Start Up No.994: Apple yanks Google’s iPhone enterprise certificate, bank accounts emptied by text hackers, Foxconn cuts plans in China, sayonara Ultraviolet, and more


“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” What are the ethics of video doorbells? CC-licensed photo by Dave Taylor 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. Double helpings for email! I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Death of the private self: how fifteen years of Facebook changed the human condition •The Guardian

John Harris:

»

the Facebook age marks a break from traditional human behaviour in key aspect. In the past, we could regularly take a break from acting, and revert to some sense of our private, authentic selves. Now, as we constantly prod at our smartphones and feel the pull of their addictive apps, when does the performing ever stop?

Along with Russian interference in elections, fake news, Facebook’s approach to hate speech and its insatiable appetite for personal data, this is surely one of the most malign ways in which its presence in our lives is playing out.

What its innovations have done to the divide between our social and private lives highlights a mess of stuff to do with the true meanings of intimacy and privacy, and something that goes even closer to the heart of what it is to be human: who we really are beyond the attention and judgments of others, and whether we even know any more.

This demise of the barrier between our public and private selves is particularly relevant to people going through that stage of life when the very idea of “self” is still in flux: the often difficult period from the stirrings of adolescence to the mid-20s (and, if you’re unlucky, even older). At that point, sensitivity to your peer group is at its height and an obsession with what some people call “social comparison” tends to run deep. We all know the basics: you desperately want to meet all the requirements of whichever code of cool is holding sway, and avoid mockery at all costs. Looks are at their peak of importance. So are clothes.

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“It gives you the freedom to be violent to other people”: what has the alt account become? • New Statesman

Sarah Manavis:

»

On 28 December 2018, a tweet concerning presenter, food critic, and insanely inappropriate joke-maker Giles Coren went viral. It posited that the Times columnist had been using an alternative, anonymous Twitter account to respond to criticism of him. The subsequent thread noted that this alt-account was named after a character in one of Coren’s books, only ever tweeted about Coren or his wife, was followed by some of Coren’s famous friends such as Richard Bacon, and was linked to an email address that looked suspiciously like Coren’s Times’ account (g********n@t******s.co.uk). The account claimed to be a Polish plumber, and had a bio written in broken English; but the avatar was a picture from the cover of Coren’s book.

After receiving thousands of likes and retweets, Coren came clean to owning the account, and changed its arguably racist bio. At time of writing, he has ceased tweeting from it.

Coren was unusual in getting caught, but having an alternative account is now far from unusual. Once a behaviour reserved for “weirdos” on Reddit and Tumblr, it’s become a staple for internet users on essentially every platform. On Twitter it’s your “anon”; on Instagram it’s your “finsta” (fake-Insta); on multiple platforms it’s you and your friends’ “flop”, or simply your “alt”. Even allusions to an alternative account now serve as a meme. HOTM –“horny on the main” – Is a long-standing Tumblr joke, mocking those who post porn, half-naked selfies, and sexts on their main account, rather than restricting such behaviour to their alt.

Today, the alt account is often seen as an online necessity, something many people deem key to staying sane on the internet. But while the alt-account may now be normal, the reasons for having one are diverse. For some, they are positive and relieving; for others, they’re a tool for dangerous harm. In 2019, what has the alt-account become?

«

It’s become a tool for dangerous harm, and it often stresses the owner of the alt because they know they have to keep the link secret. Next, please.
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Apple blocks Google from running its internal iOS apps • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Apple has now shut down Google’s ability to distribute its internal iOS apps, following a similar shutdown that was issued to Facebook earlier this week. A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Google Maps, Hangouts, Gmail, and other pre-release beta apps have stopped working today, alongside employee-only apps like a Gbus app for transportation and Google’s internal cafe app.

“We’re working with Apple to fix a temporary disruption to some of our corporate iOS apps, which we expect will be resolved soon,” says a Google spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. Apple has not yet commented on the situation.

Apple’s move to block Google’s developer certificate comes just a day after Google disabled its Screenwise Meter app following press coverage. Google’s private app was designed to monitor how people use their iPhones, similar to Facebook’s research app. Google’s app also relied on Apple’s enterprise program, which enables the distribution of internal apps within a company.

In an earlier statement over Facebook’s certificate removal, Apple did warn that “any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked.”

«

Hell of a scoop. Ben Thompson raised the question in his daily newsletter of why Google’s certificate hadn’t been revoked when Facebook’s had; here’s the answer.

Sure, this might get Facebook and Google working to shift their apps into being Progressive Web Apps. I won’t hold my breath. (Facebook had its certificate restored on Thursday afternoon, Pacific time.)
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Apple is a hypocrite on data privacy • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

[In revoking Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate,] Apple didn’t take a position on Facebook’s creation of a paid “research” program to extract data from users. It enforced the terms of a licensing agreement; appearing to fight for user privacy is just a side effect. Apple is flexing its contract-law muscle, not its privacy muscle, and gaining a publicity win in the process. Crucially, Apple didn’t ban Facebook from the App Store or the iPhone platform: You can still download and use Messenger.

Facebook, for its part, maintains that the data-collection activity its Research app undertook was above board and not at all duplicitous. Unlike previous controversies about how Facebook shared user data with developers like Cambridge Analytica or foreign governments, little about the research program was hidden…

…Safari, the web browser that comes with every iPhone, is set up by default to route web searches through Google. For this privilege, Google reportedly paid Apple $9bn in 2018, and as much as $12bn this year. All those searches help funnel out enormous volumes of data on Apple’s users, from which Google extracts huge profits. Apple might not be directly responsible for the questionable use of that data by Google, but it facilitates the activity by making Google its default search engine, enriching itself substantially in the process.

The same could be said for the apps Apple distributes. Companies like Google and Facebook get access to iPhone users by offering their apps—Messenger, Gmail, Google Maps, and so on—for download from the Apple App Store. Most cost consumers nothing, because they exist to trade software services, like email or mapping, for data. That business model helped stimulate the data-privacy dystopia we now occupy.

«

Occasionally I include an article that I disagree with, and I disagree with this one. Bogost is holding Apple to an impossible standard here. It couldn’t know what Facebook was doing with the Enterprise Certificate or the app – to monitor that really *would* be an invasion of privacy, both Facebook’s and the users’. That was a contractual violation, and Facebook was punished for it. Setting Google as the Safari default is a commercial decision, but you don’t have to use it; and Google obeys privacy rules, as far as we can tell. The “privacy dystopia” is our own fault, but you can actually avoid it by not using Facebook or Google (as much as you can).

For Apple to ban Facebook and Google would open up the huge question: what form of “privacy” is sufficient? If people consent to something, what locus does Apple have to deny that? It’s providing a platform. You can give people electricity; some will use it for light, and others will electrocute themselves.
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Criminals are tapping into the phone network backbone to empty bank accounts • Motherboard

Joseph Cox:

»

Sophisticated hackers have long exploited flaws in SS7, a protocol used by telecom companies to coordinate how they route texts and calls around the world. Those who exploit SS7 can potentially track phones across the other side of the planet, and intercept text messages and phone calls without hacking the phone itself.

This activity was typically only within reach of intelligence agencies or surveillance contractors, but now Motherboard has confirmed that this capability is much more widely available in the hands of financially-driven cybercriminal groups, who are using it to empty bank accounts. So-called SS7 attacks against banks are, although still relatively rare, much more prevalent than previously reported. Motherboard has identified a specific bank—the UK’s Metro Bank—that fell victim to such an attack.

The news highlights the gaping holes in the world’s telecommunications infrastructure that the telco industry has known about for years despite ongoing attacks from criminals. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the defensive arm of the UK’s signals intelligence agency GCHQ, confirmed that SS7 is being used to intercept codes used for banking.

“We are aware of a known telecommunications vulnerability being exploited to target bank accounts by intercepting SMS text messages used as 2-Factor Authentication (2FA),” the NCSC told Motherboard in a statement.

«

The bank will deny it and blame the customer. You don’t even have to know which bank it is to know that is how this will pan out.
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How colonization’s death toll may have affected Earth’s climate • HISTORY

Sarah Pruitt:

»

As the 15th century drew to a close, some 60 million people lived across the Americas, sustaining themselves with the bounty of the vast lands they inhabited.

But with the arrival of the first European settlers, waves of new diseases, along with warfare, slavery and other brutality would kill off around 56 million people, or around 90% of the indigenous population.

Now, scientists from the University College London (United Kingdom) argue in a new study that this “Great Dying” that followed European colonization of the Americas may have actually affected Earth’s climate.

Their version of events, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, goes like this: After so many indigenous people died, no one was left to tend many of their fields, and trees and other vegetation quickly reclaimed huge expanses of land previously used for agriculture. As a result, enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) was removed from the atmosphere to actually cool down the planet, contributing to the coldest part of the mysterious period that historians have called the Little Ice Age.

«

So that’s twice that Americans will have been major contributors to climate change – once to cool, once to warm. A bit Thanos, though.
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The next privacy worry is Ring doorbells and Nest security cameras • The Washington Post

Geoffrey Fowler:

»

We’re on a slippery slope. You’ve got a legal right to film in public places, including your entryway. There’s little agreement whether private cameras slash crime rates, yet police are setting up voluntary registries for private cameras in dozens of communities. Cities such as Washington have begun paying up to $500 for cameras on private property. Detroit is going further: its mayor wants to mandate security cameras at businesses open late, with a live feed going straight to police.

Meanwhile, Ring’s owner Amazon filed an eerily specific patent to put its controversial Rekognition facial-identification software into doorbells. The purpose: to automatically flag “suspicious” people. (Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post, but I review all tech with the same critical eye.)

We should recognize this pattern: tech that seems like an obvious good can develop darker dimensions as capabilities improve and data shifts into new hands. A terms-of-service update, a face-recognition upgrade or a hack could turn your doorbell into a privacy invasion you didn’t see coming…

In the future, what if your doorbell misidentified someone as a crime suspect? What if it logs a “dreamer” — an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a child — visiting, or living in, your house? Your family and friends are the ones whom this tech surveils the most.

«

That latter point is the most cogent. Bonus points to Fowler for the phrase “Big Doorbell” in the piece.
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Foxconn’s $20bn projects in US and China hit by growth fears • Nikkei Asian Review

Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang:

»

Foxconn will postpone most of the production planned in a 61bn yuan ($9bn) display panel project in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for at least six months, according to internal documents obtained by the Nikkei Asian Review. In the US, a $10 billion investment in display production in the state of Wisconsin has been suspended and scaled back as a result of negotiations with new Gov. Tony Evers, a Foxconn document obtained by Nikkei shows.

Foxconn’s decision to delay work on the two factories throws into doubt the promise of fresh investment and employment at a sensitive time for both economies. China’s economic growth has slowed to a 28-year low, while in the US, President Donald Trump continues to seek wins on his vow to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

“Foxconn decided to slow the investment pace and scale back a bit at the moment because of weakening macroeconomic conditions and the uncertainties brought by the trade war,” a person with knowledge of Foxconn’s decision told Nikkei.

“If Foxconn expands as planned regardless of the rapidly changing market dynamics, it could eventually hurt the company’s business. It’s much safer to wait and carefully reconsider the next step,” the person added.

Foxconn’s moves to hold up planned investments come after the company took cost-cutting steps that included shedding 100,000 workers by the end of 2018.

«

So not just Wisconsin. (Thanks to Pete Kleinschmidt for the pointer.)
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Want to get away with posting fake news on Facebook? Just change your website domain • Poynter

Daniel Funke:

»

Sinclair Treadway, who runs the [fake news purveyor] YourNewsWire site from Southern California with his husband Sean Adl-Tabatabai, told Bloomberg in November that the move to rebrand was a direct result of declining revenue due to Facebook’s fact-checking program. Once a fact-checking outlet like Snopes rates a link, image or video as false, its future reach decreases in the News Feed. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles is a necessary condition for joining the project.)

YourNewsWire initially resorted to deleting debunked articles. Alternatively, it turned to changing headlines on debunked stories and requesting fact-checkers like (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact revoke their original flag.

Seemingly unsatisfied with these approaches, YourNewsWire decided to pull the plug on its website altogether and move everything to a new URL.

So far, it seems like its strategy is succeeding.

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Samsung breaks 19-quarter tablet decline to post 7% growth in recovering global market • Strategy Analytics

»

Windows [tablet] shipments fell 4% year-on-year to 7.1m units in Q4 2018 from 7.3m in Q4 2017. Microsoft shipments increased 25% from the previous quarter on high seasonality and as a result, it has retaken its leadership position in Windows Detachable 2-in-1s with the release of the lower cost Surface Go and a refreshed Surface Pro all in the last half of 2018. This is the fourth straight quarter of year-on-year shipment and revenue gains for Microsoft.

Eric Smith continued, “Apple iOS shipments grew 10% year-on-year to 14.5m units in Q4 2018, pushing its worldwide market share to 26% of the tablet market. By growing double digits, Apple added 2 percentage points to its market share year-over-year. Apple is attempting to remake the computing market with more mobile iPad Pros for productivity while offering lower priced iPad slates for entertainment. The product mix tilted toward iPad Pro due to the launch of its newest products in that line and boosted ASPs to $463 this quarter from $445 in 2017.

“Meanwhile, Android shipments fell to 32.9m units worldwide in Q4 2018, down 6% from 34.9m a year earlier and up 35% sequentially. Market share fell 3 percentage points year-on-year to 60% as many branded Android vendors find it very difficult to compete on price in the wake of Apple lowering its iPad prices. The slate market is particularly sensitive to price and the Android segment is dominated by Slate models.”

«

The market shrank overall, by 1%. That’s not “recovering”; that’s “stabilising”. Tablets don’t seem to be going away, but neither are they taking everything over.

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Ultraviolet shuts down: cloud locker closes this summer • Variety

Janko Roettgers:

»

The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), the industry consortium that has been tasked with running Ultraviolet, will shut down the service on July 31.

DECE will start to inform its users of the wind-down this Thursday, and is advising users to not delete their Ultraviolet movie libraries. Users should instead make sure that their libraries are connected to the service of at least one retailer, which they can then use to access their movies and TV shows going forward, according to an FAQ document that is slated to be published on Ultraviolet’s website on Thursday morning.

DECE president Wendy Aylsworth told Variety in an exclusive interview this week that the decision to discontinue Ultraviolet was a response to the evolution of the market for online entertainment. “The marketplace for collecting entertainment content was very small when Ultraviolet started,” she said. “It was siloed into walled gardens at the time.”

Since then, services had become more comprehensive, giving fans of movies and TV shows more options to access and collect their titles. Aylsworth acknowledged that there has also been a move toward subscription services, but said ownership of movie and TV show collections would continue to play a significant role for the industry going forward. “It’s very clear to us that it is on very sound footing,” she said.

Ultraviolet launched in 2011 with support from all of the major Hollywood studios except Disney. The service also had buy-in from Lionsgate and other independent studios, and struck partnerships with online retailers, including Walmart’s Vudu service, FandangoNow, and some of the online services run by studios like Sony Pictures.

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Inevitable. Never saw why one would go with that when services like iTunes and Netflix were available.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.993: Apple dings Facebook’s VPN, 3D iPhone cameras?, AlphaStar attacked, evaluating Alexa, life without Google, and more


Weather forecasters correctly predicted two months ago the extreme cold weather now hitting the US. CC-licensed photo by Coast Guard News on Flickr.

A selection of 13 links for you. Redone? I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Polar Vortex 2019: why forecasts are so accurate now • The Atlantic

Robinson Meyer:

»

“A modern five-day forecast is as accurate as a one-day forecast was in 1980,” says a new paper, published last week in the journal Science. “Useful forecasts now reach nine to 10 days into the future.”

The paper is a birthday present from meteorology to itself: the American Meteorological Society turns 100 this year. But it also acts as a good report card on how far weather prediction has come.

“Modern 72-hour predictions of hurricane tracks are more accurate than 24-hour forecasts were 40 years ago,” the authors write. The federal government now predicts storm surge, stream level, and the likelihood of drought. It has also gotten better at talking about its forecasts: As I wrote in 2017, the National Weather Service has dropped professional jargon in favor of clear, direct, and everyday language.

“Everybody’s improving, and they’re improving a lot,” says Richard Alley, an author of the paper and a geoscientist at Penn State.

With the current polar vortex, the first signs came almost a month in advance. On the final day of 2018, scientists detected what they call a “sudden stratospheric warming event,” high above the North Pole. The stratosphere, a layer of air about 20 miles above the surface, was being rocked by waves of warm air from below.

“What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic,” warned the meteorologist Andrew Freedman at the time. “Sudden stratospheric warming events are known to affect the weather in the US and Europe on a time delay.” The next 60 days would probably be colder than average, he said.

«

The “why” isn’t answered in this article, but is in the linked Science article. You guessed: better computers running more precise models. Down to -40C in the US from the polar vortex – which, yes, is attributable to global warming.
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An AI crushed two human pros at StarCraft—but it wasn’t a fair fight • Ars Technica

Timothy Lee:

»

As this chart demonstrates, top StarCraft players can issue instructions to their units very quickly. Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz averaged 390 actions per minute (more than six actions per second!) over the course of his games against AlphaStar.  But of course, a computer program can easily issue thousands of actions per minute, allowing it to exert a level of control over its units that no human player could match.

To avoid that, DeepMind says it put a hard cap on the number of actions per minute AlphaStar could make. “We set a maximum of 600 APMs over 5-second periods, 400 over 15-second periods, 320 over 30-second periods, and 300 over 60-second period,” wrote DeepMind researcher Oriol Vinyals in a reddit AMA following the demonstration.

But as other redditors quickly pointed out, five seconds is a long time in a StarCraft game. These limits seem to imply that AlphaStar could take 50 actions in a single second or 15 actions per second for three seconds.

More importantly, AlphaStar has the ability to make its clicks with surgical precision using an API, whereas human players are constrained by the mechanical limits of computer mice. And if you watch a pro like Komincz play, you’ll see that the number of raw actions often far exceeds the number of meaningful actions.

For example, if a human player is guiding a single unit on an important mission, he will often issue a series of “move” commands along the unit’s current trajectory. Each command barely changes the unit’s path, but, if the human player has already selected the unit, it takes hardly any time to click more than once. But most of these commands aren’t strictly necessary; an AI like AlphaStar could easily figure out the unit’s optimal route and then issue a much smaller number of move commands to achieve the same result.

So limiting the raw number of actions an AI can take to that of a typical human does not necessarily mean that the number of meaningful actions will be remotely comparable.

«

Notice the way this assertion slides past the realities here. Computers are going to be better at doing lots of things really fast; the human advantage is meant to be the capability to think strategically about what things to do. That strategic advantage has been ceded to AlphaStar, and so people complain about its speed.

How long before these systems are running defence computers, determining and carrying out attack plans?
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Welcome • Statistics Done Wrong

Alex Reinhart:

»

If you’re a practicing scientist, you probably use statistics to analyze your data. From basic t tests and standard error calculations to Cox proportional hazards models and propensity score matching, we rely on statistics to give answers to scientific problems.

This is unfortunate, because statistical errors are rife.

Statistics Done Wrong is a guide to the most popular statistical errors and slip-ups committed by scientists every day, in the lab and in peer-reviewed journals. Many of the errors are prevalent in vast swaths of the published literature, casting doubt on the findings of thousands of papers. Statistics Done Wrong assumes no prior knowledge of statistics, so you can read it before your first statistics course or after thirty years of scientific practice.

«

Worth a read just so you can get a feel for how statistics are used against you.
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Is Alexa working? • Benedict Evans

»

the paradox of an audio-only interface is that it looks like a much more flexible and free-form interface than a graphical interface, but in fact it has no way to tell you what it can do. If it has 5,000 ‘skills’, you can’t ask it to recite them, one by one. Solving this discoverability problem is one reason both Amazon and Google are exploring devices with small screens (through that doesn’t help the devices that are already out there).

Taking a step back, though, I think there is a deeper strategic value to Alexa – option value.

One of the fundamental shifts that came with mobile was that the users’ device became a lot less neutral. On the desktop, there were pretty narrow limits to what a web browser could do to control the economic models and interaction models of websites, but on a smartphone, the management of everything from system permissions to default apps to notifications and interaction models (not to mention in-app purchase) means that Apple and Android are in much more direct control of what business models are possible. Ironically, a major reason why Google bought and built Android in the first place was fear of what Microsoft and Nokia might do with such power. Now both Amazon is faced with this. The end point has become much more strategic for web platform companies. So, anything you can do to get an end-point of your own has value for the future, even if no-one today uses it to buy soap powder.

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New iPhone, iPad in 2019 and 2020: what to expect from Apple • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Debby Wu:

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For 2019, Apple plans successors to the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max – codenamed D42 and D43 – and an update to the iPhone XR, said the people. The larger of the new high-end iPhones will have three cameras on the back, and other handsets could eventually come with the upgraded system, too, the people said…

…The laser-powered 3-D camera could debut first on an upgrade to the iPad Pro currently planned for as early as spring 2020, according to one of the people. Apple isn’t expected to release a major iPad Pro update this year like it did in 2018.

…Apple is also testing some versions of this year’s iPhone line that includes a USB-C connector instead of the Lightning port that has been used on iPhones since 2012, indicating that the company plans an eventual switch, according to one of the people. Moving to USB-C would make the new models compatible with chargers used for hundreds of other devices, like Android phones.

…Apple’s next operating system update, iOS 13, will include a dark mode option for easier nighttime viewing and improvements to CarPlay, the company’s in-vehicle software. There will also be iPad-specific upgrades like a new home screen, the ability to tab through multiple versions of a single app like pages in a web browser, and improvements to file management.

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“Improvements to file management”, huh? Sounds like the USB-C port is going to come in useful. But 3D cameras? Hm.
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Facebook pays teens to install VPN that spies on them • Techcrunch

Josh Constine:

»

Since 2016, Facebook has been paying users ages 13 to 35 up to $20 per month plus referral fees to sell their privacy by installing the iOS or Android “Facebook Research” app. Facebook even asked users to screenshot their Amazon order history page. The program is administered through beta testing services Applause, BetaBound and uTest to cloak Facebook’s involvement, and is referred to in some documentation as “Project Atlas” — a fitting name for Facebook’s effort to map new trends and rivals around the globe.

[Update 11:20pm PT: Facebook now tells TechCrunch it will shut down the iOS version of its Research app in the wake of our report. The rest of this article has been updated to reflect this development.]

Facebook’s Research program will continue to run on Android. We’re still awaiting comment from Apple on whether Facebook officially violated its policy and if it asked Facebook to stop the program. As was the case with Facebook removing Onavo Protect from the App Store last year, Facebook may have been privately told by Apple to voluntarily remove it.

We asked Guardian Mobile Firewall’s security expert Will Strafach to dig into the Facebook Research app, and he told us that “If Facebook makes full use of the level of access they are given by asking users to install the Certificate, they will have the ability to continuously collect the following types of data: private messages in social media apps, chats from in instant messaging apps – including photos/videos sent to others, emails, web searches, web browsing activity, and even ongoing location information by tapping into the feeds of any location tracking apps you may have installed.”

«

Just astonishing. Facebook truly is the scorpion on the back of the frog; it just can’t help itself.

Meanwhile, it’s a reminder that VPNs only offer privacy from those who aren’t controlling the VPN. So that’s the shot; here’s the chaser…
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Apple revokes Facebook’s developer credentials over an app that mined teenagers’ device data • Buzzfeed

Pranav Dixit:

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Apple said in a statement on Wednesday: “We designed our Enterprise Developer Program solely for the internal distribution of apps within an organization. Facebook has been using their membership to distribute a data-collecting app to consumers, which is a clear breach of their agreement with Apple. Any developer using their enterprise certificates to distribute apps to consumers will have their certificates revoked, which is what we did in this case to protect our users and their data.”

This is not the first time Facebook has run afoul of Apple’s developer policies. When its data-collecting Onavo VPN app was booted from the App Store last August, the company said, “As a developer on Apple’s platform, we follow the rules they’ve put in place.”

Apple’s decision to revoke Facebook’s developer certificate came just hours after TechCrunch first wrote about the Facebook Research app. The app will, however, continue to be available on Android.

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Revoking the enterprise credentials means that Facebook can’t test internal builds of its app on phones among test groups. That’s a big move. Also: your move, Google. Speaking of whom…
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Google’s also peddling a data collector through Apple’s back door • TechCrunch

Zack Whittaker, Josh Constine and Ingrid Lunden:

»

It looks like Facebook is not the only one abusing Apple’s system for distributing employee-only apps to sidestep the App Store and collect extensive data on users. Google has been running an app called Screenwise Meter, which bears a strong resemblance to the app distributed by Facebook Research that has now been barred by Apple, TechCrunch has learned.

In its app, Google invites users aged 18 and up (or 13 if part of a family group) to download the app by way of a special code and registration process using an Enterprise Certificate. That’s the same type of policy violation that led Apple to shut down Facebook’s similar Research VPN iOS app, which had the knock-on effect of also disabling usage of Facebook’s legitimate employee-only apps — which run on the same Facebook Enterprise Certificate — and making Facebook look very iffy in the process.

«

Google disabled the app on iOS within hours of the story going up. “This app is completely voluntary and always has been,” it said in a statement. (I don’t think anyone was suggesting they forced it on people; that’s not the complaint.) It also said “We have no access to encrypted data in apps and on devices”, which is more helpful. And since we’re on Google…
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I cut Google out of my life. It screwed up everything • Gizmodo

Kashmir Hill set up a VPN to block all of Google’s 8m-odd IP addresses, to see what life looked like:

»

Google, like Amazon, is woven deeply into the infrastructure of online services and other companies’ offerings, which is frustrating to all the connected devices in my house.

“Your smart home pings Google at the same time every hour in order to determine whether or not it’s connected to the internet,” Dhruv tells me. “Which is funny to me because these devices’ engineers decided to determine connectivity to the entire internet based on the uptime of a single company. It’s a good metaphor for how far the internet has strayed from its original promise to decentralize control.”

In some cases, the Google block means apps won’t work at all, like Lyft and Uber [which use it for maps], or Spotify, whose music is hosted in Google Cloud. The more frequent effect of the Google block though is that the internet itself slows down dramatically for me.

Most of the websites I visit have frustratingly long load times because so many of them rely on resources from Google and get confused when my computer won’t let them talk to the company’s servers. On Airbnb, photos won’t load. New York Times articles won’t appear until the site has tried (and failed) to load Google Analytics, Google Pay, Google News, Google ads, and a Doubleclick tracker.

As I sit staring at my screen and drumming my fingers, I get flashbacks to computing via dial-up in the ’90s, when I used to read a book while waiting for websites to open. It’s amazing to see how often sites are trying to serve trackers, ads, and analytics from Google before their own content.

«

Clever idea for a story. Facebook next?
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US market sell-through drops 10% YoY in 4Q18 • Counterpoint Research

»

Research director Jeff Fieldhack stated, “We saw the same trends in 4Q as we saw during the whole year. Holding periods continued to creep longer. Upgrade percentages during the quarter were down and could be down as much as 3% on the year. Phone churn continues to be impressively low and was under 1% at three of the four major carriers. Lastly, carriers were more disciplined in their marketing spend and focused on EBITDA margins over winning net adds at all costs. These all contributed to lower smartphone sell-through numbers.”

Fieldhack added, “Prepaid did not consume the number of handsets in 2018 it consumed across 2017. Prepaid used to have a holding period well under one year. Today, holding periods are closer to postpaid holding periods due to the higher quality of devices. Devices with large displays and batteries, with lower-cost mid-tier processors, are the workhorses within prepaid. These devices have the longevity of higher ASP postpaid devices. In addition, the evolution of the refurbish and repair ecosystem makes it easier for consumers to either purchase a high-quality used device or repair a current device. We estimate the US absorbed almost 11.5m refurbished smartphones in 2018. These are meaningful numbers of consumers deciding not to buy new.”

«

Then again, Apple had 47% of the market there, according to Counterpoint. Samsung was next with 23%. The biggest grower? You probably won’t guess.


link to this extract

 


Data without a cause — the hype and hope around wearables • Medium

Annastiina Salminen:

»

none of the users I talked to had presented any of their sleep or activity data to their doctors or other health professionals. Despite their intrigue, the weekly heart rate variance or the share of REM of last night’s sleep are still arbitrary numbers with little actionability from a scientific perspective. What does a readiness level of 73 actually mean and how does it differ from 52? Are these just vanity metrics or is there a way for the doctor to somehow contextualize them?

The most avid proponents of quantified self think that the clinical system is broken. In times where scientific versus experiential experience is a continuous topic of discussion, the information asymmetry argued to have benefited the clinicians instead of the patients is now perceived to have been turned upside down thanks to the rise of wearables and the democratized access to data. But it’s important to note that all data doesn’t carry the same value. The information asymmetry argument holds true when looking only at the sheer volume, but the main challenge of identifying the clinical benefit of wearables data and integrating it to the clinical work is that despite being mile wide, it’s still only an inch deep…

…Health data is the last frontier that lacks democratization, and the push for wearables is a result of that impatience. The data and the consumer-grade devices presenting it might be far from reliable, but they are the first wave towards a more open health data ecosystem and needs to be taken seriously. The responsibility to interpret the readiness levels and sleep data doesn’t lie with the individual, but with the doctors and every other actor in the ecosystem.

«

link to this extract

 


Exclusive: Foxconn reconsidering plans to make LCD panels at Wisconsin plant • Reuters

Jess Macy Yu and Karl Plume:

»

Foxconn Technology Group is reconsidering plans to make advanced liquid crystal display panels at a $10 billion Wisconsin campus, and said it intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised.

Announced at a White House ceremony in 2017, the 20-million square foot campus marked the largest greenfield investment by a foreign-based company in U.S. history and was praised by President Donald Trump as proof of his ability to revive American manufacturing.

Foxconn, which received controversial state and local incentives for the project, initially planned to manufacture advanced large screen displays for TVs and other consumer and professional products at the facility, which is under construction. It later said it would build smaller LCD screens instead.

Now, those plans may be scaled back or even shelved, Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn Chief Executive Terry Gou, told Reuters. He said the company was still evaluating options for Wisconsin, but cited the steep cost of making advanced TV screens in the United States, where labor expenses are comparatively high.

“In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.,” he said in an interview. “We can’t compete.”

«

Apparently it’s not going to be a factory, and rather than having 5,200 people by the end of 2020 that’ll probably be more like 1,000. A neat bait-and-switch for the $4bn in tax breaks it got. Wisconsin narrowly voted for Trump. By the time the next election comes around, will voters feel the same?
link to this extract

 


Huawei and Xiaomi near 34m customers in western Europe • Kantar World Panel

»

Dominic Sunnebo, Global Director for Kantar Worldpanel ComTech comments: “The European smartphone market remains highly competitive. Despite recent negative headlines for the Chinese manufacturers, there’s no evidence that these issues have affected sales as Huawei, Honor and Xiaomi continue their concerted push into western Europe.

“Samsung and Apple still performed admirably, with disruption limited to only a marginal loss of market share.”

Xiaomi is now the fourth best-selling smartphone brand in Europe, with nearly six million active owners. The manufacturer is continuing to expand rapidly in Spain and, more recently, in Italy and France as well. Sunnebo comments: “Having only launched in the UK in November last year, Xiaomi’s presence in Great Britain is still small, but with new products already going on sale in January we expect further growth in 2019. The Chinese manufacturer has found success so far with a competitive pricing strategy which places its most expensive flagship model at around £500. This appeals to users who are looking for premium quality but are not willing or able to splash out the best part of a four-figure sum.”

“While Samsung and Apple are still doing well in Europe, the impact these Chinese giants are having on the market is causing headaches for the smaller operators. Sony, LG and Wiko are being disproportionally impacted because of their historic stakes in the ultra-competitive low and mid-price tiers. To keep up in this landscape, these brands should take heed from their competitors when it comes to marketing…”

«

I think LG and Sony aren’t going to compete in this field much longer. There simply isn’t any profit in it for them.
link to this extract

 


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Start Up No.992: the iPhone motor slows, why kids are online, choosing the right astronaut, laser whispering, and more


Good news, music fans: we stumbled on a wonderful album demo. CC-licensed photo by Tony + Wayne on Flickr.

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

Apple’s revenue and profit drop: ‘the iPhone has matured’ • WSJ

Tripp Mickle:

»

The downturn in China caught Apple by surprise in November and December, Apple finance chief Luca Maestri said. He expects weak economic conditions there to continue to pose challenges for the company.

Apple also faced challenges in other markets including Europe, its second-largest, where sales fell 3.3%. Sales in the Americas, its largest market, rose about 5%.

Mr. Maestri said the strength of the US dollar has increased iPhone prices overseas, making the cost of the newest handsets pricier than they are in the US. For example, in China, he said the yuan weakened 9% relative to the dollar, crimping sales.

“We’re seeing fewer upgrades than in the past,” Mr. Maestri said. He added that the company has lowered the price of the iPhone XR in China to negate the effect of currency changes, and that has helped sales.

The strong performance of Apple’s other businesses accentuated its iPhone dependency. Sales of Macs, iPads, Services and other products rose by 19%. Its Mac and iPad businesses benefited from Apple’s recent strategy of raising prices on new products. A year after lifting its flagship iPhone price to $999, the company raised the price of the MacBook Air by 20%, the Mac mini by 60% and the iPad Pro by about 25%.

«

No unit sales figures; Canalys suggested that Apple outsold others during the quarter with 71.7m (v 70.3m for Samsung and 60.5m for Huawei, as the market shrank by 6% in that period; for the year, the market was down 5% – Samsung 293.7m, Apple 212.1m, Huawei 206.0m.

I’d take those numbers with a pinch of salt – could be up or down a few% for the fourth-quarter figure – and expect Huawei will be second-biggest in 2019, unless something dramatic happens.
link to this extract


It’s time to rethink who’s best suited for space travel • WIRED

Rose Eveleth:

»

consider movement in space. You’ve certainly seen videos of astronauts zipping around the space station using their arms and legs to push off surfaces and direct their motion. This is a type of movement that people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids are already familiar with. In fact, the various devices and ways of moving the body in space are likely more familiar to people with disabilities than to able-bodied people. “We move our bodies in so many different ways, and the disabled community has an exuberant amount of options,” says Nelson, who is an amputee and who has used crutches, a wheelchair, a scooter, and a prosthetic to get around. Nelson even coined a term for this recently: transmobility, the idea that there are lots of ways to get around besides putting one foot in front of the other.

Nelson also points out that most astronauts have no prior experience relying on technology for their movement and lives, whereas people with disabilities do so every day. In a space suit, for a space walk, an astronaut has to be trained in how to move their body in unison with a piece of technology. They have to get used to the idea that, if that technology should fail, they could be in grave danger. This, again, is an experience people like Nelson live with every day. “I’m always moving my body in motion with another object. That’s all we do,” Nelson says.

Or take blind astronauts. In a piece for Scientific American, Sheri Wells-Jensen lays out the case for designing spaceships for blind space travelers:

“After all, in a serious accident, the first thing to go might be the lights! This generally means that the first thing a sighted astronaut must do for security is ensure visual access to the environment. He hunts for a flashlight, and if emergency lighting comes on, his eyes take a moment to adjust. Meanwhile, the blind astronaut is already heading toward the source of the problem…”

«

Where disability becomes ability. Clever.
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Why children spend time online • Ofcom

Ofcom is the UK’s communications regulator, and does regular research into viewing and internet habits of the UK population:

»

To help understand why children are drawn towards online content, this year Ofcom has undertaken a detailed qualitative study of children’s viewing.

A panel of 40 boys and girls, aged 4-16, from around the UK, offered in-depth data, seven-day diaries and interviews on what they were watching and why. The study revealed powerful preferences for choice, control and a sense of community. It found that:

• YouTube dominates, followed by Netflix. Children in the study overwhelmingly preferred watching YouTube (almost all children watched it daily) and Netflix, to any other platforms
• Live TV is parent-led, and often reserved for family time. Most of the children in the study watched live, scheduled TV, though only a small number did so daily. Live TV viewing was often convened by parents, allowing the family to come together to watch soaps, quizzes or ‘appointment viewing’ such as Strictly Come Dancing or The X-Factor. Some children used live TV to fill time, often while they were doing something else such as eating dinner.
• Choice and control. Many children said they valued YouTube and Netflix for offering instant control over what they are watching, and access to seemingly endless, personalised content. Children appreciated the platforms’ content recommendations and valued receiving notifications from the channels they subscribed to. Some preferred to watch content privately, whether this be on their personal devices or in their bedrooms.
• Children turn to YouTube for three things. The study found most of the children’s viewing on YouTube fell into three broad categories: hobbies and passions; vloggers and community; sensory videos.

«

That’s essentially impossible for TV companies to replicate. Given the chance, almost half prefer to watch a YouTube video; only about 1 in 8 prefers TV programmes.

Would feel happier about this if the content on YouTube were more oriented towards accuracy.
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Lasers can send a whispered audio message directly to one person’s ear • MIT Technology Review

»

To send the messages, researchers from MIT relied upon the photoacoustic effect, in which water vapor in the air absorbs light and forms sound waves. The researchers used a laser beam to transmit a sound at 60 decibels (roughly the volume of background music or conversation in a restaurant) to a target person who was standing 2.5 meters away. 

A second technique modulated the power of the laser beam to encode a message, which produced a quieter but clearer result. The team used it to beam music, recorded speech, and various tones, all at conversational volume. “This can work even in relatively dry conditions because there is almost always a little water in the air, especially around people,” team leader Charles M. Wynn said in a press release. Details of the research were published in Optics Letters

In theory, the technique could be used to direct a message to a single person at range, without any receiving equipment.

«

link to this extract


Teenager and his mom tried to warn Apple of FaceTime bug • WSJ

»

An Arizona teenager and his mother spent more than a week trying to warn Apple of a bug in its FaceTime video-chat software before news of the glitch—which allows one FaceTime user calling another in a group chat to listen in while the recipient’s Apple device is still ringing—blew up on social media Monday.

In the days following their discovery, the pair posted on Twitter and Facebook , called and faxed Apple, and learned they needed a developer account to report the bug. They eventually traded a few emails, viewed by The Wall Street Journal, with Apple’s security team.

But it wasn’t until word of the bug started spreading more widely on social media that Apple disabled the software feature at the heart of the issue.

Michele Thompson said her 14-year-old son, Grant, discovered the issue Jan. 20. She said it was frustrating trying to get the attention of one of the world’s largest technology companies.

“Short of smoke signals, I was trying every method that someone could use to get a hold of someone at Apple,” said Ms. Thompson, 43, who lives with her son in Tucson…

…Grant, a high-school freshman, was setting up a FaceTime chat with friends ahead of a “Fortnite” videogame-playing session when he stumbled on the bug. Using FaceTime, Mr. Thompson found that as he added new members to his group chat, he could hear audio from other participants, even if they hadn’t answered his request to join the chat.

«

Apple turned off Group FaceTime once this blew up; that seems to be the core of the fault. Surprising it wasn’t found during testing; surprising it wasn’t found a great deal earlier after release. Which implies.. not that many people have used Group FaceTime.
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NCAA, Colleges hit with new deluge of concussion lawsuits • Bloomberg Law

Steven Sellers:

»

A new wave of football concussion lawsuits charges the NCAA didn’t protect student-athletes from later-life brain injuries, and also targets dozens of private universities.

Dozens of lawsuits were filed over the past four days, and several dozen more cases are expected to be filed soon. The cases target schools such as Cornell University, the University of Southern California, West Virginia University, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and Lehigh University.

More than 200 additional cases are on the way, a spokesman for two law firms representing the former players told Bloomberg Law Jan. 28.

The complaints, which join 110 other class complaints against the National Collegiate Athletic Association and football conferences, could affect as many as 300,000 former football players at 300 different colleges, according to Nicholas Gaffney, a spokesman for two law firms that brought the cases.

«

This has been a long time coming. But America’s winter outdoor sport has a huge submerged problem which is just starting to come to light. Making gridiron football safer is going to be a huge challenge.
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How much would you pay for a foldable smartphone? • NY Mag

Jake Swearingen:

»

There are already at least three foldable phones on the horizon this month. Of those, the most significant is Samsung’s foldable phone, rumored to be called either the Galaxy X or the Galaxy F. At the Annual Developer Conference in San Francisco in November, the device was shown onstage, but dim lighting and a stage-managed presentation meant that we only got a vague notion of what the phone would look like. More will likely be revealed at Samsung Unpacked event on February 20, where Samsung will roll out its 2019 lineup of Galaxy phones, but early rumors put the foldable phone at around $2,000, making even Apple’s highest-end phones seem like a bargain.

There’s Royole’s FlexPai, which was shown off at CES. Royole, founded by Stanford engineering grads, is first to the market, already selling the FlexPai in China for of 8,999 yuan, or around $1,300. (Americans can buy a developer’s version for about the same price.) Those who’ve gotten hands-on time with it have been less than impressed — the FlexPai may fold down, but folded down it’s a very, very bulky piece of hardware.

Meanwhile, Lenovo is set to relaunch the Motorola Razr brand with a flip phone of sorts, but with a fully foldable screen inside. The phone hasn’t been shown yet, but per The Wall Street Journal, it would cost around $1,500 and be a Verizon exclusive.

«

Anyhow, tell me again about high-priced iPhones. I feel these aren’t going to quite be in the hot cakes department.
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Huawei MateBook 13 review: sophomore struggles • The Verge

Dan Seifert generally likes Huawei’s PC. This detail caught my eye:

»

Like the MacBook Air, the MateBook 13 has two USB-C ports. But unlike the MacBook Air, neither of them support Thunderbolt 3. Further, the left port supports data transfer and charging, but not video out, while the port on the right side supports data transfer and video out, but not charging. That means it’s not possible to connect the MateBook 13 to an external display and charger with just one cable, which is something every other laptop with USB-C I’ve tested is capable of. It’s a strange and frustrating limitation. The MateBook 13 also lacks any USB-A ports, but Huawei does include a small hub with USB-A, HDMI, and VGA ports in the box. Too bad you can’t use that hub to charge the laptop and connect it to an external display at the same time.

«

USB-C is still something of a mess for those who aren’t really cautious. It’s still at the stage we were with PCs in the late 1980s: you couldn’t take it for granted that one would be truly compatible with another.
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Joni Mitchell’s “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” demos • Waxy.org

Andy Baio, in 2008:

»

These are the unreleased demos from Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns, one of my favorite albums ever. Unlike the lush arrangements found on the album, these early versions are stripped down to only piano, and acoustic guitar. It’s like Hissing of Summer Lawns in the style of Blue or For the Roses. At the time of its 1975 release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns was panned by critics unhappy with her shift towards jazz/folk/rock fusion. I doubt they would’ve complained if these demos were the final cuts.

«

The tracks are still there. (I downloaded them in a hurry. You never know.) Prince was once asked “what’s the last album you listened to?” and he replied “The last one I listened to all the way through was ‘Hissing of Summer Lawns’.” One genius speaking of another. Don’t @ me. (Via Maryanne Hobbs mentioning on her BBC 6 Music show that Danny Baker tweets the links to this once a year. Turns out 17 January was the one. Better late than never, eh.
link to this extract


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Start Up No.991: US charges Huawei, Pentagon v deepfakes, Iranian cryptocurrency?, IBM goes quantum, and more


You think Apple could assemble iPhones in the US? Trouble is, there aren’t enough of these. CC-licensed photo by @abrunvoll on Flickr.

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

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

US authorities unveil sweeping set of charges against China’s Huawei • WSJ

Kate O’Keeffe and Aruna Viswanatha:

»

The Trump administration unveiled a sweeping set of actions—including criminal charges—against China’s Huawei Technologies in its latest salvo against the telecom giant, with authorities unsealing a set of indictments just days before US-China trade talks are set to resume.

In a pair of cases unsealed Monday, federal prosecutors accused Huawei of violating US sanctions on Iran and of stealing trade secrets from a US business partner, portraying the company as a serial violator of US laws and global business practices.

The charges contained in separate indictments in Brooklyn, NY, and Washington state were detailed by senior officials from the departments of Justice, Commerce and Homeland Security on the first day the government reopened after a 35-day shutdown—and just two days before negotiators for the US and China are set to resume trade talks in Washington, D.C.

«

Now it’s getting serious. Huawei clearly violated the Obama-era sanctions against selling equipment to Iran: the evidence collected by Reuters shows as much. The “trade secrets” is about T-Mobile. So this isn’t new, in that sense.
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Deepfake videos: inside the Pentagon’s race against disinformation • CNN

Donie O’Sullivan and a host of others:

»

Advances in artificial intelligence could soon make creating convincing fake audio and video – known as “deepfakes” – relatively easy. Making a person appear to say or do something they did not has the potential to take the war of disinformation to a whole new level. Scroll down for more on deepfakes and what the US government is doing to combat them.

«

It’s an interactive – as you really need for this topic – with lots of food for thought.
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Iran inches closer to unveiling state-backed cryptocurrency •Al Jazeera

Maziar Motamedi:

»

Details of Iran’s new cryptocurrency were revealed last summer, after the Trump administration started reimposing sanctions over alleged “malign activities”.

The biggest blow to Iran’s economy came in November, when some of its banks were barred from SWIFT, the Belgian-based global messaging system that facilitates cross-border payments.

Countries excluded from SWIFT cannot pay for imports or receive payments for exports, leaving them crippled financially, and having to rely on alternative methods of moving money.

Iran’s cryptocurrency is expected to be rolled out in phases, first as a rial-backed digital token, to facilitate payments between Iranian banks and other Iranian institutions active in the crypto space, and later possibly as an instrument for the Iranian public to pay for local goods and services.

While it would not directly facilitate payments between Iran and other countries, the state-backed digital currency could lay the groundwork for Iran to join a blockchain-based international payments system that could emerge as an alternative to SWIFT.

There is no official confirmation of active participation between Iran and other nations in this area, or when any potential multilateral initiatives will yield results, but developments in recent months provide clues.

«

The problem with this is the sheer volume of currency that Iran would need to be moving around. Who is going to swap cryptorials for anything?
link to this extract


The heroes of the Thai cave rescue • Macleans

Shannon Gormley has a long, detailed, insider-y reporting of what happened, including this as they were bringing one of the boys out – drugged so that he wouldn’t struggle:

»

the boy is writhing like a salted snail; this time, no one is there to help.

Jim will have to help the boy himself. There’s a bit of a bank up ahead: the unmanned Station 4. He hauls the boy up onto the mud a little bit. He pulls the plastic safety cap off the syringe with his teeth. He stabs the needle into the boy. He waits for the boy to calm down. The boy calms down. He waits to be absolutely sure the boy has calmed down. The boy has absolutely calmed down. Jim sticks the needle in a crack of the cave wall so it doesn’t pierce the next divers, and he swims on to Grand Central Station 3, the final station on Jim’s journey.

Hand. Hand. Hand. Again. Again. Again.

Impossible, but there it is: the body doubling over. Again, Jim thinks it’s happening again. Again, it’s worse. This time, they’re far from a bank. And this time, the boy has nearly knocked his own air tank clear off—Jim can feel the cylinder just barely hanging on by the top rubber bind, flapping around in the water.

If explorers only thought about the destination they’re trying to reach, they would never see it. In a cave, short-sighted tunnel vision can be a lifesaver. Jim knows to home in on the critical elements of dangerous situations: Ignore your quickening heartbeat, concentrate on your breathing; forget what happens to you if your air runs out, focus on what you can do with the air that remains; disregard the fact that a hand might resume strangling your air tube at any moment, remember that you’re not quite dead yet.

«

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IBM launches commercial quantum computing – we’re not ready for what comes next • The Conversation

Carlos Perez-Delgado is a lecturer in computing at the University of Kent:

»

The one criticism typically laid against quantum technologies is that they are “too expensive”, and will continue to be so even as they become more readily available. This is certainly the case today. IBM isn’t making <a href="https://newsroom.ibm.com/2019-01-08-IBM-Unveils-Worlds-First-Integrated-Quantum-Computing-System-for-Commercial-Use“>its quantum computer available to buy but rather to access over the internet. But this shows the technology is on its way to becoming affordable in the near future.

Quantum computers are very easily disrupted by changes in the environment and take a long time to reset. So IBM has developed a protective system to keep the Q System One stable enough to perform tasks for commercial customers, which are likely to include large companies, universities and research organisations that want to run complex simulations. As a result, IBM believes it has a commercially viable product, and is putting its money where its mouth is…

…Quantum technologies are disruptive, and more so in cybersecurity than any other field. Once large-scale quantum computers become available (which at the current rate could take another ten to 15 years), they could be used to access pretty much every secret on the internet. Online banking, private emails, passwords and secure chats would all be opened up. You would be able to impersonate any person or web page online.

«

I’m ever so slightly dubious about this “quantum computer but only available via the internet”. So you don’t see it, just see its results? How does one distinguish results obtained from a quantum computer over a link where you’re timesharing from a result obtained from a top-speed non-quantum computer on a fast link? IBM’s press release, linked above, and its <a href="https://quantumexperience.ng.bluemix.net/qx/experience“>Q Experience page, don’t really explain this at all. Let’s hope this isn’t another Watson.
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A tiny screw shows why iPhones won’t be ‘assembled in U.S.A.’ • The New York Times

Jack Nicas:

»

when Apple began making the $3,000 computer in Austin, Tex., it struggled to find enough screws, according to three people who worked on the project and spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of custom screws on short notice. In Texas, where they say everything is bigger, it turned out the screw suppliers were not.

Tests of new versions of the computer were hamstrung because a 20-employee machine shop that Apple’s manufacturing contractor was relying on could produce at most 1,000 screws a day.

The screw shortage was one of several problems that postponed sales of the computer for months, the people who worked on the project said. By the time the computer was ready for mass production, Apple had ordered screws from China.

The challenges in Texas illustrate problems that Apple would face if it tried to move a significant amount of manufacturing out of China. Apple has found that no country — and certainly not the United States — can match China’s combination of scale, skills, infrastructure and cost…

…Apple has intensified a search for ways to diversify its supply chain, but that hunt has homed in on India and Vietnam, according to an Apple executive who asked not to be named because the executive was not authorized to speak publicly. The company’s executives are increasingly worried that its heavy dependence on China for manufacturing is risky amid the country’s rising political tensions with the United States and unpredictability, this person said.

“The skill here is just incredible,” Mr. Cook said at a conference in China in late 2017. Making Apple products requires state-of-the-art machines and lots of people who know how to run them, he said.

“In the U.S., you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room,” he said. “In China, you could fill multiple football fields.”

«

Cook has been making this point about China’s scale for years – and it remains true regardless of trade wars. (Nice implication that it was a paucity of screws that prevented the Mac Pro selling more.)
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Apple in 2018: the Six Colors report card • Six Colors

Each year Jason Snell asks a fairly wide group of journalists and analysts to comment on how Apple’s year was, in hardware, software and so on. I’m quoted, though not in this bit:

»

overall the MacBook line “remains entirely confused,” according to Fraser Speirs. John Siracusa said, “The story of the Mac in 2018 was dominated by a laptop lineup that remains both confusing and unsatisfying.” Adam Engst said, “Apple’s laptop line is even more of a confusing mess than before.”

“I honestly don’t know why [the 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar] is even being sold—It’s similar for the MacBook… there is no compelling reason this exists. And yet it is still being sold for more than a MacBook Air. I just don’t get it…. The gulf between what Apple charges and what its competitors charge is increasing in a way that doesn’t benefit Apple,” said Christina Warren.

Steven Aquino lamented “a lack of iteration on the Touch Bar.”

And did we mention the MacBook keyboards? Matt Deatherage said, “It defies reason for Apple [to offer] keyboards of inferior design and execution.” John Gruber said, “I may be biased as a writer and a keyboard aficionado, but it used to be the case that Apple’s notebook keyboards were widely hailed as the best in the world… that’s no longer the case and I think that’s a problem.” Shahid Kamal Ahmad said that the major failing of the keyboard was not its feel but “the inherent unreliability of the switches and their propensity to fail from the inevitable ingress of a subatomic particle.”

«

The chances that Apple reverts its keyboard design, or even offers the older scissor form as an alternative, are between zero and none. Yet this sort of complaint is going to continue; it’s like the hockey puck mouse, which everyone hated. Apple moved on there. Realistically, what will it do here?
link to this extract


China’s smartphone market falls 14% in 2018 • Canalys Newsroom

»

In 2018, smartphone shipments in China fell to their lowest level since 2013, at 396 million units. The natural slowdown as consumers keep their smartphones for longer is one factor, but it has been amplified considerably by the economic slowdown in China and consumers&rsquo; weakened purchasing power. The latest quarter, Q4 2018, marked a 15% year-on-year drop, and the seventh consecutive quarter of decline.

<img src="https://www.canalys.com/static/press_release/images/pr20190128%20huawei%20takes%20record%20share%20.jpg” width=”100%” />

As shipments tumble, the market is rapidly consolidating. The top five smartphone vendors’ market share has increased from 73% in 2017 to 88% in 2018. Among them, Huawei and Vivo bucked the overall market decline, and grew 16% and 9% respectively. Oppo managed to hold onto second place, falling 2% but growing market share. Xiaomi ranked fourth, as a disappointing second half caused its full-year shipments to fall by 6%. Apple stayed in fifth place with a 13% decline in 2018. It still outperformed the market, but this was the worst growth rate in the top five, and Apple’s third consecutive year of shipment decline in China.

Huawei achieved a record market share of 27% in 2018, with 105 million shipments. “Huawei has penetrated the high-end with technological innovations, and a strengthening brand, which has helped it markedly extend its lead in China,” said Mo Jia, an analyst based in Canalys’s Shanghai office. “Its dual-brand strategy has been a huge success, with sub-brand Honor helping it cover a broad range of price bands. China continues to be a strong foundation for Huawei, and its launchpad for overseas expansion as Huawei aims to challenge Samsung for global leadership in 2019.”…

…Apple had the toughest year of the top five, with shipments falling 13%, as customers were deterred by the high pricing of its new iPhone. In addition, models such as iPhone 7 and 8 did not see significant uplift in China, even after prices were lowered after the launch of the iPhone XS. “Apple has several challenges in China, and the growing power of competitors is not actually its biggest,” said Jia. “…Apple must re-examine its China strategy, and find a way to revive its high-end brand image, in order to align with the purchasing behavior of local middle-class and upper-class demographics.”

Leading manufacturers will have even less breathing space in 2019, as Canalys expects the Chinese smartphone market to fall by 3% to 385 million units.

«

I think Apple’s problem was that the XS and XS Max don’t look different enough from last year’s (let’s call it the Stratechery Thesis). This is going to be a squeeze on the “others”.
link to this extract


Amazon changes tack on video offering, as Apple joins market • The Information

Jessica Toonkel:

»

Over the past few months, executives at the e-commerce giant have told entertainment companies that it is going to be more selective about which video services it adds to what it calls Amazon Channels. The offering now includes around 200 services, from small paid video services like Acorn to big ones like HBO Now and Showtime. Amazon has increasingly focused its attentions on the biggest channels on the platform which generate the most subscription revenue, said two people familiar with its plans.

The shift signals that Amazon’s vision for its digital video service has narrowed. While its own Prime Video streaming service is a strong competitor to Netflix—offering original series like “Transparent” and “Bosch” as well as reruns from TV networks—the Channels offering made Amazon the destination for all kinds of streaming services. It was the video version of Amazon’s Marketplace, where the e-commerce giant lets other merchants sell their goods on its site in exchange for a fee. In the case of the Channels service, Amazon takes a cut of subscription revenues, generating $500m last year, estimates BMO Capital Markets.

Amazon is still interested in adding some of the bigger subscription services to its platform, and wants to expand internationally. But it is no longer is striving to offer every streaming service available, the people said.

«

I had no idea Amazon offered these things (perhaps because I don’t own an Amazon Fire Stick). The timing for the Apple launch feels like it’s giving itself plenty of time to get people interested before it starts doing its own content in a big way.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Any weird formatting is my fault – I had to rewrite the script to compile this in a hurry as Pinboard’s API was dead. Hurrah for web scraping to short deadlines.

Start Up No.990: the coming Facebook-Instagram-WhatsApp integration, Japan’s here to hack!, living on bitcoin, and more


With a payback of three months, are scooters surviving long enough to keep companies afloat? CC-licensed photo by waltarrrrr 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. Rolling on. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Scooter hype gives way to tough questions about durability and unit economics • The Drive

Edward Niedermeyer:

»

That three-month payback period [for a Bird scooter], based on Bird’s projection of improved unit economics during 2018, is a far cry from the less than one month of in-fleet operation that Bird’s scooters have been averaging according to our source. At the time Bird told investors that repairs cost the company 14% of gross revenue, or about 51 cents per ride. Since then widespread reports of “scooter vandalism” have raised fresh questions about the repair and replacement costs that shared scooter companies are facing…

…investors aren’t the only stakeholders who are growing concerned by Bird’s operational challenges. In multiple posts made at the subreddit r/birdchargers in the last week “Bird hunters” who charge the company’s scooters have wondered if the company is “going out of business” and “about to collapse.” The picture that emerges from the subreddit is of chaos: chargers report receiving messages from the company accusing them of “hoarding” scooters in order to game charging bounties (the longer a scooter remains uncharged, the more a charger makes from the company when it charges it) even when they aren’t hoarding, don’t have any scooters or are storing scooters during bad weather (in some cases without being paid for storage).

These issues seem to be tied to a combination of seasonal issues that the Southern California-based company doesn’t seem well-prepared for, a shortage of full-time staff, falling charging bounties, and what appears to be a rampant hoarding problem. There’s even evidence that Bird and other scooter companies are being targeted by startup impound companies who want their slice of those millions in venture capital.

«

I’m not sure if this is just a generational thing, but I don’t think I’d want to be riding a scooter on a snowy day in London. Or a rainy day in London. Of which there are quite a few. Also, there’s a very effective public transport system of overground buses and underground trains. Does this limit them to fair-weather cities with bad public transport?
link to this extract


Japanese government plans to hack into citizens’ IoT devices • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

The Japanese government approved a law amendment on Friday that will allow government workers to hack into people’s Internet of Things devices as part of an unprecedented survey of insecure IoT devices.

The survey will be carried out by employees of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

NICT employees will be allowed to use default passwords and password dictionaries to attempt to log into Japanese consumers’ IoT devices.

The plan is to compile a list of insecure devices that use default and easy-to-guess passwords and pass it on to authorities and the relevant internet service providers, so they can take measures to alert consumers and secure the devices.

The survey is scheduled to kick off next month, when authorities plan to test the password security of over 200 million IoT devices, beginning with routers and web cameras. Devices in people’s homes and on enterprise networks will be tested alike.

«

That’s not going to be controversial at all. Though possibly Japanese consumers are more relaxed about this.
link to this extract


Undercover agents target cybersecurity watchdog • Associated Press

Raphael Satter:

»

The researchers who reported that Israeli software was used to spy on Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s inner circle before his gruesome death are being targeted in turn by international undercover operatives, The Associated Press has found.

Twice in the past two months, men masquerading as socially conscious investors have lured members of the Citizen Lab internet watchdog group to meetings at luxury hotels to quiz them for hours about their work exposing Israeli surveillance and the details of their personal lives. In both cases, the researchers believe they were secretly recorded.

Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert described the stunts as “a new low.”

“We condemn these sinister, underhanded activities in the strongest possible terms,” he said in a statement Friday. “Such a deceitful attack on an academic group like the Citizen Lab is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.”

Who these operatives are working for remains a riddle, but their tactics recall those of private investigators who assume elaborate false identities to gather intelligence or compromising material on critics of powerful figures in government or business.

Citizen Lab, based out of the Munk School at the University of Toronto, has for years played a leading role in exposing state-backed hackers operating in places as far afield as Tibet , Ethiopia and Syria . Lately the group has drawn attention for its repeated exposés of an Israeli surveillance software vendor called the NSO Group, a firm whose wares have been used by governments to target journalists in Mexico , opposition figures in Panama and human rights activists in the Middle East .

«

link to this extract


The Wii Shop Channel closes forever next week • Game Informer

Imran Khan:

»

The question often arises of what happens when a company just decides to close up and shut down the shop, but it hasn’t been too big an issue so far. That will change at the end of this week, when Nintendo becomes the biggest player in the game to shut down a digital distribution shop, in the future effectively ending the ability to download or re-download anything from the Wii Shop.

The shutdown, which was announced on Nintendo’s support website, means that the Wii Shop servers will no longer be accessible. So if there’s games you have paid for but do not currently have downloaded on your Wii, you have until January 30 to get them onto the system memory or associated SD card before Nintendo brings down the axe. This means WiiWare games and Virtual Console titles, as well as any content that needs to be downloaded, like channels. In theory, Skyward Sword’s patch can no longer be downloaded, thus leaving a progress-blocking glitch in the game forever.

«

There was a similar problem when all the Windows-based digital music stores shut down, but at least they were replaced by services offering the same or more songs. Not so simple with Wii games. (13-year-old’s comment as he plays on Nintendo Switch: “I had no idea it was still open.”)
link to this extract


The facts about Facebook • WSJ

Mark Zuckerberg:

»

Some worry that ads create a misalignment of interests between us and people who use our services. I’m often asked if we have an incentive to increase engagement on Facebook because that creates more advertising real estate, even if it’s not in people’s best interests.

We’re very focused on helping people share and connect more, because the purpose of our service is to help people stay in touch with family, friends and communities. But from a business perspective, it’s important that their time is well spent, or they won’t use our services as much over the long term. Clickbait and other junk may drive engagement in the near term, but it would be foolish for us to show this intentionally, because it’s not what people want.

Another question is whether we leave harmful or divisive content up because it drives engagement. We don’t. People consistently tell us they don’t want to see this content. Advertisers don’t want their brands anywhere near it. The only reason bad content remains is because the people and artificial-intelligence systems we use to review it are not perfect—not because we have an incentive to ignore it. Our systems are still evolving and improving…

…In a global survey, half the businesses on Facebook say they’ve hired more people since they joined. They’re using our services to create millions of jobs.

For us, technology has always been about putting power in the hands of as many people as possible. If you believe in a world where everyone gets an opportunity to use their voice and an equal chance to be heard, where anyone can start a business from scratch, then it’s important to build technology that serves everyone.

«

Essentially setting Facebook up as a competitor to Google in that regard. (That “hired more” syllogism is awful. Causality?) The subtext here: don’t regulate Facebook’s ad business, or Facebook, because the effects would go far beyond Facebook.
link to this extract


Zuckerberg plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger • The New York Times

Mike Isaac:

»

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, plans to integrate the social network’s messaging services — WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger — asserting his control over the company’s sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandal.

The services will continue to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified, said four people involved in the effort. That will bring together three of the world’s largest messaging networks, which between them have more than 2.6 billion users, allowing people to communicate across the platforms for the first time.

The move has the potential to redefine how billions of people use the apps to connect with one another while strengthening Facebook’s grip on users, raising antitrust, privacy and security questions. It also underscores how Mr. Zuckerberg is imposing his authority over units he once vowed to leave alone.

The plan — which is in the early stages, with a goal of completion by the end of this year or early 2020 — requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels, said the people involved in the effort, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is confidential.

«

There’s a lot of murmuring now among European politicians who dislike Facebook that this would be grounds to revisit Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, on the basis that it said this wouldn’t happen.
link to this extract


Continuing our work to improve recommendations on YouTube • Official YouTube Blog

“The YouTube Team”:

»

in the last year alone, we’ve made hundreds of changes to improve the quality of recommendations for users on YouTube.

We’ll continue that work this year, including taking a closer look at how we can reduce the spread of content that comes close to—but doesn’t quite cross the line of—violating our Community Guidelines. To that end, we’ll begin reducing recommendations of borderline content and content that could misinform users in harmful ways—such as videos promoting a phony miracle cure for a serious illness, claiming the earth is flat, or making blatantly false claims about historic events like 9/11.

While this shift will apply to less than one% of the content on YouTube, we believe that limiting the recommendation of these types of videos will mean a better experience for the YouTube community. To be clear, this will only affect recommendations of what videos to watch, not whether a video is available on YouTube. As always, people can still access all videos that comply with our Community Guidelines and, when relevant, these videos may appear in recommendations for channel subscribers and in search results. We think this change strikes a balance between maintaining a platform for free speech and living up to our responsibility to users.

This change relies on a combination of machine learning and real people. We work with human evaluators and experts from all over the United States to help train the machine learning systems that generate recommendations.

«

Notice how no product manager is taking responsibility for this; it’s “the team”. And that machine learning isn’t good enough yet to discern the nonsense from the sensible. For context: it’s still broken, as this tweet shows.
link to this extract


4chan trolls flood laid off HuffPost, BuzzFeed reporters with death threats • NBC News

Ben Collins:

»

[Nick] Wing was one of many journalists who were let go by BuzzFeed and HuffPost this week and were sent death threats from trolls organizing their efforts on the far-right message board 4chan. Many of those targeted by the harassment campaign did not cover the far-right, including Wing, whose beat focused on inequality and guns.

“It really is upsetting to see such outright animus toward the entire journalism profession, to the point where trolls are openly reveling in people’s misfortune or even working to make it worse. But ultimately I think it says more about their character than anything,” Wing told NBC News.

“What sort of sad and pathetic human being do you have to be to do that?”

Tweets sent from trolls to Wing that included everything from threats to racial slurs to images of swastikas remained visible on Twitter hours after they were posted.

BuzzFeed and HuffPost both laid off substantial portions of its newsrooms this week. BuzzFeed said it would cut about 15% of its workforce, and layoffs began Friday. HuffPost’s parent company, Verizon, promised to cut 7% of workers from its media division, and those layoffs began Thursday.

Talia Lavin, a freelance writer whose primary income was a political column for HuffPost before her editors were laid off this week, found 4chan threads with users bragging about “taunting them with my sock puppet Twitter.”

«

As someone pointed out in discussion, seeing a not-very-active account suddenly come to life and then suddenly get a lot of blocks should trigger some sort of suspension. (You don’t want to suspend normally-active accounts which get a lot of blocks; that would be used as a weapon against innocent people.) Also: notice how 4chan has become “far-right” 4chan.
link to this extract


Apple granted patent for interchangeable ‘universal’ AirPods with biometrics and improved fit • 9to5Mac

Alex Allegro:

»

This patent filing comes just days after a new Ming-Chi Kuo report which signaled for updated AirPods in the first quarter of 2019 set to include wireless charging. It seems clear the next AirPods refresh will most likely focus on improving upon the current design. But this patent shows that in 2020 and beyond, Apple is interested in creating an ultimate earbud that can fit anybody, with an array of biometric sensors capable of tracking health measurements along with detecting ear placement.

One of the points touched upon in the patent is how biometric sensors need to be pressed firmly against the skin to work best, and in a few of the designs outlined in the document, foam is used to expand the bud against the ear canal.

Obviously, this is a departure from the traditional plastic mold used by Apple in both EarPods and AirPods. However, in the pursuit of a universal fit, Apple might deem expanding foam as the best option as opposed to hard plastic.

«

Foam would be a nice feature. AirPods aren’t uncomfortable, but they’re too big for some ears. There has been some indication that the new versions will come after iOS 12.2 – currently in beta – is official.
link to this extract


Living on bitcoin day 1: “that’s not going to work” • Bitcoin Magazine

Colin Harper:

»

The crypto community in 2013 was devout but scant, and so were the places [journalist Kashmir] Hill could spend bitcoin [when she tried to live on it for a week]. Her entire experience was punctuated by a sense of getting by. This is best encapsulated by the final line of her 2013 series: “I survived.”

I compared notes with her about what I foresaw as being my biggest obstacles for the week, making mental notes to see if I could do more than “survive” and if 2013 might have actually been an easier year for the experiment.

As our conversation came to a close, Hill left me with a nugget of advice that I’d adopted as a mantra for my own iteration of the experiment.

“Don’t make the focus about yourself. Make it about other people, who the experiment allows you to access.”

Leaving La Boulangerie, I took an Uber back to the conference venue, where I made arrangements with Jeremy Gardner to visit a new project he’s working on and, of course, tour the infamous Crypto Castle.

We had a tight time frame; he was leaving for Park City, Utah, that night to go snowboarding.

“You can come by the castle tonight. Or later in the week, someone will let you in, show you around — I don’t care.”

We eventually settle on a 4:00 p.m. meeting outside of Monarch, a popular club wedged between San Francisco’s Mid Market and Tenderloin districts that accepts bitcoin by-the-bottle. It’s within walking distance of the conference which is good because my Uber credit was running low and the conference didn’t have any Wi-Fi for me to get on Paxful/Bitrefill to top it off.

The rest of the early afternoon was spent prepping for and moderating a panel, after which I scrambled around, looking for a USB-C charger to juice my phone and keep my financial lifeline alive (I had lost my charger that morning, of course). The conference tech staff was nice enough to lend me a charger, one of many acts of good will that seems to continually grace my experience.

When the time rolls around, Jeremy meets me with one of his business partners, Micah, who owns Monarch and another bitcoin accepting club in San Francisco, Great Northern. We hop one building over to their new project: a pawn shop that serves as the front for a speakeasy, both of which will accept bitcoin.

The shop had been a pawn for a while, Gardner said, buying, trading, selling and even offering loans and collateral for years before it shut down.

“All the snakey stuff,” he intimated.

«

If you needed persuading that bitcoin really isn’t for day-to-day transactions.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.989: surviving conspiracy theorists, supply chain hacking, Apple’s Titan-ic layoffs, ransomware v bitcoin, and more


DeepMind has conquered chess, shogi and Go; now also the real-time strategy game Starcraft II. CC-licensed photo by David Luong 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. Still human. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AlphaStar: mastering the real-time strategy game StarCraft II • DeepMind

»

Games have been used for decades as an important way to test and evaluate the performance of artificial intelligence systems. As capabilities have increased, the research community has sought games with increasing complexity that capture different elements of intelligence required to solve scientific and real-world problems. In recent years, StarCraft, considered to be one of the most challenging Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games and one of the longest-played esports of all time, has emerged by consensus as a “grand challenge” for AI research.

Now, we introduce our StarCraft II program AlphaStar, the first Artificial Intelligence to defeat a top professional player. In a series of test matches held on 19 December, AlphaStar decisively beat Team Liquid’s Grzegorz “MaNa” Komincz, one of the world’s strongest professional StarCraft players, 5-0, following a successful benchmark match against his team-mate Dario “TLO” Wünsch. The matches took place under professional match conditions on a competitive ladder map and without any game restrictions…

…StarCraft II, created by Blizzard Entertainment, is set in a fictional sci-fi universe and features rich, multi-layered gameplay designed to challenge human intellect. Along with the original title, it is among the biggest and most successful games of all time, with players competing in esports tournaments for more than 20 years.

«

Tons of links and replays to watch here. I watched the latest Star Trek: Discovery series on Netflix and kept thinking, as people shouted orders during (stupid) space battles, “you’d have long since handed this stuff over to computers.” Well, here we go.
link to this extract


Trapped in a hoax: survivors of conspiracy theories speak out • The Guardian

Ed Pilkington:

»

A University of Chicago study estimated in 2014 that half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory. When they repeated the survey last November, the proportion had risen to 61%. The startling finding was echoed by a recent study from the University of Cambridge that found 60% of Britons are wedded to a false narrative.

The trend began on obscure online forums such as the alt-right playground 4chan. Soon, media entrepreneurs realized there was money to be made – most notoriously Alex Jones, whose site Infowars feeds its millions of readers a potent diet of lurid lies (9/11 was a government hit job; the feds manipulate the weather.)

Now the conspiracy theorist-in-chief sits in the White House. Donald Trump cut his political teeth on the “birther” lie that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and went on to embrace climate change denial, rampant voter fraud and the discredited belief that childhood vaccines may cause autism.

Amid this explosive growth, one aspect has been underappreciated: the human cost. What is the toll paid by those caught up in these falsehoods? And how are they fighting back?

The Guardian talked to five people who can speak from bitter personal experience. We begin in a town we will not identify in Massachusetts where a young man, who tells his story here for the first time, was asleep in his bed.

«

The information plague of the modern age.
link to this extract


The messy truth about infiltrating computer supply chains • The Intercept

Micah Lee and Henrik Moltke:

»

while Bloomberg’s story [about a tiny chip on motherboards compromising Apple and Amazon systems] may well be completely (or partly) wrong, the danger of China compromising hardware supply chains is very real, judging from classified intelligence documents. US spy agencies were warned about the threat in stark terms nearly a decade ago and even assessed that China was adept at corrupting the software bundled closest to a computer’s hardware at the factory, threatening some of the US government’s most sensitive machines, according to documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents also detail how the US and its allies have themselves systematically targeted and subverted tech supply chains, with the NSA conducting its own such operations, including in China, in partnership with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The documents also disclose supply chain operations by German and French intelligence.

What’s clear is that supply chain attacks are a well-established, if underappreciated, method of surveillance — and much work remains to be done to secure computing devices from this type of compromise.

“An increasing number of actors are seeking the capability to target … supply chains and other components of the US information infrastructure,” the intelligence community stated in a secret 2009 report. “Intelligence reporting provides only limited information on efforts to compromise supply chains, in large part because we do not have the access or technology in place necessary for reliable detection of such operations.”

«

The NSA compromised Cisco routers; that’s pretty well known.
link to this extract


Sonos plans headphones in move outside the home • Bloomberg

Mark Gurman and Debby Wu:

»

High-end pairs often cost $300 or more, and Sonos is expected to target a similar price range, the people added.

Sonos is focusing on audio quality and the ability to work with multiple music services and digital assistants, like its latest internet-connected speakers. The company is one of the few independent consumer hardware makers that has partnered with most of the leading technology companies, including Apple Inc., Google and Amazon.com Inc.

The Santa Barbara, California-based company has begun approaching overseas manufacturers about producing the headphones, one of the people said. Sonos spokeswoman Laura Morarity said the company doesn’t comment on future product plans.

The headphones represent a potential new growth area for Sonos. The company went public in August at $15 a share and the stock has dropped more than 25% since then. Still, the company beat analysts’ revenue estimates in the third quarter after its Beam sound bar sold well. Wall Street expects sales of more than $490m in the holiday quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In its most recent letter to shareholders, Sonos said half of music listening occurs outside the home and suggested it will tackle this part of the market.

«

I’d say Sonos’s core market is people who like the convenience, sound quality and size of their speakers and app. Headphones are horrendously commoditised. And yet… it might work: get volume and profit if you can sell enough based on the brand power.
link to this extract


Advocacy groups urge FTC to pursue Facebook breakup • WSJ

John McKinnon:

»

Several advocacy groups are urging the Federal Trade Commission to seek a breakup of Facebook as it weighs possible penalties against the social media company for privacy violations.

Facebook has acknowledged that the data firm Cambridge Analytica improperly obtained personal data of millions of users. The FTC is nearing completion of an investigation into the matter and is weighing penalties, including a substantial fine.

Among other remedies, “the FTC should require Facebook to unwind the acquisition of both WhatsApp and Instagram” for its failure to protect the data of those apps’ users, according to a draft letter from the groups to the FTC. A copy of the letter, dated Jan. 24, was obtained by The Wall Street Journal.

“Facebook has operated for too long with too little accountability,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of the groups expected to sign the letter. Others include Color of Change, which advocates racial justice, and Open Markets Institute, which promotes business competition.

«

Certainly would make a huge difference if it didn’t have Instagram. It might – might – even be feasible to unwind the three companies from each other. Controlling social media aggregation is the next antitrust frontier; the problem is how to frame the legal battle that would justify it.

But as an ex-FTC law professor points out, it’s not in the FTC’s powers to order antitrust action like that.
link to this extract


Apple lays off over 200 from Project Titan autonomous vehicle group • CNBC

Lora Kolodny, Christina Farr and Paul Eisenstein:

»

Apple dismissed just over 200 employees this week from Project Titan, its stealthy autonomous vehicle group, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

An Apple spokesperson acknowledged the layoffs and said the company still sees opportunity in the space:

“We have an incredibly talented team working on autonomous systems and associated technologies at Apple. As the team focuses their work on several key areas for 2019, some groups are being moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives, across all of Apple,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to believe there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems, that Apple has unique capabilities to contribute, and that this is the most ambitious machine learning project ever.”

«

As someone remarked (on Twitter of course), they should just add the abbreviation for “integrated car” to the end of the project name. Just can’t really see Apple doing cars.
link to this extract


New ransomware strain is locking up Bitcoin mining rigs in China • ZDNet

Catalin Cimpanu:

»

Most of the infected mining rigs are Antminer S9 and T9 devices, used for Bitcoin mining, but there have also been reports of hAnt infecting Antminer L3 rigs, used for mining Litecoin. In rare instances, Avalon Miner equipment (used for Bitcoin), were also reported as infected, but in much smaller numbers.

It is unclear how crooks first infect a mining farm’s data center or equipment, but some Chinese security experts suggest that hAnt comes hidden inside tainted versions of mining rig firmware that has been making the rounds online since last summer.

According to reports in Chinese media, once hAnt infects a mining rig, it immediately locks the device and prevents it from mining any new currency.

When equipment owners connect to devices remotely (via a CLI, command-line interface) or manually (using LCD screens) the first thing they see is a splash screen depicting an ant and two pickaxes in green ASCII characters, similar to the red skull splash screen displayed by the NotPetya ransomware…

…The ransom note is somewhat unique when compared to ransom demands seen on desktop ransomware variants because victims are given a choice.

They can either pay a 10 Bitcoin ($36,000) ransom to remove the ransomware from the mining rig, or they can download a malicious firmware update that they have to apply to other mining rigs to further spread the ransomware.

If victims fail to pay the ransom or infect at least 1,000 other devices, the ransom note threatens to turn off the mining rig’s fan and its overheat protection, leading to the device’s destruction.

«

Ransomware that benefits the environment. It’s a first.
link to this extract


BuzzFeed, HuffPost latest to feel pinch in faltering digital news economy • The Washington Post

»

Traditional media organizations, such as newspaper and TV stations, have been buffeted for years by the transition to a digital economy, with some of their readers and advertising base siphoned away by the likes of BuzzFeed, Vice and HuffPost.

But over the past several months, digital companies have faced some of the same issues, as profits have proved elusive in an advertising market dominated by two giants — Google and Facebook.

Vice has instituted a hiring freeze and is seeking to cut its workforce by about 10% to 15% this year, primarily through attrition. Verizon Media Group, the owner of HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo, announced its own round of layoffs of about 7% on Wednesday.

Other digital news outlets, such as Refinery29, Vox Media and Mic, have been pinched, too. Vox — the Washington-based publisher of Vox, SB Nation and other sites — cut about 50 staffers early last year. Refinery29, which is aimed at millennial women, dropped about 10% of its staff, or about 40 people, in October.

Mic, another site aimed at millennials, laid off its entire editorial staff in November.

«

Buzzfeed is laying off about 15% of its staff, following on from cuts last year; the UK will be affected. And this is during a good time. Wait for what a recession will do.
link to this extract


“She was a cartoon villain brought to life”: a former Trump aide recalls Conway’s leaking tactics in the West Wing viper’s nest • Vanity Fair

Cliff Sims, who has already entertained us with an extract from his book about how Trump promised Nasa unlimited funds if only it would land someone on Mars by 2020:

»

I had not brought my work laptop upstairs with me when she called, so Kellyanne [Conway, who has the role of… nobody quite knows what in the White House] pointed over to her personal MacBook sitting on the conference table on the other side of the room. “Just use that and type something up for me,” she said.

I sat down and started slowly pecking out a statement. While working in the White House, I found that I’d grown so accustomed to writing in Trump’s voice that writing for other people had become somewhat harder than it nor mally would have been. I was already getting off to a slow start, but I was also getting distracted by the nonstop stream of iMessages popping up on the screen. At that point, personal phones had not yet been banned in the West Wing, so Kellyanne was sitting at her desk texting away. And since her iMes sage account was tied to both her phone and her laptop, which she must not have even considered, I could inadvertently see every conversation she was having.

Over the course of 20 minutes or so, she was having simultaneous conversations with no fewer than a half -dozen reporters, most of them from outlets the White House frequently trashed for publishing “fake news.” Jour nalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Politico, and Bloomberg were all popping up on the screen. And these weren’t policy conversations, or attempts to fend off attacks on the president. As I sat there trying to type, she bashed Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Sean Spicer, all by name.

(“The real leakers, past and present, get much more positive press than I do. While it’s rare, I prefer to knife people from the front, so they see it coming,” Conway said in a statement shortly after publication. According to a source familiar with the situation, the statement was drafted in consultation with her husband, George Conway.)

«

Isn’t it strange how both insiders and outsiders writing about the Trump admin describe utter chaos and backstabbing, again and again? Shakespeare would have a field day. The Medicis would tip their hats. Well, maybe not at the chaos bit.
link to this extract


Deliveroo users are getting defrauded – and it could be fined millions for it • New Statesman

Sarah Manavis found a big charge on her account one morning:

»

rather than seeing an overspend or a direct debit I’d forgotten about, I saw three enormous charges from the food delivery service Deliveroo from the night before. They weren’t mine.

I immediately called Deliveroo to say that it wasn’t, in fact, me who ordered £100 worth of food in the space of ten minutes in three separate orders; and told them that the fraudsters had changed my email address, so I couldn’t even get into my account to look at where it was sent. I was told that they would investigate, and I would be sent an email asking for more information immediately.

I was not. After an hour, I rang again, to find that actually the email had been sent to the new email address – the one the fraudsters plugged in – so that they had presumably been alerted to the investigation. I complained, got the email re-sent to me, and was then met by radio silence for the rest of the day. When I eventually rang again, the company said it couldn’t actually tell me whether or not I would get my money back, adding that I might not hear from them for nearly a week before they let me know either way.

By 5pm, I was getting fed up, so I did what any journalist with a modest Twitter following would do, and tweeted. What I thought would happen was that my case would be bumped on the list, and maybe I’d get my money back sooner (or, indeed, at all). What actually happened was that my replies, DMs and email were all immediately flooded with people who had been a victim of the same fraud, saying, yes, this had happened to them too and no, Deliveroo had never refunded them.

«

This has been going on for some time. And guess what? Deliveroo doesn’t offer 2FA security.
link to this extract


Amazon’s automated grocery store has some empty shelves thanks to sudden Munchery bankruptcy • Yahoo News

Paayal Zaveri:

»

Shoppers at Amazon ‘s cashier-less convenience stores in San Francisco faced some empty shelves Tuesday morning after one of its local suppliers, Munchery, suddenly went out of business on Monday.

Munchery was a San Francisco on-demand food-delivery business and supplied prepared food items to San Francisco’s Amazon Go stores. Employees at one Amazon Go location in San Francisco said it was not yet clear what would replace the Munchery items, but it would likely be another local supplier.

In an email to customers on Monday, Munchery said “Munchery is closing its doors and ending operations effective immediately,” and “any outstanding orders with Munchery will be canceled and refunded.”

Munchery was one of many on-demand meal kit companies that wanted to do it all: prepare meals and handle the delivery logistics for customers. Munchery raised $125.4 million in venture funding since it was founded in 2011, according to Crunchbase. Better-funded competitors like Blue Apron have also been struggling — Blue Apron priced its shares at $10/share when it went public in 2017, and it’s now trading below $2. Ironically, Amazon’s own movement into groceries with its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods has put competitive pressure on these companies.

«

Winter is coming, folks.
link to this extract


Walmart mysteriously vanishes from Google Express • Android Police

Corbin Davenport:

»

When Google Express re-launched in 2017 as a free service, it had two major retail partners — Walmart and Target. Both companies have a massive amount of stores across the United States, so Express became a great shopping tool as a result. However, Walmart seems to have been quietly removed from Express.

Visiting the former Walmart store page now simply shows a “Walmart is outside your delivery area.” error message, even if you live in an area with a nearby Walmart store. The Twitter account for Express confirmed the removal, but did not provide further details.

The removal of Walmart definitely cripples Google Express, but it’s not a death blow. Target is still partnered with Express, and sells many of the same items that Walmart did, including groceries and other home goods. Costco also has groceries, if you have a membership.

It seems likely that Walmart left Google Express to draw customers to its own services.

«

Which means that soon there won’t be a Google Express.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.988: the rise of ‘selfie dysmorphia’, Daily Mail grumps at browser, the camera that sees round corners, is Wear OS doomed?, and more


Rachel Maddow: a challenge for AI categorisation systems. CC-licensed photo by West Point-The U.S. Military Academy on Flickr.

A selection of 11 links for you. Not paralysed by legislative dithering. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

AI thinks Rachel Maddow is a man (and this is a problem for all of us) • Medium

Edwin Ong:

»

As more machine learning systems get used in production, it is increasingly important to adopt better testing beyond the test dataset. Unlike traditional software quality assurance, in which systems are tested to ensure that features operate as expected, machine learning testing requires the curation and generation of new datasets and a framework capable of dealing with confidence levels rather than the traditional 404 and 500 error codes from web servers.

My partner Alex and I have been working on tools for to support machine learning in production. As she wrote in The Rise of the Model Servers, as machine learning moves from the lab into production, additional security and testing services are required to fully complete the stack. One of our tools, ML Safety Server, allows the rapid generation and management of additional test datasets and the tracking of how these datasets perform over time. It is from using the Safety Server that we discovered that AI thinks Rachel Maddow is a man.

We’ve been using public cloud APIs to prototype the Safety Server. We discovered the Rachel Maddow issue when testing image recognition services. AWS, Azure, Clarifai, and Watson have all misgendered Rachel Maddow when given recent images of her.

«

So basically he’s saying that with great computing power comes great responsibility to make sure that the training and test sets are really, really good.
link to this extract


Encryption efforts in Colorado challenge crime reporters, transparency • Columbia Journalism Review

»

Colorado journalists on the crime beat are increasingly in the dark. More than two-dozen law enforcement agencies statewide have encrypted all of their radio communications, not just those related to surveillance or a special or sensitive operation. That means journalists and others can’t listen in using a scanner or smartphone app to learn about routine police calls.

Law enforcement officials say that’s basically the point. Scanner technology has become more accessible through smartphone apps, and encryption has become easier and less expensive. Officials say that encrypting all radio communications is good for police safety and effectiveness, because suspects sometimes use scanners to evade or target officers, and good for the privacy of crime victims, whose personal information and location can go out over the radio.

They also cite misinformation as a reason to encrypt. Kevin Klein, the director of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said people listening to scanner traffic during a 2015 Colorado Springs shooting live-tweeted the incident and, in doing so, spread false information about the shooter’s identity and the police response.

But encrypting all radio communications makes it harder to cover crime. Journalists usually don’t use scanner traffic directly in their reports, but they often use the traffic to learn about and respond immediately to breaking news. In that sense, expanding encryption reduces transparency.

«

I’m pretty sure that in the UK police communications have been secure for years – you can’t tap into them. These days, Twitter and Facebook are how people find out about stuff.
link to this extract


Faking it: how selfie dysmorphia is driving people to seek surgery • The Guardian

Elle Hunt:

»

Sometimes her followers would suggest meeting in person. “Then it would be like, ‘I have to look like my selfie.’” It was around this time, the height of her Snapchat obsession, that Anika started contacting cosmetic doctors on Instagram.

The phenomenon of people requesting procedures to resemble their digital image has been referred to – sometimes flippantly, sometimes as a harbinger of end times – as “Snapchat dysmorphia”. The term was coined by the cosmetic doctor Tijion Esho, founder of the Esho clinics in London and Newcastle. He had noticed that where patients had once brought in pictures of celebrities with their ideal nose or jaw, they were now pointing to photos of themselves.

While some used their selfies – typically edited with Snapchat or the airbrushing app Facetune – as a guide, others would say, “‘I want to actually look like this’, with the large eyes and the pixel-perfect skin,” says Esho. “And that’s an unrealistic, unattainable thing.”

A recent report in the US medical journal JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggested that filtered images’ “blurring the line of reality and fantasy” could be triggering body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition where people become fixated on imagined defects in their appearance.

«

link to this extract


Daily Mail demands browser warning U-turn • BBC News

»

The Daily Mail is calling for a web browser alert that criticises its journalism to be changed.
The NewsGuard plug-in currently brings up a warning that says the newspaper’s website “generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability”.

It has given this advice since August. But the matter came to prominence last week, after Microsoft updated its Edge browser app for Android and iOS devices and built in NewsGuard.

This prompted several other media outlets to report the story. “We have only very recently become aware of the NewsGuard start-up and are in discussions with them to have this egregiously erroneous classification resolved as soon as possible,” said a spokesman for Mail Online.

At present, NewsGuard must be switched on by users of Microsoft’s Edge app, but the BBC understands there are plans for it to become the default option in the future.

The New York-based service – which is independent of Microsoft – also has ambitions to include its tool in further products from the Windows developer as well as other tech firms. But for now, it can be used as an add-on extension in the desktop version of web browsers including Edge, Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari.

«

The Newsguard warning for the Mail says “Proceed with caution: this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” I’d suggest it’s wrong about the accuracy – the Mail may be biased, but it’s fiercely proud of its fact-finding. (Quite how it *arranges* those facts can be up for debate.) The accountability when it gets stuff wrong is a lot worse though. It hates to admit that it screwed up.
link to this extract


Data broker that sold phone locations used by bounty hunters lobbied FCC to scrap user consent • Motherboard

Joseph Cox and Jason Koebler:

»

Earlier this month Motherboard showed how T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint were selling cell phone users’ location data that ultimately ended up in the hands of bounty hunters and people unauthorized to handle it. That data trickled down from the telecommunications giants through a complex network of middlemen and data brokers. One of those third parties was Zumigo, a company that gets location data access directly from the telcos and then sells it for a profit.

Motherboard has now unearthed a presentation that Zumigo gave to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late 2017 in which it asked the agency to place even fewer restrictions on how some of the data it sells can be used, and specifically asked for the agency to loosen user consent requirements for data sharing.

“As breaches become more prevalent and as consumers rely more on mobile phones, there is a tipping point where financial and personal protections begin to equal, or outweigh, privacy concerns,” one of the slides reads.

Another slide titled “solutions” suggests that the FCC loosen current consent requirements that are included in cell phone providers’ terms of service, allowing carriers to use vaguer, “more flexible” language.

«

Wouldn’t it be great if the US had some sort of laws around this stuff?
link to this extract


A simple camera and an algorithm let you see around corners • Scientific American

Jeff Hecht:

»

electrical and computer engineer Vivek Goyal and colleagues at Boston University analyzed the problem of looking around a corner by considering light as rays that follow straight lines between surfaces, an approach used in designing optics. They trace the path of light rays coming from an object on one side of a wall that goes around a corner by bouncing off a matte surface and entering a camera on the other side of the wall. In that simple arrangement the camera only sees the matte surface because it scatters the light uniformly.

However, they found that putting a flat opaque “occluder” between the hidden object—an illuminated screen displaying images—and the matte surface changes the picture. The occluder casts shadows that block light from parts of the display screen from reaching parts of the matte surface. The effect is similar to a partial lunar eclipse, where Earth blocks sunlight from reaching parts of the moon.


An LCD monitor displayed the scene. All it needed was a laptop. Source: Nature.

By tracing light rays from the edges of the shadows, Goyal’s team could map what parts of the screen would illuminate what parts of the matte surface. Then they created algorithms that worked backward from images of the matte surface recorded by the digital camera to re-create the pattern shown on the screen.

«

This is totally Blade Runner, isn’t it?

link to this extract


Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed • Ars Technica

Ron Amadeo:

»

the S3 chip in the Apple Watch Series 3 was claimed to be 70% faster than the S2 SoC. The S4 SoC in this year’s Apple Watch Series 4 is claimed to be two times faster than the S3, and it’s a modern ARM design with 64-bit compatibility.

Wear OS has never once seen the kind of performance increase that the Apple Watch enjoys every single year. If you read Qualcomm’s press releases carefully (2100 launch, 3100 launch), you’ll notice the company never even claims its new smartwatch chip is faster than its old smartwatch chip. We’ve verified this with benchmarks, too. It’s just the same ancient CPU being repackaged over and over.

When it comes to hardware, Google relies on an ecosystem of component vendors to produce a good product. This works fine in established markets like smartphones, but it makes it very hard for a company to break into new form factors that the component vendors aren’t already heavily invested in. Non-Apple smartwatches are not a thriving market, and component vendors would have to take a big risk to develop quality components for a market that doesn’t exist yet. Qualcomm has clearly decided it’s not willing to take that risk.

Wear OS is what happens when a hardware ecosystem collapses. You can build the best hardware and software on Earth, but if it’s all running on a hundred-year-old SoC that is hot, slow, big, and has terrible battery life, you aren’t going to end up with a good product.

«

Amadeo is the guy who does the deep dives into Android OS, and who used to work for the Android Police site.
link to this extract


Feds also say that Oracle underpaid women and minorities • WIRED

Nitasha Tiku:

»

Oracle allegedly underpaid thousands of women and minority employees by $401m over four years, according to a document filed Tuesday by the US Department of Labor, as part of an ongoing discrimination lawsuit against the software giant.

In the document, the Labor Department also claims that Oracle strongly prefers hiring Asians with student visas for certain roles because they are “dependent upon Oracle for sponsorship in order to remain in the United States,” so the company can systematically underpay them. Between 2013 and 2016, the department says, 90% of the 500 engineers hired through its college-recruiting program for product development jobs at its headquarters in California were Asian. Over the same four years, only six were black.

Once they are employed, Oracle also systematically underpays women, blacks, and Asians relative to their peers, the complaint claims, alleging that these disparities are driven by Oracle’s reliance on prior salaries in setting starting salaries and the company’s practice of steering black, Asian, and female employees into lower paid jobs. The department says some women were underpaid by as much as 20% compared with their male peers, or $37,000 in 2016.

“Oracle’s suppression of pay for its non-White, non-male employees is so extreme that it persists and gets worse over long careers; female, Black, and Asian employees with years of experience are paid as much as 25% less than their peers,” according to an updated complaint filed Tuesday.

«

There’s also a private lawsuit to the same effect. Twenty years ago I knew a woman who received a substantial payout from Oracle in the UK for sexual discrimination. I guess some things are ingrained.
link to this extract


Xiaomi’s folding phone is the best we’ve seen so far • The Verge

Tom Warren:

»

Xiaomi’s folding phone has been revealed in a teaser video from the company. Xiaomi co-founder and president Lin Bin has posted a nearly minute-long video to Weibo today, detailing the double folding phone. Both sides of the device can be folded backwards to transform it from a tablet form factor into more of a compact phone. Unlike other foldable phones we’ve seen recently, this certainly looks a more practical use for the technology.

Xiaomi doesn’t provide many details about its foldable phone, but Bin reveals the device in the video is simply an engineering model. Bin does note Xiaomi has conquered “a series of technical problems such as flexible folding screen technology, four-wheel drive folding shaft technology, flexible cover technology, and MIUI adaptation.” Xiaomi appears to have adapted its MIUI software for the foldable phone, and a video is seen playing on the device before it converts from tablet to phone mode.

Xiaomi’s folding phone leaked earlier this month, and it’s set to compete against devices like Samsung’s folding phone prototype and Chinese company Royole’s folding device. Huawei is also reportedly planning to launch a foldable device, and Lenovo has previously teased that it was working on bendable phones.

«

I get the feeling that foldable phones are going to be huge in China for commuters. I’d give Xiaomi and Huawei a good chance on this (and it could revive Samsung’s fortunes, briefly). I don’t see Lenovo making it happen – or at least not profitably.
link to this extract


Trump offered NASA unlimited funding to go to Mars by 2020 • NY Mag

Olivia Nuzzi fillets a bit from a new book by Cliff Sims, who worked in the White House and was trying to get Trump onto a call with the International Space Station:

»

As the clock ticked down, Trump “suddenly turned toward the NASA administrator.” He asked: “What’s our plan for Mars?”

[Acting Nasa administrator Robert] Lightfoot explained to the president — who, again, had recently signed a bill containing a plan for Mars — that NASA planned to send a rover to Mars in 2020 and, by the 2030s, would attempt a manned spaceflight.

“Trump bristled,” according to Sims. He asked, “But is there any way we could do it by the end of my first term?”

Sims described the uncomfortable exchange that followed the question, with Lightfoot shifting and placing his hand on his chin, hesitating politely and attempting to let Trump down easily, emphasizing the logistical challenges involving “distance, fuel capacity, etc. Also the fact that we hadn’t landed an American anywhere remotely close to Mars ever.”

Sims himself was “getting antsy” by this point. With a number of points left to go over with the president, “all I could think about was that we had to be on camera in three minutes … And yet we’re in here casually chatting about shaving a full decade off NASA’s timetable for sending a manned flight to Mars. And seemingly out of nowhere.”

Trump did not seem worried about the time. Sims wrote that he leaned in toward Lightfoot and made him an offer. “But what if I gave you all the money you could ever need to do it?” Trump asked. “What if we sent NASA’s budget through the roof, but focused entirely on that instead of whatever else you’re doing now. Could it work then?”

Lightfoot told him he was sorry, but he didn’t think it was possible. This left Trump “visibly disappointed,” Sims wrote. “But I tried to refocus him on the task at hand. We were now about 90 seconds from going live.”

Trump wasn’t ready to refocus yet, however. As he walked with Sims from the dining room to the Oval Office, he stopped just outside the door. “He decided to stop in his white-marbled bathroom for one final check in the mirror,” Sims wrote. He had 30 seconds before he was supposed to be on camera, and Sims was “now nearing full on panic.”

In the bathroom mirror, Trump smirked and said to himself, “Space Station, this is your President.”

«

link to this extract


About us • AlgoTransparency

»

How did you identify YouTube’s most often recommended videos?

We used a multi-step program to analyze videos recommended by its algorithm in response to searches for the names of the different candidates.

Step 1: Using an account with no viewing history, the program searches for a given candidate’s name on YouTube.
Step 2: We collect the top six results.
Step 3: For each result, we follow the three first recommendations (videos in the “Up next” list).
Step 4: For each recommendation, we get the top 3 recommendations. We repeat this 6 different times.

The program tabulates how many times each video is recommended, which is then used to determine which videos YouTube most often recommends for any given candidate.

«

It’s dismaying how awful the results are. From any reasonable query, you’re quite quickly led down a rabbithole of nonsense.

link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Concerned about the security of your Nest account after yesterday’s story? You can get two-factor authentication for it. SMS-only at present, but better than just your password, right? (Thanks Richard G for the link.)

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.

Start Up No.987: WhatsApp tamps virality, could porn fund Trump’s wall? (no), hacking Nest cams, India’s Google alternative, and more


Want a mining job? The Moon might soon be open. CC-licensed photo by Stuart Rankin on Flickr.

A selection of 10 links for you. Free of hard borders. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A mission to mine the Moon could be underway as early as 2025 • BGR

Mike Wehner:

»

How do you mine for resources in a place where humans haven’t set foot for over four decades? That’s a question the European Space Agency will have to answer if they want to achieve the lofty goal of extracting usable lunar material by 2025.

Rocket maker ArianeGroup announced on Monday that it had landed a one-year contract with the ESA to develop a gameplan for mining lunar regolith. Regolith, which is the material covering the surface of the Moon, could be a rich source of both water and oxygen, and being able to mine it would potentially allow for a sustainable lunar settlement at some point in the not-so-distant future.

«

2001+24. (Well, the moon base monolith discovery is 18 months before the 2001 part of the title voyage, and they have to build the moon base first… perhaps a few years more.)

Notice how we’re starting to look outwards from the Earth again for human space travel after almost 50 years.
link to this extract


WhatsApp restricts message forwarding to 5 times for all users after testing in India – The Washington Post

Hamza Shaban:

»

In an attempt to combat the viral spread of false information, WhatsApp is limiting the number of times a user can forward a message, to five. The new global limit comes after the company tested a cap on forwarded messages in July, restricting users in India to five message forwards and all other users to 20 forwards. India is home to the highest number of forwarded messages, photos and videos, exceeding every other country’s, WhatsApp says. The previous limit set in the country came after a surge in mob violence fueled by rumors on the app.

In an updated blog post Monday, WhatsApp said it evaluated the test restrictions over the past six months and found that the cap “significantly reduced forwarded messages around the world.”

“Starting today, all users on the latest versions of WhatsApp can now forward to only five chats at once, which will help keep WhatsApp focused on private messaging with close contacts,” the company said. “We’ll continue to listen to user feedback about their experience, and over time, look for new ways of addressing viral content.”

The change in policy is the latest effort by tech giants to curb the spread of misinformation. But it also highlights the challenges particular to WhatsApp, whose messaging system is designed to be obscured from public view.

«

I wonder how many different variations they tried, and how “infectious” a five-friend forwarding limit is. It would be fascinating to see how it looks modelled by an epidemiologist. Messaging groups could contain (still can? It’s unclear) up to 256 people, which must be like Ebola compared to the rhinovirus.
link to this extract


Pay for Trump’s border wall with $20 online porn fee, Ariz. lawmaker says • Ars Technica

Jon Brodkin:

»

An Arizona state lawmaker has proposed a $20 fee on people who want to view online pornography in order to raise money for building a border wall between Arizona and Mexico.

Arizona House Bill 2444, proposed last week by State Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), would require makers and distributors of Internet-connected devices to ship such devices with blocking software “that renders a website that displays obscene material inaccessible by default.” Under the bill, any Internet user who wants to deactivate the blocking software would have to pay “a onetime deactivation fee of at least $20 to the Arizona Commerce Authority.”

The money would be used to establish what the bill calls the “John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Prevention Fund.” That fund would “provide grants to government agencies and private entities that work to uphold community standards of decency for the purpose of strengthening families and developing, expanding or strengthening programs for victims of sex offenses.”

To accomplish that goal, the bill provides a list of 10 types of projects that could be funded by the porn fee. First on the list is “build a border wall between Mexico and this state or fund border security.” The proposal comes as President Trump continues his push for a border wall.

«

Why would you propose something that you know is not ever going to be passed or implemented? It’s a weird form of signalling. Perhaps it looks good on the election literature: “tried to stamp out internet porn and build a wall”. Why not build the wall in front of the computer?
link to this extract


Dutch surgeon wins landmark ‘right to be forgotten’ case • The Guardian

Daniel Boffey:

»

A Dutch surgeon formally disciplined for her medical negligence has won a legal action to remove Google search results about her case in a landmark “right to be forgotten” ruling.

The doctor’s registration on the register of healthcare professionals was initially suspended by a disciplinary panel because of her postoperative care of a patient. After an appeal, this was changed to a conditional suspension under which she was allowed to continue to practise.

But the first results after entering the doctor’s name in Google continued to be links to a website containing an unofficial blacklist, which it was claimed amounted to “digital pillory”. It was heard that potential patients had found the blacklist on Google and discussed the case on a web forum.

Google and the Dutch data privacy watchdog, Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens, initially rejected attempts to have the links removed on the basis that the doctor was still on probation and the information remained relevant.

However, in what is said to be the first right to be forgotten case involving medical negligence by a doctor, the district court of Amsterdam subsequently ruled the surgeon had “an interest in not indicating that every time someone enters their full name in Google’s search engine, (almost) immediately the mention of her name appears on the ‘blacklist of doctors’, and this importance adds more weight than the public’s interest in finding this information in this way”…

…The surgeon’s lawyer, Willem van Lynden, from the Amsterdam firm MediaMaze, said the ruling was groundbreaking in ensuring doctors would no longer be judged by Google on their fitness to practise.

“Now they will have to bring down thousands of pages: that is what will happen, in my view. There is a medical disciplinary panel but Google have been the judge until now. They have decided whether to take a page down – and why do they have that position?” he said.

«

Why indeed.
link to this extract


A neural network can learn to organize the world it sees into concepts—just like we do • MIT Technology Review

Karen Hao:

»

GANs, or generative adversarial networks, are the social-media starlet of AI algorithms. They are responsible for creating the first AI painting ever sold at an art auction and for superimposing celebrity faces on the bodies of porn stars. They work by pitting two neural networks against each other to create realistic outputs based on what they are fed. Feed one lots of dog photos, and it can create completely new dogs; feed it lots of faces, and it can create new faces. 

As good as they are at causing mischief, researchers from the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab realized GANs are also a powerful tool: because they paint what they’re “thinking,” they could give humans insight into how neural networks learn and reason. This has been something the broader research community has sought for a long time—and it’s become more important with our increasing reliance on algorithms.

“There’s a chance for us to learn what a network knows from trying to re-create the visual world,” says David Bau, an MIT PhD student who worked on the project.

So the researchers began probing a GAN’s learning mechanics by feeding it various photos of scenery—trees, grass, buildings, and sky. They wanted to see whether it would learn to organize the pixels into sensible groups without being explicitly told how.

Stunningly, over time, it did. By turning “on” and “off” various “neurons” and asking the GAN to paint what it thought, the researchers found distinct neuron clusters that had learned to represent a tree, for example. Other clusters represented grass, while still others represented walls or doors. In other words, it had managed to group tree pixels with tree pixels and door pixels with door pixels regardless of how these objects changed color from photo to photo in the training set. “These GANs are learning concepts very closely reminiscent of concepts that humans have given words to,” says Bau.

«

OK, so it can group them as concepts. Is that the same as having a concept of them, though?
link to this extract


Nest hack: North Korea missile attack hoax targets family • Mercury News

Matthias Gafni:

»

Laura Lyons was preparing food in her kitchen Sunday when the lazy afternoon took a turn for the absurd. A loud squawking – similar to the beginning of an emergency broadcast alert – blasted from the living room, the Orinda mother said, followed by a detailed warning of three North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles headed to Los Angeles, Chicago and Ohio.

“It warned that the United States had retaliated against Pyongyang and that people in the affected areas had three hours to evacuate,” Lyons said Monday. “It sounded completely legit, and it was loud and got our attention right off the bat… It was five minutes of sheer terror and another 30 minutes trying to figure out what was going on.”

Lyons and her husband stood slack-jawed in the living room, terrified but also confused because the television continued airing the NFC Championship football game. As their scared eight-year-old son crawled underneath the rug, the couple realized the apocalyptic warning came from their Nest security camera atop their living room television.

After many panicked minutes and phone calls to 911 and to Nest, the couple learned they likely were the victims of a hacker. And that panic turned to anger when they found out that Nest knew that there had been a number of such incidents – none involving nuclear strike scenarios – but failed to alert customers. Lyons said a Nest supervisor told them Sunday they likely were the victims of a “third party hack” that gained access to their camera and its speakers.

A Google spokesperson – the search engine owns Nest – said Nest was not breached in this incident.

“These recent reports are based on customers using compromised passwords (exposed through breaches on other websites). In nearly all cases, two-factor verification eliminates this type of the security risk,” the company said in an email statement. “We take security in the home extremely seriously, and we’re actively introducing features that will reject comprised passwords, allow customers to monitor access to their accounts and track external entities that abuse credentials.”

The Lyons are not alone. Reports from across the country indicate a growing problem of hackers accessing the Wi-Fi-enabled cameras from Nest and other similar companies.

«

They didn’t think to turn the TV to a news channel? Perhaps in an emergency one doesn’t act rationally. Bet the hacker has some fun footage that will be shared in forums. (Thanks to Paul Guinnessy for the link.)
link to this extract


FTC considers record-setting fine against Facebook for privacy violations • The Washington Post

Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin:

»

US regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook for violating a legally binding agreement with the government to protect the privacy of its users’ personal data, according to three people familiar with the deliberations but not authorised to speak on the record.

The fine under consideration at the Federal Trade Commission, a privacy and security watchdog that began probing Facebook last year, would mark the first major punishment levied against Facebook in the United States since reports emerged in March that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, accessed personal information on about 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5m fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC to improve its privacy practices.

«

It would have to be really big to make Facebook pay attention, but it’s pretty clear that what happened with Cambridge Analytica and others violated the terms of Facebook’s 2011 deal with the FTC. It’s hard to see how they could come to any other conclusion.
link to this extract


Indians are so crazy about mobile video, they use Youtube like Google • WSJ

Eric Bellman:

»

Indian smartphone users now download an average of about 8.5 gigabytes of data a month—or potentially more than 40 hours of video—off mobile networks without using Wi-Fi, according to research by Analysys Mason. That is more than what users in the U.S., China or Japan download.

Delhi student Ritik Taank says he misses playing cricket with friends. But these days, he says, everyone is at home watching and sharing funny video clips on their smartphones. The 18-year-old spends hours each day flipping through music videos, comedy skits, gaming clips and his favorite fashion and entertainment vlogs. He also uses YouTube to watch math and science explainer videos while riding the bus to school. Often, he reaches his one-gigabyte-a-day limit by sunset and has to switch to his mother’s phone.

“She scolds me,” he said. “But I explain it would be a waste if her data doesn’t get used.”

The video explosion is transforming the Indian media landscape, creating new stars in Bollywood, forcing new investment in servers and cellular sites, and launching new genres of online content. Video has surged in popularity elsewhere, of course; it has taken off in a new direction in China, where short-video platforms offering seconds-long clips have made companies like Beijing Bytedance Technology Co. among the world’s most highly-valued startups…

In India, it is creating new opportunities for YouTube—owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google—and other platforms to learn new lessons about video use. The South Asian nation’s surfers, many of them coming online for the first time, are exploring the web through video rather than static websites. They are driven more by swiping, speaking and viewing, and less by typing, searching and reading—prompting companies to adapt their apps.

«

Maybe it’s a glimpse of the 5G world?
link to this extract


Google considering pulling news service from Europe • Bloomberg

Natalia Drozdiak:

»

The European Union is working towards finalizing a controversial new copyright law. The rules give publishers rights to demand money from the Alphabet unit [Google], Facebook and other web platforms, when small fragments of their articles show up in news search results, or are shared by users.

That prospect has led Google to consider pulling Google News from the continent as a response to the new law, according to Jennifer Bernal, Google public policy manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The internet giant has various options on the table and will analyze the final text before making any decisions, she said, adding that Google would withdraw its service reluctantly.

The EU was planning to finalize the rules early this week but that’s been postponed due to disagreement among member states about some items of the package. The delay further drags out the legislative process, which kicked off when the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, first proposed the rules in 2016.

“The proposal for the Copyright Directive is very complex,” said a representative from Romania, the current head of the European Council of the bloc’s 28 member states. “The Council needs more time to reflect in order to reach a solid position.”

Google has said it doesn’t make money from its news service so withdrawing it is unlikely to lead to a financial hit. But news results keep mobile users coming back to its search engine, where they often type in other queries that generate lucrative ad revenue. Google also competes against rival mobile news aggregation services from Apple and Facebook.

«

I’ll make a prediction: if Google withdraws Google News from Europe, there will be a short-term reduction in the number of hits to publishers’ sites. And then in a few months or so it will all reset itself, because people are infovores: the ones who go to Google News want their fix. The total number of hits will remain the same, though they may be redistributed.
link to this extract


Foxconn looks beyond China to India for iPhone assembly • WSJ

Yang Jie, Yoko Kubota, Newley Purnell and Rajesh Roy:

»

Apple’s largest iPhone assembler, Foxconn Technology Group, is considering producing the devices in India, people familiar with the matter said, a move that could reduce Apple’s dependence on China for manufacturing and potentially for sales.

Executives at Foxconn, a contract manufacturer that assembles a large portion of the world’s iPhones in China, are studying whether to include an India project in budget plans, one of the people said. Senior executives, possibly including Chairman Terry Gou, plan to visit India after next month’s Lunar New Year to discuss plans, the people familiar said.

Foxconn’s look at India comes as sustained friction between Washington and Beijing over trade and technology is pushing many companies to consider diversifying their supply chains away from China, a global center of assembly for smartphones, computers and other electronics.

«

OK, but this isn’t going to be sorted out by Christmas. For Foxconn to build a plant able to assemble iPhones in any volume is a 10-year project at least: find land, build plant, calibrate, test, full production. As a long-term shift, this is something Apple may be thankful for in the future, but it’s not going to sort out its position between the rock and hard place of the US-China trade wars in a hurry.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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Start Up No.986: Kurzweil on AI (yes), what 5G will and won’t do, that big old password breach, Google’s GDPR fine, Corbyn’s failure, and more


It’s a new sort of shopping. But has it screwed up, er, online shopping? CC-licensed photo by James Fleeting 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. Consult your doctor before installing a backstop. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Ray Kurzweil: ‘AI is still on course to outpace human intelligence’ • Gray Scott

BJ Murphy:

»

Using examples of modern-day AI like AlphaGo, there are clear signs that they’re already starting to outpace human intelligence involving specific tasks. This has been a common factor of AI for the last couple decades, starting with the simple goal of defeating the world’s best (human) chess players. Today, they’re outpacing us in chess, Go, various strategic computer games, and even medical diagnostics. The question remains, however, as to whether AI will ever reach the point of superintelligence—also commonly known as the Technological Singularity.

What I found most interesting from Kurzweil’s response wasn’t so much his consistency in the belief that AI will indeed outpace human intelligence as a whole; rather our fears of a dystopian future where AI has gone astray are becoming increasingly unlikely. He makes this arguement with the understanding that there is no singular AI being controlled by singular powerful companies or people. In today’s reality, there are millions of different AIs being controlled by anyone who owns a smartphone.

One could argue that the level of power still isn’t well-balanced between centralized companies and a decentralized populace, especially as companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google (Kurzweil’s current employer) continue making headlines as a result of their egregious negligence. However, with companies like SingularityNET working to democratize the technology, AI isn’t just moving at a pace beyond human intelligence; they’re moving at a pace that’ll empower the human species as a whole, whether that comes in the form of maintaining their longevity, increasing their cognitive capacities, or giving them access to the stars themselves.

«

The difference between being superhumanly good at Go and being superintelligent is like the difference between flight of stairs and climbing K2. They’re the same class of problem, separated by colossal levels of difficulty.
link to this extract


Amazon ruined online shopping • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

The whole affair always felt unsettling. When the buttons launched, I called the Dash experience Lovecraftian, the invisible miasma of commerce slipping its vapor all around your home. But last week, a German court went further, ruling the buttons illegal because they fail to give consumers sufficient information about the products they order when pressing them, or the price they will pay after having done so. (You set up a Dash button on Amazon’s app, selecting a product from a list; like other goods on the e-commerce giant’s website, the price can change over time.) Amazon, which is also under general antitrust investigation in Germany, disputes the ruling.

Given that Amazon controls about half of the U.S. online-retail market and takes in about 5% of the nation’s total retail spending, it’s encouraging to see pushback against the company’s hold on the market. But Dash buttons are hardly the problem. Amazon made online shopping feel safe and comfortable, at least mechanically, where once the risk of being scammed by bad actors felt huge. But now online shopping is muddy and suspicious in a different way—you never really know what you’re buying, or when it will arrive, or why it costs what it does, or even what options might be available to purchase. The problem isn’t the Dash button, but the way online shopping works in general, especially at the Everything Store.

«

Bogost is always worth reading, because he always finds a fresh way to come at a story.

link to this extract


773M password ‘megabreach’ is years old • Krebs on Security

Brian Krebs on the “megahack” that was big news last week:

»

Collection #1 offered by this seller is indeed 87GB in size. He also advertises a Telegram username where he can be reached — “Sanixer.” So, naturally, KrebsOnSecurity contacted Sanixer via Telegram to find out more about the origins of Collection #1, which he is presently selling for the bargain price of just $45.

Sanixer said Collection#1 consists of data pulled from a huge number of hacked sites, and was not exactly his “freshest” offering. Rather, he sort of steered me away from that archive, suggesting that — unlike most of his other wares — Collection #1 was at least 2-3 years old. His other password packages, which he said are not all pictured in the above screen shot and total more than 4 terabytes in size, are less than a year old, Sanixer explained.

By way of explaining the provenance of Collection #1, Sanixer said it was a mix of “dumps and leaked bases,” and then he offered an interesting screen shot of his additional collections. Click on the image below and notice the open Web browser tab behind his purloined password trove (which is apparently stored at Mega.nz): Troy Hunt’s published research on this 773 million Collection #1.


Sanixer says Collection #1 was from a mix of sources. A description of those sources can be seen in the directory tree on the left side of this screenshot.

[CTO of Hold Security, Alex] Holden said the habit of collecting large amounts of credentials and posting it online is not new at all, and that the data is far more useful for things like phishing, blackmail and other indirect attacks — as opposed to plundering inboxes. Holden added that his company had already derived 99% of the data in Collection #1 from other sources.

«

So it’s basically like the fluff-covered sad-looking pick’n’mix sweet trays in Woolworths of old.
link to this extract


Google fined €50m for GDPR violation in France • The Verge

Jon Porter:

»

France’s data protection regulator, CNIL, has issued Google a €50m fine (around $56.8m USD) for failing to comply with its GDPR obligations. This is the biggest GDPR fine yet to be issued by a European regulator and the first time one of the tech giants has been found to fall foul of the tough new regulations that came into force in May last year.

CNIL said that the fine was issued because Google failed to provide enough information to users about its data consent policies and didn’t give them enough control over how their information is used. According to the regulator, these violations are yet to have been rectified by the search giant. Under GDPR, companies are required to gain the user’s “genuine consent” before collecting their information, which means making consent an explicitly opt-in process that’s easy for people to withdraw.

Although the €50m fine seems large, it’s small compared to the maximum limits allowed by GDPR, which allows a company to be fined a maximum of four% of its annual global turnover for more serious offenses. For Google, which made $33.74bn in the last quarter alone, that could result in a fine in the billions of dollars.

«

link to this extract


Jeremy Corbyn is failing the Brexit test • Financial Times

Robert Shrimsley:

»

It is Britain’s misfortune that at its time of need it has been blessed with two of the most inflexible, small-minded, partisan and inept figures ever to assume the mantle of leadership in the nation’s two major parties. The UK has had bad party leaders before, but until now it has been clever enough not to have them at the same time. 

Theresa May’s current failing is that after the record-breaking rejection of her Brexit deal in parliament she seems incapable of finding a plan B; Mr Corbyn’s is that he has yet to find a plan A. The Tories may own Brexit, but if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, the Labour leader who failed to stop it will also be widely blamed.

To be clear, Mr Corbyn’s failure does not lie in his refusal to accept Mrs May’s offer of talks in the wake of her defeat. That mistake was merely presentational. The talks were doomed because Mrs May will not budge on any of her red lines. But by refusing to see her, Mr Corbyn showed his much-vaunted belief in dialogue extends only to those who already agree with him. A more astute politician would have been filmed walking into Downing Street only to emerge sorrowfully declaring that Mrs May was deaf to compromise. But this is mere spin. Mr Corbyn’s real failure is missing the chance to step into the vacuum caused by her defeat. 

«

Devastatingly accurate. If you had created a book plot where the prime minister was beholden to a political group who want to Leave and represent a small but crucial slice of the UK which had voted to Remain, then you’d feel obliged to create an opposition leader who was agitating for Remain, to create dramatic tension.

Instead we just have tension. Corbyn is like Winston Churchill’s quip about Clement Attlee: “An empty taxi arrived, and he stepped out of it.”
link to this extract


President Trump posts altered photos to Facebook and Instagram that make him look thinner • Gizmodo

»

In recent months, Trump’s official Facebook and Instagram accounts have published photos of the president that have been manipulated to make him look thinner. If it only happened once you might be able to chalk it up as an accident. But Gizmodo has discovered at least three different retouched photos on President Trump’s social media pages that have been published since October of 2018.

The image below, published on the official Donald J. Trump Facebook page on January 17 and on his Instagram account over the weekend, has been altered to make the president look more fit.

The photo looks pretty normal at first glance. But once you compare it to the original, which is available on the White House’s Flickr page, you can see what was changed.

The original photo was taken by a White House photographer on January 14, so you know that the original hasn’t been altered by anyone in the so-called “fake news media” to make Trump look heavier. It sounds silly to even have to say that, but many Trump supporters believe that the media is involved in a coordinated conspiracy against him.

«

A new way to lie. But also such a pointless thing to do. He’s one of the most photographed people in the world. (Reader-submitted – thank you.)
link to this extract


In win for tech giants, EU copyright reforms stalled • Reuters

Foo Yun Chee:

»

EU efforts to reform copyright rules hit a roadblock on Monday when a meeting of lawmakers and officials was called off, prompting criticism of Google from publishers after it and other tech giants lobbied against the changes.

The European Commission, which launched a debate on the issue two years ago, says an overhaul is necessary to protect Europe’s cultural heritage and level the playing field between big online platforms and publishers, broadcasters and artists.

European Parliament lawmakers, representatives from EU countries and Commission officials were scheduled to meet on Monday to reconcile their positions on the reform drive. But the meeting was canceled after EU countries failed to resolve differences on Friday.

Commission digital chief Andrus Ansip expressed disappointment at the delay, saying reform was crucial and possible even at this stage.

“All involved parties have a huge responsibility: playing lightly now with a ‘No deal is better than my own maximalist position’ as I read sometimes from position statements, is dangerous and irresponsible,” he said.

«

Can’t think who Ansip might have been thinking of in that “No deal” quote…

link to this extract


5G: if you build it, we will fill it • Benedict Evans

Evans says that 5G will essentially be a fatter pipe, but that’s not “just”:

»

5G seems rather more interesting for AR. To clarify first, ‘AR’ today is used to describe three different things:

• Waving your phone at something and seeing things on the screen
• A wearable heads-up display (Google Glass) with no awareness of the world around you
• A transparent, immersive, fully 3D colour display with a sensing suite that allows it to map the room around you and recognise things and people. A bunch of companies (including Magic Leap, in which a16z is an investor) are working on this – it’s still a few years away from being a mass-market consumer product.

The third of these seems much the most interesting to me. If you could put on a pair of reading glasses that could look at the world around you and show you things in response, that could be pretty useful, in much the same way that, say, having the internet in your pocket turned out to be useful, and to enable all sorts of new and unpredictable things (imagine pitching Snapchat when our only internet experience was on a PC over dialup). This would work on 4G, but continuous low power high speed low latency connections from 5G would make it a lot better. 

At the other extreme, I also hear a fair bit about autonomy [in cars] as a 5G application. I’m not sure about this one.

«

link to this extract


A few days with the Luna Display • All this

Doctor Drang got a Luna Display (which plugs into a Mac and turns an iPad into a wireless second display. He didn’t like it, and took it back:

»

everything felt wrong when I was running Mac apps through my iPad. Buttons were too small, even when I tried tapping on them with the Pencil. Resizing windows was a chore; dragging felt off. I confess I didn’t spend time examining why the behavior just didn’t feel right, but it didn’t.

I use both my Macs and my iPad a lot, and while I don’t have any trouble switching between the two, I found it very annoying to be forced into using Mac-like actions on an iPad. This was surprising to me, as I have nearly 35 years of Mac use under my belt and only 2½ years of iPad use. But my immediate sense—a sense that didn’t change over the 4–5 days I used the Luna—was one of unease.

Would I have felt this unease had I been using the Luna Display in a more keyboard-centric manner? Maybe not. And I can see where people who are iPad-first users would find the Luna very convenient if they only occasionally need to be hands-on with their Mac mini server. But for my use, the neither-fish-nor-fowl behavior that the Luna forced me into was very inconvenient. It made me have to think about what I was doing instead of just doing it, and that got in the way of my real work.

«

link to this extract


Microsoft Cortana – dead or alive • Radio Free Mobile

Richard Windsor:

»

Microsoft held a media event where Satya Nadella extolled the virtue of Cortana, but it is clear from his commentary that there is no logical reason why anyone will ever use it again.

Microsoft will be moving it away from its position on the Windows 10 taskbar depriving it from the only place on any system where it remains default.

Microsoft will also allow compatibility with Google Assistant as well as Amazon Alexa. The unanswered question is why anyone would ask Google or Alexa to ask Cortana to do anything seeing as both of them can do everything Cortana can do and much more.

Furthermore, Microsoft has not invested in Cortana since it became resident on the Windows 10 desktop which has meant that its presence is more of an annoyance than anything else.
Microsoft claims Cortana is deeply integrated with Office 365 but asking Cortana to do anything is Office is more cumbersome and time-consuming than simply clicking with the mouse. Furthermore, most of the time Cortana has no idea what the user is talking about rendering it effectively useless.

Hence, when Cortana is removed from the desktop, I shall not be sad to see it go. I don’t think other Windows users will be either.

However, putting Cortana quietly to sleep opens the door to a much more interesting opportunity around AI licensing.

«

I hadn’t noticed that the Cortana chief was going (it was announced in November). Microsoft’s problem is that it doesn’t have a user-facing way to get its AI into use. But as Windsor says, there might be some potential licensing its technology to others.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up No.985: Dorsey’s dithering, testing twin DNA, VR tests courtroom prejudice, is hi-fi streaming necessary?, and more


Apple may not have a flexible screen in the offing, but that doesn’t mean it will necessarily lose out. CC-licensed photo by Brian Bilek 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. Keep counting. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Jack Dorsey has no clue what he wants • HuffPost UK

Ashley Feinberg:

»

My only real goal was to get Dorsey to speak in specifics, about anything. In almost every interview he does, he’ll lament his past mistakes and talk about his various high-minded visions for improving the platform: improving conversational health, reducing echo chambers, increasing transparency and about 10 other rote, buzzy phrases.

But press him for a clear, unambiguous example of nearly anything, and Dorsey shuts down. At one point, for instance, Dorsey explained that Twitter was working toward using machine learning to spot harassment before it’s even reported. When asked how Twitter is handling the problem in the meantime, Dorsey had this to say:

»

Most of our priority right now in terms of health, which is the No. 1 priority of the company, is around being proactive. How do we remove the burden from the victims or bystanders from reporting in the first place? It’s way too mechanical. It’s way too much work. … But ultimately, we want to make sure that the number of reports that we receive is trending downward. And that will be because of two reasons. One, people are seeing far less abuse or harassment or other things that are against the terms of service. Or that we’re being more proactive about it. So we want to do both. So a lot of our work is that, and then better prioritization in the meantime. A lot more transparency, clearer actions within the product.

«

Those are certainly words, though none of them appeared to answer my question.

«

The interview is wonderful for its uncompromising approach (of which that is an example). Feinberg is also a pretty astringent presence on Twitter itself: pH about 1. She’ll have your skin off before you realise it.
link to this extract


Why Apple will be late to foldable phones (and still win) • Tom’s Guide

Jason Snell (who has written for years and years about Apple):

»

If Apple did build a foldable iPhone, it would probably be best to think of it as an iPhone that could expand to become a small iPad. Given the power of Apple’s A-series processors and the increasingly sophisticated and PC-like features of the iPad, that could be a compelling product.

There’s another possibility, and it arises from a long-standing Apple design philosophy. This is what I’ve taken to calling “Jobs’ Law,” the idea that every new iteration of an Apple product should strive to be thinner and lighter than the previous generation.

A foldable phone would seem to go against Jobs’ Law, because that folding mechanism will presumably mean thicker phones, at least at the start. But I wonder if having a folding mechanism would enable Apple to design much smaller iPhones. While Apple has embraced large phones like the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS Max due to market pressures, I’m not entirely convinced that the company’s heart is in it.

Maybe the future of the foldable iPhone is more like a Palm phone that flips out to become a phablet, not a phablet that becomes a tablet.

Sure, a foldable iPhone could be a giant phablet that folds out into a small iPad. But it could also be a small, iPhone SE-size model that flips open to provide iPhone XS Max-style real estate on demand. Maybe the future of the foldable iPhone is more like a Palm phone that flips out to become a phablet, not a phablet that becomes a tablet.

«

The thing about a foldable iPhone (or iPad?) is that you’d want the bigger screen occasionally – like the people I see on the train who watch downloaded or streaming video on a tablet-sized screen. Much of the time you wouldn’t.

I really can’t figure out whether it’s a gimmick or something useful.
link to this extract


Twins get some ‘mystifying’ results when they put five DNA ancestry kits to the test • CBC News

Charlsie Agro and Luke Denne:

»

One set of identical twins, two different ancestry profiles.

At least that’s the suggestion from one of the world’s largest ancestry DNA testing companies.

Last spring, Marketplace host Charlsie Agro and her twin sister, Carly, bought home kits from AncestryDNA, MyHeritage, 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA and Living DNA, and mailed samples of their DNA to each company for analysis.

Despite having virtually identical DNA, the twins did not receive matching results from any of the companies.

In most cases, the results from the same company traced each sister’s ancestry to the same parts of the world — albeit by varying percentages.

But the results from California-based 23andMe seemed to suggest each twin had unique twists in their ancestry composition.

«

Ah but: identical twins’ DNA can actually be different. Perhaps read this link rather than the main one, since it’s your science lesson (if you didn’t already know it) for today.
link to this extract


Here come the internet blackouts • New America

Justin Sherman:

»

[The blackout method which sees] states deliberately severing internet connections within their country has an important history. In 2004, the Maldivian government caused an internet blackout when citizens protested the president; Nepal similarly caused a blackout shortly thereafter. In 2007, the Burmese government apparently damaged an underwater internet cable in order to “staunch the flow of pictures and messages from protesters reaching the outside world.” In 2011, Egypt cut most internet and cell services within its borders as the government attempted to quell protests against then-President Hosni Mubarak; Libya then did the same after its own unrest. In 2014, Syria had a major internet outage amid its civil war. In 2018, Mauritania was taken entirely offline for two days when undersea submarine internet cables were cut, around the same time as the Sierra Leone government may have imposed an internet blackout in the same region.

When we think about terms like “cyberspace” and “internet,” it can be tempting to associate them with vague notions of a digital world we can’t touch. And while this is perhaps useful in some contexts, this line of thinking forgets the very real wires, servers, and other hardware that form the architecture of the internet. If these physical elements cease to function, from a cut wire to a storm-damaged server farm, the internet, too, is affected. More than that, if a single entity controls—or can at least access—that hardware for a region or even an entire country, government-caused internet blackouts are a tempting method of censorship and social control.

Which is to say: As countries around the world tighten control of the internet within their borders, we can expect to see some governments with relatively centralized internets—particularly authoritarians or those with authoritarian leanings—literally disconnect their domestic internet networks from the rest of the globe during domestic unrest or other incidents.

As for the second method, we can expect a rise in DDoS attacks against internet infrastructure as millions of wildly insecure Internet of Things (IoT) devices—from smart thermostats to water-pressure sensors—are linked online.

«

link to this extract


Racial bias and in-group bias in judicial decisions: evidence from virtual reality courtrooms • NBER

Samantha Bielen, Wim Marneffe, Naci H. Mocan from Hasselt University in Belgium:

»

We shot videos of criminal trials using 3D Virtual Reality (VR) technology, prosecuted by actual prosecutors and defended by actual defense attorneys in an actual courtroom.

This is the first paper that utilizes VR technology in a non-computer animated setting, which allows us to replace white defendants in the courtroom with individuals who have Middle Eastern or North African descent in a real-life environment. We alter only the race of the defendants in these trials, holding all activity in the courtroom constant (http://proficient.ninja/splitscreen/).

Law students, economics students and practicing lawyers are randomly assigned to watch with VR headsets, from the view point of the judge, the trials that differed only in defendants’ skin color. Background information obtained from the evaluators allowed us to identify their cultural heritage. Evaluators made decisions on guilt/innocence in these burglary and assault cases, as well as prison sentence length and fine in accordance with the guidelines provided by the relevant law.

There is suggestive evidence of negative in-group bias in conviction decisions where evaluators are harsher against defendants of their own race. There is, however, significant overall racial bias in conviction decisions against minorities.

«

Clever use of VR – and an important result. The full paper requires NBER access; there were 25 participants seeing six different defendants. They used Oculus Rift.
link to this extract


Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland: review • NY Mag

Adrian Chen:

»

One thing you get from reading Alex Rosenblat’s Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work, is that there is nothing inevitable about management trending in a positive direction. Drawing on four years of ethnographic research among Uber drivers, Rosenblat has produced a thoroughly dystopian report that details how millions of drivers are now managed by a computerized system that combines the hard authoritarianism of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the cynical cheerleading of Michael Scott.

But wait: Isn’t the whole point of Uber that you can be your own boss? After all, Uber talks of its drivers not as employees but “partners.” In its propaganda, Uber portrays itself not as a taxi company at all but a technology platform that connects drivers directly to riders. “FREEDOM PAYS WEEKLY,” reads one recruitment ad reproduced in Uberland.

Next to it, there’s a picture of a breezy millennial with shaggy hair and a five-o’clock shadow, a scarf draped rakishly around his neck. He looks so noncorporate that he might not be wearing any pants.

In order to put that idea to rest, Rosenblat must first untangle the myths that made it seem possible in the first place. If you think about it, it’s bizarre that taxi drivers became a symbol of cutting-edge technological disruption. Cab drivers have typically occupied a benighted role in the public imagination: hustlers, criminals, or, at best, misanthropic folk philosophers. Rosenblat offers a valuable history of the ideological work that went into the “gentrification” of the profession.

«

link to this extract


Trump’s slippage in support is real • The Bulwark

Bruce Gyory (a “veteran and shrewd New York political operative” according to Bill Kristol):

»

The slippage is the worst kind—the slow erosion of support from key blocs: swing voters (independents and suburbanites) and those who put Trump over the top (blue collar white men and Republicans over 60).

It’s been registering in a cross section of polling data, not just one poll. Trump’s job approval rating is down to 31% among independents in Gallup. His approval ratings in Rasmussen are down from the 48-49% range of late last year to the 43-44% level of the past week or so. The Marist data for PBS shows a drop of 10% in job approval among Republicans and a decline of 11% among white evangelicals and 17% among suburban men.

And Trump continues to enrage the Dem base while this erosion in his base continues to progress. Blue collar white men being turned off from Trump shouldn’t surprise anyone, for they know the difficulty of living paycheck to paycheck. This, plus the skew of the tax cut package, spells political trouble for Trump long term, especially if a slow down, much less a recession, looms in 2020.

«

There’s a certain amount of wish fulfilment in this: Kristol is newly installed as “editor-at-large” of The Bulwark, a right-wing (but not Trumpist!) site which seems to be trying to pick up the readers from Kristol’s previous, and now-closed, Weekly Standard. The URL for that Gallup link reads “Trump-Congress Job Approval Mostly Steady Amid Shutdown”.

Perhaps Trump’s support among those famous uneducated whites is eroding, but there’s no election this year.
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Facebook’s internal documents about how it made money off children to be released • Reveal

Nathan Halverson:

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Four documents that were either originally sealed or redacted were made partially available to Reveal in October. The documents show widespread confusion by children and their parents, who didn’t understand Facebook continued to charge them as they played games.

Facebook employees began voicing their concerns that people were being charged without their knowledge. The social media company decided to analyze one of the most popular games of the time, Angry Birds, and discovered the average age of people playing it on Facebook was 5 years old, according to newly revealed information.

“In nearly all cases the parents knew their child was playing Angry Birds, but didn’t think the child would be allowed to buy anything without their password or authorization first,” according to an internal Facebook memo. The memo noted that on other platforms, such as Apple’s iPhone, people were required to reauthorize additional purchases, such as by re-entering a password.

A Facebook employee noted that children were likely to be confused by the in-game purchases because it “doesn’t necessarily look like real money to a minor.”

Yet the company continued to deny refunds to children, profiting from their confusion.

In one of the unsealed documents, two Facebook employees deny a refund request from a child whom they refer to as a “whale” – a term coined by the casino industry to describe profligate spenders. The child had entered a credit card number to play a game, and in about two weeks racked up thousands of dollars in charges, according to an excerpt of messages between two employees at the social media giant.

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Not a good look for Facebook – though this is from 2012.
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Why high-fidelity streaming is the audio revolution your ears have been waiting for • Forbes

Oisin Lunny:

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While our ears may be attuned to lossy compressed audio in most everyday scenarios, the experience of rediscovering high-fidelity lossless digital audio can be nothing short of a revelation. Fine details reappear, performers have more space, sounds have more definition, audio feels warmer, sounds clearer, and is noticeably more pleasurable to listen to. The higher you go with audio file resolution, the better it gets.

Thanks to the new range of streaming apps delivering CD-quality or higher, our beloved “universal jukebox” is undergoing a significant upgrade. Consumer demand for high-resolution audio has been growing steadily, for example users of Deezer HiFi have increased by 71% in the past 12 months alone, and the product is now available in 180 countries and works with a wide range of FLAC streaming compatible devices.

[Bang & Olufsen’s most senior Tonmeister (sound engineer)] Geoff Martin believes that demand for hi-fi streaming audio is growing due to a rise in the number of people buying high-end audio devices. “It used to be that you bought an iPhone and you used the white earbuds, but nowadays people are upgrading to better headphones, so they want a better file and a better app to play it on. The potential is there for somebody that wants to get high quality, and they don’t have to spend a lot of money to get it.”

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I’ve sat in for tons of “high-fidelity audio” demonstrations. I’ve only rarely been able to tell the difference; the most noticeable time was at Arcam’s testing studios in Cambridge, when it really was possible to tell the difference. But once you get to 256k MP3, the vast majority of people cannot tell the difference. So no, your ears haven’t been waiting for this, and you shouldn’t listen (aha) to those trying to upsell you with it.
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Rafael Nadal faces his mini-me, Alex de Minaur, at the Australian Open • The New Yorker

Gerald Marzorati:

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The difference between men’s and women’s tennis, now, is lateral speed—the quickness to run down, and to get back with zip, balls that are angled far off the court. Not every male player can run, but those who can really can. No player currently on the women’s tour can match that speed. Scientists offer various theories for why men’s bodies lend themselves to faster running: narrower hips that more closely align to the quads and make running more efficient; more lung capacity; larger fast-twitch muscle fibres.

But here’s the thing: no male player thirty years ago got to balls that were way out wide and then went on offense with his returns of them, the way that Rafael Nadal did when he first showed his potential to be an all-time great, in 2005. He was big and fast, sure, with an explosive first step, like a sprinter, toward an incoming ball. And there was a way he had, something I’d never seen before, of seeming to be sliding back to the center of the court—to reëstablish position, in order to give chase again—even before he had fully completed his follow-through. But there was something else, too, something just this side of ineffable: a relentlessness in pursuit of every last ball, driven by—you could glimpse it in his strained facial muscles—a sort of anxious fear of not getting there.

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The linked article about why men can be faster is interesting: biomechanics, hormones, and more.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified