Start Up No.1,124: Facebook and Aussie fake news, the motion smoothing problem (redux), America’s phone farmers, and more


He’s thinking that Van Diesel got an extra punch into the last scene. And that makes him mad! CC-licensed photo by Automotive Rhythms on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Friday, innit. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Facebook says it was ‘not our role’ to remove fake news during Australian election • The Guardian

Katharine Murphy:

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“We do not agree that is is our role to remove content that one side of a political debate considers to be false,” [Facebook VP for Asia, Simon] Milner says in the letter sent a month after election day.

The Facebook executive says the company invested significantly in an effort to support “the Australian government’s work to safeguard the 2019 election” and said the requirement for the social media giant was to “respect applicable law” and work with the Australian Electoral Commission by responding to queries or concerns.

The backwards and forwards between Labor and the social media behemoth comes as Facebook is firmly in the sights of Australia’s competition and consumer regulator as a consequence of its landmark review of digital platforms.

One of the recommendations of the ACCC review, released last week, was digital platforms be required to implement a code of conduct to govern how they handled complaints about the spread of inaccurate information, which would be registered and enforced by an independent regulator such as the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

While Milner makes a rhetorical distinction in his letter to Carroll about content that one side of a political debate “considers to be false”, the Facebook executive also acknowledges in the same correspondence that the death tax material circulated on the social media platform during the campaign was, in fact, found to be false by the platform’s independent fact-checking procedures.

Milner says once the claims were found to be false on April 30, “we demoted the original posts and thousands of similar posts”. Posts were demoted in Facebook’s News Feed but not removed from the platform. Milner said that, on average, this practice reduces distribution by 80%.

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Sky, Netflix and software • Benedict Evans

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Netflix isn’t using TV to leverage some other business – TV is the business. It’s a TV company. Amazon is using content as a way to leverage its subscription service, Prime, in much the same way to telcos buying cable companies or doing IPTV – it’s a way to stop churn. Amazon is using Lord of the Rings as leverage to get you to buy toilet paper through Prime. But Facebook and Google are not device businesses or subscription businesses. Facebook or Google won’t say ‘don’t cancel your subscription because you’ll lose this TV show’ – there is no subscription. That means the strategic value of TV or music is marginal: it’s marketing, not a lock-in.

Apple’s position in TV today is ambivalent. You can argue that the iPhone is a subscription business (spend $30 a month and get a phone every two years), and it certainly thinks about retention and renewals. The service subscriptions that it’s created recently (news, music, games) are all both incremental revenue leveraging a base of 1bn users and ways to lock those users in. But the only important question for the upcoming ‘TV Plus’ is whether Apple plans to spend $1bn a year buying content from people in LA, and produce another nice incremental service with some marketing and retention value, or spend $15bn buying content from people in LA, to take on Netflix. But of course, that’s a TV question, not a tech question.

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Apple seems to be aiming at somewhere between the $1bn and $15bn, but closer to the $1bn.
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Motion smoothing is ruining cinema • Vulture

Bilge Ebiri:

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even if motion smoothing worked perfectly, it would still present problems. Higher frame rates have a curious effect on how we process cinematic images. At the 2016 New York Film Festival, I attended the much-hyped world premiere of Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a supposedly revolutionary picture that had been shot at a frame rate of 120 fps, about a young soldier who relives the trauma of his Iraq deployment over the course of an NFL playoff halftime show during which his platoon’s feats are celebrated. The action was as smooth as it could be, and the 120 fps images did look hyperreal, as advertised — like we were in a limo with the characters as they joked around, or in combat as bullets whizzed past them. But the movie was in no way immersive. It was the exact opposite: The acting felt stiff, the story bogus, and the filmmaking amateurish.

A couple of months later, as it neared theatrical release, I saw Billy Lynn again, this time projected at a typical 24 fps. It’s not a great picture by any stretch of the imagination, but to my bewilderment, the performances were now engaging; the drama that had felt so unwieldy was now occasionally moving. No major cuts or additions had been made. I was watching the same movie, but this time, I was watching it at the frame rate at which movies are supposed to be experienced. And suddenly, it all kind of worked.

In part, there’s a scientific explanation for this: It’s possible that watching movies one way for so long has conditioned our brains. NYU psychology and neuroscience professor Pascal Wallisch, who studies cognition and perception, cites the phenomenon of “entrainment,” which posits that certain external stimuli, such as beats per minute in music or subtly flickering movie images, can actually affect the nervous system.

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The weird thing is that we seem to be so used to 24fps.
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Smartphone shipments decline 2.3% in the second quarter on continued challenges across most major regions • IDC

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IDC analyst Ryan Reith said: “When you look at the top of the market – Samsung, Huawei, and Apple – each vendor lost a bit of share from last quarter, and when you look down the list the next three – Xiaomi, OPPO, and vivo – all gained. Part of this is related to the timing of product launches, but it is hard not to assume this trend could continue.”

The vendor landscape at the top of the market continues to get stronger while the struggles for local OEMs and old school industry names got worse. In 2Q19, the top five vendors accounted for 69% of the total market volume, and the top 10 vendors accounted for 87%. This trend is making the vendor playing field for smartphones look more and more like the PC market. With 5G beginning to unfold in many markets around the world, the challenges are sure to increase for any vendors without strong consumer mindshare.

“Although the overall market remains in decline, the performance in the second quarter indicates that demand is starting to pick up as the market begins to stabilize again,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. “A key driver in the second quarter was the availability of vastly improved mid-tier devices that offer premium designs and features while significantly undercutting the ultra-high-end in price. Combine this with intensified and generous trade-in programs across major markets and channels and upgrading now makes more sense to consumers.”

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Google is quietly testing ‘Play Pass’ app and game subscription, taking on Apple Arcade • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

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Earlier this year, Apple announced Apple Arcade, a monthly subscription service that gives you access to a library of mobile games (including some exclusive titles) on iOS devices. Apple Arcade isn’t live yet, but Google is already testing its own competing service, named Play Pass.

XDA Developers found evidence last year that Google was working on the Play Pass service, but now the company is starting to test it. We received screenshots from a reader [shown in the story], which show the signup page for Play Pass and the $4.99 monthly cost. Of course, the price could change before the final rollout.

An info page reads, “Explore a curated catalog spanning puzzle games to premium music apps and everything in between. From action hits to puzzles and fitness trackers, with Google Play Pass you unlock access to hundreds of premium apps and games without ads, download fees or in-app purchases.” Another screen shows Stardew Valley and Marvel Pinball as some of the included games.

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Our reader stormyparis reckons that if it could target 1 billion users, and get 5% of them, it could generate $3bn, but then you have to look at what people wouldn’t spend as a result of their subscription, so..

It’s probably only going to appeal to the whales who spend way more than $5 per month, though. And it doesn’t “take on” Apple Arcade. It’s entirely parallel and separate, and won’t mean Android gets the games sooner than iOS.
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How to pay for Medicare-for-all • The Week

Ryan Cooper:

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the economist argument that fee-for-service must be juicing spending has not held up either. Maryland undertook a major reform to many of its hospitals, moving to a “global budget program” in which several hospitals were paid a lump sum for the whole year instead of per procedure. A study released this year found it “did not reduce hospital use or price-standardized spending as policymakers had anticipated.” Moreover, many other countries have used fee-for-service billing (both today and in the past) and have not experienced anything like America’s turbo-charged cost increases.

So what is going on? Returning to the Papanicolas study, two big, obvious things jump out: drug prices and administrative costs. America paid roughly twice the rich country median for drugs in 2015, at $1,443 per person, with $1,023 of that in the form of retail pharmaceuticals. France paid $697, while the Netherlands paid just $466. Secondly, fully 8% of American health-care spending goes to administration — as compared to Germany at 5%, Canada at 3%, or Sweden at 2%.

Thus the first priority for a Medicare-for-all bill must be to cut administration spending to the bone. Given that this is largely down to providers having to navigate the hellishly complex and fragmented status quo system, this should be quite easy…

…Across virtually all medical services, Americans are being radically overcharged.

Indeed, many hospitals don’t have the slightest idea of what their treatments really cost. As this Wall Street Journal report explains, when a Wisconsin hospital tried to figure out what it was clearing for a $50,000 knee replacement, after an 18-month investigation it found a mere $10,550 at most in overhead — and that’s including steep US doctor salaries. A roughly 80% profit margin on the most common non-childbirth surgical procedure is the kind of thing that could begin to explain the howling excess of US medical spending.

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Democrats are ignoring the power of the hospital industry • Prospect Magazine

David Dayen:

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The [American] public interacts with [American] health care in two ways. Their doctor heals them, and their insurance company hassles them. They visit their doctor and pay their insurer. Their doctor wants to make them well, and their insurance company wants to restrict the care they receive. “Why is the spotlight on the intermediary in this industry when they’re a small fraction in terms of the revenues?” asks Leemore Dafny of Harvard Business School, referring to the insurance industry. “And it’s what you think it is. It’s really easy to hate the intermediary.”

But in the absence of political leaders telling the truth about who charges the prices and who gouges patients, the public has no alternative story. They’ll keep loving their doctor, and seek out other villains. That cuts against this truth: nobody has resisted changes to the broken health-care system more than the hospital industry.

Take “surprise billing,” as mentioned before one of the most outrageous scams in health care. Unknown to them, patients get out-of-network services from ambulance companies or radiologists or anesthesiologists, and are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in charges. You won’t be, well, surprised to learn that surprise billing is being driven by the private equity industry, which has recently upped its investments in hospitals.

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It seems that there are lots of perverse incentives. Doctors don’t have any disincentive to order more and more expensive treatments; it just gets passed on to the insurer. But hospitals in the US do go bust, or close because they don’t get income. Certainly, there’s plenty of blame to go around the US healthcare “system”.
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‘Fast + Furious’ stars’ complicated demand: I never want to lose a fight • WSJ

Erich Schwartzel:

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Vin Diesel didn’t want to look like a wimp.

The actor was in rehearsal for yet another fight in his seventh “Fast & Furious” movie when he started to sense his co-star and on-screen opponent, Jason Statham, was landing more blows than he was.

Mr. Diesel had an idea: Why not assign numerical values to every move—head butt, roundhouse kick, body slam—so he could calculate a total and determine if the two men were getting pummeled evenly?

In Hollywood, where sheltering the tender egos of action stars is increasingly a cost of doing business, no leading man is willing to look less macho than any other. Nowhere is that more apparent than the “Fast & Furious” franchise, where an arms race of machismo can break out between Mr. Diesel, Mr. Statham and their third beefy co-star, Dwayne Johnson…

…The “Fast & Furious” movies also star actresses like Michelle Rodriguez as ensemble players who are as tough as the men. People associated with the franchise said there are fewer concerns about scorekeeping in the women’s fights.

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Diesel is 52, Statham is 51, Johnson is 47. Who says ego is only for kids?
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America’s DIY phone farmers • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

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Last year, NBCUniversal launched an app called WatchBack, which gives users a chance to win $100 in exchange for watching TV shows, in hopes of creating new fans for its programming. Other apps like Perk give viewers points for watching trailers and shows which can be exchanged for more valuable goods. Roy Rosenfeld, Head of DoubleVerify’s Fraud Lab, a company which focuses on ad fraud, said DoubleVerify estimates in total these incentivized traffic “apps generate 100-300 [million] ad requests a month,” with the vast majority working with video.

The phone farmers Motherboard talked to aren’t responsible for many of those ad requests, but they still take advantage of this ecosystem. Rather than actually watch ads, these phone farmers use as many as a hundred phones and sometimes automate the process to make it seem like someone is watching the ads in order to generate income.

Joseph D’Alesandro, 20, made nearly $2,000 a month from phone farming back in 2017, he told Motherboard in a phone call. In eighth or ninth grade, D’Alesandro found one of the apps popular with farmers and started running it on his main phone. Slowly over a few years, he built up his farm, expanding to more and more devices. On his YouTube channel TheTechSlugs, D’Alesandro made videos explaining his progress along the way.

“You really can’t compare it to a job,” D’Alesandro said, because of how little he needed to interact with the phones.

Other phone farmers said they’ve made hundreds of dollars a month from passively running apps on their phones. Goat_City said they pulled in $700-800 a month recently; another farmer with the username CallMeDonCheadle said their farm made $7 a day, working out to more than $200 a month.

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I have to admit that I repeatedly thought the people he was referring to in this story are actual farmers who were trying to supplement their income.
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Apple Maps in iOS 13: sights set on Google • MacStories

Ryan Christoffel:

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Favorited locations are represented by an icon and color corresponding to their location type. Home and Work have house and briefcase icons in blue and brown, respectively, while restaurants will show a fork and knife on an orange background, bars a martini glass in purple, parks a tree in brown, and so on. Another important visual detail about favorites is that they each display your distance from them, or the time it would take to navigate to them. This further reinforces favorites’ design purpose: Apple intends that you use them for commonly visited locations. If you simply want to mark a spot to remember for later, that’s where collections shine.

Collections [new in iOS 13] are groups of locations you can save for accessing later. Like favorites, they have the benefit of being displayed more prominently on the map, so they’re easy to spot at a glance, but they also offer a lot of flexibility you won’t find with favorites. A collection is ultimately just a list of locations, so it can serve any purpose you need it to. You can use collections to plan upcoming vacations, keeping track of all the places you want to visit on your trip; you can also have collections dedicated to intriguing coffee shops, prospective date night spots, or restaurants that have been recommended to you. Every collection can have a name and even custom photo set by you, so you can truly make it your own.

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The “ooh” feature for demos is Apple’s equivalent to Street View, which it calls Look Around. However, I can only find it for San Francisco at present, so the above features – which might be better for real usability – are what people will really use.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,123: Greenland’s dangerous melt, wanting a WhatsApp black door, Chrome breaks the paywalls, Samsung stays big, and more


Fitbit’s smartwatch isn’t helping the company out of its pit. CC-licensed photo by Kārlis Dambrāns on Flickr

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

A selection of 9 links for you. 👋🥂👍🏻. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Greenland is melting away before our eyes • Rolling Stone

Eric Holthaus:

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Even just a few decades ago, an event like this would have been unthinkable. Now, island-wide meltdown days like this are becoming increasingly routine. The ongoing melt event is the second time in seven years that virtually the entire ice sheet simultaneously experienced at least some melt. The last was in July 2012, where 97% of the ice sheet simultaneously melted.

In the 1980s, wintertime snows in Greenland roughly balanced summertime melt from the ice sheet, and the conventional wisdom among scientists was that it might take thousands of years for the ice to completely melt under pressure from global warming.

That’s all changed now.

With a decade or two of hindsight, scientists now believe Greenland passed an important tipping point around 2003, and since then its melt rate has more than quadrupled.

This week alone, Greenland will lose about 50 billion tons of ice, enough for a permanent rise in global sea levels by about 0.1mm. So far in July, the Greenland ice sheet has lost 160 billion tons of ice — enough to cover Florida in about six feet of water. According to IPCC estimates, that’s roughly the level of melt a typical summer will have in 2050 under the worst-case warming scenario if we don’t take meaningful action to address climate change. Under that same scenario, this week’s brutal, deadly heat wave would be normal weather in the 2070s.

Xavier Fettweis, a polar scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium who tracks meltwater on the Greenland ice sheet, told Rolling Stone in an email that the recent acceleration of these melt events means the IPCC scenarios “clearly underestimate what we currently observe over the Greenland ice sheet” and should revisit their projections for the future.

“This melt event is a good alarm signal that we urgently need change our way of
living,” said Fettweis. “It is more and more likely that the IPCC projections are too optimistic in the Arctic.”

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Apple and Fitbit numbers show smartwatches turning into a winner-take-all market • CNBC

Ari Levy:

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At the end of 2018, Apple controlled 50% of the global smartwatch market in terms of units shipped, according to Strategy Analytics. Fitbit was second at 12.2%, followed by Samsung, which sells Android-powered devices, at 11.8%.

In its effort to stay competitive, Fitbit has been slashing prices, which resulted in a shrinking of its gross margin, or the profit left after subtracting costs of goods sold, to 34.5% from 39.8%.

Fitbit cited weaker-than-expected sales of its Versa Lite device, a lightweight smartwatch that it introduced earlier this year, for its disappointing numbers and lowered the midpoint of its revenue guidance for 2019 to $1.46bn from $1.56bn.

Following its after-hours plunge, Fitbit is now worth less than $1bn. It has lost 82% of its value since its IPO in 2015.

Park is trying to reduce his company’s reliance on device sales and focus more on premium services, which will create a “longer lasting relationship with users while changing perception of products and services from a nice to have to need to have,” the Fitbit CEO said on Wednesday’s earnings call.

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Fitbit’s full-year revenue is about what Apple sells in wearables in a month. Now imagine that Samsung sells even less, and that other Android Wear companies sell less than that. Who’s really making profit in wearables?
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Calls for backdoor access to WhatsApp as Five Eyes nations meet • The Guardian

Dan Sabbagh:

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The meeting of the “Five Eyes” nations – the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – was hosted by new home secretary, Priti Patel, in an effort to coordinate efforts to combat terrorism and child abuse.

Dealing with the challenge faced by increasingly effective encryption was one of the main topics at the summit, officials said, at a time when technology companies want to make their services more secure after a range of security breaches.

The meetings, however, were held in private with no agenda being made public, making it difficult to conclude exactly what had been discussed by the ministers, officials and intelligence agencies from the countries involved.

However, British ministers have privately voiced particular concerns about WhatsApp, the widely used Facebook-owned messenger service, which was used by, among others, the three plotters in the London Bridge terror attack.

“We need to ensure that our law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies are able to gain lawful and exceptional access to the information they need,” the Home Office said in a statement.

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In a discussion last night with some technology journalists, we wondered why GCHQ and the rest haven’t stockpiled exploits to be used for targeting people whose messages they want to read. But maybe they have, and this is just noise.

Meanwhile on Patel, treat her like Trump: ignore everything she says, and wait for what someone better-informed and in power says or does.
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Google unlocks 33% of publisher paywalls on July 30. This is what happens next • What’s New In Publishing

Monojoy Bhattacharjee:

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A number of major publishers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Medium, The Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and The Dallas Morning News have safeguards in place to stop users from accessing paywalled content using Incognito Mode.

We tested the beta version of Chrome’s next update to gauge the extent of damage that will be inflicted on publisher paywalls. To cut a long story short, things aren’t looking good.

We tried to breach the paywalls of the publishers listed using Chrome’s current browser (v. 75), in Incognito Mode. Without fail, the websites detected the intrusion attempt and prevented access to the content. 

Using v.76 (beta), each and every one of the paywalls got unlocked without any difficulty whatsoever. 

Take a look at the screenshots below [in the story]. In each case, we tried opening the exact same page using the current version and the upcoming one. [The upcoming one gets past the paywall.]

No further explanations necessary.

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Maybe leaky paywalls have had their day.
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Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S6 is its latest volley against the iPad Pro • The Verge

Dan Seifert:

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For software, the Tab S6 runs Android 9 Pie with version 1.5 of Samsung’s OneUI interface. It also has support for Samsung’s DeX interface, which provides a more desktop-like experience when using the tablet with a keyboard. The new keyboard attachment has a function key to launch DeX quickly. DeX can also be outputted to an external display using the Tab S6’s USB Type-C port.

In terms of size and features, the Tab S6 compares closer to Apple’s most recent iPad Air than the more expensive iPad Pro. But the Air starts at a lower price and has a much more developed operating system and app ecosystem than the Tab S6. As with most of Samsung’s high-end tablet efforts for the past few years, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose the Tab S6 over Apple’s options. We’ll have a better idea of how well the Tab S6 stacks up against Apple and Microsoft’s tablets once we’ve had a chance to put it through a full review, so stay tuned for that.

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External display likely coming to the iPad Pro in September with iOS 13, and filesystem access certainly, so not an advantage for long.
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Chinese vlogger who used filter to look younger caught in live-stream glitch • BBC

Dhruti Shah and Kerry Allen:

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The blogger, who initially boasted a follower count of more than 100,000 on Douyu, is believed to have used a filter on her face during her appearances, and had been renowned for her “sweet and healing voice”.

China’s Global Times said she had been “worshipped” as a “cute goddess” by some members of her loyal audience with some fans even giving her more than 100,000 yuan ($14,533, £11,950).

However, live-streaming platform Lychee News says the incident happened on 25 July, during a joint live-stream with another user, Qingzi on the Douyu platform.

The Global Times reports that all was as normal and that her fans urged her to show her face and remove her filter but she refused, instead apparently saying: “I can’t show my face until I receive gifts worth 100,000 yuan ($11,950). After all, I’m a good-looking host.”

Followers began to send her donations with the largest reported to be 40,000 yuan ($5,813, £4,780) during the session.

However, at some point, it seems the filter being used by the vlogger stopped working and her real face became visible to her viewers.

She is reported to have noticed only when people who had signed up to her VIP access room started exiting en masse.

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This is quite a “beauty filter”, though – it makes her look like an entirely different person. That’s some real-time deepfakery there.
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Millions in crypto is crossing the Russia-China border daily – and Tether is king • Coindesk

Anna Baydakova:

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“Hear that sound?” asked the head of an over-the-counter (OTC) cryptocurrency trading desk — let’s call him ‘Oleg’ — who requested his real name and company be withheld. “You can hear it 24/7 in here.”

Business is brisk thanks to a constant flow of Chinese merchants who come in daily with heavy bags of cash. Oleg said his OTC desk sells about $3m worth of crypto every day. Most of it usually goes to China. But what’s perhaps most surprising is which crypto.

Only 20% of Oleg’s sales are in bitcoin, the oldest cryptocurrency with the largest market capitalization. The other 80% is in the dollar-pegged token known as tether, or USDT.

Tether’s best-known application is allowing crypto traders to move money between exchanges quickly to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities. But according to several Moscow OTC traders, it has at least one real-world use case – as the go-to remittance service for local Chinese importers.

The total volume of USDT purchased by Chinese businesses can reach $10m to $30m daily, these traders said.

“They accumulate a lot of cash in Moscow and need tether to transfer it to China,” said Maya Shakhnazarova, head of OTC trading at Huobi Russia, the Moscow office serving high-roller clients of Singapore-based exchange Huobi Global.

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Gambling? Something.. else? Though the use of Tether completely makes sense: bitcoin can take ages and transactions can be super-expensive. Tether doesn’t have the same problem and huge amounts are washing around.
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Trueface raises $3.7m to recognise that gun, as it’s being pulled, in real time • Techcrunch

Mike Butcher:

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Trueface is a US-based computer vision company that turns camera data into so-called ‘actionable data’ using machine learning and AI by employing partners who can perform facial recognition, threat detection, age and ethnicity detection, license plate recognition, emotion analysis as well as object detection. That means, for instance, recognising a gun, as it’s pulled in a dime store. Yes folks, welcome to your brave new world.

The company has now raised $3.7m from Lavrock Ventures, Scout Ventures, and Advantage Ventures to scale the team growing partnerships and market share.

Trueface claims it can identify enterprises’ employees for access to a building, detect a weapon as it’s being wielded, or stop fraudulent spoofing attempts. Quite some claims.

However, it’s good enough for the US Air Force as it recently partnered with them to enhance base security.

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These could be famous last words which folk will laugh at in 20 years, but I think this is not going to go well.
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Report: Samsung extends shipments lead as Realme enters top ten • Android Authority

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According to the tracking firm, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 series and rejuvenated mid-range smartphones have resulted in a 7.1% year-on-year boost. The Korean manufacturer hit 76.6m smartphones shipped in the quarter, compared to 71.5m devices a year ago. In fact, the firm reportedly accounted for roughly a fifth of all smartphone shipments in this quarter.

Second-placed Huawei didn’t see quite the same level of growth, but it still managed to achieve a 4.6% boost over last year. The Chinese colossus reportedly shipped 56.7m smartphones in Q2 2019, compared to 54.2m in Q2 2018. Counterpoint notes that the effects of the U.S. trade ban weren’t fully experienced in this quarter, but that it expects a steep drop in performance come Q3.


Source: Counterpoint Research

Apple may have been in third place, but it saw a rather big 11.9% drop in shipments compared to Q2 2018. The firm shipped 36.4m phones in this quarter, as opposed to 41.3m a year ago. This performance means Xiaomi is roughly one percentage point away from passing Apple in terms of market-share, according to Counterpoint. Then again, Q2 isn’t traditionally Apple’s best quarter, as it launches its iPhone series in Q3 or Q4 anyway.

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Samsung’s financials show its mobile revenue grew by 7%, but profits dropped by 11%; it blamed this on sluggish demand in the premium market and “intensifying competition in the low- to mid-range market”, plus the expense of clearing inventory of old models. Not seen it blame the latter before. Huawei’s problems lie ahead, though.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up No.1,122: Apple’s Wearables zoom, YouTube’s Indian growth, questions for Capital One, Galaxy Fold’s bad timing, and more


Time to outlaw this kind of thing? CC-licensed photo by Steve Garfield on Flickr.

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

A selection of 12 links for you. Notice how tapping your ear has stopped meaning “can’t hear you” and is “can hear you now”? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

New bill would ban autoplay videos and endless scrolling • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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Snapstreaks, YouTube autoplay, and endless scrolling are all coming under fire from a new bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), targeting the tech industry’s “addictive” design.

Hawley’s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or the SMART Act, would ban these features that work to keep users on platforms longer, along with others, like Snapstreaks, that incentivize the continued use of these products. If approved, the Federal Trade Commission and Health and Human Services could create similar rules that would expire after three years unless Congress codified them into law.

“Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction,” Hawley said. “Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.”

Deceptive design played an enormous part in last week’s FTC settlement with Facebook, and Hawley’s bill would make it unlawful for tech companies to use dark patterns to manipulate users into opting into services. For example, “accept” and “decline” checkboxes would need to be the same font, format, and size to help users make better, more informed choices.

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Can go for the latter, but unsure about the other stuff.
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Apple third-quarter 2019 results and charts! • Six Colors

Jason Snell:

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Apple’s latest quarterly results are out and the company generated $53.8bn in revenue, up 1% versus the year-ago quarter. It was (ever so slightly) the largest third quarter in Apple history.

Mac revenue was up 11% year over year, iPad up 8%, Services up 13%, and Wearables up 68%. iPhone was down 12%.

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Just again: Wearables (and Home and Accessories) up by 68%. Which is a hell of a lot of AirPods and Watches. (And maybe HomePods. Maybe.)

The graphs tell the story pretty well. Revenues from iPhones edging down (below 50% of all revenue for the first time in aaages), but everything else is looking well. The smartphone growth story is over, for pretty much everyone except Huawei, below, but there are other stories now.
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Google reveals fistful of flaws in Apple’s iMessage app • BBC News

Leo Kelion:

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A team of bug-hunters at Google have shared details of five flaws in Apple’s iMessage software that could make its devices vulnerable to attack.

In one case, the researchers said the vulnerability was so severe that the only way to rescue a targeted iPhone would be to delete all the data off it.

Another example, they said, could be used to copy files off a device without requiring the owner to do anything to aid the hack.

Apple released fixes last week. But the researchers said they had also flagged a sixth problem to Apple, which had not been rectified in the update to its mobile operating system. [And which they’re withholding from public disclosure until its deadline – so far unknown.]

“That’s quite unusual,” commented Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey. “The reputation of the Google Zero team is such that it is worth taking notice of.”

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The bugs would have been worth millions on the black market – and still might be against phones that haven’t been updated. Over the years, iMessage has been a world of pain as well as one of Apple’s strongest selling points.
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Thuoghts on the Capital One US and Canada breach • OpenSecurity.global

Kevin Beaumont:

»

A bunch of things stand out:

• Why did the WAF account apparently have access to the S3 storage buckets?
• Why wasn’t the data of hundreds of millions of people’s credit checks encrypted?  Should that kind of data have been left for so long in cloud buckets?
• Why didn’t they notice all these S3 buckets being sync’d to a random VPN IP address?  It happened 4 months ago.
• Why didn’t they notice the Gitlab pages listing their config?
• Why didn’t they notice until somebody random emailed them to tell them?

I don’t know if more details will go public (they probably don’t want it to get to trial for obvious reasons).

I guess lessons learned from outside looking in is:

– Monitoring.  Ingest your cloud logs.  Alert against them.  Monitor sites like Github and Gitlab for obviously sensitive information, e.g. usernames, bucket names etc.

And yes, this is the kind of incident that would (and still will) catch many orgs with their pants down, Capital One aren’t alone.

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It’s quite a mess, and Capital One really has harder questions to answer than “is it Amazon’s fault?”
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How regional languages are fueling YouTube’s growth in India • ETtech

Indulekha Aravind:

»

The fall in data tariff caused other tectonic shifts — millions of new users came online through their phones from every corner of the country and a large section of people started watching more videos online. This statistic from media agency Zenith’s report, Online Video Forecasts 2018, is telling: if Indians spent 2 minutes a day on an average watching online videos in 2012, they were watching close to an hour a day in 2018.

This year, that figure is set to touch 67 minutes a day, the global average. Video streaming is estimated to account for 75% of mobile internet use in India by 2021, according to app analytics firm App Annie.

This meant for many Indians, video has become a window to the internet. At the centre of this shift is YouTube’s video streaming app in India, which today has 265 million active users a month. In 2016, according to Vidooly, YouTube reportedly had 60 million unique users a month.

YouTube has in a sense become a Google for users like Ahmed and Khan who prefer video to text and are more comfortable in their regional language. Google India says 2018 saw a 270% year-on-year growth in voice queries across all its platforms.

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You may be entitled to $125 or more in the Equifax breach settlement • TidBITS

Josh Centers:

»

Equifax has now agreed to a $425m settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and all 50 US states. (That’s just the amount directed to consumers—Equifax will separately pay another $175m to the states and $100m to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.) If you were affected by this breach—and chances are that you were—you’re entitled to either up to 10 years of credit monitoring or a $125 cash payment.

Most coverage has focused on the $125 amount, but as the FTC page clearly says and Jessamyn West emphasized on Twitter, you can claim up to 10 hours of compensation for dealing with the breach, at $25 per hour, without submitting any additional documentation, for a total payment of $375. You just have to describe what you did and the approximate dates you took those actions. If you have supporting documentation for things you had to do to deal with identity theft, fraud, or other misuse of your information, you can claim up to 20 hours, for a total of $625. And if you have unreimbursed losses or expenses due to the breach—such as fees paid to an attorney or accountant—you can apply to get up to $20,000 back.

If you choose a cash payment instead of credit monitoring, you’ll be asked to affirm that you already have credit monitoring. Credit Karma already offers this service for free, so you should take the cash.

«

Please, American readers, do this. Do this. Make them hurt as much as is possible.

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Facebook connected her to a tattooed soldier in Iraq – or so she thought • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:

»

Ms. Holland and Mr. Anonsen represent two sides of a fraud that has flourished on Facebook and Instagram, where scammers impersonate real American service members to cheat vulnerable and lonely women out of their money. The deception has entangled the United States military, defrauded thousands of victims and smeared the reputations of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines. It has also sometimes led to tragedy.

The scheme stands out for its audacity. While fraud has proliferated on Facebook for years, those running the military romance scams are taking on not only one of the world’s most influential companies, but also the most powerful military — and succeeding. Many scammers operate from their phones in Nigeria and other African nations, working several victims at the same time. In interviews in Nigeria, six men told The New York Times that the love hoaxes were lucrative and low risk.

“Definitely there is always conscience,” said Akinola Bolaji, 35, who has conned people online since he was 15, including by posing on Facebook as an American fisherman named Robert. “But poverty will not make you feel the pain.”

Facebook has long had a mission to “connect the world.” But in the process, it has created a global gathering place where the crooks outnumber the cops.

«

It’s the 419 scam on steroids.
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Peloton is ending software updates for the first generation of its monitor – The Verge

Natt Garun:

»

Early adopters of Peloton’s fitness bikes are in for a pricey upgrade: this week, the company announced via an email to users that it will stop sending updates to bikes using the first generation of its touchscreen monitor. This model was sold in 2014 when Peloton first launched its bike before releasing a second iteration in 2016 that allows users to cast their screen to a smart TV.

Peloton says users with the first-generation screen on their bikes will still be able to ride and access live stream and on-demand content as usual, but they will stop receiving support for new features. The company confirmed to The Verge that it will continue to support bug fixes, however. In the past few months, lag and performance issues had been a problem for users with an older monitor on their bike as the company continues to push out new updates for music control, wireless headphone support, and workout metric displays.

“Given the age and technology of [the] first generation touchscreen, it no longer accommodates the software features we regularly develop and release,” the company said in a support page and in emails to customers.

To combat the issue, Peloton is offering affected users a discount code to purchase the latest version of its screen for $350 — which is more than 50% off of the full value of $750 — for those who wanted to upgrade before this week’s news.

«

So the bike works, but the screen becomes a dud. Clever upgrade offer: it’ll make a tidy profit on them.
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The Galaxy Fold’s exact release date might’ve finally leaked, and it’s horrible news • BGR

Zach Epstein:

»

According to South Korean financial news site The Investor, Samsung plans to release the Galaxy Fold during the third week of September, between September 18th and September 20th.

Ouch.

Smartphone launches typically take place on Friday, so September 20th is the most likely release date. Regardless of which of those three days Samsung lands on though, it likely won’t matter. Do you know what else is probably going to happen that week? Yup, Apple will probably release its new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Max, and iPhone 11R. In other words, there might not be a worse week during the entire year for Samsung to release a new smartphone, let alone a $2,000 flagship phone.

Based on Apple’s iPhone release schedules in the past, September 20th will indeed be the exact day Apple chooses to release its new iPhone 11 lineup. Aside from the iPhone X that was delayed until November, Apple typically chooses the second to last Friday in September to release new iPhone models. That was the case with the iPhone 8 last year, the iPhone 7 the year before, and the iPhone 6 back in 2014. The iPhone 6s launched on the last Friday of September in 2015, but only because the month ended on a Wednesday the following week.

«

The problem is, the launch will go under the radar but when the flaws start showing up, it’ll be a couple of weeks down the line, in a relative news drought.
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What Huawei didn’t say in its ‘robust’ half-year results • TechCrunch

Rita Liao:

»

The media has largely bought into Huawei’s “strong” half-year results today, but there’s a major catch in the report: the company’s quarter-by-quarter smartphone growth was zero.

The telecom equipment and smartphone giant announced on Tuesday that its revenue grew 23.2% to reach 401.3 billion yuan ($58.31bn) in the first half of 2019 despite all the trade restrictions the U.S. slapped on it. Huawei’s smartphone shipments recorded 118m units in H1, up 24% year-over-year.

What about quarterly growth? Huawei didn’t say, but some quick math can uncover what it’s hiding. The company clocked a strong 39% in revenue growth in the first quarter, implying that its overall H1 momentum was dragged down by Q2 performance.

The firm shipped 59m smartphones in the first quarter, which means the figure was also 59m units in the second quarter. As tech journalist Alex Barredo pointed out in a tweet, Huawei’s Q2 smartphone shipments were historically stronger than Q1.

«

As Barredo pointed out, they used to grow 32.5% on average from Q1 to Q2. To stall to 0% – especially with the growth seen in China – means the wheels really fell off with Trump’s ban.
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LG’s Q2 smartphone sales continue to slow with 21% YoY revenue drop • 9to5Google

Ben Schoon:

»

Announced in a press release today, LG has confirmed its second-quarter results with stronger sales for the company as a whole, but a 15.4% drop in overall operating income. In the mobile division specifically, though, the news wasn’t so great.

LG saw an increase between Q1 and Q2 of 2019, seeing sales of US$1.38bn. That’s an increase of 6.8% between the two quarters, but a drop of 21.9% compared to the same period in 2018. LG puts the blame on the overall stagnant demand and aggressive pricing from Chinese brands.

The mobile division also saw an operating loss of US$268.4m as it invests in relocating its smartphone production to Vietnam. LG says that it expects things to improve in Q3 with the “growing demand” for 5G smartphones as well as the introduction of “competitive mass-tier smartphones,” meaning we’ll likely see some mid-range devices this fall.

«

LG is just shovelling money into a furnace there, and though it hasn’t released its smartphone sales figures for about a year, but there’s no reason to think they’re increasing. Legacy players here are just throwing good money after bad.
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Sony has sold 100 million PlayStation 4 consoles • Engadget

Steve Dent:

»

Despite flagging sales of late, Sony’s PlayStation 4 has sold 100m units, making it the fastest-selling console to hit that number. In its latest earnings report, Sony revealed that it sold 3.2m PS4s between March 31st and June 30th, after announcing that 96.8m units had sold in the previous quarter. That means it hit the 100m figure on the nose in five years and seven months, just two months quicker than Nintendo’s Wii.

Sony also revealed that for the first time, folks are buying more games via digital downloads than physical discs, marking a trend that’s been ongoing for a while now.

Despite its half-decade age, PS4 sales have never really flagged until recently, with 17.8m sold last year, down just 1.2m over 2017. However, it took a noticeable dive last quarter, and Sony has warned that it expects 2019 sales to be down more than it originally forecast last quarter. A slow demise in PS4 sales is to be expected, though, considering that Sony’s next-gen PS5 should arrive in fall of 2020, with support for ray-tracing 8K, SSD storage and PS4 backward-compatibility.

In other Sony news, smartphone revenue dropped by 15% over last quarter, continuing what seems like a never-ending trend. It sold less than half the number of smartphones it did during the same period last year, just 900,000 in total. To give you an idea of how bad that is, total units sold in 2018 was less than half of 2017, and so far, 2019 is half of 2018.

«

Sony should just name its next smartphone the Zeno. But – and here’s the big thing – it actually eked out an operating income, after a solid year of loss, of US$9.4m on revenue of $914m – so each phone had an average price of $1,015.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,121: Hong Kong’s facial fights, Huawei and Google’s smart speaker plans, Russia’s radiation leak, would Netflix add ads?, and more


The Fortnite World Cup: it was really quite the event. CC-licensed photo by Several seconds on Flickr.

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

In Hong Kong’s protests, faces become weapons • The New York Times

Paul Mozur:

»

The police officers wrestled with Colin Cheung in an unmarked car. They needed his face.

They grabbed his jaw to force his head in front of his iPhone. They slapped his face. They shouted, “Wake up!” They pried open his eyes. It all failed: Mr. Cheung had disabled his phone’s facial-recognition login with a quick button mash as soon as they grabbed him.

As Hong Kong convulses amid weeks of protests, demonstrators and the police have turned identity into a weapon. The authorities are tracking protest leaders online and seeking their phones. Many protesters now cover their faces, and they fear that the police are using cameras and possibly other tools to single out targets for arrest.

And when the police stopped wearing identification badges as the violence escalated, some protesters began to expose officers’ identities online. One fast-growing channel on the social messaging app Telegram seeks and publishes personal information about officers and their families. The channel, “Dadfindboy,” has more than 50,000 subscribers and advocates violence in crude and cartoonish ways. Rival pro-government channels seek to unmask protesters in a similar fashion…

…The authorities in Hong Kong have outlined strict privacy controls for the use of facial recognition and the collection of other biometric data, although the extent of their efforts is unclear. They also appear to be using other technological methods for tracking protesters. Last month, a 22-year old man was arrested for being the administrator of a Telegram group.

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16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf becomes Fortnite’s first-ever solo world champion • CNN

Shannon Liao:

»

Fortnite has wrapped its first-ever massive sporting event in New York’s Arthur Ashe tennis stadium. It was anyone’s game: It didn’t matter how famous a player was nor what large organization was backing each member of the all-male playing field.

Beating out other pros and famous streamers, Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, 16, made a name for himself by dominating from the first round and ultimately taking home the $3 million grand prize for individual players. That’s the largest-ever payout for a single player in an esports tournament.
After securing a victory in the first round and nine in-game kills, Giersdorf went on to rack up dozens of in-game kills each round, until he ended up with 59 points — a huge lead over the second-place winner…

In second place, 24-year-old Harrison “Psalm” Chang — a former professional Heroes of the Storm player — won $1.8 million. Shane “Epikwhale” Cotton took third, winning $1.2 million. He is 16 years old and from Redondo Beach, California. In fourth, Nate “Kreo” Kou, 18, from Parkland, Florida, won $1.05 million.

At 24, Chang was one of the oldest competing on Sunday.

«

Whole new world.
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Huawei and Google were working on new smart speaker before Trump’s ban • The Information

Juro Osawa:

»

Before the US president’s action, which was in response to national security concerns, Huawei’s plan was to unveil the new speaker at the IFA tech trade show in Berlin this September, the people said. The speaker, powered by Google Assistant, was aimed at markets outside China, and Huawei was hoping to sell it online in the US.

“We worked on this project with Google for a year and made a lot of progress. Then everything suddenly stopped,” said a Huawei employee who declined to be named. 

A Huawei spokesman declined to comment. Google representatives didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment. 

Huawei has been a major Google business partner for years: Huawei phones run on the Android operating system and Huawei smartwatches use Google’s OS for wearable devices. The smart speaker project, which hasn’t previously been reported, highlights the breadth of Google’s collaborations with Huawei, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker by shipments. Before May, the two companies also discussed other topics including how to make Huawei phones compatible with Android Auto, a Google program that connects cars with smartphones, according to the people familiar with the matter.

«

That must have really annoyed Samsung: it hasn’t had anything like that kind of help from Google. But after the publicity that Huawei has had, how eager would people have been to have a permanent listening device in their home branded to a Chinese company?
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Gigantic, mysterious radiation leak traced to facility in Russia • New Scientist

Ruby Prosser Scully:

»

The source of a gigantic, mysterious leak of radioactive material that swept across Europe in 2017 has been traced to a Russian nuclear facility, which appears to have been preparing materials for experiments in Italy.

The leak released up to 100 times the amount of radiation into the atmosphere that the Fukushima disaster did. Italian scientists were the first to raise the alarm on 2 October, when they noticed a burst of the radioactive ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere. This was quickly corroborated by other monitoring laboratories across Europe.

Georg Steinhauser at Leibniz University Hannover in Germany says he was “stunned” when he first noticed the event. Routine surveillance detects several radiation leaks each year, mostly of extremely low levels of radionuclides used in medicine. But this event was different.

“The ruthenium-106 was one of a kind. We had never measured anything like this before,” says Steinhauser. Even so, the radiation level wasn’t high enough to impact human health in Europe, although exposure closer to the site of release would have been far greater.

The Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Security in Paris soon concluded that the most probable source of the leak was between the Volga river and Ural mountains in Russia. This is where Russia’s Mayak facility is located. The site, which includes a plant that processes spent nuclear fuel, suffered the world’s third most serious nuclear accident in 1957.

At the time of the 2017 leak, Russian officials denied the possibility of the facility being the source, saying there were no radioactive ruthenium traces in the surrounding soil. Instead, they suggested the source may have been a radionuclide battery from a satellite burning up during re-entry into the atmosphere.

«

How much radiation did the Fukushima disaster release, you ask? One X-ray for everyone. A hundred times that is a bit more significant.
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The economics of legalising cannabis: pricing and policing are crucial • The Conversation

Alice Mesnard is a reader in economics at the University of London:

»

The increased competition that the legal market would bring would likely substantially increase consumption – not something most policy makers want. So as well as implementing a legal market, there needs to be a mix of policies to control consumption, including sanctions that are enforced against illegal activities. This would allow a government to price out dealers, while keeping the price of legal cannabis relatively high.

The reasoning is simple: if production or distribution costs of illegal cannabis increase, it is easier to drive criminals out of business by selling legal cannabis. My research shows that the harsher the punishments you put in place against people selling cannabis illegally, the higher you can set the price of legal cannabis to price out dealers. We call this the “eviction price”.

Other instruments governments can use to increase the eviction price are to deter consumers from buying illegal cannabis through enforced sanctions or warning them against the dangers of using illegal cannabis compared to high-quality, safe products supplied on the legal market.

It’s also important to introduce incentives for illegal cannabis producers and sellers to turn their activity toward the legal sector. So as well as investment in law enforcement to crack down on criminal activity, it’s important that former cannabis dealers are given viable job alternatives. Otherwise they may just switch to selling alternative illegal drugs or close substitutes.

«

A trio of MPs visited Canada and came back convinced that cannabis should be legalised in the UK. (A step further than decriminalisation, which simply makes it not an offence to possess.) This would be very overdue. But the point about finding something for cannabis sellers to do which isn’t just moving to harder drugs is key.
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Thinking the unthinkable: Netflix as gatekeeper • Midia Research

Tim Mulligan:

»

the financial reality [for Netflix] of running a subscription-based digital entertainment service on wafer-thin margins is starting to appear increasingly challenged. In light of declining net revenues, with net income for H1 2019 at $614.7m, down from $674.473m for H1 2018 – and with the cost of revenues increasing from $4.7bn in H1 2018 to $5.9bn in H1 2019, change is now required. Add to this stalling membership growth, and the previously unthinkable becomes thinkable as advertising becomes an area for revisiting.

As the above chart illustrates, despite being SVOD subscribers Netflix paid members are actually more responsive than the consumer average for relevant targeted and considered advertising.

«

The worst possible thing Netflix could do for customer loyalty is to start running adverts, and I have no idea who the 74% of monsters who expect to see ads if they have paid a subscription fee for online video are. Into the sea with the lot of them.
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How to do PR as an early stage startup • Sifted

Max Tatton-Brown:

»

The natural story of a business involves a steady cadence of events. 

You found it, you begin to make progress, you get your first big customer, you hire some interesting people to the team. THEN YOU TAKE FUNDING (potentially big moment.) Then you hire some more, move offices, learn something important that means you pivot slightly THEN YOU PARTNER WITH ONE OF THE BIGGEST COMPANIES IN THE WORLD AND BRING YOUR PRODUCT TO MILLIONS. Then you hire some more people, and so on and so forth.

It’s easy to not say anything about the smaller stories when you are early on with your business. But actually, once you are a year or two down the line, it will really benefit you to be able to point back to that consistent steady rhythm of progress which built to the current moment. 

The crucial point here is: it’s impossible to go back and build it in retrospect. You don’t want to regret something you can’t go back and “have done”.

Furthermore, if you don’t leverage a piece of information by capturing it somewhere public, it cannot act on your behalf with scale. You will have to tell people one by one, instead of it showing up when they search for you (or the topic.)

Short notes, on a regular basis (that read nothing like a press release) can go a long way. Publicly capture the breadcrumb trail so it’s where when you need it.

Here’s a fantastic recent example from Paul Smith at Ricochet — publishing the latest user metrics for their app while still in beta. Five minutes work to take data they are tracking anyway and leave a little public essence for their narrative to pick up later.

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When doing media training, I’ve often pointed out to startups that just as they have a multi-year product strategy, so they should have a multi-year media strategy. (And it might not involve lots of press releases.)
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The problems with risk assessment tools • The New York Times

Chelsea Barabas, Karthik Dinakar and Colin Doyle:

»

Algorithmic risk assessments are touted as being more objective and accurate than judges in predicting future violence. Across the political spectrum, these tools have become the darling of bail reform. But their success rests on the hope that risk assessments can be a valuable course corrector for judges’ faulty human intuition.

When it comes to predicting violence, risk assessments offer more magical thinking than helpful forecasting. We and other researchers have written a statement about the fundamental technical flaws with these tools.

Risk assessments are virtually useless for identifying who will commit violence if released pretrial. Consider the pre-eminent risk assessment tool on the market today, the Public Safety Assessment, or P.S.A., adopted in New Jersey, Kentucky and various counties across the country. In these jurisdictions, the P.S.A. assesses every person accused of a crime and flags them as either at risk for “new violent criminal activity” or not. A judge sees whether the person has been flagged for violence and, depending on the jurisdiction, may receive an automatic recommendation to release or detain.

Risk assessments’ simple labels obscure the deep uncertainty of their actual predictions. Largely because pretrial violence is so rare, it is virtually impossible for any statistical model to identify people who are more likely than not to commit a violent crime.

The P.S.A. predicts that 92% of the people that the algorithm flags for pretrial violence will not get arrested for a violent crime. The fact is, a vast majority of even the highest-risk individuals will not commit a violent crime while awaiting trial.

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The trio of authors are experts in the topic, based at MIT and Harvard, and note that “There are more legally innocent people behind bars in America today than there were convicted people in jails and prisons in 1980.”
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Scientists frown at technology’s ability to read facial expressions • The Times

Mark Bridge:

»

Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts and lead author of the paper in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, said: “People scowl when angry, on average, approximately 25% of the time, but they move their faces in other meaningful ways when angry.

“They might cry, or smile, or widen their eyes and gasp. And they also scowl when not angry, such as when they are concentrating. Similarly, most smiles don’t imply a person is happy.”

The team said this was significant while companies and nations are investing in technology to predict feelings, often for security or law-enforcement. “It is not possible to confidently infer happiness from a smile, anger from a scowl or sadness from a frown as much of technology tries to do when applying what are mistakenly believed to be the scientific facts,” they wrote.

Technology giants including Microsoft, IBM and Amazon have developed algorithms to infer emotions from faces in photos and videos. Such technology is expected to be used increasingly in policing and border control.

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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,120: Norway’s electric plane plan, Weird Al and the spyware, IRS writes to bitcoiners, Tumblr’s demise, and more


Siri, couldn’t we opt out of ever having what we say heard by your humans? CC-licensed photo by Joe Wilcox on Flickr.

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

A selection of 11 links for you. Idiocracy, documentary? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Norway to begin electrifying its aircraft • E+T Magazine

»

In an announcement this week, Avinor, a government-owned company which operates most of Norway’s civil airports, announced that it would aim to move to 100% electric flights. It set a goal of electrifying all short-haul flights by 2040.

“We think that all flights lasting up to 1.5 hours [90 minutes] can be flown by aircraft that are entirely electric,” said Dag Falk-Peterson, chief executive of Avinor, in a statement to AFP.

This would include all domestic flights and flights to other Scandinavian capitals, he said. Avinor is working on a tender offer for a small electric aircraft with 19 seats which could be trialled in commercial flights by 2025.

Electric planes are cheaper to run, and are reportedly less noisy than standard planes. In the coming years, Avinor intends to phase in biofuels for aircraft in order to reduce its carbon footprint before going electric.

Although electric aircraft have been flown in demonstrations for decades, such as with the much-publicised flight of the Airbus E-Fan across the English Channel in July 2015, they have yet to go mainstream. At present, the storage capacity of the batteries is not great enough to compensate for their weight.

As rapid advances in battery technology improve energy density, however, it is likely that other vehicles will follow cars and trucks in going electric.

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Promising, though a long way from replacing the capacity that we have now. (Thanks Arthur M for the link.)
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Mathematician solves computer science conjecture in two pages • Quanta Magazine

Erica Klarreich:

»

A paper posted online this month has settled a nearly 30-year-old conjecture about the structure of the fundamental building blocks of computer circuits. This “sensitivity” conjecture has stumped many of the most prominent computer scientists over the years, yet the new proof is so simple that one researcher summed it up in a single tweet.

“This conjecture has stood as one of the most frustrating and embarrassing open problems in all of combinatorics and theoretical computer science,” wrote Scott Aaronson of the University of Texas, Austin, in a blog post. “The list of people who tried to solve it and failed is like a who’s who of discrete math and theoretical computer science,” he added in an email.

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I’ll be honest: I understand the problem (at least as described by Klarreich in her excellent explanatory metaphor – an achievement which deserves some sort of prize itself), but I don’t understand the answer. However, I’m sure plenty of you will lap it up.
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The hidden costs of automated thinking • The New Yorker

Jonathan Zittrain:

»

As knowledge generated by machine-learning systems is put to use, these kinds of gaps [between what is understood, and what is possible – such as drugs whose mechanism isn’t understood] may prove consequential. Health-care A.I.s have been successfully trained to classify skin lesions as benign or malignant. And yet—as a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and M.I.T. showed, in a paper published this year—they can also be tricked into making inaccurate judgments using the same techniques that turn cats into guacamole. (Among other things, attackers might use these vulnerabilities to commit insurance fraud.) Seduced by the predictive power of such systems, we may stand down the human judges whom they promise to replace. But they will remain susceptible to hijacking—and we will have no easy process for validating the answers they continue to produce.

Could we create a balance sheet for intellectual debt—a system for tracking where and how theoryless knowledge is used? Our accounting could reflect the fact that not all intellectual debt is equally problematic. If an A.I. produces new pizza recipes, it may make sense to shut up and enjoy the pizza; by contrast, when we begin using A.I. to make health predictions and recommendations, we’ll want to be fully informed.

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That’s the tone of the article, but the fine detail is much more nuanced.
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Tumblr has transformed into a brand-safe zombie of its former self • One Man And His Blog

Adam Tinworth:

»

Based on an interview with Verizon Media’s chief business officer Iván Markman, [Tumblr’s origins as a hub of creativity “and, let’s be honest, porn” is] dead and gone. The interview itself is almost eye-watering in its relentless use of corporate jargon — what happens to a human being to make them talk like this? — and the section on Tumblr particularly depressing:  

»

Q: What about Tumblr? Are you not pitching it anymore? Is it still a part of Verizon Media’s goal to serve the customer?

A: We’ve been focused on making that environment more brand safe. We invested a lot in that. To the extent that our advertises and by the way the programmatic side of the house, the DSP and native, they are accessing those audiences and whatnot. To your point, as you think about how we present ourselves, we present ourselves more in the horizontal capabilities like the connected channels, brand safety, diverse insights. If we’re in a meeting with someone and they’re really focused on a younger demo, more focused on art, and I want to deliver in that environment.

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Yes, Tumblr is now for “brand safe” art from a younger demographic. That’s  destroying everything that it was in order to make it profitable at a corporate scale.

In other words — it’s a stumbling, zombie-like shell of its past self.

«

You might think “hey, making money is good”, but Tinworth’s point is that Tumblr offered a pseudonymous space for that exploration that other platforms don’t.
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This is what going viral looks like: the numbers behind FaceApp • Appfigures

Ariel Michaeli:

»

What does going viral mean for downloads? Let’s look at our App Intelligence:

Before going viral FaceApp averaged around 4.8K downloads per day across both the iOS App Store and Google Play in the US. After going viral, downloads grew by a multiple of more than 40 to 195K per day.

What’s also obvious from the chart above is that although the app averaged a similar number of downloads on the iOS App Store and Google Play before going viral, it’s the iOS App Store that’s fueling much of this growth.

In the 25 days before going viral, we estimate FaceApp for iOS had 68K downloads in the US. In the last 5 days, we estimate the total to be 854K. And, that’s a comparison of 25 days to just 5 days.

On Google Play the numbers are much lower. In the 25 days prior to the app going viral, FaceApp totaled 54K downloads in the US. After going viral, the 5-day total increased to just 119K, roughly double.

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Apple contractors ‘regularly hear confidential details’ on Siri recordings • The Guardian

Alex Hern:

»

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world. They are tasked with grading the responses on a variety of factors, including whether the activation of the voice assistant was deliberate or accidental, whether the query was something Siri could be expected to help with and whether Siri’s response was appropriate.

Apple says the data “is used to help Siri and dictation … understand you better and recognise what you say”.

But the company does not explicitly state that that work is undertaken by humans who listen to the pseudonymised recordings.

«

So there’s the trifecta: all of Amazon, Google and Apple sends some audio to humans to listen. In its way, rather like the revelation that your smartphone maps where you go and stores it, which we didn’t intuitively know in 2011 – but turns out everyone did that too.
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How we are talking to Alexa • NHS Digital

Eva Lake is head of engagement for the NHS website team:

»

There are currently over 1,500 organisations consuming content from the NHS website. Our syndication service allows these third-party partners to integrate our clinically approved content and service information through free application programming interfaces (APIs) or widgets.

It is estimated that 14% of UK households now have voice-activated speakers. Whether or not you believe predictions that 50% of searches will be by voice by 2020, this is a significant market – and is particularly significant for health information. Using websites can be hard for people with literacy difficulties and accessibility needs. Voice-activated devices offer one way, for some people, of getting around these problems. So, this is an important new opportunity for us – but one that we have approached carefully.

Members of our syndication team went to NHS Expo 2017 to talk to people about the API offer from the NHS website. We met members of the Amazon Alexa team at the event and found there was mutual interest in exploring this further.

We had previously looked at how to build a ‘skill’, the equivalent of an app which individual users can enable on their Alexa speaker. We could have developed a skill ourselves, without a close partnership with Amazon, but the contact at Expo developed into a chance to take advantage of their expertise in creating content for voice. By adding our content to Alexa’s core knowledge base, it could be used for all relevant questions not requiring a user to enable a skill in advance. This is key when you consider the challenge of reaching those who are not actively engaging in their own health.

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Amazon as experiment • Benedict Evans

»

I sometimes think that if you could look in the safe behind Jeff Bezos’s desk, instead of the sports almanac from Back to the Future, you’d find an Encyclopedia of Retail, written in maybe 1985. There would be Post-It notes on every page, and every one of those notes has been turned into a team or maybe a product.

Amazon is so new, and so dramatic in its speed and scale and aggression, that we can easily forget how many of the things it’s doing are actually very old. And, we can forget how many of the slightly dusty incumbent retailers we all grew up with were also once radical, daring, piratical new businesses that made people angry with their new ideas.

This goes back to the beginning of mass retail. In Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, a tremendously entertaining novel about the creation of department stores in 1860s Paris, Octave Mouret builds a small shop into a vast new enterprise, dragging it into existence through force of will, inspiration, and genius. In the process, he creates fixed pricing, discounts, marketing, advertising, merchandising, display, and something called “returns.” He sends out catalogs across the country. His staff is appalled that he wants to sell a new fabric at less than cost; “that’s the whole idea!” he shouts. Loss leaders are nothing new.

Meanwhile, the other half of the story follows the small, traditional shopkeepers in the area, who are driven out of business one by one. Zola sees them as part of the past to be swept away. They’re doomed, and they don’t understand—indeed, they’re both baffled and outraged by Mouret’s new ideas.

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Also worth listening to: the (short; 15 mins) podcast from the “50 Things That Made The Modern Economy” series about the Montgomery Ward shopping catalogue. The whole series is excellent; cue it up for those quarters of an hour that would otherwise go to waste.
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Apparently, I have to install spyware on my phone to attend a Weird Al concert • PocketNow

Adam Lein found that the tickets for said concert were only available inside the AXS app – not PDFs, not part of Wallet:

»

There’s an article on The Outline that goes into a lot of detail about the AXS app and how much data it’s designed to collect from your phone and subsequently share with all sorts of 3rd party companies for marketing, ad sales, and who knows what else. You can read about how the app scrapes your first and last name, precise location, how often the app is used, what content is viewed using the app, which ads are clicked, what purchases are made (and not made), a user’s personal advertising identifier, IP address, operating system, device make and model, billing address, credit card number, security code, mailing address, phone number, email address, etc. All of that data can be matched up to your other advertising profiles in other big-data collection companies like Facebook & Google in order to influence you in other ways… such as buying more stuff.

Some Reddit users have found that the app can be used to track your locations within a venue as well using Bluetooth beacons to promote discounts in a nearby food court or whatnot. The privacy-violating features are generally disguised as something that ads convenience, but the data collected can certainly be used for more nefarious purposes.

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Once again, the utterly rapacious nature of American companies towards peoples’ data is just mindboggling.
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We tested Europe’s new digital lie detector. It failed • The Intercept

Ryan Gallagher and Ludovica Jona:

»

Prior to your arrival at the airport, using your own computer, you log on to a website, upload an image of your passport, and are greeted by an avatar of a brown-haired man wearing a navy blue uniform.

“What is your surname?” he asks. “What is your citizenship and the purpose of your trip?” You provide your answers verbally to those and other questions, and the virtual policeman uses your webcam to scan your face and eye movements for signs of lying.

At the end of the interview, the system provides you with a QR code that you have to show to a guard when you arrive at the border. The guard scans the code using a handheld tablet device, takes your fingerprints, and reviews the facial image captured by the avatar to check if it corresponds with your passport. The guard’s tablet displays a score out of 100, telling him whether the machine has judged you to be truthful or not.

A person judged to have tried to deceive the system is categorized as “high risk” or “medium risk,” dependent on the number of questions they are found to have falsely answered. Our reporter — the first journalist to test the system before crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border earlier this year — provided honest responses to all questions but was deemed to be a liar by the machine, with four false answers out of 16 and a score of 48. The Hungarian policeman who assessed our reporter’s lie detector results said the system suggested that she should be subject to further checks, though these were not carried out…

…The results of the test are not usually disclosed to the traveler; The Intercept obtained a copy of our reporter’s test only after filing a data access request under European privacy laws.

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Developed in the UK, and claims to pick up on “micro gestures” in facial expressions, etc. As if a virtual border agent viewing you through a webcam (which you probably won’t look at) weren’t weird enough already.
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Cryptocurrency investors start receiving letters from the IRS • The Block

»

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has begun sending letters to over 10,000 U.S. cryptocurrency investors last week, asking them to report their crypto holdings and pay taxes properly. The IRS said that the names of these taxpayers “were obtained through various ongoing IRS compliance efforts.”

There are three variations of the educational letter (6173, 6174 and 6174-A), all of which are supposed to help taxpayers understand their tax and filing obligations and how to correct past errors.

Letter 6174 and 6174-A are no-action letters, which means that if all the obligations have been met, there is no need to respond. The taxpayers could receive these letters despite being fully compliant. Letter 6173, on the other hand, alleges noncompliance and requires action. If there is none, the tax account will be examined by the IRS.

«

The chickens start coming home to roost: realisable appreciation in the value of an asset, even if it’s virtual, can still attract attention (the IRS letter makes clear it’s about asset trading, rather than just hodling). Wonder if the UK’s Revenue and Customs service will start doing the same soon.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,119: YouTube’s climate problem, monitors for all!, Tim Cook’s successor, the Airbus rollover problem, Brexit wargames, and more


The Joint European Torus fusion reactor: we need its successors to work if we’re going to beat climate change. CC-licensed photo by aglet on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. Too hot to handle. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Most YouTube climate change videos ‘oppose the consensus view’ • The Guardian

Gregory Robinson:

»

[Dr Joachim] Allgaier [of RWTH Aachen University, in Germany] noted, however, that although chemtrails videos received a lot of views, it does not mean the people watching them believed what they were told.

He said it was important to examine the algorithms that decide which videos to show people, but did not suggest YouTube should remove climate denial material.

“Effectively, this would be censorship, and YouTube says they are against censorship,” Allgaier said. “Perhaps they could change their algorithms to prioritise factual information, especially for health and medicine.”

A YouTube spokesperson said: “YouTube is a platform for free speech where anyone can choose to post videos, as long as they follow our community guidelines.

“Over the last year we’ve worked to better surface credible news sources across our site for people searching for news-related topics, begun reducing recommendations of borderline content and videos that could misinform users in harmful ways, and introduced information panels to help give users more sources where they can fact-check information for themselves.”

Allgaier suggested more scientists should start taking YouTube seriously as a platform for sharing information. “YouTube has an enormous reach as an information channel, and some of the popular science YouTubers are doing an excellent job at communicating complex subjects and reaching new audiences,” he said.

“Scientists could form alliances with science communicators, politicians and those in popular culture in order to reach out to the widest possible audience. They should speak out publicly about their research and be transparent in order to keep established trustful relationships with citizens and society.”

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YouTube could prioritise the truth. Haha, just joking.
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The only chart we should be looking at • Chartable

Gregor Aisch:

»

it is important to mention a well-known flaw in this dataset: Rich countries have notoriously managed to “outsource” their emissions to China. A lot of the increase we see is being caused by goods like smartphones and cheap clothes, which are being manufactured in East Asia but are consumed in Western countries.

Finally, there is another important thing missing in the emission curve, and that’s where we need to be heading. The October 2018 special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that in order to limit global warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius we need to reach net-zero emissions between 2045 and 2055.

Global climate emissions target

Without showing this goal in the emission charts, even a slight reduction in emissions may look like a big achievement, while the truth is that it’s not. Or, as Greta has put it in her speech:

»

“The fact that we are speaking of “lowering” instead of “stopping” emissions is perhaps the greatest force behind the continuing business as usual.”

«

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That’s a truly scary graph. Unless we invent fusion reactors or give everyone a fission reactor and solar panels in the next decade, we’re cooked.

Maybe that’s the answer to the Fermi Paradox.
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Do you really need another computer monitor? • OneZero

Angela Lashbrook:

»

Yes, [you] do. Multiple monitors actually make a positive difference when it comes to productivity.

I started to suspect this was true over the course of the past year, when I switched from working at various media companies and transitioned to freelance writing at home. It turns out there’s research to support my newfound discovery: For most office labor, employees benefit from multiple monitors, so if you — or even better, your employer — have a little extra cash and want to beef up productivity in a painless way, opening your wallet for an extra monitor or two is well worth it.

“If you have a lot of papers you’re working with on a project, would you rather work on a big conference table or an airline tray table?” says John Stasko, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology who has researched the effects of using multiple monitors. “I don’t know many people who’d trade their multi-mon setup and go back to a single monitor.”

…These experiences are echoed in the scientific literature on the topic, which while scant, uniformly backs up the anecdotes presented here as far as I could find. A 2004 study looked at how performance compared when a worker used one monitor as opposed to two. It found that workers got started on work 6% more quickly, worked 16% faster, and had 33% fewer errors when using more than one screen.

Users also vastly preferred the use of multiple monitors — those with multiple monitors rated their experience 28% easier to focus and 24% more comfortable.

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Apple’s next CEO to replace Tim Cook: Jeff Williams • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman:

»

While Williams can be direct and demanding in meetings with other executives, current and former colleagues say he sometimes relies heavily on a circle of lieutenants to play bad cop in larger engineering-team meetings. With the designers, his sensibility doesn’t always translate. “He comes from the operations side, and the metrics being applied there often have very little meaning in design,” says a longtime member of the design team.

The Watch has been Williams’s biggest test. Months before the first model’s release in 2015, some employees testing the device began having allergic reactions to the type of nickel used in its casing, a not-uncommon issue with wristwear. Williams made the call to scrap thousands of Watches the company had already produced and ramp up a separate manufacturing line with a different kind of nickel. Employees also noticed that the “taptic engine,” a Williams priority that allows the Watch to vibrate more quietly than a typical phone part when it receives notifications, was prone to long-term failure from corrosion. Again, Williams decided not to send out a few thousand Watches that were affected. Employees got them instead.

These choices spared many early adopters from getting defective early models of the Apple Watch. They also helped make the watch tough to find in stores for months after its official release, and some online shipments were delayed, too. When customers could find some, they might be the Watch models shipped with 18-karat gold cases, which cost as much as $17,000—conceivable for wealthy Rolex fans, but a poor investment given that Apple’s model would be obsolete in a few years…

…One former senior Apple executive says he’s less worried about Williams’s ability to implement ideas from the design team than he is about the managers reporting to Williams. The new team leaders, longtime Apple hardware and software design managers Evans Hankey and Alan Dye, are a “step down” from Ive in terms of design prowess, the former senior executive says, but acknowledges that workflow may be simpler with Hankey and Dye running things. Before, “those people were pseudo in charge, but not really in charge, because Jony could overrule them.”

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Sounds like a pretty solid choice. Particularly his willingness to scrap things that don’t work.
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Airbus A350 software bug forces airlines to turn planes off and on every 149 hours • The Register

Gareth Corfield:

»

Some models of Airbus A350 airliners still need to be hard rebooted after exactly 149 hours, despite warnings from the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) first issued two years ago.

In a mandatory airworthiness directive (AD) reissued earlier this week, EASA urged operators to turn their A350s off and on again to prevent “partial or total loss of some avionics systems or functions”.

The revised AD, effective from tomorrow (26 July), exempts only those new A350-941s which have had modified software pre-loaded on the production line. For all other A350-941s, operators need to completely power the airliner down before it reaches 149 hours of continuous power-on time.

Concerningly, the original 2017 AD was brought about by “in-service events where a loss of communication occurred between some avionics systems and avionics network” (sic). The impact of the failures ranged from “redundancy loss” to “complete loss on a specific function hosted on common remote data concentrator and core processing input/output modules”.

In layman’s English, this means that prior to 2017, at least some A350s flying passengers were suffering unexplained failures of potentially flight-critical digital systems.

Airbus’ rival Boeing very publicly suffered from a similar time-related problem with its 787 Dreamliner: back in 2015 a memory overflow bug was discovered that caused the 787’s generators to shut themselves down after 248 days of continual power-on operation. A software counter in the generators’ firmware, it was found, would overflow after that precise length of time. The Register is aware that this is not the only software-related problem to have plagued the 787 during its earlier years.

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149 hours is a strange number to cause a buffer overflow; it’s not a critical number in octal or hexadecimal.

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“We wargamed the last days of Brexit: here’s what we found out” • openDemocracy

Luke Cooper:

»

As Brexit has radically disrupted the existing British party system, the factional roles assumed by players did not tend to align with a particular party leadership. Instead different Tory and Labour factions were represented within the game. Each player had a series of votes allocated in the British Parliament. Larger factions had two different vote allocations: ‘waverers’ and diehards. They could potentially cast these votes in different directions. Another element of the game design lay in a consciously British-centric approach. An assumption underpinning the game was that the EU side would act as, in gaming-terms, a ‘dummy-player’. This refers to when an actor is present within a scenario, who does not face choices that affect the overall arc of the decision pathway. With modifications to the Withdrawal Agreement persistently ruled out by the EU, had players assumed this vantage point they would not have faced any choices. As a dummy-player, the umpire thus articulated the position of the EU-27 states at key decision-making points across the game.

Following the playful spirit of Debord’s legacy, this really was a game. Players accumulated points in relation to different votes passing and goals being reached. Some had hidden objectives that were revealed at the end of the game, identifying a potential conflict between the public statements of factions and their underlying motivations. The ‘winner’ had the most points at the end of the game.

The outcome of the game eventually resolved itself in a new referendum. By this stage the game had moved into the near future of early autumn 2019. The cross-party negotiations had failed to reach a breakthrough acceptable to both leaderships. Softer members of the Tory Brexit Delivery Group then split away from the party leadership, crossing the floor to support a new referendum. Interestingly, this came as a surprise to the game designer, Barbrook, who had anticipated a stalemate and a further extension of Article 50 at the end of October 2019.

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This would be remarkable, to say the least, but the current Westminster situation is flattered by being called “febrile”.
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Apple to acquire majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business • Intel Newsroom

»

Intel and Apple have signed an agreement for Apple to acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business. Approximately 2,200 Intel employees will join Apple, along with intellectual property, equipment and leases. The transaction, valued at $1bn, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019, subject to regulatory approvals and other customary conditions, including works council and other relevant consultations in certain jurisdictions.

Combining the acquired patents for current and future wireless technology with Apple’s existing portfolio, Apple will hold over 17,000 wireless technology patents, ranging from protocols for cellular standards to modem architecture and modem operation. Intel will retain the option to develop modems for non-smartphone applications, such as PCs, internet of things devices and autonomous vehicles.

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Been noises about this in the media for a week or so. Seemed worth just waiting for the official confirmation. The list of exceptions Intel gets is fun. But you can’t make half a modem. Apple will have to set this group to work to make 5G modems, probably for 2022.
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How to talk to boomers and other older people in your life about fake news • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

»

Caulfield said it’s common for older people to unwittingly share things that have extremist messages or iconography. “It’s very hard to see people posting stuff that may come from a kind of a dark place that they don’t realize is dark,” Caulfield said. “What do you do when your parents go from posting Minions [memes] to posting hard-right memes about cement milkshakes?”

He says it’s important to intervene privately and help the person understand the larger — and more concerning — context.

“There’s a good chance your family member doesn’t understand that and might be horrified at what they’re sharing. And so there’s a point to intervene and let people know, ‘Hey, I know, this was probably not what you meant, but…’”

Experts agree that being non-confrontational is key. Daniel Kent founded Net Literacy, a nonprofit, in 2003 when he was in middle school in Indiana. One of its first programs was Senior Connects, which helps older people get online and gain basic internet skills.

“I think it’s fundamentally about treating [older people] with concern and respect. Recognizing that … perhaps they had the best of intentions, but the execution on their part perhaps wasn’t the most, the most thoughtful and mindful,” he said.

If you do want to say something, Kent and Caulfield suggest engaging in person — or by direct message or phone if that’s not possible. If you call someone out publicly on Facebook or elsewhere, they’re likely to feel attacked or shamed, and you won’t have a chance to hear why they wanted to share a particular piece of content. Understanding where someone is coming from and why they shared or posted what they did is essential, Kent and Caulfield say.

“With our volunteers [we] preach as much empathy as possible,” Kent said.

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OK, use this method on Trump then.
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Young people in UK abandon TV news ‘almost entirely’ • The Guardian

Jim Waterson:

»

While the average person aged 65 and over watches 33 minutes of TV news a day, this falls to just two minutes among people aged 16-24, according the media regulator’s annual news consumption report.

The decline has been driven by audiences moving away from traditional live broadcast channels, where they might watch a popular drama and leave the channel on during the evening news bulletin, towards watching catchup content from streaming services.

The shift could have major implications for British politics, given services such as Netflix do not provide any news. Political parties have traditionally considered the BBC’s 10pm news bulletin to be their most important outlet for getting their message across to large swaths of the public, which in turn can shape policies being proposed and how they are presented.

TV news is still the main way that the British public learn about current affairs, however, in part because older viewers have remained loyal to traditional services.

Ofcom’s research also suggests that people are increasingly willing to wade into online arguments about news. “There is evidence that UK adults are consuming news more actively via social media. For example, those who access news shared by news organisations, trending news or news stories from friends and family or other people they follow via Facebook or Twitter are more likely to make comments on the new posts they see compared to the previous year.”

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Not seeing TV news is arguably a bonus in the US, but in the UK – where news channels are bound by impartiality regulation – it’s probably better than news outlets.
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What is Microsoft doing with Cortana? • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

After some big changes to Microsoft’s Windows division, former Windows chief Terry Myerson departed the company in the summer last year and Cortana boss Javier Soltero followed a few months later. Microsoft is now refocusing Cortana and stripping back its direct integration in Windows 10 and the Xbox One. Microsoft has a new vision for Cortana, involving conversational interactions for workers who are organizing their days.

Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s new Cortana boss, outlined the new vision earlier this year in an interview with The Verge. “I think one of the challenges we’ve had over the last couple of years is finding those places where Microsoft can really add a lot of value,” explained Shuman. “I think that what we’ve been really working on over the last year is how we can better embed Cortana across Microsoft 365 experiences and really delight users, especially those users who really are on board, so we have to understand their calendar, their tasks, their work documents, their interfacing with their close collaborators.”

This means Cortana is going to be far more conversational when answering queries by voice or text. We’ve seen parts of this through Microsoft’s bot ambitions and Skype integration for Cortana. The company is now repositioning Cortana as a skill that can run anywhere. Microsoft has also moved the Cortana team out of its AI research division and into its Experiences and Devices team. This should hopefully mean we’ll start to see Cortana show up in products that make sense, like Microsoft’s Surface Headphones.

«

I think Cortana is going to show up in the back of the car heading up to the mountains for a “long walk”. At least the voice-operated part. Something under the radar for organising calendars etc? Sure, but who cares about the name. It doesn’t even need an interface.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,118: Facebook gets around the FTC, how Russia split search, Plex and the pirates, NYT goes for.. blockchain?, and more


Doordash says it’s going to change its tipping policy so that workers receive them. Radical, huh? CC-licensed photo by Jerzy Durczak on Flickr.

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

A selection of 10 links for you. A tipping point? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Plex makes piracy just another streaming service • The Verge

Bijan Stephen:

»

Because of the convoluted nature of licensing agreements and the vagaries of corporate competition, what’s on Netflix is substantively different than what’s available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. Different still are the network-specific streamers, like the up-and-comers HBO Max and Disney+, and the more niche offerings, like Shudder, Kanopy, Mubi, and Criterion. All of them have the same aim, which is to lock up intellectual property to keep people streaming. It’s a lot!

Plex, a company that sells media server software, has found itself in the strange position of being the answer to that problem. It has two components: the piece of software that organizes media on your computer’s hard drive and the client-side program that lets you and your friends and family stream that content from wherever you are on just about any device. It’s clean. It’s beautiful. It is extraordinarily simple to use. It looks a little like Netflix. Except, all of the content is custom, tailored by the person running the server. In the company’s words, both pieces of its software are “the key to personal media bliss.”

What Plex doesn’t say, however, is how that bliss is achieved. Because what’s on Plex servers is populated by people, most of the commercial content you’d find there is probably pirated. And this is the main tension of using Plex: while the software itself is explicitly legal, the media that populates its customer-run servers is not — at least the stuff protected by copyright law. The company, of course, doesn’t condone this particular use of its software.

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Everything old is new again: piracy used to be a huge problem, then it went away (more or less). The fragmentation of content to multiple services is creating the opportunity for piracy.
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FTC hits Facebook with $5bn fine and new privacy checks • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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In the agreement filed today, the FTC alleges that Facebook violated the law by failing to protect data from third parties, serving ads through the use of phone numbers provided for security, and lying to users that its facial recognition software was turned off by default. In order to settle those charges, Facebook will pay $5 billion — the second-largest fine ever levied by the FTC — and agree to a series of new restrictions on its business.

Aside from the multibillion-dollar fine, Facebook will be required to conduct a privacy review of every new product or service that it develops, and these reviews must be submitted to the CEO and a third-party assessor every quarter. As it directly relates to Cambridge Analytica, Facebook will now be required to obtain purpose and use certifications from apps and third-party developers that want to use Facebook user data. However, there are no limits on what data access the company can authorize to those groups once the disclosure is made.

“The Order imposes a privacy regime that includes a new corporate governance structure, with corporate and individual accountability and more rigorous compliance monitoring,” the three supporting FTC commissioners wrote in a statement. “This approach dramatically increases the likelihood that Facebook will be compliant with the Order; if there are any deviations, they likely will be detected and remedied quickly.”

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Apparently the 3-2 vote was on party lines – Republicans 3, Democrats 2. It’s absurdly weak. The FTC writing of it naturally suggests that it is going to tamp down everything that Facebook wants to do. It won’t. Rohit Chopra, one of the FTC commissioners (who voted against) has a Twitter thread explaining why he thinks it’s a bad settlement.
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AI is supercharging the creation of maps around the world • Facebook

Xiaoming Gao, Christopher Klaiber, Drishtie Patel and Jeff Underwood:

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For more than 10 years, volunteers with the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project have worked to address that gap by meticulously adding data on the ground and reviewing public satellite images by hand and annotating features like roads, highways, and bridges. It’s a painstaking manual task. But, thanks to AI, there is now an easier way to cover more areas in less time.

With assistance from Map With AI (a new service that Facebook AI researchers and engineers created) a team of Facebook mappers has recently cataloged all the missing roads in Thailand and more than 90% of missing roads in Indonesia. Map With AI enabled them to map more than 300,000 miles of roads in Thailand in only 18 months, going from a road network that covered 280,000 miles before they began to 600,000 miles after. Doing it the traditional way — without AI — would have taken another three to five years, estimates Xiaoming Gao, a Facebook research scientist who helped lead the project.

“We were really excited about this achievement because it has proven Map With AI works at a large scale,” Gao says.

Starting today, anyone will be able to use the Map With AI service, which includes access to AI-generated road mappings in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda, with more countries rolling out over time. As part of Map With AI, Facebook is releasing our AI-powered mapping tool, called RapiD, to the OSM community.

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This, at least, is good. Though it’s a repetition of what undoubtedly already exists at Google and other mapping companies. The benefit is that this is open data.
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Border Patrol admits being member of controversial Facebook group • CNNPolitics

Geneva Sands and Kate Sullivan:

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US Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said on Wednesday that she was a member of a secret Facebook group that reportedly contains vulgar and offensive posts, adding that she told internal investigators once she realized her involvement.

“Not only did I self-report, I turned my entire Facebook account over,” she said before a House Appropriations subcommittee. “I gave them my log-in and my password.”

Provost denied knowing of the “highly offensive and absolutely unacceptable posts” ahead of the ProPublica investigative report that first exposed the Facebook group dubbed “I’m 10-15.” The name refers to Border Patrol code 10-15 for “aliens in custody.” Earlier this month, The Intercept reported Provost was a member of the Facebook group.

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You’re in a group but you don’t realise you’re in the group? Then again, you can be coopted into a group without your knowledge, or can join one when it’s relatively peaceful (Provost says she was invited to join it in 2017, when it may have been very different in character) and then find it change under you. The problem, fundamentally, is Facebook.
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Facebook’s Libra currency spawns a wave of fakes, including on Facebook itself • The Washington Post

Drew Harwell, Tony Romm and Cat Zakrzewski:

»

A wave of fakes purporting to sell or represent Facebook’s not-yet-available Libra currency have swept onto the social-media giant’s platforms, highlighting how the tech firm is struggling to rebuild trust and fight the fraud likely to surround the new financial system.

Roughly a dozen fake accounts, pages and groups scattered across Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram present themselves as official hubs for the digital currency, in some cases offering to sell Libra at a discount if viewers visit potentially fraudulent, third-party websites.

A number of fake Facebook and Instagram accounts were removed Monday after The Washington Post alerted Facebook to their spread.

The spread of fakes — and Facebook’s inability to detect them on its own — could undermine Facebook-backed efforts to inspire confidence and satisfy the regulators now scrutinizing the newly proposed global currency. Many of the fakes included Facebook’s logo, photos of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg or Libra’s official marketing imagery.

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Totally predictable, and depressing. Everything can be copied.
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How Russian antitrust enforcers defeated Google’s monopoly • Matt Stoller’s Substack

Matt Stoller:

»

In Russia, the anti-monopoly case played out quite differently [from that in Europe on the tying of Android to mobile default search for Google]. The Russians were not intimidated by American technology companies, not only because of residual bitterness over the end of the Cold War and a hostile geopolitical relationship with America, but because they had Yandex. Russian engineers and scientists were just as innovative as those in Silicon Valley, and they had their own search giant to prove it.

The FAS [Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service] was also hostile to Google because of a very basic problem that the company brought upon itself. Google did not take the FAS as seriously as it should have, under the assumption the FAS would rule for Yandex for protectionist reasons. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, to believe a Russian government agency would find for a Russian company. But Google never acknowledged Yandex had a serious argument, even though a respected economic consulting firm, the European arm of Charles River Associates, had done the economic analysis underpinning Yandex’s complaint.

The Russians ruled in 2015, and again in late 2016, roughly a year and a half after the start of the case and far faster than that of the EU. In 2017, Google settled, agreeing to present a “choice screen” to all Android phone users letting the user pick in a neutral manner which search engine to use. Immediately upon implementing the choice screen, Yandex recaptured a chunk of market share from Google. And its market share then stabilized.

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New York Times to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain tech • The Block

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The New York Times Company has announced a new project, aiming to fight fake news using IBM’s blockchain technology.

Initiated by the publisher’s research and development team, “The News Provenance Project,” will first focus on photojournalism as photos can be “easily manipulated” and can have “serious” effects, according to a blog post published Tuesday.

The first phase of the project will run through late 2019 to design a proof-of-concept (PoC) using Hyperledger Fabric, a permissioned and private blockchain network, in collaboration with IBM Garage. The PoC aims to provide readers with a way to determine the source of a photo or whether it had been edited after it was published, per the blog post.

After its learnings from the first phase, The New York Times said it will later explore the technology for journalism as a whole. The publisher has also invited other news organizations to join its initiative.

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This is mildly bonkers. And unnecessary.
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After outcry, DoorDash promises workers will get 100% of tips • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

A recent New York Times story explained how the DoorDash’s current system works:

»

For my first order, the guarantee was $6.85 and the customer, a woman in Boerum Hill who answered the door in a colorful bathrobe, tipped $3 via the app. But I still received only $6.85. If the woman in the bathrobe had tipped zero, DoorDash would have paid me the whole $6.85. Because she tipped $3, DoorDash kicked in only $3.85. She was saving DoorDash $3, not tipping me.

«

Now Xu says DoorDash is going to revamp its pay system to ensure that every dollar of tip goes to drivers. “We’ll have specific details in the coming days,” he tweeted.

There’s no guarantee that the new formula will be better for workers. After Instacart changed its formula earlier this year, some shoppers complained that their average compensation per job fell as a result. Ultimately, the specific compensation formula probably matters less than how much DoorDash chooses to pay its workers, on average.

DoorDash isn’t the only company to face a backlash over this issue. Instacart was featured alongside DoorDash in a February piece by NBC’s Olivia Solon. Instacart changed its policy days later, while it took months of additional criticism from The New York Times and others before DoorDash changed its approach.

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The idea that these companies and particularly their bosses are Really Nice People is a myth. They’re rapacious and they’ll screw anyone, including their own workers, in the pursuit of getting rich. And they won’t listen to anyone, or their ideas about fairness or equality. They’re utterly amoral.
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The Internet that wasn’t – Net.Wars by Wendy Grossman • Cybersalon

:

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This week on Twitter, writer and Georgia Tech professor Ian Bogost asked this: “There’s a belief that the internet was once great but then we ruined it, but I’m struggling to remember the era of incontrovertible greatness. Lots of arguing from the start. Software piracy. Barnfuls of pornography. Why is the fall from grace story so persistent and credible?”

My reply: “Mostly because most of the people who are all nostalgic either weren’t there, have bad memories, or were comfortable with it. Flaming has existed in every online medium that’s ever been invented. The big difference: GAFA [Google Amazon Facebook Apple] weren’t profiting from it.”

Let’s expand on that here. Not only was there never a period of peace and tranquility on the Internet, there was never a period of peace and tranquility on the older, smaller, more contained systems that proliferated in the period when you had to dial up and wait through the modems’ mating calls. I only got online in 1991, but those 1980s systems – primarily CIX (still going), the WELL (still going), and CompuServe (bought by AOL) – hosted myriad “flame wars”. The small CompuServe UK journalism forum I co-managed had to repeatedly eject a highly abusive real-life Fleet Street photographer who obsessively returned with new name, same behavior. CompuServe finally blocked his credit card, an option unavailable to pay-with-data TWIFYS (Twitter-WhatsApp-Instagram-Facebook-YouTube-Snapchat). The only real answer to containing abuse and abusers was and is human moderators.

The quick-trigger abuse endemic on Twitter has persisted since the beginning, as Sara Kiesler and Lee Sproull documented in their 1992 book, Connections, based on years of studies of mailing lists within large organizations.

«

This is a wonderful piece, and so true. “Anyone under 35 probably wasn’t there.”
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Rumor: Samsung may drop initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets • SamMobile

“Adnan F”:

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Rumour has it that Samsung has decided to drop the initial Galaxy Fold launch for smaller markets. The company was previously testing the latest firmware for all markets where the Galaxy Fold was going to be released. It suggested that Samsung would make the device available in quite a few markets at the same time. That would have certainly made sense.

Fans have already been made to wait for a long time. They were really looking forward to the company’s foldable smartphone but have been unable to even get their hands on a demo unit. However, it’s possible that Samsung may only launch the Galaxy Fold in a limited number of markets at first.

Some of the markets where firmware testing has been scaled back include countries like Italy and the Netherlands. The latest firmware is currently being tested for major markets like the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and India (where we recently spotted the Galaxy Fold being tested out in the wild). This is different to how Samsung normally tests firmware for new flagship devices. For example, the latest Galaxy Note 10 firmware is being tested across all markets. This suggests that there won’t be any unnecessary launch delays in some markets.

«

“Fans have already been made to wait for a long time”?? It’s been three months, tops. I think the Note will come out first.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.1,117: Facebook’s fake growth, US DOJ get antitrust-y, browser can load web pages!, the games disruption, and more


Three pieces of information are enough to uniquely identify 81% of Americans from an “anonymised” database. CC-licensed photo by Corey Seeman on Flickr.

You can send this link to your friends if they want to get each day’s Start Up post by email. They’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 10 links for you. Mad dogs and Englishmen. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Ponzi scheme • Aaron Greenspan

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Zuckerberg’s version [of a Ponzi scheme] is slightly different, but only slightly: old users leave after getting bored, disgusted and distrustful, and new users come in to replace them. Except that as Sam Lessin told us, the “new users” part of the equation was already getting to be a problem in 2012. To balance it out and keep “growth” on the rise, all Facebook had to do was turn a blind eye. And did it ever.

In Singer v. Facebook, Inc.—a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California alleging that Facebook has been telling advertisers that it can “reach” more people than actually exist in basically every major metropolitan area—the plaintiffs quote former Facebook employees, understandably identified only as Confidential Witnesses, as stating that Facebook’s “Potential Reach” statistic was a “made-up PR number” and “fluff.” Also, that “those who were responsible for ensuring the accuracy ‘did not give a shit.'” Another individual, “a former Operations Contractor with Facebook, stated that Facebook was not concerned with stopping duplicate or fake accounts.”

That’s probably because according to its last investor slide deck and basic subtraction, Facebook is not growing anymore in the United States, with zero million new accounts in Q1 2019, and only four million new accounts since Q1 2017. That leaves the rest of the world, where Facebook is growing fastest “in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines,” according to Facebook CFO David Wehner. Wehner didn’t mention the fine print on page 18 of the slide deck, which highlights the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam as countries where there are “meaningfully higher” percentages of, and “episodic spikes” in, fake accounts. In other words, Facebook is growing the fastest in the locations worldwide where one finds the most fraud. In other other words, Facebook isn’t growing anymore at all—it’s shrinking. Even India, Indonesia and the Philippines don’t register as many searches for Facebook as they used to. Many of the “new” users on Instagram are actually old users from the core platform looking to escape the deluge of fakery.

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Before you say “who is this Greenspan guy anyway?” – he’s the person on whose computer Zuckerberg wrote the original code for thefacebook.com. So he’s known Zuck a little while.
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Facebook deceived users about the way it used phone numbers, facial recognition, FTC to allege in complaint • The Washington Post

Tony Romm:

»

The Federal Trade Commission plans to allege that Facebook misled users’ about its handling of their phone numbers as part of a wide-ranging complaint that accompanies a settlement ending the government’s privacy probe, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In the complaint, which has not yet been released, federal regulators take issue with Facebook’s earlier implementation of a security feature called two-factor authentication. It allows users to request one-time password, sent by text message, each time they log onto the social-networking site.

But some advertisers managed to target Facebook users who uploaded those contact details, perhaps without the full knowledge of those who provided them, the two sources said. The misuse of the phone numbers was first identified in media reports and by academics this year.

The FTC also plans to allege that Facebook had provided insufficient information to users — roughly 30 million — about their ability to turn off a tool that would identify and offer tag suggestions for photos, the sources added.

«

The switcheroo of getting people to supply their phone number, and then using that for advertising – that’s doubly crap: it discourages people who hear about it from securing their account (and perhaps securing it on other platforms because they fear the same), and it gives advertisers access to people that the people haven’t consented to.

I wonder if there’s a GDPR version of that – though it’s not clear whether Facebook did this in Europe.
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Apple dominates App Store search results, thwarting competitors • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

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Audiobooks.com, an RBmedia company, largely held the No. 1 ranking in “audiobooks” searches in the App Store for nearly two years. Then last September it was unseated by Apple Books. The Apple app had only recently begun marketing audiobooks directly for the first time.

“It was literally overnight,” said Ian Small, Audiobooks.com’s general manager. He said the change triggered a 25% decline in Audiobooks.com’s daily app downloads. The app at the time had 35,000 customer reviews and a 4.8 on the App Store’s 5-star ranking. The preinstalled Apple Books app, with no reviews or ratings, has since ranked No. 1 in searches for “audiobooks.” It also ranks first in searches for “books” and “reader.”

Apple says the No. 1 position for Books in a “books” search is reasonable, since it is an exact name match. The app was also first for “audiobooks” because of “user behavior data” and the inclusion of “audiobooks” as a keyword associated with the app, a spokesman said.

Apple’s role as both the creator of the App Store’s search engine and the beneficiary of its results has rankled developers. They contend Apple is essentially pinning its apps No. 1, compelling anyone seeking alternatives to consider Apple apps first. Such a tactic would help preserve loyalty to Apple’s mobile operating system—a key to future iPhone sales—and encourage the use of revenue-generating apps such as Apple TV and News, developers say.

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I’d be surprised if Apple’s apps didn’t do well in searches for music or books. The WSJ graphic on this is pretty impenetrable. Quite what the algorithm is, nobody knows.
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Justice Department announces broad antitrust review of Big Tech • The Verge

Makena Kelly:

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“Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Antitrust Division. “The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

The investigation will address broad concerns over whether Big Tech is stifling competition, the Wall St Journal said, and will be separate from the department’s probes of Google and Apple that were reported earlier this summer that are intended to take a closer look at individual potential violations. The review reported today will look into search engines, social media platforms, and retail, but not focus on any individual company or practice.

In a press release, the Justice Department said the review “will consider the widespread concerns that consumers, businesses, and entrepreneurs have expressed about search, social media, and some retail services online.” The Department declined further comment beyond the release.

At Attorney General Barr’s confirmation hearing this past January, he told senators that he would like to see the Justice Department take a harder look at whether companies like Google and Amazon were abusing their market dominance.

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The press release is super-vague. If it were any more vague it would be written in white text on a white background.
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You’re very easy to track down, even when your data has been anonymized • MIT Technology Review

Charlotte Jee:

»

Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Louvain have created a machine-learning model that estimates exactly how easy individuals are to reidentify from an anonymized data set. You can check your own score by entering your zip code, gender, and date of birth.

On average, in the US, using those three records, you could be correctly located in an “anonymized” database 81% of the time. Given 15 demographic attributes of someone living in Massachusetts, there’s a 99.98% chance you could find that person in any anonymized database.

“As the information piles up, the chances it isn’t you decrease very quickly,” says Yves-Alexandre de Montjoye, a researcher at Imperial College London and one of the study’s authors.

The tool was created by assembling a database of 210 different data sets from five sources, including the US Census. The researchers fed this data into a machine-learning model, which learned which combinations are more nearly unique and which are less so, and then assigns the probability of correct identification.

This isn’t the first study to show how easy it is to track down individuals from anonymized databases. A paper back in 2007 showed that just a few movie ratings on Netflix can identify a person as easily as a Social Security number, for example. However, it shows just how far current anonymization practices have fallen behind our ability to break them.

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Browsers are pretty good at loading pages, it turns out • Carter Sande

»

MDN is a documentation/tutorial website run by the creators of Firefox. They basically wrote the book on how to make websites. So when they created a beta version of their site that used client-side navigation, I asked them why, and one of their developers responded that it was to load pages more quickly. With the normal hyperlink tag, the browser has to download the HTML code for the whole page, but if you write the behaviour yourself in JavaScript, you can make sure to only download the part of the new page that’s different from the old one. I’m usually lucky enough to have a pretty fast Internet connection, so I never really noticed the difference.

But I got the chance to experience the benefits of client-side navigation on a recent trip to Canada… I fired up both versions of MDN on my phone, and clicked a link on each one to see how much faster the JavaScript version would be:

Hang on a second! The JavaScript version wasn’t faster, it was way slower! What gives?

It turns out that browsers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves that help them put pages on the screen more quickly. A big one we’re seeing here is called progressive rendering: browsers download the top part of the page first, then show it on the screen while the rest of the page finishes downloading. The JavaScript version has to wait for the entire JSON response to come back before it can show anything on the screen, so it feels slower.

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In other words: forget those Javascript people. They’re just complicating things.
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The video game industry can’t go on like this • Kotaku

Joshua Rivera:

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Ubisoft is an exception, regularly releasing entries in single-player game franchises like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. But it buttresses them with aggressive microtransactions and extensive season pass plans. (And the occasional diversion like Trials Rising and South Park: The Fractured But Whole.) The big-budget single-player experience is now almost entirely the domain of first-party studios making marquee games for console manufacturers, which bankroll games like Spider-Man and God of War. The economics of first-party exclusives are totally different—they’re less about making money by themselves and more about drawing players into the console’s ecosystem.

This is worth considering, because as big publishers prioritize live, service-oriented games, the number of games on their schedules has dropped. If you look at the Wikipedia listings for EA, Ubisoft, and Activision games released by year, you’ll get a stark—if unscientific—picture of how each big publisher’s release slate has thinned out in the last five years, relying on recurring cash cows like sports games and annualized franchises and little else. In 2008, those three publishers released 98 games; in 2018 they released just 28, not including expansions.

In short, the single-player game was not sustainable. So why should we think the current model is?

«

Also: how super-expensive it is to make a big video game. The top end is getting eaten from below by simpler games which do all that people want; a classic “disruptive innovation” change, where the cheap games don’t have all the bells and whistles, but people don’t want bells and whistles.
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Barr revives debate over ‘warrant-proof’ encryption • WSJ

Dustin Volz:

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While [US Attorney General William] Barr offered examples in which he said encryption thwarted criminal investigations, he didn’t provide fresh statistics about the extent of the problem. The FBI suffered a setback last year when it revealed it had accidentally inflated public statistics about the number of encrypted devices investigators were unable to break open, and officials haven’t provided an updated metric since then.

Mr. Barr sought to convince technology companies to work toward a compromise with law-enforcement agencies, lest they are forced to deal with hastily passed laws in the wake of a crisis. “Given the frequency with which these situations are now arising, it is only a matter of time before a sensational case crystallizes the issue for the public,” Mr. Barr said.

The National Security Council convened a deputies meeting from various federal agencies last month to consider options on how to move forward on the encryption issue, but the meeting ended without any clear resolution on how to proceed, according to people briefed on it.

A US official said Mr. Barr’s speech wasn’t aimed at outlining the path forward but reflected consensus within the Trump administration that a solution must be found to address the proliferation of too-tough-to-crack encryption. Critics contend that the FBI and contractors that specialize in bypassing encryption possess the tools to get into many devices they want to unlock.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), a longtime privacy advocate who has vocally opposed government efforts to weaken encryption, called it an “outrageous, wrongheaded and dangerous proposal.”

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No clue what to do about it, but sure something should be done about it, and picking the wrong thing to do about it: the Trump administration in a nutshell. There’s already been a “sensational case” – the San Bernadino one in 2016 – and the FBI paid an Israeli company about $1m to break into the iPhone in question, to find nothing useful. There was more, and better, data on the terrorists’ Facebook profiles.
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New York City to consider banning sale of cellphone location data • The New York Times

Jeffery Mays:

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Telecommunications firms and mobile-based apps make billions of dollars per year by selling customer location data to marketers and other businesses, offering a vast window into the whereabouts of cellphone and app users, often without their knowledge.

That practice, which has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism in recent years, is now the subject of proposed legislation in New York. If passed, it is believed that the city would become the first to ban the sale of geolocation data to third parties.

The bill, which will be introduced on Tuesday, would make it illegal for cellphone companies and mobile app developers to share location data gathered while a customer’s mobile device is within the five boroughs.

Cellphone companies and mobile apps collect detailed geolocation data of their users and then sell that information to legitimate companies such as digital marketers, roadside emergency assistance services, retail advertisers, hedge funds or — in the case of a class-action lawsuit filed against AT&T — bounty hunters.

“The average person has no idea they are vulnerable to this,” said Councilman Justin L. Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat who is introducing the bill. “We are concerned by the fact that someone can sign up for cell service and their data can wind up in the hands of five different companies.”

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Just me, or is it madness that NYC is only the first, and that this is only “proposed” legislation which, the story says, will be strongly opposed by the ad tech industry “which has a strong presence in the city”. Make their execs’ location data public, let’s see how they feel about it then.
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16in MacBook Pro rumored to launch in October • 9to5Mac

Chance Miller:

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Apple’s rumored 16in MacBook Pro could launch in October, according to a new supply chain report from the Economic Daily News. The report also says that Apple will release updated versions of the 13in MacBook Pro and Retina MacBook Air in October.

Today’s report corroborates that the 16in MacBook Pro will launch with a 3072×1920 LCD display, which is up from the 2880×1800 panel in the 15in MacBook Pro.

As for pricing, the report says that the 16in MacBook Pro will bring a “new high price for Apple notebooks.” The supply chain industry reportedly expects the laptop to start at around $3,000, with Apple positioning it between the iMac and iMac Pro as a portable option for users with pro needs.

While Apple did just refresh the MacBook Air, the update only added True Tone display technology and left things like the processor the same. A refresh in the fall could bring improved performance among other changes. For instance, Ming-Chi Kuo has said that Apple will shift to a new scissor switch keyboard in the MacBook Air this year. 

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Blimey, that really is priced for the iMac Pro brigade. Though the pro laptops always used to be; somehow they seemed to have edged down in price over the years. Now they would be jacking up again. Personally, I’ve used a 15in screen for so long that I don’t think I could live with something smaller, but maybe that’s just habit – which can be broken. Scissor switches, though. Going to love hearing Apple’s execs explaining that one, if it comes to pass.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: misbehaving HTML meant that yesterday’s pictures of the middle seats on airlines didn’t work. (Now fixed – thanks Timothy.) And the post came live an hour earlier than normal – you didn’t oversleep.

Start Up No.1,116: how Google crushed a celeb site, carbon costing air travel, waiting for smart thermostats to warm up, Korea gets hot about 5G tests, and more


Those pesky middle seats! But there turns out to be a simple solution to make them tolerable to everyone. CC-licensed photo by abdallahh on Flickr

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

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

Celebritynetworth’s statement submitted to the US House Subcommittee on Antitrust • Medium

Brian Warner set up a site called CelebrityNetWorth – and then Google noticed it:

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By 2014 we had a staff of 12 writers, developers and designers. We were thriving and even entertaining acquisition offers. At the time, I thought of our site as one of Google’s best partners and that we had limitless potential. I could never have imagined that within three very painful years CelebrityNetWorth would be brought to the brink of insolvency. And the culprit wouldn’t be shifting user tastes or a technological change. The culprit was Google.

On April 23, 2014, I received an email from a Data Researcher at Google. In subsequent calls and emails the Data Researcher explained that net worth queries were one of Google’s most consistently popular categories of search. As such, she was tasked with finding an API or dataset from our site that would help “enhance user experience at Google Search”. If we granted Google access to an API, any user who searched for a celebrity’s net worth would be shown a large box with our answer at the top of the search result page.

I asked the Data Researcher why we would ever allow this. What benefit could giving away our most valuable asset possibly create for CNW? Clearly this would cause a catastrophic drop in traffic since users would no longer need to visit our site and therefore would no longer generate ad revenue. When pressed, the Google team said it would be good exposure for our brand. What they left unsaid was that the implementation of such a scheme would have accelerated our demise. Google’s diminutive (and sometimes non-existent) attribution to original content creators means fewer clicks and eyeballs to the web. The nebulous suggestion that “exposure” would make up for this somehow demonstrates how starkly different Google’s motives are today.

On this same call I asked if we could be paid a flat fee or a royalty for providing an API. I was told they would not pay a fee and if we did not agree to give them an API they would either make one on their own or scrape one together from other sources.
I declined Google’s request to provide an API to our data.

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Things didn’t go well subsequently.
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Air travellers may have to pay carbon charge to offset emissions • The Guardian

Latifa Yedroudji:

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Passengers could choose to pay more for travel tickets, which would then be used to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Or the scheme could work on an “opt-out” basis and also be applied to trains, buses and ferries.

Ministers hope the plans will raise awareness about the effects of public transport on the environment. The extra funds could be used to spearhead eco-friendly projects such as planting trees to reduce the carbon footprint.

The government said it hoped the initiative would “drive consumer choices towards less polluting journey options”.

However, the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has launched a call for evidence on offsetting carbon emissions produced by public transport. In addition, the government has expressed concerns consumers may not trust that their payments are supporting worthwhile causes.

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This is an overdue move, but Grayling is (amazingly) correct: people will want to see a link between their payment and amelioration efforts.
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The best algorithms struggle to recognize black faces equally • Wired

Tom Simonite:

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Idemia’s algorithms don’t always see all faces equally clearly. July test results from the National Institute of Standards and Technology indicated that two of Idemia’s latest algorithms were significantly more likely to mix up black women’s faces than those of white women, or black or white men.

The NIST test challenged algorithms to verify that two photos showed the same face, similar to how a border agent would check passports. At sensitivity settings where Idemia’s algorithms falsely matched different white women’s faces at a rate of one in 10,000, it falsely matched black women’s faces about once in 1,000—10 times more frequently. A one in 10,000 false match rate is often used to evaluate facial recognition systems.

Donnie Scott, who leads the US public security division at Idemia, previously known as Morpho, says the algorithms tested by NIST have not been released commercially, and that the company checks for demographic differences during product development. He says the differing results likely came from engineers pushing their technology to get the best overall accuracy on NIST’s closely watched tests.

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Smart thermostats • AVC

Fred Wilson was sent this graph by one of his colleagues:

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I believe this is more or less a proxy for smart wifi-enabled thermostats in the US.

Those would be Nest, Honeywell Lyric, Hive thermostats and a lot of others too.

Those are pretty big jumps from 6.5% to 8.9% to 11.4% given that people don’t generally swap out thermostats unless they are doing a renovation or building a new home. Maybe there is more thermostat swapping going on outside of those “construction” moments than I would expect.

In a few years, more than 20% of homes will have heating and cooling systems that can be “managed” by software, either on-premises or, more likely, in the cloud.

That is pretty exciting.

I wonder what level of adoption is “critical mass” or “escape velocity” ?

Certainly 50% would be, maybe 25% will be.

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The straight line suggests it’s still in the early adopter phase. Anyone’s guess where the hockey stick number is.
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Samsung Galaxy S10 5G smartphone mocked by WSJ • Korea Times

Baek Byung-yeul:

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Regarding the report [by Joanna Stern testing the Galaxy S10 and others on 5G], Samsung said that there is no malfunction on the devices and they are designed to switch back to LTE network when they reach a certain temperature.

“With 5G, data is transmitted at higher quantities and speeds, which causes the processor to consume more energy. While Samsung provides a variety of thermal management technologies, the phone will switch back to 4G when the device temperature reaches a certain threshold,” a Samsung official said. “This is not new, and it is by design to minimize energy usage and optimize battery performance so consumers can stay connected.”

The company added its 5G smartphone comes with “its latest vapor chamber cooling technology and AI software that continuously optimized battery, CPU, RAM and even device temperature based on how people use their phones.”

An IT industry official here criticized the article saying it is inequitable only to blame the device.

“At a time when the 5G network coverage is still limited, the issues regarding overheating can happen, but the story is mainly focusing on making a fool of the device,” said the official, who wanted to remain anonymous.

“The overheating issue happens because there is not enough network coverage for the 5G service. We saw the same issue when 4G service was launched. When there is not enough network coverage for the latest network service, these kinds of issues always happen.”

«

There’s an equally offended, and hilarious, article at the Korea IT Times. Notice how neatly they avoid the issue of “these things get damn hot when they’re on 5G.”
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Britain delays decision on Huawei’s role in 5G networks • Reuters

Paul Sandle and Kylie MacLellan:

»

Britain’s National Security Council, chaired by outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May, discussed the issue in April and decided in principle to block Huawei from critical parts of the 5G network but give it limited access to less sensitive parts.

A final decision was supposed to have been included in a telecoms supply chain review published by Wright on Monday, but May’s resignation has stalled the process. She is due to hand over to her successor on Wednesday.

Wright said Britain could decide to ban Huawei from the 5G network completely, a move telecom operators have said would delay the roll out of services and significantly add to costs.

EE, the BT-owned market leader, launched its 5G network, which relies in part on Huawei’s equipment, in May. Vodafone has also started UK 5G services, which offer speeds around 20 times faster than 4G and a leap in capacity that will allow millions more devices to be connected.

“It is of course a possibility and remains so that the government may decide that an outright ban on Huawei equipment in the 5G network is the appropriate course of action,” Wright said.

“All that I say today is that we are not yet in a position to make a comprehensive decision about that and as soon as we are then we will.”

The opposition Labour Party’s digital spokesman Tom Watson said a ban on Huawei products could “significantly delay the roll out of 5G technology that will underpin tomorrow’s economy”.

«

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Airlines are finally fixing the middle seat • Fast Company

Mark Wilson:

»

Designed for commuter flights of only a few hours max, the S1 moves the middle seat a few inches lower than, and back from, the aisle and window seat. It also widens the seat by about three inches. This allows your arms, shoulders, thighs, and elbows to spread just a bit more than they otherwise could, without giving the seat more legroom or reducing a plane’s seating capacity (which translates to profit margins for airlines).

“We have discovered that what looks like a small stagger actually makes a huge difference. The trick is to actually sit in the seat. In fact our main sales tool is to ship seats to airlines so they can sit in them,” says Molon Labe founder Hank Scott. “I have watched this several times—airline executives see the seat, nod their head and then say they get it. Then we ask them to actually sit down, next to a big fella like our head sales guy Thomas [6-foot-6, 250 pounds]. Within a few seconds they [really] get it—they stop being an airline executive and switch into passenger modes.”


[Photo: courtesy Molon Labe Seating]

The seat pairs this staggering effect with a two-level armrest design to eliminate the inevitable elbow fights that happen when six arms battle over four armrests. This approach works better in visuals than explained, but basically, the aisle and window passengers end up using the front ledge of the rest, and the middle passenger uses the rear portion.

«

Why not for long-haul flights? Seems like it would make it much nicer for the window seat to get in and out too.
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Leaked documents reveal Huawei’s secret operations to build North Korea’s wireless network • Washington Post

Ellen Nakashima, Gerry Shih and John Hudson:

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Huawei Technologies, the Chinese tech giant embroiled in President Trump’s trade war with China and blacklisted as a national security threat, secretly helped the North Korean government build and maintain the country’s commercial wireless network, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post and people familiar with the arrangement.

Huawei partnered with a Chinese state-owned firm, Panda International Information Technology Co., on a variety of projects there spanning at least eight years, according to past work orders, contracts and detailed spreadsheets taken from a database that charts the company’s telecom operations worldwide. The arrangement made it difficult to discern Huawei’s involvement.

The spreadsheets were provided to The Post by a former Huawei employee who considered the information to be of public interest. The former employee spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of retribution. Two additional sets of documents were shared by others with a desire to see the material made public. They also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Taken together, the revelations raise questions about whether Huawei, which has used American technology in its components, violated US export controls to furnish equipment to North Korea…

«

Shocking! From… 2008. I’ve no doubt that Huawei did this; it did much the same with Iran more recently. John Hudson, one of the co-authors, has a long Twitter thread about the documents. Still feels like ancient history. More to the point: have the sanctions against North Korea had any effect in the past three years? Are they even in place?
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Equifax to pay up to $700m in data breach settlement • NPR

Avie Schneider and Chris Arnold:

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Equifax will pay up to $700m in fines and monetary relief to consumers over a 2017 data breach at the credit reporting bureau that affected nearly 150m people.

The proposed settlement, which is subject to approval by a federal court, was announced Monday by the company, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The consumer data exposed in the breach included Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses and, in some cases, driver’s license numbers.

CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger said the settlement includes $425m to cover the “time and money [people affected by the breach] spent to protect themselves from potential threats of identity theft or addressing incidents of identity theft as a result of the breach.”

Equifax also agreed to pay $175m to the states and $100m to the CFPB in civil penalties.

And, starting in January, Equifax “will provide all US consumers with six free credit reports each year for seven years,” the FTC said. That’s in addition to the free annual credit reports that Equifax, and the two other nationwide credit reporting agencies — Experian and TransUnion — currently provide.

«

But the problem is that the “free” will turn into “paid for”, and so Equifax wins for being crap.
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£50bn question: do we want faster trains or limitless clean energy? • The Guardian

Andrew Steele:

»

Among a raft of new infrastructure spending announced by the UK government in the wake of last week’s spending review, it was revealed that the cost estimates for the HS2 high-speed train line had been revised significantly upward. According to the new projections, HS2 will be completed in 2033 at a total cost of £42.6bn for construction and £7.5bn for trains – a total of just over £50bn.

What is immediately striking about this figure is that it’s about the same as estimates of how much it will cost to develop nuclear fusion to the point at which it could supply affordable electricity to the grid.

Fusion power has the potential to revolutionise the entire world’s energy production. It could dramatically reduce the world’s carbon emissions (a fusion reactor emits no carbon dioxide), provide energy independence to any nation with access to a coastline (since there is millions of years’ worth of fusion fuel in the world’s oceans), and do all this with no danger of meltdown or long-lived radioactive waste.

Alternatively, we could use our £50bn to shave 35 minutes off the journey time between London and Birmingham.

«

The terrifying thing about this is that Steele wrote this in 2013, when the HS2 budget had just gone up by £10bn. Over the weekend it emerged that it will go up by another £30bn. That’s a lot of foregone fusion – which could, who knows, make us a world leader.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.+++Google-celebrity-networth-crushed-start-up-1116

Start Up No.1,115: FT’s lost pages, less dark matter, FaceApp and privacy, the iPad future?, and more


Tinder doesn’t love paying 30% to Google – so it’s bypassing Google Play. But can it do it to Apple’s App Store? CC-licensed photo by Jeremy Bank on Flickr.

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

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

Tinder bypasses Google Play, joining revolt against App Store fee • Bloomberg

Olivia Carville:

»

Tinder joined a growing backlash against app store taxes by bypassing Google Play in a move that could shake up the billion-dollar industry dominated by Google and Apple Inc.

The online dating site launched a new default payment process that skips Google Play and forces users to enter their credit card details straight into Tinder’s app, according to new research by Macquarie analyst Ben Schachter. Once a user has entered their payment information, the app not only remembers it, but also removes the choice to swap back to Google Play for future purchases, he wrote.

“This is a huge difference,” Schachter said in an interview. “It’s an incredibly high-margin business for Google bringing in billions of dollars,” he said.

The shares of Tinder’s parent company, Match Group Inc., spiked 5% when Schachter’s note was published on Thursday. Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. were little changed…

…Match declined to answer questions about whether the company was also investigating bypassing Apple’s App Store. Match is expected to discuss the payment flow change with analysts and investors during its next earnings call on Aug. 6.

«

Haven’t people always been able to bypass Google’s app store fees? It’s just that getting them to pay in the app is more convenient for them, as it’s all entered there. Bypassing Apple is much harder, and a hassle for the customer.
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404 • FT.com

:

»

Why wasn’t this page found?

We asked some leading economists.

Stagflation: The cost of pages rose drastically, while the page production rate slowed down.

General economics: There was no market for it.

Liquidity traps: We injected some extra money into the technology team but there was little or no interest so they simply kept it, thus failing to stimulate the page economy.

Pareto inefficiency: There exists another page that will make everyone better off without making anyone worse off.

Supply and demand: Demand increased and a shortage occurred.

Classical economics: There is no such page. We are not going to interfere.

Keynesian economics: Aggregate demand for this page did not necessarily equal the productive capacity of the website.

Malthusianism: Unchecked, exponential page growth outstripped the pixel supply. There was a catastrophe, and now the population is at a lower, more sustainable level.

«

And there are many more. The FT’s 404 page now rules the internet.
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If this type of dark matter existed, people would be dying of unexplained ‘gunshot’ wounds • Science

Juanita Bawagan:

»

Dark matter makes up about 85% of the mass of the universe, but the substance itself remains a mystery. One theory posits that it consists of weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs). These particles would be abundant, but so shy about interacting with ordinary matter that only very sensitive detectors would have a crack at catching them. So far, they’ve evaded detection in large tanks of liquid xenon and argon; kept in underground laboratories, these tanks would be able to sense the signals from WIMPs without interference from sources such as cosmic rays.

A less mainstream dark matter candidate, known as macros, would form heavier particles. While macros would be much rarer than WIMPs, any collisions with ordinary matter would be violent, leaving an obvious trace. The new study explores what those traces might look like if the macros hit people.

Glenn Starkman and Jagjit Singh Sidhu, theoretical physicists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, were originally searching for traces of macros in granite slabs when a colleague made a suggestion. “Why can’t you just use humans as a detector?” they recall Robert Scherrer, a co-author and theoretical physicist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville saying. “The energies you’re talking about, these things would probably at best maim a person, at worst kill a person.”

The team forged ahead with the idea and modeled macros that would have a similar effect to a fatal shot from a .22 caliber rifle. Such particles would be minuscule, but very heavy, and thus release the same amount of energy as a bullet as it passes through a person.

«

Hoo..ray?
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FaceApp reveals huge holes in today’s privacy laws • The Atlantic

Tiffany C. Li:

»

Regardless of origin, tech companies need to do better to protect the privacy of their consumers. Part of this is simply making users more aware of how data are being used. This is the rationale behind privacy policies. However, many users don’t read those policies. Developers need to go further and build actual privacy protections into their apps. These can include notifications on how data (or photos) are being used, clear internal policies on data retention and deletion, and easy workflows for users to request data correction and deletion. Additionally, app providers and platforms such as Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook should build in more safeguards for third-party apps.

But asking tech companies to make a few fixes will not be enough to solve the larger systemic problem, which is simply that our society hasn’t figured out how to deal with privacy in a way that actually protects individuals. The way we conceptualize privacy—by focusing, for instance, on the point at which a user decides to enter personal data into a website—is inadequate for the realities of today’s technology. Data are being collected all the time, often in ways that are all but impossible for consumers to know about. You cannot expect every traffic camera to include a privacy policy. Meanwhile, data sets are often sold, bought, aggregated, and transformed by third-party data brokers in ways unimaginable to consumers.

«

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Does Russia want more than your old face? • The New York Times

Kara Swisher:

»

Another interesting idea is the possible emergence of “sovereign clouds,” storage limited to a specific group of users, that would create strong borders of digital participation, not just among and between countries but also among and between companies.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of more tech fences, because they feel like a backtracking of the core idea of open global networks, which have transformed the world and created huge wealth and societal transformation.

Of course, despite the focus on Russia’s FaceApp, the real game afoot, as most here at the forum agreed, is the race between the United States and China for global tech dominance. That’s been most clear in the efforts by American officials to throttle back the Chinese tech-giant Huawei from being the one to build next-generation 5G cellphone networks across the world.

That theme was one of the overall points made by Adm. Philip Davidson, head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, in a talk titled “Military Competition with China: Maintaining America’s Edge.” The admiral noted that keeping up is a matter of national security, as China could surpass American capabilities in the region by 2050, especially technologically.

«

2050? That’s a pretty pessimistic view of China’s capabilities, unless the admiral was using the 24-hour clock, in which case carry on.
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My frantic life as a cab-dodging, tip-chasing food app deliveryman • The New York Times

Andy Newman:

»

The riders, once you’re tuned in to them, are everywhere, gliding by stoically, usually on electric bikes, wearing their precious cargo on their backs: the silent swarm of tens of thousands of workers for apps like Seamless and GrubHub and Uber Eats and Caviar and DoorDash and Postmates, crisscrossing the city to gratify New Yorkers’ insatiable need for burgers and pad thai and chicken tikka masala delivered in minutes.

For a few days this spring, I was one of them. Not a good one, but a deliveryman nevertheless. I learned up close how the high-tech era of on-demand everything is transforming some of the lowest-tech, lowest-status, low-wage occupations — creating both new opportunities and new forms of exploitation.

The riders are the street-level manifestation of an overturned industry, as restaurants are forced to become e-commerce businesses, outsourcing delivery to the apps who outsource it to a fleet of freelancers.

Mindless as the job may seem, it is often like a game of real-life speed chess played across the treacherous grid of the city, as riders juggle orders from competing apps and scramble for elusive bonuses.

And there are risks. Nearly a third of delivery cyclists missed work because of on-the-job injuries last year, one survey found, and at least four delivery riders or bike messengers have been killed in crashes with cars this year. Riders on electric bikes face fines and confiscation, though that may change.

«

It’s a good piece, though it isn’t that dissimilar from the people who used to be motorbike couriers in London – and who still are. It’s hardly a secure profession, in any sense.
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Apple: no Macintosh forks. But the iPad… • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

»

another question emerges: By letting PC-like features emanate from the bowels of iPadOS, has Apple decided that the more PC-like iPads ought to openly compete with the Mac? Owing to Catalyst, Macs will get more — and more interesting — apps from the iOS world. And iPads present and future will have a dual personality: As “pure” tablets that provide an enriched touch interface, and as laptop-like alternatives, especially if keyboards and pointing devices keep maturing.

After arguing the two sides of the “to Axx or not to Axx” case, I think a simpler Mac evolution — no forks, stay the course with x86 processors — is the likely future.

Speaking of forks, yes, there clearly is one in the iOS world. In contrast to last week’s putative dual hardware and OS Mac transition, the fork I’m speaking of is a software-only divergence: As iPadOS lets iPads gain more use cases, especially in the realm of productivity, iPhones and their immensely larger number of devices will stay in the mainstream of iOS development. Undoubtedly, there will be unanticipated complications in some iPad uses, but the scheme feels more natural than last week’s convoluted formula.

«

Gassée’s argument is that Apple won’t introduce ARM processors in its laptop line because that would create a dichotomy in its products – some would be Intel, some would be ARM. (He’d argued the opposing point, that Apple would fork them, last week. Cakeism!) But that overlooks the fact that that’s what happened back in 2005, when Apple made the reverse shift (from RISC chips made by Motorola) to Intel. That wasn’t instantaneous either.

But Apple could leave the desktop (or pro desktops) as Intel, for the software, and power lower-end devices with ARM chips for the battery life. That seems the most likely scenario.
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Apple’s Touch Bar doesn’t have to be so terrible • Gizmodo

Alex Cranz:

»

Occasionally you see a good use, like QuickTime’s ability to scrub through a video file to find the exact frame you need. But the useful Touch Bars are just reminders of how pointless others are, like the blank Touch Bar you find in Sonos, Slack, and even Apple’s Voice Memo app.

Even the really good implementations of the Touch Bar, such as the ones used by Photoshop, Ulysses, and AirMail, aren’t sufficiently customizable. You get the options suggested by the app maker, and that’s it.

While I won’t fault an indie app maker, or even Google, for failing to do better with the Touch Bar, I can lay blame at Apple’s feet. The company introduced a cool new feature and then has just let it sit there. It has provided no incentives nor has it led by example with the Touch Bar. Beyond some useful implementations in Apple-built apps right at launch, Apple has done nothing with the Touch Bar.

So yeah, of course, it makes sense my coworkers hate it. Mercifully, you don’t have to be like Apple or all my co-workers. There’s handy software [BetterTouchTool, TouchSwitcher] that lets you better take advantage of the Touch Bar right now.

«

As Cranz and others point out, what people want is to be able to call functions from outside the program they’re in to affect the stuff on the screen. But the TouchBar, as currently set up, doesn’t provide for that – so it just repeats what’s on the screen, which is little use. Apple could fix this; the APIs are there, as BetterTouchTool shows.
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Fired Microsoft geek allegedly stole $10m with a bitcoin mixer • CCN

Ryan Smith:

»

Ex Microsoft employee Volodymyr Kvashuk was arrested this week amid allegations of digital currency theft to the tune of $10m. U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Washington suspect the Ukrainian-born resident used a Bitcoin mixer to cover up his tracks.

Kvashuk, who was in charge of the companies online sales platform, was entrusted to test customer purchases in a simulated environment. The test environment only blocked physical deliveries, however, and the security team failed to prevent purchases of gift cards.

The talented engineer quickly took advantage of this flaw using company funds to buy Bitcoin-denominated gift cards. He subsequently resold them online to fund an extravagant lifestyle:

The complaint alleges KVASHUK resold the value on the internet, using the proceeds to purchase a $160,000 Tesla vehicle and a $1.6m dollar lakefront home.

«

Going to love hearing the explanation for how he got the money by legal means.
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Trump’s EPA just made its final decision not to ban a pesticide that hurts kids’ brains • Mother Jones

Tom Philpott:

»

Under pressure from a looming court-ordered deadline, the EPA reaffirmed its 2017 decision to reject a proposal from the agency’s own scientists to ban an insecticide called chlorpyrifos that farmers use on a wide variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower. 

Here’s background from my piece in 2017:

»

The pesticide in question, chlorpyrifos, is a nasty piece of work. It’s an organophosphate, a class of bug killers that work by “interrupting the electrochemical processes that nerves use to communicate with muscles and other nerves,” as the Pesticide Encyclopedia puts it. Chlorpyrifos is also an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can cause “adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects,” according to the National Institutes of Health.

Major studies from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of California-Davis, and Columbia University have found strong evidence that low doses of chlorpyrifos inhibits kids’ brain development, including when exposure occurs in the womb, with effects ranging from lower IQ to higher rates of autism. Several studies—examples here, here, and here—have found it in the urine of kids who live near treated fields. In 2000, the EPA banned most home uses of the chemical, citing risks to children.

«

And here’s the dirt on the relationship between President Donald Trump and the company that markets the chemical:

»

Dow AgroSciences’ parent company, Dow Chemical, has also been buttering up Trump. The company contributed $1m to the president’s inaugural committee, the Center for Public Integrity notes. In December, Dow Chemical Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris attended a post-election Trump rally in the company’s home state of Michigan, and used the occasion to announce plans to create 100 new jobs and bring back another 100 more from foreign subsidiaries.

«

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For sale: presidential integrity, never used.
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What the Slack security incident meant for me, the Keybase CEO • Keybase

Max Krohn was packing for a holiday in January when he got a Slack notification that he had logged in from the Netherlands:

»

My immediate thoughts, in order:

• Thankfully we don’t put sensitive communications (from financials to hiring to shit-talkin’) into Slack. We basically just use a #breaking channel in there in case we have Keybase downtime. Phew. I didn’t have to worry about being extorted or embarrassed. And Keybase as a company would almost certainly emerge unscathed.
• WAIT A SEC. How did this happen? I use strong, secure, distinct, random passwords for all services I log into. Either Slack itself was compromised, my password manager was compromised, or my computers were “rooted” by an attacker.
• Our weekend was hosed.

At risk of getting the car towed, I dashed an email off to Slack’s security team, and after a few back-and-forths, received the standard fare. They did not inform me of the directly related 2015 Security Incident but instead implied that I was messy with my security practices and was to blame.

Though I was more than 90% convinced that Slack had been compromised, as the CEO of a security-focused company, I couldn’t take any risks. I had to assume the worst, that my computers were compromised.

In the subsequent days and weeks, I reset all of my passwords, threw away all my computers, bought new computers, factory-reset my phone, rotated all of my Keybase devices (i.e., rotated my “keys”), and reestablished everything from the ground up.

«

Turned out he hadn’t been keylogged, but Slack had really screwed up in 2015. Four years ago.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified