidence, that this guy did not invent email, even if he owns the website inventorofemail.com.”

And leaving aside the invention question, Masnick said, “We believe everything we wrote, that I wrote in particular, was protected speech under the First Amendment, especially when talking about a public figure.” (Ayyadurai is running against Elizabeth Warren for one of Massachusetts’ seats in the U.S. Senate.)

Masnick argued that the real aim of the suit is to shut Techdirt down — that this is, in other words, a SLAPP intended to silence someone’s free speech. After all, Ayyadurai has tweeted that “#FakeNewsMedia like TechShit need to be shutdown for their FAKE NEWS.”

And since the suit was filed in January, Masnick said there have been “very real chilling effects” on his business. He estimated that the site has been publishing one-third fewer stories than it was before, and he said its Copia think tank has had to delay events and papers.

“Every time I publish a story, I have to think, ‘Will I get sued over this?’ ” Masnick said. In fact, he claimed that since Techdirt was sued by Ayyadurai, it has received three other lawsuit threats.

At the same time, Masnick said, “As we wait for this process to play out — hopefully soon, we will see — we’re trying as hard as possible to be inspired by being in a bad situation.”

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Though there doesn’t seem to be anywhere you can donate directly, Techdirt does have a shop (for American readers) if you’d like to support them.
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The AI doctor orders more tests • Bloomberg

Mark Bergen:

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Amazon Web Services, the dominant cloud provider, is processing and storing genomics data for biotech companies and clinical labs. No. 2 Microsoft’s cloud unit plans to store DNA records, and its Healthcare Next system provides automated data entry and certain cancer treatment recommendations to doctors based on visible symptoms. Google seems to be betting most heavily on health-care analysis as a way to differentiate its third-place cloud offerings. Gregory Moore, vice president for health care, says he’s readying Google Cloud for a world of “diagnostics as a service.” In this world, AI could always be on hand to give doctors better information—or replace them altogether.

The cloud division is refining its genomics data analysis and working to make Google Glass, the augmented-reality headgear that consumers didn’t want, a product more useful to doctors. German cancer specialist Alacris Theranostics GmbH leans on Google infrastructure to pair patients with drug therapies, something Google hopes more companies will do. “Health-care systems are ready,” says Moore, an engineer and former radiologist. “People are seeing the potential of being able to manage data at scale.”

In November, Google researchers showed off an AI system that scanned images of eyes to spot signs of diabetic retinopathy, which causes vision loss among people with high sugar levels. Another group of the company’s researchers in March said they had used similar software to scan lymph nodes. They said they’d identified breast cancer from a set of 400 images with 89 percent accuracy, a better record than most pathologists. Last year the University of Colorado at Denver moved its health research lab’s data to Google’s cloud to support studies on genetics, maternal health, and the effect of legalized marijuana on the number and severity of injuries to young men. Michael Ames, the university’s project director, says he expects eventually to halve the cost of processing some 6 million patient records.

But however impressive Google’s AI analysis gets, the health-care industry isn’t exactly a gaggle of early adopters, says James Wang, an analyst at ARK Investment Management LLC.

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Car thieves everywhere rejoice as unsecured database exposes 10 million car VINs

Catalin Cimparu:

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For 137 days now, a yet to be identified company has left a database containing over 10 million Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) exposed online with no authentication.

This means that anyone who knows what to look for can mass-scan the Internet and download loads of sensitive information without any restriction.

Discovered by researchers from the Kromtech Security Research Center, the company’s experts believe the database was compiled for marketing purposes.

Based on the data contained within the exposed database, researchers believe the DB belongs to one or more US-based dealerships.

The database’s content is organized into three main sections, each holding information on customers, cars, and sales details.

For example, the database tables pertaining to customer info holds details such as full name, address, mobile/home/work phones, email, date of birth, gender, and the number of children over 12 years old.

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🙄 Just assume any organisation to which you provide data which isn’t one of the biggest tech companies is going to get hacked at some point. Plan how much detail you provide on that basis.
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Apple’s kangaroo cookie robot • ZGP

Don Marti:

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If you missed the email spam debate, don’t worry. [Spam king Sanford] Wallace’s talking points about spam filters [being bad] constantly get recycled by surveillance marketers talking about tracking protection. But now it’s not email spam that users supposedly crave. Today, the Interactive Advertising Bureau tells us that users want ads that “follow them around” from site to site…

…If you need [to know what Apple’s introducing in Safari in iOS 11 to prevent tracking] in bullet points, here it is.

• Nifty machine learning technology is coming in on the user’s side.

• “Legitimate” uses [of cookies and Javascript] do not include cross-site tracking.

• Safari’s protection is automatic and client-side, so no blocklist politics.

Surveillance marketers come up with all kinds of hypothetical reasons why users might prefer targeted ads. But in the real world, Apple invests time and effort to understand user experience. When Apple communicates about a feature, it’s because that feature is likely to keep a user satisfied enough to buy more Apple devices. We can’t read their confidential user research, but we can see what the company learned from it based on how they communicate about products.

(Imagine for a minute that Apple’s user research had found that real live users are more like the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s idea of a user. We might see announcements more like “Safari automatically shares your health and financial information with brands you love!” Anybody got one of those to share?)

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Might have to wait a while for those. Has anyone ever said “please let more ads follow me around”? The links above are all worth following too. This is a big shift.
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Apple’s multi-billion dollar ‘flops’ • Irish Independent

Adrian Weckler points out that the Watch and iPad are bigger respectively than Twitter and half of Facebook, and pretty surely profitable, and yet people discount them because they aren’t the iPhone:

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it’s not really a surprise that we’re seeing tinges of Apple ennui creep into coverage of its newly-announced HomePod speaker.

In case you missed it last week, Apple unveiled a ‘smart’ music speaker that can be used to control lighting systems, security alarms and home appliances.

It can also be used to get information from the web using Apple’s Siri voice-control system – and it’s a decent speaker that can compete with Sonos and other established hi-fi units.
But already, people are grumbling about Apple being “too late” to the smart speaker market, or that Siri isn’t quite as good as the voice-recognition technology developed by Amazon (Alexa) or Google.

In other words, they’re saying that the HomePod may be a nice side business for Apple, but it won’t dominate its segment in the same way the iPhone dominates the phone business.

The reality is that 24 months from now, it’s a solid bet that the HomePod will race into being a €1bn business in its own right.

If nothing else, Apple has shown that it has a greater propensity to hit than to miss, even if it’s ‘merely’ a €1bn business instead of a €50bn one.

One last point: as Apple rolls out these products and services, other companies feel the pressure.

For instance, Apple’s new HomePod speaker outguns the Amazon Echo or the Google Home speakers in music quality, but also beats Sonos for smart, voice-controlled functionality. Because it’s designed to work with the phone or tablet system that almost one billion people already have, it’s a major threat to all of those companies’ established markets.

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Chrome flaw allows sites to secretly record audio/video without indication • The Hacker News

Swati Khandelwal:

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What if your laptop is listening to everything that is being said during your phone calls or other people near your laptop and even recording video of your surrounding without your knowledge?

Sounds really scary! Isn’t it? But this scenario is not only possible but is hell easy to accomplish.
A UX design flaw in the Google’s Chrome browser could allow malicious websites to record audio or video without alerting the user or giving any visual indication that the user is being spied on.

AOL developer Ran Bar-Zik reported the vulnerability to Google on April 10, 2017, but the tech giant declined to consider this vulnerability a valid security issue, which means that there is no official patch on the way…

…The researcher discovered that if any authorised website pop-ups a headless window using a JavaScript code, it can start recording audio and video secretly, without the red dot icon, giving no indications in the browser that the streaming is happening.

“Open a headless window and activate the MediaRecorder from that window. In Chrome there will be no visual record indication,” Bar-Zik said.

This happens because Chrome has not been designed to display a red-dot indication on headless windows, allowing site developers to “exploit small UX manipulation to activate the MediaRecorder API without alerting the users.”

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In its response (on the Chromium list) a Google staffer says “this isn’t really a security vulnerability” – though other Google staffers then disagree.
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iMac Pro cost blows away similar Lenovo workstation, DIY builders struggle to meet price with fewer features • Apple Insider

Mike Wuerthele:

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Little is still known about the “entry-level” iMac Pro, regarding technical specifications. For $4999, users get an undeclared 8-core Xeon processor, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB 3 ports, a single 10-Gig Ethernet port, 1TB of SSD storage, 32GB of 2666 MHz ECC RAM, and as-yet unreleased Vega graphics.

Imgur member “Squaruss” posted a comparison to a Lenovo workstation. The build included an 8-core E5-2620 v4 processor, a P910 motherboard with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, 32GB of 2400MHz ECC RAM, a Nvidia Quadro M5000 GPU, two 512GB M.2 PCI-E SSD in RAID configuration, a SD card reader, 802.11ac wi-fi, and a 1300W power supply listed as 92% efficient. No 10Gbps Ethernet option was available for the workstation, but the build includes a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The build price by the Imgur member was confirmed by AppleInsider and totaled $5394, after a $599 “instant savings” discount which appears to be a limited time promotion. Notably, a monitor was absent from the build.

A second “DIY” build was posted by PC Gamer. In the second build, the publication implements the same processor as in the Lenovo build, downgrades storage speed to a single 1TB 960 Samsung EVO SSD, cuts back the Thunderbolt 3 ports to one with a PCI-E card, uses the integrated Gigabit Ethernet board on the motherboard, downgrades the power supply to 1000W which might be too low for reliability, and downgrades the video to the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti.

AppleInsider confirmed the $4687 bill of materials on the PC Gamer build. However, it includes about $100 in rebates which are accounted for in the price, and also incorporates the LG Ultrafine 5K display for some reason. Given that it would not be accelerated by the GTX 1080 Ti and would only be in 4K resolution on Windows, its inclusion isn’t clear.

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These sort of comparative builds used to be all the rage, especially after Apple moved to Intel chips. The only thing about the iMac Pro is that it’s not due for release until December, which leaves time for all sorts of things to happen.
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A pro-Trump conspiracy theorist, a false tweet and a runaway story • The New York Times

Jeremy Peters:

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The architects of the effort to discredit Mr. Comey seem to be working from a playbook straight from a political campaign, said Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters, a liberal group that is tracking Comey threads in the conservative media.

“This is why they are being effective,” he said. “They are really engaging in a pure persuasion effort. They are not playing by any established rules. And they are cashing in on the mistrust and uncertainty people feel about traditional news media.”

They are also taking advantage of the proliferation and polarization of avenues to spread their message.

“The ability to mitigate such disinformation campaigns was far easier in the 1990s,” said Chris Lehane, who worked as an aide in the Clinton White House. Back then, he added, “for the most part the existing distribution channels were not as segmented across ideological lines that, in effect, create parallel realities that run along ideological grounds.”

Mr. Posobiec, a 33-year-old Navy veteran, was until recently the bureau chief for a right-wing website based in Canada called The Rebel. Its founder, Ezra Levant, said Mr. Posobiec was no longer employed there.

“We wish him well,” Mr. Levant said, offering only that Mr. Posobiec’s promulgation of the Rich conspiracy had nothing to do with his departure.

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Just a little more data on how polarised the US is becoming – at least, for those who want to be polarised. To evolve Upton Sinclair’s quote, it is difficult to get someone to understand something when their social media profile depends on their not understanding it.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the App Store scammers, the Facebook (non-Brexit) election, Kalanick to go?, Softbank robots, and more


Patience: with iOS 11, you’ll be able to decide what tapping each AirPod does. Photo by meline.ch on Flickr.

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

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

How to make $80,000 per month on the Apple App Store • Medium

Johnny Lin noticed a top-grossing app which had decidedly dodgy behaviour:

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Touch ID? Okay! Wait… let’s read the fine print:

“Full Virus, Malware scanner”: What? I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for any app to scan my iPhone for viruses or malware, since third party apps are sandboxed to their own data, but let’s keep reading…

“You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription”

Uhh… come again?

Buried on the third line in a paragraph of text in small font, iOS casually tells me that laying my finger on the home button means I agree to start a $100 subscription. And not only that, but it’s $100 PER WEEK? I was one Touch ID away from a $400 A MONTH subscription to reroute all my internet traffic to a scammer?

I guess I was lucky I actually read the entire fine print. But what about other people?

Step 3: It’s All Starting to “Ad” Up… to Profit

It suddenly made a lot of sense how this app generates $80,000 a month. At $400/month per subscriber, it only needs to scam 200 people to make $80,000/month, or $960,000 a year. Of that amount, Apple takes 30%, or $288,000 — from just this one app.

At this point, you might still be in disbelief. Maybe you’re thinking: “Sure, just 200 people, but still, it seems highly unlikely that even one person would download this scammy looking app, much less pay for it.”

Maybe you wouldn’t download it. I certainly wouldn’t. But I’ve also never clicked on a Google Ad, yet Google somehow rode Adwords to $700bn today.

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By the time you read this I expect this app will have been removed from the App Store, because this article was on Daring Fireball, and Apple people read that. But it should prompt a review of subscription apps – especially those racing up the App Store from unknown developers.
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People on Facebook didn’t think this was the “Brexit election” • Buzzfeed

Tom Phillips:

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People on Facebook shared more stories about fox hunting than about Brexit over the course of the general election campaign, according to an analysis of the most shared issues since the vote was called.

Young voter registration, the NHS, and Jeremy Corbyn’s security record were topics all shared more than stories around Brexit, BuzzFeed News analysis reveals.

And several major political developments that featured prominently in the newspapers during the campaign, such as Labour’s nationalisation plans and the Conservative U-turn on social care, also failed to set social media alight, compared with other issues like the NHS or school meals.

The BuzzFeed News Social Barometer has tracked the 250 most shared links about the election on Facebook, and their sentiment, since Theresa May announced her intention to go to the polls on 18 April. It has previously shown that stories that are pro-Labour or anti-Tory have consistently been shared far more than their right-wing counterparts – and that even among right-wingers, none of the most shared stories were supportive of May.

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There’s a huge long graphic, but I’ll spare you. Go there if you want.
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Everything u/Foxconninsider Reported Today : apple

An interesting list of things that it’s claimed Apple will/will not do and what its devices will/won’t have in the near future. Hard to tell whether they were correct ahead of WWDC due to editing, but as long as the TouchID sensor is under the front glass in the super-whizzy top end device, and not on the back, I think everyone’s going to be happy.

The “cancelled projects” allegedly includes a VR headset and a “smart ring”. If so, both sound decisions, I’d say. But this is all super-rumour.
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iOS 11 Tidbits: customizable Control Center, one-handed keyboard, type to Siri and more • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover with a long roundup of the little twiddles in iOS 11 that didn’t get a mention. I noticed this particularly:

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– AirPods settings – AirPods can now be customized with separate double tap gestures for the left and right AirPod. One can be set to access Siri, for example, while another can be set to play the next track. In iOS 10, double tap settings are applied to both AirPods.

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This is very useful – for all the people who wanted buttons on AirPods, this is basically that, but through gestures. A bit hidden, though; AirPods should have their own app. Putting this in Settings means most people won’t know they can do this.
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Apple introduces Core ML • Deep Dojo

“Otto” (who writes Apple software for a living; Deepdojo is “a blog about machine learning with a focus on Apple hardware”):

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PDF is not about making a document. PDF is about being able to easily view a document.

With Core ML, Apple has managed to achieve an equivalent of PDF for machine learning. With their .mlmodel format, the company is not venturing into the business of training models (at least not yet). Instead, they have rolled out a meticulously crafted red carpet for models that are already trained. It’s a carpet that deploys across their entire lineup of hardware.

As a business strategy, it’s shrewd. As a technical achievement, it’s stunning. It moves complex machine learning technology within reach of the average developer.

To use a trained model in your project, you literally drag and drop the model file into Xcode.

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This is going to make it easy to deploy trained models – though of course the trick is training your model. “First catch your rabbit”, as the recipe for rabbit stew goes.
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The great performance of our failing president • The New York Times

Geoffrey Kabaservice:

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President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

But when he arrived in the White House, he merely added his own brand of insult to the usual Washington partisanship. He didn’t begin to do the work that would have been required to assemble a bipartisan coalition around a genuine populist agenda. Instead, he agreed to make Paul Ryan’s draconian repeal of Obamacare his top priority. That provoked Democrats in Congress to be just as obstructionist and hostile as Republicans were under President Obama.

Toxic polarization means that Congress is unlikely to pass any significant legislation on infrastructure and tax reform that once might have attracted cross-aisle support. Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them, and he doesn’t seem to understand that their skillful use of the reputable media was an integral part of their success.

Mr. Trump cast himself during the election as the sole candidate able to break through Washington gridlock and get things done. Will his failure as a problem solver cause his supporters to abandon him?

I doubt it. Scratch a Trump supporter, and you’re likely to find someone deeply pessimistic about America and its future. Few believe that he will be able to bring back the good times (however they define them) because they’re convinced that the system is rigged: The “deep state” is too entrenched, the demographic tide too advanced and the global elite too powerful to allow real change.

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The pessimism is an important observation. It’s very hard to turn pessimists into optimists.
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Uber board to discuss CEO absence, policy changes: source • Reuters

Joseph Menn and Heather Somerville:

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Uber Technologies Inc’s board will discuss Chief Executive Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company’s management practices at a meeting on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person briefed on the matter said the board will discuss Kalanick taking time off from the company. The discussion involved the possibility that Kalanick might return in a role with less authority, this person said, either in a position other than CEO or as CEO with narrower responsibilities and subject to stronger oversight.

The source said it is not clear that the board will make any decision to change Kalanick’s role. The board is expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm’s broader culture. The outside lawyers made no recommendation about Kalanick.

An Uber spokesman had no comment. Kalanick did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Saturday.

The meeting, which Uber has not publicized, could be a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.

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Will have been decided, and perhaps publicised, by the time you read this. Uber is becoming self-aware about its problems.
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We’ve been wrong about what makes for great VR • Betaworks

Peter Rojas argues that “time spent” is the wrong metric:

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Playing in room-scale VR, where you’re physically moving around, brings an entirely new level of immersiveness to the experience and Against Gravity got a bunch of little details right about the collaborative game play. Both quests are challenging — you almost certainly need three other players along for the ride to finish it — but it’s not so hard that you can’t get through it with some persistence, and the first time I played The Quest for the Golden Trophy it took me and the crew of three other players I’d never met before about 45 minutes to get through it.

Forty-five minutes of gameplay would be short for a AAA title like GTA V or Skyrim (I’m spent about 75 hours with Skyrim and would play for hours at a stretch, if I could), but what struck me was how satisfying Rec Room’s quest felt after I was done. For those forty-five minutes I was entirely immersed in the experience, working hard not to let down the three strangers I’d been randomly paired up with, and absolutely ecstatic when after several tries we were able to complete it. But what I hadn’t expected was that at the end I was perfectly content to take my headset off and go back to the real world. I didn’t want to keep playing or to spend a couple more hours inside of my headset. Playing The Quest was like eating a satisfying meal, one where I didn’t leave feeling either hungry or overstuffed.

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Alphabet agrees to sell Boston Dynamics to SoftBank • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Despite the steady march of Boston Dynamics’ robotics innovations, it appears Alphabet leadership didn’t quite know what it would ultimately do with the company. As part of an overall restructuring and cost-saving strategy set forth by Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat last year, the company has taken significant measures to slim down its experimental efforts and rein in its “moonshot” projects. Even prior to Porat’s hiring, it was clear Alphabet was at a bit of a loss with regard to its robotics ambitions. Astro Teller, the head of the company’s X lab, was the one who disbanded Replicant in 2014, before Google was restructured as Alphabet, according to Bloomberg.

As part of the SoftBank deal, Alphabet is also selling Schaft, a humanoid robotics company Google acquired as part of its Replicant buying spree back in 2013 and 2014. Schaft was spun out of the JSK Robotics Laboratory within the University of Tokyo, making it a sensible purchase for SoftBank. Despite its huge presence in the Japanese telecom market, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of Vodafone Japan, SoftBank is also a leader in robotics — the company makes the popular humanoid Pepper robot in partnership with Aldebaran Robotics.

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Two things. SoftBank also now owns ARM; Alphabet is really pulling its horns in.
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In mobile internet speed, the US lags. It does not matter • Spectrum Matters

Gary Kim:

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To my knowledge, the United States has never ranked at the top of any key measure of tele-density (voice adoption), mobile adoption, internet access speed or take rates.

In other words, U.S. consumers often (virtually always) have lagged behind consumers in other nations on measures of telecom service adoption, and U.S. providers often have lagged behind in terms of network performance.

And there are reasons for that situation, including large areas of very-low population density where any fixed network is unsustainable. The expense and time required to “wire” a continent-sized area also plays a role.

Also, although wide gaps historically have existed, those gaps always have closed fairly quickly. So the size of the gap, early on, is often quite large. There is no historical evidence that such gaps persist very long. The gap is going to close, and relatively quickly.

Beyond all those statistical measures, there is the matter of impact. Researchers have noted that for long periods of time, information technology investment has failed to produce measurable increases in productivity, for example.

So one way of looking at tele-density or IT intensity is to ascertain measurable impact. If high adoption does not appear to lead to commensurate economic advantage, one might question whether what we are measuring actually matters.

Few, if any observers would claim that “not at the top” U.S. adoption of any form of internet access prevents U.S. businesses and consumers from wringing benefit from the internet ecosystem. In other words, beyond a certain point, perhaps the state of infrastructure adoption is not key.

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‘Coal is dead’ and oil faces ‘peak demand,’ says world’s largest investment group • Think Progress

Joe Romm:

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The U.S. alone has shuttered 40 gigawatts of coal plants since 2000.

“These [coal plants] will not reopen whatever anything President Trump does,” as Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently explained, “nor do we see much appetite among investors for ploughing money into U.S. coal extraction — stranded asset risk will trump rhetoric.”
The economic reality is that cheap fracked gas and plummeting prices for clean energy has squeezed both coal production and coal consumption to levels not seen for decades.


U.S. coal production (blue) and consumption (green). CREDIT: EIA

While the coal industry had hoped exports would pick up the slack, that dream has been thwarted by China’s accelerated shift away from coal-driven economic growth to clean energy, coupled with India’s new push to follow suit.

Coal isn’t the only fossil fuel at risk. Because of the rapidly improving performance and cost of batteries, Barry is “bullish” on electric vehicles. And as a result, he is bearish on oil demand, noting that “there was always this historic view on oil about peak supply but it’s about peak demand being an equal dynamic.” BNEF and the credit rating agency Fitch have made similar warnings.

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Peak oil was always going to be about supply; what a surprise that it’s looking like it will be demand instead.
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It’s been so windy in Europe that electricity prices have turned negative • Motherboard

Chris Baraniuk:

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It was very windy across Europe last week. So much so, in fact, that the high wind load on onshore and offshore wind turbines across much of the continent has helped set new wind power records.

For starters, renewables generated more than half of Britain’s energy demand last Wednesday—for the first time ever.

In fact, with offshore wind supplying 10% of the total demand, energy prices were knocked into the negative for the longest period on record. The UK is home to the world’s biggest wind farm, and the largest wind turbines, so it’s no surprise that this was an important factor in the country’s energy mix.

“Negative prices aren’t frequently observed,” Joël Meggelaars, who works at renewable energy trade body WindEurope, told Motherboard over the phone. “It means a high supply and low demand.”

Indeed, there were a few periods in recent days during which Denmark’s supply of wind energy alone exceeded local demand—as much as 137% overnight when demand was lower.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: App Store coding?, Facebook’s ad watching, AI for novels, Britney’s Russian bots, and more


Want one? Tough luck – an altcoin mining surge has created a world shortage. Photo by k0a1a.net on Flickr.

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

A selection of 13 links for you. I hope you can see your way to reading them. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Cryptocurrency mining is fueling a GPU shortage • Motherboard

Daniel Oberhaus:

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until the Ether price explosion last month, mining on the Ethereum network cost more in electricity than it generated in revenue. Following the meteoric rise of the world’s second favorite cryptocurrency, however, I decided it was finally time to become a miner. So I strapped on my hardhat and hit the internet in search of the graphics cards that are the workhorses in most Ethereum mining rigs.

Yet as I found on site after site, GPUs were SOLD OUT and wouldn’t be shipping for several weeks. As PC Gamer recently reported, it appears as though the altcoin mining boom had created a global GPU shortage. The question, however, is whether this drought has just begun, or if gamers and would-be miners will be out of luck for the foreseeable future.

As their name implies, GPUs are logic chips specifically designed for rending pictures and videos on a computer screen. They’re mostly used for gaming to render 3D graphics in realtime. Unlike a Central Processing Unit (CPU), which is responsible for coordinating and executing commands from a computer’s hardware and software, GPUs were designed so that they would be really efficient at repeatedly performing the same operation very quickly.

GPUs work well for rendering 3D games but they work great for mining Ethereum.

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*Narrator’s voice* Now, in 2100, we can understand how the seeds of the Gamer-Miner Wars were sown.
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Chinese Apple staff suspected of selling personal data • South China Morning Post

AP:

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Chinese authorities say they have uncovered a massive underground operation run by Apple employees selling computer and phone users’ personal data.

Twenty-two people have been detained on suspicion of infringing individuals’ privacy and illegally obtaining their digital personal information, according to a statement on Wednesday from police in southern Zhejiang province.

Of the 22 suspects, 20 were Apple employees who allegedly used the company’s internal computer system to gather users’ names, phone numbers, Apple IDs, and other data, which they sold as part of a scam worth more than 50m yuan (US$7.36m).

The statement did not specify whether the data belonged to Chinese or foreign Apple customers.

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Apple updates its App Store review guidelines, here’s all the changes • iClarified

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CHANGED 2.5.2 in 2.5 Software Requirements
(Old) 2.5.2 Apps should be self-contained in their bundles, and may not read or write data outside the designated container area, nor may they download, install, or execute code, including other iOS, watchOS, macOS, or tvOS apps.

(New) 2.5.2 Apps should be self-contained in their bundles, and may not read or write data outside the designated container area, nor may they download, install, or execute code, including other apps. Apps designed to teach, develop, or test executable code may, in limited circumstances, download code provided that such code is not used for other purposes. Such apps must make the source code provided by the Application completely viewable and editable by the user.

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This doesn’t look big on the surface, but it’s significant: being able to download code is important. It’s still a frustration for apps such as Pythonista that it can’t use iCloud to sync executable files. I really don’t know how Workflow managed it before.
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Android malware hid in Google Play apps to inject code into system runtime libraries • Graham Cluley

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A type of Android malware known as Dvmap hid in apps available on the Google Play Store in order to inject malicious code into system runtime libraries.

So far, Kaspersky has detected at least 50,000 downloads of the malware, which hid in apps like the puzzle game “colourblock” on Google’s Play Store…

Upon initial installation, the malware attempts to gain root privileges and to install some modules, including a malicious app called com.qualcmm.timeservices. It then launches a start file to check the Android system version and determine which runtime system library to patch…

…The malicious ip file is capable of disabling “VerifyApps,” [Google’s app verification daemon] changing system settings to allow the installation of apps from third-party marketplaces, and grant com.qualcmm.timeservices Device Administrator rights. This app can then use those rights to download archives and connect to its C&C.

To protect themselves against Dvmap, users should install an anti-virus solution onto their devices. They should also be careful about what apps they install onto their phones. As Dvmap and other threats prove, malware can hide in apps available on Google’s Play Store.

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Downloading modules seen as hazardous.
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Facebook knows what you’re doing during commercial breaks • Recode

Peter Kafka:

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Facebook wants to spell it out for you: You ignore the commercials and you look at your phone.

Here’s the graphic version of this story: Facebook says it tracked the behavior of 537 people who told the company they watched “the season premiere of a popular TV show” last fall. This bar chart measures Facebook usage over time. See the spikes? Those are commercial breaks.

And just to beat it into the ground, Facebook tracked usage for people who didn’t watch the show. No spikes, just steady liking and sharing.

Yes, it’s a small survey, conducted by Facebook, about a single show last year.

On the other hand, since it’s only measuring Facebook usage, it probably understates the case. If you factor in Twitter, texting, Clash of Clans and everything else you can do with your phone when a commercial comes on, those spikes would likely be much sharper.

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I make that 27 minutes of Facebook use – ads – in 60 minutes. No wonder Netflix is so popular.
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Experts predict when artificial intelligence will exceed human performance • MIT Technology Review

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When will a machine do your job better than you?

Today, we have an answer of sorts thanks to the work of Katja Grace at the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and a few pals. To find out, these guys asked the experts. They surveyed the world’s leading researchers in artificial intelligence by asking them when they think intelligent machines will better humans in a wide range of tasks. And many of the answers are something of a surprise.

The experts that Grace and co coopted were academics and industry experts who gave papers at the International Conference on Machine Learning in July 2015 and the Neural Information Processing Systems conference in December 2015. These are two of the most important events for experts in artificial intelligence, so it’s a good bet that many of the world’s experts were on this list.

Grace and co asked them all—1,634 of them—to fill in a survey about when artificial intelligence would be better and cheaper than humans at a variety of tasks. Of these experts, 352 responded. Grave and co then calculated their median responses.

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That “write New York Times bestseller” seems like one to watch for. More to the point, when will an AI be able to write a survey that more than 20% of respondents answer?
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Russian malware communicates by leaving comments in Britney Spears’s Instagram account • Boing Boing

Cory Doctorow:

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A key weakness in malicious software is the “Command and Control” (C&C) system: a central server that the malware-infected systems contact to receive updates and instructions, and to send stolen data. Anti-malware researchers like to reverse engineer malicious code, discover the C&C server’s address, and then shut it down or blacklist it from corporate routers.

Turla is an “advanced persistent threat” hacking group based in Russia with a long history of attacking states in ways that advance Russian state interests — suggesting that they are either a part of the Russian espionage system, or contracting to it.

A new analysis by Eset shows that Turla is solving its C&C problems by using Britney Spears’ Instagram account as a cut-out for its C&C servers. Turla moves the C&C server around, then hides the current address of the server in encrypted comments left on Britney Spears’s image posts. The compromised systems check in with Spears’s Instagram whenever they need to know where the C&C server is currently residing.

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This is like the subplot of Three Days of the Condor, but for the computer world.
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YouView piloting Alexa support for TV boxes, change channels using voice-control • Pocket-lint

Rik Henderson:

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YouView is planning Alexa support for viewers using any of the connected TV set-top-boxes available through TalkTalk, BT and other manufacturers.

It is piloting voice-controlled features that will enable viewers to interact with their boxes and YouView services through speech.

A viewer will require an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or other Alexa-enabled device, which will understand his or her commands, and a YouView Skill will give options to perform many of the current functions that usually require a remote control.

YouView is working with the Alexa Video Skill API – one of the first developers to do so. It should give viewers the ability to navigate around the user interface, play content and search for shows and movies.

Just barking “Alexa, change the channel to BT Sport 1” will find the station you want. Even commands as simple as “Alexa, play Eastenders” should work.

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In 2011 I saw a ton of voice-activated TVs at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, made by a Chinese manufacturer. They went nowhere. This would require plugging your Echo/Dot/other somehow into the YouView box, wouldn’t it? That seems to limit things for a device that’s usually in the kitchen. Unless it makes you buy another Echo/Dot/…
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With new browser tech, Apple preserves privacy and Google preserves trackers • Electronic Frontier Foundation

Alan Toner:

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While we welcome the willingness [in forthcoming versions of Google Chrome] to tackle annoying ads, the CBA’s [Coalition for Better Ads, of which Google and Facebook are now members] criteria do not address a key reason many of us install ad blockers: to protect ourselves against the non-consensual tracking and surveillance that permeates the advertising ecosystem operated by the members of the CBA.

Google’s approach contrasts starkly with Apple’s. Apple’s browser, Safari, will use a method called intelligent tracking prevention to prevent tracking by third parties—that is, sites that are rarely visited intentionally but are incorporated on many other sites for advertising purposes—that use cookies and other techniques to track us as we move through the web. Safari will use machine learning in the browser (which means the data never leaves your computer) to learn which cookies represent a tracking threat and disarm them. This approach is similar to that used in EFF’s Privacy Badger, and we are excited to see it in Safari.

In tandem with their Better Ads enforcement, Google will also launch a companion program, Funding Choices, that will enable CBA-compliant sites to ask Chrome users with content blockers to whitelist their site and unblock their ads. Should the user refuse, they can either pay for an “ad-free experience” or be locked out by a publisher’s adblock wall. Payment is to be made using a Google product called Contributor, first deployed in 2015. Contributor lets people pay sites to avoid being simply shown Google ads, but does not prevent Google, the site, or any other advertisers from continuing to track people who pay into the Contributor program.

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Amazon ends its unlimited cloud storage plan • TechCrunch

Natasha Lomas:

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Amazon has sunsetted its unlimited cloud storage plan for Amazon Drive — although members of its Prime subscription club will still get unlimited cloud storage for photos.

From today, people signing up for Amazon Drive will not be able to select an unlimited cloud storage option. Instead they can choose either 100 GB for $11.99 per year, or 1 TB for $59.99, with up to 30 TB available for an additional $59.99 per TB. (The prior pricing was $11.99pa for unlimited photos or unlimited everything for $59.99.)

All sign ups still get 5GB of storage gratis. Best to think of that as getting your first hit for free.

As for unlimited storage, Amazon only introduced the option in March 2015 — when it was couched as an aggressive play in an increasingly competitive consumer cloud storage market. And lo and behold, two months later Google announced its own free unlimited photo storage service.

Two years later Amazon is now tightening the screws on those who have locked their data inside its vaults — an all too familiar story in the cloud storage space.

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For comparison, Apple offers 5GB for free, and then 50GB ($11.88pa), 200GB ($35.88pa) and 2TB ($119.88pa). Amazon’s is still cheaper, but it used to be $60pa to stuff everything in. Brian Barrett in Wired in March 2015 heralded it thus:

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The steady march towards cheaper cloud storage has just turned into a sprint. Rather than being merely competitive with leaders like Google Drive, Dropbox, and iCloud, Amazon has decided to undercut their pricing by more than half. In some cases, much, much more… It’s hard to stress just how much these new offerings—particularly the Unlimited Everything plan—disrupt the current state of the cloud storage pricing structure… strictly in terms of price it’s an unarguably great deal. And even if you don’t bite, it should hopefully at least drive unlimited prices down across the entire industry.

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Important to distinguish in this field between things that are short-term promotions, and long-term disruptions. Surprise! Amazon’s storage was the former.
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UK police arrest man via automatic face recognition tech • Ars Technica UK

Sebastian Anthony:

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Back in April, it emerged that South Wales Police planned to scan the faces “of people at strategic locations in and around the city centre” ahead of the UEFA Champions League final, which was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on June 3.

On May 31, though, a man was arrested via AFR. “It was a local man and unconnected to the Champions League,” a South Wales Police spokesperson told Ars. It’s not clear whether this was due to the technology being tested ahead of the match.

We’re told that there was a warrant for the man’s arrest, but the spokesperson declined to provide any further details about the suspect. We know from the request for tender published by the South Wales Police, however, that the man’s face was probably included in the force’s “Niche Record Management system,” which contains “500,000 custody images.”

South Wales Police are using hardware and software provided by NEC, which has been working on real-time facial recognition tech for a few years now and has been the technology partner for other UK police trials. It isn’t clear how the AFR tech is set up: whether all of the tech and the database of custody images are stored in the van, or if there’s a central server that multiple vans (and eventually police cars and police body-worn cameras?) can connect to.

South Wales Police have previously said that they are serious about deploying automatic facial recognition tech on a wide scale.

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First such arrest in the UK; raises all sorts of questions, but also possibilities. For example, the database of people considered potentially dangerous by anti-terrorism teams is about 23,000; the core of “immediate risk” is about 3,000. What if they can be passively tracked by the pervasive CCTV in the UK’s cities? Is that lawful, and would it make any difference?
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Fire Travis Kalanick • Financial Times

Kadim Shubber, in an op-ed:

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Many of Uber’s actions have been excused as aggressive but ultimately acceptable corporate behaviour. Kalanick is a fighter, we’re told. Uber is up against opponents who play hardball, and so it’s had to be tough and rough. Any problems it might have with corporate culture are ultimately fixable. Yeah, it’s played a little fast and loose, but it can grow up. Kalanick can mature.

Those arguments might just have cut it in a universe where an Uber executive didn’t keep his job for three years after digging up a rape victim’s medical records. It might be possible to imagine Kalanick as chief executive of a publicly listed Uber in a universe where he had not shielded a person who had obtained highly private and intimate information on a customer who had already been violated. In a world where Uber had not so deeply plumbed the depths of decent behaviour, Kalanick’s reign might be tolerable.

It’s time to face facts. Uber does not have an image problem, it has a chief executive problem. And for as long as it has this problem, no person who cares in the slightest about right and wrong should keep Uber’s app on their phone, if indeed it’s still there anyway.

If the independent directors on the board are unable to push him out, given his control of the company, they should resign. Bill Gurley of Benchmark; David Bonderman of TPG Capital; Cheng Wei of Didi; Yasir Al Rumayyan of Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund; and Arianna Huffington — every second they remain enablers of an Uber run by Kalanick, they are showing they lack the spine to do what’s right when it’s staring them in the face.

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Arianna Huffington looks more compromised by the minute.
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Apple’s answer to the Amazon Echo has a critical flaw • Business Insider

Ben Gilbert:

»

Amazon’s Echo is designed for flexibility. You’re a Pandora devotee? Great! Hook up your account to the Echo, then simply ask Alexa — Amazon’s equivalent of Siri — to play whatever you want. You could play out that same scenario for a wide variety of music services, including Spotify Amazon’s own music service. 

In the case of Apple’s HomePod, though, you’ll only have one choice: Apple Music. 

Want directions? They’re coming from Apple Maps. Want access to your calendar? Better hope you’re using Apple’s calendar application. That same situation will hold true for any number of things you might want the HomePod to do for you. It’s a device intended for people who live in Apple’s walled garden.

Technically speaking, you’ll be able to play any music you want on the HomePod. It’ll act as a wireless speaker, so you’ll be able to blast whatever music you want from your phone to HomePod using Apple’s AirPlay technology.

But that’s not what makes smart speakers like HomePod so compelling, is it? You’re supposed to be able to just speak to them and get instant results — no phone required.

And HomePod can do that — some of the time, and only with Apple services. That’s a big bummer!

Apple could eventually open the HomePod up to outside developers, much as it did the iPhone and, eventually, Apple TV. But it’s not clear if it will. For now there doesn’t appear to a toolkit that third-party programmers can use to create apps for the gadget or any way to distribute them to consumers, and Apple hasn’t said anything on the subject (we’ve asked).

«

This isn’t the same, though, as trying to launch a smartphone into an app gap, as Windows Phone or BB10 did. We already know that very few people use Alexa skills, and that it’s easy to forget how to invoke them. Apple has yet to put the HomePod on sale, though it might offer some sort of hookup to HomeKit.

But really: 1) who asks for directions from a home speaker 2) isn’t it highly likely that the first buyers of HomePods are going to be people who “live in Apple’s walled garden”?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Facebook’s election row, more Uber shocks, iOS 11: NFC+QR, the truth on terror, and more


Just another family day with the Sony VR headset. Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.

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

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

Facebook election turns into a protest • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

»

Among those who cast ballots in the company’s annual stockholder election last week, about 79% of shares not controlled by Mark Zuckerberg voted in favor of a proposal to wipe away a special class of stock that gives him majority control of Facebook. 

Zuckerberg’s right to vote 10 of his shares for every one held by ordinary stockholders is the reason he controls Facebook, even though he owns only 14% of the total. The CEO’s supervoting power was well understood when Facebook went public in 2012. People who bought Facebook shares then and since have essentially agreed to allow Zuckerberg to do whatever he wants even if all other shareholders disagree. Similar supersized stock structures exist to empower founders at Google’s parent company, Workday, Snapchat and other companies.

And yet eight in 10 votes from those other than Zuckerberg were cast in favor of a proposal to essentially undo the CEO’s special class of stock. The election result won’t change anything because Zuckerberg’s votes are the only ones that matter. Including his extra-powerful shares, about 20% of ballots were cast for the proposal, according to a tally Facebook disclosed late Tuesday.

Still, the rejection by shareholders outside the company is an embarrassing result for Facebook and its board of directors, which has already faced criticism and litigation for going along with Zuckerberg’s proposal last year to solidify his majority voting power in perpetuity. 

«

As someone said at the Power Switch conference in Cambridge in spring, what happens when Zuckerberg dies? Because he will. Who gets to own all those shares? How do we know they won’t be malicious? Why shouldn’t the control be widened now?
link to this extract


A top Uber executive, who obtained the medical records of a customer who was a rape victim, is fired • Recode

Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan:

»

A top Uber executive obtained medical records of a woman who had been raped during a ride in India, according to multiple sources.

He is no longer with the company, an Uber spokesperson said.

The executive in question, Eric Alexander, the president of business in the Asia Pacific, then showed the medical records to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and SVP Emil Michael. In addition, numerous executives at the car-hailing company were either told about the records or shown them by this group.

Alexander’s handling of the delicate situation was among 215 claims reported to two law firms — Perkins Coie and Covington & Burling — doing deep investigations into both specific and widespread mismanagement issues at the company, including around allegations of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment at Uber…

…Alexander had not been among those fired, Uber said yesterday when asked about his status. Now, after Recode contacted the company about his actions, he is no longer employed there. Uber declined to comment further.

«

You might have thought that Uber couldn’t surprise anymore. Wrong!
link to this extract


August 2016: Whyd announces its voice-controlled connected speaker for $299 • TechCrunch

Romain Dillet, in August 2016:

»

So what makes this speaker different from the 458 other speakers out there? It starts with the design. The bold, pill-shaped design will stand out in your living room. I don’t think everyone will like it, but it’s definitely not a boring design. Whyd will sell five different pastel colors. The speaker doesn’t ship with a battery so you’ll have to plug it your wall at all times.

The Whyd speaker connects over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, works with AirPlay and Spotify Connect, and can stream music from many different music streaming services out of the box. Whyd is compatible with Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Tidal, Deezer and Google Play Music.

But the main differentiating factor is that Whyd has been working on natural language processing, integrating with Google Cloud Speech and optimizing for music playback. The company bundled multiple microphones and optimized them for long-range queries with noise cancelling technology. This way, you can launch a playlist, play a specific song or look up an artist with your voice. If you want to play an obscure remix on SoundCloud, you don’t have to dig around in the SoundCloud app, you can look it up with your voice. Think about it as a sort of Amazon Echo, but with a better sound and a focus on music.

«

The first batch sold out; now it plans to sell them for $499. Hope it has plenty in production before December…
link to this extract


iOS 11 could use the iPhone’s NFC chip for more than Apple Pay • Engadget

Andrew Dalton:

»

Although the feature didn’t get any airtime onstage Monday, iOS 11 Beta adds support for Core NFC to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. (And presumably future hardware as well.) In release docs, Core NFC is described as “a new framework for reading Near Field Communications (NFC) tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format.” At the moment, the iPhone’s NFC chip is useless for anything other than Apple’s in-house payment system, but the new framework appears to let the chip in the latest iPhones read any tags — not just Apple Pay tags — and take action on them based on the phone’s location. NFC could open up more ways for iOS apps to communicate with connected devices and iPhones could also replace NFC-based keycards or transit passes like London’s Oyster card and the Bay Area’s Clipper card. In theory, Core NFC could also enable functions like tap-to-pair Bluetooth speakers — something Android users have been enjoying for awhile now — but it’s possible Apple could block such features to keep the “magic” pairing experience limited to AirPods and other devices with its proprietary W1 chip.

On the other hand, opening NFC could also invite potential privacy issues onto iOS. Like Bluetooth Beacons, NFC tags allow for seamless, location-based interactions for better or worse. While the ability to tap your phone to a movie poster and instantly bring up the trailer might seem magical, even anonymous data gathered from those sorts of interactions can paint a startling clear picture of a consumer.

«

Wonder if Apple will seek some way to anonymise those interactions. But it’s good to finally get these functions; as said, these have been around for years on other platforms.
link to this extract


How to scan QR Codes In iOS 11 camera app • Redmond Pie

Paul Morris:

»

Apple has offered developers access to a barcode scanning framework in the iOS SDK for quite some time now, but it seems that one new feature within iOS 11 is the ability to natively scan QR codes without needing any additional software. If you are opting to run an iOS 11 beta, and love the idea of welcoming in a QR code resurgence, then follow the simple steps below to see how to interact with QR codes in iOS 11.

Step 1: With iOS 11 installed, launch the stock Camera app on the device. There’s nothing third-party needed here and certainly no downloads from the App Store required.

Step 2: Next, you can’t scan a QR code without the presence of a QR code. Make sure you have some literature with a QR code printed on it or generate your own from the Internet with some arbitrary text in.

Step 3: Using the native Camera app, point it at the QR code, which will either be in print or on a display, and tap on the screen to focus if required.

Step 4: And that is literally all that you need to do. The QR code will be recognized. The information will be extracted. And you will be presented with whatever the payload of that QR code is without having to use any additional third-party apps or readers.

«

Aimed at the Chinese market where you can’t move without QR scanning, at a guess.
link to this extract


Fidget Spinner • Fidgetspin

Before you turn away, it’s not a real one – it’s an HTML5 one. Only seems to work on Google Chrome, and a bit tricky to figure out how to get it to spin at first. But probably cheaper in the long run than a physical one.
link to this extract


Many terrorists’ first victims are their wives – but we’re not allowed to talk about that • New Statesman

Helen Lewis:

»

Over the last few days, I have been left completely dejected by the debate which followed the London Bridge attacks. We’ve had a big public argument about greater police numbers, when the police response was exemplary. We’ve had Ukip calling for internment camps for some or all of the 3,000 people the security services believe might be actively contemplating an attack.

What we haven’t talked about, what it feels like we can never talk about, is male violence. And yet that threads through these stories in so many ways. Take our prisons, which the government worries are a source of radicalisation, even to the extent that Liz Truss has called for special units to isolate radical inmates. Prisons are primarily a problem of men: there are 81,000 of them in British jails, compared with just under 4,000 women. Prisons are overcrowded and underfunded, and they end up being the gutter into which men who have been failed by other services wash out. And then they are released, only to wash back in again. Prisons are both boring and frightening places to be: no wonder young inmates are at risk of radicalisation there, no wonder they seek out a sense of belonging. 

Then there are the red flags which are missed because we don’t take domestic violence seriously enough. The whole women’s sector is underfunded, and refuge provision is patchy. The budget cuts of the last few years have hit black and minority ethnic women’s services particularly hard – see the regular protests by Sisters Uncut. The first victim of a terrorist is often his wife. If she doesn’t have anywhere to turn, if she doesn’t have anyone to tell, then we are missing chances to stop these men in their tracks. If women’s services had better contact with minority groups, we could find out earlier which men had already turned to violence – in their own homes.

Despite this, talking about male violence in the context of terrorism is treated like derailing – like you’ve mounted your feminist hobby horse when the grown-ups were talking. The people who control the discussion of Islamist terrorism don’t want to talk about this stuff.

«

Tremendously important – multiple people who later went on to carry out terror attacks first began by attacking their wife or female partner. It’s a huge problem, though: 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, says Refuge.

link to this extract


Sony’s PlayStation VR headset sales top one million units • Reuters

Makiko Yamazaki and Yoshiyasu Shida:

»

Sony Corp has sold more than one million units of its virtual reality (VR) headset globally, the Asia chief of the Japanese firm’s gaming unit said on Wednesday, as a relatively low price helps push the product into an early lead.

Sales of the PlayStation VR headset, released in October, have “exceeded our expectations,” Atsushi Morita, president of Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia, said in an interview.

“We are boosting production and a supply shortage should be solved accordingly,” Morita told Reuters.

The sales momentum supports analysts’ view that Sony is in a good position to build an early lead in the high-end VR headset race with its more modest price tag and by tapping the nearly 60 million users of its flagship PlayStation 4 console.

The headset, designed to work with the PlayStation 4 rather than requiring new equipment, retails at $399, cheaper than Facebook Inc’s $599 Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s $799 Vive.

According to researcher IDC, about 2 million VR headsets were shipped worldwide in the first three months of 2017. Excluding cheaper smartphone-based headsets, Sony ranked top with 429,000 units.

«

Sony is clearly winning this phase of the battle. Question is how much bigger, if at all, it will get. I’d love to see usage stats on VR headsets too.
link to this extract


Fitbit and Intel circle for Moov buyout • Wareable

James Stables:

»

Our source revealed that Moov has been talking to Intel’s partnership team about a possible buyout, which would see Intel add Moov’s algorithm to its tech.

“They have had half a dozen calls and two meetings,” our source said. “Conversations have been around adding Moov to their Curie offering due to the algorithms that Intel simply cannot duplicate.”

Recounting a conversation with Intel’s partnerships exec, Intel has become interested in an acquisition after it “missed with their wearable devices in the past with companies such as Basis.” Our source said that Intel believes that buying Moov “allows them to offer more through their licensing arm of the company.”

Of course, Intel is only one half of the story. We’d be surprised if Fitbit wasn’t looking to buy Moov to add to its fitness proposition, yet our source had less detail on this particular aspect of the buyout. “With Fitbit, these rumours popped up in the past five weeks. All have been based around their wellness and initiative.”

The company has already been busy snapping up companies for the Fitbit smartwatch project, namely smartwatch starter Pebble and luxury-wannabe Vector. But would Moov be part of that too?

“That’s what the Moov guys initially thought,” said our source. “But the algorithm wouldn’t work in the watch. As you know one must wear Moov on their ankles sometimes.”

«

I get the feeling the writer is putting too much on the one source, who knows about Intel but not Fitbit, which is struggling to incorporate its recent acquisitions. Adding Moov too feels like an overreach which it isn’t even considering.
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Kaspersky files antitrust complaints against Microsoft in Europe • The Seattle Times

Matt Day:

»

Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder of the Russian cybersecurity firm, said Tuesday that the company had recently filed antitrust complaints with the European Commission and Germany’s Federal Cartel Office. Kaspersky had raised the issue with Russia’s antitrust regulator in November.

“We see clearly – and are ready to prove – that Microsoft uses its dominant position in the computer operating system market to fiercely promote its own – inferior – security software,” Kaspersky said.

In many cases, Kaspersky says, customers who update their operating system to Windows 10 from older versions find that their Kaspersky antivirus tools have been deleted or disabled. The company also criticized Microsoft for making it impossible to remove Windows Defender, Microsoft’s own antivirus software, in some editions of Windows.

In a statement, Microsoft said its aim was to protect Windows users, and “we are confident that the security features of Windows 10 comply with competition laws.”

Microsoft said it had reached out to Kaspersky months ago to arrange a meeting between executives to address the concerns, but that gathering has not taken place.

Following Kaspersky’s complaint in Russia, regulators there held hearings on Microsoft’s antivirus policies in Windows 10. They haven’t reached a conclusion.

«

Conventional antitrust theory – does the customer lose out by the annexation of the AV (antivirus) market by Microsoft through its control of the OS? – would suggest there is, at least, a case to answer. The key difference from, say, the browser/OS example is that Microsoft isn’t threatening OEMs, since they don’t have an option about including Defender (and many do offer other AV software, which the AV vendors are charged for).

At the same time, the price of AV software to the consumer has already effectively fallen to zero. There’s no consumer surplus to go round; only consumer disbenefit.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the internet of whose things?, HomePod and iPad evaluated, Uber fires a score, and more


China installed lots of green energy sources – but didn’t fix its grid to deal with them. Photo by PaulDCocker on Flickr.

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

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

Rise of the machines: who is the ‘internet of things’ good for? • The Guardian

Adam Greenfield:

»

In San Francisco, a young engineer hopes to “optimise” his life through sensors that track his heart rate, respiration and sleep cycle. In Copenhagen, a bus running two minutes behind schedule transmits its location and passenger count to the municipal traffic signal network, which extends the time of the green light at each of the next three intersections long enough for its driver to make up some time. In Davao City in the Philippines, an unsecured webcam overlooks the storeroom of a fast food stand, allowing anyone to peer in on all its comings and goings.

What links these wildly different circumstances is a vision of connected devices now being sold to us as the “internet of things”. The technologist Mike Kuniavsky, a pioneer of this idea, characterises it as a state of being in which “computation and data communication [are] embedded in, and distributed through, our entire environment”. I prefer to see it for what it is: the colonisation of everyday life by information processing.

Though it can often feel as if this colonisation proceeds of its own momentum, distinct ambitions are being served wherever and however the internet of things appears. The internet of things isn’t a single technology. About all that connects the various devices, services, vendors and efforts involved is the end goal they serve: capturing data that can then be used to measure and control the world around us.

«

Or just control us? A good (long) read.
link to this extract


The iPad takes a big step toward being the computer for everyone • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»

One of these new 10.5in iPad Pros, with its reduced bezels and still vanishingly thin profile, is much easier to tote around than any MacBook Pro. Reducing the footprint of a device is much more impactful nowadays than shaving a few extra millimeters off its thickness, and I can envision a daily carry scenario for myself where an iPad Pro shrinks the size of bag I need to use. There are some really lovely and small camera bags — like the Domke F-803, for instance — that work really well with just an iPad slotted in, but struggle to fit a proper laptop. Well, now maybe I no longer need a proper laptop if I have something that’s close enough.

Getting to grips with the iOS 11-powered iPad Pro at Apple’s event yesterday, my colleague Jake Kastrenakes noted that he never felt like he could move quickly and efficiently around iOS before, but the new version is the first one that feels like it could change that. I’m on exactly the same page: iOS has always felt like a more leisurely way to use a mobile device, not quite the lean and mean productivity workhouse that I could sculpt together in macOS. But with more robust split-screen multitasking and the ability to float additional apps and picture-in-picture video on the screen, I foresee finally being able to get Real Work done on an iPad.

«

I’m sad to see the demise of the 9.7in iPad Pro, because it was a great machine – though it seems the new 10.5in ones are essentially the same physical size. The battery life, lightness, screen size, and capability (if you can do a little programming – Workflow and/or Pythonista, plus all the normal office apps) made it ideal in my view.

Though when I suggested you could do “real work” on an iPad a couple of years ago, Guardian readers – well, commenters – were furious. But essentially nothing (apart from some app twiddles) has changed.
link to this extract


Trump takes credit for Saudi move against Qatar, a US military partner • The New York Times

Mark Landler:

»

President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Mr. Trump said in a morning tweet. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

On Monday, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen broke diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, citing its support for terrorist groups. Mr. Trump, who made the cutting of terrorist funding a centerpiece of his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, said he was responsible.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” the president said on Twitter. “They said they would take a hard line on funding.”

Moments later, he added, “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Qatar has long been accused of funneling arms and money to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab countries. But so has Saudi Arabia. And Mr. Trump’s tweets have huge potential strategic consequences in the Middle East, where Qatar is a crucial military outpost for the United States.

«

I don’t think anyone is going to be keen for Trump to make any more foreign visits after this. One excursion and he has dangerously destabilised the Middle East (Qatar’s economy is going to collapse in short order, or it will be forced to kowtow to Saudi Arabia, which it will detest) and dumped on a climate agreement. And that was the first time he had been let out of the US.
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Uber terminated about 20 people for misconduct • The Information

Amir Efrati:

»

Uber has fired around 20 people this year as a result of an internal investigation into workplace misconduct, such as discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying, retaliation and physical safety, company executives revealed to employees this morning, according to two people who listened to a briefing on the findings.

In addition, after about 200 investigations into possible wrongdoing, Uber issued more than 30 “remediations,” or counseling and training, to individuals at the company. More than half a dozen people were given final warnings, one of these people said.

The results come from Perkins Coie, which is one of two law firms hired by Uber to probe its workplace issues. A lead investigator from the firm spoke to Uber employees at the meeting organized to discuss the results. The results of a separate report by Covington & Burling, and led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, are due next Tuesday, Uber human resources chief Liane Hornsey told employees. She will view those results later this week.

«

In possibly unrelated news, Bozoma St John – the amazing woman who showed off Apple Music at WWDC 2016 (she ran iTunes global and consumer marketing) – is heading to Uber.
link to this extract


Apple’s HomePod could ignite huge Chinese market for smart connected devices • South China Morning Post

Bien Perez:

»

Sales of smart connected speakers on the mainland are estimated to exceed half a million units this year, according to Counterpoint Research.

“The entry of more players integrating AI and a range of smart solutions into speakers next year could drive [mainland] sales to a couple of million units from next year before recording sales of more than 10 million units per year by 2022,” said Neil Shah, a partner at Counterpoint.

“Out of close to half a billion households in China, at least 150 million households — based on affluence and high annual income — could potentially make up the total addressable market for smart speakers in the country.”

Chinese e-commerce giant JD. com was an early player in the domestic market for smart speakers with its LingLong DingDong, a device launched last year by its joint venture with local speech-recognition software specialist iFlytek.

“We estimate there is a brewing domestic ecosystem [for smart connected speakers] which could leverage AI developments at Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent,” Shah said.

«

I hadn’t thought about China when I blogged about where the HomePod stands relative to its competitors, but it makes sense that neither Amazon nor Google would be competitors there.
link to this extract


Wasted green power tests China’s energy leadership • Associated Press

Matthew Brown:

»

Thousands of new wind turbines and solar panels were installed in China’s remote provinces over the past several years as the country’s leaders sought to alleviate choking urban smog without slowing economic expansion. China now has more renewable power capacity than any other nation.

Two nagging problems have dampened that success, however, according to industry representatives and outside observers: China’s sprawling power grid has been unable to handle the influx of new electricity from wind and solar, while some provincial officials have retained a preference for coal.

In western China’s Gansu province, 43% of energy from wind went unused in 2016, a phenomenon known in the energy industry as “curtailment.” In the neighboring Xinjiang region, the curtailment figure was 38% and in northeast China’s Jilin province it was 30%. The nationwide figure, 17%, was described by Qiao’s organization as “shockingly high” after increasing for several years in a row.

The problem has improved some this year, according to the China Electricity Council. Power demand in general increased in the first quarter, giving a boost to renewables after the economy regained momentum from 2016’s slowdown.

«

All about infrastructure.
link to this extract


What will the UK election mean for online privacy? • The Conversation

Vladlena Benson read the manifestos so you don’t have to:

»

The recent cyber attack that crippled the NHS demonstrated why cyber-security is a vital issue and one that can affect an entire country. The recent terrorist attack in Manchester also reminded people what’s at stake when deciding what data gathering and surveillance powers the government should have.

So how are the main UK-wide political parties proposing to tackle online security and privacy after the 2017 general election?

«

The Tories (Conservatives) seem to be suggesting that there should be backdoors in end-to-end encrypted apps. That won’t happen, and they won’t be able to stop people from downloading apps from overseas. Labour, meanwhile, is just vague. The Lib Dems would roll back many of the Tories’ moves.
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How The Intercept outed Reality Winner • Errata Security

Rob Graham:

»

On Monday, The Intercept released documents on election tampering from an NSA leaker. Later, the arrest warrant request for an NSA contractor named “Reality Winner” was published, showing how they tracked her down because she had printed out the documents and sent them to The Intercept. The document posted by the Intercept isn’t the original PDF file, but a PDF containing the pictures of the printed version that was then later scanned in.

The problem is that most new printers print nearly invisibly yellow dots that track down exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed. Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document.

In this post, I show how.

«

Microdots on the document – which The Intercept’s reporters shared with a government contact, because they wanted comment – identified it. The Intercept is being blamed up and down the internet. Yashar Ali has a thread on Twitter saying that really it’s Winner’s fault: don’t send actual content. Next time perhaps a photo, or something, would do. (But I expect cameraphones are banned.) Winner seems to have sent the document on the day of former FBI chief James Comey’s firing – probably as an angry reaction.
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The Harvard case shows a meme is never ‘just’ a meme • Motherboard

Whitney Phillips AND:

»

This week, Harvard decided to rescind ten admission offers after learning that the prospective students had been posting rape-apologist, pedophilic, and violently racist memes to an offshoot of the main Harvard Class of 2021 Facebook Memes group. Because it hinges on tensions between free expression and (what could be described as) “PC culture,” this case could be seen as a canary in the coal mine of 2017.

But it is much more than that. The case is a stand-in for the mine itself, along with the company, its miners, their tools, all of it. Culturally, this is where we are: an online environment in which sincere bigotry bleeds into satirical bigotry, irony is forwarded as both justification and argument, and accountability is so frequently sidestepped that just having to face consequences is news in itself.

Far more than being a story about a specific group of memes and a specific group of students, then, the Harvard dustup demonstrates how the fun and games of memes—along with the seeming separation between “the real world” and that somewhere-else place known as “the internet”—gives way to fully embodied, fully consequential ethics.

Some might be tempted to brush off these ethical consequences, arguing that the posting of even the most offensive content is no big deal. It’s just internet memes. It’s just incoming college kids trying to be as offensive as possible, for the lulz. It’s just—as the co-founder of a similar Facebook meme group at Yale suggested to Taylor Lorenz at Mic—another form of hazing.

…The problem is that the “just” framing (just joking, just a meme on the internet, just a new kind of hazing ritual) posits what we describe in our work as a fetishized gaze, one that obscures everything but the joke itself.

«

link to this extract


Apple HomePod: a first listen • CNet

Scott Stein had a listen in a quiet environment in a face-off – ear-off? – against Apple’s main rivals, the Amazon Echo and Sonos Play:3:

»

HomePod came off as bolder and more vivid than Sonos Play:3 in the experience I tried, and a lot better than Amazon Echo. I’d also say the music sounded consistently vivid and crisp in a quiet space, more so than the Sonos and Amazon comparisons on-hand. But the one thing I didn’t get to experience was how HomePod can listen, talk and suggest things. I couldn’t request music, or ask for the weather, or try any smart controls.

It’s hard to tell what any of this means right now, and a full review of the final product is the only way to determine any real meaningful thoughts on HomePod-as-home-audio-device. But, right out of the gate, Apple is clearly going for music over smart assistance as HomePod’s major draw. But as the most expensive speaker of the three – it costs almost double the price of the Echo – its superior sound quality is to be expected. It needs to earn that bigger price tag.

And remember that Amazon has Echo speakers that retail for as little as $50, while an entry-level Sonos Play:1 will run you $300 (£185, AU$300).

Still, the HomePod is a big step up from Apple’s last speaker product (remember 2006’s Apple Hi-Fi?). We’ll see if its Siri-powered smarts will measure up to its audio quality when the HomePod is released this fall.

«

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

In search of the early adopter (HomePod edition)


An Apple HomePod. If your home is this nice, wouldn’t it already have a Sonos Play:1 or similar there? Photo by portalgda (via Apple) on Flickr.

Ahead of Apple’s WWDC, research companies were falling over themselves to offer their forecasts about how the “smart speaker” market would grow over time.

Here, for example, is what Strategy Analytics reckoned the world would look like – note that it’s using installed base, not sales – over time:

Smart speaker market - Strategy Analytics forecast to 2022

The way they see it, Amazon’s early lead with the Alexa is going to be eroded by Google, while Apple, “others” and Baidu (in China) will take the rest.

What I wonder about is: who’s left who wants to buy a HomePod? Who are the early adopters?

If you want a “smart speaker”, you’ve been served for quite some time in the US by Amazon’s Echo and Dot products, which are passably cheap. For Amazon, they’re the peace dividend of losing badly in the smartphone wars when the Fire Phone turned out to be a clunker.

More recently you’ve been able to buy Google Home – which managed to get a passing mention in a Modern Family episode in a recent series, so that is clearly reckoned to have reached far enough into the public consciousness not to merit special highlighting. (Sure, it could have been product placement, but there’s no point placing a product nobody’s heard of. Modern Family likes to play with modern tech obsessions: in 2010 one of the episodes was about Phil Dunphy’s mad desire to get an iPad on first-day release.)

And there’s even a (Microsoft) Cortana speaker from Harmon Kardon.

A recent survey of 1,000 people found that “smart speakers” are the most popular category of “smart home” device: about a quarter of US households have some smart home gizmo, and of those 56% reported that they “own and use” a smart speaker. And they really use it regularly. Half of respondents (we’re at about 12% of households) use it at least daily; another 39% use it several times per week.

Top five uses, in order: play music, ask for the weather, get news, get basic facts and trivia, get or set calendar and/or scheduling info.

Not mentioned in this, because it doesn’t do “smart” (so far, and probably not ever) is Sonos, which most people are probably familiar with: it provides single- or multi-room music and speech streaming for pretty much any service, with a range of high-quality audio speakers, as well as TV soundbars. It has been going since 2002, focussing just on multi-room music; I’ve liked the Sonos idea ever since I saw it in 2005, and I think that when it released the Play:1 speaker it found the sweet spot of price and audio quality. (I own a number of Sonos devices.)

Sonos, one should note, has hit some rough times, laying people off in March 2016. It isn’t clear how big its installed base is – it only talks about serving “millions of rooms” – but it’s very likely that it has users in multiple millions of homes. Update: this person says Sonos has annual sales of about $1bn, equating to 5m speakers per year. “Not mainstream,” they say. Though I’d say that 5m per year – more than a million a quarter – isn’t too bad.

And how does the install base look at present? According to CIRP, about 11m Amazon customers have an Echo, of which 52% (6.6m or so) have the cheap Dot. Amazon has about 70% of the market, says eMarketer – though others put the figure higher.

All this leaves one wondering: hasn’t the early adopter market, who might have been keen to buy a comparatively expensive smart speaker (and even slightly more expensive than Sonos) been tapped already? There are millions of those things out there already, playing music and telling people what they could figure out themselves by gazing out of the window.

After all, if you have a product which does something comparably new, then the general thesis is that you have to tap the innovator market (about 2.5% of the total who will buy it) and then the early adopter market (13.5%), and then spread the news to the “early majority” and “late majority” who each comprise 34%. Then finally you mop up the 16% of laggards. Note that even when your market is saturated, you don’t necessarily reach 100% of the population. Not everyone will want your gadget.

So at what stage are “smart speakers” – and multi-room speakers, since the HomePod does both?

We can probably be confident that multi-room speakers have breezed into their late majority by now. If Sonos is having trouble finding fresh buyers, that’s a sign of market resistance.

And if smart speakers are already in 12% of US households, then those are nudging well into the early adopter market.

This is different from the situation when Apple has launched previous products. The Macintosh, all those years ago, was entirely new in sporting a graphical user interface. The iPod came early in the MP3 player revolution – though many people had portable CD players, most people didn’t have an MP3 player, nor an MP3 library. The iPhone was out on its own in the smartphone category through its all-touch interface. The iPad defined an entire all-touch “slate” tablet market. (There had been tablets before, which had poor interfaces for touch.) Even the most recent new device, the Apple Watch, came when smartwatches had very small user penetration.

So in that sense the HomePod is coming at a very different time: three years (and some months) after the original Echo, and what’s more it’s coming in December, giving everyone else a chance to get their marketing in first.

How then is Apple intending to sell it? Apple is framing it as a really music speaker with a bit of intelligence thrown in. Here’s the quote:

“Apple reinvented portable music with iPod and now HomePod will reinvent how we enjoy music wirelessly throughout our homes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “HomePod packs powerful speaker technology, Siri intelligence and wireless access to the entire Apple Music library into a beautiful speaker that is less than 7 inches tall, can rock most any room with distortion free music and be a helpful assistant around your home.”

This makes it sound like Sonos with benefits. It’s also saying: those things that Amazon and Google can do? We can do that, but sound better. It’s looking for the things that those can’t (yet?) do, and aiming for them. Early user tests (in very controlled environments) suggest that the HomePod sounds better than the Sonos Play:3 (which is comparably priced). Could be, though I’m not sure why a Sonos owner would give up the latter for the former. And we know from the triumph of MP3 over CD that in music, people prefer convenience over sound quality. Update: two points made to me after first publishing this post. First, Apple could find a market in China, where Amazon and Google are effectively excluded. Second, the privacy angle could be attractive; some people just don’t like the idea that Amazon and Google are going to try to sell them stuff. (Google Home has already started doing this, and will carry on; Amazon’s Echo/Dot/etc are intended to be mainlining for shopping lists.)

Overall, it feels as though Apple decided – as usual – that there was only one place it could thrive in this market: at the premium end. But again, if someone has the sort of money needed to buy a HomePod, why haven’t they already bought some Sonos kit? Or if they want a smart speaker, wouldn’t they just get an Echo/Dot/Home?

That’s what I’m puzzled by: how Apple is going to scoop up enough of the early majority market to make this work. Early majority buyers can be more price-sensitive than innovators and early adopters. Apple’s pitch seems to be for those who haven’t bought a Sonos, saying: look, you can control this with your voice. There’s surely a market there – Strategy Analytics thinks it’s tolerably big – but it’s noticeable that even there it’s a comparatively small slice of a sizeable market. Sometimes it’s good to let the early players sort the market out for you. But I think this might be one case where it isn’t.

Start Up: our unenriched lives, more Russian election hacking, Apple’s AR play, wearables up!, and more


Apple’s HomePod: a problem for Sonos and Amazon, or a niche for fans? Photo by nobihaya on Flickr from WWDC 2017.

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

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

Why aren’t Google and Facebook enriching our lives? • Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

»

Let’s take Google as an example. Google knew that I was going to Moscow (itinerary emailed to my Gmail address). Google knew my schedule (Calendar). Google should know my various interests by now, from reading my Gmail messages and Docs content. Due to me being of such an advanced age that I still use email rather than text, Google definitely knows my real social network (the people with whom I correspond via email).

Why didn’t Google suggest to me a whole bunch of cultural events? People to meet? Groups to join? The stuff that Google tries to help with is stuff that was already pretty easy to do in the pre-Internet days, e.g., book a hotel or airline ticket. Even in those areas, Google is simply following the mid-1990s leaders such as Expedia.

I don’t think that one can argue that enriching lives is unprofitable and therefore these profit-seeking companies aren’t interested. Selling tickets to events should lead to commissions. Connecting people to meet in public places, such as restaurants or bars, should also lead to commissions. These could be a lot more lucrative than what Google gets from selling mouse clicks.

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I think this is what Google is trying to do – but people don’t trust companies yet with this stuff, do they?
link to this extract


Top-secret NSA report details Russian hacking effort days before 2016 election • The Intercept

Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle and Ryan Grim:

»

Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

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So it sorta was, or maybe not?
link to this extract


WSJ ends Google users’ free ride, then fades in search results • Bloomberg

Gerry Smith:

»

After blocking Google users from reading free articles in February, the Wall Street Journal’s subscription business soared, with a fourfold increase in the rate of visitors converting into paying customers. But there was a trade-off: Traffic from Google plummeted 44 percent.

The reason: Google search results are based on an algorithm that scans the internet for free content. After the Journal’s free articles went behind a paywall, Google’s bot only saw the first few paragraphs and started ranking them lower, limiting the Journal’s viewership.

Executives at the Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., argue that Google’s policy is unfairly punishing them for trying to attract more digital subscribers. They want Google to treat their articles equally in search rankings, despite being behind a paywall.

“Any site like ours automatically doesn’t get the visibility in search that a free site would,” Suzi Watford, the Journal’s chief marketing officer, said in an interview. “You are definitely being discriminated against as a paid news site.”

The Journal’s experience could have implications across the news industry, where publishers are relying more on convincing readers to pay for their articles because tech giants like Google and Facebook are vacuuming up the lion’s share of online advertising.

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link to this extract


Apple joins augmented reality fray with new app platform • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Apple has jumped into the growing battle for the camera in Silicon Valley, with a new “augmented reality” app platform for developers that will face off against Facebook, Snapchat and Google.

The new “ARkit” capabilities being introduced in the next version of iOS will give Apple “overnight the largest AR platform in the world”, Craig Federighi, its software chief, told app makers at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday.

Demonstrations displayed at the event in San Jose showed an improved version of Pokémon Go, one of the biggest apps of last year. The ARkit toolset allows the game’s monsters to bounce around streets and parks in a more realistic fashion.

Apple framed its bid to bring digital images to the iPhone camera window’s view of the real world as a leap forward in user-interface design alongside the iPhone’s 10-year-old “multitouch” screen.

“With multitouch we’ve really changed the way that you interact with the world on the screen of your iPhone,” said Mr Federighi. “With the camera we’ve allowed you to capture the world around you. When you bring these together, the results can be profound.”

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Coming in iOS 11, of course; the fact it’s a kit means it can be part of apps everywhere. And this will make iOS the world’s biggest AR platform within about a month of iOS 11’s release.
link to this extract


Apple unveils HomePod, its Siri smart speaker • Engadget

Devindra Hardawar:

»

The HomePod’s small, vase-like case houses a four-inch woofer and seven tweeters. It’s powered by Apple’s A8 processor, just like the iPhone. HomePod features “real-time acoustic modeling,” which allows it to tweak music to suit its environment. Apple is also targeting Sonos as a competitor, which is a sign that the HomePod’s audio quality will be better than what we’ve seen from Amazon and Google.

Of course, you can use the HomePod to access Siri with voice commands. But on this device, Siri is more than just a virtual assistant — it’s a “musicologist” that will help you find new tunes on Apple Music. You can also tell Siri you like a certain song, and it’ll remember your tastes. What’s most unique is that you’ll be able to ask Siri specific questions like, “Who’s the guitarist on this song?”

HomePod is coming in December for $349, which is significantly more than the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Sonos’s $300 Play:3. It’ll be available in white and Apple’s usual space grey.

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December?! I guess it gives Sonos plenty of time to get its advertising in line. It’s got its own page on Apple’s site.
link to this extract


Huawei, Xiaomi perform weaker than expected in notebook market; will continue to push new models • Digitimes

Monica Chen and Joseph Tsai:

»

Despite worldwide PC demand having declined for five consecutive years, Samsung Electronics, Huawei and Xiaomi have returned to the notebook market because of milder competition compared to the smartphone market.

However, sources from the upstream supply chain pointed out that Xiaomi and Huawei, which were originally expected to achieve good shipments, did not perform as well as expected because demand remains weak for consumer notebooks. For its first year, Xiaomi shipped less than 500,000 units and Huawei 700,000 units.

At the same time, Asustek Computer has also not performed well and has begun a business reorganization, looking to regain its momentum. Asustek is expected to start seeing shipment growth in the second half of 2017.

Sources from the upstream supply chain noted that Xiaomi and Huawei originally hoped to quickly expand into the notebook market with their strong brand recognition, advantages in shipments, and familiarity to the China market, but have not achieved the results they wanted so far.

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Xiaomi had apparently been targeting 2m units; it got a quarter of that. May be running out of ideas.
link to this extract


Fireball malware infects 20% of corporate networks worldwide • Infosecurity Magazine

Tara Seals:

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A browser-hijacker called Fireball has ignited concern, having already infected more than 250 million computers worldwide, and 20% of corporate networks globally. 

According to Check Point, it takes over target web browsers, turning them into zombies. However, Fireball also can be turned into a fully functioning malware downloader, and is capable of executing any code on the victim machines. That means it can carry out a wide range of actions, including stealing credentials and loading ransomware.

For now, it seems focused on adware. Fireball manipulates victims’ browsers and turns their default search engines and home pages into fake search engines, which simply redirect the queries to either yahoo.com or Google.com to generate ad revenue. According to Alexa’s web traffic data, 14 of these fake search engines are among the top 10,000 websites, with some of them occasionally reaching the top 1,000.

Fireball also installs plug-ins and additional configurations to boost its advertisement activity.

“It’s run by a Chinese digital marketing agency, called Rafotech,” Check Point noted in an analysis. “Rafotech carefully walks along the edge of legitimacy, knowing that adware distribution is not considered a crime like malware distribution is. Many companies provide software or services for free, and make their profits by harvesting data or presenting advertisements. Once a client agrees to the install of extra features or software to his/her computer, it is hard to claim malicious intent on behalf of the provider.”

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link to this extract


Amazon aims to put Fire Phone nightmare behind with ‘Ice’ smartphones • NDTV Gadgets360.com

Manish Singh:

»

Amazon plans to have another go at selling its own branded smartphones.

The ecommerce giant, which killed off its Fire Phone in 2015, is working on a new lineup of smartphones branded as “Ice”, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Unlike the Fire Phone — for which Amazon focused largely on the US and a couple of other western markets — the company is eyeing emerging markets like India for selling its new phones, said the sources.

Amazon’s upcoming smartphones run the latest version of Google’s Android operating system with Google Mobile Services (GMS) such as Gmail and Google Play, the people said.

Incorporating Google Mobile Services in its devices is a major change in strategy for Amazon, which currently offers a range of Android tablets without Google apps on them.

The smartphones are being referred to as ‘Ice’ internally, in what could be a move to distance itself from the disastrous Fire Phone brand, though it’s not clear if Amazon will eventually bring the devices under the Ice name. Amazon declined to comment.

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If true, bad idea. It’s money down the drain.
link to this extract


Berkeley duo’s plan to solve traffic jams: hyper-fast lanes for self-driving cars • The Guardian

Benjamin Preston:

»

Hyperlane works a lot like existing dedicated commuter lanes, only instead of paying extra to use higher-speed, lower-congestion lanes in a human-driven vehicle, the separate lanes are only for autonomous vehicles. After entering an acceleration lane, Hyperlane’s central computer takes over the car’s functions and finds a slot for it in the already fast-moving traffic in the dedicated lanes. Barrs and Chen said vehicles would travel at speeds up to 120mph, and that the centralized computer control – which would be in constant communication with each vehicle using emerging 5G technology – would allow for a more tightly-packed traffic pattern.

“We liken the Hyperlane network to an air traffic control system,” Barrs said.

Sensors in the road would evaluate traffic density, weather hazards, accidents and other changes, prompting the system to adjust vehicle speed as necessary. Like Uber’s pricing structure, fees for Hyperlane would be based upon demand.

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Hmm. Controlled by a central computer. No chance of that going wrong, and no risk with vehicles going at 120mph.
link to this extract


Giving up time as a parent • FlowingData

Nathan Yau:

»

One of the challenges of parenting is that you have to spend a lot of what was once your own time caring for your kids. This time must be taken from an existing activity. After all, there is a fixed number of minutes during the day. Where do parents usually draw from?

In the same spirit of looking at time use for working adults over all of adulthood, I counted the hours for people with one child under 18 in the house and compared the totals against those without a child in the house. For simplicity’s sake, I focused on employed people from age 25 to 43 (25 is the average age Americans have their first kid), and the comparison below shows differences for the same time span.

Between the age 18 to 43, a parent with one child spends 9,572 more hours caretaking than someone without a child in the house and 1,468 more hours on household work. These hours are pulled mostly from socializing, relaxing, and work.

«

Tell me about it. Great visualisation too.
link to this extract


Digital privacy is making antitrust exciting again • WIRED

Nitasha Tiku:

»

Relying on consumer prices to judge the openness of a market can also be misleading when regulating tech companies. “When more and more services are ‘free,’ you can see how that really renders antitrust feeble,” says Khan. After the rapid expansion in social networking and online search, it’s clear that financial power lies in data, not just price. “The Europeans hit on this,” says Stucke. “Data is the new lingua franca. That is the currency, and [tech platforms] can translate that data into dollars.”

This is evident in the European Union’s intensified scrutiny of how Silicon Valley tech platforms operate. Germany’s antitrust agency is investigating Facebook. The EU conducted an antitrust probe into Amazon’s e-books business deals (the company agreed to change its contract with publishers in May). Days before the Oxford conference, the EU fined Facebook $122m for making misleading privacy statements to the EU when it acquired WhatsApp for $19bn in 2014 about the ability to match Facebook and WhatsApp accounts. (The merger of the popular texting apps raised concerns that Facebook’s online advertising business could gain an unfair advantage.) Days before that, watchdogs in the Netherlands and France slapped Facebook on the wrist for privacy violations.

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There’s a growing feeling that current US antitrust law isn’t able to cope with the emerging problems created by the big companies, particularly Facebook and Google.
link to this extract


Intel CEO Krzanich: self-driving cars will double as security cameras • CNBC

Chantel McGee:

»

The benefits of having self-driving cars go far beyond automatic parking or fewer accidents, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich told CNBC on Thursday.

Among those other benefits: Driverless cars will double as security cameras, he said from the sidelines of the Code Conference in California.

“I always say that the cars are going to be out there looking, so the next time an Amber alert comes up and they’re looking for a license plate, the cars should be able to find that license plate quite rapidly,” said Krzanich.

The idea could bring up concerns about privacy, but Krzanich has already thought of how to minimize those worries.

“We’ll have to put limitations on it,” he said. “We’ll have to encrypt that data and make sure I can’t tell that it’s John’s [car] necessarily,” said Krzanich.

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Mass surveillance without a warrant! How delightful.
link to this extract


Xiaomi and Apple tie for the top position as the wearables market swells 17.9% during the first quarter • IDC

»

The worldwide wearables market maintained its upward trajectory during the first quarter of 2017 (1Q17) with Xiaomi and Apple leading all companies and multiple products experiencing double- and triple-digit growth. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker, companies shipped a total of 24.7m wearable devices during 1Q17, up 17.9% from the 20.9m units shipped in 1Q16.

“Fitbit finds itself in the midst of a transformation as user tastes evolve from fitness bands to watches and other products,” noted Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team. “This allowed Xiaomi to throttle up on its inexpensive devices within the China market and for Apple to leverage its position as the leading smartwatch provider worldwide. Now that Xiaomi and Apple have supplanted Fitbit, the next question is whether they will be able to maintain their position.

“However, by no means should Fitbit be removed from the wearables conversation,” continued Llamas. “With a user base of 50 million, a strong presence within corporate wellness, and assets that keep it top of mind for digital health, Fitbit is well positioned to move into new segments and markets.”

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Puts Apple and Xiaomi level at 3.6m, though Xiaomi’s are bargain-basement bracelet-style trackers, a form factor which I think has already peaked.

The top five players (Xiaomi, Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, Garmin) have just over half the market, and none is Android Wear. I suspect the latter is barely growing its user base now.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the attention economy crash, Tories on Facebook, Yosemite solo, Google’s sex data exit?, and more


Guess how long it will take identity thieves to try to use your data online? Photo by mag3737 on Flickr.

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

A selection of 9 links for you. Yeah, we’re carrying on as usual. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The great reckoning in digital attention • ThinkGrowth.org

Andrew Motalenti:

»

The attention economy is broken… [and] consumers — you and me — are the ones footing the bill. We see increasingly slow page load times for publisher pages which are bloated with ad tech vendor code; increasingly invasive ads from brands who are desperate to catch a click; and, a media trend toward outrage, rather than thoughtful debate.

On this last point: it is outrage, not truth, that prevails in an Internet economy built around attention capture and auction, which is how our programmatic digital advertising ecosystem works.

This is because outrage — through a quirk of societal and brain evolution — is more effective at capturing our time. Indeed, as we’ve been learning, outrage decoupled from truth is one of the most engaging forms of content on the web.

“Fake news” isn’t a Russian conspiracy to undermine our democracy; it is, instead, the end-state of an unhealthy race-to-the-bottom for consumer attention.

And yes, we’ve hit the bottom.

Just think through where we are now: Google perpetually records your voice, your search queries, your location, and your browser history. Facebook has enough data on you, your friends, and your personality to persuade you emotionally and politically.

Meanwhile, the rest of the web is frantically trying to catch up. That is, thousands of companies and hundreds of thousands of sites are trying to catch up to a state of complete and total digital surveillance. Even though this milestone has already been achieved — on multi-billion-user scale — by the top two players.

The first step to a solution is to admit this much: we have a problem. I think we can all agree we need to send digital advertising to rehab.

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link to this extract


How the Tories are paying to push anti-Corbyn ads into your Facebook feed • Buzzfeed

Jim Waterson:

»

The Conservatives are using Facebook to bombard key target seats with paid-for adverts attacking Jeremy Corbyn, according to data obtained by BuzzFeed News that reveals for the first time the full extent of the party’s under-the-radar online campaign blitz.

Dozens of different variations of Tory ads, some of which have already been viewed by millions of people, have been spotted online. The vast majority feature starkly negative messages and focus on Corbyn’s leadership style, his supposed inability to lead Brexit negotiations, and claims that he is a security risk who would put up taxes.

Voters in crucial constituencies such as Wirral West, Bath, and Twickenham have been targeted by the anti-Corbyn adverts, which enable national spending to be diverted to support what are essentially local campaigns without breaking electoral spending laws.

Seats the Conservatives hope to gain – including Walsall North, Hampstead and Kilburn, and Brentford and Isleworth – have been targeted by videos warning the UK faces a Brexit disaster if Corbyn is allowed to carry out negotiations.

Meanwhile, voters in York Central, Normanton, and Ynys Mons – all traditional Labour-leaning areas – have been shown adverts in their Facebook feeds emphasising Theresa May’s leadership qualities.

Paid-for online advertising is remarkably difficult to track and it is difficult for journalists to monitor the reach of these adverts. Data provided to BuzzFeed News by users of the Who Targets Me service allows us for the first time to see a sample of who is being targeted by the Conservative campaign.

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link to this extract


How fast will identity thieves use stolen info? • FTC

Ari Lazarus:

»

If you’ve been affected by a data breach, or otherwise had your information hacked or stolen, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What happens when my stolen information is made public?” At the FTC’s Identity Theft workshop this morning, our Office of Technology staff reported on research they did to find out.

First, they created a database of information about 100 fake consumers. To make the information realistic, they used popular names based on Census data, addresses from across the country, email addresses that used common email address naming conventions, phone numbers that corresponded to the addresses, and one of three types of payment information (an online payment service, a bitcoin wallet or a credit card).

They then posted the data on two different occasions on a website that hackers and others use to make stolen credentials public. The criminals were quick to pounce. After the second posting, it took only nine minutes before crooks tried to access the information.

«

The research slides really repay some reading: attempted credit card purchases running to thousands of dollars.
link to this extract


Alex Honnold climbs Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope • National Geographic

Mark Synnott:

»

It’s hard to overstate the physical and mental difficulties of a free solo ascent of the peak, which is considered by many to be the epicenter of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. From the meadow at the foot of El Capitan, climbers on the peak’s upper reaches are practically invisible to the naked eye.

“This is the ‘moon landing’ of free soloing,” said Tommy Caldwell, who made his own history in 2015 with his ascent of the Dawn Wall, El Capitan’s most difficult climb, on which he and his partner Kevin Jorgeson used ropes and other equipment only for safety, not to aid their progress.

(What Caldwell and Jorgeson did is called free climbing, which means climbers use no gear to help them move up the mountain and are attached to ropes only to catch them if they fall. Free soloing is when a climber is alone and uses no ropes or any other equipment that aids or protects him as he climbs, leaving no margin of error.)

Climbers have been speculating for years about a possible free solo of El Capitan, but there have only been two other people who have publicly said they seriously considered it. One was Michael Reardon, a free soloist who drowned in 2007 after being swept from a ledge below a sea cliff in Ireland. The other was Dean Potter, who died in a base jumping accident in Yosemite in 2015.

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I used to like soloing. Then I took a 30-foot fall onto solid ground. I recovered, but my enjoyment of soloing didn’t. I’m glad Honnold survived. There are some pictures if you want a vicarious moment of terror.
link to this extract


Spigen accuses Andy Rubin’s company Essential Products of trademark infringement • Android Police

Scott Scrivens:

»

Andy Rubin has only just announced his much-anticipated new smartphone, but his company may already be in legal hot water over the infringement of intellectual property. It’s been brought to our attention that Spigen, the US case and accessory maker, already has a trademark for the term “Essential” and has written to Rubin’s organization to contest its use. The letter firmly compels Rubin’s fledgling company to “cease and desist from any and all uses of marks including the term “Essential”.”

Spigen, Inc. successfully registered the trademark (Reg. No. 5014095) as early as August 2016. It’s an International Class. 9 mark, the category which relates to computers and scientific devices, including smartphones and accessories. The trademark itself is incredibly broad, and Spigen seemingly only uses the designation for a range of battery packs and chargers, as well as some bluetooth headphones. Despite the vagueness, Essential’s use of the name still presents potential confusion for consumers, which is exactly what Spigen is alleging.

[Rubin’s] Essential had its own registration for the “Essential” term refused on the basis of likely confusion with Spigen’s trademark.

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Seems like Rubin is trying to emulate Steve Jobs (who launched the iPhone when Cisco already owned the name) in another way. He might (almost surely will) be able to buy the trademark, but it’s an expense that could have been foregone.
link to this extract


‘Blame the internet’ is just not a good enough response, Theresa May • The Guardian

I wrote about Theresa May’s response to the London Bridge attack:

»

“The kneejerk ‘blame the internet’ that comes after every act of terrorism is so blatant as to be embarrassing,” commented Paul Bernal, a law lecturer at the University of East Anglia who has worked with the police. The pressure, he says, comes from the politicians. For an example look no further than John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw since 2001, who this morning said: “I repeat, yet again, my call for the internet companies who terrorists have again used to communicate to be held legally liable for content.”

Perhaps he has forgotten the 1970s, when in the pre-mobile phone era the IRA would use phones to organise its attacks – without anyone calling for (nor were there online social networks to “radicalise” would-be IRA members, but still they joined). The authoritarian sweep of Mann’s idea is chilling: since legal liability is meant to deter, the companies would need people to monitor every word you wrote, every video you watched, and compare it against some manual of dissent. It’s like a playbook for the dystopia of Gilead, in The Handmaid’s Tale (which, weirdly enough, most resembles Islamic State’s framework for living).

The problem is this: things can be done, but they open a Pandora’s box.

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link to this extract


‘Sensitive’ UK terror funding inquiry may never be published • The Guardian

Jessica Elgot:

»

An investigation into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups that was authorised by David Cameron may never be published, the Home Office has admitted.

The inquiry into revenue streams for extremist groups operating in the UK was commissioned by the former prime minister and is thought to focus on Saudi Arabia, which has repeatedly been highlighted by European leaders as a funding source for Islamist jihadis.

The investigation was launched as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats in exchange for the party supporting the extension of British airstrikes against Islamic State into Syria in December 2015.

Tom Brake, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, has written to the prime minister asking her to confirm that the investigation will not be shelved.

The Observer reported in January last year that the Home Office’s extremism analysis unit had been directed by Downing Street to investigate overseas funding of extremist groups in the UK, with findings to be shown to Theresa May, then home secretary, and Cameron.

«

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2011: Anatomy of a crushing • Pinboard blog

Maciej Ceglowski in March 2011 recalls what happened the previous time Delicious got closed – or as good as closed:

»

A number of people asked about the technical aspects of the great Delicious exodus of 2010, and I’ve finally had some time to write it up. Note that times on all the graphs are UTC.

On December 16th Yahoo held an all-hands meeting to rally the troops after a big round of layoffs. Around 11 AM someone at this meeting showed a slide with a couple of Yahoo properties grouped into three categories, one of which was ominously called “sunset”. The most prominent logo in the group belonged to Delicious, our main competitor. Milliseconds later, the slide was on the web, and there was an ominous thundering sound as every Delicious user in North America raced for the exit. [*]

I got the message just as I was starting work for the day. My Twitter client, normally a place where I might see ten or twenty daily mentions of Pinboard, had turned into a nonstop blur of updates. My inbox was making a kind of sustained pealing sound I had never heard before. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Before this moment, our relationship to Delicious had been that of a tick to an elephant. We were a niche site and in the course of eighteen months had siphoned off about six thousand users from our massive competitor, a pace I was was very happy with and hoped to sustain through 2011. But now the Senior Vice President for Bad Decisions at Yahoo had decided to give us a little help.

I’ve previously posted this graph of Pinboard web traffic on the days immediately before and after the Delicious announcement. That small blue bar at bottom shows normal traffic levels from the week before. The two teal mountain peaks correspond to midday traffic on December 16 and 17th.

«

There’s lot of great detail for anyone who designs web databases for a living, or even amusement. And I think that Yahoo at that time had multiple Senior Vice Presidents for Bad Decisions.
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Eric Schmidt publicly defends Jared Kushner. Next day, Trump shutting DoL division investigating Google • Pando

Sarah Lacy:

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What, you might wonder (and Google staff certainly did) would Schmidt or any Silicon Valley leader stand to gain from being one of the only on the record sources defending Kushner [in a New York Times article] just as the Russia scandal was engulfing the President’s son in law?

That’s a good question.

Because the very next day this stunning news broke:

»

The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

«

That’s right: As luck would have it, three days after the Department of Labor reminded Google that compliance with its anti-discrimination investigation was the price of being a government contractor, and just hours after Eric Schmidt issues his bizarre public defense of Jared Kushner, news broke that the Trump administration was planning to disband the organization doing the investigation…

…It is not a coincidence that many of the most powerful women in tech – Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, Wojcicki – all built their careers and names at Google.

And yet, many of these same women have told me that Google wasn’t this way because of the founders or the male senior leadership. It was this way because it employed senior women early on, who advocated for other women. Google does this better than many companies, but there are still scores of stories of harassment, stealing credit from female employees, unwanted advances and discrimination.

«

I’m willing to think that Schmidt was just buttering up the utterly useless Kushner because buttering up people in powerful offices is what Schmidt does. But I also think that he might have previously let slip to Kushner – or people who actually do have some clout – that this Department of Labor investigation was such an obstacle to getting things done, and, well, he’d love for Google to be helping out with building the wall/opening coal plants/whatever, but… *turns up hands*.

And the White House, meanwhile, has blocked the release of who visits and how often, so you don’t know if Schmidt has been lobbying hard for this.
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Start Up: OneLogin breached, tracker tracking, the SMS bitcoin hack, goodbye Frank Deford, and more


Google plans to make adblocking a default in Chrome next year. Photo by Mr Exploding on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Hey, is it getting warmer in here? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Notes from an emergency • Idlewords

Maciej Ceglowski, in a transcript of a speech given in Berlin on May 10:

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Facebook is the dominant social network in Europe, with 349 million monthly active users. Google has something like 94% of market share for search in Germany. The servers of Europe are littered with the bodies of dead and dying social media sites. The few holdouts that still exist, like Xing, are being crushed by their American rivals.

In their online life, Europeans have become completely dependent on companies headquartered in the United States.

And so Trump is in charge in America, and America has all your data. This leaves you in a very exposed position. US residents enjoy some measure of legal protection against the American government. Even if you think our intelligence agencies are evil, they’re a lawful evil. They have to follow laws and procedures, and the people in those agencies take them seriously.

But there are no such protections for non-Americans outside the United States. The NSA would have to go to court to spy on me; they can spy on you anytime they feel like it.

This is an astonishing state of affairs. I can’t imagine a world where Europe would let itself become reliant on American cheese, or where Germans could only drink Coors Light.

In the past, Europe has shown that it’s capable of identifying a vital interest and moving to protect it. When American aerospace companies were on the point of driving foreign rivals out of business, European governments formed the Airbus consortium, which now successfully competes with Boeing.

A giant part of the EU budget goes to subsidize farming, not because farming is the best use of resources in a first-world economy, but because farms are important to national security, to the landscape, to national identity, social stability, and a shared sense of who we are.

But when it comes to the Internet, Europe doesn’t put up a fight. It has ceded the ground entirely to American corporations. And now those corporations have to deal with Trump. How hard do you think they’ll work to defend European interests?

«

As ever with his talks, you should read it all. He says things you hadn’t realised, crystallises them until you can almost hold them in your hand. (And he has also bought Delicious – the bookmarking site which was bought for millions by Yahoo, dumped, given millions in VC funds, and left to go dark – for just $35,000. Hilarious triumph over the foolishness of big money.)
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Here’s how to track the smartphone apps that are tracking you • Fast Company

Glenn Fleishman:

»

The ReCon project publishes some data derived from a few hundred early users, listing apps, the kind of data they passed, a severity score, whether a developer was notified, and when misbehavior was fixed (if indeed it was).

For those who have installed the app, ReCon has a web-based console that allows users to block or modify information that’s sent. For instance, a user can block all examples of a given kind of PII, or block all location data sent from a given app. However, because some apps fail without location coordinates, the team is looking into coarsening GPS information instead of blocking it entirely. An app’s backend still gets relevant information, “but other parties aren’t able to pin down where you are to a few meters,” Choffnes notes.

Of course, examining a flow of data from users itself raises massive privacy red flags, which is part of the evolution of ReCon. Its creators don’t ask for passwords, try to avoid storing the values sent, and check only to see whether, say, a password is obviously being passed without encryption. The group ultimately wants to perform distributed machine learning without users disclosing private or secret information, such as domains they’re visiting.

«

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Identity manager OneLogin has suffered a nasty looking data breach • Motherboard

Joseph Cox: On Wednesday,

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OneLogin—a company that allows users to manage logins to multiple sites and apps all at once—announced it had suffered some form of breach. Although it’s not clear exactly what data has been taken, OneLogin says that all customers served by the company’s US data centre are impacted, and has quietly issued a set of serious steps for affected customers to take.

“Today we detected unauthorized access to OneLogin data in our US region,” the company wrote in a blog post.

Notably, the public blog post omitted certain details that OneLogin mentioned to customers in an email; namely that hackers have stolen customer information.

“Customer data was compromised, including the ability to decrypt encrypted data,” according to a message OneLogin sent to customers. Multiple OneLogin customers provided Motherboard with a copy of the message.

The message also directed customers to a list of required steps to minimize any damage from the breach, which in turn gave an indication of just how serious this episode might be.

According to copies of those steps, users are being told to generate new API keys and OAuth tokens (OAuth being a system for logging into accounts); create new security certificates as well as credentials; recycle any secrets stored in OneLogin’s Secure Notes feature; have end-users update their passwords, and more.

“Dealing with aftermath,” one customer told Motherboard. “This is a massive leak.”

«

Go to OneLogin’s main page and see how long it takes you to find the announcement. Note also Cieglowski’s talk about castles of data, and the temptation they breed.
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Google will help publishers prepare for a Chrome ad blocker coming next year • WSJ

Jack Marshall:

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Google has told publishers it will give them at least six months to prepare for a new ad-blocking tool the company is planning to introduce in its Chrome web browser next year, according to people familiar with the company’s plans.

The new setting, which is expected to be switched on by default within the desktop and mobile versions of Chrome, will prevent all ads from appearing on websites that are deemed to provide a bad advertising experience for users.

To help publishers prepare, Google will provide a self-service tool called “Ad Experience Reports,” which will alert them to offending ads on their sites and explain how to fix the issues. The tool will be provided before the Chrome ad blocker goes live, the people familiar with the plans say…

…Unacceptable ad types include those identified by the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group made up of various trade bodies and online advertising-related companies that says it aims to improve consumers’ experience with online advertising.

The group’s initial list of unacceptable ad types, released in March, included pop-ups, auto-playing video ads with sound and “prestitial” ads that count down before displaying content. Google is a member of the group, alongside fellow ad giant Facebook , and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp .

«

This is antitrust territory. Dominant search engine; dominant browser; a dominant advertising supplier. What’s the harm to the consumer? The lack of choice in what they see, and the inability to decide what ads they do and don’t see. I hope Margrethe Vestager is on this preemptively; I’m sure publishers in Europe will be at her door.
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Postscript: Frank Deford • The New Yorker

Nicholas Dawidoff on the sports writer who died last weekend aged 78:

»

Deford’s most celebrated pieces were all “bonuses,” the bonus being the coveted slot at the back of the Sports Illustrated reserved for the week’s long feature. Soon after I met him, Deford explained his theory of how to structure the bonus—a variation of Chekhov’s rifle. The Russian famously ordained that if in the first chapter (or act) a rifle is on the wall, before the end it must be brought down and fired. The man from Baltimore said that in a bonus, you began by telling the reader something that made him interested. Then, once the reader was completely engaged, you moved on to other matters, to the point where the reader forgot the first thing. Then, toward the end, you brought it up again. The act of forming, breaking, and reforming the chemical bond, he said, deepened the reading experience. I was in my early twenties at the time, and the notion that the magazine’s revered figure was sharing his sweetest science with me made me almost overwhelmed with gratitude. You could be good and also, well, good.

Several years later, we drove together in his car from New York City to his family’s home in Connecticut. Deford was as excited as I ever saw him, owing to something new. We would not need to stop, wait in a long line, and pay a toll at a booth along the highway, he said, because of a recent traffic innovation. There was now an electronic pass keyed to a collection sensor that enabled a driver to pay the toll by simply driving through the booth. It was hardly necessary even to slow down. I didn’t believe it? Just wait! Soon, he had me beyond excited in anticipation of such impossible, magical, laser-age technology.

«

Dawidoff, en route to a neat payoff. Deford inspired me: I used to type out his pieces and analyse them to try to understand why they worked so well. It turned out to be a combination of great reporting and clever construction. If you remember tennis’s 1985 US Open, this is a pretty good description of it. And it’s pretty good even if you don’t.
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How to fight the bloatware of AI • Medium

Peter Sweeney is an entrepreneur and inventor of AI technologies, and he takes issue with the idea that we need a human-like AI. What we need, he argues, is one which narrowly does the rational part we’ve only recently learned to do:

»

it’s only within the past few centuries, beginning with the scientific revolution, that humans began making consistent, predictable progress through the creation of good knowledge. Earlier humans produced a wealth of bad knowledge, most of it long forgotten.

This isn’t to say humans were incapable of producing good knowledge. The point is that good knowledge creation was exceedingly rare. We wouldn’t model flight using a bird that failed to fly at such a spectacular rate. As a model for machine intelligence, shouldn’t humans be subject to the same standard of criticism?

We can further hone our expectations for good knowledge to scientific disciplines. According to Gary Marcus, “What society most needs is automated scientific discovery.” Demis Hassabis [founder and CEO of Google’s DeepMind] holds similar ambitions. “I’ve always hoped that A.I. could help us discover completely new ideas in complex scientific domains.”

We expect machines to embody superhuman intelligence. Only scientific progress embodies the sort of revolutionary knowledge creation that we imagine for our machines. It’s knowledge that arrives in conjectural leaps, defies our past experiences, and redefines what’s possible.
This process of knowledge creation is a human invention, not a natural phenomenon. Yet on closer inspection, our knowledge of how scientific knowledge is created is younger still! It was only in the 20th century, with Karl Popper’s philosophy of science, that there emerged a strong consensus of how scientific knowledge is created.

Naturally irrational humans are deeply flawed knowledge creation machines. We’ve only recently acquired the skills we need from machines and our knowledge of how we do it has not been broadly disseminated. Nature doesn’t provide a model of what we want from intelligent machines, namely revolutionary scientific knowledge, nor is the process that humans use to create this knowledge a naturally occurring phenomenon.

«

Or as Lewis Wolpert used to put it, “science isn’t common sense. It’s usually the direct opposite.” (Think of Earth revolving around the sun, or the reason for gravity. Common sense doesn’t predict them.)
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How to lose $8k worth of bitcoin in 15 minutes with Verizon and Coinbase.com • Medium

Cody Brown had his phone account, and then his email, and then his bitcoin wallets hacked:

»

Before we begin, its worth mentioning that yes, yesssssssssssssssssssss, I did not have enough protection around my Gmail account. I’ve used Google Authenticator before, for my personal account and for various work emails, but I stopped using it at a certain point out of convenience. I deeply regret doing so and you can certainly say, “HA, YOU HAD THIS COMING TO YOU DUDE, MY BITCOIN IS ON AN ENCRYPTED THUMBDRIVE IN A SECRET UNDERGROUND LOCKBOX COLD STORAGE FACILITY.” But there are many coin spectators out there with a similar vulnerability and, as more novices join, this vulnerability will only become more of a problem.

Of all the things that went down in the factors that lead to this hack, Verizon Wireless is what I was massively unprepared for. After talking at length with customer service reps, I learned that the hacker did not need to give them my pin number or my social security number and was able to get approval to takeover my cell phone number with simple billing information. This blew my mind and seemed negligent beyond all possible reason but it’s what they do. The main thing that struck me by the hack was the extraction speed possible in the current cryptocurrency ecosystem. $8,000 in 15 minutes is faster and more lucrative than robbing a suburban bank.

«

The key failing (besides his lack of two-factor non-SMS authentication on his Gmail account) was Verizon letting someone in effect take over his SIM. He had SMS authentication on his account. Guess what happened when the hackers tried to log in to his account? They could reset the password and get an SMS sent to “his” number. Cue disaster.

Coinbase (which has become a target for such hacks) is not above a lot of criticism either.
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The US has forgotten how to do infrastructure • Bloomberg

Noah Smith:

»

There is reason to suspect that high US costs are part of a deeper problem. For example, construction seems to take a lot longer in the US than in other countries. In China, a 30-story building can be completed in only 15 days. In Japan, giant sinkholes get fully repaired in one week. Even in the US of a century ago, construction was pretty fast – the Empire State Building went up in 410 days.

Yet today, it takes the US many years to spend the money that Congress allocates for infrastructure. New buildings seem to linger half-built for months or years, with construction workers often nowhere to be found. Subways can take decades. Even in the private sector, there are problems – productivity in the homebuilding sector has fallen in recent decades.

That suggests that US costs are high due to general inefficiency – inefficient project management, an inefficient government contracting process, and inefficient regulation. It suggests that construction, like health care or asset management or education, is an area where Americans have simply ponied up more and more cash over the years while ignoring the fact that they were getting less and less for their money. To fix the problems choking US construction, reformers are going to have to go through the system and rip out the inefficiencies root and branch.

Unfortunately, this is going to be hard, given all the vested interests and institutional inertia blocking deep reform of the construction sector. As [Matt] Yglesias ruefully notes, a study by the Government Accountability Office looking into the problem of high train-construction costs was recently killed by Congress, with no explanation given.

«

Before you kneejerk, the article goes through possible culprits (salaries; unions; land acquisition costs; geography) and finds none explains it. A side-by-side comparison of two projects, one in the US and one elsewhere, would be educative. But it seems the GAO has been told not to look into this either.
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Keeping your company data safe with new security updates to Gmail • Google Blog

Andy Wen is senior product manager for Counter abuse technology:

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Machine learning helps Gmail block sneaky spam and phishing messages from showing up in your inbox with over 99.9% accuracy. This is huge, given that 50-70% of messages that Gmail receives are spam. We’re continuing to improve spam detection accuracy with early phishing detection, a dedicated machine learning model that selectively delays messages (less than 0.05% of messages on average) to perform rigorous phishing analysis and further protect user data from compromise.

Our detection models integrate with Google Safe Browsing machine learning technologies for finding and flagging phishy and suspicious URLs. These new models combine a variety of techniques such as reputation and similarity analysis on URLs, allowing us to generate new URL click-time warnings for phishing and malware links. As we find new patterns, our models adapt more quickly than manual systems ever could, and get better with time.

«

I see very, very few phishing emails on my Gmail account. I see a fairly constant amount of spam on it, though, despite marking the stuff (always claiming to be from department stores, and not being addressed to my ur-address) as junk consistently.

That spam hasn’t become a bigger, or even overwhelming slice of email is a success for all the organisations such as Spamhaus fighting it.
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About Newcastle libraries’ data • Newcastle City Council

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In Newcastle Libraries we are endeavouring to open up as much of our data as possible. As library workers sharing and facilitating access to knowledge and information is part of our role; here we apply this principle to the information we collect about your library service. We believe that we are only the custodians of this information, and by publishing it in the public domain (under Creative Commons Licence 0) we are simply giving it back to you.

«

Newcastle Libraries has better open data policies than the US White House. Let that sink in.
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