Start Up: deepfake cryptomining, jumping skyscrapers, India fines Google, and more


A hedge fund is shorting Kodak for all it’s worth, saying its cryptocoins won’t save it. Photo by Miwok on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Kinda bitcoin-y. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

A deepfakes spinoff website is quietly mining cryptocurrency under the guise of fake porn • Motherboard

Samantha Cole:

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“Deepfakes” are videos created using a machine learning algorithm that swaps one person’s face onto another person’s body. Most frequently, this is used to put a celebrity’s face on a video of a porn performer.

Some deepfakes fans are attempting to avoid watchful admin eyes by setting up their own websites, independent of other platforms. But at least one of these websites, called Deepfakes.cc, contains malware that hijacks visitors’ computing power to mine cryptocurrency without alerting the user. Deepfakes enthusiasts may make particularly good miners: The profitability of cryptocurrency mining depends on a computer’s power, and people running machine learning programs may have more powerful CPUs than the average consumer.

A member of the r/fakeapp subreddit (which was not banned because it does not allow porn) first pointed out the surreptitious mining on deepfakes.cc, in an attempt to alert other members of the issue. Motherboard ran the site through an online antivirus program; it showed that deepfakes.cc is running code from Coinhive’s in-browser miner.

This appears to be a Coinhive browser miner. Motherboard viewed the site’s source code and confirmed that mining is taking place…

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Kodak pt 4: Kerrisdale Capital’s blistering crypto pre-mortem for Kodak • David Gerard

David Gerard on hedge fund Kerrisdale Capital’s excoriating preview of Kodak’s cryptocoin effort; the hedge fund is shorting Kodak hard:

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Like all good cryptocurrency entrepreneurs, the KodakCoin team turn out to have an extensive track record in scams and fraud — in this case, securities fraud. Cameron Chell, leader of the team, has been banned from a Canadian exchange for securities fraud, and has formed several businesses with people also convicted of securities fraud.

KashMiner is dismissed forthwith — one heading states straight-up that “Kodak KashMiner is a scam” and another that it’s a “racket.” The scam is detailed much as I set out previously — you are startlingly unlikely to come out ahead on this thing, and there’s no way they couldn’t have known this when they promoted it.

These deals are desperation on the part of Eastman Kodak — their financial position hasn’t improved any since their last bankruptcy, they’re middling at best in the few profitable businesses they’re still in, they have cash on the balance sheet but half of it is stuck outside the US, and they can’t possibly avoid tripping debt covenants before the middle of next year, if not sooner. The numbers are set out in detail.

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How many times can Kodak die, exactly?
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People notice there’s something wrong with the rock’s new movie poster, and things escalate quickly • Bored Panda

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People are calling Dwayne Johnson ‘The Rock-et’ after he shared a poster of his upcoming movie. The action thriller is set in the not-so-distant future, where his character, Will Ford, is called in to inspect the security at the tallest building in the world, called The Pearl. And yes, films like these don’t always rely on the laws of physics, but the internet believes this one is stretching it a wee bit too much.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

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This is simply wonderful.
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India’s antitrust watchdog fines Google for abusing dominant position • Reuters

Aditya Kalra and Aditi Shah:

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The Competition Commission of India (CCI) said Google, the core unit of US firm Alphabet, was abusing its dominance in online web search and online search advertising markets.

“Google was found to be indulging in practices of search bias and by doing so, it causes harm to its competitors as well as to users,” the CCI said in a 190-page order.

“Google was leveraging its dominance in the market for online general web search, to strengthen its position in the market for online syndicate search services,” the CCI said.

However, the CCI said it did not find any contravention in respect of Google’s specialized search design, AdWords and online distribution agreements.

A Google spokesman said the company was reviewing the “narrow concerns” identified by the Commission and will assess its next steps.

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A fine of $21.7m. Google might be able to handle it. But is anyone keeping count of how many countries Google has been found guilty of antitrust in? Russia, Europe, South Korea, now India..
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Don’t get too excited about Twitter’s turnaround • Bloomberg Gadfly

Shira Ovide:

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if Twitter’s audience doesn’t grow, that puts more pressure on Twitter’s advertising department to squeeze more revenue from existing users. That’s not an easy task for Twitter, which competes for some of the same business that’s going to Facebook, Google and Snapchat. Ideally, Twitter wants to increase the number of users, how much time they’re spending on Twitter and the ad sales per user. Admittedly, that’s a lot of balls in the air at once, and Twitter hasn’t been a skillful juggler. 

Investors’ feelings about Twitter have also turned from bitterness to overly optimistic. Shares have climbed 65% in the last six months, and the stock price hit a two-year high last week. Wall Street has been anticipating Twitter’s financial recovery, and a return of Twitter takeover rumors likely have lifted shares as well. Pre-market trading Thursday indicates shares may open 23% higher. 

The anticipation of a Twitter rebound means shares have become overheated. The company’s enterprise value now stands about nearly 7 times expected revenue in the next year, according to Bloomberg data. That’s the richest valuation for Twitter in at least two years.

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Twitter says the flat user number was because it was getting rid of bots and other unwanted accounts. The feeling is that advertisers like that: it means they can trust who they’re dealing with. Simply measuring “active users” has been the wrong metric. Time spent could be better.
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Leaked AI-powered game revenue model paper foretells a dystopian nightmare • Tech Powerup

“Btarunr”:

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An artificial intelligence (AI) will deliberately tamper with your online gameplay as you scramble for more in-game items to win. The same AI will manipulate your state of mind at every step of your game to guide you towards more micro-transactions. Nothing in-game is truly fixed-rate. The game maps out your home, and cross-references it with your online footprint, to have a socio-economic picture of you, so the best possible revenue model, and anti buyer’s remorse strategy can be implemented on you. These, and more, are part of the dystopian nightmare that takes flight if a new AI-powered online game revenue model is implemented in MMO games of the near future.

The paper’s slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank. It proposes leveraging AI to gather and build a socio-economic profile of a player to implement the best revenue-generation strategy. It also proposes using an AI to consistently “alter” the player’s gameplay, such that the player’s actions don’t have the desired result leading toward beating the game, but towards an “unfair” consequence that motivates more in-game spending. The presentation spans a little over 50 slides, and is rich in text that requires little further explanation.

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Samsung and Roku smart TVs vulnerable to hacking, consumer reports finds • Consumer Reports

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The problems affect Samsung televisions, along with models made by TCL and other brands that use the Roku TV smart-TV platform, as well as streaming devices such as the Roku Ultra.

We found that a relatively unsophisticated hacker could change channels, play offensive content, or crank up the volume, which might be deeply unsettling to someone who didn’t understand what was happening. This could be done over the web, from thousands of miles away. (These vulnerabilities would not allow a hacker to spy on the user or steal information.)

The findings were part of a broad privacy and security evaluation, led by Consumer Reports, of smart TVs from top brands that also included LG, Sony, and Vizio.

The testing also found that all these TVs raised privacy concerns by collecting very detailed information on their users. Consumers can limit the data collection. But they have to give up a lot of the TVs’ functionality—and know the right buttons to click and settings to look for.

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Tested for the first time against the ”Digital Standard” (a new cybersecurity and privacy standard developed with third-party companies).

Just me, or does it feel like it would be easier to list the smart TVs which aren’t privacy-invading hacker-vulnerable nightmares?
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Transcript: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks with CNBC’s Josh Lipton and Jim Cramer • CNBC

Chloe Aiello had the slog of transcribing what is mostly a big nothing-burger, where Cook retreads the themes you’d have heard from the earnings call (for a moment at the start I thought it was the earnings call):

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LIPTON: I want to stick with China for one moment, because it was interesting these Chinese smartphone manufacturers recently said they’re going to offer 5G, maybe as soon as 2019. And they are doing that by partnering with Qualcomm. If you didn’t have Qualcomm as a partner, Tim, would it be harder to compete in that market going forward?

COOK: Harder to compete in China?

LIPTON: Yeah, the fact that Chinese manufacturers are saying, “Listen, we are going to be able to offer this super fast 5G by 2019 by partnering with Qualcomm.”

COOK: Obviously 5G is something that is on everybody’s roadmap. I don’t want to talk about timing, obviously, it’s different in different countries. I believe China’s plan is a very limited offering in 2019. And I think it is a full, commercial offering in 2020. But regardless of what it is, we moved the iPhone from 2.5G to 3G, and from 3G to LTE, and it will eventually move to 5G, as well.

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I get the feeling that means Apple is going to have 5G later than others. Hard to know at this point whether that’s really a competitive gap: 4G is plenty fast for so many things (better than Wi-Fi in many situations).
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Google and Facebook make up less than 5% of publishers’ digital revenue • Digiday

Lucia Moses:

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In the first half of 2017, publishers took in $10m from third-party platforms, representing 16% of their total digital revenue. That’s nearly flat with the first half of 2016, when third-party revenue was 14%. That’s pocket change for Google and Facebook, which together took in more than $52bn in digital ad revenue just in the US in 2017.

“The biggest surprise is how little has changed,” DCN CEO Jason Kint said. “You’re still looking at a situation where the best in class in news and entertainment isn’t being supported in a way it should be.”

The report was based on numbers reported by 20 members of DCN, which represents 75 digital content publishers including The New York Times, ESPN and PBS. (About two-thirds of that 20 are the same as the comparative group of the earlier report, so the comparison isn’t perfect.)

The report also shows that video revenue continues to drive monetization for publishers. Video represented about 85% of all third-party revenue. That might seem like a vindication for publishers that have organized their businesses around video, but the reality is that most of the video dollars went to companies that were established video producers. TV/cable companies reaping a disproportionate share of third-party platform monetization and growth through OTT and syndication partners including YouTube.

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Pivot to vide—oh.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Nest rejoins Google, bye Spectacles!, Tumblr’s Russian trolls, and more


British phone OEM Wileyfox has gone into administration; its future is very unclear. Photo by Richard Lewis on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

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

Google and Nest reunite in push to add AI to every gadget • Cnet

Richard Nieva:

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Under the new org structure, Nest CEO Marwan Fawaz reports to Google’s hardware chief, Rick Osterloh, a former Motorola executive who took charge of all Google’s consumer devices in 2016. That includes Google Home smart speakers, Pixel smartphones and Chromecast streaming devices.

“All of Google’s investments in machine learning and AI, they can very clearly benefit Nest products. It just makes sense to be developing them together,” Osterloh said in an interview Tuesday, which included Fawaz and took place in a meeting room designed to look like a home, complete with a kitchen and a washer-dryer setup. “It’s the natural thing to evolve to.”  

Nest’s brand, known for its 2011 internet-connected thermostat, isn’t going anywhere, Osterloh and Fawaz said. In fact, the two drilled home the message that the reunion of the teams will “supercharge Nest’s mission,” as Fawaz put it. They used the word “supercharge” at least five times during our 40-minute interview at Nest headquarters in Palo Alto, California.

Fawaz said Nest has shipped more than 11 million products since its first thermostat went on sale in 2011. Since it’s been part of “Other Bets,” Alphabet doesn’t call out how much money Nest makes or loses.

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Google is so, so serious about incorporating machine learning into everything it does. Don’t underestimate how far it could go.
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Snap spectacles are dead • Wareable

Hugh Langley:

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Snapchat is coming back up with its Q4 revenue soaring above Wall Street expectation but, as far as its Spectacles go, they were little more than a footnote on the company results.

Snap Inc made $8m in Spectacles revenue in Q1 of 2017; a fairly modest taking for a company of its size, but Snap said that it expect sales to be “substantially down year-over-year” in Q1 of this year and sequentially. Further to that, on a call with investors, the company said it doesn’t plan to “annualize” the product.

Translation: it’s pretty much done with Specs – don’t expect a new line for 2018.

Snap was overly confident in Spectacles, which cost the company $40m in excess inventory. In November it opened a storefront in London to shift some of those glasses, but this was only ever scheduled to remain until early 2018, Snap told us. The company has now shut down its Venice Beach store.

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From the company’s S-1 filing for IPO: “Snap is a spectacles company.”
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North Korea suspected of hatching coincheck heist • Bloomberg

Sohee Kim:

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South Korea’s spy agency has begun investigating the possibility that North Korean hackers orchestrated the theft of about $500m worth of digital coins from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck Inc., said a lawmaker who attended a meeting with the head of the intelligence service.

The National Intelligence Service is investigating last month’s incident – one of the largest cryptocurrency heists in history – based on similarities with past cases associated with its northern neighbor’s cyber-attack apparatus, said the lawmaker, who didn’t want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information. The South Korean agency is now examining the incident with cooperation from international authorities, the lawmaker added.

Cybersecurity experts say North Korea has master-minded a growing number of crypto-heists in past years, as Kim Jong Un’s hermit regime seeks capital to bankroll its nuclear weapons program and circumvent tough international sanctions. South Korean investigators are already said to be looking into Pyongyang’s involvement in the hack of Seoul-based exchange Youbit, which collapsed in December. In a recent twist, cyber-sleuths say the regime’s attacks have expanded to include hijacking computers to mine digital currencies – particularly hard-to-trace Monero.

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Yup, highly likely. Large amounts of foreign currency, hard to trace, freely available, loose law enforcement – it’s just what North Korea would ask for.
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Russian trolls ran wild on Tumblr and the company refuses to say anything about it • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

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Russian trolls posed as black activists on Tumblr and generated hundreds of thousands of interactions for content that ranged from calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” to supporting Bernie Sanders and decrying racial injustice and police violence in the US, according to new findings from researcher Jonathan Albright and BuzzFeed News.

While Facebook and Twitter continue to face intense public and congressional pressure over the activity from trolls working for the Russian Internet Research Agency, Tumblr has somehow managed to escape scrutiny. But the blogging platform was in fact home to a powerful, largely unrevealed network of Russian trolls focused on black issues and activism.

“The evidence we’ve collected shows a highly engaged and far-reaching Tumblr propaganda-op targeting mostly teenage and twenty-something African Americans. This appears to have been part of an ongoing campaign since early 2015,” said Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

Tumblr and its parent company, Oath, did not reply to multiple emails with questions from BuzzFeed News. Despite not responding, tracking software shows the emails were opened more than 290 times, and the included links were clicked more than 70 times.

BuzzFeed News also did not receive a response from the office of Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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That’s a lot of clicking and sharing of those questions.
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Chinese police use real-time facial recognition glasses for public security • China People’s Daily

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Chinese police have been equipped with special glasses that conduct automatic facial recognition to prevent security risks.

With just one look, officers are able to identify a person. The technology is being used to hunt down fugitives and spot fake IDs.
The special glasses are being used by Zhengzhou railway police in central China’s Henan province – a major transportation hub for the #SpringFestivalRush, which kicked off on February 1. Officers equipped with the high-tech glasses are stationed at four entrances of the railway station.

As of February 5, the face scanning glasses have helped identity seven people suspected of human trafficking and hit-and-run accidents, as well as another 26 people using fake IDs.

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No way to verify the claims about how wonderful they are, and who has been caught. The security will surely be of the government, not the public; imagine it being used against ethnic minorities. And of course there’s no consent.
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How income impacts interest in smart home devices • Global Web Index

Chris Beer:

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Following on from yesterday’s chart looking at smart home products in the US, today we put a spotlight on how levels of income influence interest in this new technology.

Across all smart home devices, consumer appetite is much more pronounced in the top 25% for income. Amazon and Google have looked to broaden smart home engagement with holiday discounts on their Echo and Home devices, but it’s still the affluent early adopters in the top income bracket who are much more likely to be interested in smart assistants.

Marketers would benefit from portraying such products with a use-case as affordable and necessary additions to consumers’ daily routines, rather than luxury gadgets. The price of entry to a smart home experience may be lower than ever, but the perception that smart home products are only for a select group needs to shift as well.

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These devices are hardly necessities, in stark contrast (these days) to mobile phones. So they’re discretionary purchases, even when they’re super-cheap.
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Facebook hired a full-time pollster to monitor Zuckerberg’s approval ratings • The Verge

Casey Newton:

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“Facebook is Mark, and Mark is Facebook,” McGinn says. “Mark has 60% voting rights for Facebook. So you have one individual, 33 years old, who has basically full control of the experience of 2 billion people around the world. That’s unprecedented. Even the president of the United States has checks and balances. At Facebook, it’s really this one person.”

McGinn declined to discuss the results of his polling at Facebook, saying nondisclosure agreements prevented him from doing so. But he said he decided to leave the company after only six months after coming to believe that Facebook had a negative effect on the world.

“I joined Facebook hoping to have an impact from the inside,” he says. “I thought, here’s this huge machine that has a tremendous influence on society, and there’s nothing I can do as an outsider. But if I join the company, and I’m regularly taking the pulse of Americans to Mark, maybe, just maybe that could change the way the company does business. I worked there for six months and I realized that even on the inside, I was not going to be able to change the way that the company does business. I couldn’t change the values. I couldn’t change the culture. I was probably far too optimistic.”

After McGinn left Facebook, he founded a new market research firm named Honest Data. On January 27th, he posted the results of a poll he had conducted regarding opinions of Facebook. The poll, which surveyed 2,000 Americans using Google Consumer Surveys, asked respondents to evaluate a list of companies and mark which ones “are having a negative impact on society.” Among tech companies, 32% of Americans said Facebook is harmful. A separate survey, which placed Facebook among other large brands including Walmart, McDonald’s, and Marlboro, found that 27% said it is harmful.

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Two phone makers go bankrupt: Wileyfox, Turing – update: one maybe not! • Slashgear

Chris Burns:

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In November of 2017, Wileyfox revealed they’d be going ahead with the Windows 10 Mobile smartphone they’d revealed at IFA 2017 (earlier that year.) In December of 2017, Wileyfox revealed an Add-X ad-subsidized device. That contained a promotional newsfeed in the same vein as Amazon’s Prime Exclusive phone lineup. Ironically today, the same day this article is set to be released, Amazon did away with the lockscreen ads on their Prime Exclusive phones altogether, and Wileyfox confirmed that they were going out of business.

The former Wileyfox official Wileyfox-Jack confirmed on Reddit this week that the brand was in Administration. That’s the British equivalent of going bankrupt. [No, it isn’t exactly – CA] In this case, administration means the administrators on the case will attempt to save the company or find a buyer – but more than likely it’ll go under completely.

Turing Robotic declared bankruptcy in Finland this week. This information comes from Salon Seudun Sanomat (SSS), a newspaper from Salo Finland. SSS reported that Turing Robotic Industries Ltd. was set to enter bankruptcy on Monday.

UPDATE: SSS reported late this morning that Turing Robotics (TRI) informed them that they’d be setting up a new company in Salo. It’s not immediately clear how this all came to be – and it is a strange affair indeed.

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Wileyfox hasn’t gone bankrupt, nor is it insolvent; it’s in administration, which gives it temporary protection from creditors. It might struggle though to get out of this. A pity – it was a small British company trying to find a profitable niche.
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Bitcoin will someday be worth as much as 40 times its current value, says Cameron Winklevoss • CNBC

Hadley Gamble:

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The cryptocurrency had a market capitalization or value of $135 billion on Wednesday, according to CoinDesk data, after the price recovered following a violent sell-off. Forty times this would be over $5 trillion.

Cameron Winklevoss made the call after comparing bitcoin to gold during a CNBC-hosted chat at the Milken Institute’s MENA Summit.

“Taking bitcoin in isolation … we believe bitcoin disrupts gold. We think it’s a better gold if you look at the properties of money. And what makes gold gold? Scarcity. Bitcoin is actually fixed in supply so it’s better than scarce … it’s more portable, its fungible, it’s more durable. Its sort of equals a better gold across the board,” Winklevoss told CNBC.

“So if you look at a $100 billion market cap today, now last week it might have been more like 200, so it’s actually a buying opportunity, we think that there’s a potential appreciation of 30 to 40 times because you look at the gold market today, it’s a $7 trillion market. And so a lot of people are starting to see that, they recognize the store of value properties. So we think regardless of the price moves in the last few weeks, it’s still a very underappreciated asset.”

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Except gold has actual uses, which is part of what makes it valuable. Notable though that he isn’t calling bitcoin a currency – he sees it as a speculative asset.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: more tech support scams, who reads junk news?, HomePod reviewed, bitcoin’s miner margin, and more


Date formatting in spreadsheets is screwing up genetics papers. Photo by Tony Hirst (thanks Tony!) on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Or 20, in pental. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Gene name errors are widespread in the scientific literature • Genome Biology

Mark Ziemann, Yotam Eren and Assam El-Osta:

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The problem of Excel software (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, USA) inadvertently converting gene symbols to dates and floating-point numbers was originally described in 2004. For example, gene symbols such as SEPT2 (Septin 2) and MARCH1 [Membrane-Associated Ring Finger (C3HC4) 1, E3 Ubiquitin Protein Ligase] are converted by default to ‘2-Sep’ and ‘1-Mar’, respectively. Furthermore, RIKEN identifiers were described to be automatically converted to floating point numbers (i.e. from accession ‘2310009E13’ to ‘2.31E 13’). Since that report, we have uncovered further instances where gene symbols were converted to dates in supplementary data of recently published papers (e.g. ‘SEPT2’ converted to ‘2006/09/02’). This suggests that gene name errors continue to be a problem in supplementary files accompanying articles.

Inadvertent gene symbol conversion is problematic because these supplementary files are an important resource in the genomics community that are frequently reused. Our aim here is to raise awareness of the problem.

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They found errors of this sort affecting thousands of gene names in roughly one-fifth of papers they examined. The power of defaults to screw things up.
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Tech support scammers find new way to jam Google Chrome • Malwarebytes

Jérôme Segura:

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It happens too fast to see how it works, but you may be able to spot it with a powerful enough machine and if you try to close the tab early on. That code triggers a very large number of downloads in rapid fire, which causes the browser to become unresponsive within a few seconds, and unable to be closed via normal means.

The primary targets for this particular browser freeze are Google Chrome users on Windows. Other browsers will get their own landing pages, abusing other HTML APIs. Considering that Chrome has the most market share in the browser category, this is yet another example of the desire for threat actors to deploy new social engineering schemes.

Since most of these browser lockers are distributed via malvertising, an effective mitigation method is to use an ad-blocker. As a last resort, the Windows Task Manager will allow you to forcefully quit the offending browser processes. Malwarebytes users were already protected against the redirection mechanism used in this attack.

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The dialog shows 2,601 downloads – which blocks you from closing the tab. (UI failure.) These scammers are hiring some skilled programmers.
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How apps, music and more can buoy Apple beyond the iPhone • WSJ

Christopher Mims:

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In the 2017 calendar year, Apple reported $31.15bn in revenue from services including Apple’s music (both downloads and subscriptions), video sales and rentals, books, apps (including in-app purchases, subscriptions and advertising sold by Apple), iCloud storage and money Google pays Apple to be the iPhone’s default search engine.

Another way to think of it: Apple is on track to take in about $26 a year in revenue from each of its 1.3 billion active devices. By contrast, Facebook brings in advertising revenue of about $25 a year for each of its more than two billion users. (Users in the US and Canada, Facebook’s most lucrative ad targets, are each worth $26.76 a year.)

Mr. Cook says by 2020 he wants Apple’s services revenue to double from its 2016 level. Between now and then, if revenue from iPhone sales holds steady or declines, which would be a natural consequence of people holding on to their devices longer, then growth in services could become the primary driver of Apple’s overall revenue growth—or even the one thing that keeps it from declining.

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Those 1.3bn devices are held by rather fewer than 1.3bn people, since some proportion will have more than one device. Assume 1bn active users, and that per-user revenue looks even tastier. Facebook, meanwhile, has tapped out its biggest market unless it can push up ad prices.
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Polarization, partisanship and junk news consumption over social media in the US • Oxford Internet Institute

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What kinds of social media users read junk news? We examine the distribution of the most significant sources of junk news in the three months before President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union Address. Drawing on a list of sources that consistently publish political news and information that is extremist, sensationalist, conspiratorial, masked commentary, fake news and other forms of junk news, we find that the distribution of such content is unevenly spread across the ideological spectrum.

We demonstrate that (1) on Twitter, a network of Trump supporters shares the widest range of known junk news sources and circulates more junk news than all the other groups put together; (2) on Facebook, extreme hard right pages—distinct from Republican pages—share the widest range of known junk news sources and circulate more junk news than all the other audiences put together; (3) on average, the audiences for junk news on Twitter share a wider range of known junk news sources than audiences on Facebook’s public pages.

Download here

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Depressing. But the phrase “junk news” is neat.
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Apple HomePod review: locked in • The Verge

Nilay Patel says that the HomePod delivers terrific – nay, amazing – music playback. But:

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If I had to bet, I would say that 99% of people will never compare a HomePod and, say, a Sonos One head-to-head in their kitchen. And if you don’t do that, you will never know that the HomePod can put out more bass and clearer mids than the Sonos One. You will instead think that the Sonos One sounds extremely good for its size and price while offering you the ability to use virtually any music service, including Spotify and Apple Music, and working with Amazon Alexa and (eventually) Google Assistant.

That’s really the crux of it: the HomePod sounds incredible, but not so world-bendingly amazing that you should switch away from Spotify, or accept Siri’s frustrating limitations as compared to Alexa.

Apple’s ecosystem lock-in is actively working against a remarkable product with the HomePod, and I say that as someone who uses Apple Music as their primary music service. Sometimes I want to listen to a radio station from TuneIn or SiriusXM; sometimes I want to just let Pandora handle it. Sometimes I want to ask the voice assistant in my house a random question and get a useful answer. And sometimes I want to have people over without remembering to turn off the feature that lets them access my text messages when I’m not in the room.

All of this is why I started thinking of the HomePod as “lonely.” It feels like it was designed for a very demanding person to use while living alone entirely inside Apple’s ecosystem. It’s tied more closely to a single iPhone and iCloud account than any other smart speaker, and Siri has none of the capability or vibrancy of what’s happening with Alexa. Apple can try to move mountains by itself, or it can recognize that the HomePod is a little iOS computer for the home and let developers build on it as they have for so long and with such great success with the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

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Highly recommended too: Joanna Stern’s video review for the WSJ. Funny and incisive.
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Bitcoin miners fried in game of chicken • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

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Had Bitcoin stayed at its 50-day moving average of $13,200, then the average miner could expect to print $80 per week in profit at current levels of computation (hash rate) and difficulty. This is based on the very generous assumption that a miner is running Bitmain Technologies Ltd.’s Antminer S9 at 13.5 TH/s (retail price $2,320), one of the most advanced systems available, and the set-up is in China at wholesale prices. Older equipment will have lower returns, and a lot of those mines are still online.

(Note: Assumes China wholesale price ($0.06/KWh), using listed specifications for Antminer S9 (13.50 TH/s), adds 30% cooling & operational costs, assumes retail is 30% markup from wholesale hardware price, 52-week depreciation schedule (Bitmain offers 180-day warranty). No transaction fee or pool fee. Hash rate and computational difficulty as of Feb. 6, 2018.)

If the price doesn’t rise, then the average miner is set to lose $3 per week at current levels. Mining syndicates such as Antpool – which are probably buying their mines at less than the retail price – may still be making money, but will be getting returns 90% lower than they would at that 50-day moving average.

The only way for miners to return to sustained profits is if Bitcoin prices rise, or some miners turn off the lights, lowering competition. History shows that while the latter is possible, it’s unlikely. In fact, those who have plunked down millions of dollars to build their Bitcoin mining operations seem to be playing chicken in the hope that competitors will flinch.

If that happens, they reason, then the bravest miners will be left alone to enjoy the spoils. If it doesn’t, then expect a lot to drive off the cliff together.

«

$3 per week isn’t the end of the world, though it might be nice to have something to show for it than some conked-out graphics cards.
link to this extract


Wikipedia has become a science reference source even though scientists don’t cite it • Science News

Bethany Brookshire on how scientists don’t cite Wikipedia – but they do seem to look at it very closely:

»

the researchers created new Wikipedia articles from scratch to find out if the language in them affected the scientific literature in return. Hanley and Thompson had graduate students in chemistry and in econometrics write up new Wikipedia articles on topics that weren’t yet on the site. The students wrote 43 chemistry articles and 45 econometrics articles. Then, half of the articles in each set got published to Wikipedia in January 2015, and the other half were held back as controls. The researchers gave the articles three months to percolate through the internet. Then they examined the next six months’ worth of published scientific papers in those fields for specific language used in the published Wikipedia entries, and compared it to the language in the entries that never got published.

In chemistry, at least, the new topics proved popular. Both the published and control Wikipedia page entries had been selected from graduate level topics in chemistry that weren’t yet covered on Wikipedia. They included entries such as the synthesis of hydrastine (the precursor to a drug that stops bleeding). People were interested enough to view the new articles on average 4,400 times per month.

The articles’ words trickled into to the scientific literature. In the six months after publishing, the entries influenced about 1 in 300 words in the newly published papers in that chemical discipline. And scientific papers on a topic covered in Wikipedia became slightly more like the Wikipedia article over time. For example, if chemists wrote about the synthesis of hydrastine — one of the new Wikipedia articles — published scientific papers more often used phrases like “Passarini reaction,” a term used in the Wikipedia entry. But if an article never went on to Wikipedia, the scientific papers published on the topic didn’t become any more similar to the never-published article (which could have happened  if the topics were merely getting more popular).

«

The depth of Wikipedia on some topics is amazing. I had to look up a specific ligament injury recently. The related pages had clearly been written by medical students regurgitating textbooks. Definitely one of the wonders of the internet.
link to this extract


Why Microsoft Office is a bigger productivity drain than Candy Crush Saga • Tim Harford

Harford, an economist, writes:

»

digital devices slow us down in subtler ways, too. Microsoft Office may be as much a drag on productivity as Candy Crush Saga. To see why, consider Adam Smith’s argument that economic progress was built on a foundation of the division of labour. His most celebrated example was a simple pin factory: “One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points” and 10 men together made nearly 50,000 pins a day.

In another example — the making of a woollen coat — Smith emphasises that the division of labour allows us to use machines, even “that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool”.

The shepherd has the perfect tool for a focused task. That tool needs countless other focused specialists: the bricklayer who built the foundry; the collier who mined fuel; the smith who forged the blades. It is a reinforcing spiral: the division of labour lets us build new machines, while machines work best when jobs have been divided into one small task after another.

The rise of the computer complicates this story. Computers can certainly continue the process of specialisation, parcelling out jobs into repetitive chunks, but fundamentally they are general purpose devices, and by running software such as Microsoft Office they are turning many of us into generalists.

In a modern office there are no specialist typists; we all need to be able to pick our way around a keyboard. PowerPoint has made amateur slide designers of everyone. Once a slide would be produced by a professional, because no one else had the necessary equipment or training. Now anyone can have a go — and they do.

Well-paid middle managers with no design skills take far too long to produce ugly slides that nobody wants to look at. They also file their own expenses, book their own travel and, for that matter, do their own shopping in the supermarket. On a bill-by-the-minute basis none of this makes sense.

«

Perhaps this is where the productivity gap arises – all that time wasted trying to figure out how to stop Word inserting bullet points?
link to this extract


Crypto rich and paranoid: threats prompt radical security in bitcoin land • Coindesk

Rob Wile on how cryptocurrency investors fearful of online and offline thieves are taking precautions:

»

Previously, Grumpy stored the private keys to his cryptocurrency using an ingenious strategy of embedding an encrypted vault in a video file.

But he’s switched to the Ledger Nano S, a pocket-sized hardware wallet.

“Storing the private keys in a vault is good for cold storage, but when you want to use the wallet, you’ll have to expose your key to your PC,” Grumpy said.

A device like the Ledger, on the other hand, keeps the keys unexposed even when plugged into a computer that’s connected to the internet. Instead, the hardware wallet sends a signed message.

Still, Grumpy wasn’t taking any chances. After receiving the Ledger in the mail, Grumpy took the thing apart to verify the chips. He also double-checked the signatures that are generated by the device.

“This to be 99.99% sure that the device itself is genuine and that it hasn’t been tampered with,” he said.

This level of care underscores the added level of personal responsibility the crypto world now faces in a new security environment.

“It’s like moving from an apartment where building security is already provided, to a private home where you are responsible for your own security,” William Mougayar, the author and investor, told CoinDesk.

Most consumers, he said, have yet to make the mental jump to this new reality, which requires not only new skills and know-how but, critically, self-discipline.

“An eight-letter password in your head is no longer sufficient,” Mougayar said.

«

I am increasingly persuaded that bitcoin and its brethren are the desktop Linux of currencies.
link to this extract


Voice UI is the future. But when? • Monday Note

Jean-Louis Gassée:

»

Voice UI is great progress, even if the technology feels a bit stilted and is occasionally infuriating. One challenge is that the smart device just sits there awaiting our commands, doing little or nothing to let us know what commands it understands and how precisely they ought to be formulated. Also, voice assistants generally don’t pass the Turing Test, meaning they can’t really fool us into believing we’re conversing with a human.

A bigger frustration for those of us who are interested in the future of the technology, is that Amazon (and Google and Apple) are playing it close to the chest when it comes to numbers. How many Echo devices have been sold? How often are they used on average: Ten times a day? Five times a week? Almost never? Who (age, occupation) uses them the most and for what?
Amazon knows all this but keeps this fascinating knowledge to itself — and so we turn to the “market analysts”. A survey from late 2016 (eons ago in tech time) found that “the top feature tried by Echo users is the very simple act of setting a timer”. A more recent study says only that Echo users “buy more stuff”.

(As an aside: Serious investigation is, of course, complicated and expensive. You need a large sample, say 1,000 people, to achieve a decent confidence interval for the results, and the participants need to reliably represent the user population at large. I seriously doubt that most research “reports” caroming in the on-line echo chamber meet the above criteria. For example, the “top feature is setting a timer” conclusion was based on a survey of 180 Echo owners.)

«

This is, to me, the giant question around voice UIs. How many people use it? For example, my wife uses speech-to-text to dictate texts quite a lot, but doesn’t use it to control anything. I use voice to set timers and, um, dictate texts, quite a lot. Other stuff? Play music?

I can’t quite see myself going through the slog of installing controls around the house just to obviate the work of opening the curtains. This is where I wonder about what we need to get done.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Intel’s smart glasses, why Apple pulled Telegram, China squashes cryptocoins, tablets fizzle, and more


Turns out that podcast listeners really do listen – a lot. Photo by Casey Fiesler on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 12 links for you. Apologies for email recipients: today’s will be a double helping. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Intel made smart glasses that look normal • The Verge

Dieter Bohn:

»

From the outside, the Vaunt glasses look just like eyeglasses. When you’re wearing them, you see a stream of information on what looks like a screen — but it’s actually being projected onto your retina.

The prototypes I wore in December also felt virtually indistinguishable from regular glasses. They come in several styles, work with prescriptions, and can be worn comfortably all day. Apart from a tiny red glimmer that’s occasionally visible on the right lens, people around you might not even know you’re wearing smart glasses.

Like Google Glass did five years ago, Vaunt will launch an “early access program” for developers later this year. But Intel’s goals are different than Google’s. Instead of trying to convince us we could change our lives for a head-worn display, Intel is trying to change the head-worn display to fit our lives.

Google Glass, and the Glassholes who came with it, gave head-worn displays a bad reputation. HoloLens is aiming for a full, high-end AR experience that literally puts a Windows PC on your head. Magic Leap puts an entire computer on your hip, plus its headset is a set of goggles that look like they belong in a Vin Diesel movie.

We live in a world where our watches have LTE and our phones can turn our faces into bouncing cartoon characters in real time. You’d expect a successful pair of smart glasses to provide similar wonders. Every gadget these days has more, more, more.

With Vaunt, Intel is betting on less.

«

Well. Intel doesn’t have the heft to make these in any volume; so who might? (The absence of a camera is a smart move, certainly.)
link to this extract


Apple abruptly pulled Telegram last week when it learned app was serving child pornography • 9to5Mac

Zac Hall:

»

9to5Mac has verified the authenticity of the email with Apple before publishing this story.

In the email, [Apple marketing VP Phil] Schiller takes an admirable and firm position on never allowing such vile content as child pornography to be distributed through the App Store.

»The Telegram apps were taken down off the App Store because the App Store team was alerted to illegal content, specifically child pornography, in the apps. After verifying the existence of the illegal content the team took the apps down from the store, alerted the developer, and notified the proper authorities, including the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).«

The response also explains what Telegram CEO Pavel Durov referenced when responding to a user last week who asked why the app was pulled:

»We were alerted by Apple that inappropriate content was made available to our users and both apps were taken off the App Store. Once we have protections in place we expect the apps to be back on the App Store.«

Similar to Apple’s iMessage, Telegram offers a secure messaging feature that relies on end-to-end encryption for protecting the privacy of messages sent between users. This means the illegal content was likely not simply media being shared between users but more likely content being served up from a third-party plug-in used by Telegram.

«

link to this extract


Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be • Wired

Miranda Katz:

»

Apple’s Podcast Analytics feature finally became available last month, and [podcaster Misha] Euceph—along with podcasters everywhere—breathed a sigh of relief. Though it’s still early days, the numbers podcasters are seeing are highly encouraging.

Forget those worries that the podcast bubble would burst the minute anyone actually got a closer look: It seems like podcast listeners really are the hyper-engaged, super-supportive audiences that everyone hoped.

“I think some people had an apocalyptic fear that, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get this data and see no one’s listening,’” says Erik Diehn, CEO of Midroll Media. Thanks to surveys and data from Stitcher, Midroll’s distribution platform, the podcast network had long felt confident that a nightmare scenario was unlikely—and now thanks to Podcast Analytics, Diehn says, it’s finally indisputable fact. On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90% of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.

«

A sort-of captive audience, and prepared to listen at length.
link to this extract


China to stamp out cryptocurrency trading completely with ban on foreign platforms • South China Morning Post

Xie Yu:

»

China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted the PBOC on Monday afternoon as saying it would tighten regulations on domestic investors’ participation in overseas transactions of ICOs and virtual currencies, as risks are still high in the sector.
Beijing’s tougher stance – which effectively bans all forms of activity related to digital currencies – aims to put the breaks on the ICO and virtual-currency trading mania that has been sweeping China. The frenzy among retail investors led to huge price volatility and several reported incidents of fraud, causing a headache for regulators increasingly worried about social unrest.

In one incident on Saturday, reported by mainland Chinese media TMT Post, angry investors had forcibly taken Jiang Jie, founder of an ICO project called ARTS, to the Beijing municipal financial bureau, alleging fraud after the value of a virtual coin issued by ARTS tumbled to 0.13 yuan in two weeks from 0.66 yuan after its ICO and listing on an exchange in late January.
Following reports of the latest crackdown, advertisements for cryptocurrencies have stopped appearing on Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, and social media platform Weibo.

«

What happens to all the Chinese bitcoin miners, then?
link to this extract


Detachable tablets return to growth during the holiday season as slate tablet decline continues • IDC

:

»

The worldwide detachable tablet market grew to 6.5 million units in the fourth quarter of 2017 (4Q17), an increase of 10.3% from the previous holiday season, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. Growth for the entire year remained positive although it showed signs of slowing as detachable tablets grew 1.6% year over year in 2017, down from the 24% growth in 2016. However, some of the slowness was attributed to the launch cadence of high profile devices like the Surface, which was off schedule, leaving older models on shelves as consumers and businesses laid in wait for product refreshes.
“To date, much of the trajectory of the detachable market has been attributed to Microsoft and Apple pushing their wares in the U.S.,” said Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Device Trackers. “However, continued success of this category hinges on the willingness of other PC vendors to participate and more importantly, consumers from other countries to adopt the new form factor over convertible PCs.”

«

Detachables aren’t a big slice – 6.5m of 49.1m in the fourth quarter. But Google Android tablets are really struggling: Amazon (which doesn’t use Google’s services) overtook Samsung to take second place.
link to this extract


‘I hope this is an instance of fake news’: FBI messages show the bureau’s real reaction to Trump firing James Comey • Lawfare

Benjamin Wittes:

»

Over the next few days [following Comey’s firing], a wealth of evidence emerged to suggest that Trump and [press secretary Sarah] Sanders were playing fast and loose with the truth. But we now have the documents to prove that decisively. Their disclosure was not a leak but an authorized action by the FBI, which released to us under the Freedom of Information Act more than 100 pages of leadership communications to staff dealing with the firing. This material tells a dramatic story about the FBI’s reaction to the Comey firing—but it is neither a story of gratitude to the president nor a story of an organization in turmoil relieved by a much-needed leadership transition.

Within a few days of the firing, both current and former FBI officials began pushing back against the White House’s claims. Then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI” and that “the vast majority of employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey.”

Here at Lawfare, Nora Ellingsen—who served as a counterterrorism analyst at the FBI for several years—talked with roughly 20 of her former colleagues. She characterized the opinion of Comey among the FBI’s rank and file as almost universally positive. “Nearly everyone loved him,” she wrote, and the “degree of consensus on this point … has been incredible.” She went on: “All of the people I talked to described having the same reaction when they heard that the director had been fired: complete shock, followed by deep sadness.”

«

Trump and Sanders told lies? It’s barely credible.
link to this extract


Amazon pulls hair dryer after woman discovers it shoots fire • Canada Global News

Alexander Maveal:

»

Amazon has pulled several hair care products from their website after a South Carolina woman posted video of a hair dryer she ordered smoking and shooting fire.

“Oh my gosh. I can not freakin’ believe this,” Erika Augthun Shoolbred said in the video she posted to her Facebook page on Jan. 29. “Fire is coming out of the hair dryer.”

Shoolbred received the Salon Grade Hair Dryer at her home in Spartanburg, S.C. on Saturday.

“Talk about a bad hair day!” she added in her post, adding that the hair dryer became a “blow torch on its first use.”

«

Jeff Bezos beating Elon Musk to the flamethrower thing already.
Of course Musk’s flamethrower plan is offered as a “related story”. The picture of the dryer is scary, though.
link to this extract


South Wales cops crow about facial recognition arrests on social media • The Register

Rebecca Hill:

»

Campaigners have also voiced concerns about the fact innocent people’s faces are being scanned against criminal databases [when they go to a Six Nations rugby match], arguing this is edging the UK closer to a surveillance state.

“It is a great infringement of fans’ rights,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, adding that the police “have no clear basis” for using the tech.

“Thousands of innocent people will have their faces scanned against a database of half a million photos,” she said.

The Greater London Assembly – the group elected to hold the mayor to account – has also called for greater caution. Last year it wrote to mayor Sadiq Khan saying there was a “strong case” for him to ask the Met to stop the trials.

The GLA said it was “extremely disappointing” that the work has been done with “so little public engagement” and “in the absence of a legislative framework and proper regulation or oversight”.

That’s because the police are going ahead with the with the work in spite of the fact the government has yet to publish its biometrics strategy, which should give guidance on AFR and the retention of innocent people’s images.

«

Catching criminals: good. Potentially identifying anyone and not having a framework for them to challenge the basis on which you’re identifying them: bad, because it can be abused by authoritarians. This is where we’re at.
link to this extract


Foxconn package cost Wisconsin eight times as much per job as similar 2017 state jobs deals • Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Jason Stein:

»

The [Journal Sentinel] newspaper examined Foxconn and the 58 other deals from 2017 in which Wisconsin promised companies tax credits if they created or retained jobs. The analysis found:

• Foxconn’s $2.85bn in tax credits accounted for 96% of the credits that the state awarded in these 2017 deals, but the deal produced only 44% of the jobs.
• The other 18 companies with 2017 deals to create jobs — not retain them — are set to receive an average of $26,300 in tax credits per job from the state. The closest deal to Foxconn was with convenience store chain Kwik Trip, which is getting $63,800 per job to expand its La Crosse headquarters.
• Foxconn would earn $219,200 per job if it holds up its end of the deal with Wisconsin. That’s just over eight times as much per job as the average from the 18 other job creation deals and more than three times as much per job as Kwik Trip, the second costliest deal.
• When all the 58 deals — both for newly created and retained jobs — were analyzed, they cost about $7,200 per job, or far less than for Foxconn.
• The Foxconn deal would also result in lower investment levels in plant and equipment compared to most of the other deals. Foxconn would put in up to $3.52 of private investment for every $1 in state tax credits. But the other 58 deals would provide about $14.45 in private investment for every $1 in state tax credits.
 
Walker and his administration have repeatedly said that the Foxconn deal makes sense because it will create a new cluster of technology companies and transform the state’s economy. 

“The state recognized the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by Foxconn is unlike that of any other project in the state’s history as Foxconn is bringing the future of electronics manufacturing to Wisconsin with the first LCD manufacturing facility outside of Asia,” said Mark Maley, spokesman for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Bartik, the economist, said it might be possible to justify the Foxconn deal if the company ends up creating a technology cluster in Wisconsin that is akin to the one seen in Silicon Valley. But he cautioned that an impact like that is rare.

«

It’s a big gamble; what’s the betting that if it all goes south they’re bailed out by the government?
link to this extract


Our hackable political future • NY Times

Henry J. Farrell and Rick Perlstein:

»

Imagine it is the spring of 2019. A bottom-feeding website, perhaps tied to Russia, “surfaces” video of a sex scene starring an 18-year-old Kirsten Gillibrand. It is soon debunked as a fake, the product of a user-friendly video application that employs generative adversarial network technology to convincingly swap out one face for another.

It is the summer of 2019, and the story, predictably, has stuck around — part talk-show joke, part right-wing talking point. “It’s news,” political journalists say in their own defense. “People are talking about it. How can we not?”

Then it is fall. The junior senator from New York State announces her campaign for the presidency. At a diner in New Hampshire, one “low information” voter asks another: “Kirsten What’s-her-name? She’s running for president? Didn’t she have something to do with pornography?”

Welcome to the shape of things to come. In 2016 Gareth Edwards, the director of the Star Wars film “Rogue One,” was able to create a scene featuring a young Princess Leia by manipulating images of Carrie Fisher as she looked in 1977. Mr. Edwards had the best hardware and software a $200 million Hollywood budget could buy. Less than two years later, images of similar quality can be created with software available for free download on Reddit. That was how a faked video supposedly of the actress Emma Watson in a shower with another woman ended up on the website Celeb Jihad.

Programs like these have many legitimate applications. They can help computer-security experts probe for weaknesses in their defenses and help self-driving cars learn how to navigate unusual weather conditions. But as the novelist William Gibson once said, “The street finds its own uses for things.” So do rogue political actors. The implications for democracy are eye-opening.

«

I think they’re slightly less concerning the more widely available such things are, because familiarity means we can discount them more easily. Yes, it means that people can *deny* things they actually did; but the tools will emerge to determine the truth about such works.
link to this extract


Inside Amazon’s artificial intelligence flywheel • Wired

Steven Levy:

»

Amazon did have one thing going for it. Since the company works backward from an imagined final product (thus the fanciful press releases), the blueprints can include features that haven’t been invented yet. Such hard problems are irresistible to ambitious scientists. The voice effort in particular demanded a level of conversational AI—nailing the “wake word” (“Hey Alexa!”), hearing and interpreting commands, delivering non-absurd answers—that did not exist.

That project, even without the specifics on what Amazon was building, helped attract Rohit Prasad, a respected speech-recognition scientist at Boston-based tech contractor Raytheon BBN. (It helped that Amazon let him build a team in his hometown.) He saw Amazon’s lack of expertise as a feature, not a bug. “It was green fields here,” he says. “Google and Microsoft had been working on speech for years. At Amazon we could build from scratch and solve hard problems.” As soon as he joined in 2013, he was sent to the Alexa project. “The device existed in terms of the hardware, but it was very early in speech,” he says.

The trickiest part of the Echo—the problem that forced Amazon to break new ground and in the process lift its machine-learning game in general—was something called far field speech recognition. It involves interpreting voice commands spoken some distance from the microphones, even when they are polluted with ambient noise or other aural detritus. One challenging factor was that the device couldn’t waste any time cogitating about what you said. It had to send the audio to the cloud and produce an answer quickly enough that it felt like a conversation, and not like those awkward moments when you’re not sure if the person you’re talking to is still breathing. Building a machine-learning system that could understand and respond to conversational queries in noisy conditions required massive amounts of data—lots of examples of the kinds of interactions people would have with their Echos. It wasn’t obvious where Amazon might get such data.

Far-field technology had been done before, says Limp, the VP of devices and services. But “it was on the nose cone of Trident submarines, and it cost a billion dollars.” Amazon was trying to implement it in a device that would sit on a kitchen counter, and it had to be cheap enough for consumers to spring for a weird new gadget. “Nine out of 10 people on my team thought it couldn’t be done,” Prasad says. “We had a technology advisory committee of luminaries outside Amazon—we didn’t tell them what we were working on, but they said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t work on far field recognition!’”

«

link to this extract


Just Say It • Medium

Belikin Ilya:

»

iPad Pro is probably the most underutilized computing platform. Touch Pencil together are perfect for fast, intimate, and precise interactions. What is missing?
Keyboard shortcuts. Not the keyboards though, just shortcuts.
If you are a pro user what you want is fast interaction. You want to be effective in changing a mode, adding an object or accessing a property. On a desktop computer, the way to do this is the keyboard.

A pointer is there to provide context (selection, hover) and the keyboard is there to tell a computer what to do. Mostly with shortcuts like Cmnd and a keystroke or a short text search and Enter.

When the touch revolutionized the way we interact with computers it also took away the current context. It was okay for a small mobile device. But without the context of a pointer and ability to say what to do with something you are pointing at, interactions on tablets are cumbersome.

No, I do not want to tap and hold to copy a rectangle. I want to point at it and say “Duplicate”. On a Mac, one can do that with the pointer, click and Cmnd D.

I guess now it is obvious what is going to happen next. You will be able to tap and say. Tap on anything and speak in your calm voice. No need to switch to another input device (and lose time in transition between keyboard and mouse/touchpad).

Just tap and speak. The computer already has all the context and all the capabilities necessary to understand. You are close, no need to raise your voice. Say it casually. Say it softly.

«

And then realise that all the people in the office or cafe where you’re working are looking at you in an unimpressed manner. There’s a reason voice control hasn’t taken off, ever: you only do it if you absolutely must, or else you’re in a private setting such as your home.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Monday’s email didn’t arrive because I missed a tickbox off the WordPress interface, and didn’t spot the error until it was too late. My apologies.

Start Up: release the Twitter bot memo, Dell to re-IPO?, bitcoin in Kentucky and S Korea, and more


Another Donkey Kong record is gone – but not broken. Photo by D Begley on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Super blood blue moon bowl. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How Twitter bots and Trump fans made #releasethememo go viral • Politico

Renuka Rayasam:

»

Computational propaganda—defined as “the use of information and communication technologies to manipulate perceptions, affect cognition, and influence behavior”—has been used, successfully, to manipulate the perceptions of the American public and the actions of elected officials.

The analysis below, conducted by our team from the social media intelligence group New Media Frontier, shows that the #releasethememo campaign was fueled by, and likely originated from, computational propaganda. It is critical that we understand how this was done and what it means for the future of American democracy.

In the space of a few hours on January 18, #releasethememo exploded on Twitter, evolving over the next few days from being a marker for discussion on Nunes’ memo through multiple iterations of an expanding conspiracy theory about missing FBI text messages and imaginary secret societies plotting internal coups against the president. #releasethememo provided an organizational framework for this comprehensive conspiracy theory, which, in its underpinnings, is meant to minimize and muddle concerns about Russian interference in American politics.

The rapid appearance and amplification of this messaging campaign, flagged by the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton68 dashboard as being promoted by accounts previously linked to Russian disinformation efforts, sparked the leading Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to write a letter to Twitter and Facebook asking for information on whether or not this campaign was driven by Russian accounts. Another report, sourced to analysis said to be from Twitter itself, identified the hashtag as an “organic” “American” campaign linked to “Republican” accounts. Promoters of #releasethememo rapidly began mocking the idea that they are Russian bots. (There are even entirely new accounts set up to tweet that they are not Russian bots promoting #releasethememo, even though their only content is about releasing the supposed memo.)

But this back and forth masks the real point. Whether it is Republican or Russian or “Macedonian teenagers”—it doesn’t really matter. It is computational propaganda—meaning artificially amplified and targeted for a specific purpose—and it dominated political discussions in the United States for days.

«

link to this extract


Dell says it will explore IPO or merger with VMWare • Reuters

Liana Baker and Sonam Rai:

»

Dell, the world’s largest privately held technology company, is under pressure to boost profitability after its debt-laden acquisition of data storage provider EMC Corp for $67bn in 2016 failed to meet financial targets, hurt by intensifying price competition.

Combining with VMware would provide access to VMWare’s $11.6bn in cash, helping Dell trim its $52.5bn debt pile. Last month’s US tax reform made servicing that debt more expensive due to caps on deducting interest expense.

The combination would also make Dell a publicly listed company, offering a path for private equity firm Silver Lake to begin selling down its 18% stake if it chooses to. Silver Lake helped bankroll Dell CEO Michael Dell in taking the company private in 2013 in a $24.9bn leveraged buyout.

«

link to this extract


‘King of Kong’ star Billy Mitchell lied, claims Donkey Kong world-record analysis • Venturebeat

Jeff Grubb:

»

MAME’s INP recording capability enables players to rewind their mistakes, continue playing, and then stitch together a final recording that looks like one, unbroken playthrough. Scorekeepers like Young often do accept results performed on MAME, but they typically require independent, in-person verification or live video on a service like Twitch that shows the game and the player all at the same time.

Mitchell has not verified his score in any of those alternative ways with the exception of a witness by the name of Todd Rogers. If that name is familiar, it’s probably because Rogers just made headlines for a high-score scandal of his own. The scorekeeping website Twin Galaxies revealed this week that it is removing all of Rogers records after an analysis revealed his submitted score of 5.51 seconds in the Atari game Dragster is technically impossible.

Beyond that, Mitchell doesn’t have a lot of proof to back up his claims.

“While many people have seen Billy play in public, there are no known independent, impartial, objective witnesses to any of the The Big 3 WR games,” reads Young’s post. “He has never scored over 1,000,000 in a live venue. Billy claimed the 1.047M was done in front of scores of people, but that he had no access to the inside of the machine…so how did he set up the direct feed? The 1.05 was supposedly done at an actual convention, but Billy was conveniently playing in another room. The 1.062 was done in arcade in Florida, but the only live footage from that day was staged (the Boomer board swap) and shows no evidence of a direct feed setup.”

«

If you haven’t seen King of Kong, you’re missing a treat (which won’t age). If you have, this is an amazing coda.
link to this extract


‘Bitcoin is my potential pension’: what’s driving people in Kentucky to join the craze • Washington Post

Chico Harlan:

»

He had invested in bitcoin almost two years earlier, so now Jacob Melin had a new house, a new truck, a new consulting business and a line of people coming into his office, trying to become wealthy as quickly as he had. One person said he expected to use a modest investment to “retire in 12 to 18 months.” Another said he wanted to use the proceeds to start a business. And a father of two talked about paying off his own student loans and buying several acres of land — all the things he did not see a chance to do with his income as a software salesman.

“Us little guys working our butts off, we can’t get ahead,” Cedric Knight, 35, told Melin. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change my life.”

Knight and others visiting Melin were pinning their hopes on a new form of currency whose potential value the world was only beginning to recognize. Millions of people around the world are chasing after fortune by investing in bitcoin — which has soared by more than 2,500% in value in the past two years — and other digital instruments known as cryptocurrencies.

«

Melin is 22. He dropped out of his economics course three years ago and invested his college fund of $20k in bitcoin. Which rocketed to $16,000.

On Sunday evening it headed below $8,000. He might need the car.
link to this extract


South Korea’s crypto craze explained by Seoul’s largest investor • Crypto Ambit

Mr Crypto Ambit:

»

I asked Simon [Seojoon Kim, CEO of Hashed] if he thought there was any possibility that the government would move forward with a ban in the future. He thinks that in the future, the government will be stewards of the crypto-economy as opposed to adversaries of it; his logic seems solid.

Whether the government likes it or not, Korea is already heavily invested in cryptocurrencies and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact that Koreans have prospered more from the cryptocurrency boom than any other nation in the world. At the same time, given their level of exposure, they would be disproportionately affected by a major market downturn. Basically, the only thing the government can do is support the growth of the cryptocurrency market because a healthy market is good for South Koreans.

If America or China banned trading, only a small percentage of their populations would be affected. A Korean ban would create widespread panic and could cause systemic damage to the Korean economy. Not to mention that South Korea is a democracy, so any politician that takes an anti-cryptocurrency stance is likely to find themselves without a job come election time.

«

South Korea’s government long ago banned gambling – so it found an outlet in buying cryptocurrency (especially bitcoin), and now about 30% of South Koreans own some, compared to perhaps 1% in the US or China. That makes them, and the economy, very vulnerable to shifts in value. If I were a North Korean leader I’d be looking to hammer bitcoin’s price at the appropriate time with a giant selloff.
link to this extract


ChromeOS is almost ready to replace Android on tablets • The Verge

Nick Statt:

»

Google has played with the idea for years without ever seeming to decide that one platform should supersede the other. In essence, however, Android remains Google’s dominant mobile OS, while Chrome OS has been taking on more responsibility as Chromebooks have steadily become more capable and tablet-like.

But this wondrous future of a perfect blend of mobile, tablet, and PC operating systems in a hardware package that converts on the fly is still frustratingly out of reach. Features like split-screen in tablet mode are great, and the absence of that feature was one of the main criticisms we had of Google’s flashy and expensive new Pixelbook 2-in-1, which arrived back in October. But Android apps on Chrome aren’t as flexible as they could be across all computing formats, as they still lack adequate stylus support.

Still, it’s clear the vision Google has here is for tablets, 2-in-1s, and standard Chromebook laptops to become one unified device category powered by Chrome OS. Yet another clue suggesting the strategy arrived last week with a now-deleted image of an Acer tablet running Chrome OS, which would make it the first standalone tablet device to do so. The image, snapped at the technology and education expo in London, means we may get a Google or even Pixel-branded Chrome OS tablet in the near future, perhaps unveiled at Google I/O in May.

«

Putting ChromeOS onto tablets makes perfect sense – Android tablets are in a downward spiral.
link to this extract


Apple Music on track to overtake Spotify in US subscribers • WSJ

Anne Steele:

»

Apple’s subscriber-account base in the US has been growing about 5% monthly, versus Spotify’s 2% clip, according to the people familiar with the numbers. Assuming those growth rates continue, Apple will overtake Spotify in accounts this summer.

Apple’s popular devices have helped add subscribers to its music service, which is preloaded on all iPhones, Apple Watches and other hardware the company sells.

One question lingering in the industry is what metrics Spotify will have to disclose once it becomes a publicly traded company. The service has periodically released global subscriber totals and just last month touted a new high of 70 million.

Apple Music told The Wall Street Journal it now has 36 million, up from the 30 million it last reported in September.

But both companies’ numbers are increased by counting individual users who are part of family plans and people with discounted subscriptions bundled with other services. In some countries, mobile-phone plans can include an Apple Music subscription; Spotify offers students in the U.S. a subscription plan that includes video-service Hulu. Neither company publicly breaks out figures for the US or any other single market…

…By one standard, Apple Music has already passed Spotify. Including people who are still in free or deeply discounted trial periods leading up to paid subscription, Apple Music has a slight edge on Spotify in the US, according to one of the people familiar with the figures.

Apple Music has three to four times the number of such trial users as Spotify, according to this person, in part because it doesn’t offer a free tier. Also, all Apple Music subscribers are entered automatically into a free initial three-month period. Excluding those trial users, Spotify is ahead, but by a small amount—and that gap is closing.

«

Two things: this shows the power of the default, especially in a country where the iPhone has about 40% share of the installed base; and the many free rivals in the US, which means Spotify’s free tier isn’t quite as attractive. Some of those rivals are going to fold soon though (Pandora? IHeartMusic?), which might give Spotify some new breathing space.
link to this extract


Smart homes and vegetable peelers • Benedict Evans

Benedict Evans has been thinking about what needs to be smart in the home:

»

Should everything ‘smart’ in my home talk to everything else, and perhaps be controlled through one unified UI? The obvious answer is ‘of course it will all be one system’ but really, it depends what they are, and on what the right way to interact with that device itself might be. Some things would ideally need no interaction at all, some need to be interacted with directly, some can be controlled remotely, and some might get some value from talking to other devices but others might not. And many might fit into several of these.

Hence, the front door locks by itself, after all, so it should perhaps unlock by itself as I walk up the path, and there should really be no UI at all to that. A lot of smart home stuff should be invisible – you should never see it or talk to it. But then, the door might tell the alarm that you’re home so you don’t need to disarm it yourself. If you do need to interact deliberately, is voice or a screen the right model – and does that mean a screen on the device itself or just your phone? An oven that lets you tell it what you’re cooking might want a screen on the device, but also be accessed from your phone to check progress, and also talk to Alexa: ‘pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees please, and turn it off 30 minutes after I put the dish in’. Conversely, a connected camera clearly doesn’t need a screen on the device itself, but also doesn’t work well with an Echo unless the Echo has a screen, in which case why not use a phone (or use the Google Assistant app on your phone)? Then, there are also lots of use cases where talking might be less friction than anything else – it might be nice to say  ‘Alexa, turn on the lights’ or, again, ‘Alexa, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees’. But is it better to say ‘turn on the bathroom light’ or to walk into the bathroom and have a dumb IR sensor turn it on automatically? To have a phone that senses movement and location and tells the garage door to open, or to say ‘open the door’ – and would it be Siri or Google in the car and Alexa in the kitchen? Will there be lots of Venn diagrams, or one unified system, or many disconnected appliances?

«

Another point he makes is that there aren’t necessarily network effects from smart home devices – ie, just because you have an Echo it doesn’t mean your neighbour’s or friend’s home will benefit by also having an Echo (or similar). Which means it’s not a winner(s)-take-all market like smartphones.
link to this extract


How and why to write a Rude Q&A • Scott Berkun

Berkun learnt this trick (to be done before you have a big presentation, as a defence against aggressive inquisition) at Microsoft:

»

How to create a RQA

1. Ask friends who you know love to give tough feedback for their input. Some people are naturals at this task and enjoy coming up with the rudest, most confrontational questions the world has ever seen. You might be offended or hurt by what they come up with, but that’s okay – better to be offended/surprised now, in an RQA than in a demo, pitch meeting or public setting.

2. Make sure to include questions that are unfair or based on erroneous, but popular, assumptions. Reporters, clients, and the public all have their share of unfair questions and erroneous information, and you want to be ready for them.

3. Spend more time on the answers than the questions. The answers take more time because the responses need to be more polite and mature than the questions themselves. They also need to carefully refute assumptions in the questions without being dismissive.

«

This is terrific advice.
link to this extract


SEC Consult SA-20180201-0 :: multiple critical vulnerabilities in whole Vibratissimo smart sex toy product range • SEC Full Disclosure mailing list

»

Vulnerability overview/description:
———————————–
1) Customer Database Credential Disclosure: The credentials for the whole Vibratissimo database environment were exposed on the internet. Due to the fact, that the PHPMyAdmin interface was exposed as well, an attacker could have been able to connect to the database and dump the whole data set. The dataset contains for example the following data:

– Usernames
– Session Tokens
– Cleartext passwords
– chat histories
– explicit image galleries, which are created by the users themselves

2) Exposed administrative interfaces on the internet: An administrative interface for databases was available without any filtering to the whole internet. In combination with other vulnerabilities an attacker could have been able to get access to the whole database data and even take over the server.

3) Cleartext Storage of Passwords: The user passwords were stored unhashed in cleartext in the database. If an attacker gained access to the database (e.g. via credential disclosure), he could have been able to retrieve the plaintext passwords of users and abuse their privileges in the system.

4) Unauthenticated Bluetooth LE Connections: The sex toys are connected without prior authentication to the app, which is the standard use case. For example one of the identified Bluetooth services allows [it] to read the current device temperature. Other services, which can be accessed without prior authentication are:

-) Setting the “intensity” of the current vibration pattern
-) Reading various values (Temperature, etc)

5) Insufficient Authentication Mechanism: The Android application is using a type of authentication, which is against known best practice. The username and password are sent with every request to the server to authenticate and authorise the request. There is no session management implemented. However, the authentication credentials are transmitted via an encrypted SSL/TLS connection.

«

Yes, these really are some (not all) of the flaws in an internet-connected vibrator. Still, at least the credentials go over SSL/TLS, eh?
link to this extract


Here’s why Alexa won’t light up during Amazon’s Super Bowl ad • Bloomberg

Brad Stone:

»

A September 2014 Amazon patent titled “Audible command filtering” describes techniques to prevent Alexa from waking up “as part of a broadcast watched by a large population (such as during a popular sporting event),” annoying customers and overloading Amazon’s servers with millions of simultaneous requests.

The patent broadly describes two techniques. The first calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to Echo devices before it airs. Then the Echo can compare live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine whether the commands are authentic. The second tactic describes how a commercial itself could transmit an inaudible acoustic signal to tell Alexa to ignore its wake word.

About a year ago, a Reddit user calling himself Asphyhackr did a little more legwork and concluded that Amazon was creatively employing this second technique. By running Alexa commercials through digital audio editing software, Asphyhackr discovered that Alexa ads transmit weakened levels of sound in an upper portion of the audio spectrum, between 3,000 and 6,000 hertz, outside the most sensitive range of human hearing.

Asphyhackr speculated that Amazon could be tipping Alexa off to ignore certain commands if it detects artificial gaps or bumps in the spectrum. To test his theory, he recorded someone saying “Alexa” and used a so-called band-stop filter that reduced frequencies just in this high region of the spectrum. When he played back the recording, “My echo would not wake, even sitting right next to the speakers!” he wrote.

«

This is smart by Amazon; it also points to ways to disable Echo devices remotely, if you can pipe such a noise in to a house. The hacks of the future are always in plain sight.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified.

Start Up: Google and Apple hit new highs, solar windows, will you talk to your printer?, Yo nears death, and more


Guess what pirates have found is really in demand in currency-challenged Venezuela. Photo by Paul Keller on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 11 links for you. Picked by hands. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google parent Alphabet’s revenue rises, but profit comes up short • WSJ

Jack Nicas:

»

Excluding the impact of the [$9bn] tax charge, Alphabet reported a 28% increase in profit to $6.84bn compared with the year before. Without the tax charge, its profit of $9.70 a share missed estimates of $9.98 a share, according to analysts polled by FactSet. Shares were down 2% after hours.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Mahaney attributed the earnings miss to higher expenses related to so-called traffic acquisition costs, or fees Alphabet pays to such partners as Apple Inc. to put its services front and center on their devices. Those fees rose 33% to $6.45bn from a year ago.

“The negative is expenses came in heavier than expected,” he said. “That raises a question: How much revenue is this company having to give away to maintain these growth rates?”

Still, the three months marked the 32nd consecutive quarter of revenue growth of 20% or more, he said.

Alphabet has been able to sustain such growth because its core Google unit handles nearly 92% of internet searches, according to tech data firm StatCounter. Google also owns the world’s dominant video site, YouTube, which the company said has helped drive growth in recent years.

«

The big question is where the TAC (traffic acquisition cost) is going. It’s getting really hefty.
link to this extract


Spectre and Meltdown flaws being exploited by more than 100 strains of malware • Tech Republic

Nick Heath:

»

Security researchers are discovering a growing amount of malware that exploits the Spectre and Meltdown CPU flaws.

Spectre and Meltdown are vulnerabilities in modern chip design that could allow attackers to bypass system protections on nearly every recent PC, server and smartphone—allowing hackers to read sensitive information, such as passwords, from memory.

Researchers have gathered more than 130 samples of malware that try to exploit Meltdown and Spectre, although most appear to be proof-of-concept code rather than being used in attacks.

Security firm Fortinet says all of the publicly available samples of malware it analyzed appeared to be test code, although it was unable to analyze some Spectre/Meltdown-exploiting malware, due to it not being released into the public domain.

«

If you’re not updating your systems, hackers will find you out.
link to this extract


Apple hits record revenues but misses on iPhone sales • FT

Tim Bradshaw:

»

Apple’s iPhone unit sales dropped by 1% in its key holiday quarter, missing Wall Street’s forecasts, as it pointed to lower total revenues than investors had been expecting for the current March quarter.

The report will compound some Apple bears’ fears that the tenth anniversary iPhone X has failed to reignite a growth “super cycle” as many bulls had hoped.

Its report of 77.3m iPhones for the three months to December was below most analysts’ estimates but was counterbalanced by the higher price of the iPhone X, resulting in what was still a record-breaking quarter of $88.3bn revenues and $20.1bn in net profits for the world’s most valuable company.

Luca Maestri, Apple’s finance chief, said in an interview that the quarter ending in December 2017 was a week shorter than the same period a year earlier. Adjusting for that comparison, iPhone revenues would have been 21% higher, instead of the 13% revenue growth Apple reported.

For the current quarter ending in March, Apple said revenues would be between $60bn and $62bn, representing growth of between 13% to 17% but below investors’ expectations of closer to $68bn. Mr Maestri said that the disparity was due to a build-up of iPhone stock in its retail channel during the December quarter and that on a “sell-through” basis the March period would actually see an “acceleration” in sales.

«

iPad sales flat, Mac sales flat. Watch and AirPod sales way up. Tech needs a new paradigm.
link to this extract


Twitter has been ignoring its fake account problem for years • Columbia Journalism Review

Mathew Ingram:

»

In March of 2017, investor Chris Sacca, an early backer of Twitter, said the bot and fake account problem was one of the biggest challenges facing the company. “Tackling the bot epidemic would hurt Twitter short term because it would depress user numbers,” he said on Twitter. “But it has to get fixed. It’s embarrassing.”

Meanwhile, Twitter has done its best to downplay the size of the problem. For years, the company maintained that only about 5% of its users were fake, the same number that Twitter executives provided when they testified before Congress last fall about Russian interference in the election. A number of researchers, however, believe the real figure could be as high as 15% (at the time of the study, about 48m accounts).

When it first told Congress about Russian troll activity on the platform, Twitter said that just over 35,000 accounts were involved, but then in later testimony it admitted that more than 50,000 accounts were involved.

But independent reports show as many as 400,000 bots posted political messages during the 2016 US presidential election on Twitter, according to research by Emilio Ferrara of the University of Southern California. He told Bloomberg the same group of 1,600 bots that tweeted extremist right-wing posts in the US elections also posted during the French and German elections. And up to 45% of Donald Trump’s follower base could be fake or spam accounts, according to some estimates.

«

link to this extract


Venezuelan pirates rule the most lawless market on earth • Bloomberg

Jonathan Franklin, who surely has cojones of neutronium:

»

On the Cedros waterfront, next to the pier, I found a group of men lounging under palm trees. I asked them about the smuggling business. “I’m Mr. Flour, and this is Mr. Rice,” said Carlos, a burly truck driver, by way of introducing himself and a friend. Within minutes he was unlocking a cargo van to show off sacks of flour ready to be shipped to Venezuela. Five dollars’ worth of flour in Trinidad, Carlos said, was worth $20 across the gulf.

I spent that first morning interviewing Venezuelan fishermen who had just made the two-hour journey across the flat waters to Trinidad. They were bringing in contraband cigarettes, cocaine, even a small zoo of wild animals including agouti—a rodent whose meat appears on local menus—and coiled anacondas. But animals are complicated. They bite, have to be fed, and might die. Thus many smugglers prefer guns, vodka, and especially gasoline. The Venezuelan government so deeply subsidizes gas that even after a 1,300% price hike last year, a gallon costs less than 40¢—about a sixth of the price at the pump in Trinidad.

Once they sell their contraband in Trinidad, these former fishermen bring a new commodity back to their country: diapers. Dozens of smugglers are dealing in boxes of Huggies and piles of Pampers. They say that back home they’ll get three times what they pay in Trinidad, and demand is so high they maintain waiting lists. “I can trade the diapers for medicine,” Karen Cubillan, a Venezuelan woman who shuttles between Trinidad and Venezuela while working the diaper arbitrage via online sales, told me by phone. “Diapers are like bars of gold. People stash food and diapers as if they were money.”

«

link to this extract


The dawn of solar windows • IEEE Spectrum

Andy Extance:

»

By 2020, 8.3 billion square meters of flat glass will be installed annually in new buildings worldwide, according to the Freedonia Group. That area, covered in standard solar panels in the ideal orientation, could produce more than a terawatt at peak output, and over one year it could generate some 2,190 terawatt-hours. That’s 9% of what the world’s annual electricity consumption was in 2016. Substituting this source of energy for coal in 2017 would have saved about 1.6% of carbon emissions from fossil fuels, industry, and changes in forestry and land use.

And powerful regulatory forces are now dragging solar windows and their environmental benefits into reality. A European Union directive requires all new buildings to meet a “nearly zero-energy” standard by the end of 2020. Japan, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, has gone further by requiring all new public buildings to be zero energy by 2020.

Solar windows will never be as efficient as conventional solar panels, because windows must of course remain at least partially transparent. But they can create an enormous network of small photovoltaic sources. And developers maintain that the money that the windows save on energy will repay the cost of installing them.

Already, the cost difference is pretty small, says Thomas Brown from the University of Rome, in Italy, who used to develop solar windows. Adding power-generating components to window materials could pay for itself in less than a decade, he says.

«

link to this extract


Say ‘hello’ to voice-activated printing • HP

»

Voice activation also cropped up in unexpected places, such as car dashboards, toilets and mirrors—but there’s one place it’s still largely MIA: the home printer.

HP believes the consumer printer market is ripe for voice integration, making it the first print hardware company to roll out voice support for its web-enabled printers via a skill for and

“Integrating voice into the home printer is an undeniably useful application of the technology,” says Anneliese Olson, general manager and global head of home printing at HP. “For busy families, the virtual assistant ecosystem makes a lot of sense and connecting a printer to it is a natural extension within the smart home.”

«

Er, no it isn’t. What do you tell it to print? “That thing on my computer”? Also, will the printer keep saying “I’m low on ink”, which is all my HP one seems to do? I think most people when they talk to their printer aren’t doing it in a way that Alexa et al would appreciate.
link to this extract


The iPhone X is Apple’s underrated masterpiece • The Verge

Vlad Savov:

»

If you take a cynical view and believe Apple’s business is to peddle extremely high-margin goods to a captive audience of ecosystem-locked suckers, you’re going to have to explain how and why Apple was able to gain market share against Android with this phone. Because the iterative iPhone 8 update — with its big bezels and persistent absence of a headphone jack — hasn’t been any more attractive to Android users than the preceding model. No, the thing that’s attracted outsiders is the iPhone X’s radical new look, capabilities, and, in no small part, the cachet of expensive exclusivity.

But no matter where the iPhone X’s first adopters have come from, the universal thing about them is that they’re all pleased with their purchase. This is the thing that’s different about Apple relative to its competitors in consumer electronics: Apple products consistently receive ridiculously high scores of customer satisfaction, ranking in the high 90s for everything, with the Air Pods setting a new high recently. The data isn’t out yet on the iPhone X, but everything I’ve seen and heard about the experience of owning one has been glowingly positive…

…Everyone I have asked that has purchased an iPhone X has expressed happiness with that decision. No one has been stoked about the price, but after that minor qualifier, all I hear about are the fluid and intuitive gestures to navigate the UI, the gorgeous display, the improved battery life, the futuristic ease of Face ID, and a bunch of other small things that make the user experience a happy one. There’s no getting around this basic fact: the iPhone X is an excellent phone, as judged by the people who use it.

«

Once you’ve bought it, the price is a sunk cost (obviously). Then it’s down to the experience. And the iPhone X is a terrific experience – night and day better than its forebears.
link to this extract


The fate of the Yo app is up to you • Mashable

Kerry Flynn:

»

I Yo’ed, for a few months [in 2014]. But the app is long gone from my phone, and soon that purple app icon may disappear from every device. This week the Yo app alerted the world to its potential future by tweeting not simply “yo” but a link to a Patreon account. A Medium post published on Tuesday reads, 

»If you want to help keep Yo running, 

head over to: https://www.patreon.com/yoapp. 

Love,

Yo«

It’s true. The fate of Yo is up to the people via a crowdfunding campaign on Patreon. When I downloaded Yo four years ago, I thought it was “dumb.” It’s still rather dumb. But at a time when other tech giants are manipulating our elections or spying on our private data and new startups are lying and cheating their way to success, Yo’s simplicity and honesty is something to appreciate, and I say should be kept alive. 

When asked why people should want to save Yo, cofounder Or Arbel told Mashable, “They shouldn’t. Unless they use it and want to keep using it, then they should.”

So the question is, Do people still use Yo? And, do people want to keep using Yo?

«

No. (It got millions in VC funding. Say goodbye.)
link to this extract


The publisher of Newsweek and the International Business Times has been buying traffic and engaging in ad fraud • Buzzfeed

Craig Silverman:

»

When it comes to IBT’s fraudulent traffic practices, Social Puncher’s findings align with reporting from BuzzFeed News on IBT India, and with separate data gathered by Pixalate, an ad fraud detection company, and DoubleVerify, a digital media measurement company. (Social Puncher and BuzzFeed News previously collaborated on ad fraud investigations, but worked separately in this case.)

Based on what it described as a detailed investigation, DoubleVerify this week classified IBT’s US, UK, India, and Singapore sites as “as having fraud or sophisticated invalid traffic,” according COO Matt McLaughlin. DoubleVerify is now blocking all ad impressions on these sites on behalf of customers.

In response to questions from BuzzFeed News, Newsweek Media Group, the parent company of IBT, acknowledged it purchases audiences from ad networks that sell pop-up and pop-under traffic. It said this traffic represents a “small percentage of traffic on our sites” and denied any fraudulent activity.

“We use third-party platforms to verify and filter this traffic to ensure it is of the highest quality. This verification process prevents poor-quality traffic being redirected to our sites and we consistently score highly on various third-party ad verification platforms,” the company said. It declined to name the third-party verification partners it works with.

«

Newsweek’s owner issued a very non-denial denial. This sort of thing is probably happening on a huge scale, but it’s impossible to know.
link to this extract


The next 25 years of Wired start today • Wired

Wired Editors:

»

By subscribing to WIRED, you can help us continue our legacy of fresh insights, deep reporting, stunning design, and beautiful writing. The details are here, but in a nutshell: If you read four articles in a month, you will be invited to subscribe to read further. If you subscribe, you not only get unlimited access to WIRED.com and a print subscription, you’ll also receive a free Yubikey—a crucial tool for protecting yourself online. You’ll get access to a digital edition of our magazine, delivered fresh to your tablet every month. And when you visit us online, we’ll take out the ads.

But the real benefit of your subscription is that you’ll ensure that we can continue producing great stories and content.

«

Note that point about removing the ads for subscribers. Being shown advertising now marks you out as coming from the low-rent side of the net, the kind who has to put up with occasionally having their machine hijacked to mine cryptocoins or ransomwared or exploited. It’s taken 25 years and here we are. Though the US price – $20 for a year – is very tolerable. It doesn’t though seem to apply to the UK site, which often reuses US content. How will that work?
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: I left off the sort-of rebuttal by the man who claimed the world record time (5.51 seconds) on Dragster. It’s here on Pastebin.

Start Up: Facebook’s antiviral, Brexit’s immigration woes, Lenovo’s coming writedown, and more

The Atari 2600 video game Dragster had a world record of 5.51 seconds for completion – until the end of January. (Yes, this is Lego.) Photo by Aaron on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 10 links for you. Still no Mac, now also using Apple Pencil. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The leaked Brexit analysis shows how cutting EU immigration will hit the UK economy • Buzzfeed

Alberto Nardelli:

»

BuzzFeed News revealed on Monday that the [secret] assessment, compiled by officials across Whitehall for the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), said UK economic growth would be lower under all three main Brexit scenarios that were modelled.

The analysis also includes several potential immigration policies to illustrate the impact falling EU migration after Brexit would have on the economy.

It shows that the negative impact of a stricter immigration policy – replacing free movement with arrangements in line with those for non-EU citizens – would be far bigger than the 0.2% boost to economic growth that a US trade deal is calculated to bring.

Even a more flexible immigration policy, which would lead to a smaller drop in migration from the EU, would still be enough by itself to cancel out the benefits of a US deal, the document shows.

The findings starkly illustrate the difficulties Theresa May faces as she attempts to shape a Brexit deal that minimises the long term hit on the economy while satisfying the demands of Leave voters.

«

The obvious, and severe, impact will be on the NHS, where recruitment will be much more difficult because of the costs involved in moving to the UK compared to the free movement regime now.

What’s odd is how roundabout Buzzfeed’s reporting is. There’s no detail in the story – possibly to protect the person who leaked it to them.
link to this extract


Twitter followers vanish amid inquiries into fake accounts • NY Times

Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel Dance and Rich Harris:

»

More than a million followers have disappeared from the accounts of dozens of prominent Twitter users in recent days as the company faces growing criticism over the proliferation of fake accounts and scrutiny from federal and state inquiries into the shadowy firms that sell fake followers.

The people losing followers include an array of entertainers, entrepreneurs, athletes and media figures, many of whom bought Twitter followers or artificial engagement from a company called Devumi. Its business practices were detailed in a New York Times article on Saturday describing a vast trade in fake followers and fraudulent engagement on Twitter and other social media sites, often using personal information taken from real users. Twitter said on Saturday that it would take action against Devumi’s practices. A Twitter spokeswoman on Tuesday declined to comment about whether the company was purging fake accounts.

The singer Clay Aiken, the actor John Leguizamo and the reality TV star Lisa Rinna have each lost a substantial number of followers, according to a review of their accounts. So has Martha Lane Fox, a British businesswoman and Twitter board member. Other well-known users have taken to Twitter in recent days to complain of lost followers, suggesting that a broad swath of people may be affected, not just Devumi customers.

«

Only a million?
link to this extract


All followers are fake followers • The Atlantic

Ian Bogost:

»

The investor Mark Cuban called for a real-name policy on services like Twitter, arguing that “there needs to be a single human behind every individual account.” That’s a terrible idea: As the entrepreneur Anil Dash has argued, it would endanger marginalized people without improving trust. But Cuban’s reform does square with the Times’ take on virtue and wickedness at Twitter. Just shine light upon the shadows of the black market to put an end to the corruption. Then ordinary folk can be freed from the lust for fame that would rob them of their true selves.

But this is a fairy-tale story about the internet. Fraud is not the ultimate problem with fake social-media activity. The hustle itself is the blight. It produces the racket that sucks so many into its orbit. Salle Ingle is stuck in the same rat race as Kathy Ireland, and you and me, too. We just encounter it at different scales.

The culprit is the numbers themselves, not the lies that augment them, nor the profits made in doing so. The only reason there can be a market, let alone a black market, for social-media engagement is because these services are marketplaces of attention, not of ideas, products, or services. That’s why Twitter counts followers, likes, retweets, and all the rest so prominently. If the numbers were less visible, or entirely hidden, everyone might live more meaningful, more productive lives online, using posts as means to ends rather than as circulations within the system. It’s hard to imagine such a change taking place while companies like Twitter rely on the aspiration of visible metrics as a compulsion to use their services. That compulsion produces the attention necessary to sell advertisers and satisfy investors.

«

It can be hard to ignore the numbers – ooh look they’re only a tab away! – but they mean so little, in general, that they’re better ignored.
link to this extract


Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook changes reduced time spent on site by 50 million hours a day in Q4 • CNBC

John Shinal:

»

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday that the changes the company made to its service last year reduced time spent on the site by 50 million hours per day.

“Already last quarter, we made changes to show fewer viral videos to make sure people’s time is well spent. In total, we made changes that reduced time spent on Facebook by roughly 50 million hours every day. By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term,” Zuckerberg wrote.

The company has also begun to make changes to its content-recommendation software amid criticism that Facebook has been used to spread misinformation, hate speech and other violent content.

Last April, a Facebook user recorded and uploaded a video of himself killing an elderly man.

On the company’s previous earnings call in November, Zuckerberg had said: “I want to be clear about what our priority is. Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.”

«

50 million hours per day! Divided by, umm, 2.13 billion monthly active users. So that’s 1.5 billion hours per month, or less than an hour per user per month, or less than a couple of minutes per day.
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Smartphone addiction made me restless, anxious and muddled • The Pool

Sali Hughes realised she was addicted.. to her phone:

»

We spend train journeys not looking out of the window or reading a book, but staring at a screen, cycling aimlessly through apps, chasing another hit. Instead of experiencing boredom, clarity and calm, we’re in a constant state of stimulation, where there’s simply not enough room for new memories, ideas, fantasies or plans (according to the experts, multitasking is a myth. Every time you move from an IM chat to your work, you unavoidably lose concentration and damage productivity). Meanwhile, apps and smartphones are painstakingly designed to keep us on them for as long as possible, in order to gather our data and expose us to targeted advertising, while heavy users are becoming more depressed.

Having spent a whole day shouting, “OH, MY GOD!” and reading passages of the book [How To Break Up With Your Phone, out on 9 February] aloud, I enthusiastically began adopting How To Break Up With Your Phone’s plan to restore sanity to my phone use. Like a smoker throwing their fags in a skip, I deleted my most-used social apps (Facebook and Twitter) so, whenever tempted to use them, I’d have to decide if I could be bothered to log in on the websites (usually not). I disabled notifications on WhatsApp and Messenger, and reorganised these and my dozens of other apps, tiling my home screen with neat folders, like Travel, Work Essentials and Games, so the myriad colourful icons weren’t constantly staring, pleading at me.

«

It’s a topic that keeps coming up, but there are many ways to discover it. (The Amazon affiliate link is The Pool’s, not mine, so support them. Don’t buy the Kindle version, for I hope obvious reasons.)
link to this extract


Lenovo heads for a goodwill iceberg • Bloomberg Gadfly

Tim Culpan:

»

There’s absolutely no doubt, based on management’s previous public statements, that those units [Motorola’s mobile business and IBM’s server business] bought at a cost of $5bn are performing worse than expected. What’s extraordinary is that after four years Lenovo hasn’t recognized such impairment and allows the goodwill to sit on the balance sheet.

Reporting standards only require a test of goodwill to be done annually, so it’s reasonable not to see anything announced in the past few quarters. But the company’s financial year is coming to an end March 31, so the clock is ticking.

You can understand management’s reticence. After a slew of deals in the late 2000s, Acer, a Taiwanese PC maker, clung to inflated goodwill figures despite clear signs that the acquisitions weren’t bearing fruit. In the end, it had to conduct an IAS36 impairment test and recognized a NT$9.4bn ($335m) writedown, enough to plunge Acer into a record annual loss and spur the ousting of its chairman and CEO.

That impairment was equivalent to about 24% of Acer’s total intangible assets at the time.

For Lenovo, I calculate it would take a mere 10.3% writedown to push it into a loss for the current fiscal year – and that’s only for an impairment on goodwill, and only at the mobile and server divisions. A deeper, 20% impairment on those units would bring about a record annual loss.

«

This is a terrific insight. Lenovo was clearly suffering from hubris when it took on Motorola and the IBM server division. The PC division is the only thing keeping it afloat.
link to this extract


US probes Apple over updates that slow older iPhones • Bloomberg

Tom Schoenberg, Matt Robinson and Mark Gurman:

»

The US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating whether Apple violated securities laws concerning its disclosures about a software update that slowed some handsets, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News on Tuesday. The US government has requested information from the company, according to the people, who asked not to be named because the probe is private.

The inquiry is in early stages, they cautioned, and it’s too soon to conclude any enforcement will follow. Investigators are looking into public statements made by Apple on the situation, they added. While the slowdown has frustrated consumers, investigators are concerned the company may have misled investors about the performance of older phones. 

“We have received questions from some government agencies and we are responding to them,” an Apple spokeswoman said. She reiterated an earlier statement that the company “never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.”

«

Prediction: this is going to go nowhere.
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Scoop: Apple delays iOS features to focus on reliability, performance • Axios

Ina Fried:

»

Software head Craig Federighi announced the revised plan to employees at a meeting earlier this month, shortly before he and some top lieutenants headed to a company offsite.

On the cutting board: Pushed into 2019 are a number of features including a refresh of the home screen and in-car user interfaces, improvements to core apps like mail and updates to the picture-taking, photo editing and sharing experiences.

What made it: There will be some new features, of course, including improvements in augmented reality, digital health and parental controls. In addition, Apple is prioritizing work to make iPhones more responsive and less prone to cause customer support issues.

But, but but: While a renewed focus on quality and performance might ease some outside criticism, some inside the team question whether the approach will actual lead to higher quality. Plus, customers tend to pay for features more than security and reliability, which are tough to assess at the time of purchase.

«

I don’t think customers pay for software features on phones. They pay for the phones, and the software comes along for the ride; its quality decides whether they pony up when it comes time to replace it, though. (A friend told me today how his Moto G died on him in France. Annoyed, he has replaced it with an iPhone 6S, which he’s delighted with.)

The offsite meeting might be the “top 100” group which sees what it coming up for the rest of the year. New Mac Pro, iPhones.. what else?
link to this extract


South Korea says no plans to ban cryptocurrency exchanges, uncovers $600m of illegal trades • Reuters

Dahee Kim and Cynthia Kim:

»

South Korea has been at the forefront of pushing for broad regulatory oversight of cryptocurrency trading as many locals, including students and housewives, jumped into a frenzied market despite warnings from policy makers around the world of a bubble.

Seoul previously said that it is considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, which threw the market into turmoil and hammered bitcoin prices. Officials later clarified that an outright ban is only one of the steps being considered, and a final decision was yet to be made.

Customs said about 637.5bn won ($596.02m) worth of foreign exchange crimes were detected.

Illegal foreign currency trading of 472.3bn won formed the bulk of the cryptocurrency crimes, it said in a statement, but gave no details on what action authorities were taking against the rule breaches.

In one case, an illegal FX agency collected a total of 1.7bn won ($1.59m) from local residents in a form of “electric wallet” coins to transfer it to a partner agent abroad. The partner agent then cashed them out and distributed the settlement to clients based in that country, according to the statement.

«

South Korea is going to get hurt when this goes south, as it inevitably must – it’s still on a par with trading cowrie shells, which is fine as long as nobody asks “why are we trading cowrie shells, especially as we keep getting ripped off?”
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A man accused of cheating at video games may lose his Guinness World Record • Washington Post

Amy B Wang:

»

In 1982, a player named Todd Rogers supposedly recorded a time of 5.51 seconds on Dragster, a driving simulation — in the most rudimentary, early-’80s sense, anyhow — that requires shifting gears at just the right time to maximize the “car’s” speed across the screen.

To prove his feat, as his story goes, Rogers said he took a Polaroid picture of his 5.51-second time and sent it to Activision, the game’s publisher, which confirmed the score.

In 2000, Rogers’s score, as recorded by Activision, would eventually be formally imported into the databases of Twin Galaxies, a group that keeps track of video game records around the world. Through the ensuing years, other game records would rise and fall on the Twin Galaxies scoreboards, but the closest anyone could come to beating Rogers in Dragster was 5.57 seconds.

In 2001, Guinness World Records recognized Rogers as having the longest-standing video game record in the world. His 1982 Dragster time, it seemed, was ironclad.

Until Monday.

Faced with a growing number of complaints that Rogers had falsified his time, as well as an increasing pile of evidence suggesting that a 5.51-second run on Dragster was technically impossible, Twin Galaxies announced Monday that it had thrown out all of Rogers’s records — not simply his 1982 Dragster time — and banned him for life from its scoreboards.

«

This is an amazing story – reminiscent of the fantastic documentary King Of Kong (which if you haven’t seen, you really should). Read more at the Twin Galaxies site; it’s as though an Olympic winner had been found to be cheating decades later. And there’s also Rogers’s response – which is a long way short of a rebuttal – on Pastebin.
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Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: yes, OK, yesterday’s post (and hence email) didn’t have a subject line. Oops.

Start Up: Google goes to hospital, Strava reveals all (and too much), Windows XP makes ATM jackpot, and more

Shops

After the EU ruling, Google is buying almost all the shopping ads on its site. Is that how it’s meant to work? Photo by Herry Lawford on Flickr.

»You can sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email (arriving at about 0800GMT each weekday). You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.«

A selection of 9 links for you. Written on an iPad Pro, as my Mac wouldn’t boot. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Google rivals ask EU to toughen measures in antitrust case • WSJ

Natalia Drozdiak on how that “Google Shopping” compliance is going:

»

New third-party data show that Google’s product ads appear in almost all of the product-ad spots it displays as part of the EU remedy. In a report published Monday, search analytics firm Searchmetrics said that only 2% of product-ad spots in Germany show competitors’ ads. In the U.K. the proportion is 0.4%. The researchers tested by recording product-ad results on Google for 2,500 popular keywords in each country.

The new system [introduced by Google, where it bids alongside other shopping sites for shopping ad slots on search results pages] is “nothing game-changing,” nor is it “meaningful enough to be considered a fair and even playing field,” says Harald Schiffauer, managing director of Nextag Inc.’s Guenstiger.de, a German site that bids actively in the Google system.

“It’s really hard to compete,” said Philipp Peitsch, managing director of Idealo, a price-comparison engine owned by Axel Springer SE. “I don’t think it’s a fair proposal.”

Google declined to comment on rivals’ individual allegations, but previously said that its remedy gives rivals the same opportunity as Google to show shopping ads to users.

«

Google says it has set up the Shopping business as if it were a stand-alone, must-make-profit company. It would be great to see how that company is formed. Does it buy its own computers? Hire its own people? Rent its own offices? Or does it have a very cheap room inside Google staffed with Googlers?

I seem to recall that Foundem, which has done many piercing analyses of the proposals, forecast this outcome.
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Google is using 46 billion data points to predict the medical outcomes of hospital patients • Quartz

Dave Gershgorn:

»

Some of Google’s top AI researchers are trying to predict your medical outcome as soon as you’re admitted to the hospital.

A new research paper, published Jan. 24 with 34 co-authors and not peer-reviewed, claims better accuracy than existing software at predicting outcomes like whether a patient will die in the hospital, be discharged and readmitted, and their final diagnosis. To conduct the study, Google obtained de-identified data of 216,221 adults, with more than 46 billion data points between them. The data span 11 combined years at two hospitals, University of California San Francisco Medical Center (from 2012-2016) and University of Chicago Medicine (2009-2016).

While the results have not been independently validated, Google claims vast improvements over traditional models used today for predicting medical outcomes. Its biggest claim is the ability to predict patient deaths 24-48 hours before current methods, which could allow time for doctors to administer life-saving procedures.

«

You’d hope that the findings would be freely shared with the hospitals and medical profession. In a situation like this, how should the benefits be shared out? Everyone – Google, the patients, the doctors, the hospitals – contributed to the creation of the data, and thus the benefit. Is it right that only those who process it in a specific way get to monetise it?
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Things are getting ‘heated’ on Strava… • Battenhall

Joe Cant:

»

It’s easy to look at the recent stories and call Strava the bad egg, but does publicly displaying data that’s readily available mean the app is to blame for stories like this week’s where soliders inadvertently exposed military bases?  

It’s easy to forget this data is useful and important to some of the greatest athletes, scientists and coaches in the world. It’s this tracking that also enables Strava’s beacon feature to keep track of people in vulnerable places at vulnerable times (or help find a lost phone).

Since the heatmap news broke, Strava’s CEO James Quaries has released a statement explaining that the company is taking the matter seriously, that it understands the responsibility related to the data shared (as well as outlining steps to respond), and how people can use the app’s privacy settings.

There have long been stories and concerns involving Strava users, in particular cyclists, having their bikes stolen due to thieves targeting their home (logged at the end and beginning of their activity), as well as reading equipment information or photos the user has stored on their phone. Of course, anyone who shares information about their whereabouts online could, in theory, allow thieves to know when to target people’s houses.

«

Seems to me the thing where thieves could target your house is a clue this wasn’t well set up.
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The latest data privacy debacle • NY Times

Zeynep Tufekci:

»

the Strava debacle underscores a crucial misconception at the heart of the system of privacy protection in the United States. The privacy of data cannot be managed person-by-person through a system of individualized informed consent.

Data privacy is not like a consumer good, where you click “I accept” and all is well. Data privacy is more like air quality or safe drinking water, a public good that cannot be effectively regulated by trusting in the wisdom of millions of individual choices. A more collective response is needed.

Part of the problem with the ideal of individualized informed consent is that it assumes companies have the ability to inform us about the risks we are consenting to. They don’t. Strava surely did not intend to reveal the GPS coordinates of a possible Central Intelligence Agency annex in Mogadishu, Somalia — but it may have done just that. Even if all technology companies meant well and acted in good faith, they would not be in a position to let you know what exactly you were signing up for.

«

This is, as always, a smart take: you need data privacy to apply everywhere.
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US military reviewing its rules after fitness trackers exposed sensitive data • Washington Post

Dan Lamothe:

»

The US military said Monday that it is reviewing its guidelines for the use of wireless devices at military facilities after revelations that popular fitness apps can be used to expose the locations and identities of individuals working in sensitive areas.

The review came after reports by The Washington Post and other outlets that a “heat map” had been posted online by the fitness-tracking company Strava showing where users jog, bike and exercise — and in the process inadvertently highlighting the locations of U.S. military facilities in some of the most dangerous spots in the world.

The concerns raised by the online map went beyond sensitive military sites, with evidence that Strava could help reveal the movements of international aid workers, intelligence operatives and millions of other people in many countries.

In the latest discoveries Monday, Internet sleuths found ways of using the publicly available Strava data to identify individual users of the tracking service by name, along with the jogging routes they use in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

On one of the Strava sites, it is possible to click on a frequently used jogging route and see who runs the route and at what times.

One Strava user demonstrated how to use the map and Google to identify by name a US Army major and his running route at a base in Afghanistan.

«

Suspect the guidelines will go from “sure, use the things” to “do not use the things under any circumstances”.
link to this extract


‘Jackpotting’ hackers steal over $1m from atms across US, says Secret Service • Reuters

Dustin Volz:

»

The heists, which involve hacking ATMs to rapidly shoot out torrents of cash, have been observed across the United States spanning from the Gulf Coast in the southern part of the country to the New England region in the northeast, Matthew O‘Neill, a special agent in the criminal investigations division, told Reuters in an interview.

The spate of attacks represented the first widespread jackpotting activity in the United States, O‘Neill said. Previous campaigns have been spotted in parts of Europe and Latin America in recent years.

“It was just a matter of time until it hit our shores,” O‘Neill said.

Diebold Nixdorf and NCR, two of the world’s largest ATM makers, warned last week that cyber criminals are targeting ATMs with tools needed to carry out jackpotting schemes.

The Diebold Nixdorf alert described steps that criminals had used to compromise ATMs. They include gaining physical access, replacing the hard drive and using an industrial endoscope to depress an internal button required to reset the device.

A confidential U.S. Secret Service alert seen by Reuters and sent to banks on Friday said machines running XP were more vulnerable and encouraged ATM operators to update to Windows 7 to protect against the attack, which appeared to be targeting ATMs typically located in pharmacies, big box retailers and drive-thrus.

«

As I first read this story I wondered to myself whether Windows XP would turn up.
link to this extract


Why Apple sells just 2.5% of India’s smartphones • CNBC

Manish Singh:

»

iPhones have remained beyond the budget for most Indians. The least expensive iPhone X model, for instance, is priced at 92,430 rupees ($1,450) in India, while the least costly iPhone 8 unit ships at Rs 66,120 ($1,040). The devices are so much more expensive in India because the local government imposes a heavy charge on imported electronics items.

The iPhone-maker, for its part, is trying to circumvent the customs duty by manufacturing the iPhone SE model locally in India through a partnership with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Wistron. That’s made the iPhone SE the least costly iPhone model from the recent generations in the country.

But the company ought to do more, analysts told CNBC.

Samsung, and Chinese smartphone makers including Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo, many of which entered the Indian market in the last five years, are increasingly claiming dominance in the nation. Xiaomi and Samsung ship more handsets in India in under two months than Apple does in a year.

Samsung and the Chinese companies now control 80% of the smartphone market in India, while Apple settles for a meager 2.2%, Counterpoint and IDC said, citing data for the quarter that ended in September last year.

As of the quarter ending in December, Apple had 2.5% of India’s overall smartphone market, according to Counterpoint.

«

This shows Apple’s problem in trying to bring “affordable luxury” to everyone; it aims at the US market initially, but India is just different in so many ways. As a global company, it’s going to find itself in places where its strategy doesn’t give it a huge share.
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Opinion: smartphone market challenges raise major questions • Techspot

Bob O’Donnell:

»

As dynamic and exciting as the smartphone market has been for many years, it’s hard to imagine a time when it just won’t matter that much to most people. Kind of like how many people now feel about the PC market.

Don’t get me wrong, the smartphone market will still be very large and extremely important to some people for quite a while (just as the PC market still is for many—myself included). But the truth is, we’re rapidly approaching the era of smartphone market maturation, and quite possibly, the end of smartphone market growth.

Along with those changes are likely to come a shift in attention and focus away from smartphones, and towards other more “interesting” product categories—in the press, on people’s minds, and, most importantly, in critical industry technologies and developments.

The signs of this impending change are all around. In fact, you could argue that this is already starting to occur. While total 2017 worldwide smartphone shipment data may end up showing a modest increase over 2016 (final numbers have yet to be released), the fact that China—the world’s largest smartphone market—showed a 4% decline in Q4 2017 is a very telling and concerning indication of where the market is headed.

Essentially, what that data point tells us is that even in rapidly-growing markets, we’ve started to hit saturation. In other words, pretty much everyone who wants a smartphone now has one.

«

Africa hasn’t really taken part in this explosion in smartphone use, but the hot growth is over. O’Donnell suggests that talk of cuts in iPhone X production just emphasise this – but the smarter view of those “cuts” is that Apple was surprised by the number of iPhone X handsets it was able to make and ship in the just-gone quarter, and so can dial back against its larger expectations (which were built on anticipated low supply).

But saturation is here. I’m a little surprised that news sites still review smartphones. When did they stop for PCs? We’re at the same place now.
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After building new African Union headquarters, China spies on Addis Ababa facility • Morocco News

Amira El Masaiti:

»

In Addis Ababa, ministers and heads of states meet twice a year to discuss major continental issues. While strict security measures give the impression that that building is closely monitored and secured, an unseen security threat was present from 2012 until 2017. The threat was from none other than those who built the headquarters: the Chinese. An investigation conducted by “Le Monde Afrique” exposed Chinese espionage efforts.

According to the report, for five years, between midnight and 2 a.m., computer servers were reaching a peak in data transfer activity. A computer scientist noticed the oddity of the situation. The organization’s technical staff later discovered that the AU servers were all connected to servers located in Shanghai.

Every night, the secrets of the AU were being stored more than 8,000 km away by what was thought to be a diplomatic ally of Africa.

The $200m glass tower complex was gifted to the African Union in 2012. The computer systems were fully equipped by the Chinese, allowing them to open an undocumented portal that gives Chinese administrators access to the AU’s computing system. This “backdoor” is an intentional fault put into code to allow hackers and intelligence agencies to gain illicit access to information.

“Following this discovery, we have taken some steps to strengthen our cybersecurity,” a AU official told Le Monde.

«

Something something Greeks bearing gifts.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: Apologies: the superscript on the post about Graham’s Number in yesterday’s post didn’t come through. (But if you clicked through to the link, it was there.)

Start Up: Facebook goes local, government realises Brexit will hurt, web giants seek antitrust salve, Trump’s 5G nixed, and more


Traffic jams are a longstanding feature of London’s streets – but Uber and the like won’t solve it, because it’s about geometry. Photo by Leonard Bentley 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 8 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

Our next update on our 2018 focus to make sure Facebook isn’t just fun • Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg:

»

We’re making a series of updates to show more high quality, trusted news. Last week we made an update to show more news from sources that are broadly trusted across our community. Today our next update is to promote news from local sources.

People consistently tell us they want to see more local news on Facebook. Local news helps us understand the issues that matter in our communities and affect our lives. Research suggests that reading local news is directly correlated with civic engagement. People who know what’s happening around them are more likely to get involved and help make a difference.

When I traveled around the country last year, one theme people kept telling me is how much we all have in common if we can get past some of the most divisive national issues. Many people told me they thought that if we could turn down the temperature on the more divisive issues and instead focus on concrete local issues, then we’d all make more progress together.

Starting today, we’re going to show more stories from news sources in your local town or city.

«

Um, Mark? You and Google have sucked up all the money for ads for local news. They’ve been shedding reporters at an amazing rate. People might want to see local stuff (though they’re probably lying to you) but there isn’t going to be much chance to see it if nobody writes it.
link to this extract


The UK government’s own Brexit analysis says the UK will be worse off in every scenario outside the EU • Buzzfeed

Alberto Nardelli has a big scoop:

»

The government’s new analysis of the impact of Brexit says the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled, BuzzFeed News can reveal.

The assessment, which is titled “EU Exit Analysis – Cross Whitehall Briefing” and dated January 2018, looked at three of the most plausible Brexit scenarios based on existing EU arrangements.

Under a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, UK growth would be 5% lower over the next 15 years compared to current forecasts, according to the analysis.

The “no deal” scenario, which would see the UK revert to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, would reduce growth by 8% over that period. The softest Brexit option of continued single-market access through membership of the European Economic Area would, in the longer term, still lower growth by 2%.

These calculations do not take into account any short-term hits to the economy from Brexit, such as the cost of adjusting the economy to new customs arrangements.

«

The government didn’t deny this:

»

A government spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “We have already set out that the government is undertaking a wide range of ongoing analysis in support of our EU exit negotiations and preparations.

“We have been clear that we are not prepared to provide a running commentary on any aspect of this ongoing internal work and that ministers have a duty not to publish anything that could risk exposing our negotiation position.”

«

link to this extract


A conversation about how public transport really works • FT Alphaville

Jarrett Walker spoke to Izabella Kaminska of the FT’s Alphaville; he blogs at HumanTransit.org, where he continues the campaign to inform the world about the physical constraints of urban geometry:

»

transport is fundamentally a physical, spatial problem. It is not fundamentally a communications problem or to the extent that it was a communications problem, we’ve gone most of the way, I think, in taking that friction out of the system. And what Uber is discovering, I think, what a lot of these tech firms are discovering is that taking that friction out of the system did not transform the fundamental reality of space and the math of labour and so on, which have really been the facts that have determined what’s possible in passenger transport and will continue to determine those things.

No, of course, the driverless car people will say, no, cars will fit closer together and they’ll be smaller and so we’ll fit more of them over the bridge but that’s a linear solution to an exponential problem. The other dimension of this problem that you must keep in mind is the problem of what we, in the business, call induced demand. And induced demand is the very simply idea that when you make something easier, people are more likely to do it and this is why, for example, when you widen a motorway, the traffic gets worse or it fills up to the same level of congestion that you had before…

…I don’t want to deny the fact that being in the city, being on public transport, having the richness of interacting with a great diversity of people is not always fun; it means you get to interact with some crazy people and some difficult people but more importantly, it is simply the deal that life in a city is. There is no other way for everyone to live in a city. There is a way for elites to live in a city without having to interact with people; you can come and go in limousines; you can come and go to your penthouse by helicopter.

And this is where we get to the problem of elite projection, which is the danger of very fortunate people, whose taste and experience is, therefore, extremely unusual, using their own tastes to determine how a city should be designed; that’s a fundamental problem but, I think, I want to acknowledge the fact that life in the city has its own difficulties, that you don’t always want to deal with the company of strangers. But even more fundamentally, that is simply the deal you signed onto when you decided to live in a city, rather than in a suburb where you can drive your car everywhere and only see people you intend to see.

There’s a tremendous risk and when you think about this idea, this fantasy that at some point, Uber will scale to the point that they can bring their prices down to the point that everyone can afford them.

«

The whole interview is terrific (and not behind the usual FT paywall). Highly recommended.
link to this extract


Internet giants try to soften antitrust rules in credit card case • Bloomberg

Joshua Brustein:

»

A trade group representing Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc., Google, and Uber Technologies Inc. has taken sides in a Supreme Court battle over credit card fees because the internet giants want to shape the future of antitrust rules in their favor.

The top U.S. court is set to hear oral arguments on the lawsuit—Ohio vs. American Express—next month. The dispute started in 2010, when states and the federal government sued American Express Co. for forbidding merchants from steering customers to credit cards that charge lower fees.

The government said this discouraged competition and led to artificially high card fees. American Express argued its business was a two-sided marketplace that must balance the desires of merchants against the need to attract cardholders. The extra fees American Express charged went in part to offer airline miles and other perks to shoppers, the company argued. What looked like bullying merchants was actually just enthusiastic competition against Mastercard Inc. and Visa Inc. for users. 
 
The dispute has no direct connection to Silicon Valley. But it could heavily influence any future antitrust action against tech firms, many of which run two-sided digital marketplaces. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed this week, the Computer and Communications Industry Association said a ruling against American Express would threaten innovation by hampering marketplaces that have to please multiple groups with differing priorities. 

«

Because the big platforms now are about two-sided markets – chokepoints, in simpler language – they’d want something that reassures them.
link to this extract


Trump team idea to nationalize 5G network to counter China is rejected • Reuters

David Shepardson:

»

The option of a nationalized 5G network was being discussed by Trump’s national security team, an administration official said on Sunday.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Monday that discussions were at “the very earliest stages” to ensure a “secure network,” and “absolutely no decisions” have been made.

The government has blocked a string of Chinese acquisitions over national security concerns and the 5G network concept is aimed at addressing what officials see as China’s threat to U.S. cyber security and economic security.

But the option was rejected by several of those who would have a say.

“Any federal effort to construct a nationalized 5G network would be a costly and counterproductive distraction from the policies we need to help the United States win the 5G future,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by Trump, said in a statement on Monday.

CTIA, the trade group that represents AT&T Inc (T.N), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Sprint Corp (S.N) and others, said in a statement on Monday that the “government should pursue the free market policies that enabled the U.S. wireless industry to win the race to 4G.”

Carriers have already spent billions of dollars acquiring spectrum and beginning to develop and test 5G networks, which are expected to be at least 100 times faster than current 4G networks and cut latency to less than one thousandth of a second from one one hundredth of a second in 4G, the FCC said.

«

That’s going to be inconvenient for those who thought Pai is Trump’s poodle. In reality he’s pretty fiercely free-marketeer, with all that implies.
link to this extract


From 1,000,000 to Graham’s Number • Wait But Why

We join Tim Urban just after he has introduced readers to the idea of a million. Now he’s going to take you into outer space:

»

When we went from 1 to 1,000,000, we didn’t need powers—we could just use a short string of digits to represent the numbers we were talking about. If we wanted to multiply a number by 10, we just added a zero.

But as you advance past a million, zeros start to become plentiful and you need a different notation. That’s why we use powers. When people talk about exponential growth, they’re referring to the craziness that can happen when you start using powers. For example:

If you multiply 9,845,625,675,438 by 8,372,745,993,275, the result is still smaller than 829.

As we get bigger and bigger today, we’ll stick with powers of 10, because when you start talking about really big numbers, what becomes relevant is the number of digits, not the digits themselves—i.e. every 70-digit number is somewhere between 1069 and 1070, which is really all you need to know. So for at least the first part of this post, the powers of 10 can serve nicely as orders-of-magnitude “checkpoints”.

«

The maths isn’t particularly hard, but it is mindblowing. Here’s how the post ends:

»

Weirdly, thinking about Graham’s number has actually made me feel a little bit calmer about death, because it’s a reminder that I don’t actually want to live forever—I do want to die at some point, because remaining conscious for eternity is even scarier. Yes, death comes way, way too quickly, but the thought “I do want to die at some point” is a very novel concept to me and actually makes me more relaxed than usual about our mortality.

«

I’d never come across Graham’s Number before, but having read the article I see what Urban means. Use maths to embrace your mortality!
link to this extract


What I wish the iPad would gain from the Mac • MacStories

Ryan Christoffel has a list, most of which seem a bit “ehh” to me (multiple instances of an app, more diverse hardware – when there are three different sizes of iPad Pro? – persistent background app privileges [for when the device is plugged into power], more pro first-party apps) and then finally: multi-user support:

»

This one’s a no-brainer. Not only is it a feature that traditional computers have had for ages, but it also fits with the way many iPads are used today. Despite their lack of proper multi-user support, iPads are often shared devices in a household. If that isn’t reason enough, how about this: multi-user support already exists on the iPad, but it’s exclusive to education customers. Just bring it to everyone, Apple.

The only potential wrench in this idea is that Face ID will likely arrive on iPad in the near future, and, assuming the technology replaces Touch ID altogether, Face ID’s current limitation to one saved face, and issues distinguishing between family members, would make multi-user support challenging. Apple could always resort to using only passcodes for user login on Face ID-equipped iPads, while letting older iPads with Touch ID use fingerprint authentication, but that seems unlikely – it would behoove Apple to make sure the best multi-user experience is found on the newest, most advanced devices.

«

Multi-user support would be great (for parents especially) – but we’re now at seven years after the iPad’s introduction. Apple has had plenty of time to introduce this. It isn’t going to.
link to this extract


Strava privacy concerns: Here is how to safely use the app • Quartz

Rosie Spinks:

»

Last summer, I noticed that male strangers were liking my workouts on the app, despite the fact that I’d enabled what’s called Enhanced Privacy. Because I tend to run the same few routes close to my house regularly—and because, as an urban female who also works on the internet, I am used to all manner of privacy invasion—I grew both concerned and curious. I reached out to Strava and wrote a story for Quartz on the implications of the app’s confusing privacy settings.

While my piece did not focus on Strava’s Heatmap feature hitting the headlines now, it was based on the same concerns. In essence: If you use the app in the default way it’s designed to be used—a social network meets a fitness tracker—you could unknowingly be broadcasting an alarming amount of habitual, location-specific information. That fact, one can assume, is how so many users ended up broadcasting their location from military bases or sensitive locations without realizing it.
This morning, when I created a brand new account with a different email than the account I normally use, I was automatically opted into Heatmaps (see blue tick box below), rather than being asked to consent first. This was via the browser and was not an option in the app, but more this later.

On July 28 last year—one day after I interviewed Strava communications lead Andrew Vontz for my story, and four days before my piece on Quartz was published, on August 1—Strava published this blog post clarifying how to use their privacy policy. Since then, it appears they have also updated the language in the app explaining their privacy settings (Quartz has reached out to find out when they did this and will update the post accordingly). While this may be a positive step, the onus is still very much on you, the user, to make sure you know how your location-based activity is being used.

«

For “woman finding her trails being liked by male strangers” substitute “soldier in hostile territory finding his trails being like by unknown sources”. Equally worrying.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

Start Up: the fake follower factory, OnePlus isn’t snitching, bitcoin follows you!, solving Travelling Salesmen, and more


“Yeah, opsec is really important. That’s what it says on my Fitbit when it uploads to the cloud.” Photo by the US Army 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. It’s all done by magic, which sometimes doesn’t work. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

The follower factory • The New York Times

Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Richard Harris and Mark Hansen with an amazing, in-depth piece about the people who buy fake followers and one of the (many) companies, Devumi, that sells them:

»

Over two years, the Democratic public relations consultant and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen bought more than a half-million fake followers from Devumi. Ms. Rosen previously spent more than a decade as head of the Recording Industry Association of America. In an interview, she described the purchases as “an experiment I did several years ago to see how it worked.” She made more than a dozen purchases of followers from 2015 to 2017, according to company records.

Other buyers said they had faced pressure from employers to generate social media followers. Marcus Holmlund, a young freelance writer, was at first thrilled when Wilhelmina, the international modeling agency, hired him to manage its social media efforts. But when Wilhelmina’s Twitter following didn’t grow fast enough, Mr. Holmlund said, a supervisor told him to buy followers or find another job. In 2015, despite misgivings, he began making monthly Devumi purchases out of his own pocket.

“I felt stuck with the threat of being fired, or worse, never working in fashion again,” said Mr. Holmlund, who left in late 2015. “Since then, I tell anyone and everyone who ever asks that it’s a total scam — it won’t boost their engagement.” (A Wilhelmina spokeswoman declined to comment.)

Several Devumi customers acknowledged that they bought bots because their careers had come to depend, in part, on the appearance of social media influence. “No one will take you seriously if you don’t have a noteworthy presence,” said Jason Schenker, an economist who specializes in economic forecasting and has purchased at least 260,000 followers.

Not surprisingly, Devumi has sold millions of followers and retweets to entertainers on the lower and middle rungs of Hollywood, such as the actor Ryan Hurst, a star of the television series “Sons of Anarchy.” In 2016 and 2017, he bought a total of 750,000 followers, about three-quarters of his current count. It cost less than $4,000, according to company records. Mr. Hurst did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

«

It’s worth viewing this in a desktop browser to get the full effect, which is amazing. (Devumi denied it sold fake followers. Uh-huh.) There’s a great deal of “did not respond to requests for comment”. And it prompted Paul Hollywood to delete his account, it seems. Martha Lane Fox, a Twitter board member, is also caught in the net. And one Breitbart bureau chief’s followers are almost all bots, each priced about 2 cents each.

Makes it clear that Twitter really doesn’t have a handle on what’s going on. But it would also be hard as hell.
link to this extract


No, OnePlus is still not sending your clipboard data to China • Android Police

Ryan Whitwam:

»

The apparent misunderstanding comes down to a file in the OxygenOS beta called badwords.txt. You can get a rundown of what it contains in this tweet. In the resulting Reddit thread, most everyone was happy to hop on the bandwagon and blame OnePlus.

This time, the company is wasting no time issuing a clear explanation of the situation. Here’s the official statement.

»

There’s been a false claim that the Clipboard app has been sending user data to a server. The code is entirely inactive in the open beta for OxygenOS , our global operating system. No user data is being sent to any server without consent in OxygenOS.

In the open beta for HydrogenOS, our operating system for the China market, the identified folder exists in order to filter out what data to not upload. Local data in this folder is skipped over and not sent to any server.

«

The allegation is that OP uses this file to identify data to upload to a Chinese server. According to OnePlus, badwords.txt is actually a blacklist file—it tells the OS not to monitor matching data for its smart clipboard service. You’re probably not familiar with that feature because it’s only used in China as part of HydrogenOS. It was originally developed as a way to get around blocking of competitor links in Chinese messaging services like WeChat, and there’s no reason to do that in the US. So, the code is inactive in OxygenOS.

So, it sounds like OnePlus’ only mistake here was including files from HydrogenOS in the OxygenOS beta. The code is inactive, but it’s bound to confuse people. Everyone is watching OP closely right now and ready to believe the worst, but the company didn’t do anything shady with your clipboard data. It’s also important to remember this is beta software.

«

link to this extract


Map showing where today’s countries would be located on Pangea • Open Culture

»


The map’s creator is Massimo Pietrobon, someone who playfully describes himself as “a famous explorer and cartographer of Atlantis,” and who has taken on other experiments with maps in the past. When someone claimed that the scale of certain countries wasn’t exactly right, Massimo was quick to confess on his blog, “Yes, it’s just a trial, it can be better.” But it’s a creative start.

«

I don’t think the US would like those neighbouring countries. Then again, flights to Europe would be cheap.
link to this extract


U.S. soldiers are revealing sensitive and dangerous information by jogging • The Washington Post

Liz Sly:

»

An interactive map posted on the Internet that shows the whereabouts of people who use fitness devices such as Fitbit also reveals highly sensitive information about the location and activities of soldiers at U.S. military bases, in what appears to be a major security oversight.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the location and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity. 

Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit, Jawbone and Vitofit, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. The map is not live — rather, it shows a pattern of accumulated activity between 2015 and September 2017.

Most parts of the United States and Europe, where millions of people use some type of fitness tracker, show up on the map as a blaze of light, because there is so much activity. 

In war zones and deserts in such countries as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered pinpricks of activity. Zooming in on those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of known U.S. military bases, as well as of other unknown and potentially sensitive sites — presumably because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.

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So many people are going to be in such trouble. But once your opsec is breached, it’s gone.
link to this extract


Your sloppy bitcoin drug deals will haunt you for years • WIRED

Andy Greenberg:

»

Researchers at Qatar University and the country’s Hamad Bin Khalifa University earlier this week published findings that show just how easy it may be to dredge up evidence of years-old bitcoin transactions when spenders didn’t carefully launder their payments. In well over 100 cases, they could connect someone’s bitcoin payment on a dark web site to that person’s public account. In more than 20 instances, they say, they could easily link those public accounts to transactions specifically on the Silk Road, finding even some purchasers’ specific names and locations.

“The retroactive operational security of bitcoin is low,” says Qatar University researcher Husam Al Jawaheri. “When things are recorded in the blockchain, you can go back in history and reveal this information, to break the anonymity of users.”

Bitcoin’s privacy paradox has long been understood by its savvier users: Because the cryptocurrency isn’t controlled by any bank or government, it can be very difficult to link anyone’s real-world identity with their bitcoin stash. But the public ledger of bitcoin transactions known as the blockchain also serves as a record of every bitcoin transaction from one address to another. Find out someone’s address, and discovering who they’re sending money to or receiving it from becomes trivial, unless the spender takes pains to route those transactions through intermediary addresses, or laundering services that obscure the payment’s origin and destination.

«

link to this extract


Is this the society we really want? • NewCo Shift

John Battelle:

»

Do we really want to buy our food at automated, faceless Amazon stores? Do we really want to cleanse all human contact from what is now one of our most human and most social activities — the gathering of our sustenance? When did society collectively decide that we no longer value the produce guy, the butcher, or the cashier who knows our kids and asks how our mother in law is faring?

My first take on Amazon Go is this: F*cking A, do we really want eggplants and cuts of meat reduced to parameterized choices spit onto algorithmized shelves? Ick. I like the human confidence I get when a butcher considers a particular rib eye, then explains the best way to cook that one cut of meat. Sure, technology could probably deliver me a defensibly “better” steak, perhaps even one tailored to my preferences as expressed through reams of data collected through means I’ll probably never understand.

But come on.

Sometimes you just want to look a guy in the eye and sense, at that moment, that THIS rib eye is perfect for ME, because I trust that butcher across the counter. We don’t need meat informed by data and butchered by bloodless algorithms. We want our steak with a side of humanity. We lose that, we lose our own narrative.

«

It is the trend in cities – but Battelle is right: human interaction is essential. Else you’re in some vaguely dystopian Black Mirror episode.
link to this extract


Now even YouTube serves ads with CPU-draining cryptocurrency miners • Ars Technica

Dan Goodin:

»

On Friday, researchers with antivirus provider Trend Micro said the ads helped drive a more than three-fold spike in Web miner detections. They said the attackers behind the ads were abusing Google’s DoubleClick ad platform to display them to YouTube visitors in select countries, including Japan, France, Taiwan, Italy, and Spain.

The ads contain JavaScript that mines the digital coin known as Monero. In nine out of 10 cases, the ads will use publicly available JavaScript provided by Coinhive, a cryptocurrency-mining service that’s controversial because it allows subscribers to profit by surreptitiously using other people’s computers. The remaining 10% of the time, the YouTube ads use private mining JavaScript that saves the attackers the 30% cut Coinhive takes. Both scripts are programmed to consume 80% of a visitor’s CPU, leaving just barely enough resources for it to function.

“YouTube was likely targeted because users are typically on the site for an extended period of time,” independent security researcher Troy Mursch told Ars. “This is a prime target for cryptojacking malware, because the longer the users are mining for cryptocurrency the more money is made.” Mursch said a campaign from September that used the Showtime website to deliver cryptocurrency-mining ads is another example of attackers targeting a video site.

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link to this extract


Using self-organizing maps to solve the Traveling Salesman Problem •

Diego Vicente:

»


To evaluate the implementation, we will use some instances provided by the aforementioned National Traveling Salesman Problem library. These instances are inspired in real countries and also include the optimal route for most of them, which is a key part of our evaluation. The evaluation strategy consists in running several instances of the problem and study some metrics:

• Execution time invested by the technique to find a solution.
• Quality of the solution, measured in function of the optimal route: a route that we say is “10% longer that the optimal route” is exactly 1.1 times the length of the optimal one.

The parameters used in the evaluation are the ones found by parametrization of the technique, by using the ones provided in previous works 2 as a starting point. These parameters are:

• A population size of 8 times the cities in the problem.
• An initial learning rate of 0.8, with a discount rate of 0.99997.
• An initial neighbourhood of the number of cities, decayed by 0.9997.

These parameters were applied to the following instances:

Qatar, containing 194 cities with an optimal tour of 9352.
• Uruguay, containing 734 cities with an optimal tour of 79114.
• Finland, containing 10639 cities with an optimal tour of 520527.
• Italy, containing 16862 cities with an optimal tour of 557315.

«

It gets pretty close to the ideal – within 10% on a couple. (Worse on others.) The GIF above is for Uruguay, where it hit 7.5% of the ideal.
link to this extract


Why open matters • Sonos Blog

It’s possible this is authored by Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos:

»

With Sonos, we promise you’ll never hit a dead end. That’s because our smart speaker system is designed to tap into just about any piece of sonic culture you can imagine. Since our early days, we’ve been agnostic about the sources of music and audio you can hear on Sonos, preferring to stay open-minded and let you make the choices. If it’s not available on big tech music subscription services, try Spotify, TuneIn or some of the other music services on Sonos.

And if your current itch is too obscure for any of our more than 80 streaming partners to scratch, you can always hook up your turntable or stereo directly to Sonos using a Connect. Whether it’s music, movies, podcasts, or any other sliver of sonic culture, you can use Sonos to pipe it through any room in your home in clear, superior quality.

This spirit of openness is as crucial to us and our products as it is to the free flow of creativity and culture in general. Just like the open, neutral architecture of the Web helps fuel a new creative, musical renaissance, the same principles will help Sonos and its customers explore the true depth of the sonic internet for years to come.

It’s not just about having dozens of music streaming options, either. We’re busy extending the Sonos platform to other partners and integrations as well.

«

Sonos has stuck to this philosophy since its inception – it’s all about making it possible for any service to stream through its devices. But of course, the reason for pointing this out now is because of Apple’s HomePod, which is about to go on sale and takes Sonos on at the “audio quality” end of its capabilities.

Very reminiscent also of Google’s “open systems win” memo from 2009, when it was about to launch Android:

»

“At Google we believe that open systems win. They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses.”

«

link to this extract


Dell considers return to stock market • FT

Richard Waters and James Fontanella-Khan:

»

Michael Dell is considering a return to the stock market, a little over four years after he took his PC company private in a highly contentious $25bn buyout, followed by the $67bn purchase of storage company EMC in the tech industry’s biggest deal.

The company’s board is set to consider the idea of an initial public offering for Dell Technologies, now one of the world’s largest IT companies, along with other potential transactions, according to two people familiar with the company’s deliberations.

According to one of the people, if Dell opts to go public it is likely to pursue a direct listing or a full merger with VMware, the publicly traded data centre technology company that it already controls.

News of the deliberations pushed shares of VMware up by nearly 9% on Friday, lifting its value to $60bn. However, a separate class of “tracking” shares that Dell issued and which are theoretically tied to VMware’s performance slumped by nearly 5%.

The divergence in price appeared to reflect a belief that even if Dell bought out VMware’s ordinary shares, the tracker would continue to trade — and that Dell might even issue more of those shares to help pay for the deal.

«

Basically, needs some money to help pay down the debt. Michael Dell probably doesn’t want to come back to the market except for that requirement.
link to this extract


You can now watch Nicolas Cage play James Bond • The Outline

Jon Christian:

»

It was only a matter of time. Users on Deepfakes, a subreddit where people use deep learning technology to face swap celebrities’ likenesses onto footage of porn performers, are turning their skills to a new purpose: inserting the much-memed actor Nicolas Cage into roles he never played.

Back in December, Motherboard discovered a Reddit user who was using a neural network to swap the faces of celebrities including Gal Godot and Taylor Swift onto the bodies of porn performers. Just weeks later, another Redditor used the same algorithm to create a user-friendly program called FakeApp which streamlines the process, letting users plug in a database of images to create new videos without much technical know-how about deep learning technologies. In the wake of FakeApp, Motherboard reported, the phenomenon exploded — the Deepfakes subreddit, for instance, now has more than 30,000 followers.

And now, in what seems to be the natural progression of things on the internet, the subreddit is turnings attention to Cage, an actor known for leading roles in “Raising Arizona,” “Lord of War” and “Face/Off.” In spite of — or perhaps because of — Cage’s uneven critical reception, he’s also become a timeless internet meme. Internet humorists have long remixed his strange performance in the 2006 remake of “The Wicker Man,” photoshopped him into surreal situations, and, most of all, plastered his face onto other people.

«

THIS HAS GONE TO FAR. WE NEED LAWS NOW.
link to this extract


The dirty war over diversity inside Google • Wired

Nitasha Tiku:

»

In interviews with WIRED, 15 current Google employees accuse coworkers of inciting outsiders to harass rank-and-file employees who are minority advocates, including queer and transgender employees. Since August, screenshots from Google’s internal discussion forums, including personal information, have been displayed on sites including Breitbart and Vox Popoli, a blog run by alt-right author Theodore Beale, who goes by the name Vox Day. Other screenshots were included in a 161-page lawsuit that Damore filed in January, alleging that Google discriminates against whites, males, and conservatives.

What followed, the employees say, was a wave of harassment. On forums like 4chan, members linked advocates’ names with their social-media accounts. At least three employees had their phone numbers, addresses, and deadnames (a transgender person’s name prior to transitioning) exposed. Google site reliability engineer Liz Fong-Jones, a trans woman, says she was the target of harassment, including violent threats and degrading slurs based on gender identity, race, and sexual orientation. More than a dozen pages of personal information about another employee were posted to Kiwi Farms, which New York has called “the web’s biggest community of stalkers.”

Meanwhile, inside Google, the diversity advocates say some employees have “weaponized human resources,” by goading them into inflammatory statements, which are then captured and reported to HR for violating Google’s mores around civility or for offending white men.

Engineer Colin McMillen says the tactics have unnerved diversity advocates and chilled internal discussion. “Now it’s like basically anything you say about yourself may end up getting leaked to score political points in a lawsuit,” he says. “I have to be very careful about choosing my words because of the low-grade threat of doxing. But let’s face it, I’m not visibly queer or trans or non-white and a lot of these people are keying off their own white supremacy.”

«

Alt-right folk are in general stupid, but they’re good at playing the angles to others’ disbenefit.
link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: if you’re signed up for the daily email, you won’t have received it on Friday. This turns out to be because my appalling home broadband lost a crucial bit during the upload on Thursday night, and so the RSS feed (used to generate the email) was empty. So no email. I hope this is now fixed; you might have received two emails. I’m sorry about that too, but that’s how machines are.